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Scoping the Parks
Practical tips for Walt Disney World travel
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Mike Scopa

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 time.

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 particular audience.

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 to problems.

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 restaurants.

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 process:

• 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 breeds confidence.

• 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 “TTC”—which 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 can wait.

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.


Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.


Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”


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