The Basics: Walt Disney World First Timer’s Guide — The Minimum You Need to Know
Over the coming weeks we at the TouringPlans Blog will be going Back to Basics. We often write our posts from the perspective of people who have visited theme parks many, many times and we sometimes forget that there are those who need more basic advice. This entry is our first “Basics” post with several more to follow on topics such as characters, FastPass+, dining, hotels, and how to use our Touring Plans and Crowd Calendar. If there’s anything specific you would like us to cover let us know in the comments. Enjoy!
Sooooo, you’re planning your first trip to Walt Disney World, and you go onto the internet and ask the masses for advice. I see exchanges like this all the time:
You: Hi everyone! I’m planning my first ever trip to Walt Disney World, and I’m not really sure where to begin. What do I need to know?
Within seconds, responses start to pour in:
Helpful person number 1: Doug is the best Jungle Cruise skipper! He’s worth waiting for, so try to get on his boat!
Helpful person number 2: If you go to the phone booth in Tomorrowland and pick up the phone, you’ll hear some funny chatter! It’s a MUST do!
Helpful person number 3: I’ve never done it myself, but I heard from a bus driver that there’s a secret passageway on the pathway between Space Mountain and Storybook Circus that you can use to get to Animal Kingdom! Just whisper “Marcelline” into the third shrub on the east side of the path, and a Cast Member will appear and escort you to a high-speed underground rail that connects directly with Expedition Everest! It will save you so much time AND you get to ride Everest without a wait!
…and so on and so forth — good info to have, and well-intentioned, but not really critical from a planning standpoint for someone that has never even set foot on Disney property. Before you know it, the signal to noise ratio is unbearable, and you’re getting bombarded with so many niche tips and tricks that the information that is legitimately important for a first timer to have gets lost in the shuffle.
The biggest problem a first-timer encounters is that they don’t know what they don’t know, and knowing where to direct your focus is half the battle. With that in mind, I’ve tried to put together my “most important concepts” for a first time visitor that provides the bare minimum amount of information you need to successfully plan a trip, and then you can add on to that as you like. There is probably nowhere on planet earth that rewards a little advance planning like Walt Disney World, so I’d encourage anyone reading this to move beyond this guide, but this will at least provide the concepts that you need to be aware of to plan your first trip that you can use as touchstones if you start to feel a bit lost. Here goes with the most important things for a first time visitor to know:
- When you go and where you stay can have a big impact upon your trip
- While you Don’t have to plan every moment, certain planning is wise
- Understand what FastPass+ is and use it liberally
- Walt Disney World is probably larger than you think
There you have it, have fun on your trip!
Looking at what I’ve written with the benefit of a few seconds hindsight, it occurs to me that there might be a need for a little more detail. I promise I’ll keep it light, though, and will limit it to stuff that will really move the needle for you. Sooooo, without further ado, let’s jump in!
When To Go and Where To Stay
One thing a lot of first timers don’t realize is that when you visit can have a dramatic impact upon every aspect of a trip, including the amount you pay, the experiences you’ll have available to you, and the crowds — and accordingly lines — you’re going to encounter. Many families in particular will select times purely based upon when kids are out of school without realizing that those are also the busiest and most expensive times to visit. I’ve even heard of people thinking they are being clever by going on Christmas day expecting it to be empty and then being stunned to find awe-inspiring crowds upon arrival. For a deeper dive into when the best time to visit will be, please check out this article.
Walt Disney World also provides a dizzying array of hotel options from campsites to 5 diamond properties, and that’s not even including the myriad off-site options in the area. Moreover, there are significant differences between the experience staying onsite and off-site that can have a real impact upon your trip; here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of each approach:
- Free transportation to and from the airport (Disney’s Magical Express)
- Book Fastpasses 60 days prior to your trip for the duration of your stay
- Free parking at the parks
- Access to Extra Magic Hours (where the parks are open early or late just for Disney Resort guests)
- Free transportation around the resort property
- Free Magicbands
- Charge most resort purchases to your room
- Elaborate theming
- Higher cost compared to comparable off-site accommodations
- Limited room configurations
- Lower cost, sometimes dramatically so, particularly for more elaborate accomodations.
- Much wider array of options — everything from traditional hotel rooms to the rental of entire mansions with multiple master suites, private pools, game rooms and other amenities not available at Disney properties.
- Book FastPasses 30 days prior to your trip, one day at a time, rather than 60.
- Must pay to park at the parks.
- Generally not as convenient, especially if you tend to take midday breaks.
- You realistically MUST have a car or plan to use some other form of transportation (Uber/Lyft, cabs, etc.).
Note that there are a number of other hotels on and near Disney property that are not Disney owned but that nevertheless get some of the same benefits as Disney hotels. This includes the Swan, Dolphin, Four Seasons, Shades of Green and numerous “good neighbor hotels” that are at Disney Springs and the surrounding area. The specific benefits vary depending upon the property, but the feature that distinguishes all of them from most Off-Site hotels is that you can still book your FastPasses at 60 days rather than waiting until 30 days prior to your trip. This is one of the more important perks, because for some high demand attractions like Avatar — Flight of Passage, not booking at the 60 day mark can make it very difficult to obtain a FastPass at all.
Regardless of whether you are staying on or offsite, it’s important to select a place that’s going to mesh with the type of trip you’re taking. Check out this article for some assistance in finding a place that aligns with your travel priorities.
Planning a Few Things Will Go A Long Way
While plenty — actually the overwhelming majority of people — just go to Disney and wing it and have a great time, a little bit of planning will really enhance your trip and knowing what you need to plan ahead is critically important. Both dining and attractions can be reserved well before you arrive at Disney, and if you care about where you eat and what you do, you should absolutely take advantage of this opportunity. Here are the critical deadlines of which you should be aware:
- Advance Dining Reservations can be made at 7 a.m. Eastern time 180 days from the start of your trip. Believe it or not, for certain high-demand restaurants like Be Our Guest, Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Royal Table, we actually advise that you take advantage of this and book at the earliest possible opportunity. Most of the really in-demand dining options are Disney’s famous character meals, so keep that in mind if you’re wanting to experience one or more on your trip.
- FastPass+ Reservations, which allow you to skip Disney’s similarly famous lines, can be made at 7 a.m. Eastern time 60 days from the start of your trip for guests of Walt Disney World resorts (including the Swan and Dolphin), or 30 days before your trip for everyone else. Note that you have to have valid park admission linked to your account to be able to make these reservations.
FastPass+ is a free system that allows guests to experience high-demand attractions with minimal wait. Understanding FastPass+ is probably the single most important bit of homework for a Disney trip. Take a moment to read through our overview of FastPass+ and make sure you understand it and know how to use it. It has the potential to save you hours each day as compared to just waiting in standby lines.
Also, we strongly recommend that you use a Touring Plan to direct you around the parks. That should probably come as no surprise coming from a site called “TouringPlans.com,” but this is not just self-promotion. Walt Disney World is chock full of attractions, shows and other diversions, but they are not all created equal. Some are incredible, not-to-be-missed experiences, while others can most definitely be missed. Moreover, these attractions have different capacities, different ride systems, and different demand levels, and all of those things dictate when the best time to see them will be. Some attractions will generate massive waits from the moment the parks open, literally requiring you to be there to make a beeline to queue up even on the slowest days. Other attractions can be experienced whenever you’d like with no wait, even when crowds are at their apex.
If you really want to be in the best position to optimize your time, there’s really no substitute for doing research to figure out what you do and do not want to do and plotting out your day in a way that will minimize the amount of time you spend waiting. This article is not about that yeoman’s work, however, it is about doing the bare minimum you need to do to give yourself an edge, and the easiest way to do that by far is to pick one of our Touring Plans that matches your traveling party and follow it because we have done that research for you. Doing so will ensure that you’re hitting the attractions most guests care the most about and that you’re experiencing them at times where you are minimizing the overall amount of time you spend in line.
You’ll notice that most of our Touring Plans have you arriving at the park before it even opens. I recognize that it may seem counterintuitive to be up that early while on vacation, but if seeing and doing as much as you can and standing in as few lines as possible while on your trip is important to you, getting there early is the single best tip I can give you. You can accomplish more in the first two hours a park is open than you can in several hours later in the day, and you’ll do it when the temperature is more mild and you’re not surrounded by a sea of humanity. Be at the parks early, relax at the resort during the afternoon when the lines and heat are at their apex, and then return in the evening to wrap up when things start to die down. Lather, rinse, repeat. It is a simple, proven formula.
Walt Disney World is Huge
The most common report I hear from people that come back from their first trip — and the biggest mistakes I see while people are planning their first trips — share a common theme, in that they underestimate the size and scope of Walt Disney World. Many people that have not been assume that it is like a better and perhaps slightly larger version of your local Six Flags, and those that have been know that that isn’t really even in the same ballpark. Even Disneyland Resort in California is tiny in comparison.
There are several things that naturally flow from this that are useful for a first-timer to know:
- Wear comfortable shoes
As you’ll see below, I take a somewhat dim view of the over-the-top, expansive packing lists that you’ll encounter on some Disney sites, but there is one thing that is absolutely necessary no matter who you are and when you’re going, and that is comfortable walking shoes. We tend to average around 8 miles of walking a day, and it can take a toll on your feet if you’re not wearing appropriate shoes. There are few things that derail a trip like a blister that reminds you how miserable your feet feel with every single step you’ll take, because you’re going to take a lot of them.
- Pick ”must-dos” rather than eliminating things
I have been to Disney World many times at this point in my life, usually for week-long trips, and I have yet to experience everything that the resort has to offer — there is simply too much to do. For that reason, it always cracks me up when first-timers ask me what things are skippable, because it presumes that they’ll be able to do everything else. Even just limiting yourself to the attractions within the four theme parks, doing it all is a really tall order.
Embrace this truism right now: no matter how long your trip is, you’re probably not going to be able to fit everything in that you would like to do as a first-time visitor. For that reason, the better way to think about it is to pick a handful of things that you absolutely must do, prioritize those, and everything after that is gravy.
- You’re probably underestimating transit time
When selecting the location for Walt Disney World, Walt explicitly searched for an area that was large enough to block out the outside world and give everything he wanted to build plenty of breathing room. Well, mission accomplished — Walt Disney World in fact occupies about as much acreage as San Francisco — but this also means that things are quite spread out and between parking, trams, traffic and crowds, it can take a while to get from one place to another.
I remember a friend planning her first trip sent me a copy of her proposed itinerary, and it had them essentially teleporting themselves all over property, hopping from park to park in a matter of moments as if they were next door to each other. There was one day where they were set to go to Magic Kingdom for an hour, only to leave to go to Animal Kingdom just to catch Finding Nemo, only to turn around and head back to the Magic Kingdom area for lunch at Whispering Canyon at the Wilderness Lodge — all over the course of 3 hours. You’d have to hit everything just right for it to even be possible, but it would end up being needlessly hectic.
Here’s the takeaway from this — rein in your expectations about what you might accomplish on any given day. Hopping from one park to another is reasonable, and squeezing in a trip to a resort or Disney Springs for a meal on the same day is also fairly common (particularly if it’s a resort near the park you’re visiting or it’s at the beginning or end of your day). Try to squeeze more than that into a single day, and the amount of time you spend in transit is going to start to add up and you’re going to water down the experiences you have at each location.
Don’t Overthink It
There is an overwhelming amount of information available about planning a Disney trip — books, websites, podcasts, online forums, Facebook groups, twitter, etc. — and, indeed, it can be, well, overwhelming to someone that has never done it before. Frankly, it pains me when I see an exchange like the one at the start of this article, where someone asks for assistance and they get bombarded with niche tips that are more appropriate for someone that has been several times. Accordingly, while I do believe that having a solid plan of attack is the best approach to a Disney trip, let me provide this bit of counter-balance: relax. The fact that you know of the need to plan and you’re reading a Disney blog will put you in a better position than the vast majority of Disney visitors, and those people usually still have great trips. Having any plan will help you tremendously, even if you’re not planning out every little thing that you do.
Here’s the other thing: Walt Disney World itself is one of the most industrialized spots on planet earth, and it sits near a major metropolitan area. If there’s something you need, you can probably find it on the property. It might cost a bit more (OK, it will cost a bit more), but if it’s for something you’re not sure you’re going to need, you might find that to be a reasonable trade-off as compared to toting it around needlessly. Moreover, if it’s something you can’t find on property, there are places reasonably nearby that can help you out if you’re really in a bind.
Some of the packing lists I’ve seen people post are so cartoonishly long and over the top, you’d think you were going … to infinity … and beyond! The water is drinkable, the air is breathable, and you don’t need to pack a few bars of gold bullion “just in case.” While there are a few “must” items (like comfortable shoes, see above), packing for WDW doesn’t need to be dramatically different from packing for any other active vacation. Sure, people do pack lots of unique, Disney-specific things — like custom shirts, custom stroller signs, custom envelopes for gratuities, and all manner of “be prepared” items like ponchos, band-aids, snacks, etc. — but don’t feel like you’ve failed if your suitcase looks more or less the same it would for any other trip. It’s Walt Disney World, not the Third World.
Moreover, while planning WAY in advance is advisable for the most sought after restaurants and attractions, there is still lots to experience that does not require you to scramble to a computer 6 months prior to your vacation. We’ve been to Walt Disney World on less than a week’s notice before and still had a great time. Focus on the overwhelming number of things that do remain at your disposal rather than the handful that might not, and have fun!
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Ordinarily, this would be the part of the post where I invite you all to share your own tips and tricks, but this article sort of calls for the opposite. So, with that in mind, is there anything critical that I missed? Any broad, sweeping concepts that you share with first timers? Questions? Let me know in the comments!
46 thoughts on “The Basics: Walt Disney World First Timer’s Guide — The Minimum You Need to Know”
One other thing I’d emphasize for first time visitors are the benefits to staying onsite. I wouldn’t insist that they do it, but they should realize that if they stay offsite, they should get a rental car because the hotel’s shuttle to the parks is bound to be pretty useless.
If they do choose to stay onsite, I’d strongly recommend they skip the dining plan. Disney makes it seem like something you should do, but it really just leads to excessive complications while not saving money.
“If they do choose to stay onsite, I’d strongly recommend they skip the dining plan. Disney makes it seem like something you should do, but it really just leads to excessive complications while not saving money.”
Correct if it’s not free dining. If free dining is an available promotion, it’s likely to be a huge savings for a typical family of four, and it’s likely that the savings from a free regular dining plan will outweigh the cost of an upgrade from value to moderate. Table service meals at Disney will seem expensive to anyone not coming from an expensive big city (when I lived in New York, Disney restaurants were relatively cheap by comparison), and the ability to pick what you want off the menu without worrying about price is a lot more pleasant and vacation-y.
The free dining plan means you have to forego any room discounts, as you have to pay the full rate for the room to get free dining. For most families, who don’t plan on maximizing the dining plan by eating at sit down restaurants etc. they’ll save more money with a room-only discount than they will with free dining.
Almost never true for families staying at a Moderate or below during the times (usually off-peak) free dining is offered. Free DDP for 2 adults has a value of about $100/day. The 30% off room discount on a $200 room at POFQ is $60/night. Add in kids and the free DDP deal gets better.
Your numbers are only correct if the people using it max out the meal plan. I almost never spend anywhere near $50 for food per day as a single adult when I am in the parks. I would have to change my eating habits significantly in order to make it cheaper to do free dining than to do the room only discount.
Most people, especially first timers, don’t understand how to max out the food plan. There’s always leftover credits that get used for something cheap like rice crispy treats. In the end, they spend less than the $100/day value, sometimes far less, making the room discount often the better deal. The meal plan is more convenient, but it isn’t generally the best deal, even when it’s free.
It will be my 7th trip this September, daughters 5th and my partners 1st. I’ve emphasised how spread out things are just this weekend gone and time constraints etc. He actually laughed at me and dismissed me as being over reactive. He thinks leaving the park, back to hotel, changed and over to Jiko in a 3hr window is too big a window. We are not staying on site!!!! I sometimes think I don’t speak English!!!!!
This might not be broad enough, but understanding terminology is critical. I caught up with a friend a few days before she left for her first WDW experience with her 4 kids. I asked if she got the fast passes she wanted. She said “oh yes, they came in the mail a few weeks ago.” And my heart sank. She thought the magicbands WERE the fast passes. We scrambled and got some key ones, but they were staying on-site and have inadvertently given up one of the bigger benefits to staying on-site: the 60 day window to book FP+.
I know exactly what you’re talking about. I had just walked into the FP queue for Anna and Elsa last year (when it was even harder to get than now), and a guy came in with his family behind me and unsuccessfully tried to enter using his band. He explained to the CM that he had been told that he could use his MagicBand to enter the FP queues, which I guess is partially true, but whomever it was that told him that left out the important detail about making reservations first. My heart just broke for this guy, because you know there was no way on earth he was getting an Anna and Elsa FP at that point.
I’m so glad you’re doing this! As a frequent WDW visitor, I’m often asked for advice by friends & co-workers. I’ll be bookmarking these articles in my “WDW Newbie” folder! 🙂
Confession: part of the reason I wanted to write this article was to have something I could direct people to when I’m asked this question. 🙂
There are SO MANY first timers who do not realize Universal and Disney are separate parks.
They turn up at Universal with their Magic Your Way Park Hopper pass and are stunned that they cannot get in.
Harry Potter is NOT at Walt Disney World. If you want to visit the Wizarding World, you need a Universal ticket. And you’ll need a Universal “park-to-park” ticket, not a base ticket, if you want to ride the Hogwarts Express. And there is no (easy) transportation between Disney and Universal. And, no, that’s not an oversight.
This always blows me away, too, and it happens a stunning amount. I’ve even had people argue with me AT DISNEY WORLD about whether or not Hogwarts is there. I like to be helpful, but sometimes, you’ve just got to let people make their own mistakes, I suppose.
One thing, though — there is now an easy way to get between Universal and Disney: Uber. We’ve used it to get around WDW in the past, but we used it to go from UOR to WDW on our last trip, and it only cost $15.25 and couldn’t have been easier. Can’t recommend it enough.
Seconding Uber for off-site transportation. When I was in Orlando for a work conference last year, we stayed at the Marriott World Center, which is right across I-4 from Downtown Disney. The last day, I had time between the end of work stuff and my plane home, and wanted to go to Downtown Disney for the day. The regular cabs would have cost about $22 each way. Uber was $8, and the Uber cars were nicer than any cabs I’ve taken.
I really wish Uber worked for those of us with kids! When you need a combination of 3 carseats/booster seats, it seems like many of the options that work for others are off the table.
I am realizing now that doing Disney World with a new baby (I guess he’ll be more like a toddler when the time comes) is going to be a whole new ballgame. I know we will need to schedule time for naps, rethink some of our go-to attractions (or child-swap), and basically slow down our touring in general, but the piece I am having a hard time wrapping my head around is transportation. I would love some advice on how a veteran Disney visitor but first-time Disney mom should plan on getting around.
First of all, you may have already seen this, but if not, check out this article I did last year, it might have some tips that you can use: http://blog.touringplans.com/2015/08/21/disney-small-children-lessons-learned/
On the transportation front, people routinely bring their babies onto the buses, monorail, Magic Express, cabs, Uber, etc. without car seats — and Florida law expressly permits that — so if you are OK with that, there’s no reason for it to be any different from what you’re used to (apart from the additional hassle of another potentially uncooperative person). If you DO have a problem with that, however, I don’t see any way to get around renting a car (or bringing your own) so you’ll have a car seat. Also, I’ve seen reports that UberFamily (i.e., Uber with car seats) will be launching in Orlando soon, so that may be another option at some point. With that said, I have neither seen neither details nor official confirmation on that, so I think it has to be characterized as rumor for now.
I was not able to locate a “reply” button on your post, but I wanted to write and thank you, James, for your helpful response to me. I appreciate you writing back so quickly even after your original post has been up for some time. Thank you!
My pleasure, glad you found it helpful!
I’ve heard some people refer to Magic Kingdom as Disney World 🙁 I just shake my head.
I can certainly remember when Disney World and Magic Kingdom were considered one in the same.
Number 1 piece of advice…GET TO THE PARKS FOR ROPE DROP! My husband was SO impressed that we walked on to most of our rides or that he never had to wait more than 10 minutes for our rides. My kids never knew the agony of waitng in line! Planning is the only way to go! Plan, research AND plan some MORE. : )
This is so true. This suggestion tends to get some pushback from people, but I always tell them “Just try it one day and see how it works, and if you don’t think it’s makes a difference, I’ll quit pushing it.” They tend to get it after they see the difference a couple of hours can make.
But also be careful you don’t burn the candle at both ends. I love to watch the fireworks, so tend to be in the parks later. This means we might only make it to park opening on one morning, as I don’t want to get up early after a later evening when I’m on holiday!
Definitely a fair point. Ultimately, it’s tough to have fun if you’re exhausted, so you’ve got to try to strike some balance. If you’re a night owl, those evening hours can be a great time to check some boxes instead!
Which is why those mid-afternoon nap breaks are so important!
This is my first piece of advice to any new visitor, followed closely by allow more time to get around than you think you need, especially when getting in and out of the Magic Kingdom is involved. My third piece of advice and the one I am most thanked for after the fact is get a stroller for your small child even if they no longer use one regularly. I have had people tell me they weren’t planning on using a stroller for their child because he/she can walk around their whole local park or their local zoo without one. They really have no clue how much walking they will be doing! All but one family listened to my advice and brought a stroller. The one family who didn’t ended up renting a stroller after having to carry the kids around half the Magic Kingdom.
I saw a couple who did not even seem to know that there are 4 major parks in WDW. They were inside Epcot and very confused by where they were and what to do. So please make sure everyone knows they have to pick a park and just a little about what to expect at each one. They will be glad they made an “informed choice”.
It boggles the mind.
It certainly does. But this exercise forces you to try to get inside the mind of someone who has never been to WDW! Very hard for serious fans to do.
This is what I was thinking. My first thing every newbie needs to know is that Disney is 4 separate parks, and Harry Potter is at Universal!
I’d loooovvve to see one of these for Universal! And a comparison to Disney rides and attractions. I’ve asked friends so many times “so what is it comparable to at Disney?” or “is it wilder or milder than Space Mountain?” I’ve been to Disney several times, but our upcoming Universal trip will be our first.
I second that, Melissa!
I’m actually working on a similar article with respect to Universal right now, although the focus is a little different because a Universal trip doesn’t present the same quirks that can make planning a Disney trip challenging. With that said, if there are particular facets that you’d like to see covered, let me know and I’ll try to fit them in!
Well, im basically a sissy on rides. If there are inversions or if it’s wilder than Dinosaur or Space, I’m out. I need to know what I’m getting myself into before I’m in line. Lol
I wrote an article for TP about a year and a half ago. When I visited last summer, many of my complaints were somewhat corrected. But check this out if you need quicker info. http://blog.touringplans.com/2014/10/15/aint-disney-world-planning-first-visit-universal-studios-orlando/
Thank you, sir!
I would also add another thought: Come up with some “must dos.” As the plans in the Unofficial Guide state — you probably won’t complete the plan. We went through the premade plan that best-suited us, then using the book as a reference, we crossed off things we knew we weren’t interested in. Then I entered the remaining attractions in the customized plan template on the site and voila! (Of course, being the weirdo that I am, I printed them in half size and laminated them. People thought I had some sort of special, “insider” document. LOL!)
Something I could not appreciate until quite recently is taking an afternoon break back at your hotel, most especially if staying on-sight. With my kids now being older teenagers, we can make rope-drop, and the ‘kiss goodnight’ as long as we take 3-4 hours off to rest and watch a movie back in our room.
Great article with many cold hard fact. I might suggest 1 small edit to the statement below:
Embrace this truism right now: no matter how long your trip is, you’re probably not going to be able to fit everything in that you would like to do as a first-time visitor.
Delete the last 5 words. Not only is it true, but, it may help show people that even vets don’t normally get to everything they would like to get done done. (the best reason for contingency lists.)
One thing I don’t see mentioned that I recommend to people (besides touring plans) is to explore the MyDisneyExperience app. Having attractions, dining options and resorts in one place can be helpful, and they can book reservations and fp+ on the app as well. I also completely agree with pre planning and making dining reservations as early as possible. I don’t think people realize that the high demand restaurants don’t just open for reservations but are completely booked on day 180, partly due to the 190 day rule. I know some people don’t like to be locked into times being someplace, but if you don’t pre plan you might miss out on something that is a must-do.
Yes…Even if you don’t want to plan ahead at least know that people plan! I saw a family walk up to the podium at Cinderellas Royal Table last Christmas Eve and try to get a table for breakfast. When they heard “no” they asked if they could reserve one for New Years Eve dinner instead. Like this isn’t the local Applebee’s people! If you don’t want to plan far in advance, at least know that you can’t walk up to the most popular restaurants whenever you want.
I would say that another KEY item for first-timers to research a little bit before committing to is hotel selection. There’s the off-site vs on-site dilemma, and if you do stay on site, where you stay can have a big impact on your transportation and non-park experience. A coworker of mine (who is a Disneyland regular) was planning her first WDW trip, and was stunned when I told her that the Animal Kingdom Lodge is not in walking distance to the Animal Kingdom (or ANYTHING, for that matter).
I stayed away from this in part because there’s actually another “Basics” article coming down the pike on this very topic, but this is a great point as a consideration that first timers may not realize matters a ton. I once had someone ask me about a hotel in Celebration that advertised itself as being “near the Main Gate,” because she thought that meant that she could walk to the parks. Would have been a rude awakening had she booked it!