Walt Disney World is the happiest place on earth where you immerse yourself in magic and feel like you’ve traveled into a fantasy land. My family is a big Disney family. We just love it there. We actually love it so much we are Annual Passholders and try to visit multiple times a year.
We’ve visited Disney World over 15 times as a family in the last few years and before we had kids, my husband and I went a ton just the two of us. I feel we have a pretty good grasp on the ins & outs of Walt Disney World and know how to get the best out of our experience each time we go. I always get questions about planning a trip to Disney, especially from families going for the first time because it can be intimidating.
So I’ve put together my best tips for a family’s first visit to Walt Disney World. If you’re planning your very first visit ever as a family, these tips are sure to help you make the best of your trip!
I know this seems like an obvious thing to do with any vacation but some people don’t really realize how important it is to plan & book early. For a first visit, I suggest starting to plan your trip 6-8 months (or more) in advance. It may seem a bit extreme but trust me, you’ll need all the time you can get to prepare. Disney World is mainly made up of 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, and Disney Springs. There’s a lot to see and do! You want to make sure you plan early to ensure you have the best time for your family. When I say book I mean hotel accommodations, theme park tickets and transportation (car or plane).
You can get help planning by visiting the Disney World website for any and all questions you can possibly have. I always use the website or call one of the numbers on their Contact Us section. Some people use travel agent services like this or this and find that to be very helpful. I have never used one myself but seems like they’d be great for people visiting for the first time ever and are not familiar with Disney or the Orlando area.
STAY ON PROPERTY
First time Disney goers benefit so much from staying on site at one of the Disney World Resort Hotels. There are plenty of choices to fit any budget and it really makes the trip even more magical. Staying on site means you don’t need to worry about driving to and from the parks, you can take advantage of extra magic hours (extra time you get in the parks just for being a resort guest) and you are guaranteed the Disney experience throughout your stay. I recommend all first timers stay on site to make their visit less stressful and more fun!
If you absolutely must book a hotel outside of the Disney property consider Disney Springs area hotels. You are still close to Disney, some have more affordable rates, and they all provide transportation to the Disney theme parks.
MY DISNEY EXPERIENCE APP
Once you’ve booked your trip and are ready to start planning your days, download the My Disney Experience App (for free) on your phone and create an account on the Disney World website. Get yourself acquainted with the app and really learn how to use it because this is how you’ll manage your plans and reservations for the entire length of your stay. Do not wait until your arrival day to do this! You’ll also see wait times for all attractions and it’s worth it just for that alone.
CREATE AN EASYGOING PLAN
Just because this is your first visit doesn’t mean you need to cram every single ride and attraction into your trip. Plan out your days but keep in mind there is a lot of ground to cover and you may get tired sooner than you thought. If you’re going with small children, you may want to reserve some time for heading back to the hotel and taking a nap or just rest time to put your feet up for a while. It will make all the difference!
Learn & use the Fast Pass Plus system to pick your must do attractions so you don’t miss those! Click here for more info on Fast Pass Plus.
BROWN BAG IT!
I don’t know about your kids but mine can snack all day every day! Stock up on your family’s favorite snacks and bring those with you. You’ll likely be waiting in long lines and walking long distances so snacks are a life saver. Packing your own lunch is also a great idea. We do it all the time and it not only saves us money but time as well. The kids munch on their ham & cheese sandwiches in their stroller while we are moving along to another section and it’s more efficient. You can also check the menus for all Walt Disney Resort restaurants here and see what they have to offer to plan accordingly for your visit.
For more info & park rules click here.
If you don’t want to or can’t bring your own food you can try a food delivery service like Garden Grocer to ship groceries right to your hotel.
BRING THE STROLLER
If you have kids under 7 or 8 years old, just bring the stroller and save yourself the headache. Disney is huge, like 40 square miles huge, your little kids need the stroller. My boys are 5 & 7 years old and don’t use strollers on a daily basis because they’re obviously big kids but when we go to Disney you better believe we go prepared. Of course strollers can be a hassle but they really are worth it in the end when you’ve got a cranky, sleepy 50 lb 6 year old you don’t want to carry out of Magic Kingdom.
I recommend bringing an umbrella or light weight stroller for easy access around the parks. You have to fold up your stroller to get onto most of the transportation systems and leave it parked in designated areas around the park to go on the rides. If you don’t want to lug yours from home, rent one! I don’t like the ones in the Disney parks because they are plastic and you can’t take them out of the park you rent them in but I do suggest using a service like Magic Strollers & Kingdom Strollers. You can rent top notch strollers at better prices and you can take them anywhere you need to during your whole trip. Oh yeah, they’ll deliver them right to your hotel!
BABY CARE CENTERS
Each park has a Baby Care Center to be used for feeding, changing and nursing babies & toddlers. These are perfect areas to let your little one come out of the stroller or carrier to stretch their legs in a calmer environment. I loved using these rooms when my boys were younger because they have microwaves, rocking chairs, high chairs, little tables, a TV, and the changing areas are bigger and more comfy than the ones in the standard bathrooms.
For locations & info click here.
The best way to meet the characters is to make a dining reservation at one of the character buffet restaurants. You get plenty of food to eat and the characters take turns going to each table to spend a few minutes with everyone. It’s a lot nicer than standing in line for 45 minutes just to get 60 seconds with Mickey Mouse. With the character dining experience you won’t feel rushed and can really have a good time with it all. We’ve even had moments when the characters came to our table more than once and took extra pictures with us all! It’s a little pricey but totally worth the money.
Dining Reservations get booked months in advance so keep that in mind when choosing a place. Two of our favorites are The Garden Grill in Epcot & The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom.
- Buy Disney themed merchandise from Walmart, Target, Amazon or any other retailers prior to your trip to save you money on souvenirs & theme park apparel.
- Load up on glow in the dark wands, bracelets, necklaces and bubble wands so you don’t have to buy them off the carts that appear when it gets dark in the parks. The Dollar Tree has great stuff for this!
- You will have all your bags and strollers thoroughly checked by security prior to entering any of the theme parks so plan an extra 15-20 minutes into your schedule so this doesn’t catch you off guard.
- Read the park rules to see what is/isn’t allowed in!
- Keep an eye out on the weather & pack accordingly! Florida weather is unpredictable and you don’t want to have to buy overpriced ponchos in the parks if it rains! Bring your own from home. We have these & bring them every trip just in case.
- Check crowd calendars before booking! I always check this one from Undercover Tourist to help me pick dates.
Alright, now that you are ready to head to Walt Disney World, my last tip is to relax and have fun! You’ve planned everything and now it’s time to have a magical time at the happiest place on Earth!