(adapted from Disney Dining)
Never been to Disney World (it’s the one in Florida!) before and feeling overwhelmed after reading a few Disney guidebooks, both official and unofficial?
Walt Disney World is HUGE! It covers 37,000 acres, has 4 major theme parks, 2 water parks, a dozen resorts, several golf courses (both regualr and mini), etc. It’s impossible to see and do it all in just a week’s vacation or less!
So, what should you try and do on your first – and maybe your last! – trip to WDW?
Experience Classic Disney attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean, Walt Disney World Railroad, Liberty Square Riverboat, Carousel of Progress, “it’s a small world”, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Splash Mountain, and Peter Pan’s Flight, etc. are attractions that have become part of the classic Disney World experience.
Ride the Monorail: You have a few opportunities to do this, and it doesn’t have to cost you anything to do it. You can ride from the Transportation and Ticket Center, where you park if you are going to Magic Kingdom, to Magic Kingdom or one of the monorail resorts (Polynesian, Contemporary, and Grand Floridian) or to Epcot. It is an iconic ride that everyone should ride at least once each visit to Walt Disney World.
Ride the Boat transportation: There are many boat styles and voyages around Walt Disney World. They move people from resorts to parks, parking lots to parks, parks to parks, cross water within the parks, sometimes they are even featured attractions within the parks, just choose one and enjoy smooth sailing.
Ride at least one of the Disney “mountains: Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Expedition Everest, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Get FastPasses to ride them with little waiting!
Ride the Kilimanjaro Safari: Count up all the different animal species you can spot. This is a truck safari through the recreation of an African landscape. Yes, the animals are real. They are real enough to block the road sometimes and slow things down a bit. You won’t regret taking the time to do this.
Meet a princess: Do whichever one of these is the most wanted. Princesses are available for Meet and Greets in each of the parks so check your Times Guide for times and places for them. The Captain Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial takes place several times a day on the stage facing Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland, Magic Kingdom.
Get your photo with a character: There are Disney characters all over the parks so pick one that has a short line, or choose a favorite Disney film and look specifically for those characters, just get started and have fun with those engaging, animated, Disney characters.
Dine at a Character meal: This proves to be the proverbial hitting-two-birds-with-one-stone idea as you can meet and get photos with several characters at one time and get a great meal too. Choose either by which park you will be in, which characters you want to meet, or by the menu. Several of these are buffets so you can really get your money’s worth here. Eat a bunch of ice cream at that buffet and you do a good job of hydrating yourself too!
Have a Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bar: This has to be the most loved ice cream bar on the planet. It is a Premium experience and should be experienced at least once during your Walt Disney World visit.
Have a Dole Whip: This is a classic Disney treat that is a frozen pineapple dessert made by Dole. Try the Dole Whip Float which is the Dole Whip ice cream on top of pineapple juice, it is awesome!
Get some kind of headwear: The traditional Mickey Ears can be embroidered with your name on the back and is often the most sought-after headwear. You will find quite a selection of ears and other hats or headbands available to meet your Disney stylin’ needs. Have fun, you’re on vacation!
Spend an afternoon at one of the water parks: Challenge yourself to go down the tallest water slide, or at least start with one with the mindset that you will bump up your experience the next time you visit
See a live show: You won’t find shows like these outside of Disney! If you are visiting Animal Kingdom you can take in Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo-the Musical; Disney’s Hollywood Studios has Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast Live On Stage, and Fantasmic!
Shop and eat at Downtown Disney: This is a fun non-park day activity. There are many interesting shops with unique merchandise and a wide array of restaurants to choose from. You will find the largest Disney store in the world there where they will help you find any Disney merchandise you are looking for. Visit the Christmas store. Shop and have your ornament personalized. Taste all the flavors of Goofy’s Glaciers at Goofy’s Candy Company before selecting the one you want. Have a custom candy apple made there too. Ghirardelli ice cream sundaes are pretty spectacular and you can get a free taste of Ghirardelli chocolate candy too.
Pin Trade: A lot of the cast members wear lanyards with Disney pins to trade for.
Watch Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream: Everyone should visit this attraction in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It provides a well-put-together display of photos, art pieces, a full size replica of Walt’s office, models, and concludes with a film. They all attempt to show you the many things that inspired Walt Disney and things he created to make his dreams come true. If he ran up against a challenge, he would invent something that would get him over that hurdle and finish what he wanted to. He was brilliant in so many areas yet never lost his sense of fun and exploration. This will give you a whole new perspective on the man and the mouse and all the Disney parks.
Dine in Epcot’s World Showcase: Make sure you try food at some of the quick-service locations. These include Yorkshire County Fish Shop (United Kingdom), Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie (France), Tangierine Café (Morocco), Katsura Grill (Japan), Liberty Inn (The American Adventure), Sommerfest (Germany), Lotus Blossom Café (China), Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe (Norway), La Cantina de San Angel (Mexico).
View a Parade and stay for Fireworks: No one does parades or fireworks like Disney does! Check your Times Guides for the parades in Magic Kingdom and the Fireworks show in Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There are no fireworks shows at Animal Kingdom, but in a couple years you will be able to view a nighttime light show on the water accompanied by music.
Stay at a Disney World resort: You can really get away from it all while close to WDW. All the resorts are comfortable, clean, welcoming, and close to the parks with the added benefit of saving us time. Disney resort guests also have the advantage of extra magic hours where you can be in a specified park from one hour earlier than official opening time and up to three hours after official closing times for the park. It just adds so much to your vacation to stay in a Disney resort.
Ride whatever is the newest ride: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the newest at this time. You may have to wait in the standby line if you are unable to get a FastPass+ time, but the queue has large fans and interactive games to play to keep you entertained and cooled off. It is a fun ride, but don’t expect a high speed runaway train. 🙂
Need more ideas? http://www.disneydining.com/25-things-must-walt-disney-world/
We’ve written a book about our year working at Disney: Two Girls and a Mouse Tale.
Available now on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle. Published by Theme Park Press.