Sitting down to plan your first Walt Disney World trip? From Lightning Lane to Genie Plus, to dining reservations and Magic Bands, the days of simply picking a hotel are past. If you are feeling overwhelmed planning your Disney trip, you aren’t alone. Disney World for beginners is challenging, but we can help. With tips, tricks, and all of the basics, read on for our essential guide to Disney World for first time visitors.
- Disney World Overview
- Booking Your Trip
- Trip Logistics
- Dining Reservations
Disney World for Beginners: Overview
Beginners visiting Walt Disney World often don’t know how big it is. The entire Disney World resort is the size of all of San Francisco, and two times the size of Manhattan! Aside from 4 theme parks and 2 waterparks, there are 36 hotels on Disney property, and over 300 restaurants!
No wonder you are feeling overwhelmed! A Disney World vacation is like visiting a metropolitan city. You will need a plan, and you can’t see everything. However, we promise its doable on your own, just follow our tips.
What Parks are in Walt Disney World?
The Walt Disney World Resort includes 4 major theme parks, and 2 water parks.
- Magic Kingdom is the iconic Disney park featuring Cinderella’s castle. It has classic rides that are great for children and adults alike. Themed lands include Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Frontierland. A visit to the Magic Kingdom should be on everyone’s Disney bucket list.
- EPCOT Center (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) is the second oldest park in Walt Disney World. It is known for its World Showcase featuring 11 pavilions with food and cultures from different nations. Many Disney World beginners think this is an adult park. However, there are many rides for small children and it is very kid-friendly. As a family, it’s our favorite park to visit because there is something for everyone.
- Hollywood Studios is a unique park with a movie theme. It’s the home of the infamous Star Wars Land and the new, eye popping Toy Story Land. If you like rides, there is lots to do in this park. You can easily fill a day here.
- Animal Kingdom is a zoological park and home to 2,000 animals representing 300 different species. Alongside beautiful themed zoo walks and their well known Kilimanjaro safari ride, there are many fun rides and interesting areas in this park to explore including the surreal Pandora – World of Avatar.
- Typhoon Lagoon is Walt Disney World’s largest waterpark. Its claim to fame is its giant wave pool – one of the biggest in the world. It also has a tropical themed lazy river, a giant children’s area, and multiple waterslides.
- Blizzard Beach is a waterpark themed as a ski resort covered in snow. Don’t let the appearance fool you, all pools are heated and comfortable. From epic tube and body slides, a lazy river, and a toddler water play area, Blizzard Beach is a fun and unique waterpark that families love.
What Else is There to Do in Disney World Besides Theme Parks?
When planning a trip to Disney World for beginners, be sure to build in some time to rest. Park days are exhausting. If you have little kids, you might consider scattering several rest days throughout your trip.
The Disney World resort area has lots to do, and its easy to fill a day with activities that are easier on the wallet and less chaotic than a park day.
Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney, is a vast outdoor dining and shopping area. It’s a great place to spend a free day, or an evening. You can visit the largest Disney store in the world, in addition to family favorites like the LEGO store and Rainforest Cafe. There are also several celebrity chef restaurants including Morimoto Asia and Jose Andres’ Jaleo.
Several stages feature live entertainment throughout the day. Entry and parking are completely free, and there are lots of cost friendly activities to do.
Disney World also has two miniature golf courses – Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland. Winter Summerland is our favorite. It has two 18 hole courses that are Christmas themed all year long. This is a great activity on a free day. The theming is awesome, and its a great activity to fill 2-3 hours.
Disney’s Boardwalk is a smaller area located near several Disney resorts. They several restaurants and shops, and often have live outdoor entertainment. It’s a beautiful place to walk, and the path leads all the way to the back entrance of EPCOT center. We wouldn’t recommend visiting here unless you are staying in the area.
Disney World for Beginners: Pre-planning
When planning a trip to Walt Disney World for beginners, there are things to think about. When will you go, how long will you stay, and how much do you want to spend? These questions should be answered before booking your vacation, and we can help.
How much does a Disney World Vacation cost?
Disney vacations add up fast. A simple budget Disney World trip will cost roughly $1000 per day for a family of four. This includes tickets, lodging, and food.
For Disney first timers, it’s important to know that costs add up fast. If you want to stay on property, plan character dining, or indulge in special events, a week at Disney for a family of four can end up costing $10,000 or more.
What month is best to visit Walt Disney World?
January, February, May and September are the best months to visit Walt Disney World. The parks can get very crowded during peak times (holidays and summer months).
The best months of the year in Walt Disney World are times when kids are in school and the weather is cooler. January and February can get chilly, and May is already getting hot in Florida. We recommend September as the perfect month to visit if you have the option.
During summer months, rain is common. Typically it only lasts for an hour or two a day. Click here to learn more about how to plan for rain at Disney World.
How Many Days Should You Visit Disney World Parks?
Most families visit Disney World for one week. If this is the length of your trip, 4 days in the Walt Disney World parks is ideal. This gives you one day per park, and some rest days.
While 3 park days can save you some money, you will have to choose between Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. It is hard to do them both in one day. You can use a park hopper pass to travel between the two, but this is more expensive the shorter your stay.
We recommend Walt Disney World beginners take their time and book 4 days in the Walt Disney World parks. It’s cheaper the more days you book, and you will have more time to see it all.
Where to Stay at Walt Disney World? On or Off Property
When planning a trip to Walt Disney World for beginners, where to stay is one of the most difficult questions. Here is our simple answer:
Is this your once in a life time Walt Disney World splurge?
Stay on property
Is money no object?
Stay on property
We love to stay on property if possible. The convenience of Disney transportation gets you to and from anywhere you want to go, and the theming and service are a step above off property resorts.
Another advantage of staying on property is early Theme Park entry. Starting this year, Disney is allowing guests of Disney Resort hotels to get into all parks 30 minutes early. A list of attractions are open at this time, allowing Disney resort guests to bypass some otherwise really long lines.
If you stay at a Deluxe resort, you also have access to extended evening theme park hours. These hours are great because very few guests are still in the park. You can hit a lot of rides that would typically have long lines in a short period of time. Here is the link to the schedule of dates.
Staying on property has tons of advantages. With transportation to and from the parks, extraordinary theming, and special Disney moments, Disney resorts really provide the true Disney experience.
Here is our list of Disney Deluxe Resorts ranked. If you want to have a once in lifetime experience, we recommend considering these resorts if your budget allows.
Is keeping a budget important?
Consider staying off property
If you want to save some money, but still have a great Disney trip, there are lots of family friendly hotels in the Disney area. Many have perks like great pools and free shuttles to the parks without the premium for being on property.
There are some great resorts within walking distance of Disney Springs, which is convenient and fun. It brings the Disney experience a bit closer to your resort, without the price tag of an on property resort.
Do you need a travel agent to plan your Walt Disney World trip?
No! Disney has started to feel complicated with so many extras. There are folks out there trying to make money on beginners looking for the perfect Disney trip.
It’s all smoke and mirrors. Disney wants you to visit and makes it easy for you to plan your trip with them.
Just stick to the basics, and you can plan a great visit. You will save the money you would spend on a trip planner (nothing in life is free) and spend it on your family instead!
Walt Disney World for Beginners: Booking your Trip
What to Know about Disney Park Reservations?
Since the pandemic, there are now two steps to managing your Walt Disney World passes.
First, you have to purchase your ticket. Then you have to reserve the park you want to visit for the specific date you intend to go.
Be sure not to skip the park reservation step! It can be really disappointing to arrive at Walt Disney World and not gain entry into the parks you were hoping for.
Park reservations can be changed or modified on the My Disney Experience app, but it can be subject to availability.
The first step in planning any Walt Disney World trip is to check park availability to ensure you will be able to get in. You can do that at the Disney Park Availability website.
Are Park Hopper Passes Worth It?
The Park Hopper option on your Disney pass allows you to visit more than one park in a day after 2 PM. It adds an additional $20-$30 per day depending on how many park days you purchase.
The value really depends on your style of trip. If you have a short trip (2 or 3 park days) and want to hit everything in a short period of time, the Park Hopper is worth it.
With longer time, the Park Hopper isn’t necessary, and it can save you some money if you don’t do it.
We recommend getting the Park Hopper option at Disney World for beginners if you can fit it in your budget. It gives you the flexibility to catch an evening meal or some drinks in EPCOT, and if you miss something due to crowds or schedule, it frees you up to bounce back somewhere.
Are There Days that are Better Than Others for Certain Parks?
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the least busy days of the week at Disney World parks.
Most families arrive in Disney on the weekend. What’s their first stop Monday morning? You guessed it! The Magic Kingdom. So above all, avoid Magic Kingdom on Mondays. Tuesday tends to be a good day to visit the Magic Kingdom because the crowds have moved on to the other parks.
Epcot also suffers from the Monday morning Magic Kingdom crowd moving on to them on Tuesdays. This being said, Wednesday is the best and least crowded day to visit EPCOT. Avoid Tuesdays at this park.
How to Book a Hotel and Tickets When you Stay ON Property
- Step 1: Confirm park availability for the dates you are planning at Park Availability Site
- Step 2: Visit the Disney Resort Site
- Step 3: Choose your resort, room, and dates
- Step 4: Select the number of park ticket days you want
- Step 5: Choose if you want the park hopper or water park option
- Step 6: Check out
- Step 7: Download the My Disney Experience Ap
- Step 8: Go to Tickets and Passes
- Step 9: Click Link Tickets & Passes
- Step 10: Enter your ticket ID code or your resort confirmation number
- Step 11: Click plus sign at bottom of screen and select Make or Modify Park Reservations or Click Here
- Step 12: Click Book Park Reservation
- Step 13: Select Members of your Party
- Step 14: Select a date and Select a park
- Step 15: Confirm your reservations by going to Disney Ap and clicking on “Future Plans”
How to Book Park Tickets when Staying OFF Property
- Step 1: Confirm park availability for the dates you are planning at Park Availability Site
- Step 2: Visit the Disney Ticket Site
- Step 3: Select Standard Theme Park Ticket
- Step 4: Select the number of days
- Step 5: Choose if you want the park hopper or water park option
- Step 6: Choose the first day you want to go to the parks. You can use your other days any time within 7 days of that first day
- Step 7: Double check park availability and select the number of tickets you want.
- Step 8: Check Out
- Step 9: Download the My Disney Experience Ap
- Step 10: Go to Tickets and Passes
- Step 11: Click Link Tickets & Passes
- Step 12: Enter your ticket ID code
- Step 13: Click plus sign at bottom of screen and select Make or Modify Park Reservations or Click Here
- Step 14: Click Book Park Reservation
- Step 15: Select Members of your Party
- Step 16: Select a date and Select a park
- Step 17: Confirm your reservations by going to Disney Ap and clicking on “Future Plans”
Walt Disney World for Beginners: Other Logistics
What’s the Best way to get to Disney World?
Disney World is located 25 minutes west of downtown Orlando. It is accessed easiest from the Orlando International Airport, which is a 30 minute drive.
As a warning, OIA is consistently ranked one of the worst airports in the country. Between security lines filled with crying kids in strollers, and routine flight delays, you should mentally prepare yourself before flying in and out.
The Orlando Sanford Airport is about an hour drive from Disney World property. It’s small, easy to navigate, and is overall less chaos than OIA.
Allegiant flies in an out, making this a budget friendly option. You can find great deals from other local small airports.
How Do you get from the Airport to Disney?
Most families fly into the Orlando International Airport when visiting Walt Disney World. It is about a 30 minute drive from the airport to the resort.
If you are staying on property, you really won’t need a car. Disney hotels provide multiple routes of transportation to get you to and from the parks and between resort areas that are convenient and easy.
We recommend taking a shuttle bus from the airport, and staying on property if you have the means.
Options for getting to the Disney resort from the airport include:
- Mears Connect Shuttle Bus
- Pros: Cost ($32 adult, $27 children round trip), Don’t need car seats
- Cons: Might have to make some stops before your resort unless you splurge for Express ($250 family of four)
- Sunshine Flyer Shuttle Bus
- Pros: Cost ($32 adult, $20 children round trip), Don’t need car seats
- Cons: Might have a longer wait
- Rent a car
- Pros: Convenience and flexibility
- Cons: Cost
- Uber and Lyft
- Pros: Convenient, quickest
- Cons: Limited car seat options if you have more than one child, Expensive
What to Pack for a First Time Disney Beginner Trip?
Florida has the potential to be hot all year long. It’s a good idea to bring layers. Shorts and t-shirts will work well, but bring a sweatshirt or long sleeve you can throw on in the air conditioning.
Rain is the norm in Walt Disney World. Summer storms in the afternoon are common in Florida and during certain seasons can happen daily. If it rains, don’t panic. These storms often last only an hour or two, and then the sunshine returns. Usually if you stick the parks out during the rain, crowds thin and lines get a bit shorter.
We recommend preparing for the rain. Ponchos are the easiest way to navigate the park during a rain storm. Due to long walks between pavilions, you will want a way to stay dry. Umbrellas work too but are more cumbersome to carry. Read our Guide to Rainy Days at Disney World for more information on planning for rain.
Also bring comfortable shoes. The average Disney guest walks 7-10 miles per day on their Disney vacation! Sneakers are the way to go, unless you have sandals that are comfortable and broken in.
How Do I Get Around Walt Disney World?
Walt Disney World offers several options for transportation around their theme parks. There are buses, boats, monorails, and even the recently added Skyliner. All of these options are available during normal operating hours.
One of the biggest advantages of staying at an on property Disney resort is you don’t need to worry about having a car. Transportation between the resorts, Disney theme parks, and Disney Springs is easily available.
The Bus service between Walt Disney World Resort hotels and the theme parks starts 45 minutes prior to opening, and ends one hour after closing.
Free transportation to Disney Springs is available during operating hours and ends one hour after closing.
What is the Disney Genie Service?
The new Disney Genie service is simply a feature of the My Disney Experience App that lets you choose the things that are most important to your family. Then it customizes an itinerary tailored to you.
While this is a nice feature, we recommend planning your own day. In our experience, the Disney Genie service tends to recommend activities that have lower lines, and are less popular. It is likely so that they can spread out crowds, but we don’t think it provides the best customer experience.
What is the Disney Genie + and Lightning Lane?
Disney’s Genie + has changed the way Walt Disney World does lines. It is basically a pay to play system, and its ignited controversy in the most dedicated Disney fans who believe park goers should all be entitled to the same magical experience.
Disney’s Genie + is an add on to your ticket that can only be purchased the day of your visit. It allows you to reserve certain attractions ahead of time via the “Lightning Lane”.
Every day it seems the Disney Genie + policies and prices are changing, so make sure to do your research if you plan on investing in this option.
Disney’s Genie + can be purchased at 7 AM on the day of your park visit. With this feature added to your ticket, you can reserve a “Lightning Lane” spot on your first attraction. 2 hours after your scheduled attraction, you can then reserve another “Lightning Lane” spot. This allows you to bypass particularly long lines on popular rides.
Disney’s Genie + costs vary per day, and range from a whopping 15-30$ per ticket. While a considerable addition to your ticket cost, it does make things easier on crowded days.
Be aware also that Disney’s Genie + doesn’t guarantee you entry into all of your favorite rides. One of the most controversial parts of the Disney’s Genie + option, is on top of this add-on, certain new or premier attractions offer a premium individual “Lightning Lane” Entry. This entry must be paid for individually, and it can cost $10-$20 per ride!
In summary, we recommend purchasing Disney’s Genie + in parks where there are rides you don’t want to miss.
We have found the individual Lightning Lane rides really aren’t worth the hype for the considerable amount of money you have to pay, when you are already investing in all of the other costs of a day at Disney.
Disney World for Beginners: Dining Reservations
Walt Disney World has over three hundred restaurants to choose from when visiting their property. While many are quick service, the best and most unique restaurants are table service.
Should you Book Dining Reservations in Disney World?
If you want to enjoy some sit down dining while at Disney World, we recommend booking reservations in advance.
Dining reservations at Disney open 60 days before your arrival date, and open at 6 AM EST. This information is out, and more and more folks are waking up early to book the most sought after spots.
We recommend reserving at least one restaurant each day in the parks (afternoons are a good time in the summer to hide from the rain). You will be grateful the time in the air conditioning off of your feet.
Also, know that if you enjoy beer and wine, Magic Kingdom only serves alcohol in its table service restaurants. These all require reservations in advance. If you want to enjoy alcohol on your Magic Kingdom day, be sure to make reservations ahead of time.
To book reservations visit the Disney Restaurant Reservation Site, or book through your My Disney Experience Mobile Ap. You can also call at (407)-939-3463.
How to Dine with Characters at Disney?
Many families want to arrange a character meal at Disney. Instead of spending your park days trying to track down characters and wait in line for photos, this can be a great way complete your meet and greets and enjoy a nice meal.
Character dining is typically buffet or family style, with a fixed cost. Prices are steep, and are $25-30 for kids and $40-50 for adults at breakfast, and $30-40 for kids, and $50-60 for adults at dinner.
Character dining is available in all parks:
Crystal Palace – Winnie the Pooh and Friends
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall – Disney Princesses
Garden Grill – Mickey, Pluto, Chip & Dale
Hollywood and Vine– Disney Playhouse Characters at breakfast and Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald and Goofy at lunch and dinner
Tusker House – Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald and Goofy
Character dining is also available at some resorts:
Disney’s Beach Club:
Cape May Cafe Breakfast – Minnie, Daisy, Donald, and Goofy
Disney’s Contemporary Resort:
Chef Mickey’s – Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald
Disney’s Polynesian Resort:
‘Ohana – Mickey, Stitch, Lilo, Pluto
Toppolino’s Terrace – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort:
Storybook Dining with Snow White – Snow White, Dopey, Grumpy, and The Evil Queen
We hope this guide has been helpful to you as a first step in your Disney trip planning. Check out our other Disney blog posts to learn more ab out the finer details of planning the perfect Disney trip!
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