A Guide To Planning Your First Trip To Disney World
Thinking of booking a trip to Walt Disney World? How exciting for you, there's so many things to consider and know before booking your trip. There's so much information to take in that we have put together this essential, step by step guide on what you need to know and consider when planning your holiday to Disney World!
Let's start off with a little information about Walt Disney World, Orlando FL. Did you know that the Walt Disney World Resort encompasses 30,500 acres, making it around the same size as San Francisco!
There are four parks:
Disney's Hollywood Studios...
Disney's Animal Kingdom
The Tree of Life, you've got to get close to see the amazing details.
There's also TWO water parks, Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park and Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park
You also have Disney Springs...
You can find lots of shops, restaurants, entertainment and more, plus you don't even need a theme park ticket to visit Disney Springs and parking is free!
Now we have all the basics covered, lets get down to the fun and start planning your visit to Walt Disney World. Ready?... Let's do this!
1. When To Visit
This is one of the first questions asked and when is best for you can depend on multiple factors. If you're worried about crowds and wait times see our Best & Worst Months To Visit. This ranks every month, including what you can expect the weather to be like and even more information as to what is happening in Walt Disney World. Another factor to consider are the seasonal offerings like Christmas or Halloween, maybe you're a massive Halloween fan and don't want to miss out on the special ticketed event, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. If that's the case and seasons are an important part on planning your trip here's a quick Guide For Upcoming Events at Walt Disney World in 2022 and 2023.
50th Anniversary Celebrations now through March 31, 2023.
Mickey's Celebration Cavalcade on Main Street, USA
Halloween season - August 12 through October 31, 2022. Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party on select nights from August 12 to October 31, 2022. (Fully Sold Out)
Magic Kingdom at Halloween
Christmas season - Starts beginning of November to 30 December, 2022. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party will be on select nights from November 8 to December 20, 2022.
Disney's Hollywood Studios at Christmas
There's 4 festivals that happen every year at Epcot and if your a big foodie or love your art then you're not going to want to miss out on one of these!
Epcot Festival Dates:
Epcot International Festival of the Arts (Jan. 14 to Feb. 21, 2022) (2023 TBD)
Epcot International Festival of the Arts
Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (Mar. 2 to Jul. 4, 2022) (2023 TBD)
Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival July 14 through November 19, 2022
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays November 25 through December 30, 2022
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
One more thing to keep in mind are any ride and attraction closures or refurbishments or if there are any new attractions set to open. It's always good to know before you go so you don't get disappointed when a ride is closed. We now know that TRON Lightcycle Run will be opening in Spring 2023 at Magic Kingdom!
2. Theme Park Tickets and Park Admission
Now you know when you'd like to visit, we can get started with checking Disney Park Pass Availability and make sure the parks you want to visit are available before purchasing your park tickets. Don't be too concerned if a park is not available, sometimes more availability may appear at a later date. Once you've checked the availability you can then go ahead and purchase your Walt Disney World Park Tickets! There's multiple options when it comes to buying your park tickets, you can either buy them as a package through your holiday provider or buy them separately.
There are two ticket options available exclusively for UK and Ireland guests, either a 14 Day Magic Ticket or a 7 Day Magic Ticket. The 14 Day Magic Ticket allows you access to the Disney Parks for 14 days over 18 days and the 7 Day Magic Ticket allows you access to the Disney Parks for 7 days over 15 days. Both tickets come with the following:
- Access to all Walt Disney World theme parks and water parks
- Park hop to any other park after 2pm
- Memory Maker worth $199, you're able to download unlimited amounts of photo's taken by Disney PhotoPass Photographers
- Play a game of miniature golf at Disney's Winter Summerland or Disney's Fantasia Gardens
- Delight in a family-friendly retreat at Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course
- Enjoy the ultimate sports experience at ESPN Wide World of Sports
- Disney Genie Service
Remember once you've booked your park tickets book your Park Reservations for your upcoming trip. How exciting!
TIP: Make sure you sign up to My Disney Experience (MDE) and get an account, this is where you can manage all your Disney plans such as your tickets, hotel, dining reservations, park reservations, PhotoPass and so much more.
3. Where To Stay
There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing where you'd like to stay for your Disney World trip. You could either stay at one of Walt Disney World's hotels or villas. A hotel that is on Walt Disney World property but not run/owned by Disney, like the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, or you could stay at a hotel off-site or a villa but still very close to Walt Disney World.
Disney's Polynesian Resort, just a boat or monorail ride to Magic Kingdom!
If you want to stay on-site at a Walt Disney World hotel there are three main tiers of hotels, Value, Moderate and Deluxe. There are also Deluxe Villas where you can stay in a "villa style" accommodation from a studio room or a 1 bedroom up to a 3 bedroom villa.
The perks of staying on-site include:
- Early Theme Park Entry, every day you can enter ANY park 30 minutes earlier if staying at a Disney Resort or select hotels
- Extended evening hours (Deluxe or Deluxe Villa guests only)
- Early Access to Individual Lightning Lanes
- Dining Reservations can be booked 60 days in advance for 10 days of your trip
- Free Disney Transportation to all Disney Parks and Disney Springs
- Free Parking at Theme Parks
- Staying in the Disney bubble
All of these perks do come at a price, if you like the sound of the above perks but want a better deal you could look at staying at a Disney Partner Hotel such as Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel or the Swan Reserve.
There's also 52 Walt Disney World Good Neighbour Hotels located within 14 miles of Walt Disney World. These are hotels that have been given the approval by Disney, they all offer transportation to the parks (some do charge a fee), however they do not come with any of the other Disney Hotel perks.
If you're travelling with a large group or like to have more space, then you've also got the option of staying in a villa off-site. However with this option you probably will want to rent a car or you will have to use Uber or Lyft to get to and from the parks depending on if the villa location offers transportation to the parks or not.
One last option if you want to stay on Disney property in a Deluxe Villa you can always look at getting a quote from a Disney Vacation Club point rental company, which can be cheaper than expected.
If you're staying at a Walt Disney World hotel then one of the biggest perks is having free transportation to and from the parks. Depending on which hotel you are staying at you may have the option of using different modes of transport like the...
Keep your eyes peeled as you never know who'll you see flying across the sky!
Keep a look out, as you may spot your favourite character!
A relaxing mode of transportation
or even The Monorail
Did you know there's 12 different colour monorails you could ride!
Some hotels you can even walk to a theme park, for example from Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Disney's Contemporary Resort and Disney's Polynesian Resort you can walk to Magic Kingdom.
If you've rented a car you can drive to the parks and parking is free if you are staying at a Disney hotel or Deluxe Villa. If you are staying off-site then you can pay to park at the theme parks. Make sure to keep your receipt because if you decide to hop to another park or come back later in the day you won't have to pay again.
5. Getting From And To The Airport
When it comes to making your way from the airport to your hotel or villa unfortunately Disney no longer provides the free Magical Express service from Orlando International Airport (MCO). There are two shuttle services that could work for you if you fly into MCO, either Mears Connect or Sunshine Flyer. If you booked your holiday as a package maybe your holiday provider may offer their own services to get you from and to the airport. For example we know that TUI offer a free shuttle service to your hotel from Melbourne International Airpot. There are a few other options you could pick which include a rental car, Uber or Lyft or the Minnie Van Service provided by Lyft (Minnie Van Service is only from and to MCO).
The Most Magical Sign on Earth!
There's so many options when it comes to dining, contrary to what some believe it's not all hot dogs and burgers. There's some incredible places to eat, here's a list of our favourite places to eat in Walt Disney World.
There are Counter Service Restaurants this is where you order your food, collect it and then find your own seat to enjoy your meal. You cannot book reservations for counter service restaurants.
Satu'li Canteen, a quick service restaurant in Disney's Animal Kingdom Park
There's also Table Service Restaurants this is where you'll be seated, a cast member will take your order and your food is brought to you at your table. You can and will want to book Advanced Dining Reservations for any table service restaurants you want to go to, especially the hard to get ones like Cinderella's Royal Table, Space 220, Be Our Guest. Note that you can cancel and modify any dining reservations as long as you do it 24 hours before your reservation. If you do not, you'll be charged a $10 per person fee.
Be Our Guest Restaurant inside Magic Kingdom
You can make Advanced Dining Reservations 60 days in advance at 5:45am EST online (Eastern Standard Time) and 7am EST on the phone line. It used to be 180 days in advance but since covid it's changed to 60 days. If you're staying at a Disney Resort you can book up to 10 days worth of you holiday, if you're staying off-site then you can only book one day at a time, exactly 60 days out from each day you want to make a dining reservation. If you want those hard to get dining reservations staying on-site is a huge perk.
Special Dietary concerns or allergies, Disney are incredible with any concerns you have and cast members are always happy to help you with any questions you have. When booking advanced dining reservations you can add allergies to your reservation, when you check in they will already know about any allergies. Most restaurants in Walt Disney World a manager or even the chef will come out and talk to you about any concerns you have and talk you through the menu and show you ingredient lists.
Allergy information sheet at Boma buffet breakfast at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
If you're on a budget you can bring in your own food, snacks and water to the theme parks, you might even want to get some groceries delivered to your hotel for example some snacks, breakfast items, water etc to save on paying the high prices in the parks.
Don't forget to try a Mickey shaped snack too!
7. Ways to Improve Your Trip
Make sure you have the My Disney Experience app (MDE) downloaded on to your phone, this will make your trip a lot smoother and easier to manage your day. On MDE you can manage your trip by adding your hotel reservation, park tickets, book and modify your park reservations, dining reservations, see and download all your photos from Disney PhotoPass and so much more. You can even create accounts for your family members and manage them on there too.
You can manage lots in the My Disney Experience app, download it before you go to get used to how it works
When you're in the park the MDE app is a great tool to have, you can see park hours, wait times for rides, book virtual queues, make Disney Genie+ ride selections (more on Disney Genie), look at Park Maps and way more.
Map of Magic Kingdom on the app
One thing we love about the app when in the park is using the Mobile Order for quick service food locations. How it works is you pre order and pay for your food at a certain food location you'd like and time, once your window time opens you can select for them to prepare your food and then you'll be notified once it is ready to collect. It saves so much time not having to wait in line and order at the counter when it's busy in the parks.
If there's a dining reservation you really wanted to get and couldn't, sometimes you can join a walk-up waitlist. As long as you are nearby the restaurant and there are spaces you can join the walk-up list on the app and as soon as a table is ready you'll be notified.
We recommend make a list of things you would like to see and do, Disney World is so big that you won't be able to do everything in one trip. It's always good to make a few lists of whats more important for you when you visit, so you can definitely get those must-do's done when you visit.
8. Disney Genie+ and Individual Attraction Selections
Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lanes are fairly new to Walt Disney World, if you ever heard of FastPass or FastPass+ this used to be a free service available to all Walt Disney World guests to skip the long line and wait in a shorter line to get onto their favourite attractions quicker. That system has been suspended and we have now been given two new paid Disney Genie+ Service and Individual Attraction Selection. We'll explain it briefly below.
Disney Genie is a free service to anyone, built into the My Disney Experience App. You will tell Disney Genie what is important to you, so what rides you want to do, characters you want to meet, places to eat and Disney Genie will create a personalised plan for your day trying to maximise your day the best for you and will update regularly throughout the day. On Disney Genie you can see forecasted wait times, mobile order your food, make dining reservations, adjust your plans, chat with a virtual assistant and lots more.
Disney Genie+ is a PAID service (like old FastPass system). It costs $15 per day, per ticket. Once you pay for this service you'll be able to see what attractions are available next for you to use the Lightning Lane (old FastPass lane). Once you've selected the next available time and ride, wait for your return time and as soon as it opens you can head to that attraction and use the Lightning Lane (skipping the regular line). Once you've done that ride you can then book the next ride, booking only one at a time throughout the day. You can make your first Lightning Lane selection at 7am on the day of visit. Most ride and attractions will be included in Disney Genie+ except the two most popular rides in each park.
Individual Attraction Selection is a separate PAID service. It can vary in cost depending on what time of year you visit and you'll pay per ride with a maximum of two per day and not the same attraction twice. For instance you can use this service for rides like Star Wars: Rise of The Resistance in Disney's Hollywood Studios or Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind in Epcot.
9. What To Pack
Packing certain items can make a big difference to your time at Walt Disney World. Depending on when you plan to visit you might want to pack different things, but here is a list of item's you'll always need whatever the weather.
- A pair of comfortable trainers, you'll be doing lots of walking!
- Talking of walking, blister plasters
- A light backpack to carry all your essentials for the parks
- Portable Charger
- Reusable water bottle
- Poncho or raincoat
- Disney Pins for pin trading!
- Of course those outfits you've been planning for a while