My Disney Top 5 - Tips From a 2023 Walt Disney World Newbie

by Chris Barry, contributing writer

Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.

I have a familiar look in my eyes right now. It's the look of someone that just booked a trip to Walt Disney World! Just a short weekend but that's fine by me. I just want to head back, see my sons, relax at the resort and spend some time back in the parks. My last trip was cut short, so I need to make up some of that lost time in the magic. When you're able to go as much as we have been going this past year or so, you can really settle into the things that you really love to do most. It'll only be a three-day weekend, so time will be precious, but I know just want I want to do and that's escape. Right now, I need that escape in a big way. You Walt Disney World veterans out there know just what I mean. But what about you Disney newbies out there? If you've got a trip planned, do you know just what to do?

It's coming up on 20 years since the first family trip with my wife and then 4-year-old daughter and I can barely remember planning that trip. I didn't know much at all. We got some tips from a friend or two and off we went. Here on MousePlanet, we like to give as many tips as possible to you readers out there to make the somewhat arduous task of planning a Disney trip as smooth as possible. Over the years I've given you plenty of my favorite suggestions. But what about tips from someone that just took their first family trip to Disney? Is that a different take on the whole experience?

I'm sure a lot of you out there are just like me. You're the one they all look for when it's time to to ask the Disney questions. Friends, family, coworkers – they all come out of the woodwork and land on my doorstep when it comes time to plan their big Walt Disney World vacation. And don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to oblige. I could talk Disney all day. Who am I kidding? Sometimes I do, in fact, talk Disney all day. I like to think that most of my advice pans out. I haven't gotten many complaints over the years, so I must be doing something right.

I have a good friend at work that recently returned from just that kind of trip. She has been picking my Disney-filled brain for advice for about a year now. She was looking to spend some spring break time with her family of four at the most magical place on Earth. Her kids are 3 and 5 years old and this would be their first time down there. I heard from her a lot when they were down there. When she got back, we obviously discussed the trip and how it all went down. She boldly suggested that I write an article on a first timer's tips instead of hearing all my old proven war stories, so these are her tips. And all of them do, essentially, gel with the tips I have been giving friends and family and you readers for years. Now that she's gotten her first sip of the Kool-Aid, let's not look at my age-old tips, let's see what hers are with my Top 5 tips from a 2023 Walt Disney World newbie.

5 - Water is Essential - Paying For Water Is Not

Let's remember that this trip was in April. That's a sweet time to travel to Walt Disney World as far as weather is concerned. It's certainly warm and you could have some real hot days, but it's nothing like the sweltering Orlando summers. That said water and hydration is still key to getting through a day in the Disney parks. What most people don't seem to be aware of is the fact that just about every single counter service food location in the parks offers cups of free ice-cold water. Now a couple of things. No offense to those of you that live down there, but it has to be said, Florida water can be nasty. Maybe I'm just spoiled because New York has consistently been voted as having some of the best tasting water in the country. However, I've had the free ice water in the Disney parks and it must not be straight tap water. The water from my faucet at the Disney resort? Not good at all. The ice-cold water from the big free jugs at Disney counter service restaurants? Actually…quite good. My friend felt the same way. "I didn't notice any bad taste at all." was her comment.

Complimentary water jugs, like this one at the Skipper Canteen at Magic Kingdom, can be found all throughout the parks and resorts. Photo by Donna Fesel.

Now I have to go on record as saying that the current price of $3.75 for bottled water in the Disney parks isn't so bad. I've paid way more at concerts and ski resorts for sure. But considering you can buy a whole case of water for $3.99, this is a pretty solid tip. She paid a lot of money to go to Disney, the least they could do is give her some free water. My friend went during a peak season and spent a boatload of money to be there, and she was going to save anyway she could. Let's face it, free water is better than spending extra money on bottled water several times a day.

4 - 38 Inches Seems to be the Magic Number

One of the most common questions that people ask me when I get approached for Disney advice is how young should the kids be for their first time down there? I almost always say 4-years-old is the perfect Disney age, but it's really a loaded question. Not every 4-year-old is the same. Her kids, being 3 and 5, were close enough to that threshold to have similar experiences on their first trip. What she quickly realized was that the governing factor should not have necessarily been age, but rather the height restrictions on the Disney rides and attractions.

My favorite height restriction sign from Toy Story Land. Photo by Chris Barry.

When his big sister, who's a little tall for her age, was allowed to go on rides and he was not, because he's a little small for his age, well, if you've raised kids, you could imagine that problem. He was wise enough to know he was missing out on something and there were some tears because big sis could go on things that he could not. So, the tip to read up on the height requirements and make sure your little one can actually go have fun before you get down there is a solid tip. Don't make the assumption that your little one can go on everything just because it's Disney, and they cater to families.

3 - Stay on Disney Property and, with Little Ones in Tow, French Quarter is Perfect

Back in 2003 when my wife first suggested we take our little girl down to Disney for a few days, I found out that teachers get a pretty decent discount at the Swan and Dolphin so that's what we booked. A Disney experienced coworker soon corrected us and said something to the extent of, "Never mind that discount, stay at a Disney resort. It's a must." Circle wipe to the three of us at Caribbean Beach and absolutely loving it. That was the first and best Disney tip we ever got and it's one that I have never failed to follow. It's the first one that I give everyone that asks for advice and that includes this particular friend we are talking about today. My suggestion to her was Port Orleans French Quarter. She took my advice and once they were down there, she wholeheartedly agreed.

A tranquil walkway through French Quarter. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

They didn't want to break the bank but wanted something special. They wanted a Disney owned property, but they also didn't want to be hit over the head with Disney when they retreated back to their resort. They didn't want to be at a huge resort carrying two exhausted kids back to the room at the end of the day. French Quarter ticks all of those boxes and then some. Her comments? "It was just perfect for us. Being able to just hop a bus back to the resort whenever we wanted definitely made things so much easier. I loved that we were the first and only bus stop. The boat ride down to Disney Springs was a nice option for our arrival day. The pool was amazing. The resort wasn't too big. It was subtly themed here and there to Princess and the Frog but not too much, and yes…the beignets were awesome!" I've always said that staying in the Disney bubble is a no-brainer, and she experienced that first hand at one of Disney's best hotels. This tip will never get old.

2 - Rope Drop is a Must

I hate getting up early. My job starts at 7:30 AM and this particular friend loves to bust my chops that despite living about a mile from work I struggle to get there on time every day. What can I say? I'm a late night person, not a morning person. The early bird major exception in my life is Walt Disney World. At Disney, we soon found out that when you get to a park early, your entire day is off to a much better start. While I personally feel that Disney's latest resort guest offering of an extra half hour in the parks each morning is kind of lame - the old days of a full hour were much better - anything that can get you into a Disney park early is essential. My friend was consistently texting me each morning about their early morning conquests. She was killing it in the morning when it comes to banging out big attractions before the crowds built up. Here are some examples.

At 8:42 AM from the Magic Kingdom: "Got on Seven Dwarfs already. Kids loved it!"

At 9:11 AM from Epcot: "Already did Frozen. Meeting Elsa and Anna and then Guardians virtual.

At 8:55 AM from Hollywood Studios: "Did Slinky and Mickey And Minnie's already." Then they finished the rest of Toy Story Land before 9:45 AM.

At 9:24 AM from Animal Kingdom: "Done with Safari, Everest and Navi River, now headed to Festival of the Lion King."

Get there early and avoid long standby wait times at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at The Magic Kingdom. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka

Those are some solid mornings. If I look back through the texts, on their early day at Magic Kingdom they hit the Seven Dwarfs, Barnstormer, Dumbo, Pooh, Tron and Buzz all before their 10:50 Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique appointment. All of that was possible because they got up and got there early. Then, when the park is at peak capacity and the sun is at its highest, around 1:00-2:00, they would head back to the resort and hit up the attraction that the kids will inevitably love the most, the swimming pool! Rope drop is indeed the best way to go.

1 - Know Your Limits

You need to always remember that Walt Disney World is the size of Boston. It's two Manhattan islands. It's huge. Can you storm the parks all day, everyday and see everything? Probably not. If you go to Boston, you can't see it all in one trip, same with New York City. It's impossible. And yet, so many Disney guests feel the need to storm all day, and then they wonder why they come back and say things like, "It's great, but it's not a vacation. It's exhausting." Yes, it can be. But it doesn't have to be. Don't push your children so much that they're having meltdowns every night. And while you're at it, try not to do that to your spouses either!

My sons, way back when, after Dad maybe pushed them a little too much? Photo by Chris Barry.

My friend and her family knew when to leave, knew when to cancel reservations and just grab food at a counter and when to just chill. And they still had an awesome time. A trip to Walt Disney World can be daunting. There's a lot to do and see and after 20 years, I'm not lying to you when I say that I still haven't seen it all. And that's just fine. It gives me a reason to go back now, doesn't it? My newbie friends felt the need to see as much as they could, but they also knew that Disney wasn't going anywhere and that they could someday go back and see what they missed. Her number one piece of advice was to know your family's limits and I'd have to say that's an extremely wise piece of information to offer. I've always said that some of our best memories were when we slowed down, changed plans, canceled dinner reservations, ordered pizzas at the resort pool or laid out on the Yacht Club lawn and watched the nighttime movie. They did the same thing and that wasn't derived from my preaching. She paid attention to her kids needs, didn't push them too much and the results were a lot more relaxing than most other guests vacations. And I do think they want to go back, so this tip must've worked for them.

Any Walt Disney World fan will tell you that planning a Disney trip is all part of the experience. Now, for obvious reasons, I love planning my own trips most of all. I'm currently doing that right now and it's making me pretty darn happy. But I also love helping out other people with their Disney plans and then, thanks to modern technology, I love getting texts and phone calls from those friends and families while they're down there. I get a kick out of that. I like to hear where they are and what's working or not working and I'm always willing to throw some more tips their way. People seem to appreciate it.

It definitely seemed like Brittney, her husband Zach, 5-year-old Eva and 3-year-old old James were all having a blast down at Disney and I loved getting those texts filling me in on what was happening and asking for last minute advice. I'll do it again if – or should I say when – they head back, if they ask me to. Judging from the tips listed above, it seems like she got the place and made the most out of their time there. I gave her my two cents on how we've been doing our trips all these years, and she ran with it. It's important for people to tailor advice to their own family's needs. She did that and the magic definitely flowed. If you're a newbie like her, these are solid tips. Take them to heart and build your own magical Disney vacation and you'll be in good shape.

Brittney is a good friend, but she does like to bust my chops about my Disney fandom. Perhaps I'm asking for it by walking into work everyday with Mickey watches on my wrist, a Disney refillable mug in my hand, Disney Parks shopping bag holding my lunch and those cool Mickey Mouse limited edition Stan Smith Adidas sneakers on my feet. (Yes…they're adult sneakers!) But circle wipe to her and her brood standing in front of The Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, husband Zach wearing a classic Mickey Mouse T-shirt, son James with the Hakuna Matata shirt on and Brit and her daughter Eva wearing matching animal print Minnie Mouse ears - themed specifically to the park they were in, mind you – and just who's the Disney geek now? Welcome aboard Brittney. We'll make room for you on Walt's train!

That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts on this list and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.



  1. By wdwchuck

    Does Brittany have a Mouseplanet account? Would love to hear what she has to say about your article. All good advice. WDW is huge and unless we have a plan it is easy to get lost in the vastness. Of course, the new rules take a lot of fun out of the planning. But who knows, by the time we can afford to go again they might change back even more?

  2. By Dave1313

    Neat idea for the alternate perspective here. So for my responses below, I'll try to relate each ideas to how I think it applied to my sister's family and how we dealt with such topics during a trip when my nieces were 5 and 6(their first and only visit so far).

    The water: I guess I am (for myself) not fussy about the water, but I've heard similar comments before. I always fill my bottle from regular taps, starting at my hotel (with that one spending the night in the fridge, if I remember to fill it before I fall asleep ), and then I just refill with the Florida Water that comes out of the drinking fountains at the parks. I don't think I've ever actually asked for ice water at a counter service place, even though I know it's an option. During the trip with my sisters family, I don't recall 100%, but we may have bought a case of bottled water on our first night WalMart run when we arrived. Since we were not trying to overdo it (per Item 5), it's not like we were hauling 12 hours worth of water in if we did have bottles in a bag.

    The height: Sounds like a good observation. Since I had been several times before at the time and knew where to look for that info on the web site, we were prepared in that regard, I think. My nieces being closer in age (and probably almost the same height at the time) did not ever have the scenario where one could ride and one could not (obviously, 5 and 6 yo are more likely to be in the same height range than 3 and 5 yo). But I'd agree that's something any family going for the first time should factor in to their plans before they even firmly decide to go.

    The staying on property and "compactness" of the resort: Can't disagree with much of what is there. For keeping the goal of not breaking the bank, I agree that you/they picked very wisely. POFQ is undeniably one of the easiest resorts to get around from the central area. It's just not as sprawling as many of the other moderates (looking at you, Caribbean Beach and Coronado) . But I will suggest that if the finances are available to stay closer to a park (I know, a big IF, and its a huge difference in cost), that can be worth it in concert with some of the other goals/tips. My point of this is if you stay at any of the MK resorts, it's easy to be able to get at least some view of the nightly fireworks from either your room or common areas on the grounds that can see some of the action. In the effort of not overdoing things (reark storming), seeing fireworks in the evening when you are already at your resort is relaxing when you don't have to do the mass exodus of the park, bus/monorail/boat line and then ride before you even get back to your resort. Of course it's not as special as standing anywhere on Main Street, but it's also a lot less tiring (and no or minimal commute time back to the hotel/room) when you are done.

    Rope drop: All I can say to that one is I think I'm very impressed for a family visiting for the first time! The AK one especially, considering how long the actual ride on the safari is. I don't recall for my family trip if we rope dropped most days or not, but we probably came close. I do think we got some advantage with the "breakfast reservation before park opens" dining situation for one meal.

    Limits: Definitely something to consider with young kids. Intertwined with the comment on where you stay and which parks you may be focusing on, if you are favoring one over others (I imagine many with young kids prioritize MK, I think we did more days there than other parks since the kids were 5 and 6. Maybe 3 at MK and one at each of the other 3 parks). Also something to be aware of for the adults. Walking around the lake at Epcot is something most of us here have done many times, but it's quite a trek for those not used to it at (IIRC) 1.2 miles or so. So I say intertwined with the chosen resort for this obviously for the different ease of getting back to your resort. Since we were focused on MK and staying at Poly, it was easy to pop back for a mid-day break there via monorail or boat. And only a slightly longer monorail ride to do so from Epcot. While POFQ is better in the compactness to the main area, it's got to take a bit longer to get back there with the bus ride thrown in, I think. Especially if it's truly just a day break and you are going back, so now it's 2 bus rides just for the break.

    I'll add one more, but it's obviously something no one can truly evaluate until they've done it, so unfortunately there is no way to know what is better before a first trip.

    The car. I know it breaks the Bubble for many people (Chris has stated so many times, so it's hard to forget ), but for the family trip (since I was experienced in knowing where I was going), it was the better option for getting around WDW than relying on buses. Particularly helpful for being able to do the WalMart/Target/etc. runs if needed like I mentioned in the water comment. And it's also very useful if you want to take a day or 2 to do non WDW trips to Universal or Sea World, etc, since there are obviously no Disney busses to go to those places. (But there is always Uber/Lyft I guess for people who like to use those services)

    It takes some coordination, depending on size of the group (may still need to contract with Mears or Sunshine Flyer to get all people (and luggage) to/from airport, since it's a very different thing to have room for all people in a car and all people plus a weeks worth of luggage simultaneously in the car). For the family trip, I was the only one who picked up the car and dropped it off. The rest of the group took the Magical Express to and from the airport. While I rented a minivan that was plenty roomy for 6 of us for general use, it could not have hauled all of us plus our luggage in one trip.

    Would I recommend a car for a group where EVERYONE is going for the first time? Possibly not. But it is something to consider, and for value/moderate resorts (those that are not as compact as POFQ), you may get to actually park closer to your room than the bus stops(related to the comment about how far you may have to carry tired kids to get back to the room). That won't be the case for Deluxe resorts though, especially AKL with the huge walks from the central lobby. So that small benefit doesn't help much for most of those resorts.

    Sorry, I couldn't wrap it up without at least mentioning the consideration of whether a car may be a good idea.

  3. By Dave1313

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave1313 View Post
    ...... In the effort of not overdoing things (reark storming), seeing fireworks ......

    Oops. guess I forgot a space there, causing an emoji to form and make the intended text unreadable... should have been "(re: park storming)" .

  4. Discuss this article on MousePad.