A Beginner's Guide to Walt Disney World
Welcome to Your Comprehensive Beginner's Guide
You've decided that you want a trip to Disney World, but you've never been, or at least you haven't been in years. When you start your research, you may be intimidated. What are Fastpasses and how do you get them? Do you really need dining reservations? Why should you stay on Disney World property when you can stay off property for cheaper?
Don't worry. I'm here for you, and you've come to the right place. This is the Beginner's Guide to Walt Disney World, and I'm going to explain everything you need to know.
This guide is comprehensive. If you'd like an abbreviated guide of the planning process, click here.
About Walt Disney World Resort
The view of the castle from Main Street USA at the end of an Extra Magic Hours evening.
Walt Disney World Resort is in Orlando, FL, and Disneyland Resort is in Anaheim, California. While Disneyland is the original Disney park, Walt Disney World is bigger by a LOT.
Walt Disney World Resort covers nearly 40 square miles (that's almost twice the size of the island of Manhattan)!
Disney World has four theme parks: Magic Kingdom Park, Animal Kingdom Park, Hollywood Studios, and EPCOT. It would take several days in each park to truly see and experience "everything."
Disney World has two water parks: Tycoon Lagoon & Blizzard Beach
Disney World has a shopping/dining area called Disney Springs
Step 1: Pick Your Dates
A Beauty and the Beast topiary in the France Pavilion in EPCOT during the Flower & Garden Festival
The truth is, the days of low crowds are gone. While you may luck up, you should expect medium to high crowds any time of the year. But don't worry-- there are ways to beat those crowds, no matter when you're at Disney. We'll talk about that later.
If you can help it, avoid common school breaks such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, or even MLK Day, President's Day, etc. Those are the most crowded times of year (especially Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter).
Due to the heat, summer is a good time to go to beat the crazy crowds. That is, if you think you can deal with that Florida summer sun! Every time of year has its own pros, cons, and charms. If you'd like more insight on what dates you should choose, contact me!
Step 2: Pick Your Resort
The Riviera Resort, which opened in December 2019 and has access to the Skyliner.
Trust me when I say that you want to stay on Walt Disney World property at a Walt Disney World Resort. There are so many reasons that you should stay on property, and you can find them all here. If you can't afford to stay on property, I advise considering saving up until you can! That's how much better it is!
At Walt Disney World Resort, there are nearly 20 Disney resorts to choose from. The resorts fall into three different categories: value, moderate, and deluxe. All of the resorts give you all of the benefits of staying on Disney property.
The right resort for you depends on your tastes, needs, and preferences. Do you just want somewhere to lay your head and not to spend time at? Stay at a value resort. Do you hate buses? Stay at a resort that allows you to take the Skyliner, boat, Monorail, or walking path to some of the parks. Do you want to live your best life and leisure your way through your vacation? Go for a deluxe!
When you work with me, I'll give you separate different options that I believe fit the needs of you and your family, and allow you to compare prices to find your perfect match.
Step 3: Pick Your Park Tickets
Spaceship Earth at EPCOT
There is a common belief that you should spend 4 full days at Disney: One for each park. You can certainly do this, but know that you can't "do" an entire park in one day. It would take several days in each park to see and do everything. And aside from the parks, there's so much else you may want to do-- explore the Walt Disney World Resort hotels, hang out at the pool, go to Disney Springs, go to a water park, go mini-golfing... The possibilities are virtually endless!
Basically, the more time you can spend at Disney, the better. Did you know that after your fourth day of park tickets, the price per person per day drastically decreases? My boyfriend and I upgraded our 6 day tickets to 8 day tickets for a total of $60 on our last trip. This allowed us to go into the parks on our arrival day and our departure day. Best $60 we ever spent!
You won't get tired of being at Disney. There's so much to do, and so many ways to relax! Trust me, you'll want every second you can get there and you won't want to leave. And remember, just because you have a park ticket for that day doesn't mean you have to spend all of that day in the park. An excellent strategy, for example, is go to the park in the morning for a few hours, and then return to your hotel room to relax. You will beat the crowds, get to use three Fastpasses, and you won't wear your kids (or yourself) out!
Park Hopper tickets allow you to enter any of the four theme parks at any time. This upgrade to your tickets usually costs around $90 per person, no matter how many days of tickets you get. If you want the flexibility the Park Hopper offers, then go for it. If you're flexible, it can really help you make the most of your time and quickly change plans if you want to. But if you doubt you'll visit more than one park each day, then there's no need to spend the money.
All-you-can-eat dinner at Ohana at the Polynesian Resort. One of the most sought after reservations at Walt Disney World, and one of the best ways to use a table service credit.
Step 4: Decide Whether or Not to Add the Dining Plan
There are four different dining plans to choose from to add to your reservation.
Disney Quick Service Dining Plan: Includes 2 quick service meals and 2 snacks per person per night. Best for parties who expect to be always on-the-move and have no desire to sit down for a table service meal (table service meals have waiters; at quick service meals you order at the counter).
Disney Dining Plan: Includes 1 table service meal, 1 quick service meal, and 2 snacks per person per night. Best for parties who want one relax at nice sit-down meal per day.
Disney Dining Plan Plus: Includes 2 table service meals and 2 snacks per person per night. Best for parties who would like the flexibility to do two sit down meals per day, or one sit down and one quick service depending on their preference at the time.
Disney Deluxe Dining Plan: Includes 3 table service meals and 2 snacks per person per night. This is a HUGE amount of food, so it's best for a party who really wants to focus on their dining during the trip!
If your only concern is saving as much money as possible, then skip on the dining plan. You can bring your own food and snacks into the parks, and you can let family members share meals at all quick service locations and most table service locations. You can eat for cheaper than any of the dining plans if money is your sole concern.
The purpose of the dining plan is to take the stress off of you. It's no secret that eating at Disney is expensive. That's why many families prefer to get the dining plan so they can foot the bill ahead of time and have less to worry about while they're in the parks. My boyfriend and I got the dining plan for our last trip because we wanted to enjoy ourselves. We are typically pretty frugal, so we were afraid that once we got in Disney we would starve the whole trip just to save some money! So instead, we paid for the dining plan ahead of time so we were forced to eat great food and have an awesome time.
Step 5: Book Your Trip
The Entrance to Magic Kingdom.
Once you've selected your dates, resort, park tickets, and dining plan (if applicable), you are ready to book your Walt Disney World Resort vacation!
To make your reservation, you just need to put down a 100% refundable deposit of $200. The remainder of the balance won't be due until 30 days prior to check-in. You won't be required to pay anything else before that date, but you can pay off the trip at your leisure.
If you decide to cancel or modify your trip, you can do so for free up until 30 days prior to your check-in date. If you decide to cancel 31 days before check-in, your entire trip will be refunded!
The floating mountains in Pandora: World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom.
Step 6: Decide Which Parks to Visit on Each Day
Yes, you have to decide this ahead of time. In fact, you have to decide this before you can make dining reservations and Fastpass+ reservations!
Remember that by staying on Disney property you get access to Extra Magic Hours. Every day, one of the four parks opens early or closes late only for guests of Walt Disney World Resort. This is a great opportunity to get a lot done with low crowds-- if you plan to utilize Extra Magic Hours, you can base your days around those.
Which parks do you want to spend more time at? That depends on who is in your party and what your goals are for your trip! This is another place where my expertise really comes in handy, because once I know some of the things you're most looking forward to at Disney, I can help you plan out each day in a way that works best for you and your family.
The ballroom in the Be Our Guest restaurant in Magic Kingdom Park.
Step 7: Book Your Dining Reservations
180 days before check-in, you will be able to book your advanced dining reservations or "ADRs." I know it seems hard to believe that you need to plan so far ahead, but if you want to eat in a restaurant, you need ADRs (especially if you're going during a busy time of year).
Some of the hardest to get reservations are some of the most amazing experiences! Do you want to dine with Cinderella in the Cinderella Castle (yes, THE Magic Kingdom Castle)! Do you want to dine in the ballroom from Beauty and the Beast? Do you want an amazing all-you-can-eat Hawaiian feast while watching Magic Kingdom fireworks out the window and being serenaded by a man playing the ukelele? Do you want to get into the park before it opens and get pictures with the castle with no one behind you because you have an early morning breakfast reservation? There are so many amazing things you can do if you just get the reservation!
Your 180 day mark is also when you can book special experiences such as building a light saber, building a droid, having a drink at Oga's Cantina, spa reservations, and more.
Before your 180 day mark, I will call you and we will chat about what you want from your dining experiences at Walt Disney World! Then I will wake up at 6AM (yes, 6AM) at the 180 mark and snag all of the ADRs that you want!
Millennial Falcon: Smuggler's Run in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Step 7: Book Your Fastpass+ Reservations
Everyone who goes to Walt Disney World Resort is entitled to make three Fastpass+ reservations per day in advance of their trip. However, people who aren't staying at a Walt Disney World Resort can only make the Fastpass reservations for each day 30 days prior. As a guest of Walt Disney World Resort property, you get a HUGE leg up on the Fastpasses. You get to make all of your Fastpass+ reservations 60 days prior to your check-in date.
Fastpasses allow you to skip the regular standby line and use the Fastpass+ line instead. When selecting a Fastpass+, you will select a window of time. For example, if you get a Fastpass+ for Slinky Dog Dash for 11:05AM to 12:05PM, you must enter the Fastpass+ line some time during that time window.
During your trip, everyone in your party will be wearing a free Magic Band bracelet. Your Magic Band serves as your hotel room "key" and ticket into the park, and also stores all of your Fastpass+, dining reservation, and Disney Dining Plan info. To use a Fastpass, simply walk up to the Fastpass+ line for an attraction and scan your Magic Band. If you're there within the correct time window, the Fastpass+ turnstile will flash green, signaling you to enter the line.
Once you've used your three Fastpasses that you reserved in advance, you can use the My Disney Experience app on your phone to get another Fastpass for everyone in your party. Once you use that one, you can grab another one, and so on.
Not all Fastpasses are created equally. In fact, there are a lot of attractions that a are a total waste of a Fastpass. Before your Fastpass+ date, I'll call you and talk to you about what Fastpasses will be best for you and your party. Then, at your 60 day mark, I'll hop on your My Disney Experience account at 7AM and book your Fastpasses for you!
The EPCOT Skyliner Station
Step 8: Get Ready for the Magic
Get excited! Order your Magic Bands so you can personalize them with your name and pick the color you'd like. Depending on when you place the order, your Magic Bands will either be delivered to your door before the trip or be waiting at the front desk for you.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
Depending on where you live, it could be more economical to fly. Disney resorts charge a nightly fee for parking ($15/night at value resorts, $20/night at moderate resorts, and $25/night at deluxe resorts). However, if you fly, Disney will pick you up and drop you off at the airport for free via the Magical Express bus. When you book your Walt Disney World vacation package with me, I will book your flights and Magical Express bus reservations for you.
While you're on property, Disney takes care of the transportation! Depending on your resort, you may have any of the following options available to get you to and from the parks:
Plus, if none of these free options are floating your boat, you can always take an Uber, Lyft, or Minnie Van to speed up the process a little bit.
Also, if you have a car and paid for parking at the resorts, you can drive to the parks and park there for free!
Download the My Disney Experience app before you go. It will allow you to view and modify your dining and Fastpass+ reservations, see wait times for attractions, locate attractions, restaurants, and bathrooms, and more.
If you'd like, you can complete online check-in via My Disney Experience. If you have your Magic Bands, you can skip the front desk and go straight to your room!
This has been the comprehensive guide for Walt Disney World beginners! If you've made it this far, you're practically an expert now! If you're ready to start planning your Walt Disney World Resort vacation, contact me, your personal fairy godmother, today!