I have been going to Disney parks since I was an infant. In fact, my first Disney trip was at the age of 6 months. Although I don’t remember my first trip to Disney World, I enjoy looking through the pictures with my mom, and her re-telling stories about what we did, what we saw, and who was there. The particular trip we discussed recently occurred in 1985…things are a bit different now. If this is your first trip to Disney, it’s important to know that gone are the days of just “winging it” when going to Disney World without any kind of plan or itinerary. Also, gone are the days you can walk up to the most popular restaurant in a park and find an empty table. And, unfortunately, gone are the days when you would only stand in line for rides for a MAXIMUM of 30 minutes (hello, Frozen Ever After). So, if you are a “Disney virgin,” and are looking forward to your first vacation to the Florida parks, there are some things you need to know and do before going. Check out the following list:
Plan, Plan, Plan
If you are looking toward your first Disney trip or perhaps even your first and only trip, the word “spontaneous” is not a word you hear very frequently with any sort of positives involving trip planning to Disney World. There’s a good chance that if you were to arrive at Magic Kingdom tomorrow with no set plan or schedule, you would maybe achieve about 20% of the things you wanted to do. This is especially true if you have never been to the parks before, as newcomers tend to over estimate just how much they can get done in a day. I will go into the reasons why you should plan your trip well in the rest of the list, but I felt it was important to emphasize the significance of planning at Disney.
The Parks Are VERY Busy
You might have already heard horror stories of the huge crowds that are found in the Disney parks. Magic Kingdom, the most popular of the 4 main parks, sees about 18 million visitors each year. Divide that by 365 days a year, and you have an average of about 49,000 visitors per day. PER DAY! Of course that’s just an average. There are lighter days and heavier days. So much of what goes into how busy the parks are is actually “when” you go. For instance, the Magic Kingdom has a maximum capacity of around 100,000 guests and the last time the park was at that amount of guests was April 7, 2009, when the Magic Kingdom went into a phase 4 closure by 1pm. This meant that the park had to stop letting ANY more people into the park after 1:00pm because they had reached the maximum capacity of around 100,000 guests. That day, you would have been shoulder to shoulder walking down Main Street and waited in line for HOURS instead of being able to do the things you had planned on doing. As a rule of thumb, the busiest times to visit the parks fall on any days or periods where children are out of school (think all summer, Christmas through New Year’s Day, and Spring Break).
My Magic+ and FastPass+
This goes along with planning your trip before you arrive to the parks. Disney has done a really great job of letting you schedule your time in the parks way in advance of your actual vacation, but if you are in the “this is my first Disney trip” boat, it can be a little confusing. You may be familiar with Fastpasses, where you can reserve a specific return window of time to experience an attraction with minimal to no wait. Disney World used to offer paper passes you would get at the beginning of the day. Now, using the My Magic+ and My Disney Experience app and website, you are able to access Fastpass+, in which you can reserve your fastpasses up to 60 days before you arrive. This has been an important feature for those that want to experience an attraction that is in high demand. You no longer have to worry about getting to a park at opening just to get a fastpass that won’t be valid until later in the day. Planners love this, those that are more lackadaisical usually hate it. Speaking of My Magic+ and My Disney Experience, these fairly new (in the last 5 years) applications have streamlined your vacation by keeping all of your plans and reservations in one place. Once creating an account and being logged in, you can make and view your hotel room reservation, dining reservations, Fastpass+ times, and MagicBand features (more on MagicBands below). It’s also easy to make changes and find help if you need it. Unless you are a day guest, all visitors should have an account with these applications.
Let me preface this by saying that I love MagicBands, as they make touring the park SO much better. MagicBands are relatively new so some kinks are still being worked out, but for the most part, they are amazing. In a nutshell, MagicBands are a silicone RFID wrist bands that contains information about your trip and let you access certain features. You can use them to:
- Unlock your Disney Resort hotel room
- Enter into all of the theme parks
- Make food purchases and pay for merchandise
- Scan for your Fastpass reservations on specific attractions
- Keep track of credits on your Disney Dining Plan (if you choose to buy this)
- Experience special features on attractions
- Access Disney Photopass
Every resort guest will receive a free MagicBand that can be accessed on the My Disney Experience app. All changes can be made through the app and will apply to the MagicBand. All your reservations, park tickets, food credits, and credit card information will be linked to the band to use at your leisure. It is literally your room key, park tickets, credit card, and fastpasses in one wrist band.
Ah, Disney dining. Such a crazy part of the vacation experience! Disney World has many forms of dining for all meals and snacks: quick service, table service, buffets, character meals, and dinner shows. There is some form of dining in all resorts and parks, with some more popular than others. Since the theme of Disney vacations is “planning,” it is important to make dining reservations as early as possible, with all but quick service meals (Be Our Guest restaurant is the exception). Disney allows guests to make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance of their vacation. That’s 6 months beforehand! While that may seem WAY too early to know where you will want to eat on your trip, there are certain restaurants that are so popular, all reservations are snatched up on that 180 day mark. So do a lot of research about restaurants at Disney World before booking to get an idea of which ones you want to make reservations for. You can find tons of restaurant reviews all over the internet (I like allears.net and The Dis the best).
Walt Disney World is Expensive
Again, if you are in the boat of saying “this is my first Disney trip”, you may not realize how much the general cost will be. I’ll just save you some time: IT’S A LOT! If you were thinking you could take a week-long Disney vacation with a family of four or more, and spend less than $2,000, it’s time for a reality check. An average family coming to Disney World and staying on Disney property will spend around $3,000 for the hotel room, tickets, and food. This doesn’t even include souvenirs, airfare, or non-Disney activities. Plus, Disney has been hastily offering “add-ons” in form of special events and experiences. So be prepared to drop some serious bucks on your trip.
It may be overwhelming to plan your Disney trip with the list I provided, but I can assure you that there are many travel agents to help you plan, and websites out there that can walk you through the whole process. With all people going to Disney World, whether they are veterans or newbies, it is vital to MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Hopefully, you can know what to expect a little better now with the above list. I hope you have a good time planning your first vacation to Disney World, and you can always email me at Jamie@capturethemagicapparel.com if you have any questions.
If you like this article then be sure to check out our other articles that can help you plan a great Disney trip. You may find our article and What’s The Best Stroller Foe Disney World quite interesting.
By Jamie Lee
Jamie is a lifelong Disney fanatic that has been going to Disney parks since she was a child. She is the head writer here at Capture The Magic & co-host of the Capture The Magic Podcast. When she isn't planning her next Disney vacation, she can be found helping people plan their own Disney vacations and enjoying quality time with her family.