A few years ago, when we took our oldest son to Walt Disney World for the first time, the realization quickly set in that we were in charge of the Magic. It felt a little overwhelming, but now that we are fresh on the heels from our 5th trip, I have learned a few “must-dos” in planning along the way.
Whether you have never before been to the Most Magical Place on Earth or just have never been as a parent, planning a 1st time trip to Walt Disney World isn’t as easy as it used to be. As a child of the 80’s who had grandparents living in Florida, I was one of the lucky kids who visited Walt Disney World on a semi-regular basis. So naturally when I started having kids of my own, I assumed I knew all about taking a Disney trip. As soon as we arrived, it was clear this was no longer the Disney of my youth. Since that 1st trip, my husband and I have fallen in love all over again with Walt Disney World through the eyes of our kids. In the years that have followed we have talked to friends, colleagues, and family members about our recommendations and favorite things. To that end, here are our top 5 tips to consider when planning your 1st trip!
- Book your trip at least 9 months in advance. Seriously folks, Disney World isn’t really a last minute destination anymore. Planning ahead will give you the most options and the most flexibility. Anytime I hear someone talking about how they are “thinking we might go to Disney in 2 months” I start to hyperventilate. Walt Disney World planning can be as basic or intense as you’re comfortable with, however it’s important to know that basic and nonexistent are not the same thing. Even for those among you with a vagabond spirit, a little planning for Disney goes a long, long way.
- Stay on Disney property. I realize this is not possible for everyone whether it be for financial or family reasons, but if it is- I highly recommend it. We have found that the ease of moving between the parks and your resort when you stay on Disney property makes a huge difference in our stress level. The perks like free souvenir delivery to your hotel or booking FastPass+ selections early may sound trivial, but those little conveniences add up. Disney is amazing, but not the most relaxing vacation so anything that decreases hassle is a “yes” in our book. Also, if you’re on the fence in making this decision, don’t forget to factor in the price of daily parking at the parks or transportation to and from another location.
- Book your dining reservations 180 days in advance. I have talked with a lot of friends who feel like planning meals this far out takes away the natural spontaneity of vacation; my only counteroffer is that the current culture of Disney almost insists upon it. Popular restaurants book up quickly and sometimes never have room for walk-ups. If your family enjoys a “table-service” meal, reservations must be made. And while I appreciate spontaneity, I also appreciate knowing that we will have somewhere to eat- because in my family what’s worse than structure on vacation is hangry kids (and parents).
- Take advantage of the FastPass+ system. Again, I’ll flash back to the 1980’s where there were exactly zero systems in place to deal with waiting in line. And while this philosophy of using the FastPass+ system to “book” your rides or attractions in advance has the same downfalls of spontaneity as pre-booking dining, it is so nice to walk into the park and know for certain you’re at least riding three things that day. The best part is that FastPass+ is included in your ticket price and can be booked 30 days in advance or 60 if you’re staying on property (see numbers 4 and 5).
- Create a dream list with your family. Okay, at first glance this sounds corny- but Walt Disney World is HUGE… like, roughly the same size as San Francisco huge. I can’t image any family taking a trip to San Francisco for the first time without a list of priorities. There is no way to see and do all that Disney has to offer on one vacation. It’s important to accept that early in the planning process and to consider what can reasonably be done. On our last trip, my family really wanted to see and experience the new Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but we knew that meant not having time to do some other things we would have enjoyed. Since we planned ahead and understood that we couldn’t fit it all in, everyone had reasonable expectations and a wonderful day.
I hope that if you’re considering a first-time trip to our favorite destination, a few of these tips will make your planning easy and your trip extra Magical!