Planning a trip to Walt Disney World for your family can be a daunting task. Even for guests who have visited before, the number of choices you have to make and the planning that should be done in advance can be overwhelming. Below are my top 10 tips to make your first visit a success:
10. Make a Packing List
No, you aren’t traveling to a remote island so you can purchase things while you are there, but getting organized and knowing what you need to take to keep your family happy and comfortable always helps. Plus Walmart here can be quite overwhelming!!! You can refer to this article for some ideas: http://www.disneydining.com/top-10-things-cant-forget-pack/ But just the idea of having a physical list to check off is a good one. A friend of mine, whose family visits WDW often, told me that on a recent trip her husband neglected to pack any shirts except for the one on his back. Oops! At the price of Disney t-shirts that’s a costly error. If it is your first time you don’t want to waste your vacation time picking up necessities you forgot to pack.
9. Try Something New!
Of course, a Disney vacation is new to a first time guest in and of itself, but there are so many unique things offered in the World you should try something new. Whether it is sampling an ethnic cuisine you’ve never tried like Moroccan, African or maybe even sushi, an experience you’ve never done like taking a flight in a tethered hot air balloon, or riding a roller coaster you never thought you would try—you’re on vacation and you owe it to yourself to get out there and try something.
8. Get to the Parks Early
I know it is vacation and you want to sleep in, but trust me you will thank me later. You ideally want to be at each park well before its opening or “rope drop.” Depending on how busy it is when you visit that could be anywhere from 30 minutes to 60+ minutes. This is going to put you ahead of the crowd and that is a good thing. You can ride to your hearts content through the less crowded and cooler morning hours, and then when the hordes are pouring in during the heat of the day you are ready to go back to your resort to rest and swim with a lot of attractions already under your belt.
7. Manage Expectations
You cannot and will not do and see everything at Walt Disney World in one visit. Period. Unless you are visiting for several months, then maybe. When you begin planning your trip make sure everyone traveling with you knows that you will have to do some picking and choosing along the way. You could make up a list and let everyone pick their top 2 attractions in each park that can’t be missed, or their number one restaurant that they must try. Then you can go from there with the idea that everything else is icing on the cake. And if you manage the expectations there will be a lot of icing on the cake.
6. Ask For Help
There is a reason there are so many websites dedicated to helping you plan your Walt Disney World vacation, and I recommend seeking out help no matter how many trips you’ve planned in the past, but especially if you are a first timer. My number one recommendation is to find a good travel agent who specializes in Walt Disney World vacations, and who can assist you with all of the aspects of your vacation from helping you choose the best resort and package for your family, to assisting you with an itinerary and dining reservations, to looking out for the deals and discounts. These agents are trained and have the personal and professional experience to guide you along the way. When you are spending the amount of money you will on a WDW vacation, you should really trust it to a professional. Just be sure that the information you are getting comes from a credible source and that you can back it up in more than one place. You don’t want to base your vacation planning on hearsay. It’s ALWAYS safest to check directly with Disney when planning your trip around important details. Disney is constantly changing and they are the ones who have all of the latest up to date information.
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5. Make Dining and FastPass+ Reservations
Unless you only want to eat at Counter Service restaurants you must make dining reservations in advance. It is very seldom that you can walk up to a table service restaurant (especially the popular ones) and get a table on the spot. As soon as you are able you want to go online or call Disney Dining to make your arrangements. This is 180 days prior to your desired day, or 180 days plus 10 days out if you are staying on site. If you book your vacation closer to your arrival date do it as soon as you can—many places will fill up close to that 180 day mark. Now that the FastPass+ system is in place you need to book that in advance too. Onsite guests can make their 3 initial FastPass+ reservations 60 days prior to check-in, and off site guests at 30 days.
4. Schedule Breaks and Downtime
Remember, this is a vacation. Walt Disney World can wear you out, and once you are in the park and having a great time it is sometimes hard to drag yourself away. Keep in mind that if you are exhausted the next day you won’t be having any fun. Plan to leave the parks in the early afternoon to go to your resort and swim, relax or even nap. Then you can come back refreshed and ready for dinner, more attractions and some nighttime entertainment.
3. Enjoy Your Resort
This ties in to #4. Especially if you are staying at an onsite property there is just so much to do and enjoy at the resort. I like to plan a day “off” just to hang out at my resort, and if I don’t I feel like I’ve missed out. While the parks are the definite draw for a WDW vacation, don’t forget that the resorts are pretty spectacular too. I really recommend staying at an onsite resort for the benefits you get, along with the activities and atmosphere—especially for first timers you don’t want to be out of the Disney magic for a minute.
2. Stop and Smell the Roses
There are so many wonderful details at Walt Disney World, you have to slow down between attractions and look around. Look up. Look down (you’ll find some pretty cool things in the walkways). Go into a shop and look on the walls beyond the merchandise. Even the trashcans and bathrooms are detailed and themed (the Tangled restrooms are fantastic). The landscaping is lush and beautiful—you literally need to stop and smell the roses sometimes. And while you are doing it don’t forget to put down your phone where you are checking your plans on My Disney Experience and enjoy the people around you.
1. Have a Plan, but Be Ready to Adjust
Yes, I just told you to plan where you are going to eat 6 months in advance, and what time you want to ride Space Mountain two months in advance, but it isn’t always going to play out that way. There will be rain, someone may get sick or hurt (http://www.disneydining.com/top-10-questions-answers-emergency-walt-disney-world/), or you may just decide to ditch the Animal Kingdom and play at the Magic Kingdom another day. All of these things can throw a wrench into your well-oiled plans, but you can’t let it ruin your vacation (sometimes it can end up even better than “the plan”). Just regroup, see what you can salvage or change and keep having fun. Remember, you can always come back, and like #7 you won’t be able to do it all anyway!
What are your top tips for a first time visitor?