10 things most Disney World first-timers don’t know

(Article last updated: April 11, 2016)

No matter how much research or planning you do, there will be things that surprise you on your first trip (and your second and third and...).

Here are 10 things you might not know if you're planning your very first trip to Disney World.

There is no gum sold anywhere at Disney World

In an effort to keep the parks clean, Disney World doesn't sell gum anywhere on the premises. If you really want gum during your trip, you'll need to bring your own (and be sure to discard it in the trash, not under a table).

Disney World transportation will probably take longer than you expect

By far, the most surprising thing about our first trip was the transportation. You really need to plan on an hour each way to be on the safe side (most of that time will be spent waiting at a bus/monorail/boat stop). Read about how to navigate with Disney World transportation for more info.

The Boardwalk area exists

The Boardwalk

Unless you're staying in a Boardwalk-area hotel, you may not be aware of this section of Disney World. There are great restaurants, evening entertainment and a piano bar called Jellyrolls. This area is just outside of the World Showcase part of Epcot (entry into Epcot is accessible by what is called the "International Gateway"). People who want to visit this area should catch a bus to the Boardwalk Inn from any park.

You can have a wake-up call from a character

If you're staying on-site, you can request a wake-up call and many times it will be a character. When the call comes in, you can put the phone on speakerphone and then everybody in the room can be woken at the same time.

Disney World is over 40 square miles, about the size of San Francisco and twice the size of Manhattan

Disney World (which includes 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, ESPN Wide World of Sports, Disney Quest, Disney Springs and 21 hotels) is over 25,000 acres.

By comparison, the whole Disneyland resort area (which includes the 2 parks, 3 hotels and Downtown Disney) is about 500 acres.

You can trade pins with Cast Members (and other guests)

You can wear a lanyard with some pins and then seek out pins that you'd like to trade from Cast Members or other guests. You can get started by getting a lanyard and pin set on eBay or the Disney Store. Be sure to read this guide for the best overview I've found.

Disney has a free app for wait times, FastPass+ reservations and dining reservations

Disney has a free app called My Disney Experience that includes wait times, maps, characters, FastPass+ reservations and dining info. You can even use it at home to see how long the lines are when you're not at Disney World.

There is random entertainment everywhere

As you're going through the parks, you might spot some things happening randomly that are worth stopping to watch.

Things like the JAMMitors at Epcot...

Or DiVine at Animal Kingdom...

These things may seem to pop up randomly but they are actually on a schedule. Check WDWent.com for current times.

Adults can ride big rides even if the kids won't

Disney has a system called Rider Switch that will allow the older members of your family to ride while the too-little-to-ride members wait. You simply tell the Cast Member at any ride that has a height requirement that you'd like to do a Rider Switch. They'll give you a Rider Switch pass (which works like a FastPass) so that after you ride, you can hand it to the other half of your party and they can ride right away without waiting in line.

Another perk: if you have a child that wants to ride and one that doesn't, the child that wants to ride can actually go twice - once with each parent.

(Read my article on Rider Switch for a more detailed explanation.)

You will suffer from Disney withdrawals

Planning for Disney trips takes a lot of time and effort, so when you finally go on your trip and come home, you may sink into a bit of a Disney depression. My solution for curing Disney depression? Start planning the next trip.

I may be a bit of an enabler.

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Lisa

My 7 year old daughter and I are going to Disneyworld in May 2017. 6 days at the parks and staying on site. I have chossen to go to each park once then magic kingdom and epcot twice to fill our 6 days. Is this a good choice???

No name please

Yes animal kingdom and epcot are the biggest parks.

GINA FOCOSI

WOO!! HOO!! I’m leaving TOMORROW MORNING!!! Haven’t been to DisneyWorld since 1985!!! Almost 60 years old and can’t wait to experience the Disney Magic again!!!

Maureen Hunter

Almost 71 and cannot wait for the surprise visit to Disney after a gap of 23 years.

Melissa

Hi Shannon! Your tips are very helpful. It’s our first trip to Disney. We will be there from May 15th 2015 – 21st May 2015. We are considering staying at Windsor Hills or Oakwater Resort. Do you have reviews on them? We are sooooo excited about this trip. Keep up the good job!

Kristin Wenzel

I’ve stayed several places throughout the Disney area. What I have found is that staying off property has a lot of disadvantages. I liked the people and the staff at Windsor Hills. The resort itself was clean and very guest friendly. HOWEVER, the transportation can be a little spotty, especially during the very low time (January) and the beginning of the busy season (May/June). The on-site Disney resorts, although more money, allow for more flexibility with time and transportation. Plus, cannot beat those extra magic hours!

Angela Martinez

I want to send you money for this. How do you get paid? I only see transportation options between parks missing, but I’m sure I just have not found it yet. I have been looking at endless websites since July. Yours beats 100 others combined. Disney should employ you. I can’t thank you enough. Wowzers. Sooo all inclusive!! You nailed it.

Matthew Avery

This is really helpful, I was at Disney World two months ago but it already feels like an eternity. I am already thinking what to do on my next Disney trip.

Roxanne

So you can go to the boardwalk even if you don’t stay there?

My family and I are first timers for going to disney world and are wanting the full experience. We are looking to find the cheapest route, but also the most exciting and fun trip. I had no idea you could have one of the characters call you to wake you up! My kids will love that. We are looking forward to a wonderful trip together. Thanks for all of these great ideas!

Trina

I am a single mother of 3, boy age 11 and two girls age 14 and 16. We are coming to Disney in June for 3 days. It is all of our first time to any Disney Park. We only have 3 days, one park per day tickets, which means we can’t go to all four parks. Which park would you recommend leaving out? Also we are not staying on property so would you recommend buying magic bands for everyone? just myself? or none at all? Thank you for this site it has been a life saver in preparing for this trip. I know our trip will be much smoother because of the information you providing me with.

Jasmine

I would say you really should do magic kingdom and Hollywood studios. Depending on if your children are more into the animals then you should probably go to animal kingdom, but if your children are more into the shopping and trying food from different countries then you should do Epcot.

Barbara

Hello, this year will be my 1st time as well, going in August, I have been doing so much research I feel like a book has been bashed against my head with all this stuff. Don’t get the bands, sometimes the links with the bands and the registers will charge right away and sometimes without you noticing, they’re computers it happens. Secondly, stay at a hotel or resort on Lake Dr, minutes away from Disney parks and shopping. 3rd, i would leave out Epcot, it’s not really a park for kids of your ages anything above 10 in other words. Don’t do Magic Kingdom on Monday, its better to do the main park like on a Wednesday or Thursday.

Sandra T

My 16 y.o. daughter is going to Disneyworld for her very first time to any Disney resort. My friend told me to let someone know when we enter the park, and that my daughter will get special free stuff. True or not?

True. Go to Guest Services (I believe it’s in Town Hall) and ask for a 1st Time Visitor pin. They’ll give you a big pin with a Disney themed graphic which will state she is a first time visitor.

Sarah

I’m definitely going through withdrawal. After all, I’m still reading your blog two weeks after our trip!

Terri Moore

I am planning a trip for my whole family, that is about 22 people, 10 adults and 12 kids from 14 down to 2 years. What would be the best way to plan, a travel agent or through Disney.

Ness

that’s a really large party…you might be better off with an agent. I will say though we got our disney hotel thru http://www.dvc-rental.com. It’s where you can rent someone’s disney vacation rental and you are paying probably about half the price then if you were to book thru disney. It might be helpful for you if you need to get like a 3 bedroom or so. Good luck!

helen farrar

I am 29 and I am going with my university for spring break. This will be an experience. I hope there are a lot of adult things to do. But, I honeslty don’t mind bringing my inner child out. I was never fortunate enough to go as a child. I will take this all in 🙂

Cynthia Rodriguez

Hi!!! I have booked our first trip to Disney for my family which includes my husband who knows nothing about Disney and our two children. My son will be 23months, a week shy of his 2nd birthday when we travel and daughter 4 1/2yrs old. This trip was planned more for my daughter because she is on a princess high right now. She adores them all and pretty much just talks about going to Disney to meet them all. My son will just be happy seeing everything and joining his sister on all the fun. I am a few days from be able to book our fast pass selections and I just want to know what is the best thing to book for the kids. I really want to make sure we have them taken care of before thinking of booking anything else. We have booked a bibbidi bobbiti boutique experience as well as a reservation for the Cinderella Royal table. We are staying at the Pop Century for 6 nights have bought a 5 day hopper. Basically I just need some guidance on how to make this vacation magical for us all and keep it a vacation. I appreciate any and all help you can give me.

Dawn

Great information!! I am a single mother taking my 13 and 16 year old daughters in June. I am on a budget. We are staying in the Sports resort but I did not want to spend $1000 on the meal plan. Any suggestions on how to save when it comes to eating at Disney?

Frank

Dawn, if you are driving or renting a car when you arrive, go shopping at one of the markets when you get to the Disney area. Then bring food in for the day in a soft sided ice chest (this IS allowed). I did this last year. I put ice in a ziploc frezer bag. When the food and ice were done, I dumped out the water to keep the bag light when empty vs having a re-usable icepack in the chest.
Google search how to save on food at Disney World and you should come up with some other tips.
There are also grocery stores that can deliver groceries to your hotel in the event that you fly-in and use WDW transportation for all of your travel.
IMHO, the dining plan allows you to prepay for your food and to fix your expense, I never managed to do the comparison if it actually saved my family money. You pay for it for every guest and every day at the hotel.

Noelle Simpson

Totally started planning our next trip already. Ha!

Robin

This entire blog is genius! I am planning our trip to Disney World!! It will actually be the first time for me, my husband, and most importantly our 4 year old daughter! I’ve already got some amazing tips I haven’t seen anywhere else, I’ve been reading Disney blogs non stop for 2 weeks! Plus, tons of ideas from commenters! I’m so excited to watch my daughter experience the magic, I cry everytime I read something I know she will love. I guess planning is part of the magic too! I’ve never had more fun planning a vacation. Thank you for all of the work you have put in to this site! You are making our trip amazing!

Randy

From Texas been to WDW in 2005 and miss it much.
We are planning our second trip out to DW since the little one out of three is now 8 and can experience and enjoy the park a bit more.
But have a question on the Universal Orlando park- How can we stay at a Disney resort with package but still experience one day at Universal without having to pay for that day at WDW?

Katrina

When you’re making your reservation online from Disney’s website, by default it will apply the equal amount of days as your stay. But you have the option to add or subtract days as well. For example, if your staying at WDW for 5 days, you can actually purchase tickets for 4 days. I hope this helps.

Ronaye

We are planning a trip Christmas 2014, with our 13 and 15 year old boys on their actual two week vacation, I know this will be the busiest time of year, but we have never been there, and want to make it spectacular. What do you recommend seeing specifically, and is it worth staying in the actual park, compared to staying at a hotel or renting a house outside the park. We have been to Disneyland when they were much younger, so now they can go on all the rides. But there is so much information, it’s very over whelming reading it all, we may never go back to Florida, so we truly want to experience it all, and make it a trip of a lifetime, while still watching our pocket books to not go too CRAZY with over spending. I have heard people mention staying 1 week inside the park, and a 2nd week outside the park, to see more of Florida than JUST Disneyworld! Any tips? Thanks for your help and an informative site, I REALLY appreciate your time.

Kelsey

We are long time DW visitors, we have been 13 times (10 of which have been in the past 2.5 years). We have been twice over Christmas – once in 2011, and again in 2013. We also have stayed for two weeks during our honeymoon (which was in June).

Here’s my advice in response to your questions:
There are a lot of holiday season special entertainment opportunities. We have always been just after Christmas, so we have always missed the Candlelight Processional and Christmas decor at Epcot. Definitely take some time to just take in all the spectacular decorations, not just at the parks, but at the resorts as well.

Definitely stay on property. It’s more expensive, but with the busy-ness of the holiday season, staying on property is a huge headache saver. It makes using Disney transportation easier, and if you prefer to drive yourself, it allows you free parking and you are closer to the parks to begin with. It also allows you access to a park during the early parts of a phased closure (where off-property guests are no longer allowed into a park when it starts to get too full).

Two weeks is a long time to spend only at WDW, but we enjoyed every minute of it. We took a more leisurely pace during our two weeks because we had been before (and knew we would be going back). If this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, you need to decide what is more important for you: seeing all of Disney or seeing Orlando. There are plenty of other things to do in Orlando, but since the holiday season is so incredibly busy at WDW, you might need the two weeks to see everything there.

Also, a side note: If you are interested in the water parks, be aware that one of them will be closed for it’s seasonal refurbishment. It’s usually a little too chilly to swim anyway for most people, unless you are from the North and are used to cooler weather.

Joanie

Goodness me! I had no idea what was involved in planning a trip to Disney in America. I am sitting in Hong Kong planning a trip in April, the main part of which being a 4 night cruise on Disney Dream. I thought it might be nice to ‘call in’ to WDW a day or two before the cruise as we will be jetlagged and travelling with 5 and 10 year olds. *snicker* As I have just realised I am severely out of my depth…in HK we just jump in the car, drive to Disneyland, buy a ticket at the gate, have fun, watch the fireworks and then go home! Shannon, thank you for all the time you have spent collating this information, I am about to go through your site with a fine tooth comb so I can wise-up. I really just want to work out the best place to stay I suppose as we will be very tired and jet lagged, so will have to return to the room for naps. Thanks again for a wonderful resource! Much appreciated.

Planning first trip

I’m trying to plan my first trip to Disney and I am so lost. Is there a site that actually walks you through everything? Like what exactly should I look for and plan. Trying to find the cheapest way while getting the full experience. Someone please help me! Thank You!

I am planning our first trip to Disney for this April – and am already overwhelmed. Have the hotel planned – and the days tenetively planned, but trying to find deals, coupons and ways to save is hard –
as well as good advice on what to pack, and take for 3 kids of different ages and how to make sure each of them get a chance to do what they like and not have huge wait times with the other 1 or 2 while the other(s) is on a ride?
With 3 kids and only 2 adults it will be a bit of a challenge – any suggestions would be great!

Andy Farmer

Hey Susan. I was in your shoes one year ago. We had an awesome time but missed a lot. If you’ve found this website, you’ll be fine. Shannon does an excellent job of explaining nuts and bolts of Wdw planning. Hope you and your family have a great time!

Brandy

My husband and I are surprising kids on Christmas with January wdw vacation. My question is…we have now decided we should purchase dining pass. We will be staying at Disney Animal Kingdom during days you have listed as being able to get at at discount but who do I contact?

rodney wilson

Just call wdw help desk 4079395277. If it is offered they should give it to you. I only go when they offer free dining due to three children.

Roxanne Seaton

A few other things that come to mind are the following: Hidden Mickeys are everywhere! Children can get their passports stamped in the world showcase in Epcot (loads of fun and sometimes crafts are involved). And finally, whichever park has the magical evening hours there is a good chance that it will be less crowded the next morning since everyone was there the night before. 🙂 LOVE DISNEY!

Robyn

One thing that most people don’t know about is concierge medical services. If you get sick on vacation, there is a local Orlando area company called The Medical Concierge that will send a doctor right to your hotel room. It’s actually affordable as compared to an emergency room or walk-in clinic. Check out website below:

http://www.themedicalconcierge.com

Lisa Lawrence

I have been to Disney many times so I spend a lot of time on item number 10. We have started calling it Post Disney Stress Disorder. I am currently on day 5 back in the real world and I am ready to go again.

Gustavo

Great Tips

Mrs. Erven

I’ve been visiting WDW my entire life (I’m 30 now!), and I didn’t even know a few of these things. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. BTW–your site is great!

Tara MacLean

We went in 2010 and I am still depressed and think about it everyday. Absolutely the best thing we have ever done. Looking forward to another trip someday. 🙂

MrsJLW

Please change that title to RIDER SWITCH and not Child Swap! I often tease the guests by telling they can’t swap their child, that they have to leave the park with the same child they arrived with. 😉 And anyway, the pass does indeed say Rider Switch.

T

Awesome comment~ I would laugh my butt off if you said that to me… youe may also end up with a persnickity 16 year old!

Jeanne

Hi!

So planning ADRs has been a bit of a headache for me. Breakfast character ADRs are easy – I’m trying to plan for first thing in the morning for early park entry (and lead in to the day with a bang for my daughter). It’s the dinner reservations that I’m having a problem with.

We’ll have our five year old with us, we’re planning on taking afternoon breaks usually around lunch time, sometimes later but not by much. We’ll be staying at Art of Animation (Little Mermaid) and I’m banking on getting her to have a nap. Travel time alone will be 2 hours back and forth, plus time for nap… so I’m not sure when to book ADRs for dinner?

I’m especially concerned about ADRs for O’Hana’s (fireworks) and Mama Melrose (Fantasmic) — not sure what time would be best. Do you have any advice? Thanks a bunch for your site!

rodney wilson

You can also book Brown Derby for Fantasmic. we have been there three times in 13 months for a total of 49 days lol, (in addition we are driving from Ohio), we are a little bit of Disney nuts. We haven”t had any problem with booking any reservation, especially if you call everyday. There are a ton of people that cancel reservations. I would recommend getting to Fantasmic an hour ahead then you wont have any problems. I will tell you I am done going during Christmas time though. The help was as rude as you can get with them working the holidays.

Great tips!

I think my husband caught the bug this time…. We are already talking about next time…. 🙂

Drew Macaluso

I’m just ten years old so I can’t actually plan for our trip in August. I stumbled on your website last night and I love it. And this is our first time going so I’m looking forward to it (esp. after all your helpful tips!

Annie Francis

YOU ROCK!
This is the best prep-school in the world!!!
Thank you sooooo much for all of your tips and planning and time!!!

Tiffany

I love your website. We are leaving next week for our first trip to Disney World. I have a 7 year old princess that is beyond excited. As far as maps, is everything on apps or online? Will there be any paper maps of the parks once we are onsite? We are staying at AoA. Thanks!

Kelsey

They also give out paper maps for all of the parks (and the
Downtown Disney area, maybe even the water parks, too) in the lobby
of any Disney Resort hotel. You don’t even have to wait until you
get to the park to get the maps. The hotels also give out times
guides that have all of the park hours for the week (including
extra magic hours) in the hotel lobby. More detalied times guides
(that include hours of specific attractions/entertainments) are
available at each park.

brittany

Can you access the boardwalk without going to the actual
Epcot park? I have been to Disney 3 times and always wondered
this!!

okay so not true okay i never beeen there so i have no idea waht im talking about

Brian Lawrence

As far as gum goes, you can’t even buy it at the airport in Orlando. We tried last time, and the woman in the shop said that no gum is sold anywhere in the airport. If you are a gum chewer and are flying into MCO, make sure you have it before you take off from home!

Sarah

“I may be a bit of an enabler.” LOL, Shannon, you’re so cute!

wpDiscuz
Animal Kingdom Epcot Hollywood Studios Magic Kingdom Water Parks
Complete guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Everything we know about the new Toy Story Land
Complete guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Planning Process Overview Step 1: Pick a Date Step 2: Lodging Step 3: Make a Daily Plan Step 4: Dining Step 5: Park Touring Step 6: Extra Magic
Disney World breakfast reservations and a ride – before the park opens!
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique review/tips
Disney After Hours (dates, cost, how to plan your time)
Babies and Toddlers Characters General Reference Group Travel Luxury Saving Money Special Needs Technology Transportation
How Disney World Annual Passes can save money (even if you only go once)
Should you use a Disney travel agent?
How to get Disney World discounts – PREP154