For the Disney rookies like ourselves that have not mastered the art of getting every bang for their buck nor maximising their limited (and expensive) time, here are the few key things I wish I knew before visiting Disney World for the very first time.
I did absolutely zero research prior to our trip to Disney World and Universal Orlando, it was all booked through an agent. I just wanted to step into utopia with innocent eyes. See it with childhood wonderment not having pre-seen all the nooks and crannies, made dinner reservations and plotted our path down to the minute with military precision (which is my usual travel style). My thinking behind doing zero, zip, diddly-squat research was its off-peak season, we are two adults with no children to worry about and Disney World is designed with children in mind thus surely we could follow our hearts, be lead by spontaneity and figure it out along the way.
Don’t make my mistake, a trip to Disney World actually requires a teacup’s worth of forward planning.
Before visiting Disney World – This is what you need to know
It’s overwhelming I know, as there are so many options, things to see, places to book and you don’t know where you will be at what time – this is mainly why I shied away from planning and decided to take Disney World on like a free spirit.
Download the App
If there is only one thing you do – download the free My Disney Experience App and sign in. It has all the park maps, ride wait times, allows you to make restaurant reservations, but most importantly make FastPass+ selections and basically plan your day by making a calendar of all your reservations and FastPass+ times. There is free wifi across all the parks and resorts so it’s easy to keep referring back to the app.
My Advice: Make a few dinner reservations prior to arriving, you can always cancel them when realise you will not be anywhere near that restaurant at that time, rather be prepared than go hungry.
Make use of Disney’s FastPass+ it allows you to select a few rides a day to fast track through the long standby queues and it’s FREE. You can make your selection on the app before you even arrive, otherwise there are kiosks set up around the parks for you to lock in your daily FastPass+ selections.
I went to Disneyland Paris over 20 years ago and my highlight was randomly running into characters in the park. This is no longer the case, each character now has a designated spot in which you can queue to meet them and get their autograph. Seeing how busy the parks get I understand the logistics of it, the chaos and congestion that would now create. But it takes the fun out of hunting down the characters, now you have to wait in line for a minimum of 40 minutes for your photo op. But you can use a FastPass+ to skip ahead of these lines.
Food at Disney is not cheap and so Disney introduced various prepaid Dining Plans for people staying at Disney resorts. We went with this option, but honestly, this route actually requires a lot of advanced planning on where to eat to ensure you maximise the plan. When you are running about, on and off roller coasters there isn’t the time or the need for huge three-course meals, plus snacks all day and if you are planning on spending the majority of your days at the parks and not the resorts the refillable soda sippy cup is wasted. In the end, the dining package costs us more for food (as we didn’t maximise it) than we would have if we had just paid as we went. We couldn’t possibly eat a two-course meal at each sitting and have snacks throughout the day. If you are able to eat your body weight in Mickey pancakes each day then these packages are definitely the way to go.
My Advice: Link a credit card to your MagicBand and tap your band for food purchases as you go thus eliminating the need to carry large amounts of cash. The dining plans don’t include gratuity, so you will have to carry a few dollars with you to cover tips.
Portion sizes are ginormous, so consider sharing dishes if you are not up for a massive meal (also more cost effective). Or if you are like me and would like to still fit in a cheeky Mickey Mouse rice crispy treat later.
Since the characters no longer roam the streets this is an awesome way to kill two birds with one stone, see the characters and fit in a meal. There are so many restaurants located in each of the parks that offer character dining, some require advance reservations but for most, you can simply walk in and have breakfast with Mickey Mouse, get your photo, autograph and eat your Mickey Mouse shaped waffles.
Dinner and the Magic Kingdom Fireworks
So you want to see the ultimate Disney fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom and think you will grab dinner before the extravaganza – well you better BOOK!! Even if you are going in off-peak season, everyone converges on Main Street late evening so the restaurants are all packed. Even if you are planning on only grabbing a popcorn to snack on you will have a long line to contend with.
My Advice: Either arrive well fed or make a reservation well in advance.
So Much to see so Little Time
Each park will take you a full day to complete with the exception of Hollywood Studios which you can comfortably see in half a day. As soon as the parks close head over to Disney Springs to dine and shop till midnight. You really have no time for naps and downtime on a Disney World vacation, there is so much to see and so little time.
Extra Magic Hour
NEWSFLASH: Not every day are you granted access an hour before park opening to each park just because you are staying at a Disney Resort. Each park has a designated day it’s open an hour early to resort stayers – which requires max planning to ensure you are there on the days you want to enter the specific parks early.
My Advice: Since you are paying a premium to stay on property this is really something you want to take max advantage of to see the parks and go on the popular rides before the crazy crowds.
Any advice to add for those planning on visiting Disney World for the very first time?