If you’re planning your first trip to Disney World, there are a lot of things you need to know!
You’ll want to learn as much about the parks as you can — from the restaurants to the rides and everything in-between. And as a first-time guest, there are a few ways that Disney tries to trick you. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with the full list so that you know what to expect!
Make Dining Reservations for Every Meal
When you log in to your My Disney Experience account online or in the app, Disney lists dining reservations as an important part of the “My Plans” section. You eat 3 square meals at home, right (well, something like that, at least!)? So makes sense to book restaurants like you would your meals at home. But, you don’t have to make them to have a good time during your trip!
In fact, if you make sit-down dining reservations 3 meals a day for each day of your trip, you’ll spend most of your vacation either sitting in a restaurant eating or miserably full! You’d also be spending quite a bit of extra money on food that you may or may not eat, and did we mention dining at table service restaurants all day will eat up a lot of time. (Can’t overstate that point. Time is money in Disney World, so be smart how you spend it!)
If you’re trying to plan where to eat, there are plenty of great fast food meal options around the Walt Disney World parks and resorts that you can try. Sure they have your standard chicken nuggets and burgers at many, but there’s actually some really good quality food available too. We’re not saying forgo sit down meals — far from it — just be smart with how many you book! If your goal is to chow down on this trip, lots of table service meals may be perfect for you. If you’d rather ride some rides, stay conservative with your reservations.
And if you change your mind and decide that you want some sit down dining, you can often score last-minute reservations. If you don’t find one online or in the app, you may be able to walk up to the restaurant and ask or join the Mobile Walk-Up Waitlist.
You Need to Do Everything That’s New and Exciting
You’ve probably heard that it’s difficult to do EVERYTHING at Disney World, but it’s also pretty challenging to do all the NEW things in the parks.
The newer rides and attractions tend to be the most popular and have the longest wait times. If you can’t ride Slinky Dog Dash or get a boarding pass for Rise of the Resistance, don’t feel guilty — your vacation won’t be ruined! You can still have an amazing vacation without doing the latest and greatest.
Disney promotes their new rides and attractions heavily, and you’ll see ads all over the website and in the app. Even if other people say these things are a “must do,” don’t feel pressured to do anything that you’re not interested in. And don’t put all your “successful trip” eggs in the basket of experiencing the latest and greatest. It’s important to spend your trip doing what YOU like but also accepting you might miss out on a few things! Find what’s your family’s top priorities and knock those out first. Then the rest is a great bonus!
You Must Stay On Property to Get the Full Experience
While we usually recommend staying on-property, it’s not necessary for you to have a good time! Staying offsite can help you save money that you’ll then be able to spend on other things like more snacks, an extra day of park tickets, fun experiences, or souvenirs.
The other thing is that since the parks reopened, there aren’t quite as many perks for Disney Resort guests. There are no Extra Magic Hours (even though they’ll soon be replaced by Early Theme Park Entry), no free MagicBands, and no bonus FastPass+ to take advantage of an early booking window. Without these things, a Disney World Resort hotel may not be worth the upcharge if you’re on a tight budget.
As far as resort stays go, it all comes down to your personal preferences and budget. If you prefer to stay in the “Disney bubble” and be closer to all the magic, then a Disney resort may be right for you. If you don’t mind a further drive to save a few bucks, then consider staying off-property!
Things After Reopening Are Just As Perfect As They Were Before
Ever since the parks reopened, Disney has been trying HARD to convey this sentiment to guests in their promotional materials and commercials. We agree that the “magic” is still in the parks, but it’s not quite the same kind of magic as it was before they closed.
Right now, you won’t find fireworks, parades, most entertainment options, character meet-and-greets, or regular character meals. Besides those things, several resorts, restaurants, and attractions still haven’t reopened. A few things are definitely missing from the traditional experience.
You can still have an amazing trip right now, but you need to know that it won’t be quite the same as it was before the pandemic. There are pros and cons to each kind of trip — you may like things better now or you may miss the way things used to be, but that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. Either way, you’re at Disney World, which is a reason to be happy!
You Have to Book the Number of Nights Listed on the Discount
When you take a look at Disney’s discounts and special offers on their website, they’re often worded very carefully, and they may trick you a little.
Disney promotes things with phrases like “book a 5-night, 6-day stay to get this discount” when in reality, you may not ACTUALLY have to meet those specific conditions. You’ll often find that the minimum number of nights is lower than what’s listed!
You may be able to book a 3-night stay and get the same deal, so make sure to read the fine print. And when in doubt, put together a vacation on the Disney World website and just test it out to see if the deal applies! An even more foolproof way to tackle this? Use a travel agent! They’re completely free and it’s their job to find you the best deals possible so you don’t have to do the digging. We recommend our friends at Small World Vacations!
Vacation Packages Are the Best Way to Book
The other thing that Disney tries to tell you when you’re booking your vacation is that packages are the best way to book — they promote these things HARD.
Sometimes you’ll find that you can save more if you book the tickets and resort stay separately. In this case, you may be able to get a room-only discount that comes out to a better deal than if you purchased it all together. Also, cancellation policies tend to be more lenient on room-only bookings.
Think about it this way…if Disney is heavily marketing a package, that probably means that they’re making a lot of money on it. That should be enough to make you look closer before booking it!
The Dining Plan is the Best Value for Your Family
As much as it disappoints us to say it, the Disney Dining Plan is rarely a money-saver for average guests. In fact, it could actually be a financial loss for your family.
What people find out often is that the dining plan is designed to make you pay for more food than you will probably eat (unless your family members are big eaters that like to get the pricier items on menus). We usually recommend sitting down and running the numbers on this one before booking. Price out the restaurants where you would dine, then see if you’ll spend enough to make the dining plan worth it.
If you do the math and things work out, great! If not, it’s still your decision whether or not you’d like to buy it for convenience. Keep in mind, at this time, the Disney Dining Plan is NOT being offered and Disney has yet to indicate when it could return.
Park Hopper Tickets Are Necessary
Park Hopper tickets can be great if you actually use them, but they’re not always the best option for every guest.
You may not need to visit multiple parks in one day if you have a long trip planned or you have a full list of activities you’d like to get done. Besides that, the Park Hopper lifestyle can be really exhausting — jumping around Disney World all day!
And if you change your mind partway through your trip, you can add the Hopper to your ticket at the gate. It’s the same price at the gate as it is online! Keep in mind that if you wait until day 3 of your 5-day trip, you’ll STILL pay for the entire length of your trip — even the days you used up already. So if you want to add it do it early on!
If you’re a first-time visitor to Walt Disney World, make sure to keep these things in mind before your trip so that you know what to do (and not to do!). And for all the best planning advice, stay tuned to DFB!
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Have you ever fallen for any of the things on this list? Let us know in the comments!