Updated for 2016!
Planning a first time Disney vacation can be a mighty overwhelming task, because it’s really hard to learn everything you need to know before you go. I’ve lost count of the numbers of days my family has spent at the parks, yet I seem to learn new tidbits of information here and there all the time. We asked our Cheapskate Princess Facebook Fans if they had advice to offer for anyone planning a first time vacation. If you’ve heard all these tips before, well congratulations, you win a big virtual trophy for being an Ace Disney Planner. And if you learn something new today that can make your trip go a little smoother, then it was well worth your time.
Speaking of time, let me point out that with changes in Pinterest and Facebook, it’s become difficult to see all the articles from your favorite Disney planning sites. Use this link to join our Cheapskate Princess mailing list, and about once a week, you’ll receive our latest article by e-mail, and it’s absolutely FREE!
So first (or 10th time) planners, here we go! We have links to articles with more in-depth information as well.
Planning – Do Before
1. You really can’t do everything.
Sarah, “Don’t try to do everything. Pick a few must-dos and just enjoy your time. When we go, we don’t like to have a bunch of things scheduled, so we break up our ADRs and such so we can enjoy our time.”
Ruth, “Do not wear yourself out. Pick five things that are a must and anything else will be great. You can not do it all in any park in one day.”
Disney is too big and visited by too many people these days for you to be able to do and see everything you have planned, so don’t head there with the attitude that you will. You’ll also come home more relaxed, since this is a vacation, even if it’s a Disney vacation.
2. Is the vacation primarily for the kids? Then follow their lead.
Crystal, “Don’t try to get it all in on one trip, especially if you have little ones. Yes it is Disney, but it can be a sensory overload for them. Try one park per day. You are on VACATION. Make memories; take breaks. If you don’t have little ones, plan your day before hand. Disney World is a very large place with lots to see and do.”
If this vacation is “for the kids,” then following their lead can result in more happiness all the way around. If the kids want to stop and play on playgrounds or look around in gift shops, give them some time before you rush off to the next ride. Memories can be made anywhere, which doesn’t always mean being aboard a roller coaster.
3. Transportation is not speedy.
Lisa, “Book dinner reservations in the park you will be in that day. The transportation takes too much time out of your day.”
When you are pre-planing and scheduling times, like for wake up calls and dining reservations, keep in mind that the resort property is HUGE. Getting form one place to another takes time, from waiting in line to driving there. Even driving your own car can use up time, if the roads are congested or there is construction. Think of the traffic delays with the Downtown Disney transforming into Disney Springs. Park hopping breaks up the day, but moving from place to place also eats into your vacation time.
4. You can’t just show up anymore.
Melissa, “Do your research. Read the blogs! Make plans well in advance of the 180 day mark if at all possible.”
In days gone by, you could pack a bag, hop in your car, and show up in Orlando ready to go. If you do that now, you run the risk of not getting a table at your desired restaurant and hanging out in stand-by lines for long periods of time. Even locals complain that a spur of the moment day trip is hard these days. You need to make ADRs (Advanced Dining Reservations) and Fastpass+es. You need a plan, and our number 5 can help with all this planning.
5. It helps to have a TA.
Katie, “Get a Disney travel agent. They are free to you, and they will make sure you make the most of your trip by getting all your dining reservations and Fastpass+ selections. (I’m not a TA. I just have friends who are and this is the easiest way to have a ‘newbie’ get a great trip with minimal planning on the clients’ part.)”
Julie, “If possible, take a veteran with you. I LOVE taking newbies to the World! If that’s not possible, I’d say great advice is use a Disney Travel Agent. They can let you in on all the little known facts, make sure you know when to book things, and find you discounts you may have missed.”
We couldn’t agree more. At Cheapskate Princess, we are all about FREE, and if I can get a professional to help me plan my vacation, for free, sign me up. We highly recommend Erin, our Disney Vacation Planner with Destinations in Florida. Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from Erin. Not only is she one of the nicest people you’ll ever talk to, but she also gives away free perks just for our readers.
We love free!
6. Schedule Fastpass+ for afternoon and night
Angela, “Schedule your Fastasses for late afternoon. That’s when it’s most crowded. The standby lines are shorter in the morning or late in the evening.“
Fastpass+ is ever-evolving; what works today may change tomorrow. For those people with small children who wake up early, make Fastpass+ times for later in the day. If your teens sleep in like mine, we like to make our Fastpass+ times between 6 and 10. You will not get as many Fastpass+es as the old traditional FASTPASSes people ran around the parks collecting, but this approach will still work to a certain degree, for right now.
7. You need a map to plan your Fastpass+ times
Justin, “Plan Fastpass+ so you go around park in a big circle and double back using passes.”
We haven’t talked about walking yet, but WOW, you will do a LOT of walking on a Disney vacation. Use an online map to see where your Fastpass+ choices are located to avoid walking back and forth across the parks for scheduled rides. While it may look like you are just walking an inch or two on the map, in reality, that’s miles and miles on your feet. Kids wear out fast, especially in the summer heat, and so do adults. Use this link for information on free maps that are great fun to look at:
If you do schedule your Fastpass+ times for the morning, when you use up your initial three, you can get more one at a time. Again, think about location when scheduling these using the phone app. “My Disney Experience.” And here’s more info. on that app.
8. There is a free Disney App
Margaret, “One of my best planing helpers is the My Disney Experience app. It’s almost a necessity to keep up with Fastpases, ADRs, park opening and closing times, wait times, and so much more.”
Disney has a free app. called “My Disney Experience” that includes wait times, maps, characters, FastPass+ reservations and dining info. You can even use it at home to see how long the lines are when you’re not at Disney World. And we love anything free.
For more information, use this link, where you can also create your own account.
9. Pets are allowed here but not here.
Grayson, “Pets are a big part of every day life for many people but not at Disney.”
Unless they are service animals, pets are not allowed in the theme parks, resort hotels or on theme park buses. If you cannot make arrangements at home, or you just want to bring your pet with you, Disney World has an on-site pet boarding and kenneling facility. Best Friends Pet Care is open one hour before the theme parks open through one hour after closing.
Use this link for prices and details: Best Friends Pet Care website.
Planning – Do During
10. You will probably need a break
Jenna, “Don’t be nervous to leave the park for a break during the afternoon heat and crowds. Hop on the monorail from Magic Kingdom and visit one of the resorts and grab a snack there.”
If you are in the parks from rope drop opening to the Kiss Goodnight closing, then you will be T.I.R.E.D., especially when you attempt this for multiple days. If you can stand time away from roller coaster rides, we highly suggest a mid-day break, which could be just a quick rest stop at one of the resorts along the monorail route, to put your feet up, or a longer rest back at the hotel room for a nap.
I usually need a nap to get me through my vacation day. If your kids take naps as part of their daily routine, they probably will as well.
11. Water is free.
Terri, “Free water!”
You don’t get a lot for free at Disney, but cups of water in restaurants, both table and counter service, are free. This may not be all that big a deal at home, but when your poor Visa balance is climbing higher and higher, this can save you some serious cash. If you happen upon a snack stand with food and drink items, ask for a cup of water. If they don’t have water, many times they will give you ice, which when melted…becomes water!
This deal is so great, we wrote an entire article covering it:
12. Kids are too small to ride? Use “Rider Switch”
Kandy, “If you are taking small kids, be sure to check out Rider Switch. My husband and I never missed the ‘adult’ rides when we switched, and it doesn’t take that much extra time to wait.“
Rider Switch, which is sometimes called “Child Swap,” is a pass system that allows people with small children to take turns riding the “tall people” rides while the other person/people wait with the child. Now you won’t have to miss riding because someone has to babysit the kids in line. With your entire group present, tell the Cast Member that you would like to use Rider Switch. The “waiters” receive a Rider Switch pass, similar to a FastPass, and the “riders” proceed on through the line. When they finish, you will swap. This will also work if a child is tall enough but doesn’t actually want to ride.
13. You miss a lot if you rush around all crazy
Randy, “Slow down and don’t miss the subtle magic around you. The smile that comes with a first Mickey balloon, the little girl waving at the princesses in the parade, the drip of melted ice cream from a Mickey bar….it is all around you, if you take the time to just look.”
Jessica, “Stop and check out the little things instead of rushing from place to place. Reason #1 for taking my toddler to WDW.”
I know there are people who plan their vacations down to the minute, but you can miss a lot while you run from place to place, and this can tire you out physically as well as emotionally. Take time to sit down in a resort lobby and look around. Stop and rest on a bench and take in the scenery. Let the kids look through the gift shops for a little longer than you originally planned.
There is so much to see and so little time; don’t miss the small details, because that’s one thing Disney does so very well.
14. Resort mugs don’t work at the parks
Sarah, “Pace yourself, and don’t bother taking the refill mugs you can get at the resorts. They don’t work at any theme parks, so it’s just extra stuff to lug around. And remember to have fun!”
The Rapid Refill resort mugs are only for use at the resorts, so unless you want to haul them around all day, drop them off in your car or hotel room. I see mugs hanging off strollers all the time, and I always wonder if they are filled with drinks. Because if it was my expensive mug, I wouldn’t take the risk of it disappearing or getting lost because I didn’t plan ahead. There are no refill stations in the parks for your resort mugs.
15. Mickey can wake you up
Sandy, “Although they didn’t love waking up early, my kids loved this. Have them answer the phone in the mornings. Mickey Mouse telling them it was time to wake up was a big thrill for my small ones.”
I phoned a Cast Member on this one, because there isn’t a lot of information online, although this is so simple to do. Just arrange for a wake up call from your resort. (It’s still a good idea to use your own alarm, just in case.) Then have one of the kids answer the phone. A Disney character, I was told usually Mickey Mouse, will announce it’s time to rise and shine and head out for some Disney fun.
Bring With You
16. You can bring your own food in the parks
Tara, “Bring snacks along in a bag. Also have single serve drink mixes in there and have water delivered from an outside source. We used Staples website.”
A long time ago, the rules forbid you bring any food into the parks, but it’s Ok now. They are searching bags for weapons and not your cans of Coke and sandwiches. Since you are on vacation, you might not want to bring in full meals with you, although many people do, but bringing water/Gatorade and snacks that won’t melt in a hot summer backpack can save you money. Just don’t pack anything in glass containers.
17. Trade pins with Cast Members and visitors
Jamie, “Our kids love trading pins, and I’ve been known to buy a couple for myself as souvenirs.”
There are trading pins you can purchase to trade with Cast Members and even random people you see, if these strangers are willing to make a trade. Cast Members will always trade pins. There are pin starter sets for sale in all the gift shops and even occasional carts. If you want to be prepared before you arrive, pick up trading pins online at DisneyStore.com. You can also get them on eBay, but read our guide first.
There are many Disney items you can purchase on eBay at big discounts, but trading pins on eBay are typically not authentic. You can read about that here:
18. Ziplocks have multi-purposes
Lynn, “Bring a zip sandwich bag for your cell phone for water rides/rain.”
Ziplocks are your friends. They don’t just hold restaurant leftovers the kids may decide to eat in an hour, they also hold snacks you know they’ll want in three hours. You can put emergency boo boo medicines and band aids in zip locks, your phone, and I always bring a large Ziplock to hold my camera in case of rain. If it absolutely needs to stay dry or fresh, think plastic Ziplock bag.
19. It’s probably going to rain
Jordan, “Bring ponchos! Don’t fool yourself into thinking it won’t rain, because believe me, it will.“
Orlando weather is notorious for changing in a matter of minutes. You walk outside your resort to hop a bus, squinting against the scorching sun, and before you arrive at your destinations, you are sitting in a full-blown thunderstorm. Maybe I exaggerate a bit, but in the summer most especially, chances are you will feel some rain drops. Ponchos are expensive to purchase in the parks, so plan ahead and bring what you need, which could include dry socks if the rain forecast is high.
20. You will walk more than you think
Nicole, “Be prepared for a LOT of walking – remember your comfy shoes !! I had a friend who warned me, but I totally did not expect that much walking! I learned the hard way, and I’m glad I remembered my Epsom salts for my feet!”
Teresa, “Work on your core muscles and have an hour family walk two weeks before you go to WDW. Your feet and back will be prepared, and you won’t be in so much pain.”
We’ve done entire articles on the topic of how much walking you will do at the parks and resorts. It can honestly be pretty brutal if you are not prepared. Our family joke is that I walk at every night, all year-long, in training for the next Disney trip. Need an excuse to get the kids outside for a walk? Tell them you are training for vacation. For more information on how much walking you can expect to do, use this link:
21. If you have young children, strollers are feet savers
Jordan, “If you have a child five or under, rent a stroller from an outside rental company. It’s much cheaper, and they offer much nicer strollers.”
Carl, “We always rented a Disney double stroller. While we complained about the price, anything was better than hauling kids around when their feet gave up.”
Regardless of where you get the stroller from, while it may seem like a good idea to skip out on renting a stroller to save money or the hassle of carrying it, little feet wear out fast. You’ll be glad you have it when the kids refuse to walk anymore. If you bring your own stroller from home, which can certainly save you money, just make sure you can fold it up to get on the Disney busses. Your ability to fold that stroller up pretty quick is a bonus for the other passengers on the bus.
22. It pays to know the menus
Mary, “Look up restaurant menus online first. We’re not into hot dogs and burgers, so the extra effort to find good food is worth it.”
If there are over 300 restaurants on Disney property, then you will definitely want to be familiar with menus where you plan to dine. Disney has pages and pages of restaurant links with menus for your pre-visit reading pleasure. Don’t feel overwhelmed – just type in the name of the location of your choice. You can also find out your dining options by reading about the resorts themselves. Use this link for info. on where to find menus:
If you would like some recommendations on our readers favorite restaurants, use this link:
And there you go, 22 tips that our readers felt like most people new to the World of Disney did not know. And if you knew them all already, well again, Tinker Bell bonus points for you. We hope these enable you to have a fabulous vacation.
Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you in line to get a cup of free water…every dollar saved counts!
Now let our vacation planner help you plan your trip, totally for FREE!
Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from Erin, our Disney Vacation Planner with Destinations in Florida travel. She offers promotions like Disney Trading Pin sets, autograph books, and free Mickey Mouse ear hats for kids under age 17. We know our readers love free…