Let me be honest: I’ve been visiting Disney World my entire life, and I still make a lot of mistakes. I’ve paid too much at sub-par restaurants, I’ve gotten caught in the rain without an umbrella or poncho, and I’ve gotten cranky in the Florida heat. Lucky for you, I’m here to share the top 20 Disney World travel mistakes made by first timers so you don’t have to find yourself in these situations.
No matter how much planning you do, you’re going to make some mistakes. That’s just a major part of traveling. I consider myself a pretty experienced traveler (30 countries and counting), but I still make a lot of mistakes.
With all of that in mind, let’s jump into these 20 Disney World travel mistakes commonly made by first-time visitors. Even if you’re not a first timer, I bet there are a few things you could learn from this list! Let’s dive in.
1. Trying to See Everything
Walt Disney World is huge. Like, so huge it has it’s own zip code. Literally, it is its own self-sufficient city. I think this is the biggest challenge for people who have been to the other Disney parks to get over. Unlike Disneyland or the other parks, Disney World is massive.
There are 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 1 downtown area, and 24 hotels. You could visit for a month straight and still have things left over to do. Stop worrying about doing “it all” and prioritize. A lot of your time will be spent commuting from place to place, and that’s just part of being in Disney World. Accept that you can’t do it all. What you will have time for will be well worth it. You can always come back, right?
2. Not Making Advanced Dining Reservations
Don’t be that person trying to walk up to Be Our Guest without a dining reservation. I was that person once, and I stupidly tried to look inside for a photo before a cast member stopped me. No matter the time of year, assume you’ll need a reservation.
This is especially true for popular restaurants like Cinderella’s Royal Table, Le Cellier, or California Grill. We’re talking months in advance reservations for these places. Luckily, you can snag last-minute ADRs at some great restaurants, just do a little bit of planning ahead.
3. Not Planning Breaks
No matter how in shape you are, the parks will take a lot out of you physically. I’m in pretty good shape. I did varsity running in high school. I still can’t cut it a full day at the parks without complaining about my feet or getting tired.
The parks are exhausting. You’ll be surpassing that 10k walking recommendation. By a lot. Wear good shoes and take frequent breaks. If possible, head back to your resort for a few hours in the afternoon. If that’s not possible, stop inside for a fit and rest your feet.
4. You Wait in Lines
This is almost laughable to me. I hate standing in lines. It’s probably the worst thing I can think of. I won’t wait in a line that’s more than five minutes long no matter what I’m doing. This was all sparked by a horrible customs experience in Thailand almost 10 years ago, but I digress.
Don’t confuse wait times with quality. Take the Frozen ride at Epcot, for example. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like the Frozen ride. It’s cute and worth a visit if you have a FastPass. Is it worth a 30+ minute wait? Absolutely not. At least, not unless you’re a die-hard Frozen fan.
On the other hand, some rides with shorter wait times are excellent. For me, this is the Living with the Land boat ride in the Living with the Land pavilion. That ride has it all: prolonged seating, fun facts, and A/C.
5. Not Getting FastPass+
I’m an old-timer, so I remember the days of paper FastPasses. Though it took me a while to get on board, I love FastPass+. It means I can plan out my day, and that’s something I can get behind.
You can get FastPass+ through the My Disney Experience app or through kiosks in the park. You only get 3 a day, and only 1 “premium” experience, so use them wisely.
6. Thinking Disney World is Expensive
Yes, Disney World is a pricey vacation. However, it’s totally possible to do Disney on a budget. I have a post on budgeting for first-time visitors to help you do just that. If you want a really inexpensive trip, look into ticket discounts and off-property resorts. Otherwise, opt for packing your own meals and choose off-season travel times.
7. Spending All Your Time at the Parks
Don’t get me wrong, the parks are great. But there’s so much more to see at Disney World! I’m a huge advocate for “resort days.” That means taking a day off from your park schedule and just enjoying the resorts. Maybe you check out the pool and amenities at your own resort or you resort hop and see the sights.
You can also see a lot around Orlando. There are so many day trips from Disney World that are worth a trip if you have a car. Some are even within Uber-distance! Central Florida is a spectacular place to get out and explore.
8. Making Too Many Dining Reservations
I love a good dining experience. I’d even say it’s one of my favorite things. But it’s not my only favorite thing, and the reality is these are big time commitments. A sit-down meal in the parks will take you a minimum of an hour, and that’s rushing. It’ll more likely run you 1-2 hours, maybe even more if you account wait times, commutes, and getting to the restaurant within the park.
This is a lot of time to give up when you’re on a tight schedule. You really don’t need a full dining experience with every meal. There are actually so many great quick service options around the parks that it’s worth mixing it up.
9. Wearing the Wrong Clothes
The number of times I’ve seen women wearing heels and thought “HOW???” is too high. I get that you want to look cute in the parks. Your favorite clothes will look fab in your photos, and that’s definitely something to think about. If you’re going to the park for a special occasion or just an afternoon, sure do what you want.
But if you’re spending the full day in the parks, you need to dress the park. You need fitting shoes that you can comfortably wear all day. You need park attire that won’t get in the way or cause you to sweat even more in the Florida heat. You’ll regret those flip-flops after walking for 10+ hours, trust me.
10. Not Taking Breaks
Breaks are a must. It’s crazy hot in Florida. Like, hotter than opening the oven hot. Even on cooler days, you’re going to be tired and cranky. Don’t let yourself (and your kids!) get to that point of burnout. Take regular breaks. Whether you need to stop into an air-conditioned corner for some sitting or you head back to the resort after lunch, make time for breaks.
11. Lugging Around Souvenirs
Making purchases at the parks is half the fun. However, don’t try to lug your finds around the park. Even better, wait until the end of the day to buy what it is you’re looking for. As a former Merchandise cast member, I can tell you that you can get any of your purchases sent to the front of the park or your resort. The days of juggling bags are over!
12. Oversleeping in the Morning
I love a good 11 am wake-up time as much as the next person. But Disney World isn’t really that kind of vacation. The mornings at Disney parks are truly something special. The crowds are low, you can walk onto most any ride (yes EVERY ride), and the weather isn’t unbelievably hot yet. You also miss out on some special experiences like the Citizens of Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.
13. Leaving When It Rains
Rain is a reality in Florida. In the summer, you can count on it storming literally every afternoon. As a Floridian, I’ve learned to adapt. It’s just water. Think about it: you paid so much to be here, are you really going to let some rain stop you from enjoying your day?
An added perk of the rain is that it clears out much of the crowd in the parks. Florida rain doesn’t last long. Find a place to seek shelter (or just get a poncho). In a few minutes, you’ll be clear to keep exploring.
14. Going Too Fast
There’s so much to see and do that there’s this urge to kick it into high gear and move as fast a possible. Disney is the best place to stop and smell the roses (or dole whip!) so to speak. There are so many little details worth seeing so don’t rush if you can help it.
15 Visiting on Holidays
You couldn’t pay me to shop up to Disney World on a major holiday. Nope, no way, thanks. I get that people have travel restrictions like work and school that make it a challenge to travel at off times of the year. That being said, major public holidays and summer holidays are a beast to be reckoned with.
If you must go on the holidays, prepare yourself for big crowds. Realize you won’t be able to do a lot of things, and just make peace with that reality.
16. Not Checking Where the Characters Are
I used to work at Hollywood Studios, and there are limited character interactions there. If you want to see Star Wars characters, you’re in luck. If you wanted to see a lot of the other big characters, however…well, you’re out of luck.
Before you head to the parks, check where your favorite characters are going to be if they’re a must-do. Not all characters are at all parks, so don’t get upset when you can’t find Moana in Star Wars Launch Bay.
17. Bringing Too Much
I’m a perpetual under packer. I’m a firm believer in the less-is-more mentality, and sometimes this comes back to haunt me. What we can all agree on, however, is that you don’t need to overpack in the park.
Lugging around a heavy backpack (or two) is miserable, especially when the heat kicks in. You’ll need to carry everything you bring with you. The only other alternative is to get a locker, which I actually recommend if you’ve packed a big lunch.
18. Not Being Flexible
Things happen in Disney World that you can’t anticipate. It rains. There’s a bus delay. You catch an unexpected show. A part of traveling is learning to roll with the punches. The more flexible you are, the better.
19. Not Planning
There’s a definite strategy to navigating the Disney Parks. Even if this is your first time visiting, take some time before your trip to familiarize yourself with the general layout of the parks. Most are circles.
If you don’t plan, you’ll end up at the worst spots at the worst times. The best rule of thumb is to hit the most popular attractions first. This usually means making your way to the back of the park as soon as rope drops.
Finally, the last of my Disney World travel mistakes is to overspend. Don’t fall into the myth that spending more means having a better vacation. Yes, Disney is expensive, but many of the best attractions and things to do are free or built into the price.
You don’t need a million souvenirs or the most expensive meals to have a great time. In fact, some of the cheap or free things are well worth your time. Don’t ruin your trip by blowing your budget.
Don’t Make These Disney World Travel Mistakes
As you can see, there are a lot of small things you can do wrong when it comes to your Disney vacation. As always, don’t sweat the small stuff. Your trip will be great whether you overpack your bag in the parks or blow your budget a little bit. The more planning you can do before, the better prepared you’ll be to tackle everything that comes your way.
What are your biggest Disney tips for first-time travelers? Have you made any of these mistakes above? Let me know in the comments!