(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.
In this article
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
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.