If this is your First Disney Vacation you can plan to be properly overwhelmed and slightly confused. No worries, we’ve got you covered. With fast passes, magic bands and transportation to worry about you’re going to need a quick list of experiences that will make your Disney Vacation more magical and less like a checklist. It won’t matter if you’re staying onsite or off-site, consider this your best chance for a memorable vacation.
This isn’t a list of rides or restaurants. If you’re hoping for those, check out the best stuff at each park post. You can also check out our 12 step plan for planning a Disney vacation and if you’re tackling this one on your own be sure to read about fast passes, the magical express and Disney dining options.
Our Top 10 things at Disney are more about experiences than the bucket list items you’ll be trying to fit into fewer days than possible. It doesn’t matter when you do them or in what order. Here are the things we think most make a Disney vacation.
A Disney Character Dining Experience
We’ve admitted many times that we have a love/hate relationship with character dining. But if this is your first visit to Walt Disney World the experience is an absolute must-do! Character Dining is Disney in all its glory. Beloved characters parade around the restaurants, visit you at your table, hug you, pose with you, and chat with you as if they’re actually the real character and not just an actor in a costume. If you’re bringing smaller children, the dining experiences are often better than waiting in the lines to meet and greet characters around the parks.
We most love The Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom with Winnie the Pooh and Friends, and 1900 Park Fare with Cinderella alongside her wicked stepmother and evil stepsisters at the Grand Floridian Resort (accessible via monorail from Magic Kingdom) are very fun. You can also try the Lilo and Stitch breakfast at Ohana in The Polynesian Resort and Trattoria al Forno featuring Rapunzel, Ariel and their princes on the Boardwalk.
Ride A Disney Ride
Walt Disney himself perfected the art of animatronics and put them in some of the best Disney rides. They’re all worth a try, but these are our favorites that will give you a 360 view of all the magic at Disney. From the classics to the innovative, try for a few of these during your trip; you won’t find rides like these at your regular theme parks. Our favorites are: Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spaceship Earth, Soarin, Flight of Passage, Kilamanjaro Safari, Star Tours, and Toy Story Mania.
Treat Yourself to A Disney Snack
You may think it not necessary to spend the money on a special snack, but it really won’t be a Disney vacation if you don’t indulge in at least one treat. A Dole Whip is an absolute must try. You can grab one at the Aloha Isle near the Aladdin ride at Magic Kingdom. If you don’t love a pineapple soft-serve, however, there are plenty of other options! We love the Mickey pretzel, the red velvet Mickey cake pop at the Confectionary, the Mickey Ice Cream Bar and the macrons in Epcot, France but pretty much anything Mickey-shaped will do.
Watch A Disney Parade
The Festival of Fantasy at Magic Kingdom is the quintessential Disney parade combining many characters, fun songs and some extra fire-breathing magic. There are others however, that you will no doubt catch by surprise throughout your time at the parks. Be sure to stop and watch. Some people line up an hour or more before the parades to get the best spots, so they’re definitely worth your time.
Stop For A Disney Day Time Show
All the parks have shows. We like the Animal Kingdom dancing parties in the Oasis and Harambe for something different. You can also catch the castle show at Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom usually happen around noon, or the impromptu shows that pop up all over Epcot and Hollywood Studios throughout the day. All are good, and really all you have to do is stop and enjoy it.
Stay Late for A Disney Night Time Show
The nighttime shows in the Disney Parks are way more theatrical than the daytime shows. Hollywood Studios has an evening Star Wars show and Fantasmic. Animal Kingdom has Rivers of Light which combines digital light and music and the entire Pandora area of the park glows at night. Epcot has illuminations which happens on the water and Magic Kingdom has the Kiss Goodnight at park closing time.
Have A Disney Resort Experience
You don’t have to stay at a Disney resort to get the Disney resort experience. But you absolutely must visit at least one of them if you’re not staying on Disney property. You can travel by boat from Magic Kingdom to the beautiful Wilderness Lodge, or hop on the monorail to explore The Polynesian, The Contemporary, or The Grand Floridian. We love watching the animals roam the savanna at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, or you can visit the Port Orleans resorts, just a boat ride away from Disney Springs. You can also venture out to Pop Century, where you can see decades of Disney long past. Right across the bay from Art of Animation, if you venture out to Pop Century you can get two resort experiences at once.
A resort experience gives you the feel of the resort theme, so you can try the food, walk the beach, rent the bikes, check out the resort specific gift shops, and all sorts of things that will make you feel like you’re on vacation somewhere new. You can even lounge in the lobby without even staying there.
Watch the Disney Fireworks
Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom is by far “the” fireworks show to watch. New as of 2017, this show took almost a year to pull together, features new artwork from favorite Disney movies, and amazing music. You can also grab a fireworks show at Hollywood studios as part of the Star Wars show or as part of any holiday party.
Play A Free Disney Game
Our favorite part of Disney vacations usually involve the games you can play around the parks. Agent P’s Adventure in Epcot is a spy game that shows you secret places around Epcot with hidden features that interact with you once your phone is in range. Treasures of the Caribbean is at Magic Kingdom and can be played with different treasure maps to earn free fast passes to Pirates of the Caribbean. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is another favorite that takes some skills and a collection of cards you can pick up at the fire station on Main Street.
Visit The Boardwalk
One of the more undiscovered parts of Walt Disney World is The Boardwalk at Epcot, accessible through the international gateway between England and France. Here you’ll find the ice cream shop -Beaches and Cream- at the Beach Club resort, the hidden pathway over to Hollywood Studios, cute shops, Hurricane Hanna’s poolside counter service for a quick lunch and beaches. The beaches are our favorite part, simply because we always love getting our toes in the sand. Its an excellent escape from the craziness of Disney and a little bit of a secret…so you’ll feel like you really got to see all of Disney if you’re able to add this into your first( or only) trip.
How to Make the Most of your Disney Trip
It’s easy to feel harried and like you have to fit it all in, navigate the crowds, and spend the least money possible, but adding even just a few of these quintessentially Disney things to your plans will give you the feeling that you didn’t miss anything and that it was all money well spent!
Have a great vacation! 🙂