So, you’re headed to Walt Disney World for the first time. Now what? There’s logistics to consider, dining reservations, resort choices – gah! To help you wade through the countless and endless barrage of information, we’ve narrowed it down to make you a Walt Disney World expert with these 10 super easy steps. Ready? Set? Let’s Mouse!
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I remember my first visit to Walt Disney World. Scratch that, I remember the stress of planning my first visit to Walt Disney World. Back then there wasn’t a ton of options in regards to learning the proverbial ropes so I spent countless hours sorting through articles to help. Between the stress and the exhaustion I barely remember our visit. When I returned home, I vowed to make myself an expert when it comes to all things Walt Disney World and these 10 tips will get you on the path to expert-dom in a flash.
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Walt Disney World In a Nutshell
Walt Disney World is massive. Think the largest theme park you’ve ever seen and then think of that park as the size of San Francisco. Yep, it’s 40 square miles!
There are four theme parks inside the Walt Disney World Resort: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Then, there’s Disney Springs, the shopping/dining/fun area of the resort. You’ll need theme park admission for all but Disney Springs.
Learning the Basic Lingo
Folks who have visited Walt Disney World several times get in the habit of abbreviating phrases and terms to make things easier. Here’s the top ones you need to know.
WDW: Walt Disney World
ADR: Advanced Dining Reservation: The ability to select and lock in table service dining including locations and times at WDW restaurants. Scroll down to the 180 section for the complete lowdown.
FP+: FastPass+ Reservation
DDP: Disney Dining Plan: An add-on to your WDW vacation that gives you the option of paying for meals in advance. There are three tiers to familiarize yourself with, too: Quick Service, Disney Dining Plan, and Deluxe Dining Plan. There also are dining credits and snack credits in each plan.
EMH: Extra Magic Hours
MK: Magic Kingdom
AK: Animal Kingdom
DHS: Disney’s Hollywood Studios
DME or ME: Disney’s Magical Express or Magical Express. See Disney Transportation for the scoop.
On Property: WDW resorts that are physically on the grounds. They’re categorized Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. The swankier the property, the more you’ll pay per night.
WDW Theme Park Tickets
There are three types to choose from:
Magic Your Way: You can use one ticket per day in one park of your choosing.
Park Hopper: You can hit as many parks as you like each day.
Annual Passholder: Purchase an Annual Pass and it’s valid for 365 days from the date you first used it in the parks. If you’re planning on visiting WDW for 11 days or more in one calendar year, this is the most cost effective option.
For families visiting WDW, kids ages 3 and under get free admission to WDW parks, ages 3-9 get a discounted rate. Ages 10 and over pay adult rates.
Say there’s a ride or attraction that you and the kids really want to make sure to hop on. That’s where FastPass+ (formerly called plain ol’ FastPass) comes in. It’s a way to lock down ride times. You’ll start with three selections in one park of your choosing (choose them via the official WDW website or the My Disney Experience app). After you hit the park and use those first three, you can make additional selections one at a time. If you have an Annual Pass or park hopper tickets you can choose that fourth selection in another park.
The numbers of days out from your vacation that you can begin locking down Advanced Dining Reservations. Head to the official WDW website, select where you’d like to dine and the time frame, and make your reservation. Super popular restaurants fill up quickly (think Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table in Magic Kingdom) so jump online first thing the morning 180 days ahead of your trip and lock them down. You’ll need a credit card to hold the reservation but you won’t be charged until you eat your meal–unless you are a no-show for the reservation. In that case, you’ll be charted $10 per person per reservation.
If you are staying in a Disney resort (on property), FastPass+ reservations can be made starting 60 days before your first day of travel. You can book 3 FastPasses per day for each day of your Disney vacation, up to 10 days. First, buy your park tickets, and link them to your My Disney Experience account. Once that’s done, you can start reserving your FastPass ride times.
This applies to people staying at a non-Disney resort (off property) and Annual Passholders. You can book your FastPass for three rides 30 days before your first day of travel. If you are not an Annual Passholder, you will need to first buy your park tickets, and link them to your My Disney Experience account. Once that’s done, you can start reserving your FastPass ride times. If you’re visiting for more than one day you’ll have to hop on the MDE app or the website and lock down FP+ selections each day at at 30 days out.
Magical Express: If you’re flying into Orlando Airport, take advantage of ME to whisk you to your on-property resort. Only available to visitors staying in a Disney resort, the service is free but must be linked to your WDW reservation ahead of time. You’ll get scannable tags to put on your luggage. Yep, they even collect your bags at baggage claim and drop them off at your hotel free of charge. While you’re thinking free, here’s a list of our favorite free things at Walt Disney World.
On-Property Transportation: Take advantage of this free service, available to anyone regardless of where you’re staying while visiting Disney. WDW offers buses, boats, and the Monorail to get you from one park to another, Disney Springs and Disney resorts. You can even use Disney transportation to see Disney resorts you should visit even if you aren’t staying there.
Extra Magic Hours
This is either early opening or late closing of a one or more WDW theme parks each day. Folks staying on property will have access to at least one park per day with EMH and can use it to ride super popular rides before the rush that comes with general admission. Use this to your advantage for the new Pandora-The World of Avatar area in Animal Kingdom.
Where to Buy Discounted Disney World Tickets
Headed to the Happiest Place on Earth? TravelingMom recommends Undercover Tourist for discounted tickets including $7 off Mickey’s Christmas party tickets and $8 off Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween tickets.