25 Lessons Learned on Our First Disney World Trip

Disney World has been on my brain lately. Maybe it’s because last year around this time I was carefully planning our first “real” vacation. Or, maybe it’s because I happened to see a good deal on a flight to Orlando recently. Whatever the reason, I thought I would share some lessons that I learned from our first trip to Disney World. For reference, we stayed on-site for five nights at a Value Resort.

  1. Planning is important and it will make your visit more enjoyable. It is worth it to research everything ahead of time. I strongly suggest using several Disney planning sites. I found WDW Prep school, Mousesavers, Disney Tourist Blog, and AllEars.Net very helpful. I also listened to podcasts. I mostly listened to Resort Loop, WDW Prep School to Go, and Be Our Guest. These podcasts are full of great tips and helpful information. Listening while walking on my treadmill helped prepare my body for our trip. There is a ton of walking.
  2. Books can be helpful, too. Although much of the information found in Disney trip planning books can be found online, I liked having Birnbaum’s Guide. Besides giving me something to read on the plane, it had coupons in the back. We ended up using a couple of them, so the savings covered the cost of the book.
  3. Use a packing list, but you don’t need everything. I tried not to over-pack, but there were still some things that we brought and didn’t need. I was glad that I brought plastic zip bags and ponchos for the day that it poured.
  4. Be careful with your airfare. The day that I planned to purchase our tickets, I checked the price in the morning. I ran out to do an errand and when I came back a little while later, the price had increased. There are sites with great information about when to buy airfare. Do your homework and when you find a good deal, grab it before it changes.
  5. Cheapest is not always best. Even though I missed the initial deal on our airfare, that airline still offered tickets that were less expensive than the competition, so I stuck with them. However, I should have done some more research. Because this airline doesn’t assign seats and the flight was full, I ended up having to sit apart from my kids. Only families with very young children get advanced boarding. Even though I called to confirm our flight exactly 24 hours beforehand, it was not good enough to allow us to sit together. This was my kids’ first flight and I was more than a little disappointed. For our flight home, I paid for an early check-in which enabled us to sit together. Paying that extra money probably negated any savings that we had using this airline. Next time, I will look at more airlines and compare all costs.
  6. Magical Express is not that magical. We used Disney’s complimentary transportation, Magical Express, from the airport to our resort and back again. I was in shock when I saw the mob of people waiting at the airport just to check-in to get in the correct line to wait for a bus. It was ridiculous and certainly not magical. This is not the way you want to begin your trip and is a waste of precious vacation time. We had no issues on the return trip and had a very pleasant driver. Next time, I will skip Magical Express altogether or just use it for the ride back to the airport.
  7. Don’t listen to everything your driver tells you. Disney allows you to do advanced check-in before you arrive at your resort. Supposedly, if your room is ready when you arrive, then you don’t need to stop at the front desk and can go directly to your room. Though I did receive a text alerting me that our room was ready, our Magical Express driver announced that everyone had to go to the desk. We waited in line again until it was our turn to speak to a representative who went on to ask me countless questions. It was information that Disney already had. Next time, I will go straight to my room.
  8. If you want a package shipped to your resort, order it early and be careful what you order. Following the advice on blogs, I ordered drinks and snacks from Amazon Prime Pantry and had the package shipped to our resort. The package arrived on our first day, but not to us. Instead of keeping it at the desk, they sent it out to be delivered to our room. It didn’t get there. It wasn’t until the next day, after waiting in two different lines at the front desk and speaking with several people, that the package was found. The box was damaged and wet at the bottom. We were told to go outside and acquire a trolley to carry the box since it was heavy. This required another wait. After getting the trolley and the package we went to our room to open the box. Some of the drinks were damaged and had spilled out, but not all of them. We were just happy to finally have our package and something to drink in our room. The tap water in the hotel is terrible. Had I ordered the package to arrive a day or two earlier, then maybe it would have been waiting for us in our room when we got there. I don’t know that for certain though. I do know that shipping drinks and snacks together in one big box is not a great idea.
  9. Some rooms are loud. Our room was on the first floor close to the elevator. I didn’t realize this until the first night when we were trying to sleep, and I kept hearing the “ding” of the elevator and the noise of people every few minutes. There are sites that give recommendations about which rooms are best and how to request them. Do your research.
  10. Meal plans may not be worth it. I didn’t purchase a meal plan for our trip. I had figured out ahead of time approximately how much we would spend on food using the Disney Dining Plan Calculator. I also looked at menus online to get an idea of costs. After our trip, I was curious about our spending, so I tallied what we spent on snacks and meals. I confirmed that we would have paid more if we had purchased the meal plan and had less freedom with choosing our meals.
  11. Adding the Park Hopper may not be worth it. Although I had big plans to park hop on several days of our trip, it didn’t work out that way. We only did it once on our last day and that was only because I insisted on not “wasting” the upgrade on our tickets. I can see the usefulness of the feature, but it may not be worth the cost.
  12. Keep your itinerary and park map handy. I wrote our daily plans on index cards. This worked out great. I could quickly pull out the card to refer to our plan. You will want a plan. That is a must for avoiding lines. Check out the touring plans online to determine what will work for you.
  13. Avoiding lines can mean waiting around. I loved that you could use Fast Passes to schedule attractions. With a touring plan and our Fast Pass reservations, we did not spend much time waiting in lines for rides. It was fantastic! However, we did seem to spend periods of time waiting around for our Fast Passes. Since you can only schedule things at certain intervals, you must fill the time with other things. This proved trickier than I thought it would be and we never did quite figure it out. You can fill the time with other rides and attractions if you time it right. Plus, there is plenty to look at and stores to wander through to fill gaps if you like that sort of thing, but my kids did not like just wandering around and you can only eat so many snacks to keep busy. More familiarity with each park and a list of extra things to do if we had time would have been helpful.
  14. Meals were not as big as I thought they’d be. I had read that the meals at Disney World were large. I’m not a big eater, but I always finished my meal and several times enjoyed dessert afterward. The only time we had food leftover was when someone ordered a meal with french fries. There were plenty of fries.
  15. Starting your Animal Kingdom day at Rainforest Cafe’ for breakfast is great. We were able to schedule an early reservation, enjoy a delicious breakfast in a fun environment, and enter the park soon after it opened. It was a wonderful way to start the day. Since this is a chain restaurant, you may be able to purchase a discounted gift card ahead of time online.
  16. Paying with Disney gift cards or rewards is easy. You can carry around the cards and use them for individual purchases but paying with your wristband and charging everything to your room is even easier. Partway through our trip I checked our balance at the front desk and paid it with a Disney gift card and Disney Rewards. The day before we left, I did this again. We didn’t charge anything else to our room, so our balance was paid. I have since learned that there are ways to purchase gift cards at a discount. Every little bit helps.
  17. Not carrying a bag into the park saves time. If you don’t have a bag, you can enter the park through a different line that is much quicker. You must empty your pockets and go through a metal detector, but it is so much faster than the other lines. We did this one night when we were only planning to be in the park for a few hours. I just wore clothes with plenty of pocket space for my phone, wallet, etc. I don’t know if you can go through this line with one of those nylon bags that zip up into almost nothing in your pocket, but that might be an idea. Then you could unzip it once you are inside if you need it.
  18. You haven’t won a prize when the security officer tells you that you’ve been selected to go through a special screening. Random people are chosen to go through an additional security check.
  19. Mid-morning snacks can be a problem. Although we always ate breakfast before heading to the parks, by mid-morning we were usually hungry. I brought snacks with us, but there were times that we wanted something more substantial. Finding food in the park in the morning is tricky because only a few options are available, and these places are super crowded.
  20. Plan your meals ahead of time. We had advanced dining reservations for several meals, but not all. If you research quick service options for the different locations in the parks ahead of time, you will know where to go before you’re even hungry. I did not do this for our last night and we ended up wandering around looking for food. We were already hungry and tired of walking, so this was not a fun experience.
  21. Silly things can be meaningful. Some of our best memories are when my kids took time to just relax and do things like play at the resort’s playground or build a Star Wars droid in the toy store at Disney Springs.
  22. Bringing a small coffee pot or kettle is worth it. I packed a tiny electric travel kettle and some instant coffee. It was great to begin each day with a “free” cup of coffee in our room. Value Resorts don’t have coffee makers.
  23. Wifi is not great everywhere. Our resort room did not have good wifi reception, but there were spots in the resort and in the parks where the reception worked well.
  24. If you don’t like riding on a bus, choose your resort carefully. Waiting for a bus repeatedly can grow tiresome and eat up a lot of your time. Some resorts are closer to specific parks and some are even within walking distance. It may be worth paying more to avoid taking a long shuttle ride everywhere.
  25. Even with all my research, I somehow missed out on some savings. I didn’t know about discounts on gift cards and tickets, and the use of credit card points to book Disney resorts. I am still learning about these and am working toward a possibly free or nearly free trip next time. Maybe I’ll have another list of lessons learned after that!

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