The Ultimate Disney World Guide for First Timers (2024)

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The Ultimate Disney World Guide for First Timers (2024)

Disney World for first timers can be…well…overwhelming! And there’s no way I want you to feel that way. So, I created the ultimate Disney World guide for first timers (and I’m so excited to share it with you!). 

I’ve been lucky enough to go to Disney World anywhere from 1-3 times per year my whole life. I’ve done Disney as a kid, teenager, adult…and now as a mom myself (which has been awesome, by the way! So if you’re going to Disney with kids, no need to stress…I got you!). 

No, I’m not a local, so I can’t just pop in and see the latest and greatest thing going on there any time I want. I have to plan for each Disney trip we take to make sure we make the most out of it, while still making it feel like a vacation. 

Believe it or not, planning a first Disney trip can be almost as fun as actually going on the trip. In this Disney World guide, I’ll cover it all thoroughly enough to give a great head start on this planning extravaganza, but also concise enough so that you’re not sitting here for hours reading it. 

Now, let’s get planning for your first time at Disney World!

Disclosure: You may see affiliate links throughout this post, which means these are the things I handpicked! If you purchase something through these links, I will get a small commission at absolutely no extra charge to you. And that sure means a lot to me, so thank you in advance! See the privacy policy for more information.

Overview

Walt Disney World is the size of the city San Francisco. And that’s probably one of the reasons it feels like such a big task to plan your first Disney vacation. 

So, needless to say, there’s zero chance you’ll do it all on your first trip to Disney (heck, I haven’t even done it all, and I’ve been more times than I can count!). And that’s okay. Please remember that as you’re planning!

Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom at sunset

But just to get started, let’s review some of what makes up Walt Disney World:

Four Theme Parks 

Magic Kingdom

Think quintessential Disney. A mix of classic attractions and new favorites, TONS of rides that everyone can enjoy, and a pretty epic fireworks show. Magic Kingdom is a must-do during a first-time visit to Walt Disney World in my opinion! 

Epcot

At Epcot, you’ll find some amazing food and drink options. And this is absolutely the best park if meeting princesses is a priority. But my favorite part about it as a mom? There are a bunch of fun play areas around the park that my kids LOVE. 

Hollywood Studios

This park is the place to be if you’re a Stars Wars, Toy Story, or Disney Junior lover. While there are only a couple rides with no height restrictions, there are lots of shows and character meet and greets to keep even the littlest ones in your party entertained. 

Animal Kingdom

An animal lover’s dream, but so much more than a zoo.  In fact, I wouldn’t even put Animal Kingdom in the category of a zoo at all. You can learn so much about animal conservation here, enjoy unique attractions, and see my personal favorite show on property – Festival of the Lion King. 

Can’t decide which park(s) might be best for your family? Here’s a good review of what each park offers.

Pandore - World of Avatar in Disney's Animal Kingdom

Two Water Parks

Typhoon Lagoon

Disney legend has it that this tropical paradise was hit by a huge typhoon, and now you get to enjoy all the fun that came from the aftermath. 

Blizzard Beach

This water park doesn’t have a tropical feel at all. In fact, you’re transported to a winter wonderland in the middle of Florida. 

Disney Springs

Disney Springs is a massive shopping and dining area. So, if you’re really into those things, this area might end up being on your must-do list for your first trip to Disney.

There’s also plenty of entertainment options and fun experiences there, as well, such as Cirque du Soleil, bowling, a movie theater, driving a car (that turns into a boat) right into the water, and taking a “hot air balloon” ride.  

ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex 

ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is a large sports facility that hosts thousands of athletes in over 60 sports throughout the year. (Fun fact: I actually competed in dance team nationals there in high school!). 

Over 30 Resort Hotels

The resorts can honestly be attractions of their own.  Whether you’re staying on property or not, you can still enjoy all that the resorts have to offer including dining and resort activities. 

Entrance to Disney's Boardwalk

Now that you have a general idea of what Disney offers, let’s jump into the details of the planning stage. 

Setting Up a My Disney Experience Account

The very first thing you should do when planning a trip to Disney World for the first time is set up your My Disney Experience account. Head over to Disney’s website or download the My Disney Experience app on your phone to get started.

My Disney Experience will be your hub for basically EVERYTHING while planning your trip and enjoying your time at Disney. Your travel party and all of your plans, tickets, dining reservations, and resort information will be linked to this account as you plan everything.

This is also where you will access Disney Genie (as well as Genie+ if you decide to purchase this), virtual queues, mobile food ordering, and photos that are taken throughout your vacation. 

You’ll be able to find the park hours, park maps, ride wait times, character meet and greet locations, and SO much more.

If you’re staying on Walt Disney World property, you will even be able to check into your resort and open the door to your room through the app. 

So, the moral of the story? Go get this set up ASAP. And once you do, click around just for fun to get yourself familiar with it all. 

My Disney Experience app as a part of the Disney World Guide for First Timers

Walt Disney World Resort Hotels

Once you have your dates on the calendar, it’s time to choose where you’ll stay. There are two general options–staying on Disney World property and off Disney World property. 

Both have their pros and cons (the main con of staying on property being the price), but there really is something extra special about staying on property and being in the “Disney bubble.” Not only that, but there are also perks that come along with staying on property. 

On-property perks include:

  • Extra park hours. All Disney Resort Hotel guests get to enter the parks 30 minutes early each day. And those staying at deluxe resorts get extended evening hours on select nights (I promise I’ll get into the different levels of resorts in a second).
  • The ability to book your dining reservations for your entire trip 60 days prior to your check-in date (yep, I’ll get to this soon, too!). 
  • Free transportation around property.
  • Getting first dibs on Individual Lightning Lane selections (again, I’ll get to this later). 
  • Free parking at the resorts and theme parks. 
  • The ability to purchase the Disney Dining Plan (if you book a vacation package).
  • Discounts on MagicBand or MagicBand+. And if you do decide to purchase those, you can set up the ability to charge your room for purchases made during your vacation.  
Lava Pool at Disney's Polynesian Resort, a deluxe resort at Disney World

Ok, now let’s get into the deets about your on-property vs off-property accommodation options. 

On-Property Resort Hotel Options

Disney World has Resort Hotel options at various price points, with the value resorts being the cheapest option and the deluxe resorts being the most expensive option. Obviously, as the price goes up, the more amenities or better location you get. But here’s a quick overview of it all:

Value Resort Hotels

In general, you can expect the Value Resort Hotels to have motel-like outdoor entrances to your room, a food court, fun theming, and large pools with no water slides. 

Value Resort Hotels have the smallest rooms overall and usually sleep 4. But All-Star Music and Art of Animation offer family suites that sleep 6 for a higher price. 

List of Value Resort Hotels at Disney World + Transportation Options Around Property
  • Art of Animation: Skyliner transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Bus transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and the water parks. 
  • All-Star Movies: Bus transportation only.
  • All-Star Music: Bus transportation only.
  • All-Star Sports: Bus transportation only.
  • Pop Century: Skyliner transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Bus transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and the water parks.

Moderate Resort Hotels

You can expect a little bump up in the quality and amenities at Moderate Resort Hotels compared to Value Resort Hotels.  The rooms will be a bit bigger, some of the studios have 5th sleeper options, pools will have water slides, and you’ll have table service restaurant options in addition to a food court.

List of Moderate Resort Hotels at Disney World + Transportation Options Around Property
  • Caribbean Beach: Skyliner transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Bus transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks.
  • Coronado Springs:  Bus transportation only. 
  • Fort Wilderness Cabins: Boat transportation to Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Port Orleans French Quarter: Bus transportation to all theme parks and water parks. Boat transportation to Disney Springs. 
  • Port Orleans Riverside: Bus transportation to all theme parks and water parks. Boat transportation to Disney Springs. 
Disney's Skyliner outside Hollywood Studios

Deluxe Resort Hotels

The Deluxe Resort Hotels are the cream of the crop when it comes to Disney resorts (and the prices reflect that).  These resorts will have the most square footage in the rooms with a balcony/patio, more elaborate pools and waterslides, and table service and quick service dining options (no food court style dining). 

These resorts *usually* have interior entry to your room, multiple transportation options to get you around property, and a location close to the theme parks or Disney Springs (sometimes within walking distance!). 

List of Deluxe Resort Hotels at Disney World + Transportation Options Around Property
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge: Bus transportation only. 
  • Beach Club: Boat transportation and walking paths to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Walking distance to Skyliner transportation (which connects Epcot and Hollywood Studios). Bus transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Boardwalk: Boat transportation and walking paths to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Walking distance to Skyliner transportation (which connects Epcot and Hollywood Studios). Bus transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Contemporary: Monorail transportation to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Walking path to Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Grand Floridian: Monorail transportation to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Walking path and boat transportation to Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Old Key West: Bus transportation to all theme parks and water parks. Boat transportation to Disney Springs. 
  • Polynesian: Monorail transportation to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Boat transportation to Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Riviera: Skyliner transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Bus transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks.
  • Saratoga Springs: Bus transportation to all theme parks and water parks. Walking path and boat transportation to Disney Springs. 
  • Wilderness Lodge: Boat transportation to Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Yacht Club: Boat transportation and walking paths to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Walking distance to Skyliner transportation (which connects Epcot and Hollywood Studios). Bus transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 

Fort Wilderness Campground

Yep, there’s even a campground at Disney World! The campground is located at Fort Wilderness, and guests can enjoy the same perks and resort amenities as those staying in the cabins (except for the fact that you have to have a camper or tent with you!). 

Guests have access to boat transportation to Magic Kingdom. And bus transportation to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and the water parks. 

Disney Vacation Club Villas

The Disney Vacation Club (DVC) is basically Disney’s version of a timeshare and has villas at all the deluxe resorts. One major thing that sets the villas apart from the regular resort rooms is that the villas have a bit more of a home away from home feel. In the studios, there are kitchenettes and in 1-bedroom villas or bigger, there are full kitchens and laundry facilities in the room. 

Now, this may sound like something that doesn’t pertain to you since it’s your first time at Disney World, BUT you can actually rent DVC points to enjoy the perks of staying in a DVC villa (and staying in a deluxe resort in general). This usually ends up being cheaper than booking a regular room at the same deluxe resort. In fact, at times, you may even find prices that are similar to stays at moderate resorts!

Sign at Disney World that says Wishing You a Magical Day

In order to rent DVC points, there are quite a few companies you could use. DVC Rental Store and David’s Vacation Club Rentals are a couple of options, but if you google “renting DVC points,” you’ll be able to see various options. 

It’s good to note that you’re not able to book a Disney vacation package when renting DVC points, so you’ll have to purchase your tickets separately. 

List of Resorts with Disney Vacation Club Villas at Disney World + Transportation Options Around Property
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge: Bus transportation only. 
  • Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary: Monorail transportation to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Walking path to Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Beach Club: Boat transportation and walking paths to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Walking distance to Skyliner transportation (which connects Epcot and Hollywood Studios). Bus transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Boardwalk: Boat transportation and walking paths to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Walking distance to Skyliner transportation (which connects Epcot and Hollywood Studios). Bus transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Boulder Ridge at Wilderness Lodge: Boat transportation to Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Copper Creek at Wilderness Lodge: Boat transportation to Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Grand Floridian: Monorail transportation to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Walking path and boat transportation to Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Old Key West: Bus transportation to all theme parks and water parks. Boat transportation to Disney Springs. 
  • Polynesian: Monorail transportation to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Boat transportation to Magic Kingdom. Bus transportation to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks. 
  • Riviera: Skyliner transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Bus transportation to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and water parks.
  • Saratoga Springs: Bus transportation to all theme parks and water parks. Walking path and boat transportation to Disney Springs. 
Family visiting with Disney characters at the BoardWalk at Disney World

Off-Property Accommodations 

There are plenty of off-property accommodations nearby, including vacation rentals (like on VRBO) and nearby hotels. 

These are great if you’re looking for more budget-friendly or pet-friendly options, you need accommodations with lots of extra space, you want to use hotel points that you’ve been saving up, or you just don’t want to be *totally* immersed in Disney. 

It’s good to note that there are “good neighbor hotels” at Disney World, in which you can book a Disney vacation package (resort + tickets) at a non-Disney resort and get some perks as if you were staying on property. Check out a full list of good neighbor hotels here

Theme Park Ticket Options and Park Reservations

Next up on this Disney World beginners guide? Purchasing your park tickets. You can do so on Disney’s website, as part of a Disney vacation package, or on a discount ticket site (like Undercover Tourist). My workplace even offers discounted tickets, so it’s something to look into!

IMPORTANT: Kids under 3 are FREE and will *not* need a park ticket. Kids ages 3-9 will have slightly discounted ticket prices. 

Check out this post if you’re trying to figure out which park(s) to visit, especially if you’re going with young kids.

Disney World Ticket Options

Standard Theme Park Ticket

The Standard Theme Park Ticket is also known as the 1 Park Per Day ticket. This is the least expensive option.

With this ticket type, you will receive admission to ONE of the 4 Walt Disney World theme parks each day. You may leave the park and re-enter the same park later that day. But you will not be able to enter a different theme park that day.

My Disney World advice for first timers who are overwhelmed with all the options Disney offers? Get the 1 Park Per Day ticket to help streamline your decision-making. 

1 Park Per Day with Water and Sports Option

With this ticket type, you will receive admission to one theme park per day as described above.  Plus, you will be able to enjoy a certain number of visits to some fun extras. 

The number of visits you receive will depend on the number of days worth of theme park tickets purchased. For example, a 1-day theme park ticket allows one visit to one of the extras listed below, a 3-day ticket allows 3 visits, etc. These visits will be in addition to your theme park tickets, so you can choose to use them on the same day you go to a theme park or a different day. 

For each visit, you can choose one of the following:

  • Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park
  • Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
  • ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex
  • Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course
  • Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course – FootGolf
  • Disney’s Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course (before 4 PM)
  • Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course (before 4 PM)

Park Hopper Option

Adding on the Park Hopper Option to your Standard Theme Park Ticket will allow you to visit more than one park on the same day. This is my favorite ticket type because it allows for SO much flexibility. 

Spaceship Earth at Epcot with a palm tree in front of it

Park Hopper Plus Option

The Park Hopper Plus Option is almost identical to the 1 Park Per Day with Water and Sports Option described above, so check out that section for more details. 

The only difference is that instead of only being able to visit one theme park per day, you will be able to visit more than one park on the same day, as described in the Park Hopper Option section. 

Annual Passes

Annual passes are most useful when you live close by or when you will be taking at least 2-3 separate trips to Walt Disney World throughout the year.

There are different types of Disney annual passes that consist of different benefits. Make sure to read through all the benefits of each pass on Disney’s website before purchasing, so you know exactly what it entails. 

Park Reservations

As of January 9, 2024, park reservations are a thing of the past IF you have a date-based park ticket! (Can I get a whoop whoop?!)

There’s a bit of a caveat, though. If you have a different ticket type (like an annual pass, military ticket, conference ticket, etc.), you will still need to make a park reservation. Don’t forget that important step if you don’t have a date-based ticket!

Special Ticketed Events

Throughout the year, Disney World offers special ticketed events, including After Hours Parties, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. 

If an event is offered during your Disney trip and you’d like to go, you will need to purchase a separate ticket for that event specifically. 

Boo-to-You Parade at Walt Disney World

Disney World Transportation 

Airport Transportation

If you’re flying into Orlando International Airport (the easiest and most common airport to fly into when visiting Disney World), you’ll have several options for how you’ll get from the airport to your resort. 

Here’s a quick overview:

  • Shuttle bus (such as Mears Connect): these shuttle buses tend to be one of the most affordable options and you don’t need to have a car seat. But with a decrease in price comes some things to consider. You’ll have to wait in a (potentially long) line to get onto the bus. Then you’ll have to wait for the bus to fill up. Then you’ll likely have multiple stops along the bus route (I’m not sure why, but we’re somehow always one of the last dang stops!). For your return trip at the end of your vacation, you’ll be given a pickup time that’s usually about 3 hours prior to your departure time. 
  • Private transportation (my favorite is Away We Go): the great thing about this option is that they’re ready right when you get off the plane to take your family directly to your resort. A lot of them even provide car seats. With any sort of private transportation, the cost goes up though.
  • Car rental: if you want more flexibility during your trip or if you’ll be traveling to the surrounding areas off Disney property, this will be the way to go. I highly recommend reserving your car in advance
  • Uber/Lyft: a rideshare service might be the cheapest option of all (although you will see price surges during busy times). But of course, there are certain things to consider, such as the car seat situation if you’re traveling with your kiddos. We have personally never done this option with our kids.

On-Property Transportation

There are SO many fun Disney World transportation options (honestly, we take rides on the Monorail or Skyliner just for the fun of it sometimes!). Almost all transportation options on property are FREE for anyone. 

So, let’s say you’re staying off property, but you’re at the Magic Kingdom and want to take a ride on the Monorail to go grab lunch at the Polynesian resort. You can do that!

Boat transportation at Disney World

Here are the on-property transportation options you might come by during your trip:

  • Monorail: the Monorail travels to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and select resorts. It also makes a stop at the Transportation and Ticket Center, which is important to know if you’ll be driving, taking an Uber, or using the shuttle from an off-property resort to get to the Magic Kingdom. *You do not need to collapse your strollers on the Monorail.  
  • Skyliner: the Skyliner travels to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and select resorts. *You do not need to collapse your strollers on the Skyliner IF it’s a single stroller or tandem double stroller (you will need to collapse it if it’s a side-by-side stroller).
  • Bus: if you’re staying on Disney property, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll take a bus to get somewhere on property. *You will need to collapse your strollers on bus transportation.
  • Boat/Ferry: you’ll find boats or a ferry in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot resort areas. *You do not need to collapse your strollers on the boats or ferry.
  • Minnie Van: this is a paid service offered through Lyft, picking you up when you’d like and taking you directly to your destination (often making it the quickest option to get anywhere on property). You can book a Minnie Van in your My Disney Experience app. Up to two car seats will be provided if needed.  
  • Driving: if you have a car, you can drive anywhere on property. If you’re staying at a Disney World resort, parking at your resort and at the theme parks will be free (although you can pay a fee for premium parking if you’d like). It’s good to note that when driving to Magic Kingdom, you will not park at Magic Kingdom. Instead, you will park at the Transportation and Ticket Center and take the Monorail or a Ferry to the park. 

Dining at Disney World

Dining options at Disney World seem endless. So, let’s just stick with the basics in this guide.

Quick Service Restaurants at Disney World

Quick service restaurants are spread out all over the theme parks and resorts. You do not need reservations for these restaurants.

These restaurants will have large seating areas, you will get your food on trays, and you’ll be responsible for throwing your trash away at the end of your meal. 

As the name implies, this will be your quickest dining option. 

Table Service Restaurants at Disney World

These are sit-down meals, whether that’s family-style, table service, or buffets. All character dining is included in this category. 

It’s highly recommended that you make advanced reservations for table service restaurants at Disney World. However, at times, there is a walk-up list you can join at the last minute.

Some reservations are harder to get than others (there are some SUPER popular themed restaurants or character dining spots like Cinderella’s Royal Table, for example). 

I always try to make my reservations 60 days in advance. But if I don’t get the reservation I want, I check back every now and then leading up to our trip. I’ve even had luck getting popular dining reservations on the day of!

Dad and 3 sons posing with Lilo at character breakfast at 'Ohana in Disney World

Advanced Dining Reservations

What’s this you say about making reservations 60 days in advance? Well, let’s talk about it. Because this is a very important part of the planning timeline for Disney World.

If you’re staying at a Disney World resort, your advanced dining reservation booking window will open at 6:00 AM Eastern 60 days prior to your check-in date for your entire trip. 

If you’re staying off property, your advanced dining reservation booking window will open at 6:00 AM Eastern 60 days prior to the day you want to make each specific reservation.

You can make dining reservations on your My Disney Experience account online or on the My Disney Experience app. (I personally like to have both options open in case one glitches!)

If you decide you no longer want or need the reservation, you can cancel it up to two hours prior to the reservation without penalty (you’ll have to put a credit card down when booking the reservation that can be charged if you no show your reservation).

Mobile Ordering 

There are lots of restaurants that offer mobile ordering using the My Disney Experience app. Most of the restaurants that offer mobile ordering are quick service restaurants, but there are some table service restaurants that offer it for to-go orders. 

To mobile order food, open up your My Disney Experience app, click the “+” button on the bottom, then click “Order Food.” Once you’re ready for them to start putting your meal together, click the button stating that you’ve arrived. 

This is a great way to save time waiting in lines at restaurants! 

Food Allergies at Disney World

Disney World is amazing at accommodating food allergies. All quick service and table service restaurants at Disney have allergy-friendly menus. And you are encouraged to ask to speak to the chef to discuss all allergies before ordering. 

Disney recommends contacting them in advance if you have 4 or more food allergies. Their website states they would like you to contact them by emailing Special.Diets@DisneyWorld.com after making your dining reservations AND no more than 14 days before your trip.

Bringing Your Own Food into the Parks

You’re more than welcome to bring your own food into the parks (I always have snacks with me for the boys!). However, Cast Members will not be able to store, cook, or reheat any food you bring in.

Coolers are allowed as long as they’re smaller than 24″ long x 15″ wide x 18″ high. Loose and dry ice are not allowed, so bring along ice packs. 

Here’s a full list of what you can bring into the Disney World theme parks

Genie+

Moving right along, now we get into the stuff that you don’t necessarily need, buuut may just make your trip a little more magical.  

First up, Genie+.  This is a paid service that allows you to skip the standby line at an attraction by booking a Lightning Lane reservation on the My Disney Experience app.

If you’re not quite sure what Genie+ is or if you’d need it, check out my full Genie+ review here

Long story, short…this can come in VERY handy if waiting in long lines doesn’t seem like something you’d like to do. But it’s super important to know how to use the service to get your money’s worth. 

I promise it’s not hard, but it can seem a little overwhelming initially. To learn all about it and prepare yourself in the best possible way, take a look at my full Genie+ guide

Mom and son smiling in front of Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios

Memory Maker

Memory Maker is a photo service offered at Disney World. 

Around the parks, you’ll see PhotoPass photographers just about everywhere. If you purchase Memory Maker you’ll have access to download all the photos taken on your trip. And if you purchase it in advance, you’ll snag it at a discounted rate.

If you’re the picture taker in the family like me, this is a great way to ensure you get all the group photos you want during your first Disney trip (that aren’t selfies, of course). 

But my favorite reason to have it? Capturing my kids’ reactions during character meet and greets.  That way I just get to enjoy the moment instead of worrying about getting my phone out. 

Family meeting Goofy at Magic Kingdom during character meet and greet with toddlers

Enchanting Extras

Finally, let’s talk about Enchanting Extras.  These are things like a fireworks dessert party, a cabana by the pool, getting a princess or knight makeover at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, getting a haircut at Harmony Barber Shop, or building a lightsaber. There are a crazy amount of options!

To book an enchanting extra, you can do so online or by calling Disney World. The booking window is the same as the advanced dining reservations, BUT instead of opening at 6:00 AM Eastern, they often open at 12:00 AM Eastern (if you weren’t already tired enough thinking about booking advanced reservations…ha!). 

Disney World Tips for First Timers

Woohoo! You’ve made it through all the big decisions. But it’s one thing to just check boxes and another thing to make the most out of your time in the parks.  Here are some of my best tips for Disney World first timers. 

Get to know the My Disney Experience app ahead of time.

You’ll use the My Disney Experience every. single. day. of your trip. So click through it ahead of time to get an idea of where to find everything. 

Get to know how to use Genie+ ahead of time if you plan to purchase it.

This is a big one. To be blunt, if you don’t know how to use Genie+ before purchasing it, you’ll likely feel like you completely wasted your money on it. So do yourself the favor of getting to know how to use Genie+ before you even step foot in the parks. 

let’s connect!

Looking for allll of my Disney tips? (Because there’s plenty more where this came from.)

Instagram is where it’s at! Check out @ThoseMagicalDays — an extension of Those Johnson Boys, where I let loose on everything Disney to help make your trip stress-free.

Check in at the front desk to get the lay of the land.

If you’re staying at a Disney World resort, you’ll be able to check into your resort in advance on your My Disney Experience app.  And you should definitely do that! (I usually do it anywhere from a month to a few days before our stay.)

BUT once you get to the resort, I still recommend heading to the lobby to check in there, too.

Why? They can go over all the resort details and give you a map. You can ask any questions you have. And SOMETIMES they can pull some strings to get your room ready a little earlier (this is not always the case, but it’s always worth a shot!). 

Prioritize your park days. 

Now, I’m not saying to plan your day down to the minute.  That’s the perfect recipe for a stressful day at Disney World. 

What I AM saying is to prioritize your day. Pick about 5 must-do attractions and experiences based on your family’s interests. Then get a nice-to-see list together to start knocking out once you’ve covered your priorities. 

This can include anything from rides, shows, playgrounds, character meet and greets, a special dining reservation or snack you want try, etc.

Planning a day at the Disney World parks can be overwhelming! But it doesn’t need to be.

Check out my FREE daily Disney World park planner to help prioritize and organize your day, so you can have the vacation you’re dreaming of.

Consider taking a day or two away from the parks. 

There is SO much more to Disney than just the parks. In fact, some of our favorite days (that actually feel like a vacation!) during our Disney World vacations are the days we don’t go to the parks. 

If the length of your first Disney trip allows, I’d highly recommend planning at least one non-park day. 

On those days you can relax, enjoy the pool, check out Disney Springs or a water park, go to a character meal without feeling rushed, explore the other resorts, participate in resort activities, go golfing or mini golfing…the list goes on!

Brothers jumping into pool at Disney's Boardwalk

Don’t over-plan…but also don’t wing it.

Like I stated earlier, there’s no way to see and do everything at Disney World.  So, don’t try to! Focus on what’s most important to your family, then let the little moments of magic in between fall into place. 

With that being said…please, please, PLEASE don’t wing it. I cringe a little whenever I hear someone say that’s what they’re going to do at Disney World.

The parks will get overwhelming QUICKLY if you go in without a plan at all, and you’ll waste too much time wandering around trying to figure out where to go and what to do. 

I like to have a basic plan each day. And I especially like to have a plan for what we’ll do at the start of our park days. That way we can start having fun right off the bat. 

Know that there are options for everyone to ride what they want.

If you’re going to Disney World with little ones, but you’re really looking forward to riding something your kiddo is scared of or way too small for, you can use Rider Switch. I explain it all in this Instagram post.

Review the Disney lingo.

Are terms like Rider Switch, Lightning Lane, and rope drop making you feel like you’re trying to learn a foreign language? Check out this quick vocab lesson to help things make a little more sense.

Know what to pack. 

Finally, what should you bring and what should you leave back at home? I cover it all in this article about what to pack for your entire family (complete with a printable checklist!). 

If you’re looking to learn what you need to bring just for your time at the parks, find out how I pack our stroller for Disney here.

If you want to just jump straight to the packing list, though…here you go.

Want to know EXACTLY what to pack for your upcoming Disney World trip?

Snag a free printable Disney World packing checklist by clicking the button below. (And how do I know it’s EXACTLY what you need? Well, it’s the list I personally use, so it’s been through plenty of trial and error.)

FAQ for Disney World First Timers

What do I need to know about Disney World for the first time?

The most important thing to know about going to Disney World for the first time is that there’s something for everyone, which means there are a LOT of options to choose from. You won’t regret putting in some time before your trip to prioritize what you want to see and do to make your vacation individualized to your family’s interests. 

Which Disney park is best for first timers?

If I had to choose the best Disney park for first timers, it would have to be Magic Kingdom because of the nostalgia and quintessential Disney feel. But all four theme parks are so unique and fun in their own ways, so I would base which parks you’ll visit off of your family’s interests. 

How many days should I go to Disney World for the first time?

For a first time visit to Walt Disney World, I would recommend a 5-7 day vacation. 

Where should I stay in Disney World for the first time?

I highly recommend staying on Disney World property for your first Disney trip. The convenience of being close to the parks, the extra park hours, and having access to free transportation anywhere on property are huge perks. Plus being immersed in that Disney magic (and getting to experience the amazing customer service from the Cast Members) makes things extra special.  

Do I need a MagicBand at Disney World?

While having a MagicBand or MagicBand+ at Disney World makes things a bit easier, you don’t need to have one to enjoy your vacation. You’ll also have the option of using the MagicMobile service on your My Disney Experience app or a Key to the World card (a physical card that you can get from Guest Services at the parks or the front desk of your resort) to perform similar tasks to the MagicBand. 

Does Disney World do anything special for first time visitors?

You can ask for a “first visit” button at the front desk of your resort or at any Guest Services location. Wear that button around the parks and the Cast Members just might take notice and sprinkle a little extra magic into your day! 

Wrap-Up: Disney World Guide for First Timers

I’m BEYOND excited for you that you’re going to Disney World for the first time…let the countdown begin! While it can seem like a lot when you first start diving into planning a Disney vacation, I hope this guide gave you some good direction. 

Check out the Disney section of my blog for all sorts of Disney World tips and tricks. And if you want weekly tips and exclusive content sent straight to your email, subscribe to my newsletter here.

Coloring sheet, Disney balloons for Disney vacation countdown ideas

Counting down the days until Disney?

Well, let’s build that excitement even more!

Click the button to download a free Disney countdown printable. It’s FULL of fun Disney countdown ideas to choose from.

let’s talk photo editing!

Wondering how I give my photos a bit of an oomph?

Well, let’s just say I’m a little obsessed with the Light & Airy Photographer photo editing presets.

In just one click, your photo goes from, “Aw, that’s cute,” to, “WOW!”

Light & Airy Preset before and after photos of mom and 3 boys

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