Walt Disney World is a magical place but it can also be an overwhelming place your first time. 4 theme parks, two water parks, 25 resorts, 340+ places to eat and countless rides will leave anyone’s head spinning. These 5 tips will get you on the right track for your first visit and explain some of the “Disney World speak” you will be hearing at the parks. I learned all of this with the help of my friend Amy from Happily Ever After Travel (If it’s all too overwhelming I definitely recommend working with an agent like Amy your initial go round.) and through first hand experience with our own first visit.
1. Set Up Your My Disney Experience Profile As soon as you have chosen your resort or hotel and booked your tickets, the very first thing you should do is set up your My Disney Experience account and profile. Here you can manage your itinerary and reservations and set up your Fast Passes. (More on that later.) You can also order your Magic Bands or Cards which will be everything from your room key to your admission to parks to a method to pay for purchases. When you set up your profile there is a drop down menu to the far right that will walk you through managing your account. These Magic Bands will be mailed to your house a few weeks before your trip.
2. Download the My Disney Experience App on your phone. This will be your best friend throughout your trip and work with your My Disney Experience Profile. You can see your ride times, character meet times, dining reservation times, and you can also search by park for rides, dining, and what characters are in the park and even find the nearest bathroom. You can also request fast pass times or dining reservations on your phone and so much more. A lifesaver. Or at least a trip saver. (And don’t judge my low phone battery! Haha!)
3. Book Your Character Dining You can make dining reservations 180 days before your visit. As soon as you are within the 180 day range book your character dining because the more popular ones such as Cinderella’s Royal Table (shown below) and Chef Mickey’s at Contemporary Resort fill up. Depening on the time of year of your visit they may fill within the day the reservations are released. To make your character dining reservations go here or call 407-WDW-DINE. We did Cinderella’s Royal Table, Chef Mickey’s, Disney Jr., and the character breakfast at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom. They were all wonderful for different reasons, but there is something magical about being at Cinderella’s castle so I highly recommend it. If you can’t get a dining reservation, check your My Disney Experience for where and when your favorites will be doing meet and greets. Don’t forget your autograph book and a larger pen. (It makes it easier for the characters to sign with their “hands”.)
4. Make your dining reservations if you plan on having any table service meals. (If you are staying at a room with a kitchen and plan on cooking the whole time or plan on only doing quick service meals, then don’t worry about this. We did a mix of quick service and table service which gave flexibility while still enjoying some of the wonderful table restaurants Disney has to offer. Even their quick service has great food though!) Popular restaurants like Be Our Guest fill up fast. We didn’t get to do that one on this trip but are heading back in March and hope to get a reservation. You can use the same 407-WDW-DINE to make your reservations. I can not tell you what excellent quality food Disney World has and they have some world class restaurants to please any foodie. The food at T-Rex Cafe in Downtown Disney was delicious and it’s a great experience for any dino loving kids. (I had the BBQ meat loaf and it was SO good.) If you’re looking for a nice meal or a date night while you’re at WDW I highly recommend California Grill at Contemporary Resort. This gorgeous meal below was from our night there. Attention to detail and beautiful food made this a stand out from our visit. Make your reservations. Also, if you keep your dinner receipt you can come back and watch the fireworks on one of their two viewing decks on the top floor of the resort. One of the best places to watch the show in the park. You can find ones you definitely want to make reservations for in this list from Disney Dining’s Hardest to Get Reservations.
5. Book your Fast Pass+ for your rides. The lines for rides and attractions at Disney World can be long, friends. The longest wait I saw while we were there was 120+ minutes for the 7 Dwarf’s Mine Train Roller Coaster. That’s two hours in line. Please, please take advantage of Disney World’s Fast Pass system and make a happier vacation and save yourself some in line time. Your Fast Pass is basically your appointment for your ride. There will be a separate line for Fast Pass holders and you return during your window and your wait time is a fraction of the regular line. DO IT! You can reserve Fast Pass rides using My Disney experience website or app 30 days before your arrival or if you have purchased a Disney Vacation package you can reserve your ride times 60 days before your arrival. For one park per day of your visit you get 3 Fast Passes. Use them for the more popular rides like 7 Dwarf’s Mine Train or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. You can also use them for prime spots viewing Wishes Fireworks. This is a free perk. Take advantage of it!
Another thing to consider but is not a MUST do, on your first visit is the Memory Maker Photo Pass. With your Memory Maker photo pass, your whole family will actually be in your first trip to Walt Disney World vacation photos instead of one parent taking the photo or depending on the kindness of strangers. There are WDW photographers all over the park and they will take your photo in front of all the memorable spots, plus they will take your photo at the character meet and greets, PLUS some rides take your photos while you are on them. The photographer scans your Magic Band and when you log into your My Disney Experience website, all your photos are there to choose from. I am so glad we did it and thought it was totally worth it.
ATTENTION FELLOW SPECIAL NEEDS FAMILIES: If your child or anyone in your immediate family is special needs be sure and get the DAS pass. You can pick it up at Guest Services at the first park you visit (located at each entrance) and Disney staff will load your DAS pass to your Magic Bands or cards. The pass assists families with members who can’t wait wait in line. To use the pass go to the Fast Pass entrance of the ride you want to use and tell them you have a disability pass. They will load a return time for you to come back so that you do not have to wait in line. Unlike the regular Fast Pass the DAS is unlimited. It was a huge help with Ethan who has high functioning autism and can not wait for long periods of time.
Walt Disney World is a massive place and entire books have been written on navigating the magic, but these 5 tips will get you started. We had a wonderful trip and learned a few things for next time. Have a magical trip!