Disney Basics: What to Know Before Your First Trip

As a current Disney Cast Member I run into a lot of guests that don’t know much about Walt Disney World. Many guests come to Disney with only passes to the parks and hotel reservations, no dining reservations or Fast Passes. While you can still have a magical vacation with hotel reservations and park passes, you will mostly be eating hot dogs and hamburgers and waiting at least 30 minutes for each ride. Today I wanted to share some Disney basics with you so you are prepared for your first trip to Disney and have a magical time.

FastPass+

Disney FastPass+, referred to as Fast Passes, let you reserve times for rides, entertainment, and more. Once you’ve purchased a ticket to Disney World you can make Fast Pass selections 30 days ahead of time. If you booked a Walt Disney World resort hotel you can make your selections 60 days in advance.

Fast Passes are a free benefit in the Disney parks and you can make up to three passes for each day online or through the My Disney Experience app (more on the app later in this post). Once you have used your three passes for the day, you can add another selection to your day on the My Disney Experience app on your phone or at one of the Fast Pass kiosks in the parks.

And for reference from a Cast Member, here are some of the current most popular FastPass+ rides by park:

Magic Kingdom: 7 Dwarves Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain

Animal Kingdom: Avatar Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, and Kali River Rapids

Hollywood Studios: Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Toy Story Mania, and Star Tours

Epcot: Frozen Ever After, Test Track, and Soarin’

My Disney Experience App

My Disney Experience is a free app that you can access from your cell phone that is an easy guide to the parks. You can view your Fast Passes, reservations, see wait times, access digital park maps, make Fast Passes, find restrooms, find character spots, view your Photo Pass photos, and more. This app is truly a great resource to have while visiting the parks and I highly recommend downloading it before your vacation so you can play with it for a bit.

Resort reservations

Staying on property in a Walt Disney World resort is nothing short of magical. By staying in a Disney resort you have bus/monorail/boat transportation to the parks, meal plan options, and the magic of Disney Cast Members and all things Mickey shaped. Many resorts will also have dining areas to stop by for a quick breakfast as well. The basic break down of Walt Disney World resorts is value, moderate, and deluxe. Here’s a bit of a breakdown as well, just remember that there are more options such as campgrounds and villas that you can check out on the Disney website.

Value resorts: These resorts have bus transportation to the parks, Disney Springs, water parks, etc. and range in price from $100-300 a night. Value resorts include Pop Century, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, All-Star Sports, and Art of Animation.

Moderate resorts: These resorts have bus transportation to the parks, Disney Springs, water parks, etc. and range in price from $200-400 a night. Moderate resorts include Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter, Coronado Springs, and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness.

Deluxe resorts: These resorts boast bus, boat, and/or monorail transportation (when making reservations you will be able to view what transportation is available) and range in price from $300-$3000 a night. Deluxe resorts include Animal Kingdom Lodge, Polynesian Village, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Beach Club, Contemporary, Yacht Club, and BoardWalk Inn.

Dining reservations

Not making dining reservations is one of the most common mistakes that guests make when coming to the parks. Disney has a lot more guests than it did 10 years ago when you could walk in and wait for reservations. Now starting 180 days before your arrival date you can begin making dining reservations for your trip. There is a limit on reservations if your stay exceeds 10 days.

While I highly recommend doing your own research on Disney dining, as I could make a full post on this topic alone, if you are wanting to dine at Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table make it 180 days in advance or 99% of the time you will not get a spot.

Also, the character dining options are some of the best dining experiences Disney has to offer. Some of my personal favorites are Chef Mickey’s, The Crystal Palace, Be Our Guest, and Ohana.

I also highly recommend 50’s Prime Time Café, Blaze Pizza, Coral Reef Restaurant, Flame Tree Barbecue, Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, and Kona Café.

Book experiences

Disney Magic is a wonderful thing and shouldn’t be taken for granted. I highly recommend looking into many of the amazing experiences that Disney has to offer. While there are many more than what I will be listing today, I’m sharing the two experiences that guests never seem to know about.

Magic Kingdom’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique: One of the hidden gems for princesses and knights between the ages of 3-12 is this wonderful place tucked into Cinderella’s Castle. You can be transformed into a princess or a knight by a fairy godmother in training. This experience is always completely booked, so be sure you make your reservations 180 days in advance.

Disney’s Backstage Tours: If you want a backstage peek at Disney’s operation and to learn more about the history of Disney world, a backstage tour is for you. Fun fact: If you book the Key’s to the Kingdom tour you get to go back stage to view the tunnels. Yes, they are in fact real and you can see part of it too. I highly recommend looking up the tour options if you are a Disney kid at heart.

Extra Magic Hours

When planning what days you will be in the parks, look up when there will be Extra Magic Hours in the parks you are visiting. Extra Magic Hours are exclusive to those staying in Disney resorts and give you an hour before park open and 1-2 hours after park close to enjoy the rides with much shorter wait times. Each park typically only has one day a week with early Extra Magic Hours and one day a week with later Extra Magic.

Magic Bands

Magic Bands look kind of like a FitBit in that you wear it on your wrist, but it’s much different. Your Magic Band is your hotel room key, how you get into the parks, what you scan for your Fast Passes, allows you to charge things to your room, and more. If you booked a Disney World resort stay you should receive an e-mail and/or a pamphlet in the mail with information about making a Magic Band selection for your party as they can be personalized with your name on the inside and there are many colors to choose from.

Pin Trading

Now that I’ve covered booking your trip, I want to cover some of the things in the parks that you might not be super familiar with if you’ve never been to Disney. One of the popular things to do in the parks is pin trading. A lot of the cast members that aren’t in safety critical roles will be wearing pin trading lanyards that you can trade with. You can trade two pins with a cast member as long as they are not broken and they are Disney pins. I highly recommend looking on Amazon or E-Bay for trading pin packs so you have plenty of pins to trade.

Pressed Pennies

Pressed Pennies are also a very popular item in the parks. They are a perfect souvenir and are a fun thing to collect as you run into the penny press machines. I highly recommend going into your vacation with quarters and pennies packed. Keeping them in plastic M&M containers is the perfect way to go.

Buttons and stickers

You will see a lot of guests with Mickey stickers or buttons that say Happily Ever After, I’m Celebrating, Happy Birthday, or First Visit. Buttons and stickers are available in almost every retail shop in the parks. Insider tip: if you are ever talking to a cast member whether they are at the front desk, a bus driver, custodial, working in a retail shop, etc. ask if they have stickers. There are lots of fun stickers that cast members have although don’t be upset if they don’t have any or are out, sadly our stickers go pretty quickly and we do run out every so often.

Shop Disney Parks App

If you see someone with something you are interested in or if you want to know if there is any good merchandise for Minnie Mouse, the Shop Disney Parks app is for you. This app allows you to search merchandise sold within the parks, locate where particular items are sold in the parks, and even have merchandise sent back to your house.

Package Pick-up and Resort Delivery

The final thing that people don’t always know about in the parks is package pick-up and resort delivery. If you purchase merchandise in the parks you have the option to send it to the front of the park, just as long as you will be in the park for at least another 3 hours and send it to the front at least 3 hours prior to park close. Your package will be available for you to pick up at the front of the park after 3 hours. Another option is resort delivery which allows you to send your package back to your resort and then you can pick it up the next day after 1 pm in your main resort gift shop. Just make sure you send your merchandise to the resort three hours prior to park close and if you miss that time frame your merchandise won’t arrive to your resort for two days.

Are you planning your first trip to Disney? Was there anything new you learned from this post? If you’ve been to Disney before, are there any tips you would add to this post? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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