Are you planning your first trip to Walt Disney World trip? Congratulations! It's such a magical vacation.
Walt Disney World is an incredible destination, but it's not the kind of place where you'll want to show up without a plan. It pays to learn about
- When to go
- Top attractions in each park
- Ticket options
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
- How to ride without spending hours in lines
I'll cover all these topics in this article, and provide links to official websites and other resources where you can find more information.
Here are my top tips for planning your first Walt Disney World trip.
When to Go
Walt Disney World is open year-round and every time of year has its advantages. The best time to go is the time that works best for your family.
The weather is often better in October-March because it's sunny, dry, and warm – though winter can be chilly and unpredictable. You can also have a great trip in the summer, but expect hot, humid weather and frequent afternoon rainstorms. Rain ponchos are essential for your Walt Disney World day pack.
There are few times of the year when Walt Disney World will not feel crowded. However, Christmas Break, Spring Break, and summer vacation are popular times for families to visit, and the parks can feel exceptionally busy at those times.
Consider a trip between the New Year and Spring Break or the Halloween season and mid-November if you want to hit the sweet spot for weather and crowds. Avoid holiday weekends.
It's a good idea to start planning your trip 6 months (or more) in advance for best availability. If you'd like expert help for the best price, I recommend booking your discount tickets and hotel through Get Away Today Vacations.
How Many Days do You Need?
There are four theme parks at Walt Disney World and you can spend at least 1-2 full days in each. If you're visiting at a busy time, like the holiday season, you may want extra time because crowds will be heavy, lines will be longer, and there will be more characters and entertainment to enjoy.
I recommend a minimum of four full days. Anything less than one full day per park may feel like a compromise. Keep in mind that the price per day goes down with every day that you spend at Walt Disney World.
What's the Best Age for Walt Disney World?
Nearly any age is a great age for Walt Disney World. Children under age 3 get in free at Walt Disney World, and there are plenty of rides and other attractions that young children can enjoy. I recommend Walt Disney World for ages 18 months and up.
If possible, I'd visit Walt Disney World at least once when your children are young and again when they are older. Young children experience the park in a different way than older children. You can dress a young child in a princess or Star Wars costume and then bask in the wonder of childhood as they meet their favorite Disney characters.
Older children and teens can ride every coaster and they will enjoy many of the same attractions as adults. They typically have more energy to walk from one ride to the next all day long. However, they probably won't care about the Mickey Mouse or princess photo ops as much as they used to.
Best Rides and Shows at Each Park
Walt Disney World is HUGE! You can easily spend a week or more at Walt Disney World, and since the cost per day goes down with every extra day you spend here, that's not a bad idea.
Walt Disney World has four theme parks, 25+ hotels, two water parks, an ESPN sports complex, and two malls with shopping, dining, and entertainment. Only the theme parks are included in the base ticket or Park Hopper ticket.
Here's a quick overview of Walt Disney World's theme parks and their top attractions.
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. Learn more about these and other Magic Kingdom attractions at the official Walt Disney World website.
- 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 on the official Walt Disney World website.
- Frozen Ever After
- Test Track
- Mission: Space
- The Seas with Nemo and Friends
- The American Adventure
- Spaceship Earth
- Epcot Forever Fireworks
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 lightsabers. Sign up early in the day to participate!
Here are my top attractions at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Learn more about these and other park attractions at Walt Disney World's official website.
- Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway
- Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
- Rock ‘n' Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith
- Toy Story Mania!
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
- 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 was especially excited about Disney's Animal Kingdom before our first trip 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 has top rides, restaurants, and entertainment.
Here are my top attractions at Animal Kingdom. Learn more about these and other park attractions at Walt Disney World's official website.
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Na'vi River Journey
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Expedition Everest
- Kali River Rapids
- It's Tough to Be a Bug!
- Finding Nemo – The Musical
- UP! A Great Bird Adventure
The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World covers every ride, resort, and restaurant at Walt Disney World. If you buy it and read it, you'll enjoy all the top attractions without spending any extra time in line.
Which Walt Disney World Park Should You Visit First?
Which park should you visit first? Magic Kingdom is the original Walt Disney World park with the castle, classic rides, and characters, so that's a good place to start.
If you're serious about “winning” Walt Disney World, I recommend that you check the official Walt Disney World calendar and find the dates of your trip. Take note of fireworks shows, Extra Magic Hours, and other events that don't happen every day. Plan your park schedule around these events. It may make more sense to visit a different park first.
It is worth getting up early or staying up late for Extra Magic Hours if you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel. You'll ride more at the beginning and end of the day when crowds are lighter than at any other time.
If you are not staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel or are otherwise not eligible to use Extra Magic Hours, AVOID the park where they are scheduled that day. It will be more crowded.
Park Hopper vs One Park Per Day
Walt Disney World offers two main ticket types: Park Hopper and One Park Per Day. Park Hopper tickets allow you to start your day in one park and then visit as many other parks on the same day as you want. For example, you can enjoy Animal Kingdom in the morning, take an afternoon pool break at your Walt Disney World Resort hotel, then go to Magic Kingdom in the evening for fireworks.
One Park Per Day requires you to commit. If you start in Animal Kingdom, that's the only park you can visit that day. You don't have to choose in advance and you can visit a different park every day (or a favorite more than once,) but you can't change your mind after you walk through the gate.
Generally, I prefer One Park Per Day because it saves my family hundreds of dollars on tickets. 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.
We only had three days and we did have Park Hopper passes on our first trip to Walt Disney World. Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom were the parks we visited 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.
Get Away Today offers discount tickets to Walt Disney World. You will never find deep discounts for Walt Disney World tickets, but you can save money by purchasing your tickets online in advance through the official website or through an authorized seller like Get Away Today.
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 worked well. You can save money by staying off property – especially if Walt Disney World is not your only destination in Orlando.
There are big advantages to staying in a Walt Disney World Resort hotel – especially if it's your top priority in Orlando. 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 to the parks
- Complimentary transportation to the parks
- Extra Magic Hours that give you early or late access to the parks with smaller crowds
- Early FastPass+ reservations
- That “Disney magic” feeling around the clock
It's SO important to understand FastPass+ before you go to Walt Disney World. There is no extra cost and 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 can be 1-2 hours – or more!
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.
A meal with Mickey, Minnie, Disney Princesses, and other favorite characters is a MUST for many Walt Disney World visitors. Make reservations early 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 6 months in advance.
Walt Disney World also offers all-inclusive dining plans. It's not the least expensive way to eat in the parks, but it's a good way to enjoy Disney restaurants and snacks for a set price. It's occasionally included for free with select resorts and dates.
You can bring your own food and drinks into Walt Disney World in a day pack or stroller. Walt Disney World Resort hotels and most other local hotels will have mini-refrigerators in each room. Grocery delivery is available.
I hope that this article has given you good information to help you plan your first trip to Walt Disney World.
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.
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