I’ve heard from a lot of people that the idea of planning a Disney vacation is stressful and they aren’t sure where to start. There are so many little details at Disney, it can be hard for a first timer to take it all in without getting washed away in the crowd. As a former Cast Member and current Disney Addict, I’m here to help take some of that stress away and demystify the experience just a little bit.
Here are my top 10 things most first timers don’t know about Disney.
How Big Walt Disney World is: Walt Disney World covers a total of 40 square miles. That is roughly the size of San Francisco, California. There are 25+ resort hotels, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, Disney Springs, ESPN Wide World of Sports, Disney Springs, multiple golf course, and all of the back-stage areas. Yeah – it’s big!
The parks are quite a distance apart from one another (with the exception of Epcot and Hollywood Studios), so plan on transportation taking some time. Plan for an hour travel time each way. It may not take that long, but it’s better to be early than to miss your dinner reservation.
Because of how big Walt Disney World is, and how big the parks are, make sure to bring your best pair of walking shoes. Disney is not the place to strut around in your new wedges or heels. Make sure your sneakers are broken in before your trip and will be able to keep your comfortable all day.
Dole Whips: Let’s see, how do I put this in way that will make a first timer understand? Dole Whips are one of those things that make life worth living! Seriously. Whether you are a first timer or a repeat Disney Parks addict, make sure to stop by Adventureland in The Magic Kingdom and try some frozen pineapple bliss.
Free Areas: If you are looking to save some money, but still explore all that Walt Disney World has to offer, check out the areas of Disney Springs or Boardwalk. These areas are open to the public (free! no admission required!) and are a great way to spend a low key afternoon.
Special Occasion Buttons: There is always a reason to celebrate at Disney! Whether you are celebrating your first visit, birthday, anniversary, or anything else, Disney has a button for you! Ask at your resort front desk, or stop by guest relations at any theme park and a Cast Member will be happy to give you a free special occasion button. These buttons make great (free) souvenirs, and help to add a little extra magic to your trip as Cast Members will often comment on them and show you special attention.
Wake Up Call from a Character: If you are looking for a way to add some extra Disney magic to your mornings, you can schedule a wake up call from a character at your resort. This is a great way to help get kids excited for the day ahead, even if the sun isn’t even up yet! I still remember Goofy calling to wake me up when I was a kid! This is a free service offered at your Disney resort. Just talk to a Cast Member at the front desk.
Pin Trading: Once upon a time, I had no idea what pin trading was. Now, I love it! Pin trading is a great Disney tradition to start and it’s super simple. You first need to buy a starter pack of pins (available at any Disney gift shop), look for a cast member wearing a lanyard of pins around their next, or a pin pack on their hip and ask to trade. If you see one of their pins that you like better than a pin you already have, you can trade it! Don’t worry, these pins are not the Cast Members personal collection, so don’t feel bad about snagging that super awesome Frozen pin from them.
The Beverly: Those you know, KNOW! Those who don’t, really need to try it! Head to Club Cool at Epcot for free samples of Coca-Cola products from around the world, including the famous Beverly.
The Crowds: Even most first timers know that Disney is a crowded place, especially during peak travel seasons like Spring Break and Summer. Make sure to look at crowd prediction schedules before your booking your trip and aim for a time with fewer crowds. Once you are at Disney, keep in mind that entertainment events such as parades and fireworks draw large crowds for each showing. Get there early (at least an hour before) to stake out a good viewing location.
FastPass+: Before you even step foot on Disney property, you can begin to book your FastPass+ selections. If you are staying at a Disney Resort, you can begin booking these experiences 90 days before your trip begins. FastPass+ allows you to reserve a time slot for your must-ride attractions. You can book three FastPass+ options in advance. Once all three of your selections have been used, you can reload a new selection at a FastPass+ kiosk located around the park. Check out my suggestions for the best FastPass+ options for the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
PhotoPass and Memory Maker: Mom doesn’t have to be missing in every family photo this year! PhotoPass photographers are located all around Disney parks and will take your picture in front of prime locations such as Cinderella Castle and The Tree of Life. This service is free to use and the photos will be added to your MagicBand. PhotoPass photographers will even snap a few pictures with your own camera so you don’t have to worry about buying anything if you don’t want to.
Memory Maker is a photo package that you can purchase before your trip. With the purchase of Memory Maker, all of the photos that are taken by a PhotoPass Photographer during your entire vacation will be available for you to digitally download to your computer.
With these 10 insider tips and tricks, you will be looking and feeling like a veteran Disney Parks addict in no time!
Is there anything that I missed that first time visitors should definitely know? Let me know in the comments!
Monica is an Alumna of the Disney College Program. When she is not walking down the middle of Main Street USA you can find her wandering the World Showcase, or enjoying a Dole Whip while racing to her favorite attractions. When she is forced to endure life outside of Walt Disney World, you can find her in Ann Arbor, Michigan where she lives and works. You can visit her Disney lifestyle blog here.
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