Guiding the First-Timer
Be the veteran tour guide for fun and learning
Friday, October 21, 2005
by Mike Scopa, staff writer
There are fewer things in life more rewarding than experiencing
the joy of bringing someone to Walt Disney World for their first visit.
There is excitement in the fact that you are to be their guide. Perhaps
it's the vicariousness that fuels this excitement.
However, we must keep in mind that there is a huge responsibility that
comes with the honor of presenting Walt Disney World to a first-time guest.
This responsibility involves so many aspects of doing it right that it
deserves a bit of a discussion and so let's begin and see if we can identify
the many components required to meet this responsibility.
Know Your Audience
Good authors recognize their audience and write to meet the audience
needs. The same has to follow suit for those who are called upon to serve
as the primary guide for those visiting Walt Disney World for the first
When I say you should know you audience I mean the following:
Well before the trip, ask first-timers to describe to you the first thing
that comes to mind when the words Walt Disney World are spoken.
The answer you hear should give you clues as to how their see the trip
unfolding. The answer could start off with attractions, characters, or
even the word magic. Whatever the answer is, it is sure to
provide you with a launching pad for planning the right trip for this
Try to get a sense of what attractions the first-timer has in mind for
the trip. There may be several that are right at the top of the list and
these, too, are clues as to how you will navigate and tour the theme parks.
It would be nice to know a few of first-timers' favorite characters.
If you do your research, you will be able to gently guide them to some
meet-and-greet opportunities with these characters, and maybe even find
a character meal that will offer some great photo opportunities.
Speaking of restaurants, it may be a good idea to identify the types
of cuisine and taste for your first-timers so you can think about the
type of restaurants that will meet these tastes. You can't do every restaurant
on your first visit, so you might as well hit the ones that will be favorites.
Along with the type of restaurants you may want to focus on, you also
need to understand the dining habits of your first-timers. This includes
whether or not they are breakfast people, if they prefer counter to sit-down
meals, or when to eat and how many meals they like to have in a day.
Knowing whether your first-timers are night or morning people to help
plan your days, and also take advantage of those Extra Magic Hours when
resort guests can access certain parks an hour early on certain days or
enjoy extended nighttime hours. Don't try to make a morning person out
of a night person, and vice versa.
An important factor you should know about your first-timers is the energy
level and how that matches up with your own energy level. You also need
to keep in mind that many people on their initial visit to WDW may not
realize how tired they are until they hit that 72-hour wall. Keep an eye
on them to make sure they do not exhaust themselves.
Relating to the energy level is physical capabilities. That means mobility
and how much they like to walk. Also, if there are any physical concerns
it would be good to know before getting on any attractions that may lead
Finally, try to identify the point at which they can take charge of the
trip so they can make some inroads to touring on their own.
These components all go into the portrait you recognize as your first-timers'
touring profile. They will help you prepare for the trip and will play
to the needs of your guests. It will make for an enjoyable trip for both
first-timers and veterans alike.
Choose Your Spots
It's very important to inform your first time visitors that it is impossible
to do and see in one trip everything Walt Disney World has to offer. With
that in mind, guide your friends into establishing a priority list of
things to experience on this initial trip.
Here are some suggestions for that list:
Make sure you revisit that moment when you asked, What is
the first thing that comes to mind when you think of WDW? as this
will provide an overall direction for the trip.
Hit the major attractions and sights that your first-timers have
been thinking about seeing since the trip was first suggested.
Nighttime spectaculars such as Epcot's Illuminations: Reflections
of Earth and parades like Magic Kingdom's SpectroMagic parade are trademarks
of WDW. Don't miss them.
Figure out how many meals, the meal budget, and then choose your
Guiding without overeducating
The first trip to Orlando and Walt Disney World is truly an education.
And as a mentor or teacher, you take on an additional responsibility of
educating the first-timer. However, because you have to avoid overwhelming
this person, here are some things to think about during their learning
Provide any guide maps you may have to your first-timers. Let
them see how the theme parks are laid out and begin building a foundation
for him to understand how the theme parks can be navigated. Familiarity
The terminology and jargon for Walt Disney World is huge, so you
need to limit yourself to only the vital acronyms and buzzwords, such
as FastPass and Extra Magic Hours. Your may want
to be careful after that. Sure some people can handle more stuff than
others but try to approach this as a need to know kind of thing. For instance,
you may want to stick with the word reservation instead of
Advanced Dining Reservation or ADR (formerly Priority Seating), or make
sure they get accustomed to the Ticket and Transportation Center before
you start rattling off TTCwhich can easily become mixed
up with TTA (Tomorrowland Transit Authority, or what many people refer
to as the PeopleMover). Maybe add a term or acronym only when you absolutely
have to, otherwise confusion may reign.
The approach that I like to take is when I am asked about something and
then and only then will I volunteer the use of an acronym or shortcut
buzzword. That is basically on a need to know basis.
Transportation in and around WDW can be confusing for first-timers.
Try to keep it simple so they can grasp the simplest point-to-point journey
and reinforce that route. Alternative ways of getting from here to there
Empowering your first-timers
At one point in the trip, you can help your first-timers feel that they
have a good handle on the WDW resort and the intricacies of touring. Here
is a suggestion on how to get to this point of empowerment.
Divide the trip in half. At about the midway point, start having your
first-timer make decisions. Things like, Whaddya think we should
do? or Any thoughts on the best way to get to...? Will
go a long way in building confidence. Imagine that your first-timers will
think, Wow, I think I'm beginning to get the hang of this!
Just like drivers often remember their way better than their passengers,
someone who has to navigate must think about where they are going or what
they are doing.
Remember that this is their first time and your nth time. Allowing them
to make decisions or asking them questions they can answer can make them
realize that how far they have come. Now shouldn't a good teacher do this
with a student?
My friend Amy tried a unique approach when she took her sister Heidi
on her initial trip. Towards the end of their trip they planned to tour
Epcot. Amy, the WDW veteran, suggested that they split up for a few hours
and tour the park solo, with Heidi only a cell phone call away if necessary.
This idea really helped Heidi realize that she had grown comfortable enough
with Epcot to tour around it by herself, although it had seemed so huge
early on in the trip. In this way, Amy was preparing Heidi for a future
trip without Amy.
Making it positive
So, yes, while it can be fun taking someone on their first visit to Walt
Disney World we must all recognize that it is our responsibility to help
our first-timers gently ease into all the intricacies of the resort.
The biggest challenge is preventing them from become overwhelmed with
everything. We don't want them to remember everything about the resort.
All we want them to do is to...
...Remember the Magic!
Next Time: Extra Magic Hours
You've heard of Extra Magic Hours. I'll explain them and give you my
thoughts on this resort guest perk and how to make them work for you.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.