Entrance to Magic Kingdom
By Laura Jemetta
Lucky you! You’re heading to Disney World for the first time! I’m significantly jealous, because you’re going to have the best time.
So, you’re a first-timer, which means you might have a lot of questions about Disney, and about how to have the best time at the parks.
That’s it. That’s the best way to have the greatest time at the parks.
Sure, it might not sound as wonderful and glamorous as just winging it and going wherever the day takes you, but trust me on this one: Disney is one holiday you have to prepare for.
The good news is this: the Disney preparation is one of the most exciting parts of going to Disney! You’re going to have so much fun doing all your planning and research, and it’s going to make you all the more excited for your trip.
This is the guide I wish I’d had when I was going to Disney for the first time – comprehensive and common-sense. It will let you know how to navigate your Disney planning, what to bring with you to the parks, and how to prepare yourself for the Disney experience.
Keep reading, and let me know in the comments below if you find my tips helpful!
Step 1: Research and Planning
Let’s start at the very beginning…it’s time for some serious planning. This is where you’ll learn all about Disney World, and come up with your plan-of-attack for the parks.
1. Download the Disney World app – My Disney Experience: Walt Disney World
Okay, you’ve got your park tickets. You’re on your way to Disney World. Your first step is going to be to download the official Disney World app. This app has everything. It’s awesome. You need it. That’s it.
The next thing you’re going to do is go ahead and link your park tickets to your Disney app. This means that your tickets and reservations will be connected to the app on your phone – so handy.
2. Check out the park maps
Next step is to start familiarising yourself with the maps of the parks you’re visiting: check out the size, scale and general lay-out of the parks. Luckily, you’ve already downloaded your handy-dandy Disney app, on which you can access maps, as well as ride locations and up-to-date ride wait times.
3. Create your ultimate ride and attraction list
It’s time to get into some serious research – you need to create as list of the attractions and rides that you simply can’t miss. It’s not an an easy or cheap job to get from Australia to Disney, so when I do get there, I’m always conscious that it will probably be another 5-10 years until I will get there again. That’s why it’s so important to me to see and do everything important to me, and to make the most of my time at Disney.
It might seem like a better idea to wing it, and see and do whatever takes your fancy on the day. But, there’s simply so much to see at Disney, that you’re bound to miss out on something fantastic, if you don’t have a plan of action.
4. Its Fastpass+ Time!
That’s right, now you can take full advantage of the Fastpass+ System! In case you don’t know, Disney’s Fastpass+ System is a free way to skip ahead of the lines for the best rides and attractions. All you have to do is make a Fastpass+ reservation on your Disney app. You can read all about the Fastpass+ System here to make sure you take full advantage of it.
So, you have your must-do list, it’s time to start selecting your Fastpasses+. Use your Disney app to get an idea of which rides on your list have the longest wait times, and try to Fastpass+ those.
TOP TIP: When picking your Fastpasses+ keep in mind that it’s best to avoid criss-crossing across the parks all day. Try to choose Fastpasses+ that will take you in a logical clockwise or anti-clockwise route around the parks. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re not running back and forth across the park all day for Fastpasses+.
5. Plan Your Meals – (if that’s your thing)
The Disney app even allows you to plan your meals at the parks ahead of time. Now, spending a lot of money on food might not be your thing, and that’s okay. If it’s not, check out my post on sticking to a budget at Disney, for some tips on saving money on food at the parks.
But, if you’re going to want to experience Character Dining, or want to check out some of the unique sit-down restaurants at Disney, it’s a good idea to plan these ahead of time. The Disney World app allows you to make dining reservations ahead of time, and for a lot of the dining experiences at Disney World, this is essential.
MY TIP: go ahead and do some research on the dining experiences available at Disney World, and use the app to book them ahead of time. This won’t necessarily save you money, but it will save you the disappointment of missing out on something you really want to experience.
6. Leave Room for Spontaneity
I know, I know, I’ve just told you to do all this planning, and it might feel like you’ll have no room in your day for just being in the moment, and going where the magic takes you. But it doesn’t have to be this way – the planning won’t take the magic out of your trip if you leave room for spontaneity. Spread your Fastpasses out so that you don’t spend your day running from reservation to reservation. This will leave you room to stop and wait for a ride that catches your eye, to meet a roaming character, or to sit and enjoy a drink somewhere in Fantasy Land.
Your day is going to be filled with magic regardless, but remember for all your planning and preparation try not to be too restricted by your schedule. Leave space to take the breaks you need, to stop and watch that performance, or to take a look in that shop you pass by. These spontaneous moments and the little surprises that Disney has to offer may end up being some of your favourite moments of your trip.
Step 2: Get Your Disney Bag Together
So, you’ve done all your planning and research. You know your must-do rides, what your dining reservations are, and the general route you’re going to take around the parks.
Now it’s time to start thinking about what you will need to take with you to the parks! Check out my list below for tips on what to put in your Disney bag
1. Start with a small cross-body bag or backpack
Keep it small, keep it functional, and lightweight and sturdy. The last thing you need at Disney is to be lugging around a heavy and cumbersome bag. Opt for something strong, functional and something that you don’t mind (possibly) getting a little wet or dirty.
2. Your Phone
Obviously. The first thing that’s going in your bag is your phone, right? Good, because now you’ve got your Disney app, tickets, reservations and Fastpasses+ on there, you’re going to need it.You already know the deal, but you’ll need it to reserve more Fastpasses+, to check out up-to-date wait times for rides, and of course for those all-important holiday photos.
Make sure you charge up your battery to full capacity, and pop in a portable charger too. Check out my post here to find out why portable chargers are a life-saver while travelling.
It’s Orlando. You’re going to need sunscreen. As an Australian, that’s just where my mind naturally goes: sun+heat = sunscreen. Save yourself the sunburn and the sun damage, and just Slip Slop Slap. (That’s Slip on a long-sleeved shirt, Slop on some sunscreen, and Slap on a hat, for my non-Aussie friends)
Oh, and pop that sunscreen in your Disney bag for re-applications throughout the day. While Disney World does offer quite a bit of shade, the queues for rides are often in the direct sun!
Just in case you do decide to wear those shoes. Throw a couple of bandaids in your bag – you never know when you might need one, even in the best of shoes.
5. Your Preferred Over-the-Counter Pain Relief
Imagine this: it’s hot. It’s humid. You’ve been in the sun all day, and you haven’t had enough of Disney’s free iced water as you probably should have. Now you’ve got a pounding headache, but you still want to make it to closing time.
Don’t fear. Luckily, you read my handy packing guide before you even arrived at Disney, so you packed yourself some pain relief in your trusty bag! Even if you’re not usually prone to headaches, the combination of the Orlando heat and sun is a special sort of recipe for a headache.
Headache. Toothache. Period pain. You never know what’s going to happen, and there’s nothing worse than traipsing back to Main Street to buy some overpriced panadol.
6. Hair Ties. Bobby Pins. Pressed Powder – if that’s your kind of thing
Side note about me: I am a notorious over-packer. I have a fear of being unprepared, so I tend to try and prepare for all eventualities. So, this entry may seem a little extra, and if it’s not for you, feel free to skip ahead. I won’t mind.
Anyway: probably not the most essential of things to put in your Disney bag, but if you’re a mid or long-haired person like me, you might appreciate something to get your hair off your face in the heat of the day.
Same goes for the pressed powder – it’s hot. Humid. You’ll get sweaty. I’d have appreciated something in my Disney bag to make my face a little less sweaty.
Let’s move on from sweat, right?
Step 3: Prepare Your Disney Mindset
1. Bring Your Tolerance and Patience
Okay, let’s be real. It’s going to be really hot. It’s going to be really humid. It’s going to be crowded. Like, really, really crowded. You’re going to wait in lines longer than you thought possible. There’s no getting around that. You’re probably even going to get frustrated at some point in the day, but that’s okay – Disney’s a high-energy, overwhelming sort of a place.
There’s going to be a lot of overtired kids. And strollers nipping at your ankles. And people without common courtesy. (I realise now that I’m not making Disney sound like a lot of fun, but you’ll have to trust me that it is). Just be prepared for everything Disney involves – not just the fun stuff – and remember that you’ll need your patience.
2. Bring Your Sense of Wonder
TOP TIP: It’s a lot easier to ignore any of the frustrating things, (overzealous stroller-pushers, I’m looking at you), if you take a healthy sense of wonder with you. Yes, Disney is a place for adults to re-discover their inner child, but it’s also a place children, and I recommend trying to see things through the eyes of those kids. Everything will be more exciting; more magical, if you try and experience Disney this way. Seek out the small details; the little Disney touches throughout the parks that are designed to bring more magic to your day, and see Disney as kids do – as the most magical and happiest place on earth.
3. Bring Along Your Childhood Nostalgia
Disney is the one place in the world that you can break out all those childhood Disney memories and revel in them. Still know all the words to ‘A Whole New World’? You can use that at Disney. Feel like crying at the parade as you watch all the characters of your childhood dance past you? You can do that at Disney.
(Confession: Yes, that is something I did. I was 14 at the time, and evidently a lot more emotional)
You’ll be reminded of the part Disney played in your childhood – that swell of music as you walk down Main Street will move you, and seeing kids meet Ariel will remind you how much you loved that film as a child. You will have moments of nostalgia during your time at the parks, because that’s the pull of a place like Disney – they remind us of growing up, and what it is to be childlike.
Wow, did you make it to the end? I’m proud of you. Now you’re all set, all prepared, and ready to have the greatest time ever at Disney World! Did I mention I’m jealous? Never mind me – you’re on your way! Make sure to check out my post about the day I had at Magic Kingdom, and please leave any specific questions you have about Disney planning in the comments below. I’d love to chat about Disney World with you!