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10 Things You Must Know About Walt Disney World

So, you finally did it. You’ve talked about it for months. Maybe years. You dreamed of the day it would all finally fit into place—the savings, the time off from work, the kids’ ages. You’ve gotten close to doing it before, but something always came up. Something changed your mind. Maybe you weren’t ready. Maybe husband and wife couldn’t agree on all the details quite yet. And then when you did get the details worked out, you couldn’t take the time off from that big project at work, and responsibilities with extended family had to come first.

But this time, you’ve decided you won’t let anything stand in your way. You have a copy of the approved vacation request form from your boss in your hand. You’ve cleared out your calendar for those ten days, and told family you’ll be out of town. And that friend who’s always needing your help with a decluttering project in her home—you let her know you’ll be decluttering your mind for those ten days. You even told the kids this time, so there’s no turning back.

Congratulations. You did it! It’s really happening this time! You’re finally going to Disney World!

Ah, the joy and sheer night-before-Christmas-I-can’t-sleep excitement is all but consuming as you anticipate your rendezvous with the Mouse himself in central Florida for the first time! Is that even normal? The short answer is an emphatic “YES!” And by the way, you’ll have the exact same feelings leading up to your next trip as well. And the one after that. It never grows old.

That’s because a getaway to Walt Disney World truly is the vacation of a lifetime. That’s not to sound cliché. You have never experienced a vacation like a Disney vacation. Here are 10 things you’ve got to know about Walt Disney World so that your trip of a lifetime has you smiling for years to come.

10. You need to know the why, how and who of Walt Disney World.

To fully appreciate the Walt Disney World Resort and the adventure on which you are about to embark, it’s important to understand the why, how and who of this magical place. The idea of a theme park at which parents and children could enjoy time together, experiencing things together, instead of children having their play places while parents were merely spectators, was all from the mind of Walter Elias Disney. This idea grew into a dream which gave birth to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California in 1955. But Walt wasn’t willing to stop there.

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In 1959, Walt began to look for land for a new project, which would be bigger than Disneyland and have its own unique set of attractions. In 1963, he began to look at land in Florida. In several transactions, he acquired thousands of acres of Florida swamplands, scrub forests and orange groves for “Project X,” as it was called. Soon it was called the “Florida project,” and Disney’s Imagineers, under Walt’s direction and in keeping with his vision, continued drawing up plans for his new theme park, and then construction began. To control the water levels on the land that was once swampy, they even developed a system of more than 55 canals and levees.

Sadly, Walt would not see his dream realized in Florida. He succumbed to lung cancer in December of 1966. His brother Roy, who had been with him throughout his theme park endeavors carried out Walt’s plans and opened the park on October 1, 1971, under the name Walt Disney World. The history of this fantastic place and how it was born from a dream a father had about a place where parents and kids could experience fun and make memories together allows Guests to see that magic really exists—it’s why Disney World is here today!

9. You need to know that it’s massive.

The sheer size of this amazing fairy tale world is mind-blowing. The Disney World Resort in its entirety soaks up approximately 47 square miles of Central Florida. That’s over 30,000 acres, and you don’t have to be a ranch hand to know that’s a lot of acreage! There are over 30 resort hotels at Disney World, four theme parks, two water parks, over 150 restaurants and an entertainment district with over 150 shops, stores and boutiques. And as long as we’re talking numbers, here’s another staggering one: Walt Disney World hosts over 50 million Mickey ears-wearing, autograph book-toting, Walt-loving Guests every year.

Disney World’s enormous size also means that it goes big on the number of options Guests have when planning an unforgettable family vacation. There are so many options when it comes to parks, resorts, rides, attractions, shows, dining, character encounters, and more, that you could take your family on a Disney vacation every year, and you’d never have to have the same vacation twice. In fact, it’d be almost impossible to do so. This is a blessing and a curse, however, because while having endless options means your experience can be 100% custom-made to fit your family, it also means that a lack of planning and making reservations is NOT an option.

8. You need to know that it’s very well attended.

“Well-attended” sounds more appealing than the word “crowded.” But let’s be honest. Disney World gets very crowded, especially during peak times of the year when attendance is at its highest. Those times include days before, during and after New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, Spring Break season (March), around Easter, June through August, the two to three weeks leading up to Halloween, the week of Thanksgiving and the third week of December through to New Year’s Day again. If you can plan your trip during a non-peak time, you’ll have lighter crowds, resulting in shorter wait times for attractions and sometimes even a little less stress. If you are going during a peak time, just know that patience, your FastPass+ selections and a smile can be lifesavers!

7. You need to know that it’s expensive.

There’s no other way to say it. A vacation at Walt Disney World can be costly. Your biggest expenses will be transportation to the Orlando area, park tickets, lodging and food. Remember that tickets are a fixed price, and you should only buy your tickets from a third party if that party is an authorized seller of Disney tickets.

You can stay in control of your costs, however. Because you have so many options, there are choices you can make to lower your expenses. If you want to stay at a Disney resort hotel, you can choose from Value Resorts, Moderate Resorts, Deluxe Resorts and Deluxe Villa Resorts. You can expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars per night, to over $2,000 per night, based on the resort and what time of year you will be visiting. When it comes to dining, you can choose a quick-service restaurant, where you order your food and pick it up at the counter, or you can choose a table-service restaurant, at which you’ll be seated, order your food, and it will be served to at your table. Table service tends to cost more, plus you’ll pay gratuity and tip. Other options include bringing snacks into the parks, eating only one meal in the parks, etc. There is no end to the number of ways you can enjoy your Disney vacation and still have a say in how much you spend. But if you’re heading to Disney World in the coming months, it’s always a good idea to start saving if you haven’t already.

6. You need to know that one day per park is not enough.

Each of the four theme parks at Walt Disney World is full of rides, attractions, shows, character encounters, restaurants, shops, nighttime spectaculars—the list goes on. And if this is your first time in the parks, you need to know that it is virtually impossible to do all the things you and your family will want to do in one of the theme parks in just one day. There are simply so many things you’ll want to do and see and experience with your family. You’ll even want to experience some of the attractions more than once. Because of this, and because the parks can be crowded, you will need at least two days in each of the four theme parks to experience most of what you wanted to enjoy. If you don’t have the time off (or the money this time around!) to stay in the parks for those eight days, don’t worry! You can make a list of what you want to do when you visit the parks on your next trip. But if you can spend two days per park on your trip, it’s well worth it, and you’ll be able to cross more items off your Disney bucket list too!

5. You need to know about the FastPass+ service.

Disney isn’t clueless about its crowds or about the power that waiting in long lines has in souring an otherwise great day, so they creatively developed the FastPass+ service. This service makes waiting in long lines for hours a thing of the past, at least for the most part. You can choose from a group of attractions, either online, on the My Disney Experience app or inside the parks at a FastPass+ kiosk. Then you can decide an approximate time of day you’d like to experience the attraction and search for available times. Just select a time, and it becomes a permanent part of your plans via the My Disney Experience app, which links your FastPass+ selections to your ticket or MagicBand. When it’s time for you to experience the attraction, head there and get in the FastPass+ queue. In no time, you’ll be scaling Mt. Everest, zooming through space, soaring over the world or boarding a Norwegian vessel to head to Arendelle.

There is a limit of three FastPass+ selections per day. But once you’ve experienced each attraction for which you have a FastPass+, you can then reserve any available FastPass+ selections, one at a time. Be sure to plan as many FastPass+ selections as possible in advance. Book them 60 days before you’ll be in the parks if you’re staying at a Disney Resort Hotel, and 30 days in advance if you are not staying on Disney property.

4. You need to know about the My Disney Experience app.

This app, developed by Disney to simplify planning your Walt Disney World trip, is one to download the minute you decide you’re taking your family to Florida. It acts as a one-stop, at-a-glance, all-in-one hub for Guests planning to be in the parks. It includes maps, wait times for attractions, information about where to meet characters, park hours, locations of restrooms, guest services offices, restaurants and more, Mobile Food and Beverage Ordering, times for parades and nighttime spectaculars, and it even lets you see how many days you have left on your park tickets. The My Disney Experience app is also your best tool when reserving FastPass+ selections. You can choose your FastPass+ times for today, or for a few days from now, if you didn’t reserve them in advance. You can also make changes to your FastPass+ selections. In addition, the app allows you to make, modify and cancel dining reservations. How did we ever plan a trip to Disney World before this app was available?

3. You need to know that reservations for dining experiences are a must.

With over 150 restaurants to choose from at the Walt Disney World Resort, you’ve got some decisions to make! You won’t need to plan in advance for quick-service restaurants, but if you’re planning to dine at a table-service venue, or if you’re wanting your kids to experience a character dining meal, you’re going to need a reservation. The window for dining reservations opens 180 days before you’re planning to dine. So if it’s March, and you’re going to the parks in October, you’ll need to wait just a bit longer before making your dining reservations. But if it’s December, and you’re going to the parks in February, you need to reserve your dining selections as soon as possible. Many of the restaurants are completely booked months in advance, and some, like Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom, are booked to capacity just after the 180-day window opens, so if you want to be there as the dining room proudly presents your dinner, you’ll need to watch the calendar and book early. If you couldn’t reserve your dining choices 180 days in advance, all hope is not lost. Sometimes there are cancellations, so keep checking on the My Disney Experience app to see if a spot opens up. Hey, Disney magic happens!

2. You need to know about the freebies.

With all you’re spending on airfare, park tickets, your resort hotel room, Mickey pretzels, rose gold Minnie ears and souvenirs, you need to know that there are several freebies in the parks. First, you can get Disney World celebration buttons to show others what you’re celebrating—family reunion, wedding, anniversary, birthday or even your first visit to the parks. These pins are available at Guest Services when you first enter each theme park. At EPCOT, on the World Showcase, kids can color and collect stickers by Cast Members at the Kidcot station at each country’s pavilion. The fun is free! Ice water is free at every quick-service restaurant in all four theme parks. Just ask! At Club Cool inside EPCOT, you can try sodas from all over the world for free. Park maps are free and make great souvenirs. Take as many as you like when you first come into each theme park, or on your way out, so they aren’t folded or wrinkled. If you visit the Polynesian Resort, Cast Members will give you a free lei. You can visit any of the Disney Resort Hotels, look around (each one is themed and elaborately decorated), try out the restaurants inside the resorts, exchange trading pins with Cast Members and more. This is called resort hopping, and, you guessed it; it’s free!

1. You need to know that there is only one Walt Disney World; no place on earth compares to it.

You’re going to Disney World! It’s what you and your family have dreamt of for years, and you’re finally in the planning stages of your trip. You need to know that this vacation will be unlike any other you’ve ever experienced. No matter where you and your family have traveled to in the past, it will be nothing like the experience of a trip to Walt Disney World.

It is a place where dreams really do come true—and in real, actual, photograph-able ways. It’s a place where adults forget their ages and find themselves immersed in a wonderland where they can leave their cares behind. Life’s worries get checked at the gates, and you are able to truly reconnect with your family like never before. Kids forget about their devices for a while. You see a light in the eyes of your family that will surprise you, excite you, maybe even move you to tears, and have you asking yourself why you ever waited so long to visit. Remember to take pictures so you capture the memories, but try to balance your need to be a photographic journalist with your family’s needs for you all to experience the Magic together, without distractions.

You need to know that there is no substitute for a Disney World vacation. Accept no imitation because there is no imitation. It’s true that other theme parks have rides, shows, fireworks, characters and restaurants. But the way in which Disney World makes it possible for everyone to live out his or her childhood dreams is unlike any form of customer care in the world. The attractions aren’t just rides, but stories that begin the minute you enter the queue to stand in line. Things are orchestrated by the Walt Disney Company like a well-oiled machine—the most state-of-the-art machine with the highest-grade oil, and other entertainment “giants” cannot come close to making Guests feel the way they do when they visit Disney World. There’s a reason people cry as they leave the parks on their last day there. There’s a reason that the plane ride home is where the plans for the next trip begin. It’s just that special, and your first trip will more than likely NOT be your last.

We just thought you should know.

About Rebekah Tyndall Burkett

Rebekah grew up in Forney, Texas and lives just outside of Dallas. She’s been a Disney superfan since childhood, experiencing the magic at Walt Disney World for the first time at the age of 11. Journeys to Neverland are at least a yearly occurrence for her, her husband and her four children (the Fab Four). When they go to the parks, they stay in Florida for three weeks at a time. Rebekah loves exploring the history of the parks, the genius behind the Magic in the person of Walt Disney, and she is intrigued by all things Disney World and Disney Imagineering. When in the parks, Rebekah and her husband Scott make the most of their time by enjoying every minute with their Fab Four, by delving deeper into Walt’s vision for the parks and into the history behind the Walt Disney World Resort, and by photographing the many different types of architecture at Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and on the World Showcase at EPCOT. When she’s not in the parks, Rebekah is excitedly setting travel dates and planning her family’s next adventure to their happy place deep within the Sunshine State. On breaks from planning her next trip, Rebekah is a writer, journalist and children’s author, penning children’s books about kids with special needs that she affectionately calls “believement-achievement” stories. Her hobbies include creative writing, paper crafting and interviewing Imagineers. She is also an advocate for Autism Awareness and for children with developmental disabilities of all kinds.