The Beginners Guide to Disney
You guys, I love Disney. I mean, I LOVE Disney. I drink from a Disney mug every morning, I love watching the movies with my kiddos and the pure joy that hits my blood stream when I walk into Magic Kingdom is priceless. There are so many posts with hundreds of tips about how to do Disney. A lot of those tips and tricks don’t make any sense if you’ve never been there. Believe me, after your first trip, you’ll feel like a Disney Pro.
So, let’s get started with some Dis-lingo. If you’re going to Disney, there are a few terms that you need to know before you start planning.
Magic Bands- Magic Bands are a removable park bracelet. You receive a band for free when you book at a Disney resort. Your magic bands hold your trip reservations, including your park tickets, fast pass reservations, access to the Magic Express and if you’re staying onsite, your room key. You can also link a credit card to the magic band giving you the freedom to leave your wallet in your room. Not only does it provide a seamless experience for your trip, it frees up the need to keep track of room keys or paperwork.
Magic Express- The Magic Express is no joke, the golden ticket. Prior to your trip, you’ll receive Magic Express luggage tags (that just happen to be bright yellow) that you’ll attach to your checked bags before you depart for Orlando. Here’s where the magic comes in- you will check your bag at your departing city and see your bags again in your room when you arrive at your Disney resort. When you land in Orlando, you bypass luggage claim and boogie right on to the Magic Express. The Magic Express is a shuttle bus that will take you and your family to your Disney resort at no extra charge. Sprinkle me in pixie dust because that’s magic!
Fast Pass- A fast pass is basically your VIP ticket to the front of the line. You can pick three attractions to fastpass, but make sure you do this in advance. You’ll want to fastpass the most popular Disney attractions, or your top choices so you can bypass the 2+ hour wait time. You can select a fast pass up to 60 days in advance for a timeframe on the day you visit the park. The day of your visit, you have a one hour window to enter the fastpass line, scan your Magic Band, and scoot right to the front of the line. You have access to 3 fast pass selections per day in advance, but once you use your fastpass selections, you can pick more.
Dining Plan- This is exactly how it sounds, the Disney Dining Plan is a prepaid meal plan option. You can decide on a package for your family including quick service (counter service) meals, table service (seated dining), or snacks. The Dining Plan gives you the option to pay for all of your meals in advance so your trip can feel more all-inclusive.
Photopass- Photopass is another Disney service linked to your account and your Magic Band. Throughout the park there are photographers strategically placed to give you the very best photo ops on your trip. They are also at every character experience to capture the meet and greets with your child’s favorite Disney star. It is worth the money to buy the Photopass plan and have the pictures in the park. You’ll get the digital rights to the photos, and they are really great quality. Some include a little extra Disney magic.
So now that you know the key terms that had my head spinning before our first visit, I’ll share with you my seven beginner tips to keep your trip low key and stress free.
1. Stay on site- if you take nothing else away from this post, it’s this. Stay. On. Site. Unless you have free housing in Orlando, I have priced out a comparison of staying at a comparable hotel in Orlando with a Disney resort. The comparable resort hotels in the area can appear more cost effective at the surface, however when you factor in ground transportation, parking (if you rent a car), resort fees, and your time (more on that soon), it is 100% a better value to stay at a Disney resort.
2. Pick a resort with the Magic Express- I believe all of the resorts offer Magic Express service with the exception of the Swan & Dolphin as those are technically owned and operated by another hotel chain. The Magic Express is everything. When you arrive in Orlando, you will bypass the baggage claim (with your tired, hungry, or antsy kiddos) and head straight for the Magic Express, a coach bus that delivers you directly to your Disney Resort.
3. In your carry on- pack your magic bands, you’ll need them to board the Magic Express. This will also act as your room key at your resort. Plan ahead and pack your bathing suit and a TSA compliant sunscreen so you can head straight to the pool. Your luggage will arrive in your room within a few hours. You can check in to your resort in advance through the My Disney Experience App or through the website.
4. Order groceries ahead. Yes, I said groceries. This is huge for our family, especially for our food allergy life. We have had good luck with the Garden Grocer. You can order groceries months in advance of your trip, and your options can include perishable and non-perishable food items. At the top of our list is a 40 pack of water. It is seriously overpriced, but not when compared to purchasing in the park. You can also use Amazon Prime and order a few days ahead. I have never done this, so you’d want to check with the resort where you plan to stay to make sure it’s an option. In addition to a case of water, fruit, breakfast items and lots of snacks can make your trip more comfortable. Which leads us to...
5. Evaluate the dining plan. In order to get the most of the dining plan, you have to use it. If you think you have to buy a snack just because you paid for it in the plan, maybe the dining plan isn’t right for you. I also have two kids (ages 4 and 6) and I know that to get through the park and keep them on track as possible, our diet is important. Here is our plan: we buy groceries from the Garden Grocer to cover breakfast, lunch and some snacks. We also pack a suitcase with food because, let’s be honest, there’s never enough snacks. You can bring your own food into the parks so we’ll find a quiet place to rest our feet and have our packed lunch. Each night we plan on a Table Service restaurant for dinner. Of course we have treats here and there, but this format really works for us.
6. Buy autograph books before you go- you can find Disney autograph books at the Disney store near you or line. Luckily we have a Disney Store at our outlet mall so the going rate is roughly half of the cost compared to the parks. You can also find cute custom options on Etsy. The autograph books are a great souvenir when you fill them with the character photos!
7. Don’t pass up the stroller- even if you think you’re over the days of a stroller, it can be so helpful. Whether it’s to tote around a sleepy kiddo or give you a break from carrying your park backpack, it can be so helpful to have the wheels. There are a lot of options to rent a stroller on site, or have one delivered to your room. Bringing your own stroller is helpful when you have little ones (3 and under). When they are old enough to walk most of the time, it’s helpful to have a park stroller for shade or when they start to slow down in the afternoon.
Make all the reservations and plans that you want but leave some flexibility for spontaneity. We typically have a pool day built into vacation to give everyone a chance to rest. We logged well over 20,000 steps each park day, so it's helpful for everyone to have that break in the schedule. Once you start your vacation, make sure you take time to soak in the magic that is Disney. Take the time to visit a character, see the fireworks, or eat a special Disney treat.
Disney is such an iconic trip. I remember feeling so overwhelmed before our first visit but it doesn’t have to be. Have a magical trip!