So you've decided to make the leap and head to Walt Disney World Resort for the first time, but are not sure where to start? Well, this beginner's guide is here for you! We've compiled an overview and helpful ribbits of key aspects of a Disney World trip, such as preparation, transportation, dining, rides and more. So whether it's your first time at Disney World or it's been a while, here's what to know for a magical vacation!
Overview of Walt Disney World Resort
Walt Disney World Resort is based near Orlando, Florida, and consists of four theme parks (Magic Kingdom Park, EPCOT, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park), two water parks, Disney Springs (a shopping, dining and entertainment district), sports and recreation activities, and more than 25 resort hotels.
If you're planning your first visit, it's hard to wrap your head around just how big the resort is. Walt Disney World Resort covers more than 25,000 acres — it's like its own city! It's exciting because there's so much to do, but it also means there's some more planning involved. You'll need to account for more transit time, especially for those used to the walkability of the smaller Disneyland Resort in California (Be sure to check out our hopful first-timer's guide to Disneyland).
Preparing for Your Trip
As you consider your Disney World vacation, the first factor is when you want to visit. This can mostly, of course, depend on your family's schedule (and if you will take the kids out of school). To help you choose a timeframe, check out our best times to visit post, as well as our crowd calendar.
Before any other plans, you'll want to make sure to purchase your tickets in advance. You don't want to lose crucial minutes sorting your tickets at the park entrance. Lucky for you, Undercover Tourist offers hoppin' deals on Walt Disney World tickets!
Base tickets allow you to visit one theme park per day, while the Park Hopper option allows you to visit multiple parks in one day. Disney World currently requires a park pass reservation to enter the theme parks. You must select which park you will enter for each day you have tickets. Parks can fill up, so book those park passes as soon as possible!
With Park Hopper tickets, you must enter your first park (matching your park reservation), and then after 2 p.m., you may enter another park if you wish. You only need a park reservation for the first park you are visiting.
Not sure what to pack? We’ve got you covered! Don’t froget good walking shoes as you will definitely rack up your step count at Disney World. Depending on when you visit, you will most likely need a poncho or umbrella to deal with the Florida rainy weather. We also recommend bringing a portable charger, pain reliever, band-aids, extra socks and a reusable water bottle. Check out our packing lists for more details!
With all of your planning, the My Disney Experience app is going to be your new best friend! The app allows you to manage tickets, view ride wait times, use Disney Genie+, book dining and more. We also have frogtastic resources such as the Orlando Planning app and step-by-step Park Plans.
How to Enter a Theme Park
You can also use the My Disney Experience app to enter the theme parks. At any point prior to your visit, iPhone users and those with select Android devices can create a MagicMobile pass, allowing you to add your tickets to your digital wallet. Simply tap your phone to the turnstiles and you are good to go! To create this pass:
- Open the My Disney Experience app and click the three lines icon in the bottom right-hand corner.
- In the menu, select the “Disney MagicMobile” button.
- Click the plus sign in the upper right-hand corner and select the tickets you’d like to enable; click “Add to Wallet” and customize the design. You can hold tickets in your wallet for anyone in your party.
You can also use a MagicBand or MagicBand+ wristband to “tap” in. If need be, head to Guest Relations and a cast member can help you get a physical card. All of these methods are interchangeable and act as your park ticket. You can also use them to enter Lightning Lanes, link photos and more.
Resorts and Transportation at Disney World
When planning out your first time at Disney World, you'll want to think about where you would like to stay during your vacation and how you will get around the large resort. There are many "on-site" resort hotel options as well as other nearby options with the Disney Good Neighbor hotels. Did you know Undercover Tourist offers great deals on Walt Disney World hotels and other locations, as well as car rentals?
If planning a fully immersive Disney World vacation, you may consider staying at one of the many Walt Disney World resort hotels. With a variety of value, moderate and deluxe resorts, there is something for everyone. There are lots of benefits to staying on-site at a Disney World Resort hotel. You are fully immersed in the Disney atmosphere and have quicker access to the parks. You receive extra perks such as early entry or early bookings of individual Lightning Lane selections. Check out the on-site activities, especially if you have tadpoles. You’ll find Movies Under the Stars, poolside games, campfires and more!
With such a large resort, there are lots of complimentary transportation options. Depending on your location, you can travel by bus, boat, monorail or Skyliner. Allow for extra travel time, especially waiting for the next bus to arrive. You can also travel to all areas of the resort via car. Check out our complete guide to Walt Disney World Transportation for more details!
Things to Do at Disney World
There are so many fun things to do at Disney World. From attractions and shows to parades and characters, your first time at Disney World is sure to be packed with magical memories.
Each of the theme parks offers a wide variety of rides. There are thrilling new attractions featuring characters from more modern films, as well as original attractions the parent frogs will surely remember from their childhood. There are even fully immersive lands to enjoy, including Pandora — The World of Avatar and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Some newer attractions may not offer a standby queue, so you'll need to join a virtual queue to ride. For those with young tadpoles, check our Height Requirements and Child Swap guide to know which attractions your kiddos can ride.
While most people think of the rides when they think of Disney, you won't want to miss the high-quality entertainment Disney World offers. There are lots of stage shows and parades that help bring the stories to life. End the night with nighttime spectaculars at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios. You'll also have plenty of chances to meet your favorite characters — check out our Disney World character guide for tips and a full list of characters!
With so much to enjoy, there's no way to do everything in one trip. To help with your wishlist, we’ve made highlights of our top rides, food/drink and experiences you won’t want to miss at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
Disney Genie+ is the paid skip-the-line option currently offered at Disney World. For an additional cost per ticket per day, guests can upgrade to the Disney Genie+ service, which will allow them to choose the next available time to arrive at a variety of attractions and experiences using the Lightning Lane entrance. Additionally, guests can make individual Lightning Lane selections for select high-demand attractions (that aren't included with Genie+) in order to use the Lightning Lane entrance. You can save significant time by bypassing the standby queue. For more details, hop over to our Disney Genie guide.
Dining at Disney World
Saving the best for last – food! There are tons of great dining options at Disney World. Table-service restaurants do require a reservation, which can be made 60 days in advance. If unable to get any ahead of time, you can always snag a last-minute reservation or join a walk-up list via the My Disney Experience app. Character dining is a great combination of a sit-down meal and meeting characters as they journey to each table. You can’t go wrong with Mickey waffles!
There are plenty of great quick-service restaurant options, so you don’t have to worry about reservations. Though not required, Mobile Ordering is available for many quick-service locations via the My Disney Experience app. You can place your order and pay in the app, and then receive a notification to pick up your food once ready.
Here are some of our top quick-service recommendations to get you started:
Magic Kingdom — Casey’s Corner (corn dog nuggets), The Friar’s Nook (mac and cheese tots), Aloha Isle (Dole Whips!)
EPCOT — global food kiosks during EPCOT International Festival of the Arts, EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival, EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival and EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays
Hollywood Studios — Anything in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (especially the Ronto Wraps), Woody’s Lunch Box in Toy Story Land
Animal Kingdom — Satu’li Canteen in Pandora (build-your-own protein bowls), Harambe Market in Africa (rib, chicken and rice bowls)
Extra Tips for Disney World
Here are some additional tips for your first time at Disney World.
- There are photographers throughout the resort that can take your photo, including when meeting characters. Photos will link to your account but you would need to purchase a photo package to download them. If you plan on taking a lot of photos, we recommend purchasing Memory Maker for unlimited photo downloads. Learn more in our PhotoPass guide!
- To help navigate your day, use our step-by-step park plans.
- For even more tips and strategies, we have a whole guide on how to maximize your time at Disney World.
- Above all else, take a breath and have fun! You deserve to enjoy the magic too, you awesome planning froggies.
We hoped this helped plan out a first-time trip to Disney World! Let us know if you have any questions or want to share even more tips for first-time planners.
Related: The Very Best Times to Visit Disney World in 2023 and 2024