First Time Beginner’s Guide to Disney World (15 minute crash course)

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With so many Rides, Shows, and Attractions, it can be hard to know where to start at Disney World in Orlando Florida (Disneyland is in California, and offers different things!).

This is a comprehensive guide that covers all the basics about Disney World. If you’re familiar with Walt Disney World, this information is probably unnecessary. If your new to Disney, then this is the place to be.

Disney is a vacation packed full of so many options, from great rides at the four Theme Parks, to water fun at the Water Parks and Resorts, to Character Memories, fun Entertainment and Nighttime Fireworks Celebrations.

Refer to the Table of Contents below to jump around to areas you’d like to learn more about.

Does Disney World do anything Special for First Time Visitors?

Yes! Disney World offers a ‘1st Visit’ button that you can wear to celebrate that occasion and let Cast Members (the Disney Employees) know that it’s your first time.

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.

This post may contain affiliate links, read my full disclosure here.

Table of Contents for Disney World Guide

Quick FAQs for Disney World

What Should you do on your first visit to Disney World?

You should make a Bucket List/ Cant Miss list!

Disney World is intense… there’s so much more to do and see (maybe that’s why we have so many websites and vlogs and content creators sharing the Disney fun!)

Creating a list of things you want to do will make planning much easier and make the vacation more fun. Here’s a list of Can’t Miss fun for most families, and a Can’t Miss list for little kids!

How Much does it cost to go to Disney World?

The average vacation in 2024 is going to cost around $5000 dollars for a Family of Four to go for 5 days (this includes tickets, lodging, a food budget and souvenirs but not travel costs to get to the parks) See the full breakdown for the costs (with examples!) on how to do Disney World on a tight (yet realistic!) budget.

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.

The Best Times to go to Disney World

The Best Time to go to Disney World is the time that fits with your schedule!

Disney World is ‘always’ busy now on the weekends and many times throughout the week. There is no ‘slow’ season, though the months of January and September are typically slower months than others.

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! 

Some of the Best Months to go for lower crowds are:

  • January
  • June
  • August
  • September
  • The beginning of May
  • The second week in December

Some of the best times to enjoy the Parks for lower crowds are:

  • In the Evenings- especially if they park is closing in a few hours or staying open very late
  • In the Early Morning- especially if you have early morning hours available to you when you stay on Disney World property
  • During the Week Days- it helps to look at the MyDisneyExperience App and check the wait times. While these are often inflated, they are a good predictor of crowd levels during your vacation.
  • Magic Kingdom on days that a party is planned, and the regular park closes at 6. Many people skip this day because it doesn’t include fireworks, but it’s a great option if you have a park hopper or want to get up early and spend a good 10 hours at Magic Kingdom.

What is a Touring Plan, and why is it recommended to know the crowd level when planning a touring plan?

Touring Plans are detailed lists that tell you where to go for rides and attractions at what time. These rely heavily on park hours, expected crowd levels, and what rides/attractions your party wants to do. A common Touring Plan example is to rope drop Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom as the wait time is high during the day (or to make it your last ride of the night).

What do you need to pack 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.

This should include the following items:

  • Number of Outfits x your vacation days + one opposite weather outfit (so a sweater if you come in the summer, or shorts if you come in the winter)
  • Two pairs of Comfortable Walking Shoes
  • Sun Protection including Hat, Sunglasses and Sunscreen
  • A Park Bag or Park FannyPack, for you to bring into the parks with you
  • Comfort Care items like lotion, lip balm, and first aid kits
  • Toiletries and Cosmetics
  • Disney Items like Mouse Ears, Signature Books, Pin Collections, Penny Collections

Does Disney World offer personal care items, clothing, or other commonly forgot items? Yes. Lots of these items are found inside the Parks. But for a full selection, head to the resorts. If you are at a Value resort and can’t find what you are looking for (And have talked to a Cast Member to confirm it’s not hiding somewhere), head to one of the Deluxe Resorts to check out there selections.

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! You can also use the swappable batteries, see more about where to find those swappable battery locations at Disney here.

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!

And if your headed to Disney World for a Birthday Celebration, consider what you want to pack, versus what you want to buy when you get there.

How many days should you plan for your Disney World Trip?

Most people will find that a First Time Disney Vacation is exciting and exhausting! There’s so much to see and do, and you cannot possibly get it all done in one trip (or even two!)

Most families will benefit from 3-5 days inside the Parks.

But there’s a lot of ways to do Disney! You could do two days inside Magic Kingdom, and one day at EPCOT. You could just do two days at Magic Kingdom and make it a long weekend. You could hit up all four parks, or two days at Disney and two days at Universal.

Tips for Disney World Tickets

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.

Recommended time at the resort is 6 days 5 nights. This gives you 4 days in the parks, and then your arrival and departure day. Some families will benefit from a ‘no park’ day in the middle of their week to relax, and take in the amenities at the hotel (and possibly recover from sunburn or dehydration that is so prone to Disney trips!)

There are some pros and cons to only doing Magic Kingdom in one day, but most people will find that with a bucket list, their one day trip is enough!

➡️ You will need a Park Reservation for some tickets and passes. To schedule a park ticket, head over to Disney World here and secure your dates (its better to have a date/park secured and change later than not have one at all!)

What’s not recommended:

-Having a Ticket for Arrival or Departure day (there is plenty to do that doesn’t require a ticket!) Unless you are going for something specific. Most people will benefit from resting on Arrival and Departure day.

-Park Hopper Tickets if you are staying for more than 4 days. If you plan to go to all the parks anyways, there’s no need to add the Park Hopper. I would recommend this if you are doing less than 3 days. Keep in mind that hopping parks can take some time (between 45-90 minutes) that may be better spent in the parks.

-Not getting the Park Hopper if you can only come for 1-3 days. The Park Hopper here will help you take advantage of all the staggered opening and closing times to get the most out of your ticket.

-Purchasing from somewhere like eBay- I would hate for your ticket not to work when you arrived

Overview of the Disney Parks

There’s no Harry Potter, Charizard or Daffy Ducks at Disney World my friends. But we do have 6 Theme Parks (4 Main Ones and 2 Water Parks). Disney World is the size of San Francisco, or double the size of Manhattan. And its also located in Florida, in Orlando. There’s a lot going on here!

Disney also has 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. 

Quick Note about Transportation at Disney World

Or said better, How to get where you need to go on Vacation!

Is Disney Transportation available to all guests, including those not staying on property? Yes! Respectfully of course, but you can hop on the Skyliner, or take the Monorail, or catch a boat without needing to stay on property. This is a fun option on your ‘no-park-ticket’ day, and here’s everything you can do at Disney World without a Park Ticket.

⭐How long does Disney Transportation take? Maybe the most important question of this entire post! Transportation can be quick, kinda slow, or completely closed. You might miss reservations or get stuck for an hour waiting for a bus. While most of it is free to use, it’s a gamble on the time requirements, so plan to give yourself extra time.

Complimentary Transportation Options:

  • The Buses (available at most Disney Resorts, and will pop up if there is severe weather and you can’t take the Skyliner, Boats or Monorail)
  • The Monorail. Three lines operate at Disney World. One takes you to and from EPCOT to the Ticket and Transportation Center. One takes you straight from the Transportation and Ticket Center to Magic Kingdom and back again. The Last Line makes 5 stops. The Transportation and Ticket Center, The Contemporary Resort, Magic Kingdom, The Grand Floridian Resort, The Polynesian Resort.
  • The Ferry Boat takes you from Magic Kingdom to the Transportation and Ticket Center and back.
  • The Friendship Boats operate for the Hollywood Studios/EPCOT water front resorts, Between Disney Springs and Port Orleans Resort, and for the Magic Kingdom Seven Seas Lagoon Resorts.
  • The Skyliner has three lines. One line goes from the Depot to Hollywood Studios and back (Caribbean Beach is where the depot is located). One line goes from the EPCOT Boardwalk (it’s the second EPCOT entrance called the International Gateway), to Riveria Resort to the Depot. The third line runs from Art of Animation/POP Century Resort to the Skyliner Depot.
  • Parking at Disney Springs or the Water Parks and Mini Golf locations.

Paid Transportation Options:

  • Parking at Disney World Parks. This is included if you have paid to park at a Disney World resort. There is a tram at several of the parking lots that takes you to the front.
  • Minnie Vans, which are a partnership between Lyft Rideshare and Disney World. These are Disney employees who pick you up in a red and black polka dot ‘van’.

The Parks at Disney World

Disney World has four Major Parks, two Water Parks, and then Disney Springs.

Magic Kingdom

The Iconic Cinderella Castle and Main Street U.S.A. are just two of the notable landmarks at Magic Kingdom. This is the Number One Park at Disney World and at full capacity (so really busy with lots of long lines!) it can take a Visitor almost 20 hours to complete the rides and attractions.

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 

Hollywood studios used to be considered among us Disney Goers 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

Epcot is the infamous park that houses all the other countries. The park actually has two sections, Worlds Celebration, Nature and Discovery at the Front of the Park and World Showcase around the lake (it’s a giant circle). 

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 for shops and drinks, but you can catch the Shops, Attractions and Food at the front of the park when the park opens. Options like the Soarin’ ride, Finding Nemo, Mission: Space and Test Track are great ways to start the day (and Frozen in Norway plus Ratatouille in France open when the park does!)

Epcot is also home to Festivals throughout the year. We have the Festival of the Arts to start the year, followed by the Flower and Garden Festival in the Spring and Early Summer. Then Food and Wine Festival in the Fall and The Festival of the Holidays to round out the year.

Animal Kingdom 

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 as 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 exactly one day here and still pick your ‘must see’ items! The Thrill rides here tend to fill up quickly, just like at the other parks (namely Avatar Flight of Passage and Everest, plus sometimes slower Family Fun rides like Navi River Journey and the Animal Safari)

Animal Kingdom generally opens earlier than most of the parks, and it’s a great park to ‘Rope Drop’ (or show up before it opens!). Then you can leave around Dinner time to another park, Disney Springs or eat at the Resort.

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!

Disney Springs 

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! 

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.

Disney Springs is:

  • Free to Park at
  • Free to Enter
  • Normally low crowd, but crowded on Weekends, Holidays and High Crowd Park Days

Notable Entertainment Offerings at Disney World

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!

There’s lots of Characters at Disney

You can meet the characters a few different ways. 

  • 1.By going to the Character Meet and Greets inside the Parks, these are marked on the Map
  • 2.By Scheduling a Character Dining Experience.
  • 3. By purchasing a Special Event Ticket
  • 4. By stumbling upon an unmarked Character Meet and Greet
  • 5. By meeting Characters at the Resorts as they tour around to different locations daily

Some of the Characters you can meet in the parks are:

  • Mickey Mouse
  • Anna
  • Elsa
  • Olaf
  • Ariel
  • Belle
  • Joy (Inside Out)
  • Donald Duck
  • Daisy Duck
  • Mulan
  • Moana
  • Pluto
  • Rapunzel
  • Tiana
  • 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! 

Parades

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 at Magic Kingdom:

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! 

Disney Festival Of Fantasy Parade

Featured so many Favorites, catch this show on Main Street USA during the day. Typically you’ll find this show at 12 pm and 3 pm, but check the app for updated times during your trip.

FireWork and Nighttime Shows

You can find FireWorks Displays at three Disney Parks, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and EPCOT!

At Magic Kingdom, you’ll get to see Happily Ever After, typically at 9pm. You can best see this is you can see the Castle, but I also enjoy the Fireworks without the Castle Display by hanging out in FantasyLand.

At Hollywood Studios, line up for Fantasmic, with shows typically starting at 9pm nightly. This is in a Theater, so you’ll need to head down Sunset Blvd and join the crowd to see this performance. There’s minor Fireworks during the Visual Display broadcasted on the Chinese Theater.

At EPCOT, gather around World Showcase for a fun Visual and Auditory Show that you can see all around the lake. It’s an easy watch, and generally low crowd.

Nightlife and Nighttime Activities 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! 

Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs)

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! 

The BoardWalk

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. Then you have a Dance Venue featuring hits from the 80s and 90s. 

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.

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. 

Value Resorts 

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.

Moderate Resorts 

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. 

Bedding

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! 

Food Options

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.

Transportation 

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! 

Pools

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. 

FAQs

How far in advance should you book a Disney World trip?

As soon as possible! Disney Rooms can normally be book over a year in advance, and park reservations can be book 365 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. A single person can easily spend 100 dollars on food and drink for one day at Disney World. Budgeting 150+ per person, per day for food, drinks plus a souvenir budget (like 100 per person for the trip) is reasonable.

Conclusion

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!

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