Writing about Disney for a week is almost as intense as visiting it! Ha, I am actually LOVING writing all this down while it is still fresh in my mind. We did some things right on our trip, but there are a few things I wish I would have known beforehand too (like these 6 first timers mistakes we made). Because of that, I’ve compiled them all into one gigantic list (below) so you can know everything you need to before your first family trip to Disney World! And if you are a Disney expert, I would LOVE for you to chime in with your best Disney tip for first timers!
OK, let’s do this!
Get to the park early. 30 minutes before opening so you can get through security (bag check and metal detectors) and be ready to go before the park fills up.
Consider booking with DVC. Especially if you are planning well in advance or going in the off season, to save some cash.
Have water/snacks/groceries delivered to your room. Here are 8 different ways to get groceries delivered to your room (some give a decent discount if you order a week or more ahead of time). Of course you can always shop at home and pack it, but I think it’s easier to just have it delivered and save the car space.
Pack more snacks than you anticipate needing (and water). My non-picky girls ended up being pretty particular about the taste of Florida water, so we packed our own water for the parks. And as for snacks, I thought we went overboard but ended up eating every single one. Think of Disney like the beach, constant hydration and fuel may be necessary!
Keep expectations low. You are going to have some amazing, magical moments (we did!) but if expect everything in a busy week vacation with young kids at a crowded spot to go flawlessly, you are going to end up frustrated. My advice: plan as well as you can, then decide that once you get there, you are going to go with the flow!
Bring an extra pair of clothes for each kid in a large ziplock. In fact, bring a couple extra ziplocks to for accidents, wet clothing, to protect cell phones, etc.
They don’t sell gum. We aren’t gum chewers, so this wasn’t a big deal to us, but I did think it was interesting and certainly helps contribute to the immaculate level of cleanliness they keep the parks in. But if you or your kids like gum, make sure to pack it!
Pack sunscreen and wear it. No matter when you go. I was surprised at the sun exposure we got in February. I can’t even imagine mid-summer!
Make dining reservations 180 days is advance. Yes, I think it’s crazy too, but do it. If you don’t get what you want, keep checking. People make changes all the time!
Research Fast Passes and plan them as soon as you are allowed. More details here. I thought fast passes were just a nice ‘perk’ when in fact it really is the only way to guarantee you can ride the things you want to the most.
Disney’s Magical Express offers free transportation from the airport. Just call to set up ahead of time. It worked super smoothly for my mom! Once on property, you won’t need a car, though some people say they prefer having one and driving themselves to the park.
Consider the single rider lines. You may have to ask where it is, but if you are willing to ride solo it could save you some serious wait time. While we were there, Expedition Everest had about a 1 hour wait in the general line, but only 10-15 minutes in the single rider.
Pick what YOUR kids will love. This this this this this. Every Disney fan you talk to will have a different recommendation of what you JUST CAN’T MISS. I loved gathering these responses from friends, but in the end, you need to research (it’s fun research!) and plan what works best for you. For example, I was told we just had to visit the Bibbidi Bobbibdi Boutique. Hailey can barely handle her hair pulled back for her hour long dance class and certainly wouldn’t enjoy a super tight bun. It’s expensive and my kids don’t even know it exists. We ended up skipping it and aren’t sorry we did.
Get FREE Pixie Dust! If you are skipping the boutique but still want some of the fairy glitter, stop by the Barber Shop on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. I hear they will give you a free dusting! We got a free dusting (which the girls loved) at the salon at the Grand Floridian.
Go meet a nearby character during a ride swap. If you have small children, definitely read up on how Rider Swaps work! Then while the older child (or you) goes on the ride, have the other parent get ina character line or get a special treat. Kaitlyn was bummed she couldn’t go on some of the roller coasters, but we always had something fun waiting to distract her.
Don’t rush. I’ve heard you should take your plan and cut it in half. I see why, everything takes longer than expected. And not because of long lines, but walking from here to there, factoring in bathroom breaks, stopping for cute random street shows– the day will fill up and fly by. Feeling rushed will suck the magic out fast, and remember, it’s ALL magical to the kids, including just the walking around.
Consider Memory Maker. Learn about it here. In short, photographers are set up all over the park and take your pictures, then transfer them to you through your magic band. It’s a great way to guarantee some good pictures that have the entire family in them. It is expensive ($199.95) but if you buy at least 14 days in advance it costs $149. If you do opt for this, make sure you ask about magic photos, which places Disney characters in the picture.
Wear athletic shoes only. Yes, even for the “nice dinners.” We walked 8-12 miles a day. Disney World is 40 Square miles after all!
Long wait time does not equal an awesome ride. I may get stoned here, but Peter Pan and Frozen (two of the rides that almost always have a minimum of an hour wait) left both David and I saying really? that’s it? Cute? Absolutely! I loved flying over Neverland! And I was thrilled to fast pass them and have less than 5 minutes to wait. Because of that, I enjoyed them, but if I would have waited to posted 75 minutes to ride it? Yipes, no thank you.
Leave some flex time to enjoy the gems you stumble upon. We randomly ran across a random drum and dance show in streets of Africa at The Animal Kingdom. We found Merida hiding behind a turn at The Magic Kingdom. It was nice to join in the celebrations without rushing off to stay on schedule. Disney does a fabulous job of having random entertainment all over.
Consider a character meal for your kids’ favorites. The lines to meet characters are long! You can fast pass them, so if that’s important to you, definitely look into that. Otherwise, consider a character meal. Our favorite character meals were for dinner, so it didn’t mess up the rhythm of our day. If your kids are into princesses, I’ve heard Akershus at Epcot come highly recommended over Cinderella’s castle. For the classic characters (Mickey, Minnie, etc) I’d recommend Chef Mickey at the Contemporary Resort or Hollywood and Vine’s Fantasmic dinner package. We did the latter and it was one of the highlights of our trip. The girls LOVED the classic characters.
Visit the library ahead of time. We drove 10 hours down to Orlando. Before our trip I went to the library and borrowed 10 (TEN) different Disney movies, especially the ones they hadn’t seen yet. I was excited to give them some context of who Dumbo was before we rode the flying elephants, among others.
At Ecpot with kids, find the Kidcot Fun Stop. When you enter World Showcase, be sure to find a Kidcot Fun Stop where kids can pick up a free cardboard Duffy bear on a paddle to decorate. Since Epcot is more adult-focused, it’s a great way to keep kids engaged in exploring by stopping at every country’s station in the World Showcase to receive a stamp on the paddle!
Buy cheaper costumes so you don’t freak if they ruin them. I didn’t think I would, but I fell into the costume trap. My girls are little, next time we went they probably wouldn’t want to wear princess dresses, so I packed some and they loved wearing them! I ended up going the discount route and I’m so glad I did! They fit the bill fine and I wasn’t worried about them messing up an expensive costume with dripping ice cream.
Moms of babies and young toddlers, all parks have baby care centers. There is a Baby Care Center at the end of Main Street,on the left hand side (if you are facing the castle). Inside there is a changing room with four cushioned changing tables, they are extremely clean, there is a sink, two tiny toilets for potty trainers, a feeding area with high chairs, and a nursing area that is quiet (no dads or older kids allowed). Diapers, ointment, baby powder, Pull Ups, wipes, pacifiers, formula, baby food, and Children’s Tylenol are all available for purchase inside.
Don’t forget the shows! The shows are the parks are awesome! At least the ones we saw. We planned (fast passed) Finding Nemo midday at The Animal Kingdom and it was a welcomed break to sit in the air conditioning and watch the girls be mesmerized, especially when bubbles rained down on us at the end. I can only imagine how welcomes that break would be in summer. I’ve heard excellent things about the Frozen show at Hollywood Studios and the Lion King at Animal Kingdom too.
We also really loved the Pixar 3d show at Epcot! We were the only ones in the theater and it’s still one of Hailey’s favorite memories.
Don’t feel like you have to get the meal plan. Some people swear by it, but given the way our family eats, we opted to not sign up for it. We knew we’d eat breakfast in the room and pack our own snacks, plus we didn’t want a scheduled dinner each night. If your kids can share meals you may want to consider not getting it either. Not having it worked for us, but read about the pros and cons here, as if you eat in line with how the plans are laid out, it could save you some money!
Dinner Buffet at Hollywood & Vine
If you have young kids, considering going straight to Fantasy Land before things fill up. For some reason, people head to Tomorrow Land first. Fantasy Land has the most stuff for young kids, so head straight there when it opens and see what you can get in.
Tickets are not transferable. You have to scan your fingerprint to enter the park so don’t buy sketchy second hand tickets. For the best prices on legit tickets, check here first.
Get a stroller or rent one (not the park one) and a mommy hook. – Our double stroller saved our life! Personally, I think any kid under 8 would benefit from having a stroller. David put everything we needed in a backpack and we hooked it to the stroller with a mommy hook. It made it easy to keep all our stuff together for transportation. At the bus, we’d grab the backpack and fold up the stroller, then at the park we could unload whatever we wanted into the stroller.
If you are flying or don’t have a double, check out stroller options here. Many companies will deliver and pick up the stroller and offer nice options like City Select and Bob. The park strollers are harder to push and rigid, so I would definitely choose one of these companies over them.
What did I miss?
What is your BEST tip for Disney World first timers?
And if you have questions, shout ’em out!
I’m answering every single one I’ve received in tomorrow’s post 🙂