Are you planning your first Walt Disney World trip? How exciting!
I had been to Disneyland several times before I finally made it to Walt Disney World with my husband and children. Both have Mickey Mouse. Both have that special Disney magic, but after that, the parks are quite different.
Here are my top tips for planning your first Walt Disney World trip.
Walt Disney World Parks
The biggest difference between Walt Disney World and Disneyland is size. Walt Disney World is the size of Manhattan. It's HUGE! You can easily spend your entire Florida vacation here, and that's exactly what Disney hopes you will do.
Walt Disney World has four theme parks, two water parks, an ESPN sports complex, two malls with shopping, dining and entertainment and 25+ hotels. Only the theme parks are included in your ticket.
When we go, we are all about the theme parks. Each has its own personality and top attractions. You can spend at least one full day in every park.
Here's a quick overview of Walt Disney World's theme parks.
Magic Kingdom is the original Walt Disney World theme park. This is where you'll find the castle, classic Disney rides and characters. You can't really say you've visited Walt Disney World if you don't spend a day in the Magic Kingdom.
Here are my top attractions in the Magic Kingdom. All are FastPass+ eligible. Learn more about these and other Magic Kingdom attractions HERE.
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Space Mountain
- Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Haunted Mansion
- “it's a small world”
- Jungle Cruise
- Peter Pan's Flight
- Pirates of the Caribbean
Epcot is my family's favorite park. It is also the largest park at Walt Disney World. Epcot has two sections – Future World and World Showcase.
Future World is all about imagination, technology and space. It's full of big ideas and interactive fun for all ages. Top thrill rides include a simulated space launch and a race in a car you design. Soarin' will always be one of my favorite rides.
We could spend a whole day just wandering the World Showcase. This is where we blow our food budget because it's so fun to sample treats from all the featured countries. The popular new Frozen Ever After ride is in the Norway section of the World Showcase.
Here are my top attractions at Epcot. Learn more about these and other Epcot attractions HERE.
- Test Track (FastPass+)
- RELAUNCHED! Mission: Space (FastPass+)
- Soarin' (FastPass+)
- Frozen Ever After (FastPass+)
- The Seas with Nemo and Friends (FastPass+)
- The American Adventure
- Spaceship Earth (FastPass+)
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Disney's Hollywood Studios is one of the most exciting parks at Walt Disney World right now because it's home to all the new Star Wars attractions! If you love Tower of Terror, Toy Story, Muppets and other favorites, this is where you'll find them too.
Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple is a fun show where kids can battle Star Wars villains with light sabers. Sign up early in the day to participate!
Here are my top attractions at Disney's Hollywood Studios. All except Jedi Training are FastPass+ eligible. Learn more about these and other park attractions HERE.
- Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
- Rock ‘n' Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith
- Toy Story Mania!
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple
- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
- Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage
Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
My son LOVES wild animals, and was especially into African animals at the time of our first trip. He was really excited about Disney's Animal Kingdom and was not disappointed. Disney's Animal Kingdom recently expanded its hours and now has special after-dark experiences!
Disney's Animal Kingdom has lands for Africa, Asia and Dinosaurs. Africa and Asia are impressive, immersive experiences. DinoLand U.S.A. is corny, kitschy fun. Pandora – The World of Avatar opened in 2017 with new rides, restaurants and entertainment.
Here are my top attractions at Animal Kingdom. All are FastPass+ eligible except Finding Nemo. Learn more about these and other park attractions HERE.
- Avatar Flight of Passage – NEW in 2017!
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Expedition Everest
- Kali River Rapids
- It's Tough to Be a Bug!
- Finding Nemo – The Musical
You don't need a Park Hopper pass at Walt Disney World. The four theme parks are NOT within walking distance of each other and each has its own gigantic parking lot. You'll burn precious daylight hopping from one park to another on the same day.
If your park days are limited or the convenience of park hopping is worth the expense, then Park Hopper passes may be a good choice for your family. It's about YOUR priorities, time and budget. Just be sure that Park Hopper passes will improve your trip before you pay extra for them.
On our first trip to Walt Disney World, we only had three days and we did have Park Hopper passes. We visited Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom on the same day. We were able to enjoy the highlights of both parks, but I would prefer to spend at least one full day in each park.
Where to Stay
Whether to stay on or off property is a big decision at Walt Disney World. We stayed off property in Kissimmee, and it was great. We drove to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando. You can save money by staying off property – especially if Walt Disney World is not your only destination.
There are advantages to staying in a Walt Disney World Resort hotel – more so than at Disneyland. Many Walt Disney World fans would not consider staying anywhere else. These advantages include:
- Accommodations to fit most budgets. There are 25+ Disney Resort hotels to choose from!
- Close proximity to the parks
- Complimentary transportation and parking
- Extra Magic Hours that give you early or late access to the parks with smaller crowds
- Early FastPass+ reservations
- Complimentary MagicBands
- Disney magic! Enjoy the wonder and attention to detail that makes Disney special.
Katie weighed in on this topic in her post 20 Tips for doing Disney World on a Budget. She explains how she saved money by staying in a Disney Resort hotel and spending their entire Orlando trip at Walt Disney World.
It's SO important to understand FastPass+ before you go to Walt Disney World. It will save you hours in line.
FastPass+ is a reservation system for rides and other attractions. Many of the popular attractions at Walt Disney World have two lines: a standby line and a FastPass+ line. When you have a FastPass, you generally spend 15-20 minutes in line. When you go standby, your wait depends on how many people are in front of you. On popular rides in the middle of the day, that can be 1-2 hours – or more! No ride is worth that to me.
Before your trip, log in to your online Disney account and make sure your tickets are linked. Get the My Disney Experience mobile app, where you can update your FastPasses and make changes as needed. If you stay off-property you can make up to 3 FastPass+ reservations per day up to 30 days in advance. If you are staying at a Disney Resort hotel, you can make FastPass+ reservations up to 60 days in advance.
You will be given a one-hour window to arrive at the attraction where you have a FastPass. Check in with the attendant at the FastPass+ line and enjoy the ride! Once you have used your three FastPasses, you can get additional FastPasses at kiosks near the rides, one at a time.
FastPasses do run out, so make reservations for your top attractions early. Get an idea of which FastPass+ attractions run out first at TouringPlans.com.
MagicBands are an electronic way to keep track of your park tickets and FastPasses. It's a colorful, customizable bracelet you wear on your wrist. It's your room key if you stay at a Disney Resort hotel. It will keep track of your Photo Pass photos. You can also link MagicBands to your credit card for easy purchasing in the park.
MagicBands and FastPass+ have only been around for a couple of years, so watch for changes and improvements to these programs over time.
A meal with Mickey, Minnie, Disney Princesses and other favorite characters is a MUST for many Walt Disney World visitors. Do make reservations for character meals and any full-service restaurants you want to experience inside the parks. Reservations fill very quickly and you'll want to book as early as possible – up to 180 days in advance.
Katie shares her tips for making a character meal more affordable by saving money on other meals. Read all her tips in this post: Disney Dining on a Budget.
Let an expert do the planning!
We recommend Get Away Today Vacations to help you plan your Walt Disney World trip. Disney experts can help you choose the best hotel, buy discount tickets, book air travel and more. They stay on top of Disney's current promotions and discounts to help you get the best price for your trip.
You can buy individual tickets too. Get Away Today sells Walt Disney World tickets for less than Disney's official site!
Learn more about our partnership with Get Away Today HERE.