Walt Disney World (FL)

Disney World Arrival Day FAQ

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For most guests, the first day of their Disney World vacation is a partial day. You arrive mid-day and then what? Do you rest? Play? Eat? How do you plan these things? Here’s what you need to know.


Your arrival procedures will vary depending on how you get from the airport to WDW.
Your arrive procedures will vary depending on how you get from the airport to WDW.

How long will it take me to get from the airport to my hotel?

The first thing to remember is that it often takes a minimum of 30 minutes after the plane lands to get to the point where you’re ready to leave the airport. This includes a disembarking the aircraft, a restroom stop, and collecting luggage (if you’re not having Disney deliver it). Be sure to factor this into your schedule.

After that, your timing depends on whether you’re using Disney’s free Magical Express transportation service or using a rental car. In both cases, you’ll need to budget 35ish minutes to drive from Orlando International (MCO) to Disney World.

If you’re using Magical Express, you may need to add up to 20 minutes for the bus to load at MCO. Additionally, the ME bus may transport guests from the airport to three or four different hotels. So, if your hotel is the first stop, then it will take just the 35 minutes to get from the airport to the resort. If you’re the fourth stop, then it may take up to about 75 minutes once you leave the airport.

If you’re using a rental car, the drive will take the same 35 minutes as the bus. However, you must collect your checked luggage yourself at the carousel (which is not always the case if you’re taking ME), and you’ll have to wait in line to get your car from the rental counter. Most of the time, this will be a 15 minute or so process. However, I have sometimes encountered HUGE rental car queues of well over an hour, while hour-long waits for ME almost never happen.

All of that is a very long way of saying that it will probably take you about an hour and a half from the time your plane touches down until the time you’re pulling up to your hotel, give or take, no matter how you’re getting to Walt Disney World.

I’ll be using a car to get to WDW, how do I find the right address to put in my GPS?

The street address of every Disney World resort hotel is listed on the DisneyWorld.com website on that resort’s main page, on the right, under the map. For example, you can see on the Pop Century page, the street address is: 1050 Century Drive, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830-8433.

Please bear in mind that some GPS systems handle directional street name modifiers differently. For example, the address for the All Star Music resort is 1801 West Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830-8436. The “West” in that address often trips up GPS units that want you to input “W” instead of West or to first input “Buena Vista Drive” and then select “W” or “West” from a menu. This may seem obvious, but flummoxes many guests who are tired from travel and using an unfamiliar rental car guidance system.

I’m not going to my resort first. What do I input into the GPS to get directly to a theme park?

For all the theme parks, use the street address below to get you close. I’ve found that once I’m within a mile or so of the parks, it’s often easier to turn off the GPS and just navigate using the signage, but that may just be me. Additionally, remember that many nav systems can get you to the parks via an “Attractions” or “Local Sites” menu item. If I don’t have the street address on hand, this usually works for me. Another sticking point for some is the use of the word “Disney” or “Disney’s” in the name of a location. Some attraction location systems want you to input “Pop Century” while others want something like “Disney’s Pop Century.” For the Magic Kingdom, some systems will list it as “Magic Kingdom,” while others list as “Disney World Magic Kingdom” or similar.

I almost always have problems with my iPhone when trying to get the map to take me to the Magic Kingdom. Sometimes I fudge and ask it to send me to the nearby Polynesian resort and then follow the signs when I get close. I’ve also had problems with Siri trying to send me to the secure cast member entrance of Disney’s Hollywood Studios instead of the main gate guest entrance. Be alert to this possible pitfall. (Can you tell that I have a terrible sense of direction and have made MANY mistakes driving around Walt Disney World?)

Magic Kingdom GPS address: 3111 World Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

Epcot GPS address: 1200 Epcot Resort Blvd., Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

Disney’s Hollywood Studios GPS address: 351 South Studio Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

Animal Kingdom GPS address: 551 Rainforest Road, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

Do I have to pay for parking if I drive directly from the airport to a theme park?

If you’re an annual pass holder or are staying at a Disney resort hotel, you are entitled to free parking at the theme parks, even if you have not yet checked in.

Annual pass holders should show their pass card which has the “PARKING” designation written on the back. (Magic Bands may not work for this.) When you check into a WDW hotel, you will be given a white barcoded paper to place on your dashboard indicating your resort guest status and free parking eligibility. If you’re staying at a Disney hotel but have not checked in, explain this to the parking booth attendant and show him/her a printout of your reservation confirmation. They should wave you right in with no fee.

If you’re not an annual pass holder and not staying at a Disney hotel, then you will have to pay for parking.

If my flight is delayed, can I still use Magical Express to get to my hotel?

Yes. Magical Express buses run 24 hours a day and they are well aware of flight difficulties. See more details on our Magical Express FAQ page, but rest assured that Magical Express will get you from MCO to your Disney resort hotel.

Some guests choose to spend their arrival day relaxing at the hotel pool.
Some guests choose to spend their arrival day relaxing at the hotel pool.


Do I need to go to my hotel first thing on my arrival day?

Yet again, it depends on how you’re arriving at Walt Disney World. If you’re arriving on Disney property via Magical Express, then yes, you must first go to your hotel. The ME buses will only bring you to your own resort.

If you’re arriving by any other method, then you’re welcome to visit a theme park directly on your first day without first stopping at your hotel. I often take an early flight from New York that puts me in Orlando at about 9:00am. When I rent a car, I usually just drive from the airport to a theme park to get a jump on the day. This works well because I can leave my luggage in the car. This would be somewhat more problematic if you were to take a taxi or town car to the parks because you would need to store your luggage somewhere. There are lockers at some of the theme parks, but they will not accommodate large bags.

In previous years, guests who purchased Disney vacation packages would have to stop at their hotel before going to the park to get their park admission tickets, but with the advent of MagicBands and MyMagic+ this is no longer the case. Since you can use My Disney Experience to pre-load your tickets onto the MagicBands which are shipped to your home in advance (for most guests), you’ll have your admission media in hand prior to arrival. Please note that you will not be able to charge merchandise to your room until you have officially checked in; however, you’re welcome to use other payment methods.

What time can I check in?

For most Disney resorts, the check-in time is 3:00pm. The variations on this are that the Fort Wilderness campsite check-in time is 1:00pm and the Disney Villa Resorts check in time is 4:00pm.

The villa resorts are: Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo Villas (not the standard Jambo House rooms), Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village, Bay Lake Tower (not the Contemporary), Beach Club Villas (not the main hotel), Boardwalk Villas (not the main Boardwalk Inn), Grand Floridian Villas (not the main hotel), Old Key West, Saratoga Springs and Treehouses, and Wilderness Lodge Villas (not the main hotel).

Can I check in earlier than those stated times?

Sure, you can check in as soon as they roll over the computer system to the next day. Typically this happens at some point during the pre-dawn hours. If there is a room ready, they’ll give it to you. I’ve often been let into rooms as early as 10:00am. They won’t promise to let you into a room until the stated check-in time, but if they can, they will.

Why would I want or need to check in early?

If you have a super early arrival time at MCO and are taking Magical Express, then you’ll be at the hotel anyway, so you might as well. But really, once you check-in you have all the privileges of a resort guest. You can use the hotel pools, charge merchandise (if you so desire), double check room requests, get your parking pass, and so on. And as an added bonus, you may find that your room is ready and can then freshen up and unpack.

My room is not ready, what can I do with my bags if I want to go to a theme park?

There is a bell services desk at every Walt Disney World resort. If your room is not ready and you want to head out, you can drop your bags with bell services. They will tag them with your name and a barcode, give you a receipt, and store them in a secure location. Be sure to keep with you anything you’ll need during your time away, such as daily medications. While obviously you’ll want to use your own judgment, I can tell you that I have left valuables like computers, cameras, and other electronics in the care of bell services many times and have never experienced any sort of problem at all. Once your bags are with bell services, you can go off to enjoy Walt Disney World. Please consider tipping your bellman.

What exactly happens during check-in?

The check-in desks at the resorts are all well marked and there are usually lots of friendly cast members to direct you. Once at the desk, you should be prepared to show a photo ID in the form of a driver’s license, passport, military ID, or similar. They are using this to verify your name and address and, in the case of younger guests, possibly your age.

The check-in clerk will then double check all your information with you such as the names of the other guests in your party, your check out date, whether you’ll be parking a car at the resort, and so on. Depending on how/when you reserved your room, you may be asked to pay part of your bill. You’ll be asked whether you want to allow charging privileges for your party’s MagicBands and if so how you’d like to secure those charges. You will also have to sign a half-page document in which you agree to pay your bill and abide by the resort’s rules.

The check-in clerk will give you a resort map, parks maps, a WDW Times Guide, Disney Dining Plan information (if this applies to you), and other helpful information. This is also an opportunity for you to ask questions, if you have any. If your room is ready, you’ll be given instructions about where it is.

How long will the check-in process take?

This depends on whether there are other guests ahead of you, whether you’re asking lots of questions, and whether you have a particularly complicated reservation (a large party, several rooms, etc.) But for the most part, you can expect that check-in will take somewhere in the 5-7 minute range.

Will doing online check-in impact whether my room will be ready when I arrive?

Disney allows guests to “check-in” prior to their arrival at the resort up to 60 days in advance via the DisneyWorld.com website. During this process you’ll verify the names of the guests in your party, add payment information, etc. Theoretically, this allows you to skip lines at the check-in desk and simply sign the resort agreement and be on your way. I have heard anecdotal evidence from some guests that they have found this useful. I’ve personally used online check-in five times and have never found the process to be any different than when I didn’t use it. I’ve found it has no impact on how long check-in takes and no impact on whether my room is ready. Your mileage may vary.

My room wasn’t ready at check-in and I’ve decided to go off and play in the parks. How will I know when my room is ready?

If you have a mobile phone, you can arrange to have the front desk of your hotel notify you when your room is ready via text or voice mail. The clerk should ask you whether you want this during check-in, but if she doesn’t, then be sure to ask. The text/voicemail will tell you your room number, so you can go directly there if you want to, using your MagicBand to open the door.

Can I have help getting my luggage to my room?

Sure. If you need help getting your bags to your room, just ask at the bell services desk. There is no fee for this service, but again, please tip your bellman.

Can I get a room upgrade when I arrive?

It couldn’t hurt to ask, but honestly this is unlikely. If rooms are available, you might be able to pay to upgrade to a nicer room location, but the odds of you being upgraded as a “gift” are small. I’ve had well over 50 WDW hotel check-ins and have only been gifted with an upgrade once, from a standard to a preferred room at the Pop Century. The check-in clerk saw that during that trip I was a woman traveling alone and might enjoy the added security of room closer to the main building. This was a nice gesture, but not exactly earth shattering.

Can I use the resort pool on my check-in day?

Yes. Once you’ve checked in, all the amenities of the resort are yours to enjoy, including the pools. If you want to swim and your room is not yet ready, you can use the changing facilities at the pool.

Can I arrange to have a gift/flowers/balloons/surprise waiting in my room when I arrive?

The Disney Floral and Gift Department has oodles of fun stuff that can be delivered to your room, everything from personalized mouse ears and candy bars to champagne and jewelry. But they will not put anything in your room prior to arrival. Disney rooms are not officially assigned until the guest checks in on property. Imagine what would happen if you had champagne and balloons delivered and your flight was delayed causing you to arrive a day later. Or what if you found a problem with your room, but the Florist had decorated it for little Jimmy’s birthday. There are just too many ways this could go wrong.

The Floral and Gift Department can arrange for a gift to be held at the front desk and presented at check-in, or you can set up an in-room delivery for another day of your trip, but the “open the door for the first time and see the beautiful basket” thing isn’t going to happen.

Can I visit other resorts on my first day?

Certainly. You won’t be able to use the pools at the other hotels, but you can feel free to dine, shop, or just look around at any of the Disney resorts.

You're taking a risk by booking your favorite restaurant on arrival day.
You’re taking a risk by booking your favorite restaurant on arrival day.


How soon after my arrival time is it safe to make a dining reservation?

I mentioned earlier that I typically budget an hour and a half from the time my plane lands until the time I’m at my resort. In addition to that, when making reservations, I assume that there will be a flight delay of half an hour. This doesn’t always happen, but it does often enough that I’m cautious. So that puts me at the two hour mark. After that, you may also have to budget check-in time, dropping your stuff in the room time, and transportation time from your resort to the meal location.

All of this means that my general rule of thumb is that you should not make any reservation earlier than three hours after your scheduled landing time at Orlando International. Sometimes even that is cutting it close. If you’re making a meal reservation at your own hotel, then a 2.5 hour buffer is probably OK.

Remember that nearly all table service restaurants at Walt Disney World now require a credit card hold for reservations and a have a penalty charge for no-shows. This means that if your flight is significantly delayed and your party of five misses its reservation at ‘Ohana, you’ll be out 50 bucks before your vacation even starts. This may be a risk you’re willing to take (I often do), but you should be particularly wary about scheduling your MUST DO meal for arrival day. If the only thing your child wants in the whole wide world is to dine with Cinderella in the Castle, then you should probably makes this reservation for something other than your arrival day.

I’m getting to WDW late at night. Are there any restaurants that will be open?

Most of the resort food courts and quick service restaurants stay open until 11:00 or 11:30pm with at least a limited menu. A few of the Downtown Disney restaurants (Bongos, Raglan Road, Paradiso 37) typically stay open until 1:00am. Captain Cooke’s at the Polynesian and the Gasparilla Grill at the Grand Floridian typically stay open 24-hours. That’s great if you’re actually staying at the Poly or Grand Floridian, but if you’re staying anywhere else your best bet is to grab something at the airport when you land or just cope with vending machine fare. Bonus tip: most of the WDW resorts alternate their vending machines so that beverages are on floors 1 and 3 and snacks are on floors 2 and 4 (or something similar). If you’re hungry and only find a drinks vending machine on your floor, try checking another floor for food.

I’m using the Disney Dining Plan. Can I use my meal credits on the first day?

Yes. Your dining plan credit availability starts at check-in.

With MagicBands and pre-purchased park tickets, you may not need to stop at your resort first.
With MagicBands and pre-purchased park tickets, you may not need to stop at your resort first.


Do I need to use a theme park ticket if I’m only going to be there for a few hours?

Yes. You need to use a park admission ticket any time you enter a theme park, even if it’s just for a quick visit at the end of the day.

Is there a special half-day price for visiting the theme parks?

Not exactly. Some business conventions held at Disney World offer their attendees a special partial-day theme park admission rate. These tickets are not available to the general public and are not meant for regular guests with a few hours to kill on arrival day.

The good news is that it often costs very little to add an admission day to your theme park ticket. For example, the adult price difference between a 9-day WDW theme park ticket and a 10-day ticket is currently about $10. This effectively means that it may only cost $10 to pop into the park for a few hours on your arrival day. Compare this to even something like going to a movie at Downtown Disney and you’ll see that it may make more sense to go to a theme park than to avoid the parks.

What is there to do at Walt Disney World if we don’t want to visit a theme park on our first day?

If you’re coming off a lengthy flight, crossing several time zones, or have been driving for days, your best option may just be to relax at the pool and nap during your first day – starting fresh when you wake up. But if you want a little more excitement than that, you can find plenty to do. Disney World is HUGE. It’s possible to spend weeks having a great time without ever setting foot in the theme parks. For ideas, check out our post 101 Things to Do Near Disney World Without Going into a Theme Park.

I want to go to a theme park on my first day, how do I decide which one?

This is tricky and the answer may vary depending on your needs. Here are some things to consider before deciding:

  • Will I have time to visit all four theme parks for a full day? If not, consider choosing one of the “half day” parks: Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom.
  • Will we be tired from traveling? If so, maybe choose the park closest to your hotel. Or perhaps avoid Epcot, which is the park with the most walking.
  • Will my kids be disappointed if they don’t see the Magic Kingdom first?
  • Do I want to avoid the Magic Kingdom to “save the best for last?”
  • Is there a special event happening that will make a particular park more or less crowded?
  • What does the Crowd Calendar say?
  • Are there Extra Magic Hours which will keep a park open extra late? Is this a good thing?
  • Is there a particular restaurant inside a park that I want to try?

I always see recommendations to arrive at the parks early. Will I be able to go on any rides if we get to the park late in the day?

We do recommend that you arrive at the parks early, but arriving early is not always possible, such as on arrival day. This is one problem that finds its solution in the new MyMagic+ system. Guests can make now FastPass+ reservations in advance to ride their favorite attractions with no wait, selecting a time that works for them. Previously, if you got to Disney’s Hollywood Studios late in the day and wanted to ride on Toy Story, the old FastPasses would be gone and there would inevitably be a wait of at least 90 minutes. Now you can use FP+ to make a Toy Story reservation and walk right on, even in the late afternoon. Score one for big info!

Is it worth it to go to a theme park just for fireworks or a parade on our first night?

There’s that pesky “Is it worth it?” question again. As noted above, depending on your length of stay, the price to add another ticket day may be minimal. If you’re at WDW for a 10-day visit, then paying $10 to get into the park just for fireworks may be fine. If you’re at WDW for a two-day visit, the price to add an admission day will be more substantial and thus prohibitive. On the other hand, if you’re only there for a 2-day visit, you may want to make use of every possible moment in the parks, making a fireworks/parade viewing very worth it, no matter the cost.

If you decide you don’t want to go into a park just for the fireworks, bear in mind that much of the Magic Kingdom Wishes show can be seen from the beaches at the nearby resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Fort Wilderness) – no admission fee required.

I want to Park Hop on some days, but I don’t need the Park Hopper feature for my arrival day. Can I get a price reduction?

No, it doesn’t work like that. The Park Hopper ticket feature goes for a flat-rate fee, regardless of the number of days you actually use it. Learn more about this on our Park Hopper FAQ page.

Does it make sense to go to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Very Merry Christmas Party on my arrival day?

It depends on how much of a gambler you are. Tickets to MNSSHP and MVMCP are non-refundable. They really won’t give you your money back if you miss it. If you’re scheduled to arrive at Walt Disney World relatively early in the day, if you’re not coming from a disadvantageous time zone, and if you’re not visiting during a typical storm-delay time of year, then attending a Magic Kingdom evening party can be a great way to start your vacation with a bang. But if circumstances are less than perfect, I’d probably wait for a date later in my trip.

What are your arrival day strategies? Do you have a plan that works? Have you tried something that didn’t work? What am I missing? Let us know in the comments below.

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

46 thoughts on “Disney World Arrival Day FAQ

  • I’m not sure if there is enough info to warrant a companion piece, “Disney World Departure Day FAQ”, so I wanted to add something we experienced on our departure day a few weeks ago. (Although, with every Erin Foster blog post, I always learn far more than I ever realized there was to learn on a given topic 😀 !!)

    Anyway, 2 things:

    1) Bell services resort baggage check-in closes at 1 pm SHARP.

    2) I picked up the phone at around 12:15 pm, to request bell services to assist us with our luggage. My big mistake. I was quoted a 1-2 hour turnaround time. My husband had to bring all 4 suitcases over himself. I had to stay back in the room with our young children, so he had to make 2 trips. He only made it there in time with the first 2 suitcases. With the other 2, he arrived there at 1:02. See #1!

    We were told that it is run by TSA agents, and they take the timing very seriously, and they close the cage promptly at 1:00, and they cannot re-open it, for security purposes.

    So we got to experience bringing our luggage on the DME manually, which actually wasn’t so bad. As a matter of fact, here is a tidbit for “Departure day”: at MCO, hordes of people brought their luggage with them to the line inside at the counter. We’ve always proceeded directly to security & the gate, so I am not sure what this area is called. Since we do “curb-side check-in” with our luggage at our home airport, we proceeded to walk outside the door of the airport, to the actual sidewalk in front. We asked about where we could check our bags, and the attendant said, “Right here!” Happy, but a bit confused, we asked why the people inside weren’t doing it, and he said, “Who knows?”, like maybe they don’t know about it. (Could it be airline-dependent? We fly Southwest. And we checked into our flight online 24 hours prior.)
    So there’s a tip for you: curb-side baggage check, even if you don’t drive up to the curb in a car!

    • Follow-up: A quick search for “curb-side baggage check MCO” yielded 2 useful results:

      1) Orlando International Airport (MCO) – Departures Guide
      (a nice little guide with photos of each step!)

      2) Orlando International Airport (MCO) – Airlines
      (a chart of which airlines serve Orlando International Airport, and the services they offer, including which ones offer Curbside Check-In. Perusing the list, I notice that no international airlines offer it. Most domestic airlines listed do, though, but not all.)

  • How do the magicband tickets work if my arrival day is before my check in day (arrive Thursday, check in Saturday)? I know in the past you could pick up your tickets 2-3 days early. Is that still possible?

  • There’s a certain cult attraction to both free dining and the “free” magical express.

    In BOTH cases, these are not really free, but are baked into the cost of the whole deal.

    Unfortunately, there’s no way to save money by opting out of magical express.

    While the author purports the benefits of the bus, there’s probably a certain higher level of comfort with public transportation than with driving that plays into a lot of the decision of whether a person prefers magical express or renting a car.

    If you have the ability to “skip the counter”, renting a car is very fast. And if you have the ability to drive around the Disney area confidently and competently, then I think renting a car FAR outweighs the Bus experience. And then, you have the benefit of having a car during your stay, which is generally by far a better experience than the on site Disney transportation.

    This is my perception of the typical scenario:
    1st day: going to WDW via bus:
    After the 30 minutes passes and you are de-planed, you have to check in with ME. That process is relatively similar to rental car check in time. Probably 10 minutes. Maybe 15.
    Then the waiting begins. It’s at least 30 minutes if not 1 hour before the bus even leaves the curb.
    Then 40 minute drive. (If you do plate pass with rental car, you can breeze through the tolls, and generally drive faster than the bus.) Probably 25 minutes driving.

    So, what takes 1 hour from touchdown to doing EXACTLY what you WANT to do when you rent a car.
    With Magical Express, it’s about 150 minutes (2.5 hours) and you’re delivered to your hotel where you wait in line to check into the hotel with all the other people that just got off your bus.

    On the way back: Unless you “waste” a hotel room night by leaving in the morning, you’re usually visiting a theme park. If you have a car, you can gas up before visiting the park, and then you won’t need to gas up again prior to car drop off.

    Be in your car at the theme park parking lot at about 45 min prior to your desire to be at the airport.

    Magical express way: Leave the hotel 3 to 4 hours prior to flight time, which means leaving the theme park about 5 to 5.5 hours prior to your flight time.

    That’s A LOT of theme park enjoyment. The ME bus is actually so much worse of a time suck on the way back. And you have no control. If you miss your 1 opportunity to take the ME bus, then you’ll be forking over $90ish for a cab anyway.

    This is not IMO a worst case scenario, but rather a scenario I’ve experience each time I took the ME bus.

    In this comparison, I think you save back for yourself over 5 hours of wasted time on each end by avoiding magical express. (90 minutes on the front end and easily 3.5 hours on the return end.) If you think it’s more like a 5 hour savings on the return trip, then Magical Express is a 6.5 hour time waste.

    People love the idea of free. But basically, it’s not free, it’s just that you’re already forced to buy it (price baked in) when staying on site. And it can cost the better part of a whole day. That’s certainly a cost that can be avoided.

  • I agree about the new FP+ system helping out on arrival day. I’m not very excited about being limited to 3 FP+ per day, but on arrival day, it’s a bonus! We’re staying at Yacht Club on our upcoming June trip, and I booked FP+ for us at DHS on arrival day (we plan to drive over from Universal and arrive about 1 pm). That gives us enough time to hop to DHS and use the FP+, then come back to our hotel for our Beaches & Cream reservation. Then it’s off to Magic Kingdom for our Wishes Dessert Party! This will probably be the best arrival day we’ve ever had! 😀

    One quick tip: if you’re flying in on your arrival day at WDW, coming from anywhere other than the east coast will mean a time adjustment the ‘bad’ way. We come from California, so the 3 hour adjustment is a killer! If you’re going straight to Disney, it may be worthwhile to just spend the first afternoon at your hotel relaxing and getting to bed early to help with the adjustment (tip: melatonin works wonder) so that you can make that early rope drop on your second day! If this doesn’t sound appealing (it never does to us) then schedule another part of your vacation first (presuming that you will be vacationing elsewhere in Florida besides Disney) so that when you arrive at WDW you are already time-adjusted!

  • Since our room wasn’t ready upon arrival to All-Star Music, we checked our carry-on bags and went to the Park. Upon returning, we found that the baggage check-in was closed. Fortunately, the staff brought our bags to our room. Just to be on the safe side, inquire what time the baggage room is opened until and how they handle things in order to retrieve everything.

  • On our arrival day last month for our family’s first trip to WDW, we landed at 1:30 and were at AoA around 3. Just in time for check-in. We relaxed in the room for a few and then toured the grounds. There was a lot to see! We had dinner at the quick-service and then got in the pool.

    After a busy day of travel with little ones, I’m glad that’s all we did. For one thing, we did want time to see the resort, and what better day to do it then when we first got there? And another, there was no need for us to wear ourselves out. We successfully hit an EMH rope drop the next morning. Awesome.

  • Leaving for Pop Century for one night and Yacht Club for 8 nights on Thursday. Just had a quick question. Does Disney hotels hold any amount for “incidentals” like other hotels?

    • We always pay the room up front, sometimes in cash, and you don’t have to put a credit card on file. That doesn’t let you charge to your room, but charging to the room is a BAD IDEA for me.

  • You rock Erin. Thank you so much for all this great information! One question. For the first time, we are planning to do a park on arrival day because it was the only day we could get a Be Our Guest reservation. I know you said that we can get into the park/parking lot without first checking into the hotel, which is great news. However, we will be on the DDP, and you said you can start using the DDP at check in. To be clear, we WOULD need to check into our hotel before using the DDP at Be Our Guest? Sorry if that’s confusing!

    • Sorry that I was unclear. I’ve now double checked and you do need to check in before you can use DDP credits. So you could go to the park and eat at BoG, but you’d have to pay out of pocket rather than using credits to do so.

      • Thanks for the quick response! The more I think about it, I’d rather check in and take the bus than deal with the TTC anyway. (BTW – you were not unclear; you were right on. I just wanted to make sure.)

  • My boyfriend and I were upgraded from Pop Century to the Carribbean Beach resort, without us asking, and they even had a private van take us from Pop to Beach. It felt bet VIP!! We were there for our anniversary and had requested a king bed (instead of 2 queens) which they don’t guarantee, so when I asked again at check-in and none were available, they offered us a complimentary upgrade. It was a truly magical way to start our vacation!!!

  • If you decide to take Amtrak to Orlando (I’ve been getting to Orlando by train for the last 9 years now), allow 20 minutes to claim your baggage after you detrain. Cabs are available outside the station to transport you to WDW which is about a 30-35 minute ride from the station (the Orlando station is very close to downtown Orlando, just off the Kaley Avenue exit on I-4).

  • Another important question: “If I take the Magical Express, when can I expect my bags?” On their website, the official answer is “up to three hours after you arrive at the resort.” However, we’ve used Magical Express three times in the past two years and the fastest we’ve ever gotten our bags is 4 hours after we arrived, with the longest being about 8 hours. Arrived at resort at 2pm; bags showed up at 10pm, well after the kids had fallen asleep without their pajamas.

    • I mentioned this on the Magical Express FAQ. You are absolutely correct. The ME documentation all mentions a 3-hour delivery window, but in my experience, 4 or 5 hours is more common. I’ll let ME deliver my bags if I’m arriving in the morning, but if I get to MCO later than about 2pm, then I get them at the luggage carousel myself.

      • Erin, that is good advice and I’ll just offer one other option, since I’m the dad (read Mule for this post). Magical Express is great for the person who would have to carry most of the families bags (2 daughters and Wife). I agree on the length of times for bag delivery so we bring (1) carry on roller bag with us that has the “must haves” for the first night. Kids PJs, Princess Outfits if we are going somewhere, tooth brushes etc… That way if the bags don’t show up until late there is no drama! Then I still only have to carry one bag.

      • I couldn’t agree more, DisneyMcDad! We usually flight to MCO in the evening, and I always pack our “next 8 hours’ essentials” in a carry-on, for our family of 4. We have had experience receiving our DME-transported luggage at 2 am, after an 8 pm arrival!
        On a trip where I took my young son for Star Wars Weekends, I knew we would need to wake up at 6 am to get a decent start on the day, and I did not want to be awoken in the middle of the night. So I did not use the yellow DME luggage tags, and carried our own luggage from the carousel to the bus. That was tougher than I thought it would be. Looking at the map, it didn’t seem like it would be too bad, but I sure had a hard time on my own, without our mule ;-)!
        Hmm, I should probably have put this comment on the DME blog post.

  • Good insight. We drive to WDW & after an 8 hour car ride we usually plan a dinner & shopping trip to Downtown Disney on our arrival day. You start to get into the spirit of being at Disney in a more relaxed setting but not have to worry about planning FP+ reservations or cram in a condensed park outing.

  • Upgrades: We have been upgraded from standard to concierge at Beach Club before we ever showed up on site. And last summer we were upgraded from a Little Mermaid room to a Nemo suite 🙂
    First day dining: Last month we arrived at 2 with a 5:00 Be Our Guest reservation and made it! It was the only time I could get a table during our trip.
    Missed dining reservations: SOMETIMES you can reschedule instead of cancel and not have to pay the penalty. I’ve even rescheduled to my next trip.
    Driving to resorts: It helps to know which “area” your hotel is in: “Epcot area resorts”

    • Did you ask for the upgrade or were you just given it? Is there anything you did/didn’t do that seemed to proclude the upgrade. Just wondering.

      • The Beach Club was upgraded during a time that there was a lot of construction going on and they just upgraded us without asking. The Art of Animation upgrade was our honeymoon. Didn’t ask for it, just made sure they knew what an awful day we’d had up to that point (airline problems) and they must have had some empty.

  • If you have AAA you can also get parking up front at the parks, follow the diamond lane. 🙂

    • In order to take advantage of the special parking, I believe you have to have a special pass that AAA will give you if you buy your WDW admission ticket from them. It isn’t a perk available to all AAA members.

      • You have to pay for AAA diamond parking.

      • Some people seem to get lucky, but you are supposed to have bought through AAA to get the parking.

        Also, the parking is not always available, and it seems that WDW is doing away with the AAA lots.

  • Sorry — typo — if you live outside the USA, you can’t go directly to the PARKS (error in my post). You need to get the Magic Band from your Disney resort first.

    • Another excellent tip. There appear to be many variations on the process for international visitors. My U.S. bias was clearly showing. Thank you for helping.

  • If you do not live in the USA, you need to go to the resort to obtain the Magic Band, so you can’t go directly to the resort. They won’t mail it to you outside USA.
    “Allegedly”, if you are an Annual Passholder, they will mail it to a local address if you are not staying on property. However, on a recent trip, staying elsewhere, I input my local hotel address two weeks prior to arrival, as directed, and three weeks later it had not even been shipped. Guest Relations made me a band with the Passholder slider (but it was not personalized with my name).

  • Really good information, thanks for the great article! Just worth mentioning that the time to get out of the airport is WAAAAAAY longer if you are travelling from outside the US and have to go through Immigration (2 hours of queueing for each of my last trips).

    • Excellent point. Thank you for mentioning this. I did not take international arrivals into consideration.

      • My experience is that the airport Immigration lounge will be the longest queue you face in the entire holiday (no Fastpass option)!

  • Technically tickets to MNSSHP and MVMCP are non-refundable. However, when we were delayed a day due to a snow storm and missed our MVMCP night, the MK cast member gave us a refund upon explanation. It was so nice of her!

    • You obviously found a wonderful cast member. Not every guest will be so lucky. You have to decide how much of a gambler you are.

    • In 2010, the first party night of our week rained extremely hard–even for Florida. They were letting everyone who wanted swap their tickets for a different night.

  • Becoming an express member for free with one or more of the rental car companies at the airport is worth it. Just walk to the garage, find your name, and hop into the car. No waiting.

    • Good point. If you’re a club member with a rental car agency, this can be a good way to speed the process. However, you are then stuck with that agency and may find yourself at a financial disadvantage.

      For example, I am a Hertz club member. But I did a little digging and found a rate with another company that saved more than $200 on a recent trip to Orlando, so I didn’t use Hertz for that trip.

      I suppose the solution is to become a club member with every rental agency.

      • As you noted in your last sentence, you aren’t “stuck” with one rental car agency. I think I’ve joined every preferred customer club with just about all the major car rental companies. It’s free to join, and then you have the option to pick from whatever car rental agency offers the best rates. And they all send special offers to their club members, so it pays to take the time to sign up online.

    • Jennie’s advice is right on. It’s like FastPass for getting your rental car.

  • Option 3 – and my favorite – is to pay for a car service to go from airport to hotel. Someone to help you with bags and drive you direct to resort, no waiting, no multiple stops, and such a relaxing way to start!

    • Some guests do prefer this option. There are, however, some disadvantages to this as well. You have an expense, which you would not with Magical Express. And then you don’t have the advantage of having access to a car while you’re on your vacation.

      If you’re relatively price insensitive, then this (or a cab) may be a good way to go, but other guests will have issues.

      • “Price insensitive”?! Not at all! I budget my Trip carefully but thanks for making me seem like such a big spender. 😉

        It is a convenience and if you have no desire for rental car and/or if you want the peace of mind knowing you’ve got a fast reliable source of private transport it’s worthy every buck.

        Clearly you are personally against it- but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good option if time and ease of transport are your key factors.

      • I had no intent to offend. EVERYONE has areas that are particularly important to them where they’re willing to spend more money for more control or more quality. Nothing wrong with that. You are correct that I don’t find Magical Express to be a problem, so I personally feel like spending money on something you could get for free is unnecessary. But there are MANY (many, many) people who disagree with me and that’s great. (Really, it is.)

        I spend waaaaaay too much money on food at Walt Disney World. My own mother regularly ridicules me for eating at signature restaurants so often. That’s an area that’s important to me, but not to others (like my mom).

        I’d rather take the town car fee and apply it to dinner at Jiko, but that’s just my opinion about what works for me personally.

        Food is my key factor, transportation is your. It’s all good.

      • If you are flying into Sanford airport, hiring a car is viable option. Many smaller cities in the midwest and east coast don’t have a direct flight to MCO, but do have one to SFB via Allegient. Factoring in the airfare and car cost, it still is often cheaper to go this route if you live in one of these places.

    • How much does it typically cost to take a cab from the airport to a resort?

      • It depends on where you’re staying at WDW, but a cab from the airport to many Disney hotels is in the $70 range.

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