Tips for First-time Disney World Visitors: Pre-Trip Planning.
Posted by: Mark Plante on November 26, 2019
So you’ve decided to visit the Disney World Resorts in Orlando, FL for the first time. Quite intimidating isn’t it?
Hopefully we will be able to give you some hints and tips to make your first visit to the “Most Magical Place on Earth” go a little more smoothly and keep you and your family from running in circles (as my family did the first time we visited.).
Let’s face it, the first thing that everyone asks is “where do we start?”. Assuming that nothing has been booked or reserved, here is a list of things to do before you leave for your trip.
How are you going to get there? If you live close enough to Orlando, then you are most likely driving. For the rest of us, this will most likely involve flying. Taking a plane into Orlando is not that difficult. Orlando International Airport (MCO) is one of the busiest airports in the United States serving all major US Airlines and those from around the world. If the size of MCO is intimating to your family, there is nearby Sanford International Airport (SFB). Sanford is a much smaller airport than MCO, but airfare and car rental may be much more expensive. Some also find flying into Tampa International Airport (TAM) to be less expensive. But, keep in mind, Tampa is approximately 2hrs away from Orlando depending on traffic and construction (and yes, there is always construction.).
As for which airline… That depends on your preferences. The best advice that I could give is to book as early as you can. For our family’s trip this year, we booked our flights as soon as Southwest Airlines made them available (that was 3 weeks ago). As of the time that I am writing this post, if I were to purchase those same tickets, it would be almost $900.00 more for four travelers. For more information, visit our “Trip Planning – Booking and Airline” post.
Should I Rent a Car?
Again, that depends. If you are planning to do only Disney and do not plan on visiting any on the other parks, I would say no. Although, keep in mind, Disney transportation can be inconsistent and very crowded. If you plan on staying until after nighttime shows or when parks close, depending on the crowds, it may take up to 2 hours to get back to your hotel via the buses.
If you plan on going to other parks or exploring everything that Orlando has to offer, most definitely rent a car. Uber and taxis will eventually cost you as much as a week-long rental. Remember though, Disney World Resort Hotels do charge you for parking in their lots. Even though you are charged for parking, the freedom of being able to go off-site for meals or other attractions out weighs the $15/day cost. Also, keep in mind that most Disney area hotels also charge for parking and the fee is usually hidden on websites.
Again, this is a matter of preference. But if this is the first time that you are visiting Disney World, I would suggest staying at one of the on-site Disney World Resort Hotels. When staying on-site, you have access to Disney Transportation to and from the parks, Extra Magic Hours and other amenities that guest staying at other hotels are not able to use. The advantage to staying at an off-site hotel is the cost. As you may already know, Disney is VERY expensive. A hotel or motel in Kissimee, FL can cost 25% of what a “Value Resort” room would cost.
If you do plan on staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel, there are four tiers of Disney Hotels
- Value Resort – Just as the name suggests, this is the least expensive hotels on property. They offer a swimming pool, Cafeteria style Dinning Hall and sleeps up to four guests.
- Moderate Resort – These rooms are a little larger than Value Resorts. Each hotel has a themed pool, most with a water-slide. Cafeteria and Sit Down Restaurants. Some Moderate Resort Hotels have Suites that accommodate up to six guests.
- Deluxe Resorts – Deluxe Resorts are some of the most expensive rooms on property. They include The Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Polynesian, and more. Rooms at these resorts are usually $400+ per night. They do offer day spas, room service, concierge service and more. Deluxe Resorts offer several of the finest restaurants on Disney Property and are quite, quite expensive.
- Villa Resorts – Villa Resorts are basically 1 – 3 bedroom apartments with full kitchens. One bedroom villas can sleep up to 4 guests where 3 bedroom villas can sleep up to 12 guests. Most Villa Resorts are also DVC (Disney Vacation Club) Resorts. I would recommend this type of room for those that may have large families or if you are staying at the resort for two or more weeks. Keep in mind, this tier of room is very expensive.
So now you have a way to get to the Orlando area. There is still a lot to get done. Remember, Orlando is one of the largest Tourist Destination sites in the World. An estimated 68.5 million people from around the world come to Orlando each year. As a tourist destination, it will cost you much more to purchase personal items in the Orlando area than if you were to purchase them at home. Please make sure that you view FAA/TSA guidelines on what and how much of a product that you are able to take on the plane. If you do not follow the FAA guidelines, you will need to throw that product out, or you will not be allowed to fly.
With that being said, remember, Orlando is three things weather-wise… HOT, MUGGY and RAINY. That’s it. The sun in Florida is brutal for most of the year with heat and humidity for about 10 months out of the year. The only exception is if you are traveling in January or early February. It is possible for it to be around 40°F (4°C) one day and 80°F (27°C) the next.
Generally, I would recommend packing the following items for a trip to Disney World
- Sunscreen – Even on chilly days, the sun in Florida is very strong. Getting a bad sunburn on the first day of your vacation would really not make for a fun time for everyone in you family. Due to the strength of the sun in Florida, I would also suggest that you pack a hat. Those of us that are follicly challenged as I am will tell you that a sunburn on your back and shoulders is very uncomfortable, but one on the top of your head is miserable.
- Comfortable Shoes – When visiting the parks, you will easily walk 10-12 miles (16-20Km) a day. The second worse thing that you can do, besides getting a sunburn, is to develop a blister on your foot early in your visit. Do not where flip flops, it rains quite often in Florida and when flip flops get wet, you can slide in them and really hurt yourself. It is actually a good idea to have at least two pairs of comfortable shoes, just it the case your first pair are damaged or get wet in the park.
- Ponchos/Rain Gear – Disney does sell rain-gear inside the parks, but, as with anything that is sold in the parks, it is obscenely expensive. The same poncho that you can purchase at your local Walmart for $1, sells for $25 in the parks. Purchasing 2-3 for each member of your family may be a good idea. They are small and fit nicely into checked luggage.
- Clothes – My rule of thumb when packing for Disney is to pack for 1-2 days more than I am staying. This is for the chance that I am forced to stay extra due to weather or cancelled flights. Disney does have washers and dryers at most of the resorts if you are staying an extended period of time and are not able to travel with that much clothing.
- Medicines/Health Care – As with clothing, I always make sure that I have enough prescription medication with me, just as I mentioned above if my flight were cancelled or some other reason forced me to stay in Orlando a few extra days. Disney does have First Aid stations in the parks and they do sell brand name over the counter medicines in the gift shops at each resort. But as I mentioned before, it would be much less expensive if you purchased these items before you left for your trip.
Theme Park Tickets
Believe it or not, this will most-likely be the biggest expense of your trip. Tickets to any of the Orlando-area theme parks are not cheap. Most of the parks usually run anywhere from $85 – $150 per day. All of the parks use a Marketing plan where the more days that you purchase at a park the cheaper the tickets become per day. This is to have you stay at that park longer and spend more money with them (Disney, Universal, Sea World and Busch Gardens all use this tactic.). Last year, Disney started using a tier-based ticketing system for their theme park tickets. This means that tickets will be a different price based on the time of the year that you visit the parks. Basically, a ticket to Magic Kingdom in January is much cheaper than one for July. With this, the most expensive time of the year is Christmas time. Tickets during Christmas week can be as much as 75% more than a ticket for the same park in late January.
There are ways to save some money purchasing theme park tickets. There are legitimate business that are authorized by Disney, Sea World, Universal, etc. to sell park tickets. Also keep in mind, there are quite a few businesses in the Disney World area that are NOT authorized to sell tickets. Quite a few businesses along US-192 (the main drag outside Disney World) offer to buy your unused tickets. NEVER BUY TICKETS FROM THESE BUSINESSES!!! The first time that you use a multi-day ticket, you have to scan your fingerprint. Those tickets are now assigned to that fingerprint!!! This means that nobody else would be able to use those tickets. Also, most tickets must be used within 14 days of the first use. Nothing would be worse than dishing out $1,000.00 to one of these businesses, getting to the gate and your family not being able to get in because the tickets you purchased were invalid and now you have to pay another $1,600.00 for actual tickets.
Like I said, there are legitimate businesses that are authorized to sell theme park tickets. Below are some that I have used myself.
- Disney – Beleive it or not, sometimes purchasing park tickets as a package with a room is cheaper than going through a third-party vendor.
- AAA/CAAA – AAA will sometimes offer discounted prices to it’s members. You can also checkout hotel and car rental prices with their Travel Advisors.
- Undercover Tourist – Undercover Tourist offers some of the best prices for all theme park tickets. The also offer ticket packages that include free days. Undercover Tourist also offers Car Rental and Hotel reservations. I have used Undercover Tourist many times and have never been disappointed. You can visit them at https://www.undercovertourist.com/ and let them know that DisneyDawgs recommended them.
- Costco – Costco is suposed to offer good prices for tickets. Since there are no Costco locations in my area and I am not a member, I cannot say whether this is true or not.
These are some of the businesses that I know and some that I have used. Please make sure that you purchase your tickets ONLY FROM DISNEY AUTHORIZED RESELLERS!!!
So we now have the Airline, Car Rental, Hotel and Theme Park tickets, now comes the most fun and nerve-wracking part of the planning state of the trip. Setting up an itinerary is important. The itinerary will setup some guidance for what you are planning to do and see during your vacation.
If you are staying at a Disney Hotel you will be receiving Disney Magic Bands. Magic Bands are used to open your hotel room, you are able to set up a credit card and purchase merchandise using the Magic Band and a PIN number. The FastPass+ system is done through your Magic Bands. So needless to say, your Magic Bands are quite important.
Once you receive your tickets to the Disney World Theme Parks, you can add them to your Magic Bands too. Once you have done this, there are some amazing things that you can now do.
- Dining Reservations – You are able to make reservations up to 6 months before you visit the parks. Depending on which restaurant or Character Dining Experience you wish to book, you may want to do this right away. Experiences like “Cinderella’s Magic Table” and the “Be Our Guest” restaurant are very, very difficult to get, yes, even six months out!
- FastPass+ – If you are staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel you are able to make FastPass selections upto 60 days before your visit (30 days if you are staying at an off-site hotel). A FastPass allows you to pick a time window where you do not have to wait in the stand-by line to go on an attraction.
If you are staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel, now is the time to check to see when Disney World has scheduled “Extra Magic Hours” for the four parks. Extra Magic Hours are for those guests staying on Disney property to enter a specific park at pre-scheduled hours. Ideally this offers less crowds and shorter ride lines.
Extra Magic hours are either early morning (7am – 9am) or late night (park close – ???)… I’ve seen the late night EMH go as late as 3am.
At this point, you should be ready for your trip. In our next blog post, we will give you tips on what to do once you are in Orlando. We really hope that these tips help. Our family’s first trip would have been so much easier had we known this information.
After fifteen years of visiting Disney World, we have picked up these tips and tricks to help us have a fun, stress-free vacation.