Christine Elliott

Overwhelmed? 10 Tips for Disney World First-Timers

Disney World is one of the most magical places on Earth. From the iconic characters to the entertaining and educational rides, it’s no wonder that families flock from around the globe to experience this enchanted universe. Despite the intoxicating charm of Disney World, this theme park can also be quite intimidating. Between the costs and crowds, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Luckily, many have braved the grounds and were kind enough to share their insider secrets with first-time Disney goers. Whether your priorities are avoiding long lines or making sure you don’t break the bank, there are plenty of hacks out there to make Disney World that much more magical. We’ve compiled our most tried-and-tested tips to ensure you get the most out of your Disney trip:

  1. We can’t stress enough the importance of properly planning! There are entire blogs, DVDs, and thesis papers dedicated to this subject so we won’t get too into it but here some important topics to start thinking about:
  • The best (and worst) times to visit: the time of year you chose to visit can make or break your trip, and your wallet
  • Length of trip: depending on your level of devotion (enthusiast or die-hard Disney fan), you will need to ensure you allow enough time to see everything meaningful to you. Friendly reminder to work in some time for relaxation.
  • Where to stay: The million dollar question comes down to onsite or offsite? Generally speaking, you can get more value offsite but if you’re looking for the ultimate Disney experience, you may be better staying within the “Disney bubble.” With proper research, you can still do onsite at an affordable cost. If the decision is keeping you up at night, this articleshould help you determine what makes the most sense for your family.
  • Airfare: Booking far in advance will help you cut costs but if you have some flexibility on travel dates, make sure you sign up for alertsto find out when prices are at their lowest. As always, traveling mid-week will usually provide cheaper options.
  • Parking: save some time and reserve your airport parking ahead of time online through Park ‘N Fly.Make sure to enroll in the loyalty program so you are earning free parking while you’re on your vacation too!
  • Packing: Disney World has a reputation for being overpriced so it’s critical to pack strategically and thoughtfully. Some items to consider bringing include ponchos, sunscreen, fans, pocket blanket (great for Disney’s world-famous parades), autograph books, snacks and anything else you can fit!


  1. Be aware of the size of Disney World. Spoiler Alert: It’s huge! Make sure you account for the commute in your planning process. It can easily take an hour if you’re visiting just one park and several hours if you plan on park hopping. On that note, it’s important to consider that things tend to take a bit longer than expected at Disney World. Whether it’s due to pleasant distractions (impromptu dance party) or not so pleasant delays (don’t worry, you’ll catch the next bus), it’s best not to be too ambitious with your “to-do-list.” Make sure you pace yourself and prioritize what matters most to you.
  2. Make advanced dining reservations (known as ADRs to the veterans) if you’re looking to dine at one of Disney’s most exclusive restaurants. Some of the more popular restaurants (Le Cellier, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest Restaurant, and Chef Mickey’s) book up months in advance. You can book as early as 180 days before your trip, so make sure you give yourself a calendar reminder! This guideshould prove helpful as you look to navigate the complicated waters of ADRs.
  3. Make sure you take advantage of Disney’s ticketing system. Using something called FastPass+, you can reserve a time window and bypass the line at the attraction of your choice. You can book up to 3 FastPass+ tickets as early as 60 days in advance, from the comfort of your home. Choosing which rides to use these on could justify an entire article so we’ll simply direct you herefor more insight. Insiders do suggest that an attraction having a long wait may not be the best indicator of popularity or quality. There are several factors to account for (location, capacity, type of attraction) so make sure you consider this before using your coveted 3 passes.
  4. Disney thought of it all when they invented “Ride Switch.” As if FastPass+ wasn’t cool enough, they rolled out “Ride Switch” or as the experts call it “Child Swap.” Essentially, this nifty pass allows both parents the chance to go on a ride if one of the children doesn’t meet the height limit. For the sake of this exercise, let’s pretend Will Smith & Jada Pinket Smith were taking a family trip to Disney World with their two children. If Willow didn’t meet the height requirement for Space Mountain, Will could go with Jaden on the ride and mom could stay behind with Willow. When the ride is over, it’s mom’s turn to get in on the fun, without having to wait in line again. It’s a win-win for everyone!
  5. Meeting the Disney characters is a critical part of the Disney experience. What many people don’t tell you is that there are often very long lines to meet the characters, even longer than some rides. Obviously, the more popular characters are going to have the longest waits (shout out to Frozen) so you may want to start introducing the lesser-known characters to your kids in advance. Character Dining is a great option if you’re looking to maximize your time and avoid a nasty temper tantrum (I’m referring to the adults). So what exactly is Character Dining? While you eat your meal, a few select Disney characters go table to table for hugs, high fives, photos, and autographs. It makes for a very festive meal and best of all, you’re off your feet and out of the sun!
  6. Consider PhotoPass+. This is a program offered to guests that allow them to have unlimited photos of their family taken by Disney photographers all over the resort for one price. This unique servicehas many advantages. For starters, you won’t need to lug around a camera all day since you can rely on the professionals to capture your special moments. Additionally, PhotoPass+ makes it easy to customize gifts, accessories and more so you can cherish memories of your trip for years to come. If you’re an avid scrapbooker or simply love uploading pictures to Facebook, this program may be a great fit for you!
  7. Make sure you’re aware of Extra Magic Hours. Extra Magic Hours offer a rare and unique opportunity to enjoy additional time in Walt Disney World park (above and beyond the standard operating schedule) at no extra charge. This special perk is offered to guests of select Walt Disney World Resort hotels, so you’ll want to consider this when choosing your lodging. Please keep in mind that extended hours only apply to 1 of 4 Disney World theme parks each day so make sure you are aware of the schedule.
  8. Don’t underestimate the amount of walking you’ll be doing. While you don’t need to train for a triathlon by any means, it’s important to get in shape and stay hydrated leading up to the big trip. Many first-time Disney goers are surprised at how exhausted they are after visiting the parks. If you want to get the most out of your trip, consider a limited exercise plan in preparation of your travels.
  9. Enjoy yourself! Sure Disney can be a little stressful but more than anything it’s meant to be fun. Try not to put too much pressure on the trip to be perfect. Accept the fact that there will be lines and there will be some unforeseen hiccups but what’s most important is that you are spending time with the ones you love. When in doubt, make “Hakuna Matata” the mantra of your trip. You are sharing experiences together that you will never forget and making memories that will last a lifetime!

Disney World is literally a world of its own and it’s obvious to see how this magical place can be a bit daunting. It’s important to stay calm and remember why you took this vacation in the first place: to have some family fun! Hopefully, by applying some of these tips and tricks, your trip will be less stressful and more memorable. From making dinner reservations to booking FastPass+, the importance of planning ahead cannot be understated. That said, always expect the unexpected and be prepared to go with the flow. While Disney can be overwhelming, the bottom line is that it’s absolutely worth it. Whether you’re looking to relive your childhood or make lasting memories with your own children, there’s no place quite like Disney World.

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