I Ask: We Are Going To Disney World For The First Time, Help?

AdviceColumnButton201My first memory of Disney is the terror of being in a pitch-black dome strapped to a roller coaster with no clue if we were going up or down next. It wasn’t that Space Mountain’s twists and turns were too much but not being able to brace myself for each one while planets were spinning around me was magic. Horrible, wonderful, magic.

This year, we decided our kids were ready for the excitement, adventure, and exhaustion. However, it’s been over two decades since I’ve stepped foot in a Disney park, and besides knowing Space Mountain is still there, I don’t know how to navigate it as a parent.

We’ve already planned the big things like staying on-site and eating at Cinderella’s castle, but I want to know the inside scoop of day-to-day Disney so we can all enjoy ourselves at a one meltdown per person per day. We have tickets to all the parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom) but plan to go to the Magic Kingdom twice will we are there because our kids are 4 and 7 and we were told it’s going to be their favorite park. Feel free to disagree!

Other questions:

What made things easier when you went?

What made things harder?

What rides are not-to-miss?

What countries in Epcot are the best to eat and/or to visit?

Can I wait to buy my daughter’s princess dress at Disney? (She wants to be Elsa from Frozen for the Cinderella lunch.)

Will the stores have choices for my son to wear? (He wants to be Kristoff from Frozen for the Cinderella lunch.)

What night events are not-to-miss?

What am I not asking that I should be asking?

Thank you. I really want this to be amazing for my kids and maybe not so exhausting for us that I can imagine going back.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

23 thoughts to “I Ask: We Are Going To Disney World For The First Time, Help?”

  1. Disney has an app that will tell you wait times for all of the rides, by park. Download it and love it while you are there, we did when we were there last year. 🙂

    The Animal Kingdom was our son’s favorite (he was 3.5 years old)…well, it was probably tied with the Magic Kingdom. Epcot was only ok, and Hollywood studios, while cool, is more for older kids. There is a good Dora area there, and a playground based around the “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” movies that he liked. But for rides, Magic Kingdom/Animal Kingdom rules supreme.

    Schedule your dinners ahead of time, like…now if possible. Finding a place to eat spur of the moment is difficult as they fill up with reservations. Eating at Epcot, Italy is always easy (our son loves pasta/pizza), Mexico was easy as well.

    Use the Fastpass for 1-3 rides per park. Get the high volume ones in there, and space them out. Like 1 in the morning, 1 afternoon, 1 evening. That way you still have some schedule flexibility, but you know you’ll get to the “best” rides as well. The Peter Pan ride is surprisingly popular, and averaged a 45+ minute wait. First thing in the morning it wasn’t bad though.

    Bring water bottles in with you, if at all possible. If you can’t, bring the cup(s) you get from your resort with you into the parks. They will fill those up with water or soda at a smaller cost than purchasing new drinks.

    I have more, as I think of it, I’ll try to remember to post it up here.

    Oh yeah, bring 2 adults – 1 kid if possible, or prepare to be exhausted. 😀

  2. Take your time!!! Have a break during the day to go back to the pool etc. If everyone is exhausted, then everyone is testy. Start at the back of the park and move forward. If you’ve seen the parade, schedule the toughest rides to get on to during the parade. You might be all alone! I thought all my kids were tough cookies; some rides scared the hell out of them. Believe it or not, my maniac snowboarder, skateboarder etc. now, freaked out in “A Bugs Life.” I think alcohol is now allowed in the Magic Kingdom. Believe me, by dinner time, especially a character dinner, this is welcome news. Have fun!

    1. Don’t know if this will work with the age of your kids, but get late dinner reservations at the English Pub in Epcot. Then you’ll be able to see the fireworks while sitting there.

      Also, it it’s unbelievably hot when you’re there, eat in Mexico in Epcot. Not the best food, but it is cold and dark in there. We found it to be the most rejuvenating spot in all the parks.

      Make sure to take any otc meds [like tums or advil or whatever] with you. Finding them anywhere in the parks is almost impossible– and if/when you do find them, they. are. expensive.

      1. My husband wants to go to the soccer jersey store in “England” so the pub is such a great suggestion. I need to know where the best places are to be for fireworks/parades etc…
        Oh and the OTC meds is a great idea. We are a headache-prone family (stupid genetics!)

    2. “Take your time” is a great reminder to me. And I also passed along to my husband about the possibility being scared on unexpected rides. My kids are tough, too, but some of the rides are intense even for adults. Thanks!

  3. Please refer to my latest blog to give you an idea of my disney obsession 🙂

    First answer I have? Buy the clothes before you get here if you can. EVERYTHING is more expensive at Disney, so if you can find eBay or a department store dress/outfit for your kiddos, that would probably save you money.

    I second Trevor’s comment about the Disney app. Also, if you have the chance to get a “Magic Band” (they are rolling them out to resort guests and season passholders, might be to everyone by the time you get there?) you can schedule your Fast Passes…and yes, you should totally take advantage of the Fast passes.

    Only a few of the Epcot countries have rides if that’s what you’re into. My favorite place to eat is the Japan pavilion, American has lots of bland food for the kids 😉 and my favorite, favorite thing EVER is the french pastry shop in France. Don’t miss that….

    Animal Kingdom is hit or miss for us. It’s crowded and hot (during the summer) and all in all, not a lot of excitement. Even seeing animals isn’t guaranteed. The Bugs Life movie is cute but can be scary for really little ones.

    Disney buses are bullcrap. They are all, “oh look convenient!” and then it takes you 45 minutes to get anywhere on to the parks if you can.

    I’m sure I”ll keep thinking of more.

  4. Hey Alex, my kids are different the most and prefer Epcot and Hollywood Studios to Magic Kingdom. HS has the Tower of Terror – even Louisa wouldn’t stop riding it. And I think your kids are Star Wars fans – Jefi training camp is really cool. They get to fight Darth Vader. Get there early and go straight there or you won’t get a spot. Make sure you get a fast pass for Toy Story. Star tours is fun but you won’t need a fast pass if you do that early in the day. Epcot had the kidcot activities in all the countries. And Epcot is a great place to meet the characters. Definitely get fast passes to Soaring. And don’t skip the boat ride next to Soaring. I love that one. Test track requires a fast pass too. Skip the Michael Jackson show – you’ll never get that time back. MK is always crowded and all the rides are pretty much the same: Sit in something and ride slowly looking at stuff. I would not wait 45 min for Peter Pan. Mickeys Philharmonic is a fun show and there’s rarely a line. My biggest advice is to take advantage of child swap. It’s just like a fast pass for a second ride on something that N can’t or doesn’t want to do. And if she’s not 40 inches tall get her some tall shoes 🙂

    1. My kids love Star Wars so we are all over that. E wants to ride the Tower of Terror (I loved it when I went sooooo many years ago and made my dad (who isn’t a ride person) go, which is how he’s heard about it) — I was worried about giving the okay but we’ll definitely try it now. We are also looking into the shoes — I think she’s right on the line but I’m going to measure again. Thank you!

  5. Can I just take you to lunch or something and tell you everything?! We just went in December and my kiddos are the same ages, although both girls (not that that matters; one is more rides & the other is more princesses.) Anywho, I have spreadsheets and hours of research, but I’m lazy. 🙂 Or I’ll just book a double appt with dr Scott and give him the update. When are you going?? So excited for you! So. Much. Fun.

    1. Well, I would love to be taken out for lunch, and I’m impressed with the spreadsheet, but do we have to talk about Disney? Because I feel like we would have lots to chat about instead 🙂

      1. We’ll briefly discuss Disney — because SPREADSHEET! Then we’ll cover everything else. 😉 Email me! We’re practically neighbors. 🙂

  6. 1) Totally spring for FastPass. If you have the passes that allow you to do multiparks, or the enter one a day as many times as you like , Fastpass is usually included, and you just have to slide your card. So worth it to get around wait time for the very popular rides. Best one was the safari in Animal Kingdom.

    2) Epcot, by far, was my favorite, and my kids’ favorite, too. The Where’s Perry is certainly worth the time and trouble (you get to do some mighty cool things in the different countries, and you can pick which countries). My kids’ favorite countries were Mexico, Italy, and Morocco. Certainly eat at one of the first two for younger children (lots of eats they know and likely love). I also prefer the Epcot night show over the Magic Kingdom fireworks. The crowd is smaller, more spread out, and the show more impressive, in my opinion.

    3) Go to MGM on the coolest day of your tip– all the asphalt makes that park unbearable when above 90 degrees.

    4) Hit Downtown Disney on the first day and the last day of your trip, and tell them you will. Let them pick one item each time. They have almost everything you can get in the parks in one fell swoop, and can help the kiddos strategize their souvenirs. That kept the begging at bay while we were in the parks. Also? Try the babysitting service so you can have dinner there one night with Scott. Totally worth it!

    5) Mini-golf was fun, but the water parks were a waste for my kids. They liked the hotel pool so much more than the water parks! The second time we went, we didn’t even go.

    1. Okay so your Downtown Disney idea is pretty much the greatest tip ever because negotiating their wants and ours, plus it being our first time and not knowing when we’ll go back, makes having a souvenir plan genius. Thanks!

  7. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Disney, and I’ve never been as a parent, so my point of view may be moot. But I thought I’d share a few things anyway.

    We loved Animal Kingdom. Like, a lot. We stayed there the entire time the park was open, and went to several exhibits more than once. Of course, we are zoo people. But there’s more than just the animals to keep you busy. There is fantastic live music throughout the park–we loved the African drummers, and watched them for quite some time. They also open the park in the morning with a parade leading you to the Safari–it’s best to do this ride early in the morning, or late in the evening (just before park closing) because that’s when the animals are most active.

    We also really enjoyed Epcot. We ate there twice: we grabbed lunch at a little stand there, and the tacos were fantastic. We also had our “fancy” dinner at the Coral Reef. I’ve heard people say it’s not kid friendly, but I disagree (so long as your kids like seafood.) One entire wall is a huge aquarium, and it’s absolutely mesmerizing.

    We made a point to be at every single park about half an hour before opening so we could join in the festivities. There are different parades at each park, and it’s thrilling to see the characters up close and personal. And also, if you can hang in there that long, the evening festivities are well worth the wait–especially Epcot and Magic Kingdom.

    Ok, I probably didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know, but that’s my two cents. Have a wonderful time!!

    1. Question about the costumes and kids: YES you can buy the costumes at the parks- the go-to costume for the boys are pirate ensembles, but I haven’t been there since Frozen was released. That said, the costumes at the park are really pricey. You can snag the same thing at Target for $20 instead of $80. I’ve seen the Frozen princess dresses there. If you want to do the whole Bippity Boppity Boutique experience, the little ones can still get makeovers without buying the costumes (it will probably involve glitter and face paint.) I saw it all over when we were there. It looked like so much fun! Oh, and at Hollywood studios, use a fast pass for the Toy Story ride – it’s really really fun, but the line is misery unless you can skip it :).

      1. I got stressed that the Frozen Elsa costume would be sold-out are hard to find because it’s very popular so we are making our own. I’m not sure if I’m actually saving money doing that but I’ll post photos soon. And I’m definitely going to fast pass Toy Story. We probably need to re-watch the movie, huh? Yay!

  8. You’ve gotten a lot of great tips already but I’ll add some anyway from a locals perspective. You didn’t mention what general time of the year you’ll be there and that can impact the advice, however with that said…
    – utilize the fast pass for any ride that allows it. If it’s time for a snack break or a stop from strolling, go ahead to the next ride, get the fast pass and take the hour wait time nearby for your break. Also you can time getting your fast pass towards the end of a cycle so that it’s only an hour wait and not an hour+.
    -get there early, take a break midday back at the resort and go back late afternoon to finish the day/night. Gives the kids a chance to recharge &/or pool time and to not fall asleep during the fireworks or on the way back to the resort. This is really good if you’ll be here during the summer.
    -get the meal plans. They are great for the snacks if nothing else. If there are snack credits left over, you can ‘cash them in’ for snacks at the resort shop for the journey home. (At least that was our case last time we stayed on site.)
    -totally agree about hitting downtown Disney when you first get there. Travel can take a lot out of you and DD needs no ticket. Great food and things to do for the kids, so you can have a fresh start in the morning for the parks
    -hit animal kingdom safari in the morning, mid-morning time. Anytime later, especially in hot weather, the animals won’t be as active. They want to rest & stay cool too.
    -The melon bowl snacks are the best for hot weather. Great way to help stay hydrated!
    -the fireworks at Magic kingdom are far more impressive than those at Epcot.
    -Great viewing for the parades at magic kingdom is on the circle side of Main Street Confectionary. You’re able to see the floats on your right as the enter the circle, as the go all the way around (so from all angles). Those spaces go quick, so be there an hour before at least.
    -don’t discount the older attractions. Hall of presidents, country bear jamboree, tiki room, it’s a small world…. They’re great for cooling off and resting at the same time. Do those types of things mid-day when it’s hottest. Also good for this is the Monsters Inc laugh factory, the people mover in tomorrow land and the jungle cruise. Oh! And the Dumbo ride is great for when it’s a little hotter, even if you don’t have a fast pass. You’ll have a line, but most of the line is under the tent air conditioned. And once you reach the ‘ringleader’ and get your wait pass, there’s an indoor play area for the kids until your buzzer goes off.
    -the Swiss family treehouse, don’t do it unless there are very few people there. And by very few, I mean you see no one. Otherwise the ppl behind you who aren’t as interested as you/the kids will get frustrated bc it’s mostly single file the entire way.
    -splash pads & misters. Dress to get wet with quick drying clothes. And the less stuff you have in your bags/strollers, the faster you’ll go through bag check.
    -if you are taking strollers, make it something über light that has a carry strap for transportation. Otherwise, wait and rent one there. Whether you take or rent on, make sure you out something on it that is quickly identifiable as yours. Otherwise you could spend a lot of time searching for it after the attraction. Sometimes they get moved by park staff while you’re on the attraction. On a side note, I’ve left backpacks and diaper bags with a stroller while there, but I always kept my wallet with me. For you mom, taking a pouch type bag that can cross shoulder that just carries cash & cards or camera… The bare minimum that you wouldn’t want left unattended is key for comfort.
    -make reservations. Even the low to mid-level sit down restaurants are taking reservations and often refuse walk-ins even when you clearly see empty tables. They’re reserved.

    Get several of the maps. The kids love them and being able to see where they are & taking charge of directions. Plus they make great souvenirs.OH! Costumes. If you want to wait until you get here to get them & have transportation to the the big premium outlet center, you can get them & other gifts for less. Only thing is that some of the tees with dates especially are last season. But the costumes should be there. Otherwise, get them before you come. Disney shops are super expensive.

    Hope all this helps. Enjoy & have a wonderful time!!

    1. These tips are awesome! We are all about taking the afternoon breaks — glad we aren’t the only ones who think this way. The maps for everyone is a great suggestions – my kids love leading the family around but no one is fighting over anything and Scott and I can make sure we’re actually heading in the right direction. Heh.
      Oh and we decided to make our frozen costumes. I’m not sure if it’ll end up being cheaper but it adds to the adventure. Yay?

  9. You have a lot of great tips, I have a few more. We went last year with my son, then almost 4. The first thing is that there are a lot of activities for smaller kids in each park -there is a pirate treasure hunt in MK, an Agent Perry thing in Epcot, a Wilderness Explorer one in AK and I’m sure there is something in Hollywood Studios. Every park has something for everyone. We decided to skip Epcot so we could spend more time in MK because that’s where the magic is, but if you have time to hit them all, go ahead. You can ask at Guest Services in each park what to look for, character meet and greet and things like that. Also, in each country in Epcot they have arts and crafts for kids and if you do them all you get something special at the end. Meeting Mickey at Magic Kingdom was AWESOME. This is not the Mickey you knew. He talks with the real Mickey voice, you get to take pictures, they take you to his dressing room and my son loved it. It was one of his best memories.
    Also, get the photopass. It’s free and you can pick the pictures you like to download. The cast members are more than happy to take great pictures with your own camera or phone, also. But the other pictures can be good,too, so get that and you can always decide not to purchase any.
    If you are staying on property you will get magic bands that are really cool, and the Disney app is a must if you want to save time. Fast passes are free but you can only get 3 for the app, the rest you have to get physically near each ride but that is a real time saver.
    Also, if you can, try to imagine you don’t know what else there is. Sometimes we rush kids because there is so much MORE to do that we don’t let them enjoy what they are doing NOW. My husband and I decided that if he wanted to ride on Ariel three times in a row, which he did, that was fine. We wouldn’t push him to go see something else. There were plenty of rides we didn’t get on but that’s OK. He got to have great memories, great fun and it’s not like we had to make a quota or anything.
    Also check with guest services because aside from parades there are special concerts, dance numbers and shows during the day. We got to see a dancing, singing garbage can one day in Tomorrowland at MK and my son still laughs when he remembers.
    On the whole, you are in for a magical time. Can’t wait to read about it!

    1. I really want to have that attitude about Disney because it’s not even possible to do everything and I want them to enjoy what they enjoy to the fullest but I can also see that being hard for me to remember in the moment. Maybe I need a daily phone reminder. Plus, if we don’t get to everything, we have a great excuse to go back!

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