If you’re a first-timer at Walt Disney World, there’s a lot to unpack– and we’re not talking about all your luggage once you arrive at the Resort. It is, after all, the biggest theme park Resort on the planet, covering an area that’s twice the size of Manhattan – just let that sink in for a minute!
And so, to no surprise, there are several things you need to know before you visit so that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed. A lot has changed over the past year, too, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic and also because of the natural evolutions of any such setting.
So, if you’ve yet to set foot in one of the most magical places you’ll ever visit, then here are the basics. But we prefer to call them ‘simple bare necessities’…
All the Disney World Districts
Walt Disney World is a little bit like its own country, home to seven major ‘districts,’ as well as the twenty-odd Disney Resort Hotels. But we won’t overwhelm you with those – we’ll keep it simple and break it down to the Resort’s six parks and the entertainment district.
The theme parks are EPCOT, a celebration of human accomplishment that draws on international cultures; Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a place where the film comes to life; Disney’s Animal Kingdom, home to exotic wildlife from around the world; and Magic Kingdom, where dreams, imagination and fairy tales comes to life.
We think it’s only a matter of time before the Resort gets its own airport (although, for some reason, it has plenty of spaceports already).
Disney World Lingo & Other Things To Know
There are a few terms worth knowing before booking your trip – but don’t worry, we don’t expect you to be able to learn Wookie growls or Jar Jar jargon, but we will give you a quick crash course on a number of things you need to know, from magical wristbands to all things photo-related.
Let’s start with Disney PhotoPass, which allows you to view unlimited photos and videos (when linking your MagicBand or PhotoPass card to your Disney account) taken by Disney PhotoPass Photographers at select locations, which you can download and purchase with Memory Maker.
But wait, what’s a MagicBand? Well, you can use it to enter parks, unlock your hotel room, access vacation plans made with My Disney Experience, charge merchandise and food to your hotel room, and more.
Dining at Disney World
For all things food-related, there’s Disney Dining Plan – which you can use to make reservations in advance (you can even use your MagicBand to make purchases). It’s a great way to budget for meals while staying at the Resort without being restricted to your Disney Resort Hotel of choice. At the moment, the Disney Dining Plan is not available, but hopefully will return in the future.
But what’s the difference between Quick Service, Counter Service, and Table Service? A quick-service restaurant is a cafeteria-style or counter-only-based venue where you receive extra-speedy service. At the same time, several other eateries offer casual dining and table service that require reservations.
There’s also Mobile Food Ordering, with which you can pre-order your food at select locations. Then all you need to do is pre-pay (you can use Disney Dining if you have it), let the eatery know when you arrive, pick up your order and enjoy! With the pandemic in tow, all Quick Service dining requires Mobile Ordering, so be sure to have it set up upon arrival!
So, you know, no need to forage under boulders for grubs.
Disney World Mobile Apps
We’ve already mentioned My Disney Experience, and it’s just one of a few Disney Parks mobile apps that put magic at your fingertips. My Disney Experience imbues you with many powers: organize trips, purchase tickets, make reservations, use in-park navigation, view wait times, and much more.
But there are other apps, too, such as Play Disney Parks, which “turns wait time into playtime.” In other words, when you’re bored out of your mind while queuing for one of your favorite rides, you can use the app to enjoy trivia, quizzes, music, achievements, and even ‘extensions’ to rides.
And coming this Fall is Disney Genie, which is said to “reimagine the Guest experience” by personalizing your itineraries, mapping out your entire day, and predicting wait times. At the same time, the all-new Lightning Lane entrance will replace FastPass+.
And no, you won’t need to rub your mobile phone to conjure up the Disney Genie… Actually, we might have to check that one.
50th Anniversary & Other Seasonal Events
Something to take note of if you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World in the coming months are seasonal events such as Halloween, the Holidays, and, of course, the 50th Anniversary Celebrations, which will begin on October 1 this year and last until March 2023!
Halloween season is already in full swing and will run until October 31 with the Boo Bash After Hours event ongoing, while the holiday season will start November 12. But no matter the season or celebration, expect themed décor, music, merchandise, characters, foods, and special events and experiences resort-wide.
Must-Do Experiences & Attractions
You can’t visit Walt Disney World without having an idea of what its signature experiences and attractions are. And once you know what they are, you can’t visit without experiencing them – it’s part of your secret magical contractual agreement with the Resort!
For starters, Magic Kingdom is home to a number of traditional Disney experiences, including Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, and “it’s a small world,” as well as its centerpiece, Cinderella Castle. And then there’s themed land Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Other must-do’s include Animal Kingdom’s themed land Pandora – The World of Avatar and, of course, a safari. Musical masterpiece Celebration of the Festival of the Lion King should also be on your list, and EPCOT’s stage show is as old as time Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? Just keep telling yourself, “it’s a small world,” over and over.
So, there’s your basic list of things to know if you’re a first-timer at Walt Disney World. There’s more – of course, there’s more – but this should at least give you an idea of what you can expect. Just be sure to familiarize yourself with ongoing COVID-19 safety guidelines by checking out the official Walt Disney World website. And until Genie makes an itinerary for you, you’d best make a start yourself!