I like lists. Very much. I like having plans and guidelines and itineraries, and the thought of going into any sort of a trip with no plan makes me anxious. Before researching any form of vacation, you can find me on Pinterest looking up top 10 lists of things to do; where to go, what to eat, must-see attractions. I like going in to a trip with some sort of outline of what I should absolutely not miss – and then I make my plan around that. Plans a good thing – and nothing requires more planning than your first trip to Walt Disney World!
Walt Disney World is one of those places where, if you go in with absolutely no plan, you can spend hours and hours not really accomplishing anything; just meandering around wondering what you should be doing. On the other end of the spectrum, you can completely over-plan, and end up rushing from ride to ride, not really getting to actually experience any of the Disney magic because you’re too busy! I have taken my boys to Walt Disney World probably hundreds of times, and I know the parks and resorts really well. I love to help people plan their first trip to Disney World; when a friend or family member is visiting for the first time, they are often completely overwhelmed with all of the choices that they have to make (dining, FastPass+, rides and attractions) and reach out to me to help them. I’m always more than happy to weigh in with my opinions, but one of the first things I tell them to do is to choose a few must-do items. Unless you’re coming to live at Walt Disney World, you simply won’t get everything done, and trying to will make the vacation feel hurried and stressful. It’s best to do some research, and pick out a few things that you really want to get done. These can be rides, shows, places to eat – anything that you’ve really got your heart set on doing.
With that in mind, I’ve created a Top 15 must-do list of things that I think everyone should try to get done on their first Walt Disney World vacation. It includes some rides, some experiences and of course, some food! It’s a basic outline that can easily be adapted and padded out with other activities; I just think these items are what Disney is all about. Oh, and if you’re visiting Walt Disney World over Christmas, take a look at my list of things to do at Walt Disney World at Christmas that covers all of the best things to see and do over the holidays!
- Eat in Cinderella’s Castle: Cinderella’s Royal Table is a restaurant actually in Cinderella’s Castle! It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you can dine with a selection of the Disney Princesses. Reservations for this restaurant understandably fill up fast, so make sure you make this reservation as soon as you possibly can (advanced dining reservations, or ADRs to seasoned Disney fans, open 180 in advance.)
- Ride the MK mountain range: Space, Splash, and Big Thunder make up the Magic Kingdom mountain range, and they are some of the most classic Walt Disney World rides. Try to fit all three into your first trip – see if you can do them all in one day! Bonus points if you also find time to ride Seven Dwarves Mine Train, an honorary member of the mountain range family!
- Take a photo in front of the castle: how many millions of people do you think have family photos taken in front of Cinderella’s Castle? That’s because it is such an iconic image of the Disney parks! Here’s an insider tip – book a breakfast reservation for before the Magic Kingdom opens to get a great picture in front of the castle without all the crowds in the way! Oh, and did you know Disney actually offers Magic Kingdom photo shoots where you can have professional pictures taken in front of the castle?! Read more about Disney’s Family Portrait Sessions here!
- Eat a Mickey ice cream bar: these classic chocolate-covered ice cream bars are not only adorable, they’re delicious! Soft vanilla ice cream slathered in silky smooth milk chocolate, and all in the shape of your favorite mouse! A must-do for your first trip! If you’re not a chocolate fan but still want something to cool you down on a hot Disney day, head over to Adventureland for a Dole Whip instead; this soft-serve pineapple flavored ice cream is a Disney classic!
- Snack around the World (Showcase): walking around the World Showcase at Epcot is an experience in itself, but really get to experience a little of each country by picking up a snack in each location. My favorites are the School Bread in Norway, fresh caramel corn from Germany, and a Brioche ice cream sandwich from France. Want to try the drinks too? Check out this awesome guide to the best drinks around World Showcase from Delish.
- Battle it out on Toy Story Mania: the most popular ride at Hollywood Studios is an interactive 3D virtual game based on the awesome Toy Story movies. Sitting in a spinning vehicle, you battle the other people in your ride car to win the most points by shooting virtual targets. It’s a fun, addictive game that maintains its popularity due to being completely family-friendly – your teenager will love this as much as your toddler! Make sure you book a FastPass+ for this as soon as you can to avoid the long lines!
- Spot the Yeti on Expedition Everest: one of my favorite roller coasters EVER, Expedition Everest is a crazy fun coaster with a big fuzzy resident – a huge 25 foot animatronic Yeti you will see in a blur as you go flying past on the way down one of Everest’s many hills! Oh, and if you decide to stay at Animal Kingdom during evening hours, this ride is even better in the dark!
- Ride on the monorail: one of my first memories of visiting a Disney park was riding on the monorail from the Magic Kingdom parking lot to the park itself. We rounded the corner as we pulled out of the Contemporary Resort and seeing the castle for the first time – oh my goodness, I can still remember the excitement and anticipation! You can also take the monorail from Magic Kingdom to the Magic Kingdom resorts if you want to take a look around, or over to Epcot if you want to park hop.
- Meet Mickey and Minnie: well, yeah! Chances are that you will spot Mickey and Minnie at some point during your stay – in a parade or a show or from afar in a meet and greet. But it is worth taking the time to actually meet them! Check the maps when you enter the parks to see where the characters will be meeting that day so you can plan a time to go and see them. You’ll be surprised how star-struck you might get meeting a giant mouse! If you’re visiting Walt Disney World with little ones in tow, be sure to read my tips on character greetings with young kids.
- Ride It’s a Small World: this is one of those rides that people love to complain about – that song really does get stuck in your head! – but it’s a classic Disney ride, and one that doesn’t usually have too much of a wait. Not only that, but it provides a nice opportunity to sit down in the air conditioning for a while!
- Spot the animals on Kilimanjaro Safaris: yep, they’re real animals! Giraffes, elephants, hippos, zebras – you can find them all on safari at Animal Kingdom! This is such an amazing opportunity to see these animals up close, and is now offered late at night and even in the dark as a ‘sunset safari’ – this is the best time to spot the lions who are usually snoozing during the day. You can read more on Animal Kingdom after dark here.
- Watch the fireworks from Main Street USA: the fireworks are a fantastic way to end your day at Magic Kingdom, and they are designed to be seen over Cinderella’s Castle from Main Street USA. This area can be very crowded as everyone will be trying to watch them from here so be sure to grab a spot early – and the further back towards the entrance you go, the easier it will be to get out once the show is over! Take a look at this amazing post by Disney Tourist Blog that shows not only the best places to watch the fireworks from, but photos of how they look from each location!
- Get spooked on the Haunted Mansion: another classic Disney ride can be found at the Magic Kingdom. It’s a spooky ride without being outright scary, so most kids should be fine with it. It now has a really cool interactive queue to give you something to do while you wait, and be sure to take a look at the writings on the headstones right before the entrance!
- Fly high on Soarin’: this ride was recently revamped with a brand new movie, changing it from Soarin’ over California to Soarin’ around the World. The new movie flies you over such iconic destinations as Sydney Harbor, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal. It’s one of the few rides where most people actually still clap when it’s over – it’s that cool!
- See Fantasmic!: this is my favorite show at Walt Disney World! It’s a nighttime production held at Hollywood Studios in a huge outdoor amphitheater. The show has a little of everything: fireworks, puppetry, water screens showing scenes from classic Disney movies, and of course, Mickey! You can see this show one of three ways: either with reserved seating tickets as part of the Fantasmic! dinner package, with a FastPass+, or just by waiting stand-by. It is shown nightly and can get crowded, so think about one of the reserved seating options if it’s something you really want to see.
So there you have it – 15 things you should definitely try to fit in to your first trip to Walt Disney World! If you’d like some additional planning tips or a more detailed guide then check out my 20 Walt Disney World planning tips post for more information.
Click HERE or on the image below to download a FREE copy of my Top 15 must-do list.
What are your absolute must-do items at Walt Disney World? Tell me in the comments below!