If you’ve never been to Disney World before and don’t really even know how to wrap your head around the massive place that it is, then this is the post for you! Consider this your intro to Disney World, covering everything from location to resorts to the parks themselves — everything Disney World beginners need to know!
Disney World is a big place, but don’t worry. We’re going to hold your hand with the most basic questions here.
Where is Disney World?
The Walt Disney World Resort is located in Orlando, Florida (although, more specifically it is in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista Florida). And really, it’s actually its own city — they have their own utilities, fire department, etc. If you hear someone talking about Reedy Creek, this is what they’re referring to.
Disney World covers about 25,000 acres in central Florida, but not all of it has been developed. Disney World is an EXTREMELY spread out resort. There are 4 main theme parks, dozens of hotels, two waterparks, and more. Luckily, in-park transportation will help you get around easily (more on that in a minute).
What Parks Are in Disney World?
The main attraction of Disney World is its four major theme parks:
- Magic Kingdom — This is the original Disney World park, Magic Kingdom opened in 1971 and was modeled largely after Disneyland in California. Here is where you’ll find Cinderella Castle (note that it is Cinderella without the possessive!) and some of the most classic rides. This is usually the main park everyone thinks of when they think of Disney World.
- EPCOT — Epcot was opened in 1982, and its inspiration was Walt Disney’s dream of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). Here you’ll find attractions to inspire you to dream and discover the world around you. There are two major parts: Future World and the World Showcase, which contains pavilions representing different countries.
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios — Originally opened as Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, Hollywood Studios is a tribute to movie making. Here is where you’ll find the newest popular “lands” or park areas: Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom — This is the most recently opened theme park in Disney World, opening in 1998. Half theme park and half zoo, Animal Kingdom is a tribute to wildlife and conservation, both real and imagined.
What Else is There to do in Disney World Besides the Theme Parks?
Disney World isn’t just about the theme parks! Although this is the major thing that draws people to vacation in Disney World, there are actually so many other things you can do at Disney World. Below are some of the most popular options, but know that Disney World has so much more to offer even than this.
- Disney Springs — A major shopping and restaurant area with everything from celebrity restaurants to luxury shopping to The World of Disney (a huge Disney themed souvenir shop). This is where you’ll also find the NBA Experience, which basketball fans may be interested in.
- Disney’s Boardwalk — Another dining and entertainment area. This is smaller than Disney Springs and surrounded by several of Disney World’s Deluxe resorts.
- Disney Water Parks — Disney World has two water parks you can easily spend an entire day at: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. You will need a separate ticket from your park ticket to access these.
- Disney Mini Golf — Disney World has two mini golf courses — Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland. The cost to play is $14 for adults and $12 for kids.
- Resort Hopping — For some free fun outside of the parks you can visit different resorts on Disney World property. Most of them can be attractions in and of themselves due to the careful theming and high quality restaurants. Be aware that pools are reserved only for resort guests, but anyone can visit the resort lobbies and dine in resort restaurants.
How Long Should I Stay at Disney World?
How long you stay at Disney World totally depends on both your budget and your priorities. Week-long visits are popular, giving you a day at each park plus a day to explore some of the other on-property activities (or get some much needed rest).
If you have a tight budget or not a lot of time though, you can totally visit Disney World for just a few days and have a blast. Just keep in mind that you may not get to do everything you want to. Make a list before you go, so you can prioritize the things that are most important to you!
Where Should I Stay at Disney World?
When you travel to Disney World you have three main options for where to stay:
- An on-property Disney World resort hotel
- An nearby Good Neighbor hotel (not Disney-owned, but with some of the perks)
- Off-property accomodations
If you’re a Disney World beginner, this might feel like a lot of options…and I won’t lie — it is! But let’s break these options down a little more.
On-Property Disney World Resort Hotels
Walt Disney World has their own extensive hotel operations and staying on-property has added benefits. You can access free Disney transportation, get into parks early sometimes, get earlier access to advanced reservations, and just overall immerse yourself in constant Disney Magic.
This does come with a price tag though, and on-property resorts are known to be pricier than other options. You can still get good deals though.
There are three tiers of on-property Disney World resort hotels:
- Value resorts
- Moderate resorts
- Deluxe resorts
Value resorts come with more economical prices, while Deluxe resorts can come with extremely high prices.
If you are interested in staying on-property, we recommend booking with a Disney travel agent. Their services are free (they get paid by Disney), and they often have access to special room discounts.
Good Neighbor Hotels
Good Neighbor Hotels are hotels near Disney World that are not operated by Disney but often offer some of the same benefits such as early park entry and earlier access to advanced reservations like FastPass+. They are also located nearby and often have their own shuttles to take you to and from the parks.
You can find a list of Good Neighbor hotels here, and they include Hilton, Marriott, and other popular hotel brands. This also means that if you are part of a points rewards program, you can use your points at these hotels!
The third option for where to stay in Disney World is to stay completely off-property — in a hotel or rental that is not in any way associated with Disney World. This can often mean saving significant money on your hotel room (and opens up options for larger spaces if you are bringing a big group), but it doesn’t come with the Disney perks that the other two options provide (i.e. transportation to the parks, early access to Fastpass+ reservations, etc.).
How Much Does Disney World Cost?
The cost of a Disney World vacation varies VASTLY depending on how long you go for or what resort you are staying at (and also how many people you are bringing with you).
A one-day base level ticket (more on levels in a minute) can cost anywhere from $120 to $170 per day depending on the time of year (more crowded times are also pricier.) If you are going for more than one day, the daily price is discounted accordingly (i.e. a 5 day ticket is cheaper per day than a 3 day ticket, but of course more expensive overall).
You can find accommodations near Disney World for as little as $100 a night, or you could spend upwards or $700 a night for some of nicest resorts (or even more if you go for a villa or bungalow).
If you are interested in saving money on your trip to Disney World, we recommend booking with a travel agent (you might be surprised how much you can save even at Deluxe resorts). You can also buy discounted tickets on Undercover Tourist.
How Do I Get Around Disney World?
Disney World provides free transportation for its guests in many ways. If you are staying in a Disney World resort hotel, you will be able to use either buses, the monorail, boats, or the Skyliner to get to the Disney World parks. Access to each of these depends on the resort you are staying in, but each resort does have a way to get to each park. Some resorts also have walking paths to nearby parks (these are all Deluxe resorts).
If you would like to travel within the park to other resorts or parks, you can use the transportation whether you are staying in a Disney resort or not. Transportation generally runs from parks to resorts, so if you want to go from park to park, hop on a bus (or the monorail or Skyliner) to get to another resort and then take their transportation to the park you want to visit.
When Should I Start Planning my Disney Trip?
Ideally, start planning as soon as possible. Hotels, Park Passes, and other reservations fill up fast. I like to start planning about a year ahead, but we definitely recommend planning at least 9 months ahead.
You definitely can take a last minute trip to Disney World, but just know that some things you want to do or places you want to stay may not be available.
How Do I Plan a Disney World Vacation?
Planning a vacation to Disney World can seem overwhelming. We’ve written a whole post about it, along with a free planning checklist.
The main things to remember are to set your budget, find your accommodations, buy your park tickets, and make your park pass reservations.
Once you have these major things in place, you can have fun planning your trip. Be as specific or general about your plan as you wish. You can either plan out your days step-by-step or be more vague about your plans and go with flow. We definitely recommend having at least a vague plan for hitting the most popular rides first thing in the morning when crowds are lower so you can minimize your wait time.
For more planning help check out our step-by-step planning guide!
How Do Disney Tickets Work?
The first thing to know is that there are 3 different types of tickets:
- Base Level Ticket — allows you to visit one theme park per day.
- Park Hopper Ticket — allows you to visit more than one theme park per day.
- Park Hopper Plus Ticket — allows you to visit more than one them park per day and has extra days for water parks or other on-property attractions.
Once you purchase your Disney Tickets you will want to link them to the My Disney Experience app on your phone. You can also do this through My Disney Experience on your computer. You’ll create an account and then follow the directions to link your tickets.
This will then sync with either your Magic Band (a RFID enabled band you can wear on your wrist — this is an extra you now have to pay for) or your card (offered free to guests, but I’m not sure why they don’t have a better name right now). By linking your tickets to the app, you’ll be able to access tickets, payment options, mobile order for quick service restaurants, in-park photos and more on your Magic Band or card.
To get a Magic Band or card, there will be an option in My Disney Experience to order before your trip.
In 2021, Disney is also releasing the MagicMobile service, which will enable your phone to act as your ticket and do all the things your Magic Band can usually do.
Another important thing to note about Disney World tickets is the importance of a Park Pass. You can no longer just buy a ticket to get into Disney World; you also have to make a Park Pass reservation for the park you wish to visit on a specific day. Make these Park Passes in My Disney Experience as far in advance as you can.
What are Fastpasses?
Fastpasses essentially let you wait in a shorter line for popular attractions. You can book 3 per day at one park ahead of time. After you use those three, you can book more on the same day.
If you are staying on-property, you can book your Fastpasses 60 days in advance. If you are staying off-property, you can book 30 days in advance.
COVID-19 Note: Currently Fastpasses are not available.
What Is the Food Like at Disney World?
The food at Disney World can be either great or not-so-great — it totally depends on the restaurant you choose! But dining in Disney has definitely improved in the last handful of years. In fact, eating at some of the best Disney restaurants can be a whole focus of your vacation if you wanted it to be!
There are two important dining terms to know when it comes to Disney restaurants:
- Table Service meals — These are sit-down, order at the table restaurants.
- Quick Service meals — These are more like counter service/fast food service, but some of them have really outstanding food!
If you’re trying to figure out where to do eat in Disney World, there are tons of restaurant reviews on the internet. A good rule of thumb is to look at the menu offerings before you go — restaurants with a larger variety and more creative dishes will likely be better than restaurants with the more narrow options of pizza and burgers.
How Do I Meet Disney Characters?
In 2021, while we are still dealing with COVID-19, the main way to see Disney World characters is in cavalcades. These are small, unscheduled parades where characters travel through the park. Slowly, some character dining is also coming back to the parks and some places in Magic Kingdom and Epcot have characters waving to guests from a distance.
In normal times there are two main ways to meet characters:
- Character Meet & Greets — These are where you will wait in line to chat with, get an autograph from, and a photo with a character. Some of these are major park attractions (like Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom), while others are smaller lines in little corners of the park (like seeing Alice in the United Kingdom pavilion in Epcot). The My Disney Experience app will show you where and when you can see characters.
- Character Dining — Several Disney World restaurants (both in the parks and in the resorts) offer character dining. Here, you’ll eat your meal while characters come to visit your table.
Always be on the lookout for characters in the parks. You never know when you might stumble across someone special!
How Do I Visit Disney With My Baby or Toddler?
Disney World is a magical place for families, and that includes the youngest members of your bunch. Yes, there are thrill rides and late nights and busy days, so here are a couple of tips to make travelling to Disney with your babies and toddlers easier.
- Be prepared with a stroller. Whether you are bringing your own, renting one at the park, or renting one from an outside company (this is our favorite method, especially if you are flying to Disney), be prepared with the right stroller. If you are bringing your own, know that Disney World has specific guidelines about stroller size.
- Know what rides are right for your young kids. While Disney World does have a lot of rides for older kids and adults, there are still plenty of rides for younger kids and even babies to enjoy!
- Use Rider Swap. If you have adults traveling who want to ride the thrill rides, but also need someone to stay behind with the kids, you can use rider swap. Essentially you both check into the line, one person goes on the ride, and then the second person essentially gets a FastPass+ and waits behind with the kids. When the first person gets off the ride, the second person can go on through the FastPass+ line.
- Know where the Baby Care Centers are. Each Disney World theme park has a Baby Care Center, which is located next to First Aid. These centers provide a private place to nurse, changing stations, a small shop for baby essentials, and more.
More Disney World 101 Tips for Beginners
Here are a few more things Disney World beginners should be aware of:
My Disney Experience App
We’ve mentioned it a few times, but knowing how to use the My Disney Experience app on your phone while you are in the park is SO important. You can look at ride wait times, mobile order food, access photos, get Fastpasses, and so much more. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the app and make sure your tickets are all linked up before you go. And bring a portable charger to the parks!
Transportation and Ticket Center
This is a Disney World location you might hear people referring to. It is basically the central monorail hub that is located near Magic Kingdom. This is also where you would park your car when travelling to Magic Kingdom; to get to Magic Kingdom from here you will take either a boat or the monorail. Monorails also travel from here to Epcot, making it easy for you to Park Hop from Magic Kingdom to Epcot.
PhotoPass and Memory Maker
All around Disney World you will find PhotoPass photographers ready to take pictures of your family. These will show up in PhotoPass on your My Disney Experience app. You can purchase these photos individually, or you can by Memory Maker, which will give you access to all photos. Note that with COVID-19 modifications, PhotoPass photographers are no longer allowed to take your picture with your own phone or camera.
You’ll often hear people refer to “rope dropping” a park. This essentially means lining up to get in as soon as the park opens and heading to a popular ride. It’s called this because historically a rope was used to block off entrances when parks were closed, so when the rope was “dropped” it meant the park was open.
We know this is a lot of information! But we hope these Disney World 101 tips for beginners have maybe made you feel a bit more comfortable with the world of Disney World trips! Definitely check out our more detailed step-by-step guide for planning a Disney World vacation too!