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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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.


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!

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.


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???


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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!

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.

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