We recently returned from our first Disney World trip as a family and we’re still riding high from a truly magical (cliche, but so true!) time together. We have been dreaming about and planning this trip for a long time and it really did live up to everything we could have hoped for.
We initially planned to go in 2020, but of course we put plans on hold during the pandemic. Then, life happened and we ended up deciding to wait until this spring. Looking back, I’m so happy we did! Our kids are at such fun ages to have their first-time experience and really just were in that precious state of wonderment and awe the entire time. We feel so grateful to have done this trip together and experience Disney World for the first time through our children’s eyes at this stage of their lives. We loved it so much, we also are already planning to go back again soon because I know it will be so much fun to experience new things with them at different ages! That’s really the cool thing about Disney World and what Disney does so well. There really is something for everyone and it’s a destination that can evolve with you and your family as you grow.
I had a lot of interest from other first-time Disney families when I was sharing some snippets of our trip on social. So, I thought I’d dive a little deeper on some common questions I got as well as overall planning and travel tips and things we found helpful.
Where we stayed:
We stayed at The Grand Floridian, which was just as beautiful and magical as I remember when my parents brought me to stay there as a kid. I just adore the Victorian style, the property is kept impeccably and the staff truly goes above and beyond. There are two different pools and the one is really catered to kids. There, you’ll find a fun water slide built into a waterfall-type rock formation. There’s also a large Alice-in-Wonderland themed splash pad right next to this pool that’s great for little ones. My kids had a blast bouncing between each. The restaurants are also top notch- we LOVED Citrico’s and the view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks from Narcoosee’s can’t be beat. This resort is really a dream and I’m so glad we decided to stay here for our first visit.
How long we stayed:
We stayed Sunday-Thursday, so 4 nights, 5 days. We had an early arrival flight, so we got to our hotel by around noon. We packed bathing suits in our carry-ons so we could change and enjoy the afternoon at the resort pool while we waited for our room, which was a great call. Then we checked in and checked out some more of the resort. After some chill time in our room getting settled, we had a dinner reservation right at our hotel so we could get to sleep for our big first full day at Magic Kingdom.
Which parks we did:
We opted to stick to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Animal Kingdom for our first trip. The kids loved all three and we all had our favorite rides and attractions for each. Our kids aren’t really thrill seekers at this stage, and aren’t into Star Wars or Harry Potter yet, so we were fine skipping Hollywood Studios and Universal this time around. Each park is really so great for different reasons, but we knew we couldn’t fit it all in for this first trip. We were very happy with what we decided to focus on, and it gives us a reason to plan another trip in a few years!
Our favorite dining experiences:
Cinderella’s Royal Table was FANTASTIC. The food was excellent, the character interaction was great (we saw 5 different princesses!) and we all loved the entire experience. Our other favorites (in no particular order) included Topolino’s, O’Hana, and Citrico’s. We also loved sampling some Disney classic treats like Dole Whip and the Cheshire Cat Tails in Magic Kingdom and some international bites from around the world in EPCOT.
Disney World tip #1: learn the lingo before you go
We did a lot of research before the trip to try to make the most of our time there. From searching out some of the best Disney blogs (I’ll link some below) to talking to tons of different family members and friends about their trips, it really helps to understand all of the Disney ‘lingo’ so you’re in the know when you get there. The different resorts have categories that correspond with price point, the transportation options all have names (the monorail, Skyliner, Minnie Buses to name a few), “character dining” is a whole category unto its own, and of course the park pass and reservation systems have specific language as well.
The biggest learning curve was Genie+, which you purchase daily on the My Disney Experience app, beginning at 6 a.m. each morning. Genie+ allows you to skip lines like Fast Pass used to, but with a lot more time restrictions and advance planning involved. You need to reserve those select rides ahead of time, which is called booking a Lighting Lane. Now, just this week, Disney did announce some changes coming to Genie+, but here is how we did things with the current system in place.
As of now, can reserve your first Lightning Lane ride at 7 a.m. to ride right at 9 a.m. when the park opens to the general public. Then, you can book additional Lightning Lane rides in two hour windows after that, OR as soon as you scan your pass into the next ride (whichever comes first).
Genie+ also changes pricing daily and from my understanding, depending on the season, if it’s a peak time, etc. For us, most days it cost $18 per person per day. Again, helpful to know ahead of time as you plan expenses for the trip because it is a significant cost when you look at multiple days. With that said, it’s DEFINITELY worth it to be able to get more out of your time there and guarantees you’ll be able to get on more rides than if you just wait on the standby lines.
I read up on all of this quite a bit and talked to a lot of people about it before we went so we had a general understanding of the terms and how it worked. Even with that, it was still a little confusing and required some rolling with the punches, but that’s another tip for later!
Disney World tip #2: reserve more popular rides first
This was something we didn’t fully understand until we got there. For the more popular rides (Peter Pan’s Flight, for example), the Lightning Lane reservation times fill up FAST. The longer you wait into the day to book, the later the available Lightning Lane times are. We actually missed out on Peter Pan our first day at Magic Kingdom because we booked Lightning Lane reservations for other rides that we really wanted to do, like Under the Sea: The Journey of the Little Mermaid and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, earlier in the day. The thing was, those rides weren’t as popular for Lightning Lane reservations, so we could have easily done those later AFTER we did Peter Pan.
Disney World tip #3: build in rest time
I thought I had us covered here, but we definitely needed a little more down time than I anticipated. Initially, we planned for just three park days. We thought that would be a good limit for our first trip and especially with our youngest still being only three.
After two back to back full park days (we did Magic Kingdom first, followed by EPCOT), we could have definitely used a rest day. By the third park day, everyone was tired and cranky. We still enjoyed Animal Kingdom but only spent a half-day there and decided some relaxing by the pool was what we all needed. Next time we’ll plan for a pool day to break things up more.
Disney tip #4: roll with changes to the plan
With all that said, rolling with changes was definitely key to making the most out of our trip. For example, dining. Currently, you have to book dining and some experiences (the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, for example) 60 days ahead of your check-in date. Friends told us about a few different apps where you could “stake out” reservations you didn’t get when initially booking. We did this for a number of restaurants, including Topolino’s, which is considered the top character breakfast, as well as Space 220, a VERY cool experience in EPCOT where you’re dining “in space” at a space station. We were really pumped to get reservations at both, for ideal times, the morning of!
Similarly, the day we went to Animal Kingdom, our early-ish lunch took longer than expected, and we all needed a little rest time, so we cancelled our dinner reservation for Storybook Dining at Wilderness Point. Even though it was a character experience we were all looking forward to with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the reservation was very early and far, so we would have not been able to get the down time we all really needed. We found a last minute reservation for later in the evening at O’Hana at The Polynesian, which was right next to our hotel. Bottom line: be prepared to roll with it a bit and take cues from your kiddos to determine what would be best for you.
Disney tip #5: pack smart + stock your room with essentials
Did you know you can have groceries delivered from Amazon Fresh right to a Disney resort hotel room? This was huge for us. While we packed some things for the plane, the Amazon delivery was key to stock our room with essentials like a case of water, easy grab and go breakfast options for some days, and snacks. There are several other grocery delivery options throughout Disney, but for us, Amazon was the most convenient and economical since we were only getting a few things. You just have to make sure to include your hotel confirmation number in the notes of your order, which you have sent to “Bell Services” if you’re staying at a Disney property.
In terms of travel itself, in general we find that packing a few “new” things for our kids’ carry-ons is helpful for the plane. I pack it ahead of time and don’t let them see it until we are en route, that way there’s a little surprise/fun element to it. It doesn’t have to be anything big- think a new coloring set, stickers, or a book. We’ve even used things we’ve had for a while but had put away.
That’s a LOT of info that I hope you found helpful if you’re planning your trip! Feel free to leave a comment or question below. Enjoy the magic!
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