If I only had learned one single lesson from my family’s first vacation to Walt Disney World it’s this: we were not prepared for it. Even with all of the research I’d done for months ahead of time I was still pretty much clueless once we stepped foot into the parks. Here’s my top 11 things to know before your first Disney World trip to save you time, money, and keep your sanity in check.
Maybe I had done too much scouring for information and it was all a jumble or maybe I felt I didn’t need to read any more of it, Honestly, it was probably a bit of both.
Either way, I’m happy to share 11 Important things to know (things that I wish someone had told us when we were WDW first timers) that will save you money, time, and your precious sanity on your first trip to Disney World.
1. Your MagicBand is Key to the (Magic) Kingdom
When you book an on-property stay at WDW, you’ll receive customizable MagicBands. The flexible bands are not only cute, they’re highly functional.
You’ll use it to open your resort room door, you’ll scan it to enter each theme park (tickets and passes will be attached to them), and if you add on a Dining Plan you’ll use it to pay for your meals. Add a credit card to it and you’ll even be able to pay for extras.
2. Take Advantage of Disney Transportation
If you’re flying into Orlando, Disney’s Magical Express will whisk you from the airport straight to your resort- and even grab your luggage for you so you won’t have to.
Make sure to link your flight reservations to your vacation reservation so the process will be seamless. Once you’re on property make sure to take advantage of all of the WDW transportation options: motor coaches, boats, and the Monorail.
3. Staying on Property? Extra Magic Hours Are Your Friend!
What are Extra Magic Hours? They’re extra hours in the theme parks for guests staying on-property at a WDW Resort. Each day, at least one of the four theme parks offers EMHs, so use them to your advantage.
During that precious hour before or after park opening/closing you’ll encounter lower crowd levels. Translation: less wait time for rides and attractions.
4. There’s a Budget for Everyone- Especially When There’s Special Offers
No matter if you’ve got a shoestring budget or want to splurge like never before, there’s a budget for you- especially if you have flexible dates. During low crowd seasons, WDW generally releases special offers including discounts on resort stays and free dining.
Keep creeping on the official website for special offers, consider whether you want to stay in a Value, Moderate, or Deluxe Resort (there’s benefits to all three), and just how much of a foodie family you are, crunch some numbers, and come up with a budget.
Should you book a vacation and then realize that a special offer has been released later on, you can always call WDW Vacations and ask them to check.
If your dates align and the special offer works, they’ll credit you back the extra cash.
5. Pre-plan Dining & FastPass+ Selections
If you’re staying on-property and have a theme park ticket attached to your reservation, you can begin selecting FastPass+ selections 60 days out. FP+ allows for three selections per park/day/guest and after the first three have been selected you can select additional FP+ for any of the four theme parks, one at a time.
A recent update to the My Disney Experience App (Do you know the benefits of it? Here’s some great tips!) is that no longer does every party member have to be on every selection; you can pick and choose.
As for Advanced Dining Reservations, they can be made at 180 days out from the first day of your resort reservation. The popular ones go fast (think Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our guest, and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall) so jump on line on your first open day to lock them down.
You’ll need a credit card to hold the reservation and if you’re a no-show, you’ll be charged $10 per person for standing the restaurant up. If you do need to cancel, make sure you do at least 24 hours in advance.
6. Freebies Are Everywhere!
I know, paying for a WDW vacation is not cheap, but I like to think that they offer tons of freebies as a bonus. Free cups of water, free wifi in the parks and resorts, celebration buttons that can be customized, free parking if you’re staying on-property, and even free samples of Coca Cola products in Club Cool at Epcot.
7. You Don’t Have to Eat Every Meal at WDW Restaurants
Ok, so let’s say you didn’t get the Dining Plan or don’t feel it will benefit your family- no problem. You ARE allowed to bring in food and drink (no alcohol!) into the parks. Two options for it: carry it around all day or store it in a locker for a fee.
As for counter service dining hacks, here’s the one that you need to know over all the others to save time in line waiting for food.
8. No Need To Carry Around Purchases
Another on-property resort stay perk: if you like to shop before you’re on your way out of the theme parks for the day and don’t want to carry around your packages, ask the castmember that rang you up to send your package back to the resort to pick up the next day.
The perk works a day behind so don’t ask for the service the day before you go or you may not have your purchases when you leave.
9. Allow for Plenty of Time to Get to Your On-Property Destination
Your first time at WDW you’ll notice one thing: it’s massive! If you need to get to an Advanced Dining Reservation or want to hit a theme park at rope drop, allow at least 90 minutes on Disney Transportation to do so.
We’ve encountered Monorail shut downs and traffic back-ups during our visits and have been down to the last minute to arrive in time and I really dislike that heart-pounding race. Save yourself the worry and strife.
10. Save Room in Your Suitcase
Unless you want to buy a suitcase when you’re there, save room in your suitcases for souvenirs. WDW castmembers are great at packaging delicate pieces with sturdy wrapping so you don’t have to cringe when you zip it up, too.
Purchased more than you thought or don’t want to haul them back? Disney will ship them straight to your home for a fee.
11. Take a Break From the Parks
The first couple of days of your vacation you’ll probably still be raring to go. Towards the end? Not so much. We know to expect it now, but those final days of each trip my feet scream with every step.
Hey, we’re walking 8-12 miles a day, after all. Take care of your body in advance and wear super comfy, broken in shoes- and take a break now and then. Our now and thens have turned into a midday respite back at the resort.
We take a nap, have a swim, or simply lounge around. It’s the right idea for families with kids of any age- and adults, too.
What’s the one thing you wished you’d known on your first trip to Walt Disney World? Let me know in the comments section below!