I wrote this from the airport (have I mentioned that unlike most people, I love airports?! Another post on that later . . . ) where I was waiting for my flight back home from The Most Magical Place on Earth . . . Disney World!
My best friend, Megan, has been trying to get me to Disney for a solid decade, and this year it finally became a reality. She meticulously planned the most perfect trip ever, and all I had to do was show up! It was an especially nice treat for me because I’m usually the one doing all the prep work and planning (hazard of travel blogging!) and because she is the most detail-oriented, organized person I know. Suffice it to say, I knew I was going to be in good hands!
Thanks to her insane level of expertise (Seriously – she loves Disney so much that she runs an awesome, handmade, organic spa products line on Etsy – check it out!) I had a fabulous trip and was able to pick up some tips along the way, which I am passing along to you lovely people!
So, without further ado, here are 10 Tips for Your First Ever Trip to Walt Disney World, thanks to my personal Disney guru:
1) Go with a pro (if you can!) – Stating the obvious, perhaps, but my trip wouldn’t have been even half as successful had I done it on my own. If you’re able to go with someone who’s familiar with Disney, DO IT! There is A TON of work that goes into planning out Fast Passes (which let you skip the lines), making dining reservations (which can give you early park access and unique character experiences), and generally navigating the four different parks, resorts, bus lines, etc. If you can rely on a friend or family member to help guide you through this planning process (and even the trip itself) it will definitely make everything easier! And if you can’t, be sure to download the My Disney Experience app, which will help you manage all of the above on the go. A final note on this from the Disney Princess herself, Megan says: “Remember that even the pros are still learning! Don’t get overwhelmed if you don’t figure it all out; there is so much to see and experience that even people who have been dozens of times are still discovering things. That’s part of the magic.”
2) Even the most comfortable shoes you own probably aren’t comfy enough – I pride myself on my impenetrable dancer feet, which pretty much never blister. And while my dancer feet did indeed hold up, I can tell you that after walking over 60 miles in a week, and standing in lines for hours each day, even my comfiest tennis shoes didn’t feel so hot. Bring a few different pairs of athletic shoes and try to rotate them so that they hit different spots on your feet and provide adequate arch support. I may sound like a seventy-year-old, but you’ll thank me later.
3) Hydrate. And then hydrate again – We were in Orlando in mid-October and were #blessed enough to experience a highly unusual 90 degree heat wave. But even if you go in (hopefully!) cooler weather, it’s important to stay hydrated. I drink a ton of water normally, but even I had to make an effort to drink enough. (It’s all too easy to get distracted by the Disney magic and forget to down the Dasani!)
4) Pack light for the parks, but pack something – No matter how hard you try, you’ll wind up schlepping something around the park. Try to bring as little as possible with you, but definitely bring the essentials: i.e. hat, sunglasses, portable phone charger (which is is especially important as you’ll want to snap some pics and use the Disney app; you can check out my favorite portable chargers here). You can even bring your own snacks and drinks into the park, so be sure to pack a refillable water bottle! Even if you decide to go minimalist, I promise that you’ll end up purchasing something anyway (to quote Space Balls, “merchandising!”) and it’s easier to toss your souvenirs in a lightweight drawstring backpack than to cart around various plastic shopping bags. Unlike most amusement parks, where you have to get a locker or wear an outfit with a lot of pockets, every single ride has a secure place to stow your stuff, and Disney makes it incredibly easy to ride with your gear in tow.
5) Ditch the diet – I’m a foodie, but also typically a pretty healthy eater. At Disney, I let my foodie side win out, and I regret nothing. Disney’s motto may be “The Most Magical Place on Earth!” but I kept joking that it should really be “You’ll Never Go Hungry Here!” If you’re on the dining plan (which was a huge cost-saver for us) then there is absolutely no way you’ll use all your “snack credits,” nor will you ever finish a meal. I have a gluten sensitivity and Disney was CRAZY ACCOMMODATING (they’ve ruined real-world dining for me), but beyond that, their portions are insane and if it even appears that you’re not fully enjoying your meal, they’ll offer to bring you something else. We were there for Food & Wine (which is an amazing experience, by the way!) so that probably compounded the problem, but I’m willing to bet a winning lotto ticket that no matter what time of year you’re there, Disney will do their best to stuff you like a Thanksgiving turkey. One last comment on this – if you can book early morning breakfasts in the parks, you’ll get in before “rope drop” which is a term I’d never heard before but basically means you’ll be in the parks before they officially open, and once you’re done consuming a day’s worth of calories at breakfast alone, you can pop on down to the ride you want to ride the most and beat the lines. (This was a Megan insight that I would never have figured out . . . and it made a HUGE difference in ride wait times for us.)
6) Prioritize, and then Let It Go – Sorry in advance if you now have the song from Frozen stuck in your head, but I was at Disney for a week, so it may never leave mine. In all seriousness, prioritize the rides or experiences you really want to do (i.e. we hit Flight of Passage, the Avatar ride in Animal Kingdom, first thing), and try and hit them as soon as the parks open; use your Fast Passes wisely; and then let the rest go. There’s no way to cram every single thing in to one trip, even when you’ve got the benefit of an expert guide. So relax and enjoy the experiences you do get to, and then promptly start planning your return!
7) You can sleep when you’re dead – You may laugh, but I’m not kidding. By the end of the trip I think I was 95% caffeine, Megan was 95% dry shampoo, and our other best friend Katherine was 95% sheer willpower. We conquered Disney but it kicked our butts in the process. I’ve been calling it “Vacation Hangover” and it’s a real thing. Definitely take breaks when you need them, because Grumpy should only be found on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride, but don’t be tempted to cut out early and miss the fireworks and light shows at the end of the night (we saw five of them, and they were one of my favorite parts of the trip!).
8) Use the PhotoPass and buy the Memory Maker – As I’ve mentioned before, I’m super camera-shy, but Disney is the place to get over that, promptly. You’re going to want to document some of the highlights of your trip (who doesn’t want that iconic castle photo?!?!) and at some point, your #longarmselfies and crappy iPhone shots that strangers take for you aren’t going to cut it. While I love my iPhone and it’s the camera I use for everything (check out my favorite iPhone photography apps here and here), I can tell you from my experience at Disney that their photographers do a vastly better job. Throughout the park there are photo spots where you can pose with various attractions and characters, and with the PhotoPass you can have one of Disney’s cast members take the picture for you on their professional camera. Plus, PhotoPass lets you swipe your MagicBand (Disney’s version of an Apple Watch; it gets you into everything – your room, the parks, your meal plan, etc.) to save those infamous “I’m screaming on a roller coaster” shots. Another pro tip from Megan: if you purchase the Memory Maker, you get unlimited PhotoPass downloads, including the “Magic Shots,” where Disney photoshops in characters and special effects to give you a unique picture. I probably wouldn’t recommend this purchase every time you go, but for your first visit, or if you’re traveling for a special occasion or want quality family photos, it’s worth it.
9) Talk to people – I mention in nearly all of my travel posts that part of the beauty of traveling is meeting people. This applies to Disney, too. Their security guards have the most insane stories; the cast members in Epcot typically hail from the country in which they work (i.e. cast members in Epcot’s France are from France); the attraction attendants have great tips for navigating the parks; and even the people you meet in line or on buses have fun things to share. Disney’s customer service is off-the-charts amazing (think Chick-fil-A and then multiple it by ten) and I didn’t even buy a water bottle without them asking me where I was from, or if I was enjoying my first visit (Disney provides a nifty little pin that says “1st Visit!” – another brilliant customer service tactic), so take advantage of the opportunity to learn something new.
10) Embrace your Inner Child – This is by far the most important tip of all! You’re in Disney, where imagination is celebrated and where I swear they pump something into the water to keep all their employees helpful and perky. Wear the sparkly Minnie Mouse ears, indulge your family in those ridiculous matching t-shirts, don your favorite Disney Princess attire, fangirl over meeting Chewbacca, eat ice cream for breakfast, and stay up way past your bedtime. If you can’t be a carefree kid at Disney, where can you?!
Anyway, I hope these tips help any Disney newbies! When in doubt, just email me to hire Megan!!! 😉