As a cast member, one of my favorite questions to ask guests has been, "Have you made any special plans for your trip?"
I love hearing about where they're going to eat, what rides the kids are excited about, what other resorts they're staying at -- it's like hearing a mini trip report!
Sometimes you get the guests with the notes and the binder (just like my mamma snob!) - they love to talk about their plans and are ready to savour every second of their Disney favorites! And sometimes you get the return guests who don't have much of a plan, they're taking it easy and going with the flow - also a good way to go.
Then there are the first-time visitors, and they are an interesting bunch. Quite often, when I ask if there's anything they're excited to try, I'm surprised to hear that these brand new Disney goers have done very little research and have no plans whatsoever.
When I hear that, I want to sit them down on the nearest couch and say: "Now, do you know what a fastpass is? Have you made any dining reservations yet? Do you know how huge this place is and what you're getting yourself into?
WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO PLAN YOUR TRIP FOR YOU RIGHT NOW?!??"
LOL, I have never actually said that. Promise. I occasionally have a guest who basically asks, "It's my first time to Disney World - what should I know?" and then I am absolutely delighted to tell them as much as they'd care to hear about photopass, fastpass, ADR's, etc. etc.
But I only do that when the guest seems to want it. Most of the time they're eager to get to their room, so I recommend they NOT immediately recycle all the materials in their welcome packet (as most understandably do), and instead peruse the "Guide to the Magic" while they relax poolside.
The Guide to the Magic actually has a lot of good info in it -- I was never aware of this before, as my family is the sort that usually throws it in the Jiminy Cricket bin straight off (AFTER extracting the cute scrapbooking materials, of course!). But when you stand around behind the front desk at a Disney resort all day every day, you come to know everything that goes into a welcome folder by heart.
ANYway, back to my hypothetical first time guest. I try to sneak in a mention that concierge would love to make some dining reservations for them, then send them on their way with a "Have a magical day!"
But. Inside. I worry for them.
Because to come into Disney totally blind on your first visit can be a recipe for...maybe not disaster...but definitely an overwhelming experience.
I totally understand feeling daunted by all the Disney tips and tricks online, or wanting to take things slow and not be stressed out by sticking to a schedule, but a little bit of research -- really, just a tiny bit -- can pay off big time when it comes to your first Disney World trip.
SO. I have come up with a First-Timer Five: a list of five quick tips that I try to tell my first time guests, or that I have heard first timers say they wish they had done or known before they arrived, instead of when they were leaving.
Since I don't always have time to advise them of all this when they're checking in, it's kinda satisfying to lay everything I would like to say here! Alright, ready?
5. Whet your appetite.
I think the reason some first-timers don't do research before they arrive is because they're busy and they think of planning as an onerous chore. But as we Disney veterans know, it isn't! When you spend a little time whetting your appetite, looking at photos online or reading a trip report, you pretty much double your trip enjoyment.
The unofficial Disney blogs and boards on the web are numerous and fabulous, but I can understand first timers wanting to keep it simple. Just take ten minutes and click around the official Disney World website. They have lots of pretty photos of parks, resorts, restaurants, and activities; perfect to get you excited for your trip and inspired with what you want to do.
4. Use the map!
Here's a fun trick I've seen lots of guests, first time and otherwise, employing during their stay. Every night, the family sits down together and looks at the map of the park (conveniently available at the front desk!) they'll be visiting the next day. The kids can circle their top rides, and the parents get a chance to see the lay of the land. You don't have to plan out every minute of the day, but it's good to have a general idea of where you're headed and what you're looking to do there.
3. Don't be afraid of the Fastpass.
You would be surprised at how many first time guests reach the end of their trip and don't know what fastpasses are, or think you have to pay for them. Fastpasses are free and fantastic. Disney lines can be KILLER - during the quietest seasons, when the rest of Hollywood Studios is dead and Tower of Terror has NO line, I have never seen the Toy Story Mania line less than 40 minutes. Fastpasses let you skip the stress of all that. Even if you only use fastpasses once or twice, they really open up more time in your vacation. Also a great way to beat the crowds: get to the parks early, at opening!
2. Ask questions!
Most cast members, like me, absolutely LOVE it when you ask for advice about what to do at WDW; and lots of us get out and about in the parks quite a bit, so we know a lot. Now I'll be the first to admit, for all the wonderful CM's, there are also some less-than-magical ones, and there are some that love to spout misinformation. But the large majority of us are here to help, and we would talk about WDW all day if we could. So don't be afraid to ask for help!
1. MAKE DINING RESERVATIONS IN ADVANCE.
This is the number one mistake I hear about first time guests making. Even if you don't want to worry about making reservations before you leave (it is really easy to make reservations online though!) -- when you check in, go to the concierge desk at your resort and make just a few. The sit-down restaurants book up fast, and walk-up's are a gamble, especially if you have a party larger than four.
Don't leave it to chance - make a few ADR's. Even if you end up cancelling, at least you'll have them for a back-up. But also make sure you know which restaurants require a credit card guarantee - more and more locations require this these days, especially signature restaurants and character dining. If you need to cancel those, you've got to do it at least 24 hours in advance.
WHEW. Well I don't know how many first time guests come across this blog, and to all you Disney experts I'm sure this is just preaching to the choir.
So here's the question for you Disney experts -- what advice would you give to first time Disney guests??