How to Plan Your First Disney Trip – A Step by Step Guide

We’ve been going to the parks for about twenty years now, and although we aren’t travel agents we wanted to share some tips to start planning your first Disney trip!

Disney sees a huge variety of guests. Some have been coming to the parks since they were kids, some visit once in a while, and many are visiting for the first time ever. Planning your first Disney trip can be overwhelming. There are fastpasses, resorts, four parks, restaurants, and so much more to think about. We’ve been going to the parks for about twenty years now, and although we aren’t travel agents we wanted to share some tips to start planning your first Disney trip!

1.Make a My Disney Experience account

Having a My Disney Experience account is a must have. It is available on a PC, Mac, and smartphone. Here you can manage your tickets, reservations, fastpasses, tours, photos, and more. You can also see the times guide on the app, and a park map. This app is a must have if you have a smart phone since you can easily book more fastpasses while you’re in Disney, and view your plans. Click here to make an account!

2. Tickets

There are so many types of tickets you can book, it can get confusing to know which one you want! First off, decide if you want to go to the waterparks or not. We love the waterparks when it’s warm enough to go. There’s enough to do for all ages, from kiddie pools to waterslides for everyone, and of course the most extreme slides. Next, decide if you want a park hopper ticket or not. A park hopper allows you to go to more than one park during the day. We mainly use ours when we want to see a nighttime show at a different park, or have reservations but spent the day at a different park. We definitely think the park hopper is worth the additional cost, especially for your first Disney trip when your plans may change!

3. Resorts

Staying On Property

If you want to stay on property, there are a huge range of Disney resorts to stay at, all amazing! There are three ranges: deluxe, moderate, or value. Deluxe resorts are the most expensive, and most luxurious. You can’t go wrong choosing a deluxe resort, although they have different perks based on location. Moderate resorts are the middle level: still very nice, more amenities, but a level below the deluxe. The value resorts are the least expensive, but honestly still are great options. If you’re a family look for a suite option, as staying in one of the regular rooms could feel like a tight squeeze.

That being said, in value resorts the Pop Century rooms were recently redone and are very nice. There is also a food court in many of the resorts which is a good option if you don’t want to always eat in the park.

Biggest perk of staying on property is extra magic hours! On specific days, one park either opens early or closes late and only resort guests are allowed to be here at these times. You can also book fastpasses 60 days out, which we’ll discuss more later.

Transportation is all taken care of if you’re staying on Disney property. The monorail is connected to three deluxe resorts, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. It is an incredibly convenient transportation option. Other resorts like the Boardwalk, Beach and Yacht Club, Swan and Dolphin, Wilderness Lodge, the campground, and the monorail resorts are also connected by boat. From the Boardwalk, Beach and Yacht Club, and Swan and Dolphin you can get to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The Wilderness Lodge, campground, and monorail resorts can all get to Magic Kingdom.

The other resorts all have a bus system. This might sound unappealing, but don’t worry. This bus system is one of a kind. It is clean, efficient, and pretty fast. If you’re staying on property, you don’t have to worry about getting a car. There is transportation straight from the airport, called the Magical Express, which can also take care of your bags for you!

Staying Off Property

Not staying on property? Not to worry! We have a timeshare at a Marriott nearby and rarely stay on property. Despite what some say, your trip will still be absolutely amazing staying off property! There’s great accommodation close to Disney and Universal for a less expensive price than on-site.

It can be helpful to rent a car. You may want to go to the grocery store or out to eat, or spend some time off-property. Some hotels offer shuttles to the different parks, which can have longer waits but are a good option if you don’t want to pay for parking ($20~/day). Having a car is also important if you want to get to the parks for rope drop.*

You can still book dining reservations while staying off property, and fastpasses. However, you can only book your fastpasses 30 days out. We are still always able to get the fastpasses we want, except for a few attractions like Flight of Passage and the Mine Train.

*Rope drop happens before a park opens officially, when the cast members allow guests into the park. This is the only way to beat the lines for some attractions if you can’t get fastpasses.

4. Dining Reservations

You can make dining reservations at many locations 180 days before the first day of your trip. A lot of times tickets are not booked this far in advance, and if yours aren’t do not worry! You can still get some great reservations even one or two months out from your trip. Restaurants like Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom, Chef Mickey at the Contemporary, and Cinderella’s Royal Table in Cinderella Castle will need reservations booked at the 180 day period. Other character dining options will as well, but less popular times may be available closer to your trip. If you are past the 180 day mark, look to get reservations at off-hours or keep checking the app. Reservations are canceled daily and you may have some luck and be able to score one!

We’ve found a resource that will help you get the most popular reservations after the 180 day mark has passed! We’ve managed to score Be Our Guest, Ohana, and Chef Mickey from this resource! Check it out here.

A quick list of some of our favorite table-service restaurants:

Magic Kingdom: The Plaza, Crystal Palace, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and Be Our Guest

Animal Kingdom: Yak and Yeti Restaurant, Tiffins, and Tusker House

Epcot: Le Cellier Steakhouse in Canada, Chefs de France in France, Tutto Italia Ristorante in Italy, and Tokyo Dining in Japan.

*The quick service is so good in Epcot, we highly recommend eating smaller meals so you can try more cuisines!

Hollywood Studios: 50’s Prime Time, The Brown Derby, and Hollywood and Vine

Also decide if you want the Disney Dining Plan or not! This plan is only available to guests staying on-property. For some, it can save money and make your trip much simpler. For others, it may not be as cost effective! It depends on your priorities for the trip, how often you’ll be eating, and where! For more details, the Disney website outlines the dining plan very well! Click here to read their description.

5. Fastpasses

Now, for the fastpasses. Fastpasses are an express pass into a ride. Rather than wait in line, you can have a specific return time and get into a shorter line. Disney limits these fastpasses, and they must be booked in advance to be used. So, if all of the fastpasses for a certain ride are booked, you won’t be able to get one that day.

Recently Disney changed its fastpass system. It is now an online system (so the app will be very helpful to you), although there are also kiosks around the parks to book fastpasses the day of.

Bear with us, this can get confusing. Here are the things you need to know about fastpasses. For more details, check out our guide to everything you need to know about fastpasses at Walt Disney World.

  1. You can only book three at a time, per day. These three fastpasses have to be at the same park
  2. After you use the three, you can book one new fastpass. Once you use that fastpass, you can book another, etc.
  3. At Magic Kingdom, you can book three fastpasses for any three different rides.
  4. At the other parks, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot there is a tier system. Certain more popular rides are in “Group A”. You can only book 1 fastpass from Group A, or none. The other fastpasses must be in the lower tiers. Check out our guide to booking fastpasses to see details of the tier system.
  5. When you book a fastpass, you get a return time. This time is usually an hour long time range, starting at a specified time and ending at a specified time. A few shows, like the Little Mermaid, have smaller time ranges. You have about 5-10 minutes flexibility before and after a fastpass, but if you miss the pass unfortunately it cannot be rescheduled and you will not be let in.
  6. Fastpasses are free.
  7. If you are staying on property, you can book 60 days out. If you aren’t, you can book 30 days out.
  8. You can change or cancel your fastpasses at any time. But, know that when you cancel one you may not be able to get a fastpass for that attraction again.

We highly recommend planning your fastpasses in advance to ensure you get the rides you want. The longer you wait, the less options will be available. However, you always will have fastpass options day of, even on Christmas Day!

Disney Lingo You May Hear

  1. Magic Band – an electronic bracelet you can wear at the parks to store your ticket, fastpasses, roomkey, and photopass and sync them to your app
  2. Cast Member – the employees of Walt Disney World and Disneyland
  3. Quick-service – “fast” food type service, counter service
  4. Table-service – the typical restaurant with a waitress or waiter
  5. Disney’s Magical Express – the transportation from the airport to the resorts
  6. Memory Maker – the package to get all photo pass pictures included for download
  7. Photopass – There are photographers stationed around the park that will take your picture. Sync them to your ticket or magic band for access later.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

Don’t stress! Planning a Disney vacation should be fun. Once you do it once, you’ll definitely get the hang of it. And, cast members are more than willing to help you!

Disney also offers a free travel agent service. The price of the travel agents is included in the cost of your ticket, so if you do or don’t use an agent the price won’t be affected. We have two travel companies that we absolutely love, feel free to contact us for more information! We are not affiliated with either of these companies, we just have gotten to know them and trust their services. We have used them ourselves as well!

Whether this is your first Disney trip ever, or first Disney trip in many years, we hope you have an absolutely amazing vacation! Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have!