So you want to go on a Disney World vacation, but you have no idea where to begin, or even what’s available in 2020/2021 for a First Time visit to Disney World!
Don’t worry–you’ve come to the right place.
Things at Disney can change pretty quickly (especially during this 2020-2021 season), so it’s good to stay in the loop when you are planning a beginner’s trip to Disney World.
Disney Vacations are some of the best in the world and rightfully so, the Disney team does so much to make it a truly magical experience. From once in a lifetime visits to a new family tradition, Disney is the place to go!
This is a comprehensive guide that covers all the basics about Disney World. If you’re familiar with Walt Disney World, this information might seem basic, but to someone who’s never been (and then trying to plan their vacation without knowing how everything works) it can seem overwhelming!
So let’s jump into some quick tips for first time Disney World visitors and then you can pick where you want to get started with all this information! If this is too much, simply save or share this page for later.
Table of Contents
Quick Tips before we start to maximize your Disney Trip planning
Download the my Disney App!
This handy little app is so useful for planning your trip! Once you’ve got the basics down about the parks, restaurants and transportation, you can begin looking at ADR’s (advanced Dining Reservations) and booking your fast passes (they are free! It’s how you get to skip the line on rides).
IMPORTANT NOTE: The ADR’s can be accessed 180 days in advance and the Fast passes can be booked 60 days in advance.
If you worked with a Disney Travel Agent, they can help you with planning your Dining Reservations and Fast Passes.
Please DON’T make plans until you decide what parks you are visiting on what days. WHY? Because you might accidentally make a reservation for a park at the same time as a fast pass- OOPS!
What do you need for your Disney vacation?
Whether it’s your first time to Disney World or your hundredth, it pays to be prepared.
But what you need for your Disney vacation really depends on each person and family (and reason for the trip!) I do recommend getting a packing list together- at least a month ahead of time, so that way you can get everything you need.
Good news- Amazon Delivers! So if you forget something, order it and have it sent to your resort.
The top 3 items I recommend to everyone:
1. Portable Phone Charger– you phone WILL go dead using the MyDisney App, and some of the rides will drain your battery as your phone looks for signal. The alternative is good ole pencil and paper- just make sure you can access your plans and reservations for the day!
2. Insulated Water Bottle– It gets HOT at Disney. Even in the winter you are dealing with the sun, the wind and way too much walking. Animal Kingdom also doesn’t do straws or lids- so you need a water bottle to prevent spillage.
3. Body Glide- This stuff is phenomenal. I use it for anywhere my skin might get irritation (like shoes in sneakers or thighs in shorts). Its only a few bucks, so better to have it and not need it- then need it and not have it!
Know your Disney Trip price points ahead of time
Having a dollar sign in mind is a good way to make sure that you stay on track with your Disney World Vacation. This is such an exciting time and you want to make sure that you make the most of it. There are many money saving tips that can help with your magical vacation! I have an entire section dedicated to Disney On a Budget too!
Disney is… pricey… to say the least! If you want a really inexpensive vacation, I have some suggestions on how to get a cheap Disney Vacation.
If you want to splurge–do that too!
Just know your price points ahead of time so you can look for what fits your needs and how long you want to stay.
Know the best times to go to Disney World
Walt Disney World is such a popular resort that it can get a little crowded.
I’ve been on some of the busiest days of the year, and while it is still magical, it’s not very fun waiting in a two hour line! What you can do is check the best weeks to go and pick the week that works best for your family!
I recommend checking out this crowd calendar here. It will give you an idea of when you should go.
First up- Purchasing your Disney World Tickets
Buying Tickets can be confusing- especially because there are so many options.
If you plan to come more than once a year, an annual pass holder option might be the biggest benefit (especially for those Run Disney People)
If you are visiting for the first time, a standard ticket would be the most appropriate versus an annual pass- you can pick how many base days you’d like to have. Minimum stay would be 6-7 days. Arrival and departure day plus 5 days in the parks- especially now that you can’t park hop.
What I don’t recommend:
-Having a Ticket for Arrival or Departure day (there is plenty to do that doesn’t require a ticket!)
-Park Hopper Tickets (it’s exhausting and can eat up 1-3 hours of your day just traveling) PLUS you can add it during your trip. SO if you decide that you want it halfway through your vacation- just add it then.
-Purchasing from somewhere like eBay- I would hate for your ticket not to work when you arrived
Overview of the Disney Parks
Whether you stay on site, off site, pack a lunch or eat at the resort- you NEED to know the basics about the parks!
Disney World has four Major Parks, two Water Parks, and then Disney Springs. They also have an amazing amount of themed resorts and restaurants that I also recommend you check out! You can peek around the resorts as a guest and eat at any of the locations on property- most require a reservation but they aren’t hard to get.
The Iconic Cinderella Castle and Mainstreet U.S.A. call Magic Kingdom home. This is the number one park and at full capacity can take a visitor almost 20 hours to complete it.
Woah! I’ve been there a few times when the park is full and waiting 45 minutes to use the restroom isn’t fun!
Magic Kingdom hosts lots of other amazing attractions like Space Mountain, Fantasy Land and Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Not to mention, Magic Kingdom is also home to lots of character meet and greets and the amazing fireworks display at the end of the night. Seeing the Castle lit up is a magical experience that the whole family can enjoy, and one of the highlights of any Disney trip.
Hollywood studios used to be considered among us Disney Natives as the ‘one day park’ because it was something that we could just hit up our favorite attractions and then catch dinner somewhere else on the resort. This is certainly not the case anymore though!
If you follow Disney news at all, you’ll see that Hollywood Studios has been revamped lately to include Star Wars, Toy Story Land, Beauty and the Beast and the Disney Junior Characters.
This is exciting news because it takes this park and gives it a much needed update. If you’ve never been (or it’s been a reallyyyyy long time) don’t bypass Hollywood Studios because of old reviews. This is definitely a park you want to visit for all your movie and TV needs!
Epcot is the infamous park that houses all the other countries. The park actually has two sections, Future World and World Showcase.
The World Showcase is where you’ll find many scenic views, easy going rides and of course, the eleven countries with authentic gifts and cuisine. I love to go on Date nights to “Britain” or “Japan”- it’s so amazing that we can step into another country without leaving Disney!
With few exceptions, the World Showcase doesn’t open up till 11, but you can catch the fun rides at Future World when the park opens. Future World has the Soarin’ ride, Finding Nemo, Mission: Space and Test Track to name a few.
These two festivals are some of my favorites besides the holiday events that happen at Magic Kingdom for Halloween and Christmas. I love nothing more than to see all the topiaries and the newest foods they have available. They also do some amazing children’s set ups for each festival!
Animal Kingdom is where the animals are, seriously. With more than 500 acres and 1700 animals, it’s considered to be the largest theme park in the world! This makes for quite the adventure when it comes to planning your day at the park! You won’t be able to see everything in one go.
There’s several sections to Animal Kingdom, the newest of which is the Pandora land based off the movie Avatar. Some of the other sections, which are called ‘lands’ include Asia, Africa, Dinoland, Rafiki’s Planet Watch and Discovery Island.
Since Animal Kingdom is so large, it’s good to plan for more than one day here, or if you only have one day, to pick your ‘must see’ items! And don’t forget your fast passes, the Thrill rides here tend to fill up quickly, just like at the other parks.
Animal kingdom is also a hit or miss park- you either love it or you hate it.
I personally can’t see how anyone can hate Disney (because we certainly don’t!) but some people just aren’t fans of Animal Kingdom. Do yourself a favor, and go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and make your own opinions- chances are that you’ll love it!!
The Water Parks
Disney has two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Both of these have lots of fun water activities with their own unique themes.
Typhoon Lagoon is a tropical getaway filled with water rides the whole family can enjoy! It also features a kiddy play area and thrill rides for the older kids!
Blizzard Beach takes a different spin on theming, think ski resort that has melted into summer water fun! Blizzard beach also has several options for everyone in the family, from kid sized water slides to one of the world’s tallest and fastest water rides!
Both parks have Dining options and places to chill out in the shade! If you go during the summer months this is a must see! The parks are open about 9 months out of the year, and close at opposite times, so you should always have a water park to visit (check out the calendar here) because Florida can get hot (even on Christmas!!! We tend to wear shorts year round here)
Disney Springs was previously called Downtown Disney and if you look at old reviews or message boards it’s easy to get confused about where Downtown Disney went!
Newsflash!- It didn’t go anywhere.
It did get a major facelift and a new name. Most notably, it received lots of new parking, a slew of new stores (many of which are designer names) and several new restaurants.
It’s a great place to explore if you have planned for a day off from the main parks and you want to check out some live entertainment. We personally love Disney Springs as Annual Passholders. It’s nice to pop in after a day in the parks for a nice dinner without too many crowds!
What Entertainment does Disney World Offer?
I get this question from Disney Vacationers all the time- “What is there to do at Disney?”
There is SO MUCH to do at Disney World that you simply can’t do it all! What I wanted to do was break down the basics for you!
This is not going to cover the rides, because they are in a category of their own! I do have a post on rides for babies, toddlers and pregnant women you can check out though!
So let’s take a look at the Entertainment at Disney World!
You can meet the characters two different ways.
1.By going to the Character Meet and Greets.
2.By Scheduling a Character Dining Experience.
If you want to have more time with the Characters- you will want to schedule a Character Dining Experience. That way you can eat and socialize with the characters without feeling rushed.
When you do a character meet and greet, you either wait in line or use a FastPass- and it does tend to go a little fast. Don’t Worry!
You still have plenty of time for some pictures, an autograph and to say hello and goodbye. But you definitely get more time when you do the character meals.
Some of the Characters you can meet in the parks are:
- Mickey Mouse
- Joy and Sadness
- Donald Duck
- Daisy Duck
- Winnie the Pooh and Tiger
- Tinker Bell
- Snow White
- And SOOOO many more!
Character Dining is a great way to meet your favorite Pals! If you’re interested in how to meet characters without a ticket check out this helpful guide!
If you need a comprehensive list of all the character meals, check them here.
Street performers have semi-random acts throughout the day! These are fun actors that come out in gear and cheer to celebrate with you! We’ve seen it all, from a Mainstreet Volunteer Firefighter to a group of drummers!
Many of the acts are scheduled, and many of them are random. You just never know what you might see, especially at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. They tend to have a lot of street performers.
Hollywood Studios has been bringing out the street performers lately too! My favorites are in the Avatar Area and over by the Star Wars section.
Epcot doesn’t have as many everyday street performers as the rest of the parks- but they do have some. They tend to save a lot of the amazing performances for the festivals!
You can also find performances at some of the resorts and Downtown Disney, especially on the weekends!
Disney LOVES parades. They have a parade for everything it seems like! They even have one when it RAINS!
Don’t forget that Disney World also has seasonal parades for Halloween and Christmas. They go all out with these, as typically they are only shown for a separate ticketed event (like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas)
Here’s some of the memorable ones you can expect:
Main Street Trolley Show
This happens in the mornings at Magic Kingdom, kind of like their welcoming act to bring you into the park! It’s a very “Mary Poppins” themed show, and oh so cute!
Festival of the Fantasy Parade
This parade is often held in the afternoons and evenings and features all of your favorite princesses, a dragon and Mickey and Minnie in a Hot air balloon!
There are several dance parties at Disney World Parks, you might even come across a random one with some of the live musicians.
Move it! Shake It! Mouske Dance it! Street Party happens during the day on mainstreet by the Castle at Magic Kingdom. Half Parade- half street party it is 100% fun! Everyone will want to join in with the characters on floats and the upbeat music.
Hakuna Matata Dance party at Animal Kingdom is another winner. This is a live music event designed for everyone in the family. Get your groove on with this show that lasts most of the day, with culturally inspired music and fun dancers to join you! You might even get treated to the performers on stilts!
Each Park has their signature nighttime show, some of them have FastPass options and many of them have special dining packages where you can eat and avoid the crowds. If they don’t have a dining package, they almost certainly have a dessert package. They are somewhat accommodating with allergies- but call ahead.
Magic Kingdom- Once Upon a Time. Happily ever after.
Happily Ever After is the newest nighttime show with Cinderella’s Castle. It is a beautiful 20 minute show that highlights some of your favorite characters with audio and visuals designed to keep you on the tip of your toes! It does get really crowded here- so just keep that in mind if you need to use the restroom.
Animal Kingdom- Tree of Awakenings. Rivers of Light.
The tree of Awakenings happens nightly at Animal Kingdom. It’s not very interactive, more of the tree “coming to life” with state of the art visuals. Very entertaining for kids.
Rivers of Light is a new show at Animal Kingdom features water boats and nature. It’s very hard to explain because it’s not a traditional WHAM FIREWORKS disney show- it’s much more of a visual journey through Asia.
Hollywood Studios- Fantasmic. Star Wars- Galactic Spectacular.
Fantasmic is the imagination of Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Then it gets interrupted by Villains. Again, not a show my toddler enjoyed, but it was very visually appealing!
Star Wars- This is a show full of pyrotechnics, loud music and audio and lasers. (and fireworks!) It was a little too much for my toddler, but absolutely breathtaking to watch as an adult!
Stage shows can be found scattered throughout the parks! These are a highlight for many, but they also take up precious eating/riding/character time, so often get skipped!
I would recommend not skipping all of them, and aim to do 2-3 per trip. They are a great way to relax, get some A/c and get swept away in the show for 20-40 minutes! Some of my favorites include: Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Indiana Jones.
Nightlife at Disney
Some would say that I saved the best for last- and that is probably the case! If we were going to cover ALL of the options for entertainment after dark at Disney we would be here awhile. Let’s look at some of the favorites!
Disney is not just for kids! Especially Downtown Disney, which was built more with the adult in mind. You can shop and enjoy Dinner, then grab drinks on the water.
You’ve got several options to choose from. One of the newest additions is The Edison, which has flapper style dancers, a DJ and music floor. The Hangar Bar has lots of games to play over drinks, and Paradiso 37 will have you dancing to Latin Music all night long! Bar hopping is another favorite, with almost 10 places to choose from it can be a fun weekend night!
If you want to stay near the resorts, definitely check out the Disney BoardWalk. Not only is it absolutely picturesque in the evenings with live musicians and plenty of restaurants, but it also hosts some 21 and up venues.
Jellyrolls is famous for their dueling piano competitions- truly a must see experience (even more enjoyable with drinking). Then you have a Dance Venue featuring hits from the 80s and 90s.
Lastly, you’ve got the ESPN sports bar, so you don’t have to miss the big game even on vacation. Pair this with their delicious eats and fun sites and it’s a great place to enjoy some adult time. It’s a favorite among the locals for date nights- so keep it in mind!
Transportation at Disney
The most popular Disney World transport options
The Disney Transport Bus- A mass transport system of buses and routes covering Disney World Property. These are handy because they go everywhere. Not so handy because they can get caught in traffic and then take a moment. They do have A/C and wheelchair accommodations. Strollers need to be folded (And in busier months your kids will have to ride on your lap). It’s like a public transport bus- and you don’t need a ticket to ride it.
Water Boats- a water based transportation system that includes the ferry’s to magic kingdom, and boats that take you to select resorts. We LOVE the ferry that goes from the Transport and ticket center to Magic Kingdom. It’s such a fun and relaxing way to see the castle over the water!
Monorail- Only goes to Magic Kingdom and Epcot, as well as select resorts. It is one of my Kids Favorite things to do! I do recommend taking the monorail at some point on your vacation- resort hopping is a super fun option!
Other options for Disney World transport
Driving- When you drive you can park in the parking lots for each of the Parks and Disney Springs. Unless you have arrangements with your pass/tickets, parking at Disney does cost based on your vehicle (and you can get preferred parking for an additional price and a closer parking spot) At Disney Springs the parking is free and you walk into the shopping areas. Large Trams (my son calls them trains with wheels!) pick you up in the parking lot and take you closer (but not all the way) to the front entrance.
Walking – Several of the resorts are connected to the parks through walking trails. These generally go to a back area of the park (there are more than one entrance points).
What about a Taxi?
YEP! You can pay to have someone drop you at Disney World!
Minnie Vans- These are red and white polka dotted vans that take you where you need to go on Disney Property! They also have car seats! You order them through the Lyft app- but you need to call in for ADA ones.
Traditional Taxis- Orlando is filled with traditional taxis, and they are normally waiting right there at the pickup area- so you don’t even have to call! You can just walk over and get a taxi.
Uber and Lyft- Uber and Lyft Drivers work the Disney grounds as well. These can be pretty useful if you are planning to go somewhere off property or just want a quick lift to your next Disney Destination.
Handicap Accommodations at Disney World – ADA accessible
Disney is pretty decent about Handicap accommodations. I say decent for several reasons. The biggest reason is out of their hands- but it’s people disrespecting the Handicap options (like using a parking sticker when no one in the vehicle is handicapped to get closer to the entrance). Handicap parking options fill up FAST!
So in times past, with a wheelchair we have used other transportation means. If you CAN NOT transfer, this can be tricky because Disney Staff are (for the most part) clueless about ramps and tie downs and can kind of get in your way (Can’t she just get off so we can move it into place? NO!) And forget it with a stroller that counts as a wheelchair (visit guest services for this). It needs to have tie downs! And you will need to explain to the bus driver where they are.
A solution we have found is a drop off area. It’s over by the Taxi areas and you can park and get everyone out and set up without rushing- and then you are closer to the entrance without having to fight buses or park in the overflow handicap spots. This only works if the driver doesn’t need accommodations since you still have to park in the main (handicap) parking area. Most times my husband just parks general to save the handicap spots for other people- like I said, they fill up super fast!
Handicap accommodations and ADA accessibility is an area near and dear to my heart- so reach out if you want to chat or need some helpful guidance.
Disney World Resorts
Now, let’s talk about the resorts. Disney World has 36 resort hotels on the grounds, 26 of which are owned and operated by Disney.
Out of those 26, 9 of them are for Disney Vacation Club members- so we won’t get too much into those till later. What we want to focus on are the resorts that are the easiest to get and what those options are!
The Resorts are set up in a tier system. What this means is that each resort falls under one of three categories. The categories for the Walt Disney World Resorts are Value Resorts, Moderate Resorts, and Deluxe. These tiers are based on the resorts sizes, amenities, transportation options and price.
We’ll start with the Value Resorts. These are the least expensive of the Walt Disney Resorts but they don’t lack in magical experience!
They all have a dining area, stocked with various goodies (and yes, they accommodate allergies!) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the gift area sections they have the standard souvenirs like coffee cups and towels while they also have snacks and drinks.
All of the Disney Value resorts have the usual conveniences you would expect at a Disney hotel. Mail, laundry, dry-cleaning, complimentary wi-fi, airline check-in, designated smoking areas, and ATMs.
The Value Resorts also have some other amenities like the pools and a jogging trail. While the pools don’t have slides, they do have poolside activities that happen throughout the day. Other cool options for the value resorts are the indoor arcades and the playgrounds.
The two best perks of the Walt Disney World Resorts are the free transportation and the Extra Magic Hours.
The transportation and extra magic hours are the main reason we stay at Disney so often even though we live right up the road! Because you really can’t go wrong with the list of amenities, the adorable themes and the perks of transportation and extra magic hours that you get by staying on-site at the Disney World Value Resort hotels.
The next tier up is the Moderate Resorts and these are some of my favorites! The moderate resorts at Walt Disney World Resort provide some of the best options for the price. Plus the blend of affordability and amenities make Moderate Resorts a great options for most families.
While the Value Resorts focus more on cartoonish theming- The Moderate Resorts focus more on cultural themes. They offer all the amenities of the Value resorts with some nice additions!
Disney’s Port Orleans offers horse-drawn carriage rides, bike rentals and catch-and-release fishing. Disney’s Caribbean Beach offers a pirates adventure cruise, bike rentals, sand volleyball and catch-and-release fishing. Disney’s Coronado Springs offers bike rentals and sand volleyball. They also have nicer themed room with queen sized beds (value resorts have the full sized beds).
Deluxe Resorts and Deluxe Villas
Staying at a Deluxe Resort is similar to the name, its where Disney goes above and beyond! These rooms tend to be a little bigger than most other rooms on the grounds, and they have more amenities.
So you get all of the perks of the other tiers, with some nice additions like valet parking, higher quality dining on site and more recreation choices at the resort. This takes your Disney vacation from regular to extraordinary!
My favorite part about staying at the Deluxe resorts is how much closer they are to the parks, and transportation also seems to move a lot faster from these resorts (maybe its in my head… but I do feel that way!). We tend to save the Deluxe Resorts for special occasions, like honeymoons, but we’ve taken the kids before and their were lots of other kids there too!
The Deluxe Villas are similar to the resorts, but they sleep way more people! Most of these are also at a different location than the other Deluxe properties, but still full of the same amenities.
Disney Resort Features
So now that you have a general understanding of the what and where, let’s compare some of the basic features of all the resorts.
The value resorts have double beds that sleep four, whereas the Moderate and Deluxe resorts have queen beds. King Sized beds can be found sprinkled throughout the resorts, you just have to hunt to find them!
The value and moderate resorts have food court style options- which is great for a large family of picky eaters, but the Deluxe resorts only have one quick service option that can be limiting on food choices. Both the Moderate and Deluxe have Table Dining options that help to add to the ambience of finer vacationing. Deluxe resorts also offer Signature and Character dining as part of their 5 star service.
For the most part, the value and moderate resorts only options are the buses. There are three moderate resorts that have the Water Taxi boat service and those are Ports Orleans Riverside, French Quarter and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. The Deluxe Resorts have several more transportation options, like the monorail, boat taxis and walking. You can also call a ‘Minnie Van’ from any of the resorts (and they come with two car seats!) You’ve got options!
Every resort on Disney property has a pool (thank goodness, because Florida is hot!) but the types of pools differ across the tiers.
The value pools are, well, value based (but your kids won’t mind, I promise!). They don’t have anything fancy besides some theming and poolside activities that Disney Cast members run.
The moderate pools are absolutely a step up. Here the theming is top quality and you’ve got water slides!!
So how can the Deluxe pools beat water slides? With even bigger water slides, of course! They also have more pool options to choose from, which limits the amount of loud rowdy teenagers you might run into on your afternoon swim.
How far in advance should you book a Disney World trip?
If you’re staying at a Disney resort, it’s recommended that you book at least 60 days in advance. If you’re staying off-site, then at least 30 days in advance.
Is it cheaper to stay on Disney Property?
Honestly, most of the time, not really–though you can get some good deals with the value resorts, what you’re really paying for is convenience and the experience. There are definite perks, the biggest of which is being so close to the parks. You’ll have to decide what’s right for you and your family!
How much money should I bring to Disney World?
It kinda depends on your budget and how much you plan on eating at the Parks, but I’d say somewhere around $100-200 per day, depending on the size of your family. Though you don’t want to break the bank, you should expect to spend some money on food and souvenirs!
So there you have it, folks, just about everything a beginner needs to know (and then some!) about planning their first trip to Disney World!
If you’re a first time Disney World visitor, I know it can be a little overwhelming, but remember that priority number one is to have fun! You’re not going to be able to do and see everything, so make a plan and let the good times roll!
For you returning guests who are maybe just looking to brush up on the details, hopefully this brings some things to light! From Disney World transport, to entertainment, to resorts, to what to expect in the 2020/2021 season, there’s always new information to help you make the most of your visit to the most magical place on Earth!
Are you planning a Disney trip for the first time? Are there any questions you have that you didn’t see answered? Let us know in the comments!