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I’m a Big Kid Now: A Guide to Your First Disney Trip Without Parents

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Dedicated blog readers may recall Erin Foster’s article “Spring Break at Disney World – Teens’ First No-Parent Trip,” outlining her teen daughter and friends’ first Disney trip without parents. Though now I’m (supposedly) a real adult—I just graduated in May–it wasn’t long ago that I was a teen taking my first Disney trip without parents. My first winter break in college, I went to Walt Disney World with my boyfriend and two other friends. Two years later, I went for my 21st birthday with my three younger siblings. So for any teens or young adults out there planning your first parent-free trip, here’s a quick guide into your first clumsy steps into Disney adulthood.

Peter Pan may never grow up, but my siblings and I had to for our first Disney trip without parents.
Peter Pan may never grow up, but my siblings and I had to for our first Disney trip without parents.

Why a Disney Trip Without Parents?

Walt Disney World is the safest place to go for your first no-parent trip. The crime rate is essentially zero and every single cast member is trained to help you stay safe. It’s also one of the best options for fun. All through college, I never found the MTV Spring Break-style college trip terribly appealing. I enjoy the occasional beverage, but I can only “WOOOO!” for a few hours before I’m bored. Walt Disney World has an infinite number of activities and it’s impossible to get bored. I had been planning my family’s trips for years, so I felt comfortable planning my own trip.

Assembling the Team

Due to our genetic similarities and shared upbringing, my siblings and I know each other quite well and knew we would get along during our trip. We are all Disney experts who have similar interests and goals for a Walt Disney World trip, and a unanimous acknowledgment of me as the leader. When I went with my friends and boyfriend, they all knew I was the resident Disney expert and were happy to follow my plans. I had been friends with all of them since the third grade, and my boyfriend and I had been together for over two years, so we were confident in our ability to deal with each other for a few days. Their most important quality was their enthusiasm for Disney fun.

Age Limits

You’re going to need at least one person to be 18 or older by the first day of your trip. No hotel, on or off Disney property, will let somebody younger than 18 check in without an adult. Many off-property hotels have a minimum check-in age of 21, but Disney’s age limit is only 18.

If you’re looking to rent a car for your trip, Fox Rent-A-Car will allow drivers 19 or older to rent a car. Drivers under 25 are charged $14.00 per day on top of the base rental price. You can also use a debit card to pay for the car rental as long as you have the full rental charges, plus $150, available in your account.

Since Walt Disney World is a family park, nearly all locations are open to all ages. The only locations that require you to be 21 or older to visit are Jellyrolls and Atlantic Dance Hall, both located on Disney’s Boardwalk. Any other locations will allow those under 21 to enter, though there may be restrictions about sitting at the bar areas.

Grown-up Packing List

When you’re the actual adult in the group, you’re going to need to have actual adult things with you that you may not have thought about with your parents taking care of everything.

  • A state-issued I.D.
  • Flight information
  • Cash for tips (see a past blog post with tipping info here)
  • Credit or debit cards
  • Reservation information
  • The My Disney Experience app

Money Saving Tips

We all know college students have no money, and I was (read: am) no exception. So we took severe lengths to save money on our trips.

  • Rent DVC points. It’s a controversial position, but I am a big fan of renting DVC points. It gave us access to a larger room to squeeze ourselves all in and access to a kitchenette. The kitchenette is directly related to the next tip…
  • Pack food. We took full advantage of Southwest’s free luggage policy to bring giant suitcases filled with peanut butter and jelly sandwich ingredients, canned foods, cereal bars, and any other food we could fit. We had the occasional dinner out and bought some snacks, but we saved tons of money on meals by packing lunch for days at the parks.
  • Arrive early and leave late. With just three nights in a hotel, we had four full days in the parks by arriving on the earliest possible flight, dropping off luggage, and heading straight to the parks on the first day. On the last day, we dropped off our luggage at bell services, went to the parks, and took the latest possible flight home.

Was Walt Disney World your first trip without parents? How did it go? What advice do you have for first timers? Let us know in the comments.

Please welcome Maddi Higgins to the TouringPlans blog team. Maddi is current at Walt Disney World as part of the Disney College Program.

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Maddi Higgins

Maddi is a full time vacation planner at Magic Kingdom. She is a graduate of the Disney College Program and Disney Professional Internship Program. She is a long-time Disney World fan and her family has been DVC members since 2008. You can see more of her work at maddihiggins.com.

5 thoughts on “I’m a Big Kid Now: A Guide to Your First Disney Trip Without Parents

  • Great article! Even though I graduated from college two years ago, I still found this very helpful as I am going to Disney with my fiance in September (he has never been before!). I’m super excited but, as you pointed out, I have to have a different mind set as I’m the one planning the trip and packing. Thanks for the info.

  • What also should be understood is that if a server doesn’t make enough in tips the establishment has to make up the difference to get them to the normal minimum wage. Don’t let the $2.13 scare you into tipping a waiter that doesn’t deserve it. As far as the taxes are concerned, there isn’t a waiter in the country that honestly reports all their cash tips, they are so far ahead in unpaid taxes on those earnings that having to pay honestly once and awhile isn’t hurting them.

    • My post was intended for the people that don’t tip for any reason; and visitors to the US that might not grasp the full structure of the American system used to pay servers. Certainly no one should be scared into tipping for sub standard service.

      Since we’re talking Disney here. I’m assured that not reporting cash tips at Disney is not a easy thing to accomplish not only are the under constant surveillance by security in public areas, the staff are the same.

      • It is not as if they are stealing money if they are not reporting their cash tips. The IRS has set the percentage of receipts number, not Disney. So as long as they are in compliance with this should this be a concern to Disney?
        And by the way, all tips put on credit cards are fully reported (as clearly there is a paper trail). So you do your server a solid by giving a cash tip (although I am rarely carrying around enough cash nowadays to do this myself).
        It has been 20 years since I worked as a waitress, and everything was the same then as it is now – even the 8% and 2.13 amounts.

  • I read the comments in the tipping thread linked in the post.

    Something that wasn’t brought up there that needs to be understood.

    In the US, servers are normally paid *LESS* than non-tipped minimal wage–currently 2.13 hour for federal ‘tipped’ min wage; and depend on tips to make it a living wage.

    Managers and corporation also require the servers to tip out some of the ‘back stage’ staff from their tips.

    In addition when it comes Tax time, the server’s total receipts and tips are reported to the IRS—and the IRS assumes at least a 8 percent tip on each ticket.

    So, if you stiff a server it’s quite possible the server could be losing money out of their pocket in the form of taxes. Say a 100dollar tab..no tip. The server pays taxes on 8 dollars while making 1.07 for the 1/2 hour they deal with you.

    Not to mention they’ve just wasted their time on you instead of those nice people at table 7.


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