2013 Guide to Planning Your First Trip to Walt Disney World


So, you’re planning your first trip to Walt Disney World.  What can be such an exciting event can also be very overwhelming.  Which park do you visit first?  Where should you stay?  What are FastPasses and when should I get them?  Where are the best budget places to eat?  There are many, many things to consider and decide upon before you even leave home.  But before you do anything, sit down and write up a budget to include accommodations, food, souvenirs, and travel expenses (are you driving or flying).   If you are flying, you won’t need a rental car unless you plan on going off property.

Mickey and Walt Disney

Where to Stay

In my experience, it has always been best to stay on the Walt Disney World resort property.   If you really need to go on a tighter budget, Kissimmee has tons of great hotels/motels, plus houses and condos to rent.  Please be aware there are many websites offering free ticket, accommodations, etc., but these usually are a rouse to bring you into a time share presentation.

We have always booked directly with Disney which brings another benefit – paying off the trip before you even go.  Disney will allow you to book your trip months in advance and you can make monthly payments then pay off the balance a month before you go.  Much easier to budget that way, huh?!

Disney has over 30 different places to stay ranging in price from $48/night (camping) to $313/night (deluxe villas).  Your choices here will be narrowed down quickly depending upon your budget.  You can access all resort hotel information on their website.  There you will be able to view all the different hotels, check on amenities, see pictures of the different properties, check pricing and so on.  I recommend the moderate resorts because the rooms are nicer than the value resorts (the walls are DEFINITELY much thicker!), and they never seem to be as crowded as the value resorts.  Be sure to check in at the concierge desk to find out about all the additional things you can experience that help make your stay that much more memorable.


Where to Eat

The best option, especially with a family, is to utilize Disney’s dining plan.  There are 5 different options which, again, depend upon your budget.  Dining plans include points which can be used toward either quick service or table service meals.  The level of your dining plan will determine how many points you get.

If your dining plan includes points for table service meals, these can be used towards a character meal.  It also allows you to eat at so many different restaurants you may normally not choose.  For example, my family and I went and using the deluxe dining plan (the best value for your money) we were able to eat at such places as La Hacienda de San Angel, Nine Dragons Restaurant, San Angel Inn Restaurante and Via Napoli (which in my humble opinion is one of the top 3 restaurants in Disney world).  We were also able to go to the character meal at Ohana and the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.  Remember, this too has already been paid for when you booked your trip with Disney, so all you have to do is supply the tip.

Even if you don’t get a dining plan, Disney (being Disney) has TONS of different food venues to choose from for every type of budget.

If you have any type of special dietary needs, Disney can accommodate them.  You just need to make them aware as soon as possible either when you call to make your reservation, or upon entering the restaurant.  Even the buffets and quick serve restaurants can often accommodate people with special dietary needs such as allergies, vegetarian, kosher, etc.

Famous Mickey Waffle

What to Bring

Florida can have sudden rain storms often, so first and foremost, be prepared for that.  Of course they have rain ponchos and umbrellas available for sale at the parks when that happens, but unless you want it as a souvenir, go get a poncho at the dollar store and save your money for the souvenir you really want! You can follow @WeatherWDW on twitter for up to date weather information.

Bring light shirts that you can layer, but also bring a hoodie or jacket because the early mornings and late evenings can be pretty chilly at times.  Bring shorts (of course) but also pants if you are going to be there during the winter.  Don’t forget your bathing suit, beach towel (unless you want to buy one of the character towels sold in the resort shops), socks, lots of socks, pjs, etc.

Go easy on the toiletries and such, they give you all the soap shampoo, etc. you can stand and whatever you forget is available in the gift shop.  I learned   after about 5 trips to leave the hairspray, curling iron, and most of the makeup at home.  It’s not worth it ladies!  Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough, bring comfortable shoes for everyone!  You’re here on vacation, not for a fashion show, so leave the heels and crocs and fancy sandals at home.  Your feet will thank you for that!

Hidden Mickey & Stylish Ponchos

What to Do

Well, since it is your first time here you should go first and foremost directly to the Magic Kingdom.

Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

I am not even going to say anything about the excitement and giddiness you will feel as you go past the gates, through the tunnel and come out onto Main street looking dead ahead at Cinderella’s castle and all the Disney awesomeness that surrounds it.

Nope, nothing about the beautiful landscaping, the shops and storefronts, the characters, the music, and the WONDERFUL smells that emanate from everywhere!

Nope, not one word.

You can’t hear me anyway, because you are too busy feeling like a kid again, smiling from ear to ear, humming the music, heading for the sweets shop to grab a treat on your way to the castle for the morning show.

Dancers on Main Street USA

Plan on spending one to two full days at Magic Kingdom.  When you are on the Walt Disney World website, go into the parks menu and tap on each park.  The boxed screen at the top will list the rides in different categories.  One category is FastPass.  Be sure and look these over, making note of the ones you want to do so that when you get into the park, one person can take the tickets and get the fast passes and one can go get in line.  That way you can ride your favorite rides twice without having to waste hours waiting in line.  The newest rides are always the busiest so if you are not sure which is which, check with your hotel concierge at any time.  They are a wealth of information and can help you A LOT when it’s your first visit.

Walt Disney World Park Menu

Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom

EPCOT is also a must do.  Plan on at least 2 days here.  That is a bare minimum.  EPCOT always has so much going on, it’s crazy to try and do it in one day, especially if it’s your first time.  When you go to the Disney website for Walt Disney World, you can order FREE PERSONALIZED MAPS!  Woohoo!  Getting these in hand before you leave for your trip can prove to be invaluable as a planning tool for each day’s activities.

There is one thing I will recommend you do for sure at EPCOT; go see the fireworks show, ILLUMINATIONS.  Totally worth every minute.


Disney’s Hollywood Studios requires 2 days also.  There are a lot of awesome rides here especially for the thrill seekers!  Be sure to make note of rides for FastPasses and get there quick!  Last February when we were there, Toy Story Midway Mania was out of FastPasses an hour after we got there (which was right at opening).  That meant you could still ride the ride by going “stand-by”, but you were going to end up standing in line for EVER.

Chinese Theatre in Disney's Hollywood Studios

Animal Kingdom can be a conundrum.  If you don’t like animals, but love some thrill rides and/or shows, go for a day.  If you like animals but not the thrill rides, go for half a day.  If you plan on going on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, do that as soon as you walk into the park.  Don’t stop for pictures; don’t stop for snacks, just go.  The animals are more alert and viewable in the morning than in the afternoon when the heat kicks in.

Elephants in Kilimanjaro Safaris in Disney's Animal Kingdom

Whew!  That is a lot of planning and decision making to do!  I hope I was able to give you enough information to put you on the right path to a fun and memorable vacation.  There is a wealth of information available in our magical advice!


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