Young Boy meets Anna Elsa and Olaf Frozen Characters at EPCOT
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5 Insider Tips from Orlando Locals for Your First Trip to Disney World

While having dinner at Walt Disney World I listened to a first-time visitor say “it’s just overwhelming.” This phrase has graced my ears so many times. A family from Boston on their first Disney trip chatted with me, a local Orlando parent. The mother expressed her sense of overwhelm, “Which hotel? Which parks? Where to eat? What rides to do – it’s all so much.”

To keep it simple, I’m sharing five essential things you need to know before your first trip to Walt Disney World. These tips are things Orlando locals like me and my family wish the Disney rookies knew about.

Top Tips for Your First Disney World Trip

Before we dive into the five tips for your first trip, let’s make something clear. There is no such thing as a perfect Walt Disney World trip.

Take the pressure off. You’re not going to do it all. And there is no exact right or wrong way to visit Walt Disney World. Do a little research like you are now. Plan some things out, but try to keep it simple.

guests gather near Cinderella Castle and Walt Disney Partners Statue at Magic Kingdom
Cinderella Castle and Partners Statue at Magic Kingdom image by Dani Meyering

Secondly, download the MyDisneyExperience app. You’ll need it before your trip, and especially during it.

1. Mobile Order Food

Do you order your groceries or other items online and pick them up? I am so grateful for this modern-day option. And the same concept applies at Walt Disney World.

While other theme parks have adopted a mobile food ordering option, Walt Disney World’s is by far the most efficient and best designed – I’ve done them all!

Parenting pro-tip: Mobile order your meal or snack while on transportation to the theme park or while waiting in line at an attraction.

Docking Bay 7 Dining Area Star Wars Galaxy's Edge Walt Disney World
Docking Bay 7 Star Wars Galaxys Edge image by Dani Meyering

It’s five easy steps:

  1. In the MyDisneyExperience app select the “+” on the bottom center of your screen, and choose “Order Food.”
  2. Pick a location and set your arrival time
  3. Select your food and drinks, the full menu is categorized including kids’ meals, snacks, and beverages (Allergy-Friendly is a category).
  4. Pay for your order using a credit card, debit card, Disney Gift Card, Disney Rewards Redemption Card, Apple Pay, or Disney dining plan.
  5. Once you’re at the mobile order location during your designated arrival time, select the “I’m Here, Prepare My Order” button (I usually do so when I am 1-2 minutes near the location).

You may need to wait a few minutes at the Mobile Pick-Up window to receive your food. Still, I have used mobile ordering countless times and it does save time compared to waiting in line to order.

Note: You can change your arrival time if needed. To view your mobile order before you pick it up head to the “My Plans” area of the app.

Oh! You can even order snacks at select dining locations, including Blue Milk or Green Milk at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. And Disney resort hotels have mobile ordering too!

Young Boy Wearing a Stormtrooper Shirt Drinking Blue Milk at Star Wars Galaxy's Edge Walt Disney World
Blue Milk at Star Wars Galaxys Edge image by Dani Meyering

2. Determine Your Must-Dos and Plan Rest Time

Something different than you expected is bound to happen. So don’t let your imagination or worry get the better of you. Leave wiggle room in your plans.

It is reasonable to accomplish 4-5 rides per day, whether you visit more than one park in a day (park hopping) or stick to one park. Have each member of your party pick one must-do ride or activity per day.

Boat Boarding Area of it's a small world at Magic Kingdom
its a small world at Magic Kingdom image by Dani Meyering

Decide ahead of time if character experiences, parades, entertainment, and fireworks are important to your family. If you have younger kids you’ll need to be realistic about overstimulating and intense experiences.

For example, even though my elementary age son has ridden The Haunted Mansion before, he’s not wanted to ride it a second time.

Most important of all, make time to rest. Walt Disney World has plenty of benches and shady spots, take advantage of them. Some of the indoor shows may not be at the top of your list, but when you’re hot and your feet need a break they can be a wish granted from Genie himself.

Use meal time as a break too. This is why Mobile Ordering is so important! Or book a table service meal for lunch so you can have a midday break in the air conditioning, get fed, and relax.

Be Our Guest Ballroom Dining Room at Magic Kingdom
Be Our Guest Restaurant at Magic Kingdom image by Dani Meyering

If you’re staying on Disney property, it’ll be that much easier to go back to the resort or hotel to rest. More on that a little later.

3. Rider Switch and Lightning Lane

“Is Lightning Lane worth it?” For the most part, yes. If you’re short on time or on patience, it can be worth it to spend the money on Lightning Lane. You’ll have little to no wait for up to 3 attractions in the park for which you purchase Lightning Lane.

Just know if you visit during peak periods like summer and major holidays including the holiday season, Lightning Lane prices increase even to $60 a person or more.

Another helpful tool – and it does not cost a thing – is the Rider Switch option. In a nutshell, Disney’s Rider Switch allows a party member to wait with a non-rider, and then they get to enjoy the ride without having to wait in the stand-by line once another member of their party swaps or switches places to wait with the non-rider.

Read more details about How Disney’s Rider Switch Works.

4. Disney Transportation Travel Times

Walt Disney World Resort is twice the size of Manhattan. In other words, it’s BIG! Thankfully the transportation around Walt Disney World is well designed and efficient.

But until Aladdin’s magic carpet is a real thing, you still need to plan about 30 – 45 minutes travel time from the time you wait for a bus, monorail, Skyliner, or boat, plus actual travel time, and walking time too.

two gondolas wait at Disney Skyliner Station at Disney's Art of Animation Resort -
Skyliner Station at Disneys Art of Animation image by Dani Meyering

In fact, Disney officially suggests giving yourself an hour and a half for transportation time when traveling from one destination to another for Disney dining reservations.

While it does not take that long for the actual transportation ride on a bus, boat, etc. it can take a long time to exit a theme park, wait for the transportation, ride it, then get through the theme park security checkpoint and entrance, and then walk to your final destination.

Definitely familiarize yourself with Disney transportation before you arrive. There are buses, monorails, boats, the Disney Skyliner, and more!

5. Hotel Locations

Another question I hear a lot is “are the Disney hotels worth the price?” Short answer, yes. The longer answer, it depends on your budget and your priorities.

The Disney owned and operated hotels have some of the best features of any Orlando area hotels. Plus there is immersive theming and added activities like outdoor movies, fire pits, and family activities.

But even Walt Disney World itself is massive and spread out. Each Disney hotel is designated to a specific area such as Magic Kingdom area hotels, EPCOT area hotels, and so on.

For example, the Magic Kingdom area hotels are closest to Magic Kingdom itself. Some havewalking paths directly to the park, as well as monorail or boat transportation. But to get to other Disney theme parks a bus is required.

View of Monorail from Contempo Cafe
View of Monorail from Contempo Cafe Dani Meyering

If staying on Disney property does not fit into your plans or your budget, that’s okay. Just keep in mind, Orlando is very spread out – and traffic can be brutal.

Before you fully commit to a hotel, vacation home, or other accommodation, get the address and plug it into your favorite online map, like Google Maps, and get directions to and from Walt Disney World.

And if you’re using a rental car you’ll need to factor about $30 per day for theme park parking.

So while that room rate of an on site Disney hotel can get hefty, the added value of not dealing with parking, traffic, etc. can be worth it. And while many off site hotels offer free transportation to Disney theme parks such buses run at limited hours, and the bus stop at the actual theme park is further away from the park entrance, as compared to Disney owned hotels.

More Tips and Info

Besides the tips I have provided, there are two great resources to utilize as you plan your trip. Purchase the book Walt Disney World Hacks by Susan Veness. It’s easy to read, organized, and full of quality tips.

Walt Disney World Hacks Book on Bed at Art of Animation
Walt Disney World Hacks Book image by Dani Meyering

Second, visit the planDisney website. You can find lots of answers to questions from families just like yours. Moms, dads, grandparents, caregivers, everyone is invited to ask questions and browse existing answers. Best of all? Questions and planning tips are provided by actual parents and families who have been hand selected to help out.

Remember to use mobile ordering, make dining reservations, plan for transportation time, and take breaks. You’ve got this!

Important note: A portion of these images in this blog post are from a hosted media trip to Walt Disney World which included tickets and hotel accommodations provided at no cost to the writer.

author avatar
Dani Meyering
Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams come true, Dani is a proud Orlando native. She loves sharing her hometown with others from the theme parks to Florida's natural beauty. With over 15 years of experience, Dani is thrilled to serve as our Managing Editor at Orlando Date Night Guide, Orlando Parenting, as well as Tampa Bay Date Night Guide.