Planning a Disney vacation can be overwhelming. Don’t miss these must-have Disney World tips & tricks!
I didn’t grow up in a “Disney Family”. We went to Disney Land in California once but I never made my way to Disney World. The idea of Disney World sounded magical but honestly a bit overwhelming. Navigating the 6 different theme parks seemed complicated enough, but reading all the different blogs added a whole new layer of complexity. Strategies for “rope dropping”, using Park Hopper, this new “Genie Plus” experience, something about Lightning Lanes – where to even begin?!
However, I finally made it to Disney World in January 2022 and learned a ton about the best Disney World tips for first-timers. From what to pack to how to plan, these are the best Disney tips & tricks that you don’t want to miss!
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Shop around for ticket prices (and look at packages, too!)
I had no idea that you could buy Disney World tickets anywhere besides the official website the first time I visited and I think I left a lot of money on the table.
Do your research before booking – there are a lot of options!
Regardless of how you purchase your tickets, be sure to make park reservations. They are a recent requirement.
Plan to go at off-peak times
Disney World is magical but the crowds can really be a buzz-kill. Some of the most popular rides can have lines exceeding 3 HOURS on crowded days. You really want to plan to visit the parks during off-peak times, if at all possible.
Because you need to make park reservations before you go in (see my point about tickets above!), you’ll want to be strategic. There are tons of crowd calendars available online, so open up a few of them and compare their predictions.
Pro tip: NEVER pay for a crowd calendar! There are free ones all over.
Understand what the different parks offer
It’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll encounter crowds sometime during your Disney World vacation. My recommendation is to prioritize the parks you’re most excited about on the low-crowd days so you can really maximize the magic.
I personally struggled with understanding what the main Disney World parks offered and couldn’t figure out how to prioritize my days. Find out what each park has to offer and the pros and cons of each here.
Get Dining Reservations Early
You absolutely need dining reservations if you want to have a sit-down experience. You may think you don’t want to do sit-down dining, but living off of park snacks for days on end will get old. My recommendation? Make one dining reservation per day and live off snacks outside of mealtimes.
Make your dining reservations on the official Walt Disney World app as early as possible. Always have one dining reservation per day, even if it isn’t your number one choice. You can always cancel it once you get the reservation you want!
The best way to get hard-to-get dining reservations is to use Mouse Dining. Make an account and sign up for the days and restaurants you want alerts for. When you see a reservation is available, be ready to hop on quickly and snag it – they will go fast!
I was able to get reservations at Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table using Mouse Dining. Both of these restaurants book up literally months in advance, so it was a HUGE win.
Make sure to pack well
I think one of the biggest Disney World tips for first timers is to be really thoughtful about what you pack. You’ll be spending 8+ (maybe even 12+!) hours in the parks each day. It is critical that you wear comfortable shoes, comfortable clothes, and have a backpack filled with essentials.
Plan to use the Walt Disney World app extensively
This app is going to be your lifeline. You will use it for EVERYTHING once you’re in the parks (in fact, a lot of people have complained recently that they end up glued to their phones while trying to plan their day!).
Get familiar with the app before arriving. There is so much greatness in the app, including park maps, ride wait times, locations of characters, the option to place mobile food orders, and, probably the most important feature, your “My Genie Day”.
The “My Genie Day” shows you your itinerary, including dining reservations and Lightning Lane reservations. Next to your planned itinerary is your Tip Board. Both of these are lifelines in the park!
You ABSOLUTELY must get Genie+ and Lightning Lane
Disney World has gotten crowded and you really cannot visit without both purchasing Genie+ and individual Lightning Lane passes.
So, what’s the difference?
Genie+ is a ~$15 a day add-on that lets you book pseudo-reservation windows for up to 2 rides a day. You can only book your first Lightning Lane at park opening (or a little before, if you’re staying on property) so you won’t know your ride window until literally day-of. And then you only get to book a second Lightning Lane and you can only do this after expending your first one.
Think that system sounds bad?
Yeah. It is. A lot of recent guests have complained about how bad it is. But you can decide to do this or spend an extra ~3 hours in lines every day without it. It’s worth it to me, but frustrating nonetheless.
In addition to this, you can book Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) passes at each park for the two most popular attractions. These run ~$15 each (which REALLY adds up, on top of the park pass!). Worse still, on-property guests get first dibs to buy ILLs, which means they may sell out when you go to buy at park open.
I wasn’t able to ride I think 3 ILL rides because they sold out before I could purchase. Sure, I could have waited in line, but I wasn’t excited about standing in line for 120+ minutes for 3 minutes of fun.
So moral of the story: pay for the Genie+ access and budget $15 per person per ILL ride you’re interested in, if you hate lines.
Get a “First Time” button
One of the cutest Disney World tips for first-timers is to get a First Time button!
Go to any store or customer service center and tell the cast member that this is your first time at Disney World. They will give you a button that you can wear around the parks. This button doesn’t necessarily give you special privileges but it will give you special attention. Cast members will stop to ask if you’re having a magical day and characters may give you more attention. You’re also more likely to get help if someone sees you looking lost!
Pre-plan the highest priority rides
You need to do enough research to figure out what the most popular rides are at each park and pre-plan them.
This is why getting Genie+ is so important now at Disney World – when you’re able to go in and make your first Lightning Lane selection, you’ll want to pick one of your top choices for a ride.
The Lightning Lane rides usually have an arrival window, so my recommendation is to book one of your top rides and try to hit one of your other top rides at park open. If the wait times work out, you can hit two popular rides at the start of the day!
Regardless, you’ll want to watch wait times throughout the day and watch for opportunities to hit up the rides you want.
See a short line? Take it
Remember the comment above about being glued to your phone?
It’s true. You’ll be checking and refreshing line wait times all day, I guarantee it.
If you see a line that’s <30 minutes for a ride you’re vaguely interested in and you’re relatively close to it, take it.
Lyft is quick and somewhat cheap
Parking at Disney World is expensive. On top of that, the parking lots are huge, meaning you have to walk even further after a long day at the parks.
You can skip all of that with Lyft! Lyft is honestly fairly inexpensive from the Disney Parks and, even better, it is super quick. The longest I had to wait was just 5 or so minutes – a car usually arrived within 2 minutes, no matter what time I left the park.
You can’t beat the convenience and cost of Lyft.