I just returned from my first-ever trip to Disney World and despite all speculation to the contrary, I came home a 100% believer in the magic of Disney.
Here are my hacks for going from “meh” to “magic” as you plan (and enjoy) your first Disney trip.
Hire It Out or Do It Yourself?
Before Disney: It looks like a lot of work and since I’m never going again, why do I need to get a PhD in all things Disney? Let’s just hire a Disney planner.
After Disney: Hire a Disney planner!!
My advice is to take all the up-front stress off your plate. Let someone else do the planning so you can show up at the parks ready to enjoy the fun. I was a stressed-out, crazy woman for weeks leading up to our trip because it all fell on us to figure out.
BUT…..if a Disney planner isn’t in the cards for you (like it wasn’t for us), allow plenty of time to research and prepare in order to make the most of your trip.
You can do this!!
Allow Plenty of Time
Before Disney: Why do we need to start planning now? Can’t I just show up and have fun?
After Disney: Advance planning helps your trip flow smoothly and allows the ability to soak up the magic around you instead of figuring out where to go moment-by-moment. There’s so much to learn about each park and that takes time.
We started planning three months out and that felt rushed. From flights and accommodations to tickets, dining reservations, and FastPass+, planning a trip to Disney World requires lots of advance research to make the most of your precious time in the parks. Sure, you can arrive without planning. But, if you want to avoid long lines and group huddles in the middle of a Disney sidewalk trying to figure out where to go and what to do next, plan in advance.
Before Disney: I don’t even know what I don’t know. What questions should I be asking? Where do I begin??
After Disney: Thank you, Lord, for Disney fanatics who make it their life mission to help people plan a magical vacation.
There are guidebooks, blogs, websites, and apps devoted to Disney. I read them all. This is like hiring a Disney planner for FREE! They help you understand what each park offers, how to navigate parking and arrival, nail the process of choosing rides and entertainment (including reserving FastPass+) and they even provide “touring plans” for each park you can use for yourself.
I relied heavily on this blog and this book to figure out the best options for our family:
If I had a question, they had an answer. The Disney World website and app were invaluable too.
Determine Your Goals
Before Disney: Isn’t Disney World just rides and characters? What else will we do? Our group ranges from 6 to 66. Will everyone have fun?
After Disney: Disney is filled with attractions and entertainment for all ages and so much to do you could spend a week at each park.
But, since you probably don’t have a month allotted for this vacation, you’ll need to make some choices. Do you want to visit all of the parks or focus on a few? Do you prefer rides or entertainment? Is your goal to do it all in each park or only hit the highlights?
Determining your pace and your priorities will guide you in making plans.
Disney Hacks and Tips
Before Disney: I’ve done the research, but still don’t know what to expect. I guess we’ll figure it out as we go.
After Disney: Here’s a list of great hacks and tips for your time in the park. Some we knew beforehand thanks to blogs and guidebooks, but some we learned from being there.
FastPass+: FastPass+ is a great way to avoid waiting in line. They can be obtained online either 60 days (for Disney resort guests) or 30 days in advance, but there are restrictions for each park. This post told me everything I needed to know about creating a FastPass+ strategy.
Hack: Use a park map to plan out your FastPass+ route to avoid any unnecessary walking back and forth across the park.
Magic Bands: Magic Bands are digital, rubber bands you can wear for entry into the park and to initiate your FastPass+. If you’re a Disney resort guest, they also serve as your hotel room key and can be used as a payment method in the parks.
Even though we weren’t staying onsite, we opted to buy Magic Bands for simplicity. Instead of carrying a plastic card around as our ticket and FastPass+, we used the bands. For $15/each, the bands gave us easy access and the invaluable peace of mind of knowing the band was always on our wrist.
Food: Disney dining plans are available and could be a good option if you want to pay in advance. We did not have a dining plan and so we paid as we went. The food is expensive, but Disney allows you to bring food and drink into the park. (I know, right?!? We saw families bring entire coolers in with them for a picnic lunch.)
If you’re traveling, online grocery delivery to your hotel is a great option for having snacks ready on your first day without a late-night trip to the grocery store after a long day of travel.
Disney has both sit-down and counter-service restaurants throughout the parks and mobile ordering is available at many spots which can be a real time-saver! Epcot has delicious foods from around the world in its World Showcase. Our personal favorite was the Dole Whip, a yummy pineapple frozen treat that hits the spot on a hot day.
Hack: Free cups of ice water are available throughout the park. Just ask for them!
Rides & Attractions: The rides at Disney are ideal for people of all ages. I’m not a big roller coaster fan, but I went on most of the ones at Disney. They are fun and a bit thrilling without crossing over into terrifying.
Hack: If you’re curious about rides, check out YouTube. You can find videos of most Disney rides.
Hack: If you don’t have a FastPass+ and the standby lines are long, consider rope dropping or trying the single-rider line. Rope dropping is being in line before the park opens to speed walk (no running at Disney!) to popular rides before the lines build up. It’s staggering how many rides you can check off your list if you’re willing to be at the park early. Single-rider lines can get you right on the ride if you’re willing to be paired up with strangers. We did this several times, usually riding on the same coaster, just not seated together. Both saved a ton of time!
Walking: Get that fitness band fired up, your step count is about to go through the roof! I averaged 18,517 steps and 8.32 miles/day during the four days we were there, with a peak day of 23, 042 steps and 10.35 miles. That’s a lot of walking. A LOT! So have a plan for breaks throughout the day. Opt to see a show or find a bench and a treat (Dole Whip!).
Hack: On Day 2 or 3, schedule either a morning or afternoon off. After two full days, you’ll need one. On our third park day, we booked our FastPass+ for the afternoon and gave ourselves the gift of a slow morning.
We also left the parks by 6 p.m. on two of the days, but I highly recommend staying for fireworks at some point in your trip. The “Happily Ever After” fireworks show at Magic Kingdom is the most incredible visual display I’ve ever seen. I’ve joked since then that fireworks are now officially RUINED FOR LIFE. Even if you have to leave the park for a break in the afternoon, come back in the evening for the fireworks.
As a fellow first-timer, I know Disney can feel overwhelming. But I’m proof that with a little planning (and some good ol’ hacks!), it can be a magical experience for your whole family. Speaking as one who figured she’d never go back again, the planning made the trip enjoyable. So enjoyable, in fact, that I’m already dreaming about our next trip to “the happiest place on Earth!”