Everything You Need to Know About Going to Disney World
Haven’t been to the Florida parks in a few years? Here’s a cheat sheet to get you up to speed.
If you haven’t been to Walt Disney World in the past few years, brace yourself. Even if you’re a Disneyland regular, visiting the Florida parks is a whole different game. Do your Disney World memories include waiting in an endless line for Splash Mountain, handing over cash for popcorn, or misplacing a hotel room key? Get ready, because the landscape has changed so dramatically, that believe it or not, those practices are all stuck in the past.
These days, guests reserve a time for a ride in advance, pay for cotton candy with the swipe of a bracelet, and enter their hotel room courtesy of a nifty text message, all without having to ever pick up a key. The new ways of Walt Disney World can make a vacation more enjoyable, but it’s all too easy for first-timers or former visitors to get completely overwhelmed. That’s why we’re here with explanations on everything you need to know, even if you have no clue what "Frozen" is about, can’t remember which parks are in California, or simply haven’t visited EPCOT since the days of Horizons.
Spend less time getting lost in the details, and more time whizzing through the single rider line for Test Track and collecting Hidden Mickey pins. Not sure what either of those are? Read on:
Many popular Walt Disney World attractions operate two separate lines: a standby line for guests simply entering and waiting, and a FastPass+ line, which allows guests with a “reservation” to enter the attraction more quickly. To utilize the FastPass+ line, each member of a party needs to have a time-specific reservation for the individual ride. Up to three advance reservations can be made per day for each Walt Disney World ticket holder, regardless of ticket type. FastPass+ reservations are free, and only select rides offer FastPass+. Walt Disney World’s ticketing system allows guests to reserve a FastPass+ 60 days in advance of a check-in date if staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel or participating hotel and 30 days in advance with general park admission. Once all three reservations have been used, guests can make additional selections one at a time (when available) in the My Disney Experience mobile app or by using the FastPass+ kiosks on site at all four parks.
My Disney Experience:
The all-in-one web portal that allows Walt Disney World guests to book and manage their trip. When logged in, guests can make FastPass+ selections, set Advance Dining Reservations, check the times of individual shows and entertainment, and find answers to most questions. My Disney Experience can also be utilized through a reliable mobile app, allowing guests to change FastPass+ reservations, locate character meet-and-greets, and monitor ride wait times on the go, as well as mobile order food and unlock one’s Walt Disney World hotel room door.
If Walt Disney World is your home, the Magic Band is your key. Literally — your Magic Band is not only your credit card, park ticket, FastPass+ reservation, and in-park photo album rolled into one, but it also acts as your hotel room key. Each of these items needs to be linked in order to be accessed through your Magic Band, which can easily be done through My Disney Experience or with the assistance of a cast member at the hotel front desk or guest services. (For charges and other sensitive information, guests must first type in a self-created four-digit PIN, which can be set during check-in.)
While Magic Bands are not necessary — all shops and restaurants take cash and credit card, room keys can be provided and FastPasses can be scanned from your park ticket — they have made visiting Walt Disney World parks more seamless than ever before. Complimentary Magic Bands are given to Walt Disney World resort hotel guests either upon arrival or are mailed in advance when customized through My Disney Experience, but park guests can purchase them for $14.95.
The umbrella term for Walt Disney World’s technologically enhanced booking options which include FastPass+, MagicBands, and My Disney Experience.
The area formerly known as Downtown Disney has gone through a multi-year transformation to become an entertainment, shopping, and dining district with four “neighborhoods” offering live music, interactive experiences, nightlife, and kid-friendly activities. West Side hosts entertainment options like House of Blues, Splitsville Luxury Lanes, and a 24-screen AMC theater. Marketplace boasts a range of Disney-affiliated stores, Town Center contains a collection of shops from popular designers and brands, and The Landing’s upscale waterfront area is the place to find many of Disney’s newest restaurants and signature nightlife.
Disney Vacation Club (DVC):
Disney’s popular timeshare-style membership program that offers apartment-style lodging and operates familiar kiosks inside parks and at hotel lobbies throughout Walt Disney World.
A rectangular billfold available at the front of the park upon entering that provides park hours, entertainment times, ride closures, and parade details on a weekly basis.
Early Morning Magic:
Ticketed morning events that give guests early and private access to attractions within Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland or Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios before park guests arrive, with a hot breakfast included.
Extra Magic Hours (EMH):
Additional park entrance hours added in the morning or evening that are exclusively for use by guests of Walt Disney World resort hotels and select partner hotels. Extra Magic Hours change daily — check times guides for details — but in general, morning EMH allow for early park admission and ride access and evening EMH simply restrict ride access to resort guests, allowing non-resort guests to exit the park at their leisure. To enter an attracting during Extra Magic Hours, park guests must scan their MagicBand or display a Extra Magic Hours voucher from participating hotels to prove eligibility.
Disney After Hours:
Ticketed late-night events that give guests unparalleled access to rides and experiences with minimal wait times once a park has closed to the public, with complimentary ice cream, popcorn, and bottled drinks.
The preferred and proper term for Walt Disney World park employees, regardless of job specification.
Denotes an unofficial and surprise gesture or gift bestowed upon a guest from a cast member completely at random. A Magic Moment could be as small as receiving a ride photograph for free or as memorable as Alice and the Mad Hatter joining a guest for a spin on the Mad Tea Party.
An homage to Mickey Mouse often in the circular shape of his head with ears that are slightly obscured and often incorporated into construction of buildings, facades, and attractions. The are widespread, hidden everywhere from hotel carpeting patterns and sidewalk imprints to ride signs and fireplaces throughout Walt Disney World.
Magic Your Way:
A Disney vacation package that allows guests to book hotel stays, purchase park tickets, and choose a Disney Dining Plan as one reservation.
A property-wide service offering official photographers throughout the parks, at Disney Springs and at select Disney events. PhotoPass photographers can be spotted in beige vests and will scan guests’ MagicBands after taking photographs so images can be easily accessed on Disney’s PhotoPass website or on the My Disney Experience mobile app instantly. Certain photo locations allow for enhanced Magic Shots, which insert Disney characters and effects into images automatically. Guests can purchase individual images and photo gifts inside the parks or on the Disney PhotoPass website; the purchase of Memory Maker allows unlimited downloads of guest images, as well as those of family and friends.
A digital package that allows the download of every PhotoPass photo, attraction photo or video, and any photos on the account of friends and family traveling with the guest for one set price. As of early 2019, Memory Maker costs $169 when purchased in advance (which does not include photos taken three days prior) and $199 when purchased during vacation.
The activity of park guests trading official Disney pins with cast members across Walt Disney World property. Disney pins are enamel and colorful with designs referencing a character, attraction, or experience within the parks, and often come in small collectible sets.
Guests can trade any official Disney pin for another official Disney pin that is on a cast member’s lanyard, an official Disney Pin Trading board, or inside a Disney Pin Trading book, which are located at shops, guest services counters, hotel desks, and many other locations, and can be presented upon request. Cast members will not refuse a trade based on the rarity or style of a pin; they will only decline a trade if the pin is not an official Disney pin design, or when the guest has completed the maximum of two trades per individual cast member for that day. Because many pins can be pricey and are collectibles, guests often trade “starter pins” instead, which come in more affordable multi-packs. Hidden Mickey pins are not sold, and can only be obtained by trading with a WDW cast member.
If some members of a group want to ride an attraction and others do not, Rider Switch gives everyone a turn while also preventing younger guests from waiting unsupervised. When entering the line, guests must inquire with a cast member about Rider Switch. Some of the group will enter the line, and the rest of the party — typically a child who is not riding and any adults supervising them — will wait in a designated area. When the first group finishes, they take over supervision and any party members who waited and would like to ride can board without waiting in line. Rider Switch Is available on many but not all attractions at Walt Disney World and is intended for families and children, but is by no means restricted to that.
Shop Disney Parks:
A standalone mobile app that makes navigating on-site shops much easier. By utilizing the app, guests can locate additional clothing sizes, check stock of items at different gift shops, locate medicine and other necessary toiletries, as well as find packaged food and beverage items, making the search for sundries more seamless.
Single Rider Line:
A separate and somewhat under-the-radar line offered on multiple attractions at Walt Disney World for individual guests. Single Rider Lines are currently in operation on three rides: Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Test Track at Epcot.
The general admittance line for all rides at Walt Disney World parks, with estimated wait times listed at the point of entrance.
The process of booking a trip to Walt Disney World with two different hotel stays, allowing guests to experience more of the expansive property.
Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs):
Reservations can be made at WDW restaurants up to 180 days in advance before arrival — and should be. In-demand locations like character breakfasts at Cinderella’s Royal Table and the wildly popular Be Our Guest restaurant in Magic Kingdom tend to fill up quickly, so booking well in advance is rather necessary. (Note: If you are staying in a WDW resort hotel, you have a small advantage: you can book 180 days from the beginning of a trip, which can provide up to a nine-day head start on prime seating times.)
Tables In Wonderland:
A dining discount program that offers 20% off food and drinks (including alcohol) at over 100 restaurants throughout the Walt Disney World Resort, as well as complimentary parking for dining purposes. Membership is limited to Florida residents, annual and seasonal passholders, and Disney Vacation Club members.
Disney Dining Plan (DDP):
The Disney Dining Plan allows guests booking Walt Disney World vacations to also pre-pay for their meals in exchange for credits redeemable at many restaurants and most food service locations across the WDW property. The DDP allows each guest a certain number of quick-service meals and/or table-service meals, along with a beverage and snack each day. The allotment varies depending on whether the Disney Dining, Quick-Service Dining, or Deluxe Dining plan is purchased, but is most helpful for families preferring to pre-pay for the majority of their vacation.
The process by which guests can pre-select meals at dining locations throughout Walt Disney World. Food is not prepared in advance.
Walt Disney World Transportation:
The complementary system of buses, monorails, and boats transporting guests from all Walt Disney World hotel resorts to the four parks, two water parks, and entertainment facilities across the vast property. Each Walt Disney World hotel resort operates at least one bus station, which is the primary form of transportation to the parks. WDW buses arrive approximately every 20 minutes, and only select properties offer boat and monorail access; a gondola system will debut at Walt Disney World in fall 2019. (Note: WDW Transportation does not operate directly between resorts. If you are planning to visit a hotel other than your own, it is suggested to leave up to 90 minutes in order to transfer at a park location.)
Disney’s Magical Express (DME):
A complimentary coach bus service offered to Walt Disney World resort hotel guests between Orlando International Airport and their location of lodging. DME must be booked in advance for all parties traveling together. (Note: Pick-up time for departing flights can be up to four hours before actual flight time, which may affect some guests’ plans.)
A fleet of polka-dotted minivans operated by Disney cast members and bookable through the Lyft rideshare app. Minnie Vans can travel between areas within Walt Disney World for a variable fee or between the resort and Orlando International Airport, which can be booked in advance, for $150 flat rate sans gratuity.
Play Disney Parks:
An app that utilizes ride queues and locations within Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort parks for family-friendly multi-person game play, as well as collectable location badges and Apple Music-backed playlists.
Made popular by a blog of the same name, this concept refers to park guests dressing like Disney characters by utilizing colors instead of costumes. For example, a guest DisneyBounding as Snow White would likely wear a red sweater, blue top, and yellow skirt, causing a vague familiarity that’s fun for others to spot in the parks.
Refers to Disney-operated distance events that are hosted at multiple parks. Walt Disney World currently hosts four: the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in January, Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend in February, Star Wars Half Marathon in April, and Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend in November. (Note: RunDisney events often cause parks to become crowded and can limit hotel availability. Check dates of future events prior to booking or planning your trip.)