Updated for 2014!
Walt Disney World is a crazy busy place. With an annual attendance of over 47 million people, an average of 130,000 people visit the four Walt Disney World theme parks each day. Just over one-third of those visitors will be in the Magic Kingdom. If you have never been to Orlando to visit Disney World before, you are in for a real treat, but you can also be in for some disappointment. Along with four theme parks comes two water parks, twenty-four themed resorts, which does not include eight more resorts on-site but not owned by The Walt Disney Company, two spas and fitness centers, five golf courses, Downtown Disney, and on and on and on. Disney can be a mad rush to do and see it all for first time visitors. The truth?
You will not be able to do it all.
You will not see it all, enjoy it all, or afford it all. There are simply not enough hours in the day, lines can be hours long during holidays, and some days you just might want to sleep in.
For those panning the “perfect” Disney vacation, your very first amazing, incredible, long-awaited trip to Disney, we asked the Cheapskate Princess Facebook Fans what information they thought first time visitors needed to know before they travel to see the Mouse. The advice the fans gave works for first to 100th trips, I mean, can you ever really learn all there is to know about heading for America’s number one vacation destination?
Four theme parks, 32 resorts, dining, 74 of 139 restaurants that take Advanced Dining Reservations 180 days in advance, water parks, different opening and closing hours, Extra Magic Hours…whew!!
Meghan, “Plan! We used to go in off-season about 20-30 years ago and wing it. Even during off-season now, you can’t go without a plan.”
Teresa, “Plan! Don’t try to wing it. Disney is so huge now, so you need a plan.”
Ginger, “Decide before you go how you will see the world, with a touring plan or just wing it. You have to decide so you will not be disappointed. You cannot see it all in one trip. A plan will make it a fast-paced trip, but you will see and do more. If you want to stroll and take in the sights, you will wait a little longer and won’t ride as much. You are spending your vacation stash, so do what makes you HAPPY!”
Betsy, “Download the Disney app. and know how to use it. Some less popular characters are only available for visits for a couple of hours each day. Touring Plans also has good info.”
Melanie, “Use the maps, plan out your day, take your time, and enjoy it!”
Tammy, “Stay on site, and seriously consider lunch time naps if you have kids no mater what age. Make dining reservations. Make a list of your ‘have to’ rides, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get to every one. And plan, plan, plan.”
You need a plan as to where you are headed, what day, and when. It’s really a good idea not to start the planning on the ride or flight down there, because then it’s almost too late.
Use this link to a comprehensive list of planning articles and tips, all gathered together in one spot for easy access.
Our favorite planning websites?
There is nothing worse than standing in line for hours on end, especially when it’s hot in usually sunny Orlando.
Nicole, “Plan, know how to get around, and use Fastpass+es!”
Sara, “Don’t get upset by the long wait times – Disney is more crowded in recent years than it ever has been. Just utilize the Fastpass+ system correctly and study the park layout before you go into the park. And have fun!”
Tim, “Make a calender for your stay that lists what time each park is opened, which park(s) your visiting that day and where you are eating. We then write our restaurant reservations numbers down on our calender. We always stay on site and always start the day with Extra Early Magic Hours. If you are there at opening, you can usually do everything you want (and nearly the whole park) before lunch. Learn how to use the new Fastpass+ system, schedule your rides, and then go use your Fastpass+es.”
The FASTPASS system is totally free with your park admission, and it can save you valuable time standing in line, and that’s like saving money, because more riding time equals the best use of your vacation bucks.
You can’t do it all, so pace yourself for a good time for the length of your stay.
Eran, “Definitely plan. But be prepared for upsets here and there in your plans. Things happen. Also and moist importantly, take your time and enjoy yourselves. What you don’t get to is just another reason to go back!!!”
Niki, “Slow down and pay attention to all those special Disney details. They put so much thought into everything. You can’t see it all in one trip, so you might as well slow down and truly enjoy what you do get to see and do.”
Meaghan, “Pace yourself! You’ll get so caught up in all the magic of being at Disney that by then of the second or third day you’ll be exhausted! Take it one day and one park at a time to drink it all in!”
Tonia, “Take your time. This is a vacation after all. If you can, plan a day to stay out of the parks, chill at your resort, and see the stuff outside the parks. That was one thing I did not plan on my first trip, unfortunately we were at Animal Kingdom Lodge.”
Jill, “Take your time and smell the roses. There are so many ‘little’ things that can be missed when you rush to all the rides. Walk on the path most don’t take. I love finding all the special things Disney adds in the most unlikely places.”
If you kill yourself walking over ten miles and up each day, waking up early and staying out late night after night, you will need a vacation from your vacation. If you can’t get to everything you planned, relax and start planning your next trip.
Both these articles can help you determine what it takes to enjoy your trip, without reaching your frustration limit.
If this is your very first trip to Disney, staying on Disney property can be one of your best decisions.
Erin, “Stay on Disney property!”
Kelly, “Take advantage of Extra Magic Hours! We get through so many of the high-wait rides during this time, and by the time everyone else is coming into the park, we can move onto some of the other rides and have low wait times for those too.”
Janie, “Stay on Disney property! The perks really are worth it. There is no driving or getting lost in your own car, Extra Magic Hours for resort guest allow you to come early or stay late, the Disney Dining Plan will save you money, and the list goes on and on!”
Vicky, “I like what everyone has said about planning, and the dining plan. The other advice I would give that has not been said is when staying on property, remember that they start letting resort guests in the park 15 minutes before the shops and stuff open, especially if you have a dining reservation that early. The best viewing spot for the ‘Celebrate a Dream Come True’ parade is near the Fire House on Main Street. That is where they come out at, and it’s not as crowded.”
When you get extra time in the parks with Extra Magic Hours. Perks, perks, perks may outweigh a bargain off-property.
Use these links for info on Extra Magic Hours, plus more details for on-property stays.
When you do your planning, choose what restaurant “experiences” you want to try, and 180 days out, make your ADRs.
Janie, “You can make your dining reservations 180 days in advance. Plan where you want to eat and make those reservations early, or you may not get in!”
Krystene, “If you are staying on site, know when the Extra Magic Hours are, and plan your trip and especially your dinning reservations around them, because they are so worth going to!”
If you are traveling when school is out, during all those busy holidays and Disney race weekends, those ADRs will hopefully keep you headed for your favorite dining spots without disappointment.
How many days can you walk miles, often in the heat, and get by on limited sleep before your vacation loses a little bit of the fun?
Ashley, “Beware of those 14 hour days in the park. Take a break, especially if touring with children.”
Amanda, Cheapskate Princess and daily vacation napper,” There may be days you stay in the parks from sun up until sun down, especially on a first trip or when you are uncertain of when you will return to WDW. You want to maximize your time. But you can only go for so long before exhaustion sets in. Kids get fussy when they are tired, as do husbands and moms and grandparents. If you can’t catch a nap in your room mid-day, head over to the Peoplemover or a monorail. Rest your feet and maybe close your eyes for a few minutes. Stay an extra rotation in the Carousel of Progress for an additional viewing, in the air-conditioning and low lighting. I call that a Mickey Mouse Power Nap.”
Can your kids make it from six in the morning until midnight for day after day? Some can and some struggle. A mid-day break can be the difference between a good time and a fabulous first trip.
Lots of people say they choose the Disney Dining Plan so their meals are paid for in advance, helping them feel less anxiety than paying for meals on the spot.
Amanda, “If you enjoy the character dinners, get on the Disney Dining Plan!”
Catherine, “Split quick service meals and snacks among your party, and get them all throughout the day so you can try new things. Save extra credits for Epcot so you can eat around the world. And DON’T use quick service credits on water. Get bottled water with your meals. If you really need soda, get it at your resort with your refillable mug.Get the dining plan!”
Krystene, “Do the Disney Dinning Plan. We did the Deluxe Dining Plan and had a bunch of left-over snacks and just used them as souvenirs for our family and friends.”
Of course, if you can travel during the Free Dining offers, all the better, but if not, check it out to see if you think it’s worth the cost. If you want to do character meals, many people say this is the route to go.
There may be no better advice for the first time Disney visitor than to train & get ready for the experience.
Marilyn, “Buy your favorite tennis shoes, break them in before your vacation, and buy new socks. It will make all the difference in the world. Also realize that no two families do Disney the same way. You have to make it your own!”
Chrystie, “Comfy shoes!!! Break them in BEFORE you go and don’t wear sandals!!! I got sandals for the first-ever summer trip and wore them all summer long, but trips to the grocery store and Target do NOT equal the amount of walking done in the parks. I spent over $100 in the parks on two pairs of new shoes because the new Melbourne Crocs that I loved caused blisters too. Finally new Mickey Mouse shoes and socks were bought in EPCOT, and those are my new park shoes…”
Joanna, “Don’t fool yourself with that ‘I walk a lot, I’ll be fine in these shoes’ saying. Get some good shoes before your trip and break them in. Don’t bother with cute or OK shoes. Treat your feet and legs well, because they will be tired. And it probably will rain at some point during your trip. Either be ready to shell out the $ for a Mickey poncho or bring your own.”
Long days and multiples miles will take a toll on your body you were definitely not expecting. You also need a great pair of shoes to take you through the days. What do our fans suggest?
Can’t do it all? Just enjoy where you are.
Chris, “Make sure to take trip to the top of the entrance to the train platform. Just stand there and overlook everything and take it all in!”
Heidi, “Get lost in the ambience. I find that even if i miss a ride or a parade. I enjoy to walk around and stare at all the beauty in the decorating details around the parks. Makes you fill like a kid…’Oh look at that. That’s so cool!'”
Jennifer, “Enjoy every minute! And wear sunscreen!”
Dinner reservations running behind? Just be glad you are in Orlando. Didn’t get to ride that one 120-minute-wait roller coaster? Rejoice at all the fun you did have.
Make sure you bring a camera everywhere, extra batteries, and perhaps an extra memory card.
George, “Bring a camera with lots of extra batteries and storage cards. Take lots of pictures — and not just one of each item of interest! Try different angles, different framings, and wait to see if anything changes over time. If you’re an enthusiast, search for the “Hidden Mickeys’ scattered around the park and photograph them, too.”
Tim, “Also, the best time for character photos are the thirty minutes before closing (especially the ones not out on the street but hidden inside character location buildings) and the other best time to get character photos is during the firework shows / Fantasmic. At Hollywood Studios during the first Fantasmic show, they do a character blitz inside the Art of Animation building. These lines will be a fraction of the size or non existant depending on guest count for the day. Remember character photos stop usually before park closing so figure out when they close that day.”
Amanda Major, official Cheapskate Princess photographer, “Ever see people carrying multiple cameras, camera bags, tripods, and zoom lenses around the Magic Kingdom? That is so not me. I can barely remember to bring my small camera in my backpack, even though half the reason I am at Disney is to take pictures. I have barely passed through the turnstiles when my camera batteries went dead. I have walked into Epcot just before the huge crowds arrived to find my memory card full. I have had to buy new batteries 20 minutes into Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. I exemplify ‘winging it’ when it comes to having a camera that works, but trust me, you want a camera and camera accessories that work. Do what it takes to get those memories photographed.”
Forget Murphy’s Law – Mickey’s Camera Law says the minute you don’t have your camera, you’ll sorely wish you did.
Maureen, “Leave your kids at home!”
You heard it here first, cheapskates, to vacation by yourself before you take the kids. They may never forgive you if they find out, but you’ll definitely save yourself some money on their tickets and little kids’ meals. But the photos from this trip, you just might want to hide them!
We hope these tips for first time visitors will help those of you planning your trip. Planning is so important, and we appreciate Disney’s Cheapskate Princess Facebook Fans Facebook fans for giving us the Disney 911 on how to plan the best first trip ever. If you’d like to become a fan and provide your opinions, come join us at Disney’s Cheapskate Princess on Facebook.
We’ll see you first timers, or you 51st timers, park maps in hand, camera in your pocket, a big smile on your face, making some fabulous Disney memories. Let us know how it goes!
To see more of our Cheapskating Guides, use this link.
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Amanda Major is the creator of cheapskateprincess.com. She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.
Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches Leadership to high school seniors in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast.
We hope we can help save you some money too. Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from our Princess Travel Experts with Destinations in Florida travel, Julie, Elizabeth, and Erin. You can also e-mail them at email@example.com.