So you want to take a newbie to Walt Disney World

by on May 21, 2010 21 Comments

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Recently I got up one morning and, as I usually do first thing, grabbed a cup of coffee and fired up Facebook. And it dawned on me – at any given time I most likely know at least one person who is currently visiting Walt Disney World. And that is awesome; it makes you feel like you’re there yourself between visits. And then I thought some more and realized most people don’t have this kind of relationship with a resort. Believe it or not, there are people who have never been to Walt Disney World, or will go once and that’s it. You may even know one or two of them. And the question is: what do you do with these people? You could shun them. But maybe they have other redeeming qualities, or they are family and you’re forced to keep them around. You could encourage them to vacation at Walt Disney World and offer to help with the trip planning (maybe even buy them a copy of the Unofficial Guide and send them to Or you could bring them along on one of your many trips a year. This is what I did in March when the stars aligned to allow a good friend of mine to join a couple of princesses for Half Marathon Weekend. He hadn’t been in 30 years. 30 years, people. EPCOT Center (much less Epcot) wasn’t even done then. For all intents and purposes, I had found a Disney virgin and it was time to do something about it.
So maybe you also have a person like this in your life and are thinking of asking them along. First ask yourself, why do I want to invite this person? Good reasons include honestly wanting your friend to have a good time and share in your love of Walt Disney World. Bad reasons include wanting to prove a point to naysayers who mock your many trips and threatening to leave them on it’s a small world until they pay up that $20 they’ve owed you since college. But let’s say you’re in the first camp. How is planning this trip different from a trip with Disney vets? For one thing, a lot of things you take for granted may be a big surprise to your traveling companion.
Sticker shock
WDW is expensive. Sure we all know this, but after a few trips your ideas of what is “reasonable” may have started to change. The idea of paying $12+ for a counter service lunch starts to sound normal. And $30 for a dinner entree? That’s just what stuff costs, right? But before you even get to eat, you need park tickets and a hotel room. Many of us have annual passes, so we don’t even think anymore about that portion of the budget. Here is a reminder – an adult week-long park hopper is going to set you back over $300 right out of the gate. And that doesn’t even include any side trips to the water parks or extras like golf (mini or maxi). As far as hotel rooms go, even I recognize the ridiculousness of paying the same amount or more for a room in the Hawaii longhouse at the Poly as I have for an ocean front room that’s *actually in Hawaii.* Be mindful of everyone’s budget and priorities.
OMG look at all those people
WDW is crowded even when it’s not “crowded.” My trip was during a 4-6 crowd estimate on the ever-helpful crowd calendar. Several of us WDW vets (people who have seen things no one should ever have to see) were talking about how light the crowds were during our trip. My friend was like “are you kidding? this is ‘light crowds?'” People who haven’t developed coping techniques yet may find the throngs of people somewhat unnerving. Go early in the day or late in the afternoon – and use those touring plans and fastpasses to catch the attractions you really want to see. Even the closest of friends are going to run out of things to talk about in the 120 minute queue for Soarin’. If your traveling companion says something about crowds on a fairly light day, do like I did and take him on a stroll through Fantasyland at 1PM. Just for kicks of course. I have a feeling that vision will haunt his dreams for awhile. Yes, dear, that is what we mean by “crowded.”
We’re going to do it all!
No, you’re not. You may be tempted to try to fit every “must do” attraction into your trip for your friend’s sake. Think back. Remember all those families you have seen disintegrating right before your eyes around 6PM in the Magic Kingdom. They thought they could do it all too. Just because you’re a pro doesn’t mean you’re invincible. Allow for down time and don’t be afraid to leave stuff on the table. If you have a good time, there’s always the next trip.Here are some of the things we DIDN’T do in a 6 night trip to the world:

  • Ride Space Mountain, Expedition Everest or Toy Story Mania
  • Eat more than one table service meal
  • See Fantasmic!

Try something new
Say you go to WDW multiple times a year. I bet there’s something you have either never tried or haven’t done in awhile. On this trip, we went to a Braves’ spring training game at ESPN Wide World of Sports and played mini-golf at Winter-Summerland. And it was great. Other things you could try are tea at the Grand Floridian or resort recreation like watercraft or bicycles.
Splurge on something just to show how cool a trip WDW can be
Accommodations were my big splurge this trip (thanks, DVC!). We had a Treehouse Villa at Saratoga Springs and a savanna view villa at Kidani Village. I really wanted to pick resorts with a big WOW factor and the treehouses and Animal Kingdom Villas fit the bill. You could also splurge on a round or two of golf, spa treatments, the Richard Petty Driving Experience, or a meal at Victoria and Albert’s depending on everyone’e interests.
Don’t set expectations too high
Sure, you love the place, but it’s just not everyone’s bag. My friend was an absolute trooper. He let me drag him from him from park to park and sat through very serious discussions between the princesses about Vinylmations and pins we were looking for without rolling his eyes once (that I saw). He heard several conflicting theories on the best place for last minute Illuminations viewing. He learned about the TTC and the TTA, why you need ADRs even if you’re just using the DDE and not the DDP, and the best way to get from SSR to DTD to WWoS, and took it all in stride. In short, he was a dream to travel with. You may not be so lucky. Have back up plans in place if it looks like your traveling companion isn’t having a good time, and (take a breath here) be prepared to leave to Disney bubble if need be. Some people can’t take the Magic 24/7. Just be ready.
Have you taken a newbie lately or do you plan to in the future? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Posted on May 21, 2010

21 Responses to “So you want to take a newbie to Walt Disney World”

  • even I recognize the ridiculousness of paying the same amount or more for a room in the Hawaii longhouse at the Poly as I have for an ocean front room that’s *actually in Hawaii.*

    Best. Quote. Ever.

    • Crazy isn’t it? Sad part is, I “paid” for our two week Hawaiian honeymoon, in a condo with a walkout to the tidal pools on Maui with United Airlines mileage. I do wish Disney had some sort of frequent guest program. That would help. That said, I live in northern NJ, and the signature dining prices aren’t bad since we’re used to paying $200 for dinner for two at home. Tables In Wonderland gets us a “free” tip with the 20% discount, but it really is a matter of perspective.

      • I use my Amex Gold Card for EVERYTHING. I have to pay it off within the month so I don’t have to worry about bad debt, and I get WONDERFUL points, including 3x and 5x points on a lot of purchases. The BEST part is you can use your points to pay for part of or even all of your trips that you book through Amex. You can turn it into your own Frequent Traveler program!

  • that’s funny! After getting used to the Disney version of “reasonable prices”, when I started looking at condos in Hawaii for a family vaca next year, I was thrilled at what a bargain they seemed!!!

  • I recently took my husband on his first Disney trip since early childhood. All he could remember about his visit as a 5 year old was being amazing by what Disney could do with audio-anamatronics. 25 years later, he was still so intrigued by them that I ended up taking him on some attractions I hadn’t really planned on or thought he would even like. I think it’s important to have a very flexible plan when traveling with first timers in order to add or subtract attractions based on their early impressions, likes, and dislikes.

    • by Laurel Stewart on May 23, 2010, at 1:49 pm EST

      That’s very true, Betsy. Even if you’re the “pro,” you should get some input from your guest before and during the trip about what he wants to get out of it. Especially if he has been as a child and has special memories of that trip. Or if he’s never been at all, send him to one of the many planning web sites out there to get an idea of the attractions and see what he thinks looks cool. Of course, that might lead to having to ride Stitch or something, in which case you get the satisfaction of saying “I told you so” afterwards.

      • RE: Stitch…haha…in lieu of an “I told you that I know best when it comes to Disney” for Stitch, I did earn that satisfaction after obliging his request to take the “cool looking train” to the Conservation Station at AK.

  • by Amy from KC on May 22, 2010, at 9:56 pm EST

    So……you wouldn’t recommend scheduling the Magic Kingdom Ultimate Touring Plan as a great way to inroduce a newbie to all of the magic of the World? πŸ˜‰

  • I planned a “just me” trip for this summer, but my friend (first timer) wanted to tag along. I’m excited, but warned her that WDW is not a vacation– it’s an adventure! And if she needs a break– no hard feelings if we need to separate for a while. I’m more nervous about taking my husband (hasn’t been in 20 years) in the fall. He just HAS to love WDW he HAS too!!

    • Doh! That last word should be “to”. πŸ™‚

    • by Laurel Stewart on May 23, 2010, at 1:54 pm EST

      That’s a great attitude, Katie. When I travel with the other princess (we go to WDW together often), we acknowledge the need for alone time. Don’t sweat it with your husband, I know many WDW fans whose spouses just aren’t as into the World (I’m one of them) and they seem to make it work. πŸ™‚ I let my own husband off the hook except for one trip a year – he is maritally obligated to be there for WDW Goofy Weekend.

    • Katie – When traveling with a first time husband, I suggest seeking out ways to avoid places/activities that aren’t crawling with people (and little kids). When I took my husband for the first time we watched Wishes from the beach at the Polynesian. When we went to see Illuminations, we walked out through the international gateway, strolled through and then caught a bus from the Boardwalk to Downtown Disney, and then got on our resort bus from there…a much easier way to do things than fighting the masses back to the buses. Show your husband the lesser known, less crowded, hidden gems of the world, and he’ll definitely want to go back – mine can’t wait!

  • I took my husband(sons aged 18 and 13 stayed home) in January. He hadn’t been since before there was an Epcot. I was there 2 days before him (he came from a conference). He has always hated cute and commercial. I tried to find things he liked and left the parks when he said enough. The first night we went to the California Grill. I timed the reservation to be there for the fireworks not planning to view them from outside. The waiter said he would have our dessert on the table when we came back from viewing the fireworks because only the worst cynics would not go out to watch. We went. After dessert, I took him downtown to have a cigar at Sosas. We stayed at Port Orleans in a great corner room from which we could see the water(but not at water view price). We had beignets for breakfast. For dinner or lunch we ate at Le Cellier, Teppan Edo, Jikos, Artist Point, and Citricos. I did not take him to MK. We did a little of the early morning dash for fast passes (Soarin’ and Toy Story Mania). He loved Dinosaur, Soarin’, Toy Story Mania, the rainforest listening room in the Conservation Station, Test Track (rode 5 times in the cold windy drizzle), Living with the Land, and walking from Port Orlean’s French Quarter to P.O.’s Riverside. We took a break every afternoon. The weather was great… cold and windy… (as a native of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan my husband does not like hot). It was a great way to celebrate 30 years together. Best of all I think he’ll go back …eventually. Maybe for our 35th … or 40th.

  • by Isabelle Boivin on May 25, 2010, at 11:39 am EST

    Just to say that your article was great to read !

  • I’m the planner for our group trip in early Dec — 4 adults and 3 kids aged 7, 6 and 4. Except for me, everyone in the group is a newbie or has been to WDW barely enough to not be newbies. I’m actually feeling a lot of pressure to make the trip a success and I have to keep reminding myself that sometimes keeping things simple is a better choice. We’ll still get our wow factor (we’re staying in the Treehouses), but I’m now thinking about cutting back a little on the planning so we have room for the spontaneous. Anyone find an unexpected bit of Disney magic when they brought along a first time?

    • by Laurel Stewart on May 28, 2010, at 1:03 pm EST

      That’s a great question, Kathy. I find unexpected magic myself all the time and I’m far from a first-timer. Part of the problem with the internet is that things that were once unexpected gestures from cast members have become entitlements to people who read about them online from others’ trips. So when I say unexpected magic, I mean things like catching the Pirates Tutorial and actually watching it even though I have no children. Or following the end of the Animal Kingdom parade out of the park singing along like a dork. Or kicking back with a drink in World Showcase and watching people leave the park in a frenzy while you leisurely wait for the CMs to forcibly eject you from the park. The magic is what you make it, you know? I don’t need a room upgrade or a free cupcake to feel like I’m getting my daily dose of magic (not saying you do either).

  • I love Disneyworld, but my fiancee has no interest in visiting. He thinks it’s just for kids and I can’t convince him how awesome it is for everyone. He says he will be interested in going once after we have children. I really want to convince him to try it as an adult aloe first because I’m not sure I’ll ever convince him how great it is if we wait util we have 5 yr olds. Help!!!!

    • oops. I meant until. πŸ˜‰

    • by Laurel Stewart on June 12, 2010, at 10:13 pm EST

      Sounds like we’re hearing that a lot, Cindy! I feel a blog entry on “The Reluctant WDW Traveler” coming on. I’ll have to get some feedback from my husband on that one. Sadly, it will have to wait until I get back from my trip to Fort Wilderness without him next week. πŸ™‚