Everything You Need to Do Before a Walt Disney World Vacation
I recently spoke to a cast member who sounded deflated. This person acknowledged that the job had them down because they’d had a run of inexperienced callers asking for the impossible. Cast members do everything that they can to make a vacation perfect, but some things are impossible.
For instance, a first-time Disney traveler wanted to book a trip for that weekend, not knowing everything that needed to be done. The Disney employee swore to me that they did everything possible for the customer, but come on! It would have taken a miracle.
Keeping that cautionary tale in mind, I’ll try to help guests in a similar position. Here’s a guide on everything you need to do before taking your first Disney vacation.
1) Book a Hotel
You will need a place to stay during your trip. Thankfully, the greater Orlando area is rife with options. You could rent a timeshare or short-term apartment. You could investigate Airbnb options or cheap hotels near Disney theme parks, too.
Personally, I’m emphatic on the point that the smartest move is to stay at an official Disney resort. The benefits that you receive more than compensate than any difference in price. Disney really knows how to take care of its guests, providing useful amenities that will help you maximize your vacation time. For example, Extra Magic Hours lets you spend time in the parks when nobody else can.
You may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of housing choices available near Disney. I’ll offer a suggestion at the end to save you a great deal of aggravation.
2) Buy Admission Tickets
The first time that you shop for Walt Disney World tickets, you’ll realize just how many options are available. Disney sells single-day tickets, single-day tickets with Park Hopper, multi-day tickets, multi-day tickets with Park Hopper, and several different tiers of Annual Passes.
Just by looking at this, your head may be swimming already, especially if you don’t know what Park Hopper is. On the plus side, some of the decisions aren’t hard. You know how many vacation days you can spend at Disney. For your first visit, you’re unlikely to want an Annual Pass.
And you should have a pretty good idea whether you want to change parks during the day or not. So, you can take it from there and make an informed decision about which admission ticket purchase suits your needs.
3) Make Travel Plans
I presume that anyone who has never visited Walt Disney World doesn’t live in Orlando. So, you need to get there.
Until 2018, driving was a lot cheaper. Now that Disney has introduced daily parking fees at the resorts, the situation is a bit harder to judge. Presuming that you want to drive, simply understand that Disney has enormous parking lots.
You’ll have no problem storing your car while you’re in Orlando. I wouldn’t suggest driving an excessive amount, though. When you stay at a Disney resort, other forms of transportation are more efficient.
When flying, the most important thing to know is that you should use Magical Express. Disney will take care of your luggage and transport you straight to your hotel. From there, you can check in, get settled, and head straight to a theme park. Magical Express is the reason why my family always flies, even though we’re within decent driving distance of Orlando.
4) Schedule FastPasses
No matter how familiar you are with Disney theme parks, I’m confident that you’ve heard about FastPasses. You might not understand them, though. And that’s okay! You really don’t need to know anything about them other than the obvious: FastPasses reduce the amount of time that you spend in line.
While I suggest that you read a few FastPass articles, you don’t need to do so. You only need to know that anyone staying at a Disney resort can and should book FastPasses 60 days in advance. You can schedule up to three for each day of your visit. Get as many as you can the moment that your FastPass window opens. It’ll make a huge difference in the quality of your vacation.
5) Make Dining Decisions/Book Dining Reservations
Do you prefer to sit down and savor a delicious, high-quality meal? Are you more of a fan of counter service meals that allow you to grab and go? These aren’t random questions. Your dining behavior will impact your planning.
At Walt Disney World, you’ll discover more than 200 restaurants. Most of them are Quick Service restaurants where you can utilize Mobile Ordering for eating efficiently. You don’t need to do any additional planning when you intend to eat at these places.
Alternately, you can take your time at Table Service restaurants. However, you should understand that the demand for the best ones is outrageous. You should book Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) to guarantee a seat at the table, so to speak.
The ADR window opens at 180 days, but you’re okay as long as you are still a couple of months away from your trip. You won’t get the most difficult reservations like Be Our Guest or ‘Ohana, and that’s okay. Most Disney Table Service restaurants fall somewhere between ‘good’ and ‘I ONLY WANT TO EAT HERE FOREVER!!!’
6) Order Magic Bands
Your Magic Band functions as your best friend during a Disney visit. It will provide you access to the theme parks, open the door to your hotel room, and pay for your merchandise and meals. Seriously, this wearable does so much that you really don’t need to carry anything else around the parks except for an ID card.
To save yourself some aggravation, you should order your Magic Band(s) well ahead of your trip. When you log into My Disney Experience, you’ll notice an option to select your Magic Bands. You can pick colors or even pay a small fee to grab a specialized design. The latter is a relatively new option at Walt Disney World.
Once you’ve customized your Magic Bands, you’re good to go. A few weeks before your trip, Disney will ship your Magic Band package free of charge. When it arrives in the mail, you’ll realize that your Disney trip is right around the corner! It’s a great feeling!
7) Plan Your Itinerary
How many days are you staying at Walt Disney World? You’ll want to plan a general itinerary for each day. Believe it or not, you’ve already done a lot of the planning. You’ve chosen FastPasses and possibly booked ADRs. These decisions will guide your daily plan.
Really, you don’t need to make a complicated plan. Simply decide which park(s) you want to visit each day. In choosing FastPasses, you’ve already done that anyway. Then, research the places where you can eat if/when you use Mobile Ordering.
Finally, do a bit of reading about the must-do attractions at each park, including the nightly fireworks presentations. That way, you’ll know the Disney highlights you don’t want to miss during your visit.
The final stage of your vacation planning indicates that you’re almost ready to leave the house! Now that you’ve done everything else, you can pack your luggage!
Presuming that you’re flying into Orlando, the only thing that you need to remember is your Magical Express luggage tags. Once you get those in the mail, you can attach them to all of your suitcases. At the airport, you’ll hand off your luggage and stop worrying about it. Disney will magically make it appear in your hotel room a few hours after your arrival.
Okay, that’s everything involved with preparing for a Disney vacation. As you can see, it’s a LOT. I have a suggestion on how to make the process easier, and I’ll start with an anecdote about it.
I just met a new doctor for the first time. During the course of our conversation, he lamented about the difficulty of planning a Disney trip. He said that he had vastly preferred using a Disney travel agent instead. I nodded my head emphatically, as that’s what I suggest to my friends.
You should utilize a Disney travel agent, too. The experts at MickeyTravels provide a service that’s free to you. For no cost whatsoever, they’ll set up your FastPasses and ADRs, they’ll find the park admission package that’s best for you, and they’ll get you the best possible hotel room for your budget.
In short, a MickeyTravels agent can do everything but pack your bags! And one out of one doctors that I spoke with today recommended a Disney travel agent as the best way to do everything you need before a Walt Disney World vacation.