The Nitty GrittyWalt Disney World (FL)

Your Walt Disney World Vacation Arrival Day: Frequently Asked Questions

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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.

Transportation Questions

How can I get from the Orlando airport to my Disney World hotel?

With the 2021 demise of Disney’s free Magical Express bus service, getting from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to your Disney World hotel is now a bit more complicated. Options include private bus services, limo or town car pick-ups, taxis, ride shares such as Uber or Lyft, and rental cars. Take a look at our airport transportation blog post for details on each of this choices.

Factors that will influence your transportation decision include:

  • Price.
  • Party size. Small parties may find bus transportation more economical than car rental. Larger parties may find that renting a minivan is more cost effective than buying multiple bus seats or getting more than one Uber.
  • Party composition. Will  you need a car seat or are you traveling with a wheelchair or ECV? Depending on your mindset, these requirements may tip you toward a particular option.
  • Your patience.  Bus transportation will almost certainly take longer than an Uber or rental car.
  • The amount of luggage you’ll have. If you’re traveling with large amounts of luggage you may need to reserve a larger rental car or arrange a larger ride share. The higher price of these options might make a bus more cost effective.
  • Your Disney vacation plans. If you’re dining at many hotels distant from you own resort, having access to a rental car might save you time (vs. Disney buses) or money (vs. multiple mid-trip Ubers).
  • Your non-Disney vacation plans. If you’ll be visiting other Central Florida attractions, having access to a rental car may be helpful.
Private bus services are available to take guests from the Orlando airport to Walt Disney World

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 checked luggage. Be sure to factor this into your schedule.

The drive from Orlando International to Disney World is about 35 minutes, depending on your exact destination. You’ll have to add to that a bit more padding depending on your transportation method.

If you’re using a bus service, you may need to add up to 30 minutes for the bus to load at MCO. Additionally, the 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.

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 website on that resort’s main overview 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?

If you’re driving yourself or have access to rental car, you may opt to drive directly from the airport to a theme park rather than going to your hotel.

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. 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 some times have problems when asking a GPS service to take me to the Magic Kingdom. If directions seem wonky, 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 maps 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

One word of warning, while driving directly to a theme park will save you time, it might not be the best idea if you have anything meltable in your luggage – this includes food, cosmetics, and medications. The Florida sun turns vehicles into ovens; more than once I’ve returned to a car parked at WDW and found that the lip balm I left in the cup holder had become a liquid puddle of goo. Heat sensitive electronics may also fare poorly in extreme heat.

Disney parking lots are HOT. Be careful what you leave in your car.

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 or their annual pass verification on MagicMobile. If you’re staying at a Disney hotel but have not checked in, explain this to the parking booth attendant and show them reservation confirmation, this might be a printout or a notice your My Disney Experience app. With proof of stay, the parking attendant 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.

Resort Questions

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

This depends on how you’re arriving at Walt Disney World. If you’re arriving on Disney property via one of the bus services, then yes, you must first go to your hotel. The buses will only bring you to your 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 (assuming I don’t have anything meltable in my luggage). This could problematic if you were to take a taxi or ride share to the parks because you would need to store your luggage somewhere. There are lockers at the theme parks, but they will not accommodate large bags.

If you’re going straight to the theme parks, you should be sure that you’ve linked your park tickets to your My Disney Experience account. You may then use a MagicBand or Magic Mobile to enter the park.

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 to my Disney World hotel?

This is a bit of a trick question. Currently you can (and probably should) check into your hotel via the website or the My Disney Experience app several months ahead of your arrival. Check-in involves creating a PIN for your hotel charges, adding a payment method for resort/park charges, and selecting an arrival time window.

After you’ve completed online check-in, you’ll have access to all resort amenities (with the conspicuous exception of your room) as early as 5:00 a.m.

This electronic check-in is different than actually getting into your room. Disney will issue you a room as soon as one is available (I’ve sometimes been let into rooms as early as 10:00 a.m.), but depending on how crowded the resorts are, this will likely not be until at least mid-afternoon.

For most Disney resorts, the official check-in time (that is, the time when your room will likely be available) 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, Polynesian Villas (not the main Polynesian hotel), Riviera Resort, Saratoga Springs and Treehouses, and Wilderness Lodge Villas (Copper Creek and Bolder Ridge, not the main hotel).

Why would I want to check in online?

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 free parking at the theme parks, and so on.

If you check-in online you can also bypass the front desk and proceed directly to your room when it is ready. If you have a MagicBand linked to your account, you can use that to open your hotel room door or you may also use your phone as a room key. If you’d like to have a plastic key card, you can stop by the hotel’s front desk at any point during your stay.

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.

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?

During the online check-in process you can elect to have hotel notify you when your room is ready via text or email. The text/email will tell you your room number, so you can go directly there if you want to, using your MagicBand or phone 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 100 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 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.

Dining Questions

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

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 time to drop your stuff at your room or Bell Services, 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 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, as airline snafus are increasingly common. 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 sometime other than your arrival day.

You may want to think twice before booking your “must do” meal for 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. Beyond that, you’re out of luck on Disney World property. If you’re arriving after 10:00 p.m. or so, your best bet may be 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 in the early morning of your check-in day.

Theme Park Questions

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 a thorough analysis on whether visiting a theme park on arrival day makes financial sense, see our post Is it Worth It To Visit the Parks on Arrival Day?.

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 events 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?
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. See our post Things to Do On Arrival Day Other Than Visiting the Theme Parks for ideas.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 Genie+ and Lightning Lane system. You can begin making Genie+ and Lightning Lane reservations early in the morning, even if you haven’t yet arrived at Walt Disney World. However, these features cost money so be aware if you experience flight delays and miss your attraction reservation times, you’re likely looking at a financial loss.

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

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 a smallish incremental fee 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 possibly 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. 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, 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.

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