Walt Disney World (FL)

11 Things Everyone Should Do Once at Walt Disney World

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Every first time visitor to Walt Disney World should do the iconic things that first time visitors do: ride Dumbo, eat the giant turkey leg, and pose with Mickey. I actually think Florida passed a law stating that all first time Disney visitors are contractually obligated to complete the Dumbo/turkey/Mickey trifecta within 24 hours or their tickets will be revoked. Or maybe it just feels that way 🙂

Once you’ve mastered the basics, there are some more advanced things that everyone should do at least once at Walt Disney World.

Dinner at Victoria & Albert's is must-try experience
Dinner at Victoria & Albert’s is must-try experience

Here are my top eleven choices:

  1. Spend a Day at Walt Disney World Without Going on Any Rides. Guess what, there’s waaaay more to Disney World than roller coasters and spinning tea cups. Spending a day at Disney without going on rides forces you to find ALL the fun that Disney has to offer. Here are some non-ride ideas for spending time in the parks.
    • Eat or drink your way around the World Showcase countries at Epcot. Educational and tasty!
    • Get a photo with every Disney character. These will be instant family classics.
    • Check out the walking trails at the Animal Kingdom. Did you know that there are giant bats on the Maharajah Jungle Trek and gorillas on the Pangani Forest Trail?
    • See every show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Even better: Try to get yourself in one of the shows.
    • Check out all of Innoventions at Epcot.
    • People watch. I once camped out with a crossword puzzle at table in the Epcot UK gardens. In the span of an hour, I saw the full spectrum of humankind from gorgeous to grotesque and from near fistfight to get-a-room-already. Fascinating stuff.
    • Finally learn how to use your camera. The varied and interesting subjects at the parks make it the perfect place to experiment with settings on your camera beyond “automatic.” Take the same shot with different shutter speeds and aperture settings to see how much those factors can make a big difference.
    • For an added degree of difficulty (and fun), spend the day at Disney without going into a park at all: mini-golf, visit the spa, swim, go boating or fishing, take in a game at the Wide World of Sports complex, shop at Downtown Disney, etc.
  2. Dine at Victoria & Albert’s. Yes, this Grand Floridian dinner for two will set you back about $350 (two $135 prix fixe meals, two glasses of wine, 18% tip). And yes, it is worth every penny. This is the best meal and best service you’ll ever have. No you won’t feel intimidated; the servers are incredibly sweet and helpful. No, the food isn’t too weird; every bite is simply delicious. I’m guessing there’s something else you’re spending a ridiculous $350 on: WWF gear, Giants season tickets, a new putter, those cute heels, popcorn and Mickey Mouse sweatshirts, whatever. This is better than that, I promise.
  3. Close Down the Park. Stay at the Magic Kingdom past closing time and you’ll watch the mad dash exit die down to a trickle. The music and lights will diminish and dim. And you’ll feel like the park belongs all to you. Snap some photos on an empty Main Street just before they kick you out the door.
  4. Visit with a child and see the parks in a whole new way.
    Visit with a child and see the parks in a whole new way.
  5. Ride Mission Space Orange. I must confess that I’m not thrill ride person. I go on Tower of Terror to keep my daredevil daughter company, but I’d chose Small World over Space Mountain any day of the week. That being said, I think it’s important to push the boundaries of comfort. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll make use of those handy “lunch reflux” disposal bags on board. But at least you can say you tried.
  6. Drink the proverbial Beverly (the foodie corollary of riding Mission Space). Beverly is a bitter Italian soda found for free at the Club Cool shop at Epcot. Many (most?) Americans find it so foul that there is an entire genre of YouTube videos devoted to documenting the convulsed faces of guests taking their first sip. But guess what, after a dozen or so attempts, I have truly learned to love the taste of Beverly. With so many different food cultures represented at Disney World (particularly at Epcot), there are ample opportunities for you to expand your palate and find a new favorite food.
  7. Wear the Ear Hat. You know the one I mean, basic black with your name embroidered in gold. Buy the hat and then actually wear it all day in the park. You’ll automatically feel 50% younger and 36.5% sillier.
  8. Take a Backstage Tour. I’ve often heard Disney naysayers remark negatively that the parks are “so man made.” To which I respond, “I know! Isn’t it amazing!” There are several dozen opportunities to tour behind-the-scenes areas of Walt Disney World to learn exactly how remarkably talented men and women make such incredible attractions. And in addition to providing education and fun, most of the backstage tours allow you the opportunity to have in depth conversations with cast members about their particular area of passion. I always leave thinking that I want to be them when I grow up.
  9. Celebrating at Walt Disney World makes any event extra special.
    Celebrating at Walt Disney World makes any event extra special.
  10. Visit with a Child. I had been to Walt Disney World several times as a young adult, but my entire perspective of the parks changed once I visited with my toddler daughter. Did you know that Cinderella is really, really REAL? My daughter did. Even if you don’t have kids of your own, ask to borrow a friend’s for the day. They’ll be thankful for the babysitting and you’ll get to see the magic in a whole new light.
  11. Visit the Water Parks. My rockin’-the-bikini days are loooong gone, but despite my bifocals, bunions, and wholesale lack of interest in swimming, I’ll never say no to a visit to Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach. They’re a concentrated dose of summer, the kind you had in third grade without a care in the world. In fact, Teamboat Springs at Blizzard Beach is my all time favorite attraction at Walt Disney World, bar none.
  12. Vow to Have a Day of No Complaining. Disney World can be too crowded, too hot, too expensive, and altogether too much of a muchness. Spending your day complaining about these things will not make it any better. Instead, vow to spend the day noticing the lovely artwork, the dedicated staff, the happy music, the vibrant colors, and the intoxicating smells. Simply choosing to focus on the good will make your vacation a whole heck of a lot better.
  13. Celebrate Your Special Day. My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary at Walt Disney World this past July. We wore the pins and told cast members at every opportunity – and the love rained down upon us. We got a fruit basket in our room courtesy of the Disney Vacation Club, we got free dessert at Artist Point and free champagne at Citrico’s, but more than the happy swag, I loved that the Disney cast was even nicer and friendlier than their usual over-the-top nice and friendly. All the attention and kind words made our celebration super special. We had a similar experience during our WDW trip in which we celebrated our twins’ 6th birthday. Mickey himself brought them cupcakes at dinner. What could be better on a six year old’s birthday?! At the risk of inciting a flame war (check out the comments on my post about free stuff at Disney), I’m going to say that your celebration day doesn’t have to fall exactly on your special day. Don’t abuse the system by telling cast that your birthday happens on weekly basis, but feel free to tell them that you’re celebrating your special day if you actually are celebrating then, even if your actual big day was three weeks ago.

What’s your take on the “Things Everyone Should Do Once” topic? Am I missing your favorite? 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.

22 thoughts on “11 Things Everyone Should Do Once at Walt Disney World

  • Have done all but Mission Space, and that is NOT going to happen. Not now, not ever.

  • Seeds-we were given a free packet of flower seeds in Bambi’s butterfly garden at Epcot during their flower festival. I have finally got round to planting them this summer and they were beautiful!

  • #12: Thank a Cast Member!
    From a simple thank you to going to the website to note extra special service, it costs nothing to let that hard-working person know we’re grateful for the magic they make.
    My daughter and I started our own tradition. At the end of every day in a Disney Park we stop at Guest Services and let them know we had another magical day, thanks to the CMs. And we share names and locations of extra-special service because we’ve learned those CMs do get recognized by their managers.
    They work so hard for so little $ under all kinds of conditions. We feel it’s the least we can do to acknowledge their dedication to our enjoyment. 🙂

  • You’re spot on with 1,3,7,8,11 so we’ll try your others over the next few visits. You’re the first person to convince me that Victoria and Albert might be worth it. We celebrated our grandson’s 5th birthday at WDW and it was so special we returned for my husband’s 69th last year. That was so great it’s what we’re doing for his 70th in 6 weeks.
    My votes: (1)Go early one morning to MK on a low-crowd day. It’s so exciting to get off a wildly popular ride, run through the turn styles and be back on it in 5 minutes. Yes, these retirees ran back through the ropes and laughed doing it!(2)Do the Deluxe Meal Plan at least once to spend a visit eating whatever you want wherever you want without thinking of the individual prices. (We’re not repeating that one for awhile because it was too much food but it was so much fun to do it once!)

    And Bex already gave the most important one of all. Be childish and be grateful for the chance to do so.

    • I’m always grateful for two weeks out the year to feel like a child again where everything is magical and the pressures and stress of life is non existant!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • #3 is one of our all time favorites. We like doing it at Epcot especially when staying at the Beach Club. Late dinner o nthe far side of the lagoon then walking out the back side of World Showcase? All you see is staff that try to direct you toward the main gate til you mention your hotel. Which is when they smile and wave you on to continue.

  • This is a fantastic list for this local pass holder! Having an infant daughter means there have been multiple visits this year without riding a single ride and I promise that they are no less fun. I can’t wait until she’s old enough to “get” the parks, but right now, we’re having fun just wandering around as a family.

    Watching people take sips of Beverly is one of my favorite Epcot activities, partly because I’ve always liked Beverly and don’t understand the hatred. Somehow, that makes the reactions even funnier.

  • Erin: What a great list! I always enjoy your articles! Of course being the fan of Fort Wilderness, I would add that everyone needs to take the boat from MK to the fort in the evening during Halloween or the Christmas seasons not only to enjoy Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-a-long but also to see the campsite decorations. There’s nothing like Joe Q. Camper getting in on making–and sharing–their own Disney magic.

    • I totally agree with this one. There’s so much to do and see at the Fort. It’s a real gem that most guests never see.

    • I agree. On one of our many trips, we took an entire day and went to the campgroud. We rented 3 golf carts, had a lot of people with us, and had a blast riding around. We hit the pools, did the boats and checked out the campsites. I have to say that was one of my best times at Disney. Don’t think I’ve every laughed so hard before!

  • #8 was absolutely amazing!!! I just returned from WDW on Sunday, after spending the entire week there with my cousins and their two boys (ages 4 and 2). It was the first time I’d ever taken a child, and the first time I’d ever taken anyone on their first visit (none of them had ever been). The experience allowed me to see the parks in an entirely new way, and with a new appreciation for the things Disney does so well!
    My next goal is #1. I plan to return soon to just soak in the details, and document my time with a camera.

  • #12 – 7 AM extra magic hours!! Seeing the sunrise in the Magic Kingdom is awesome. Love the list BTW.

    • Good one!

  • When I was a lot younger (back in the 80s sometime) we were once the very last ones out of Disneyland. It was the most surreal and amazing experience! I completely agree with letting everyone else leave first!

  • Missing #2 and #4. It will likely be a while before I can do either but they are on my list! Fun post.

  • We actually did the Mini Golf and Downtown Disney last year on our non-Disney vacation. 🙂 We never have time for them when we’re actually at Disney with the kids. And I can’t wait to celebrate my 40th birthday next year during the WDW Marathon weekend!! My birthday is two months later, but I’ll never be at Disney in March. 🙂

  • Being a Florida resident I’ve been blessed to do all but #2 and #7. But they are in my future 🙂

  • LOVE this post! It is so true, too. WDW can be so many different experiences…depending on your mindset, the people you are visiting with, and even the time of year. 😀

  • Great list, Erin! I still have a few to tick off- but I’m working on doing all of these at least once!

  • On our family holidays, despite the age range being 22 – 55 we have one rule – For the entire two weeks, revert to being a child. We all act silly, enjoy everything we would have done when we were under 10, including going on the great goofini. We find it makes the happiest place on earth a whole lot more happy and magical!!!!!!!!!


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