No matter how much research or planning you do, there will be things that surprise you on your first trip to Walt Disney World (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.
Disney has its own language
There are tons of terms (many of which are very confusing) that first-timers will stumble upon when planning their trips.
To make things worse, lots of the online Disney communities use acronyms for just about everything.
If you aren’t familiar with Disney, words like Rope Drop might be confusing.
And if you don’t know that ADR stands for Advanced Dining Reservation, you might want to throw in the towel before you even get started.
And speaking of dining at Walt Disney World, you may be asking yourself, “what the heck is Table Service and Quick Service?”.
Lots and lots of terms to learn, and the easiest way to master them is to dive-in.
Reservations (and planning!) are a must
If you’re here, that means you are ahead of the game for most first-timers. That’s good!
Many of the problems and mistakes that first-time visitors have come from not understanding just how important it is to plan before a Walt Disney World trip.
Most vacation destinations require at least some planning and reservations.
But, if you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World, you’ll quickly see that Disney requires a whole new level of planning.
Not only will you need to make hotel or resort reservations, but you’ll also find that Disney has several other reservation types that will be necessary to have a successful trip.
For example, many people are surprised to hear that if they want to dine at a Table Service restaurant (especially one that has characters), they’ll need to make Advanced Dining Reservations.
Those used to be something that you’d make 180 days in advance; however, even at 60 days (which is how it is now currently done), you’ll still need to know where you plan to be each day of your trip before you can make them.
And trust us on this one: for the best chance to snag some of those hard-to-get reservations, you’ll definitely want to be online right when they open up at 5:45 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, with your computer powered up and ready to go!
This leads us to the next type of reservation you’ll need: Park Pass Reservations.
Back in 2020, Disney began using a new system to control capacity in the parks. Called the Park Pass Reservation System, it requires guests to make a reservation for the park they wish to visit for each day of their trip.
You should make your Park Pass reservations as soon as you book your resort and purchase your tickets.
If you delay making dining or park reservations, you may find that the restaurants you wish to dine at or the parks you wish you visit are full.
And while there are things you can do to try to snag those hard-to-get dining reservations, the worry and constant refreshing of screens isn’t a fun way to start the planning process.
It may sound trite, but the early bird really does get the worm when it comes to Disney. Make it easy on yourself and be that early bird.
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.
And, don’t think you can pick some up at Orlando International Airport on your way in. MCO doesn’t sell gum, either.
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, one of the most common things people are surprised about on their first trips is how long it can take to get from one place to another.
That is why in our Walt Disney World planning info, we recommend people choose their dining locations near where they will be for the day.
Don’t get us wrong – Disney World has fantastic transportation. It is basically a city with buses, monorails, gondolas, and boats.
When traveling anywhere on property, unless you are driving your own car, you really need to plan on at least an hour each way to be on the safe side (most of that time will be spent waiting at a bus/monorail/boat stop).
And, keep in mind that you may need to allow even more time if you’re trying to travel from resort to resort since there is no resort-to-resort bus option.
The Boardwalk area exists
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 through a secondary entrance known as the “International Gateway”).
People who want to visit this area should catch a bus to the Boardwalk Inn from any park, or if you’re staying at Pop Century, Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach, or the Riviera Resort, you can hop on the Skyliner and take that to the International Gateway at Epcot.
From there it’s a short 5-minute walk.
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 Springs, and over 20 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.
Understanding the size and scale of the entire Walt Disney World resort can help you understand why we recommend you allow for plenty of travel time.
It can also help you see why there isn’t any way you can see (or do) everything in just 1 trip (or even in 10!).
The goal should not even be to try to do everything.
Instead, focus your time on making memories.
You can trade pins with Cast Members (and other guests)
Pin trading is a pretty big thing at Disney World.
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 we’ve found.
Disney has a free app for wait times, entertainment times, mobile order, and dining reservations
You may be hoping that you’ll be able to put your phone away when you’re at Walt Disney World, but you’ll likely find that you need it more than ever.
Disney has a free app called My Disney Experience that includes wait times, maps, access to Mobile Order (for Quick Service dining), entertainment, and character info.
You can even use it at home to see how long the lines are when you’re not at Disney World.
In fact, we highly recommend you download the app and get familiar with it before you arrive.
(And because you need to use it for so many things, having a battery charger in your park bag is a good idea.)
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.
To use this handy system, 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 use the My Disney Experience app to give you a Rider Switch pass to the waiting part of your party so that after you ride, they can ride right away without waiting in the standby line.
Another perk: if you have a child who wants to ride and one that doesn’t, the child who wants to ride can actually go twice – once with each parent.
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.
Our solution for curing Disney depression? Start planning the next trip.
(We may be enablers.)
It probably isn’t the best coping mechanism but knowing you already have the next trip booked makes going home after an epic vacation a little bit easier.
VIDEO: 10 things you NEED to know before your first trip to Walt Disney World
New to planning?
If you are new to planning, the tips and info above will be a great jumping-off point, but we wanted to make sure we shared a few other resources to help get you started.
Guides to Disney Genie, Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lanes
FastPass+ is out, and Disney Genie is in. This new system has a steep learning curve, but the people who understand it have found it really made their vacations less frictionless.
Here are some guides to kick-start your learning:
Be sure to read all of our guides on Disney Genie, Genie+, and individual Lightning Lane attraction selections.
- How to Use Disney Genie at Walt Disney World
- How to Use Disney Genie+ at Walt Disney World
- How to Book Lightning Lane Selections at Walt Disney World
- The Most Frequently Asked Disney Genie+ Questions — Answered
- Best Genie+ Choices at Walt Disney World (book these first!)
- Touring plan strategies for Disney World (with and without Genie+)
- First Thoughts on Disney Genie & Genie+
- How Genie, Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Selections Differ
- A Genie+ Timeline of What to Book When for Walt Disney World
- Comparing Genie+ at Walt Disney World and Disneyland
- Complete Guide to Genie+ at Disneyland (including timeline and WDW comparison chart)
- Lightning Lane passes at Disney World (price & more)
Free Disney World Vacation Planner
A great place to start your planning process is with our Disney Vacation Planner.
In this planner, we walk you through all the steps you need to follow to plan the ultimate Disney World vacation.
Even if you are a Disney World vet, the information there will help you navigate all the changes we’ve seen since the reopening.
Disney World planning binder
Another great resource for beginner planners is our Disney World binder post.
Here you’ll find instructions on how to set up your own Disney World planning binder (either digital or paper), plus over 100 free downloads for you to use.
Want personalized help?
While some find planning a Disney World vacation to be part of the fun, for many others it is stressful and not something they want to tackle alone.
In those cases, we recommend reaching out to an experienced Disney Travel Professional for assistance.
An experienced travel professional at Small World Vacations can help you navigate all the changes.
→ Get a quote now ←
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