Thursday, June 21, 2012

For the First Time Disney Goer...

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?


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!


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??


  1. I have been asked is there other location to view Wishes other than the Park. My answer...Oh Yes....I love to view Wishes from the Poly beach at least once a trip. I have also viewed it from the Contemporary rooftop. There are several other places to view Wishes but those are my favorites.

  2. Fabulous tips!

    The one tip I always give to people when in the parks is to share meals so that you can eat more often and try more things (I hate wasting food!)! I also encourage people to embrace the cost of WDW food. Sure, it'd be cheaper to buy the stuff outside or make it yourself, but really, nothing beats the atmosphere! Plus, I have a few others who say Disney food isn't good, and I tell them on top of rides, they really need to research the good food! My family used to eat at Cosmic Ray's ALL THE TIME and get just the burgers and chicken nuggets. We didn't know that there was a HUGE variety of other options for us! In the last few years, we have been addicted to Columbia Harbour House! YUM!

    And this is going to be a really WEIRD question, but by any chance, were you in DHS watching the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular during Easter week? I know that's a really odd question, but my fiance and I (along with my mom and bro) were sitting next to a girl by herself during the show, and I kept thinking, "Is it Emma?" Haha, I know that sounds stalker-y, but I saw the cute bag and the brightly colored nails and thought maybe it was. My guy who's now my hubby asked me why I kept glancing over, and I was like, "I'm trying to figure out if it's a DISer!" Anyway, sorry if this is outta the blue and weird of me to ask!

  3. These are fantabulous tips, guys!!

    And Rachel, not a weird question at all -- lol, I often see a family or a couple and wonder if they could be DISers! Sadly I don't think it was me...the week before Easter I was away. But I was at DHS the week after, April 17th...not sure if I went to Indy that day tho. How funny, I wish you had sighted me! I should wear a pink ribbon or something at all times as a secret symbol to be recognized by. ;)

  4. Great post. My DW & I have friends who casually announced they were going to WDW for the 1st time, a month away. When we asked what ADRs they made, they said "We have to make reservations? Don't you just walk up and eat wherever?" My DW went into mamaDISer mode and made ressies for them on the spot. When they came back, they thanked us and assured us that they would tell us way in advance of their next trip.

    It's not like you need to commando the whole trip; but A LITTLE planning does increase your ability to avoid being totally swamped and disappointed.

    Best always, MSF

  5. I am going on a solo trip in November. I have made very few ADR's because this is my 15th trip and I will be doing mostly quick service. Even with food allergies, I now know where to eat safely.

    Anyways, I always tell first-timers - wear good shoes! Hat, sunscreen, rain poncho. I tell them to go online and really look at the maps so they have an idea of what they are getting into. Also I always recommend to stay on property, I have stayed off property a few times and it sucks.

    I always tell them they won't see or do everything, not possible! Then remind them to relax and take breaks.

  6. Like Gaylin said, I tell them upfront that there is no way to experience everything Disney has to offer in one trip. Disney is "HUGE" and nothing like your local amusement park. Make sure you take the time to experience the magic. I know for some families that this is a once in a lifetime trip and they end up putting so much pressure on themselves they lose sight of the reason for being there.


  7. I had to LOL when I thought of first-time visitors who have no plans whatsoever. We booked our "once in a lifetime" trip 9 months in advance. I then went to the bookstore and bought 3 guidebooks, discovered Allears - Mousesavers - DIS, and planned our trip to the minute (I didn't want to miss ANYTHING). We were on deluxe dining and had ADR's for three meals a day, we went to BOTH waterparks and all four parks, we did the luau at Poly. It was magical and wonderful, and I couldn't have done it without my laminated, color coded, spreadsheet with all our reservation numbers and an abbreviated daily agenda. However, we needed a vacation from our vacation. As soon as we got back I began planning the next trip and realized everything we didn't do. (We went to Epcot two days and didn't see the World Showcase beyond Akershus, where we did a princess breakfast etc.) We had a wonderful, more relaxed (only one ADR per day), trip two years later (last year) and I am currently planning our trip for NEXT year since we can only afford to go every-other year. Mind you, when we first went I thought it would be the only time! Love your posts! I'm living vicariously through you. I'm also reading your trippies on DIS. Wish I would have found them sooner!

  8. I am startled when people ask about the FP. When we were on our cruise one of the couples was heading to Disney for the day and they had really no idea. They were not new Disney visitors either. It's all over the maps... I'm not sure how people miss that.

    I sometimes get worried when people are going on their first trip too. But everyone is going to make their mistakes and figure it out later. As long as they WANT to go back. haha. That would be the one sad thing about not having the ideal first trip.

    Great tips!

  9. Emma, I know you don't get to Disneyland as often, but I bet a comparison of how to plan for Disneyland coming from a WDW veteran would be very good.