Walt Disney World for Beginners

Walt Disney World opened on 1st October 1971 and today it is the most visited vacation resort in the world. The resort is similar in size to San Francisco and over 52 million guests visit annually.

Walt Disney World has eighteen themed resort hotels, ten Disney vacation Club Resorts,  nine non–Disney hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, several golf courses, a camping resort and various other entertainment venues.

Guide to Disney World for first time visitors

The is clearly a lot for any beginner to get their head around. Visits to Walt Disney World do need planning as without it is easy to miss many of the main attractions. Through our guide we hope to give you a little helping hand if you are a first time visitor. Experienced Disney World Travellers may also find the information useful.

So if you don’t know your Fastpass Plus from your Extra Magic Hours & have no idea what a Disney Dining Plan or Magic band is…… read along as you might find this information useful.

We will help make sure you don’t miss those key E-Ticket attractions.

Please post any comments or questions at the bottom of this page and we will happily give our opinion. Also let us know if you think the is anything missing from this guide

Magic Kingdom Disney World Cinderella's castle
Magic Kingdom Disney World

Weather

Orlando enjoys year round sunny weather. The coolest month is January but even then you will enjoy an average temperature of 70°F(21°C). Summer months are very hot and humid with thunder storms on around half of the days. July is the warmest month and you can expect a temperature of up to 91°F((33°C).

The Atlantic Hurricane season officially begins on June 1 each year and continues through November 30th. The majority of hurricanes are in August & September. It is unusual for hurricanes to ruin your vacation but it can happen.

Disney World for Beginners meeting Princess Sofia

Crowds

Disney World is busy!

At certain times of year it is very busy!!

On occasions it is very, very busy!!!

I guess you get the picture it will be busy during most periods of the year. However; it is busiest in Summer Months, around Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year, Independence Day & Christmas.

The are lots of websites out there telling you how to avoid the crowds but our experience is they often tell you different answers and overall Disney World seems to be getting busier.

Events such as the Food & Wine Festival, free dining plan offers drag people in during traditionally quiet periods.

Bigger crowds do mean longer hours but sadly longer waits. However; many of us are dictated about when we can go to Disney by school holidays & annual leave. This does not mean you shouldn’t go.

In our opinion you will have a great time no matter when you go!

Our advice:-

  • Look at crowd calendars on various websites to see if you can pick a pattern of best parks on particular days.
  • Generally avoid parks with Extra Magic Hours especially if you are not staying in a Disney Resort.
  • Have a good plan which can be altered in event of bad weather.
  • Maximise your Fastpass Plus bookings in advance.
  • Book dining reservations in advance.
  • Have plenty of breaks and plenty to drink in those summer months.

Carousel Fantasyland

Beginner Mistakes

These are our top 5 mistakes made by Beginners to Walt Disney World plus a decent amount experienced Mouseketeers:-

Teacups in fantasyland

  1. Not creating a plan. The fact you are looking at this website suggests you are not going to make this mistake. However you must make a plan of what you intend to do.
  2. Not pacing yourself when you arrive. If you go charging around the World on your first day trying to do all those big attractions you will burn out. Take your time, have rests and especially in summer make sure you drink plenty.
  3. You forget the sunscreen. In summer the majority of us will burn. Plenty of sunscreen and a good hat is needed for the parks.
  4. The kids got tired. Sure they don’t need a stroller when you visit the local park but for many small children they will walk a lot more than they are used to. Be ready to hire a stroller for all under 5s and some older kids too.
  5. Not creating advanced reservations. Know your windows and be prepared. Your planning should start early so you can get these. The best fastpass slots and dining reservations will go first to those who know the system. To find out more about advanced dining and fastpass reservations click below.

Read more Disney World Mistakes here.

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Dining reservations can be booked by anyone 180 days in advance. Guests staying in a Disney Resort can reserve 180 days in advance of their day of arrival and make up to 10 days of Advance Dining Reservations that same day. Guests staying at Disney Resorts do have an advantage.

Don’t even attempt Disney Dining without reservations you will struggle to get in and will have long waits.

To use Fastpass+ before you visit you must have a Valid Ticket or Annual Pass or Walt Disney World Resort Hotel reservation plus theme park tickets.
Guests who are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort can book 60 days in advance plus the number of days of their stay. Ticket holders not staying in a WDW Resort have a shorter 30 day reservation window.

Facts & Myths

Being the World’s largest vacation resort Walt Disney World has some rather fascinating facts and has developed a few myths over the years. Expand below if you want to read more.

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Disney World is Massive

The Walt Disney World resort is about the size of San Francisco and to date only around a third of the site has been developed. The original land was purchased by Walt Disney for around $5 Million dollars.

Fantasyland Magic Kingdom

Disney World Tunnels

The are service corridors under Disney World that allow cast members to walk between the different areas. In addition this allows theming to be maintained in specified areas. Ever wondered why you never see a costumed character not quite dressed?

Trash Cans

The is never a trash can more than 30 steps from where you are. Walt Disney implemented this after working out that people would drop litter if they needed to walk more than 30 steps to a trash can. I have attempted this on a number of occasions and I think it is true.

Gum

You can’t buy gum in Disney World. Singapore is another famous place where the is a ban on chewing gum. However; the are no restrictions on bringing gum into parks.

Grab a Fastpass+ for Space Mountain
Space Mountain

Expedition Everest & Tower Terror are the same size

They are both 199 feet. Structures over this need a red flashing light on top due to aviation laws.

Mr Toad

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was an original park favourite and the were many protests prior to its closure. Mr Toad can still be seen in a picture at Winnie the Pooh where he hands over the deeds to the ride to Owl. In the pet cemetery of the Haunted Mansion the is a tombstone for J.Thaddeus Toad.

Food

Over 10 million hamburgers & 1.5 million turkey legs are consumed at Disney World each year.

Disney World Facts

Park Full

Although rarely full; apart from major holidays; the maximum attendance to Magic Kingdom is 100,000. On average just under 50,000 people attend Disney World each day. Magic Kingdom is the most popular theme park in the world.

Hidden Mickeys

The are thousands of Hidden Mickeys throughout the resort and more are added with each change. A Hidden Mickey is a representation of Mickey Mouse that has been inserted subtly into the design of a ride, attraction or other location. Why not see how many you can find on your next visit?

Cinderella’s Castle

Is 189 foot tall and is made out of fibreglass. The is secret suite inside the castle. The suite cannot be booked and is only used as part of competitions. The are 30000 rooms you can book in Disney World.

Theme Parks

The are 4 theme parks in Walt Disney World each with their own unique ambience.

All 4 theme parks are large and usually take a minimum of 2 days to complete. Many people will claim that some parks can be done in a day or even a half day but for the Walt Disney World Beginner you should budget for longer.

Guide maps & show times are available at the entrance to all parks. If you download the My Disney Experience App on your smart phone you can also access this information.

When planning make sure you include time for parades & shows plus meal breaks. In summer months Orlando is very hot & humid so regular water breaks are required and on the first few days some pacing to avoid burnout.

Magic Kingdom

Opened on 1st October 1971 this is the most popular theme park in the World. It often attracts large crowds and its maximum capacity of 100,000 is reached on National Holidays.

Walt Disney World for Beginners
Magic Kingdom Parade

Cinderella Castle is the park’s icon and is seen as you enter Main Street USA. The park is split into 6 themed lands

  • Main Street, USA
  • Adventureland
  • Frontierland
  • Liberty Square
  • Fantasyland
  • Tomorrowland

Read more in our guide Magic Kingdom for Beginners.

Epcot

Opened on October 1st 1982 this park covers 300 acres and is more than twice the size of Magic Kingdom. The park is represented by Spaceship Earth, a giant sphere that also serves as an attraction. Epcot is dedicated to the celebration of human achievement and is split into 2 worlds.

Guide to Walt Disney World for Beginners
Spaceship Earth EPCOT
  • Future World which consists of 8 pavilions celebrating technical and scientific achievements.
  • World Showcase a permanent world fare of 11 host nations set across World Showcase Lagoon.

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In clockwise order the pavilions in World Showcase are:

  1. Mexico
  2. Norway
  3. China
  4. Germany
  5. Italy
  6. United States
  7. Japan
  8. Morocco
  9. France
  10. United Kingdom
  11. Canada

You can read more about EPCOT in our Beginners Guide to EPCOT.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Guide to Walt Disney World
Hollywood Studios

Dedicated to show business the park opened on the 1st May 1989. Previously the park’s icons have been the Earful Tower & the Sorcerer’s hat but now the park is without an official icon. Until 2008 the park was officially known as Disney-MGM Studios.

Hollywood Studios is currently undergoing massive changes and Star Wars Land & Toy Story Land will be opening in the future.

Our guide Hollywood Studios for Beginners will be coming soon.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Is the latest theme park to open in Walt Disney World on April 22nd 1998. The park is dedicated to the natural environment and animal conservation. The icon for the park is the Tree of Life which was built around a former oil rig.

Tree of Life Animal Kingdom
Tree of Life Animal Kingdom

The park is currently undergoing massive expansion with the creation of a new land Pandora – The World of Avatar due to open in Summer 2017.

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Currently the park is split into 6 themed areas

  • Oasis
  • Discovery Island
  • Africa
  • Rafiki’s Planet Watch
  • Asia
  • DinoLand U.S.A.

Our Guide Animal Kingdom for Beginners will be coming soon.

Water Parks

The are 2 water parks in Walt Disney World.

  • Disney’s Blizzard Beach which is themed around a ski resort opened on April 1st 1995.
  • Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon which is themed around a storm damaged tropical bay opened on June 1st 1989.

During winter periods just 1 water park remains open with the other undergoing maintenance.

Typhoon Lagoon Walt Disney World
Typhoon Lagoon

Entertainment Districts

The are 2 main entertainment districts outside of the parks.

Disney Springs

Disney Springs Disney World for Beginners

Previously known as Downtown Disney the conversion to Disney Springs was completed in Spring 2016. Originally opening in 1975 Disney Springs is an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment complex.

Its is also the home to La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil & Disney Quest. After several delays Disney Quest is due to close in July 2017.

Disney Springs is open all year and requires no admission or parking fees.

Disney’s Boardwalk

Is a smaller dining and entertainment complex which is also the home of the Boardwalk Inn & Villas.

Golf

Walt Disney World is the home to 3 Championship Golf Courses and a smaller 9 hole walking course.

The are also 2 themed miniature golf complexes called Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland. Each complex has 2 separate courses.

Fastpass+ & Magic Bands

Fastpass+ & MagicBands Guide

You are going to hear an awful lot about these when your in Walt Disney World.

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Launched officially in 2014 Fastpass+ is Disney’s attraction reservation system. Fastpass+ allows you to book attractions in advance. Mastering the system is essential to get the most out of your vacation.

Magic Bands are rubber bands which you can wear around your wrist which contain park tickets, fastpasses, dining reservations, photo pass and a whole lot more. they are free if you are staying in a Disney Resort

Read all about Fastpass+ & MagicBands here. 

My Disney Experience

This is an app you can use whilst in the park to keep track on your plans, review your photographs and book further experiences. You can find details on how to download the app here.

Photo Pass

Disney Photo pass allows guests to buy photographs taken by photographers throughout the park. Purchases can be made online or at theme parks.

Guests will be given a card by a photographer which can then be scanned after each photograph is taken. Information is included on the card on how to get access to your photographs. Guest with Magic Bands can have these scanned and not carry a separate card.

Princess Storybook Dining
Meeting Belle with Photo Pass

Your Photo Pass pictures can also be accessed through the My Disney Experience App.

Memory Maker is a package which allows you to download and keep all the pictures you have taken in a 30 day window. This includes rides and some dining photographs. Memory Maker is cheaper to purchase before you arrive and is often included as an extra in Disney World resort bookings.

Extra Magic Hours

This is a perk for guests staying at Disney Resorts only plus Swan, Dolphin and Shades of Green. Each day 1 park opens either 1 hour early or stays open 2-3 hours after scheduled closing.

However; remember the are 30000 hotel rooms in WDW so that is a lot of people who can attend. Extra Magic Hours can be very busy and morning hours will often significantly increase the numbers visiting early each day. Non Disney Resort guests can be greeted with a very full park at 10 a.m..

If you are not staying in a Disney Resort you should usually avoid these parks especially after Morning Extra Magic Hours.

Extra Magic Hours get on big attractions

Transportation

Free transportation is offered throughout Disney World by Disney Transport. A fleet of Disney operated buses transports guests between resorts, parks & Disney Springs.

In addition the Walt Disney World Monorail System & a fleet of watercraft offer further transportation options.

Transport in Walt Disney World is good and usually is very reliable. However; when booking dining reservations you should leave plenty of time when moving between parks.

A special option is available for those guests staying at Walt Disney World Resorts arriving at Orlando International Airport. Disney’s Magical Express; which apart from the name isn’t that magical; will transport you to your Resort at no charge. The Magical Express is a good option if you do not want to drive whilst on vacation.

Disney World Without a Car or Universal Without a Car

Whilst most people will only use the Magical Express when staying in Walt Disney World transportation is not impossible between Universal & Seaworld without a car. We have done several trips without hiring a car without any difficulty. To find out more about travelling without a car visit our post here.

Dining

From snack carts to quick service counters to Character Meals to table service to some of the top restaurants in the United States the are lots of Dining Options in Walt Disney World. The is an almost limitless list of specialist dining locations which are bound to suit everyone.

Those of you who might think that Disney World is all about burgers and fast food will be surprised by the options available.

However; if you want a burger Disney World does serve over 15 million a year. Disney though has over 50 million visitors so less than 1 in 3 of us will enjoy a Disney burger when on our vacation.

Chef Mickey at Contemporary Resort Character Meal

If you want to fix your costs; as meals can work out; expensive Disney Dining Plans are available. The are certain times of the year when you can get dining plans for free with your reservation if staying in a Disney resort.

If considering to purchase a Dining Plan you should consider your likely costs of paying for meals out of pocket. Not all families will find the Disney Dining Plan will work out good value for them. We have noticed prices for the Dining Plan appear cheaper for U.K. reservations compared to the U.S..

To find out more about the Disney Dining Plan read our guide.

Disney Dining Plan Guide including Questions and Answers

Food Allergies and Intolerance

Allergy Advice Disney World
Visiting Disney World with Food Allergies

Walt Disney World is perhaps one of the best resorts in the world for catering with guests who have food allergies. You can read more about Food Allergies in our article on allergies.

Character Meals

Character Meal Dining at Disney World
Read our Guide

Character meals offer a great opportunity to meet characters whilst you dine without lengthy queues. The is a choice of locations both within parks and in many of the resorts. Many of these give the only opportunity to meet certain characters and many of the locations do book up fast.

Chef Mickey's Contemporary Resort Orlando
Chef Mickey’s meeting Mickey Mouse

Read more & watch videos on Disney World Character Meals in our guide here.

Over coming weeks we will be creating an expanded section on Disney World Dining. Please keep checking back.

Resorts

Guide to Disney World Hotels & Resorts
Visit Our Guide

If you are visiting Walt Disney World nothing beats being in the heart of the action by staying in a Disney Resort. However; the are cheaper options by staying in some of the many hotels & villas located throughout the Orlando area. Disney owned properties are classified into four categories — Deluxe, Moderate, Value and Disney Vacation Club Villas.

Disney Vacation Club Villas are timeshare locations that are rented out for vacant weeks. Villas are often good options to consider when family groups are going to Walt Disney World.

If you want to learn more about all the Disney World Resorts & see some exclusive videos visit our guide.

Current resorts in Walt Disney World are:

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    Disney Deluxe Resorts

    • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
    • Disney’s Beach Club Resort
    • Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
    • Disney’s Contemporary Resort
    • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
    • Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
    • Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
    • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort

    Moderate Disney Resorts

    • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
    • Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
    • The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
    • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
    • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter

    Value Disney Resorts

    • Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
    • Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
    • Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
    • Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
    • Disney’s Pop Century Resort

    Deluxe Disney Villas

    • Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas
    • Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
    • Disney’s Beach Club Villas
    • Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
    • The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
    • Disney’s Old Key West Resort
    • Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
    • Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs
    • The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
    • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa

    Additional Resorts

    In addition if you wish to camp the is the Disney owned Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.

    The is also the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel plus several hotels in the Disney Springs which are not owned by Disney. Benefits vary in these hotels and are not necessarily the same as you receive with an official Disney Hotel.

    Character Hunting

    Love them or hate them if you have young children; & perhaps if you don’t; you are going to spend a bit of time seeking them. Fastpass Plus & Character Meals can significantly cut the amount of time waiting to see your favourite character but waiting on occasions is unavoidable.

    Chip & Dale
    Walt Disney World

    Character meets in Walt Disney World are now very organised affairs. Today it is unusual to find unexpected characters just wandering around a park. Many of the biggest character meets can now be reserved in advance using Fastpass Plus.

    Disney world Character Meals Magic Kingdom
    Use Fastpass+ to meet Characters

    The My Disney Experience App or the time guide; available at the entrance; will tell you where you can meet your favourite character. Guest relations or any Cast member will help if you are struggling to find your idol.

    Whilst most Character Meets are well advertised the are a few which still occur which will not show on your guide. Character Palooza is an unpublished character meet and greet that occurs on any day that Hollywood Studios holds performances of Fantasmic here you will find between 5-10 often rare characters. Searching on many of the web pages dedicated to character hunting will give you the information to find this. EPCOT is used as the site to train new character actors and this occasionally means that you will find in rehearsal characters. International Gateway & American Adventure are the most likely sites.

    Beginners Guide to Walt Disney World
    Mickey Mouse EPCOT

    Special Events & Festivities

    The are several events that are scheduled throughout the year at Disney World. Occurring on annual basis are

    • Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom.
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    This party at the Magic Kingdom is an annual ticketed event held on select evening. With exclusive entertainment, fireworks, characters and parades these parties are extremely popular.

    • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

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    This party at  the Magic Kingdom is an annual ticketed event held on select evening. With exclusive entertainment, fireworks, characters and parades these parties are extremely popular.

    Disney’s Marathon Weekend

    • Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

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    With expertly designed garden displays, snack carts and the Garden Rocks Concert Series this annual event is increasing in popularity. Held between March and May.

    • Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
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    One of the most popular events in the Disney World Calendar, Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival is a celebration of food and drink from around the world. Running from mid-September through mid-November and draws big weekend crowds of locals.

    The Food & Wine Festival is included with your admission ticket to Epcot although each of the items available at the many booths costs a few dollar or a snack credit. There are a lot of various things to see at Food & Wine Festival including the Nightly Eat to the Beat concerts.  The stalls set up for all the various countries are what brings in the crowds serving food and drink from around the world.

    BIlly Ocean EPCOT
    Eat to the Beat Billy Ocean

    Beginners Guide to Disney World
    EPCOT Food & Wine Festival
    • In January 2017 EPCOT launched the new International Festival of the Arts. It looks like this will become another annual event.

    Special events should be taken into consideration when planning as park times and crowds could be affected.

    The Halloween & Christmas festivities in Magic Kingdom are special ticketed events and are not covered by your park admission. Neither party is cheap to but probably essential for most guests. Dates to sell out so you must book early.

    The former Star Wars weekends at Hollywood Studios no longer take place.

    Planning

    A good plan for tackling Disney World is essential and not doing could mean you miss your favourite attractions. However; the should be space for some variation so you can relax and change your plans…..you are on vacation after all.

    Parade Magic Kingdom
    Disney World

    In summer periods temperatures need to be considered and you should pace your first few days to avoid exhaustion.

    We will talk more about planning in coming months but the following links are for our October 2016 plans.

    The initial decisions

    Planning our dining

    Enhancing our plan

    Disney World for Beginners

    So that completes our initial guide to Walt Disney World for Beginners.

    We will be adding plenty of links to this article in coming months and expanding the content.

    Please keep checking back and let us know of anything you would like to see included in this guide, any errors we have made or any questions you might have.

    Happy vacation planning!

    David

2 COMMENTS

  1. Disney dan | 29th May 17

    Really useful guide. Look forward to seeing it expand further…keep up the good work.

    • @Modlifeisgood | 29th May 17

      Thanks Dan
      Further updates will be coming soon

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