Home » 19 Essential Tips for Your First Disney Trip: Everything You Need To Know As A Beginner!

19 Essential Tips for Your First Disney Trip: Everything You Need To Know As A Beginner!

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Last Updated on June 5, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

Maybe you’ve noticed we are huge Disney fans… maybe not.  Either way, you’re here!

We’ve visited every Disney park around the globe with kids (many multiple times) and think of it as one of our favorite places. It’s not always the happiest place on earth, though.

Let me share our tips and tricks for a successful Disney family vacation if you are considering your first Disney trip.

Shanghai Disneyland with kids

*Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Opinions shared are my own, and I only endorse products I support. By clicking on any of the links below, I may get a small commission if you purchase at absolutely no additional charge to you. I appreciate your support.*

Tips For Your First Disney Visit

No matter which park you visit worldwide, there are some good things to know. You can find loads of articles specific to the park you want to visit, like this one which I did on Disneyland Paris.

1. Consider What Time of Year To Visit

This applies to both weather and crowds. Knowing the best time to visit will make a big difference in your (first-time) experience!

Did you know there are crowd calendars for many Disney parks worldwide? Here’s one for Disneyland Paris and one for Disney World. (You can also check on Google and type in “crowd calendar Disneyland ____.”)

Typically the best times for low crowds are January, May, and late August to September.

The weather should also be checked for the time you want to visit. We went to Orlando in October and sweated through all our clothes. It was different when we went to Paris in November and had to wear several layers of clothes to even last through an afternoon of freezing temps.

We loved the weather when we visited Shanghai Disneyland

2. Consider Staying On Property For Your First Disney Visit

I think booking a package with Disney brings extra magic.  It also brings a lot more cost!  However, having done the budget and the expensive route, I would rather go less on Disney visits and make them more magical by staying on the property.

What benefits do you get from staying in a Disney property, especially with kids?

  1. Faster access to the park.  Some Disney hotels are INSIDE the park, like the Disneyland Hotel in Paris or the Tokyo DisneySea Hotel MiraCosta in DisneySea in Tokyo.  This means you walk out and get into the park in minutes.  No security lines!
  2. Extra hours.  Often, if you stay in the park, you get extra “magic hours.”  You can get into the parks 1-2 hours before anyone else. Welcome, early birds!
  3. Disney Quality.  Disney has great attention to detail.  Their properties are clean, welcoming, and built for families. Disney Hotels also offer fairytale-themed beds, which are very exciting for little girls!
  4. Magic Bands at Disney World.  Disney World is the only resort that does magic bands, but they are pretty magical!  They can be used to get into your room, buy things at stores, check in at customer service, check into rides, etc.  
  5. Discounts.  Typically, you get a discount if you book your stay with Disney with your tickets. You can watch Disney websites for seasonal deals, package discounts, etc.
Frozen Mural

I’m the first to acknowledge that this may not be in your budget. And that’s OK!  We’ve done plenty of Disney visits while staying in a more affordable hotel.  After all, if you just are going to sleep there, it doesn’t matter that much.

It comes down to the number of days and what else you want from your vacation.  If you are going for two days and will hit the parks all open hours, your hotel matters less.  A nice hotel would be good if you return for an afternoon nap/break time/pool time. If you are staying 5-6 days and want to get a vacation on your Disney vacation, a nicer hotel can go a long way!

3. Save Money And Stay Off-Property

If you are choosing to stay somewhere else, here are my tips:

  • Often, Disney will be in the property’s name, and they will put in the description of their proximity to the Disney park, so search Disneyland (where you are) in Expedia’s search bar.
  • Here’s an example of a nice hotel near Disneyland, California.
  • Hotels off-property will often offer their shuttle to Disney.  Be sure to find out how often it runs, its hours, if you have to reserve a time, etc.
  • Can you walk?  We were able to get a darling house in California within walking distance.  It did add more steps to our day, but it was so nice not to have to park and take a bus into the park.
  • Do some research on Uber or similar ride-share services in the area.  Can you Uber to the park instead of a hotel shuttle or walk? The cost savings difference in hotels should more than cover your Uber rides.

You might also want to consider Airbnb. Check out our article on the differences between Airbnb and Hotels.

Airbnb in Italy with kids

Check out these amazing off-property options!

Here are some of the great deals for hotels near Disneyland, California:

If you’re going to Disney Florida with kids, I check these hotels:

Staying off-property is way cheaper than booking accommodation at Disney property. An overnight stay in a very good hotel nearby (for 2 adults & 2 kids) will cost you around $120-$230, while Disney hotel will charge you around $600-$700 per night.

4. Build Excitement Before Your First Disney Trip

One of your main goals before your vacation: build excitement! 

A lot of the Disney magic comes in anticipation of going. Make a paper chain and tear off a ring each day.  Buy some t-shirts on Etsy or your t-shirts!  Whatever sounds fun, start the magic at home.

We built our excitement as a family by listening to Disney songs on Spotify while driving and watching Disney movies before we went.

Disneyland with Grandpa

5. Pack The Right Things for Your First Disney Trip

A Disney visit will tax your body more than you probably expect. Note that you’ll likely walk somewhere between 10,000-20,000 steps per day in Disney Parks!

As most Disney parks experience warm weather year-round, here is a general list of the things you should bring for your first trip:

  • Really good walking shoes and multiple pairs of walking shoes. No new sneakers that will give you blisters.  No flip-flops.  Everyone needs serious walking shoes, ideally at least two pairs, for Disney, or they need to be in a stroller.
  • Insulated water bottle full of ice. You can refill at water stations around the park.
  • An outfit for each day.  Disney treats will be enjoyed on shirts (and probably on shorts too).
  • Swimsuit – Disney properties have great pools!  Some Disney parks also have a water park.
  • Don’t forget your Sunscreen! It is essential.
  • Bug spray was important in Tokyo in the summer.  Otherwise, I haven’t had any bug bites at a Disney park.
  • Tylenol for sore muscles.
  • Any character clothing or Disney items.
  • Stroller, if needed.  Anyone under nine years old will likely need a stroller for Disney. They are available for rent and typically around $25.
  • Baby/toddler carrier.  While Disney is stroller friendly, it’s still easier not to have one. If your kiddo wants to nap in the carrier, do it!

Note that in the USA, you can purchase on Amazon and deliver it to your Disney hotel, typically on the same day! This can include Disney knock-off souvenirs like hats, mouse ears, shirts, etc.

Babywearing a toddler

6. Leave Certain Things At Home For Your First Disney Visit

You’ll want room in your suitcase to bring souvenirs home, so don’t overpack!

You can leave certain prohibited items at home:

  • Tripods 
  • Selfie-sticks
  • Wagons. We loved our @wagonwayfinder, but it was not allowed into several Disney Parks
  • Weapons
  • Self-defense devices (like pepper spray)
  • Marijuana, including marijuana enriched items) or any illegal substance
  • Any toys that resemble weapons
  • Fireworks or fog machines
  • Glass containers (except baby food jars)
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Horns, whistles, megaphones
  • Drones
  • Scooters and skates
  • Suitcases
  • Folding chairs
  • Balloons
Every Disneyland has its own theme and story

7. Plan Your Food For Your Day At Disney In Advance

Bringing your snacks and water bottles to Disney parks is not only allowed but a good idea. All the walking makes everyone hungry, and snacks and drinks for a family of four can run you $50!

Making your dining reservations well before your visit needs to be high on your planning list. Many popular Disney restaurants, like Beauty and the Beast, book out the day they open. Typically 60 days before your visit, you need to hop on and get some reservations for your dining.

You will have to pick times, which can be hard to pick when you haven’t been before. You’ll be tired, so a late afternoon meal with the kids might be better than a later time so you can rest earlier.

8. Getting Onto The Disney Rides with Kids

Learning how to even ride a Disney park ride can intimidate the best of us. Factor in the many “gamification” items Disney does with their rides, and it’s a learning curve!

In the USA, Lightning Lane and Genie+ are programs you can pay extra for shorter ride wait times. Other Disney Parks may have FastPass, a free version of this.

Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Go experience the park first. Your first visit can be equal parts overwhelming and amazing!

9. Either Go to The Disney Park Early or Sleep In

If you are an early riser, get to the park about an hour before it opens. Lines start to form even before this. Get in with the first crowd and get to the most popular ride.

If that’s not appealing, wait it out a bit. Enjoy other parts of the park or your hotel and go in the afternoon and evening. Lines are typically the longest in the morning and die as the day wears on, and people tire out or go to dinner.

10. Prepare For Security To Get Into Disney

Know that you will go through a security check to get onto Disney properties. This includes a bag check.

11. Be Prepared To Lighten Your Wallet

While Disney is magical for families, it is, first and foremost, a for-profit business. Never forget this! You will shell out serious cash in the park AFTER you practically took out a loan to get there.

With kids, I recommend giving them their cash (maybe the money they earned in advance for the trip) or a strict budget to spend (one item less than $30, for example). Put the pressure on them to manage their budget and stick to your guns. They may buy in the first gift shop and whine for the next 15 you have to pass through. It’s a good life lesson… don’t buy anymore!!

Disney Characters parade

12. Know That You Can Not Do It All

Disney parks do give you bang for your buck… You cannot do everything without multiple days in each resort park. You will leave many things untouched between rides, parades, character greetings, random entertainment options, and eating.

That’s OK! You’ll likely go back.

Just set a goal of maybe one “must-have” for each family member, and you’ll leave satisfied.

13. You Might Hurt Physically After Your Disney Day

As I mentioned above, you are walking A LOT at Disney. While this helps combat the delicious Disney snacks you’ll want to try, your body might not be too happy after the first day. You might have blisters, sore muscles, or chafing (hello, inner things- ouch!). A product like this can help!

14. Download the Disney App For The Park

Disney park mobile app
Source: Disneyland Paris

No matter which park you are visiting, the app can be very useful. You can watch wait times in the park, book dining, and more.

Download this to your phone before you get to the park and connect to the park Wifi.

15. Get Your Disney Pin!

In the US, at least, your first visit warrants a special pin! You can also get pins for birthdays, anniversaries, and more.

When you check the hotel you are staying in, mention it at the desk. Or you can go to customer service in the park and ask there.

Collect your Disney pins! Pin trading is a popular hobby for Disney lovers!

16. Prepare For A Different Language Outside Of The USA

You will be OK visiting all the Disney Parks as an English speaker, but you will also hear other languages outside the US. For example, the ride instructions or audio in the ride will be in a different language.

17. Utilize Rider Switch With Young Children

If you have littles that can’t ride a certain ride, don’t despair! Disney honors the Parent Rider Switch. Like everyone else, you must wait in line and tell the attendant you’ll be doing the rider switch.

Essentially, one parent will ride with the older kids, and then you switch with the other parents. Sometimes the older kids can go twice, which is fun for them!

Disneyland Paris with family and friends

18. Don’t Expect To Ride Many Rides

One shocking part of Disney is how long it can take for one ride. It’s a 1-2 hour experience for five minutes of an actual ride. This might seem a little nuts.. and it kind of is!

I remember on our first trip to Disney, realizing that we were only doing around two rides a day with our very young children. Two rides!

Why do we spend so much time waiting in line and paying for expensive food? It’s hard to put into words, honestly! It’s similar to how we sometimes kill ourselves getting ready for Christmas, wrapping gifts, prepping, and losing sleep for the 1 hour of opening gifts.

Or think about Thanksgiving… we slave away hours and hours for a meal that is done in an hour or less. Why? Because the memories of that day, the gathering of the people you love, are magical.

Disney just makes magical memories with your family. Those five minutes of the ride are really, really good. Disney does an amazing job on its attractions. Also, the waiting in line part can be great too! There are things to see as you wind around in line.

Lucy at Hong Kong Disneyland

19. Consider Hiring A Babysitter At Disney

I know, I know… a Disney vacation might be about the time with the kids.

We have FIVE KIDS, which means a lot of different height restrictions, ages, etc. It feels unfair, at times, to make everyone skip a ride because the “little kids” can’t do it. Rideshare is possible but limits your time overall.

We hired a babysitter in Anaheim just for our Disney vacation from Care.com. I have shared before about hiring a babysitter on vacation and how to do it. It was amazing!

We could take only the older kids out for afternoons, give the little kids a day of rest, and even go on dates at Disney without the kids for the evening! It was like three vacations in one. This is more common than you might think in California and Florida. Especially in California, which tends to stay open later, you can extend your fun with a babysitter helping.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of our tips for your first Disney trip? If you are a Disney veteran, what did we miss? Leave in the comments below and have a fabulous trip to Disney!!



✈️ Book a budget-friendly flight to Disneyland on Booking.com, Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, or Expedia

Find a nice hotel for your Disney vacation from Booking.com, Expedia, or Vrbo, (we also love Tripadvisor and Hotels.com)

Discover other exciting activities nearby from GetYourGuide, Airbnb Experiences, or Viator

Rent a Car on Expedia Rental Cars

✅ Get insured while traveling with World Nomads

Capture your best Disneyland memories as we do with a GroPro, Sony camera, or our favorite drones: DJI FPV, Air, and Mini

Check out your travel necessities from a comprehensive list of all the 7Wayfinders Travel Must-Haves. Click Here!

Additional Reading

Our Review Of All Disney Parks Around the World

Weekend Trip To Disneyland Paris With Kids

Visiting Disney World During COVID: Finding Your Magic in a Pandemic


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