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Beginner’s Guide to Disney World


It is no secret that I am a Disney fanatic.

I have been going to Disney World since I was a kid, and the Disney vacations just continued to increase as I grew up.  Since I have lived in both Florida and California, I have had annual passes to both Disney World and Disneyland.  And even though I currently live in Virginia, I am still a Disney World Annual Passholder.

I have been so many events and celebrated numerous occasions at Disney: New Years Eve, New Years Day, Birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Half-Marathons, Food and Wine Festival, Flower and Garden Festival, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Thanksgiving, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Galactic Nights… and I am sure there are more that I am forgetting.  I plan to go into more details about some of these events, but first I wanted to do a Disney overview.

Beginner’s Guide to Disney… from an Annual Passholder.

Disney has become our favorite family vacation spot.  My husband’s first time going to Disney was when he was 20 years old.  We were dating at the time, and he was stationed at Camp Pendleton.  I flew from Florida to California to spend Thanksgiving with him and go to Disneyland for the first time.

After we got married, I moved to California and we became Annual Passholders to Disneyland.  Now we are back on the east coast so frequently visit Disney World.

My husband, Layla, and I went to Disney in April.  Layla went back to Disney in May with her grandparents while I was on the cruise with my sister.  Layla and I went back to Disney at the end of May during Memorial weekend.  I plan on going back in September for my mom’s birthday.

Which parks to visit?

All of them!  Okay, but what if you only have a day or two?  If you are in California, it is really easy to just walk between the two parks.  But, what about Disney World?  It really depends on how many days you plan on going and personal preferences.

Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are my two must go to parks.

My favorite park is Magic Kingdom.  My husband and I use to go to Disneyland several times a month, and sometimes we would just sit in front of the castle and eat ice cream.  I love doing the same at Magic Kingdom.

This is where I feel the Disney magic more than anywhere else.

After Magic Kingdom, I love going to Hollywood Studios.  This is where preference really comes into play.  Some people may argue that there isn’t as much to do in Hollywood Studios, especially with all the construction.  Toy Story Land is set to open on June 30th, and Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars Land) will open next year.  However, I could still spend a full day at the park.

As a Star Wars fan, I just love all the Star Wars characters and interactions.  Launch Bay is one of my favorite areas, and I could meet Kylo Ren every day.  Also, I love doing character dining and Hollywood & Vine is my favorite character buffet.

For kids (or adults like me), there are lots of characters to meet.  Besides the Star Wars characters, Layla loves meeting the Disney Junior characters.  We are so excited for the upcoming change to Disney Junior Live this Fall.  Then you also have Olaf, Mickey, and Minnie near the Frozen Sing-along.

Switching out between Epcot and Animal Kingdom for Disney vacations.


Last we have Epcot and Animal Kingdom.  I tend to switch out which of these parks that I go to.  It really depends on the time of year.  I love going to Epcot for Food and Wine Festival, and it was equally nice going for Flower and Garden Festival.

Layla loves the aquarium, and it is a great indoors attraction if you need a break from the heat or rain.

I usually love going around the World Showcase, but I didn’t get to do that last time.  I went to Epcot on my 3rd day at Disney, and I was too exhausted to walk around the world.  If you go early in the day though, you can usually see lots of characters.

In most cases though, I would probably choose Animal Kingdom over Epcot.

Expedition Everest is one of my favorite rides.  The new Pandora area is just beautiful.  And Layla is a huge fan of The Lion King.  I am also an animal lover so love seeing all the animals and going on the safari.  I actually worked around animals for a total of 9 years before making the switch to office life so this park definitely has a special place in my heart.

After you decide on the parks you want to visit, book your Fast Passes and Dining Reservations.

Buy your tickets early.  Book your Fast Passes early.  If you are staying at a resort, you can book Fast Passes 60 days in advance.  Otherwise, you can book them 30 days in advance.  I typically stay at my sister’s house in Orlando so can only do the 30 days in advance.  Either way, you have to have your park tickets purchased before you can book Fast Passes.  Since I have an annual pass, this is no problem for me.  You can book three passes per day, and I like to mix up doing Fast Passes for rides and characters.  Ideally, book your Fast Passes for early times and back to back.  This will allow you to book more Fast Passes (one at a time) after you use up your initial three.

Book dining reservations as soon as you plan your trip.  Most dining reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance.  If you are wanting to book at Cinderella’s Royal Table or Be Our Guest, you will need to do it the full 180 days in advance (and probably have some flexibility in your time).

I love character dining experiences and can usually book my favorites with no probably a month or so in advance.  My goal is to eventually do every character dining experience.  I will go into more details about character dining in a later post because there are so many options, but I have eaten at all of the following: Hollywood & Vine, Crystal Palace, Tusker House, Garden Grill, Akershus Royal Banquet, 1900 Park Fare, Ohana, Cape May Cafe, and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ.

What to bring to the park?

This really varies, depending on age.  Since I have a little girl, bringing my own stroller is a must for me.  I like that I can recline her stroller when she is sleeping, and my stroller as ample space underneath so I don’t have to carry around my purse or bag.  I put my personal items in a small purse for me, and then I put all of Layla’s items in a backpack.  For her, I bring: kid’s water canteen/bottle, sometimes extra water (or fill up at fountains), snacks, extra clothes (even when they are out of diapers, you never know when you will get caught in the rain), ponchos, baby wipes, and her autograph book.

This was her first year doing autographs, and it is so much fun.  I would recommend waiting until a child is about 2.5 – 3 before getting their first autograph book.  It definitely helps break the ice if you have a child nervous to meet the characters.  And she loves going through her book at home.

Are Special Events worth it?

YES… especially if you are all about meeting characters, like I am.  The down side of special events is that they cost extra money.  Annual Passholders do get a discount, but it is still an extra cost.

During special events, the majority of the rides are open and there are usually significantly less wait times.

And my favorite part – there are usually extra characters.  During Galactic Nights, I got photos with: Darth Vader, Rey, R2-D2, Chopper, K2SO, Jawas, Seventh Sister, and Captain Phasma. This was in additional to Kylo Ren and Chewie, who are always at Launch Bay.  Plus there were lots of backdrops for photo ops.  I will do an entire post on Galactic Nights so stay tuned!

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is my favorite event at Disney.  I love going Trick or Treating.  How often is it acceptable for adults to dress in costume and go trick or treating?  We have been several times, and I plan on going again this year!

I have only been to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party once but would love to go back.  My sister and I ate so many sugar cookies, and they even gave us some to take home.

Overall, if you are going to Disney when one of their special events are available, I would recommend going!

What other Disney tips and guides are you wanting to see?



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  1. Kristi

    June 7, 2018 at 6:40 pm

    Great tips for newbies! I’m a Disney fanatic also. I’m sad that my Disney World annual pass expired last month…but we won’t be going back for a while. Shooting for Aulani in the fall of 2019 though, so YAY! I’m with you, I LOVE LOVE LOVE Hollywood Studios and can spend multiple days in that park…though I’m thankful that I’m not going to be there for the opening of Toy Story Land…it’ll be CRAZY!!!

    1. Cara

      June 7, 2018 at 6:50 pm

      Aulani is so amazing! My husband and I have been, but I would love to take my little girl one day. I am going back to Disney again in September, and I hope that Toy Story Land will be do-able by then.

  2. Kristie

    June 7, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Wow, you are certainly a Disney expert! It can be such an overwhelming place, so this is really helpful. And I agree, Expedition Everest is an awesome ride!

  3. AlisonNetzer

    June 7, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    I love food and wine. We are actually going in September and plan to hit it up.

    1. Cara

      June 7, 2018 at 7:43 pm

      We are going in September too! It’s our favorite time of the year to go. Food and Wine PLUS Mickey’s Not So Scary. 🙂

  4. Arianny Rodriguez

    June 8, 2018 at 1:41 am

    So great. Glad I’m not the only one who went to the Disney for the first time later in life (at the age of 18). I’d love to go to the Epcot food and wine festival. Do you have any tips for that?

    1. Cara

      June 8, 2018 at 1:49 am

      I went as a child, but my husband didn’t go until an adult. Now he loves Disney.

      During Food & Wine, don’t eat a lot at one place. Take your time going around the World Showcase and trying a variety of foods and drinks.

      In 2016, my mom bought us little wrist band gift cards during Food & Wine fest. It was great because you could use it at all the kioks and re-load when needed. It was just a quick and easy way to pay for the food and drinks at all the different stations.

      I usually go in October, but we will be going in September this year. I am looking forward to see if it’s more or less crowded than October.

  5. Tonya Denmark

    June 8, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    I am also a Disney fan and have had passes for many years. Looking forward to getting them again soon and renewing our frequent trips!

  6. Katie

    June 11, 2018 at 12:37 am

    I haven’t been to the park in over 20 years and a lot has changed! Your tip about booking fast passes in advance is super helpful.

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