Updated: Sep 20
A lot of people are Disney pros, meaning they frequently visit Disney theme parks and have gained all kinds of helpful tips and tricks to make their trip that much more magical than someone who would be going for their first time. The following are some awesome things to do during your preparation prior to your first Disney trip.
Purchase Disney gift cards at Target. With your Target Red Card, you'll get 5 percent off your entertainment cards. If you can afford to stock up on them before your trip, do it! You'll save more in the long run while you're using them at the parks, and you can kind of give yourself a limit on how much to spend while you're there (how much you spend in gift cards).
Ship your essentials to your hotel. If there are some things you'd like on your trip that aren't easy to pack, get them shipped from Amazon to your hotel a couple days before you arrive. They'll be waiting there for you without the trouble of lugging them around the airport. Be sure to call the hotel ahead of time, though, to make sure they already don't have these items available to use for free before you spend money on them!
Schedule dining reservations if there are certain places you want to eat. Disney's Advance Dining Reservations, or ADRs, open 180 days before the first day of your trip. If you go during a popular time of year - spring or summer - you may have a more difficult time being able to eat at the more popular restaurants. If there's a place you or your kids have their heart set on, make sure you reserve it in advance. You won't need to reserve ALL your meals, just the ones at the more popular places. Make your reservations for times that aren't normal "eating times" to avoid the crowds in the dining lines and examine menus online before you making your ADRs, especially at buffet-style restaurants. In some cases, the menus at lunch and dinner are (roughly) the same, but lunch may be a bit less expensive.
Stay at a resort on the Disney property. Disney's resorts come in several tiers/price points, so you can stay there for reasonable prices (Value), decent but not great prices (Moderate), or somewhat obscene prices (Deluxe). It's worth splurging on a nicer hotel if you can afford it, but you'll still get Disney magic at a Value resort. Some of the hotels have the best restaurants and some even have awesome 'attractions', like the live roaming animals at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you schedule a rest and relaxation day, check out the surrounding resorts for all their hidden gems. By staying at a resort on-site, you'll get first access to the Lightning Lane, ADRs, complimentary transportation to and from the theme parks, as well as many other benefits.
Ask Cast Members where to find your favorite Disney characters at the theme parks. Disney's cast members' information booths have tablets they can use to look up where specific characters will be and when they will be there. Don't be shy!
Make sure to mention your special occasion. Disney is VERY good at making your trip extra magical if they know there is a special occasion for it - birthdays, honeymoons, weddings, proposing. Disney will go out of their way to make sure everything goes perfectly for you and your family. They just have to know about it.
Get to your first park of the day as early as you can. You want to be at the park in time for the rope drop - the minute they open up. This way, you will be able to see so much more, have less wait times before everyone else gets there, and get out of there in the afternoon when it's hot and everyone is tired and cranky. Grab some lunch, head to your resort to play in the pool or take a nap, and come back to the parks in time for fireworks at night fall. See if you can time a ride with the fireworks, particularly Jungle Cruise. It's a lot of fun being on the Jungle Cruise and looking up and seeing the fireworks in parallel.
Splurge for the Genie+ and Lightning Lanes when you purchase your tickets. The Disney Genie is a planning tool that's meant to help you make the most of your day. Before you head to the parks (or even while you're there), you can enter in your preferences and interests, and the Genie will give you recommendations for activities, dining, and rides in the parks. WIth the additional cost of Genie+, at 7AM EST on the morning of your park visit for the day/s that you applied Genie+, you can go into the app and select the next available time to visit an attraction, and when you arrive at that attraction, you can use the Lightning Lane to skip the line. For those that like to park-hop, you will be able to use it across multiple theme parks in one day. For the highest-demand attractions, you’ll have to pay a separate amount to access those Lightning Lanes.
Don't buy bottled water. The cost of bottles of water at Disney are very expensive because they know people will pay for it. Plan ahead and bring a refillable water bottle. They have refill stations scattered in the parks to fill them up.
Eat and eat to your heart's content. With all the walking you'll be doing at Disney, you'll need to replenish those calories you've lost all day. Get the cheeseburger. Order the pasta. Your stomach will love you.
Have rest/travel days. You'll want to give yourself some leeway in case there are mishaps during travel and it would not be fun to miss a park day because of it. Book your flight for early morning on the day before you want to be at your first park to give yourself time to book another flight if you need to. If all goes smoothly, just hang out at your resort for the rest and enjoy it! Also, another tip is to plan your park days with rest days in between to recover and soak your tired body and feet.
Don't forget the water parks or Downtown Disney. Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, Downtown Disney are all great places to spend an evening perusing the shops and getting dinner. Just be sure you're prepared for a long walk!
If you want to rent a car, rent it on property after you arrive. Airport rentals are expensive, and you can probably get better rates from the on-site agencies. Renting a car gives you flexibility, especially with small children.
Work with a Disney-certified travel agent. Booking a trip anywhere takes a lot of work researching and planning, especially a place as intricate as Disney World or Disneyland. Travel agents are no cost to you and they will provide you a wealth of up-to-date knowledge and recommendations. Your travel agent can give you suggestions on everything from where to stay to what to eat, and can help you make Advance Dining Reservations and set up your Disney Experience app for you to be ready to go on your first day!
Remember, the more magic you give out, the more you receive. Everywhere you go, try to spread happiness and magic to everyone around you. You'll notice your life will increase with its own magic every day. Especially at Disney, once you feel the magic all around you, you'll never want to let that go. Don't get discouraged when you get back to reality. Continue spreading magic when you get back home into your own life.
Your trip is what you make it. Be flexible with your time and circumstances. Don't plan too much in a little amount of time. Be wary that things CAN go wrong, but it won't destroy your whole trip. Just work around it. Spread your activities and schedule out so if something WERE to go wrong, you'll have enough time to figure out something else. Most of all, have fun! Disney has given so many happy memories to families for over 50 years and will continue for as long as they can!