Disney 101: A beginner’s guide to Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is a wonderful place to go on vacation. Going for the first time can be a magical place, but there’s definitely a lot to expect and a lot you might not know about the parks. For the most part, I figured that it would be smooth sailing once we got to where we were staying. It was, but there were still some things we had to figure out.

Disney World, for the first-time visitor, can be overwhelming. The following tips will help you decide what works best for you and your travelers when coming to the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

The lines are not that bad…

One of the biggest things people talk about with Disney World is how bad the lines are. That rings partially true. However, we showed up to the parks during prime, crowded hours and the longest line we waited in was for the “Rise of the Resistance” ride at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios. We actually waited about an hour for that ride, then it shut down and we waited about 45 minutes to see if it would be fixed before leaving. During that day in Hollywood Studios, we still managed to ride two other iconic, typically long-to-wait rides: Tower of Terror and the Rock N’ Rollercoaster.

Depending on when you go, rides may have a longer or shorter wait, but as I went during the busier hours of the day at the parks, I still managed to hit those rides and do other things I wanted to do.

…but it is worth getting a Lightning Lane pass.

That being said, it’s equally as worthwhile to get the Lightning Lane pass. During the day we spent in Hollywood Studios, I did use the pass to get on the Rock N’ Rollercoaster (thanks to the situation with the Star Wars ride.) Typically, you can buy the pass the day you’re heading to the park. That being said, make sure you’ll need it. If you see that rides have low wait times, it’s not worth spending the extra money for the pass. When we got our complimentary pass, we only had a few hours to use it before the park closed.

Having the pass helped us get on the ride and still have time to do some last-minute shopping and grab a quick bite before leaving.

Quick bite of an American favorite at the Regal Eagles Smokehouse in American Adventure Pavillion in EPCOT. August 25, 2022. (Jennifer McGraw)

Don’t worry about the Park Hopper pass.

Where the Lightning Lane pass is worth it, the Park Hopper pass is not. In all of the parks we went to, it made so much sense to say that you will not see everything in a day, so the Park Hopper pass would not be worth it. After a few trips and you’ve seen and done everything at Disney you want to do, then I’d consider the Park Hopper pass. That way, you’re making the most of your time because you already know what to expect.

That being said, if you’re having a shorter trip to Disney, the Park Hopper pass might be worth it if you don’t have enough to buy four tickets for four separate days. Getting the Park Hopper will allow you to visit the parks and see what you need to see in a condensed time. With that, and with using the Park Hopper pass alone, make sure you factor in transportation and how long that might take. Sometimes, we waited about a half hour for a bus and less time for the boat.

Plan an off-day between each park.

Your legs will thank you. During the past two years because of the pandemic, we’ve all grown to be a little more sedentary. When you all of the sudden get up and walk around a huge theme park, ride rides, have to wait in line, etc., your legs will grow tired. Not only that but you yourself will be tired the next day. Plan a day in between each park so you have time to rest and recharge. Not only that, but you can also explore the other parts of Disney that are just as fun as the parks.

If you’re staying in a hotel or the campground, take the off day to explore! You can also hop on a bus and hit the streets of Disney Springs to shop, eat and play. The off-days will be fun and helpful so you can make the most of the parks on the days you go.

You don’t need reservations to anything other than the park. Seriously.

Anyone who tells you that you need reservations to enjoy certain parts of Disney is only partially telling you the truth. Yes, you need reservations for certain places to eat and enjoy the iconic attractions. That being said, you can still enjoy those parts of the park if you’re lucky or visit on a less busy day. We were able to eat just about anywhere we wanted to eat and do everything we wanted without reservation.

However. You do need a reservation for the park. Oftentimes, you’ll get the message during the planning and paying for your trip to make reservations by a certain time. Those reservations fill up, so you want to make sure – above any other reservation – that you get your park reservations in.

If you do make a restaurant reservation, make sure you check the menu first so you know what you might like. One mistake I made was not checking the menu before making the reservation. I say this is a mistake because you go through a whole process of canceling a reservation, especially if you make it the day of.

Gold statues of iconic Disney characters, like Stitch, were placed throughout the four parks for Disney’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. August 27, 2022. (Jennifer McGraw)

Read the fine print and make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

You want to have a great time at Disney and everyone involved at Disney wants you to have a great time, but make sure you’re reading the fine print and you’re truly getting your money’s worth while at the parks. For instance, make sure if you want to reserve a time for a specific restaurant, that you want to make that reservation. If not, you could pay $10 per person for canceling.

Pay attention to these and other fees that you could face while at Disney. You’re already paying thousands to go there, don’t rack up the bill because of weird fees.

You won’t see everything in one day…

We planned one day per park with the exception of Magic Kingdom where we spent two days. Honestly, you need two days per park if you want to see everything. I will say, we never got to the park until about 10:30 a.m. and stayed until it closed. Factoring in the waiting in lines, eating and resting, we saw all but maybe one part of each park during our day. For your first time at Walt Disney World, you definitely want to see everything. After that, you can hit the rides and attractions you want to see and skip everything else.

I suggest you get to the park later if you’re not a morning person (like me), but you may need two days to see what you want.

…but get to the park early anyway.

I’m not much of a morning person, so you’re not going to catch me at any Disney park bright and early in the morning (except for maybe Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios.) But if you can brace for the early rising and have a cup of coffee ready, it is certainly worthwhile to get to the parks early. The wait for transportation and the lines will be shorter, so you’ll have more time to do and see what you want before those prime busy hours.

Going off of my previous point, you might be able to catch as much as you want to see if you get to the park early. Tackling some of the rides and attractions before the rush of people coming in will save you time and energy and keep you ahead of the game at the park.

Walt Disney World is truly a magical place and has a lot to see. You want to make sure you can get the most out of your time there. These are some tips I wish people told me, but you may find for yourself that there are even more things to be aware of while at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Have you been to Walt Disney World or another fun Disney vacation? Tell me about it in the comments! What advice would you give to someone going for the first time?

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