What You Should and Shouldn’t Do On Your 1st Day At Disney World
You’ve arrived at Disney World and, whether it’s your first time or your 21st time, you’re anxious to start experiencing everything that Disney has to offer. Slow down and take a breath though! You’re finally here and will be for a few days, so don’t wear yourself out right away! Take the time to relax and do a few things that will get your trip off on the right foot instead of leaving you scrambling to stick to your itinerary.
As well, park tickets are expensive and you may not have paid for tickets for arrival day. The day is not lost! There are so many fun things to do that let you still experience some of that Disney magic without going into the parks themselves. Keep in mind that your party is probably travel-weary and might not do well wandering too far afield, especially if there are little ones. So here are some tips to avoid overextending yourselves as well.
WHEN YOU GET THERE:
Relax! No matter where you’re staying, your resort is fabulous and is designed with all of your needs in mind, so take advantage of it. Grab a meal or a drink at one of the fabulous eateries, enjoy the view from your balcony, or take a stroll around your resort while you wait for your luggage to arrive if you took the Magical Express. Remember that much of the cost of your trip is actually the cost of the resort itself, so figure out what features you would like to experience and then make sure that you do! Take some time to smell the roses! Believe it or not, each of Disney’s resorts is distinctive in many ways, including scent. You can actually buy candles with the fragrance of certain resorts, like the sage scent of the Grand Floridian, so take it in while you are there!
2. Get to Know Your Resort:
This is a great time to get to know your resort. Figure out where your hotel’s Disney transportation hub is – it’s better to do that now than wait until the next day when you’re scrambling to get to the parks in time for your first FastPass that you now wish you’d booked a little later. Figure out the hours of the restaurants and stores at your resort – inevitably someone will be starving or will realize that they forgot a must have item right around closing. You need to be prepared!
3. Check the Weather:
Check the weather! People often assume that Florida is always hot and sunny, but that is not necessarily the case. Part of your trip may be cool, or there may be thunderstorms on the horizon. You will want to make sure that you work in pool time on the hot days and have a plan for rainy days.
4. Re-examine Your Itinerary:
With that in mind, reexamine your itinerary and make sure that your plans still make sense now that you’re there. Were there any dining reservations that you were not able to get? Check and see if there have been any cancellations. People’s plans change and you can often get prime dining locations at the last minute.
NOW THAT THAT’S DONE:
Now you’re ready to go and have some fun! You want to start experiencing Disney right away, but you probably don’t have park tickets. Here are some things that you can do that will help you feel like you’re right in the magic, even if you can’t get into the parks yet.
5. Ride the Resort Monorail:
The resort monorail is a quintessential part of any Disney vacation and it’s not something that you can do elsewhere. It’s very easy and relaxing to hop aboard and ride around the Magic Kingdom resort area. This is the Disney World that you see in the advertising – you get a view of Magic Kingdom and the original Disney resorts: the Grand Floridian, the Contemporary and the Polynesian, so you’re immersed in what you’ve been imagining right away. It’s easy to get to from any resort; you simply take Disney transportation to Magic Kingdom and get on there. Note that there is also an express monorail between Magic Kingdom and Epcot. You don’t want this one because it has less of a view and you won’t be able to enter either park anyway. Look for signs that say “resort monorail.”
6. Shop and Dine Around the Monorail:
Each of the monorail hotels is distinct and so are the restaurants and shops. You may find unique merchandise that you will not see elsewhere. Some of Disney’s best restaurants are located at the 3 monorail hotels. If you time it right, you can get a fabulous view of the fireworks at Cinderella’s Castle while you dine Hawaiian-style at O’Hana’s at the Polynesian, or the newly renovated California Grill atop the Contemporary. If you dine earlier at the California Grill, you can return later with your receipt and see the fireworks from the lounge or the outdoor viewing platform that is only accessible to restaurant patrons. Another option is Narcoose’s at the end of the boat dock at the Grand Floridian. Fine dining and fireworks on the first day and you haven’t even hit the parks! That’s a great way to kick off a trip! All of these restaurants are very much in demand, so you will likely need a reservation.
7. Explore the Boardwalk:
The Boardwalk is another wonderful area that many people do not think of as a destination on its own, but it is most certainly worth a visit. Like the monorail area, there are 3 resorts here as well, each with unique shops, plus a number of excellent restaurants of varying price ranges. There is always activity, with afternoon midway games and nightly entertainment including musicians and street performers. You may also catch a view of the fireworks at Epcot. It is large enough to spend an afternoon and evening and is easily accessible by Disney transportation.
8. Character Dining:
There are a few character dining experiences located outside the parks that will allow you to jump right into your Disney experience by meeting the characters on your very first day! Chef Mickey’s is located at the Contemporary Resort and you’ll have the chance to meet Mickey and friends while you eat. This is a fabulous way to start your trip, especially with little ones, who are likely asking when they will meet Mickey every 5 minutes. You will need a reservation though! You can also meet Cinderella and Prince Charming at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian, as well as other characters at the Garden Grove at the Swan Hotel just off the Boardwalk. Traditionally, this has been Chip and Dale, but characters are subject to change.
9. Take a Trip to Animal Kingdom Lodge:
All of the hotels are wonderful and uniquely themed, but Animal Kingdom Lodge is unlike anything you will find anywhere else in North America. The 4 savannas feature over 200 African animals and are visible from public areas of the hotel – you do not have to stay there to enjoy all of its unique features. The guides can educate you about the animals and you can enjoy a nighttime viewing experience with night vision goggles. All of the restaurants are spectacular, but Sanaa has a direct view of the savannas through floor to ceiling windows that you will remember for a lifetime! It is only accessible via Disney transportation from one of the parks though, so you will need to allow significant travel time.
Of course, there is also Downtown Disney, which is accessible by Disney transportation from any of the resorts. There are endless things to do here, including fabulous restaurants, the world’s largest Disney store, a bowling alley and movie theater. This is a must-do sometime during your trip, so the first day is just as good as any other!
THINGS TO AVOID:
Travel is tiring and often unpredictable. Be careful of booking anything on your first night that requires a prepaid fee, as you may not be able to get that back if you are unable to make it due to flight delay or small child with ear problems from flying, etc. These can all be done another day. As well, take note that Disney World is a huge place and although the Disney transportation can be a blessing, it can be unpredictable and painfully slow at times. Heading to an out-of-the-way hotel for dinner may leave you spending more time traveling than you do dining. Having just recommended Animal Kingdom Lodge, I will qualify that by saying that you should only go there if you are going to be able to spend a few hours. Otherwise, save it for a future trip. It’s far better to head to an area like the Boardwalk, the monorail, or Downtown Disney, where you can explore the area, shop and eat, and get direct transportation back to your resort. Whatever you do, you’re there now, so enjoy!
BONUS TIP: Consider planning and booking your next Disney trip with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner you can trust like Mickey Travels. They’ll help you get the best price for your vacation, share expert advice and their services are totally FREE! It’s genius!
Sandra Chu lives in the Midwest with her husband and two daughters. She is a Canadian lawyer, but became a stay-at-home Mom when she moved to the US in 2007. She fell in love with Disney World on her first trip in her late 20's and has since been back over 30 times. She loves helping people plan their Disney vacations and has been lucky enough to turn this into a career! She works as an independent agent with The Enchanted Traveler, helping people plan all types of magical dream vacations with Disney, including Disney cruises and Adventures By Disney vacations. She has been to Disney at all times of year, with kids of all ages, and has mastered the art of doing Disney with princesses! She is now exploring Disney with a tween. Every trip is a bit different, but always magical! You can find her on Facebook under The Enchanted Traveler.