Walt Disney World (FL)

Planning a Trip to WDW with a Newbie

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In about two weeks I am heading down to Walt Disney World for the second time this year and approximately the 12th time in the last four years.  I’m used to traveling with folks who frequent this vacation kingdom as much or more often than I do.  But this time around I’m taking a friend of mine, Erin, who hasn’t been to Disney World since she was a little girl.   Since I’m used traveling with folks who don’t bat an eyelash at making dinner reservations six months in advance how do I ease my non-geek friend into the ins and outs of Disney World?

Luckily, she knows I know a lot of the tips and tricks to Disney World which a lot of typical tourists may overlook.  She has let me take the reins with a lot of the planning, but I still want to make sure that she will get to do the attractions and such which are high on her list.  I also wanted to make sure that I was explaining everything that was going on and not just making plans without her.  One thing to keep in mind that there will be about 25 of my dearest Disney friends joining us!  I have told them all that we have to make sure to hit all of the activities on Erin’s list and make her feel welcome.

First things were first and we had to decide on dates.  Erin is a teacher so she had to go when kids were out of school.  Her schedule provided me with an excuse to head down in August to check out the end of Summer Nightastic! I had been to WDW at the end of August before and the crowd levels were light since most of the kids in the South and Midwest had already returned to school for the year.  So, despite the impending humidity I suggested we head down before she went to work.  After our plans were made a bunch of my Disney friends decided to join the party!

Next up, we booked flights.  I’m used to flying solo and then meeting my friends at the airport or once we all gather on Disney property.  I’m looking forward to having company for our flight from Newark to Orlando International.  JetBlue is generally my preferred carrier when making the trek from NJ to Orlando, and my guest was agreeable to whatever I thought was best since I make the trip several times a year.  She and I will definitely be checking bags (we’re Jersey girls after all) so while Continental was a little cheaper when we booked, the cost of checking a bag with them was not worth the savings.  As an added bonus, I’ve kept and an eye on our air fare and it has come down twice and I have gotten about $150 back to use for future flights!  This is another added bonus of flying with JetBlue.

Photo by Don Sullivan

Now, the question was where to stay.  I wanted to stick with a budget this time around and I didn’t think Erin would disagree.  I told her all about Pop Century and how it was the best of the value resorts, in my opinion.  She thought it sounded like a cute theme and gave me the go ahead to make a reservation.  When picking the resort for your party including people who are unfamiliar with the levels of resorts and their costs and benefits, make sure to lay it all out for them.  Perhaps show them photos on various websites to help them get a visual of the various themes at each resort.  Also, be aware of their budget and make your selection based on everyone’s needs. Then once they have a clear picture of the options, make your reservation.

You may also have to make sure your guests know about the benefits of staying on site vs. and off property resort.  Describing Disney’s free transportation system would be a good place to start.  I explained how Disney offered a free bus service from the airport called the Magical Express (DME) and how it all worked.  I let her know all about Disney’s transportation options between the resort and the parks.  Later on some friends and I decided it would be good idea to rent a car instead of using DME.  She was fine with grabbing a car without even having to describe the benefits of having one.  She was also on board with the concept of using the Disney transportation system when we went to the parks in the evening since we will most likely be having a good time with the big group and some adult beverages.

As for other resort guest benefits, I also made sure she understood the concept of extra magic hours since we’ll most likely be using them.  I talked to her about the resort mug option, but will let her decide if she’d like to purchase one.  Since I have an annual pass we can park our rental car for free whether or not we stay at a Disney resort.  I let her know about how we could check in for our return trip flight at our resort and even check our luggage there.  I think Erin is especially excited that she can have her souvenir purchases sent back to Pop Century at no additional fee!

I often forget about the expense of purchasing a park ticket since I have an annual pass.  This is an important aspect of Disney World travel to cover with your newbies.  Since there are so many ticket options available selecting the right one for you group can be tricky.  Since we’ll be staying for five days Erin will be purchasing a five day pass with the park hopper option. Since the rest of the people we’ll be traveling with have annual passes, it’s pretty hard to break the park hopping habit.  She seemed to be fine with the added cost, much to my relief.  I also thought about having her add the water parks fun and more option since we’ll be heading to Typhoon Lagoon.  However, since we’ll only be going one day it didn’t make economic sense to add it.   It should also be noted her having to purchase a ticket also affected our selection of flight times.  Since she has to pay for a full day in the park on arrival and departure days we’ll be taking the first flight from Newark to Orlando and an evening flight home.

Since the trip includes so many folks Erin let me go ahead with making any ADRs, but I was sure to pick some places I thought she would like.  Since everyone in the group knew my non-geek friend was coming along for the ride they also wanted to make sure she had a good time at some of Disney’s more well known eateries.  I’m not sure when the last time I went to a character meal might have been, but we’ve booked Chef Mickey’s so we can immerse our newbie in the Disney magic.  While I was sure to include some quintessential Disney dining experiences in our line up, like 50s Prime Time Cafe, I was also sure to avoid some places I knew Erin wouldn’t enjoy.  My dear friend is a very picky eater even in her 20s so I knew places like the Tangerine Cafe in the Moroccan pavilion and Sanaa at the Animal Kingdom Lodge were off the list.  I also gave her a few websites to check out where she could take a look at restaurant menus to ensure she would find something to her liking in each stop on our tour.

After our initial plans were made I gave her a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and a few of my favorite informative websites.  I asked her to check out the book and let me know some things she really wanted to do.  She has since let me know that she’s never been to Animal Kingdom or seen Illuminations: Reflections of Earth (my favorite).  There are some things I want to make sure to do with her on this trip.  For example, I usually only see Fantasmic! about once a year, but because Erin has not seen it before I made sure to include it in our schedule.  My friends and I often take a more relaxed approach when touring the parks since we know we are there often.  This time around, I’ve made them promise to get my guest on rides and I think everyone is on board with the plan.

A few weeks ago Erin and I had dinner together to discuss the trip.  While we chatted I gave her some tips for packing and preparing for the expedition.  We also decided on how we would get to the airport since our flight leaves at 7 a.m. and some other details as we got closer to our departure date.   She brought the Unofficial Guide with her to the meal and pointed out some things she really wanted to do.  She still remembered the mountains of the Magic Kingdom so she is most excited to ride those again.  It’s important to get together with your guest and answer any questions they may have.  I have the added task of giving her a little background of the 25 people who will be joining our group!

I’m excited to share one of my favorite places with one of my friends from home.  I realize some people bring down family friends who are reluctant to jump into the magic, but Erin seems ready and raring to go.  She squealed when I told her we would be going to a character meal and has told me she wants to meet Ariel.  While I generally avoid character meet and greets, we’ll be seeking them out this time around.  Her joining me on the trip will give me an excuse to check out some things (like character meets) I usually ignore.

I think it’s important to have the right attitude when traveling with folks who aren’t as familiar with WDW.  While there are certainly things on my to do list, I’m trying to make sure to hit all of the things Erin wants to see as well.  I know I’ll be back again in October and December and can see anything I may miss in August.  This trip is all about showing her how much fun Disney can be and letting her meet a bunch of my friends.  If you are bringing friends or family who are unfamiliar with WDW on your next trip, be sure to accommodate them especially if they are traveling to the house of mouse reluctantly.

Traveling to Disney World for the first time can be a daunting undertaking.  While we Disney geeks know there is a ton of information to be had about all aspects of a trip, try not to overwhelm your guests.  Try to take care of some of the little things for them so they don’t have to be intimidated.  On the other hand it is important to make them feel included in the planning of the trip!  Finding a balance there may be a challenge, but it is certainly achievable.

I’m sure there are items I have forgotten to mention in this blog post, but I’m sure we’ll get to them once we are actually on property.  So have you taken friends of family who were new to Walt Disney World?  How did you prepare them for their adventure?  Let me know your tips and tricks for touring with newbies!

Next week I’ll share how I prepare and pack for an upcoming excursion to WDW…

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Kristen Helmstetter

Kristen Helmstetter is an Unofficial Guide researcher who will share her 20-something perspective of all things Walt Disney World with blog readers. Kristen’s email address is khelmstetter05@yahoo.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: @khelmstetter.

20 thoughts on “Planning a Trip to WDW with a Newbie

  • Great post, Kristin. My typical idea when traveling with a newbie is to find out what they think they’re going to see, and make sure to plan accordingly. For example, if they think it’s all kids’ stuff, then I plan to show them the adult side of WDW.

    And, of course, I always try to throw in some of my faves, to show them why I like the place so much.

  • Thanks, Ryan! Those are great ideas for people bringing folks who might be dragging their feet. Miss Erin is pretty ready and raring to go, though! She wants to be a kid again but also wants to drink around the world. She’ll fit right in with our bunch!

  • What a wonderful post!!! I looove Disney and I really love giving my friends and family tips and recommending restaurants etc. Many of them glaze over, but I love it none-the-less 😉 I’m excited for you and your friend — I hope ya’ll have a super fun trip!

  • Thanks, Marcy! I’ll positive we are going to have an awesome time! Have fun on your next trip whenever that may be!

  • I am planning a trip for next Spring Break with some friends and their kids. I would not say that I am an expert (two trips to The World so far), but I have been following some podcasts, and visiting certain informational websites for about 2 years. I feel this will be our best trip yet, as we will have more info. I also pointed our friends to some websites and want to make sure we incorporate their “to do list” into the trip. For me, planning the trip is 1/2 the fun, so it is great to plan it with another couple as well.

  • Good luck with planning your trip! I’m sure you’ll have a great time. If you have any questions let the touringplans crew know and we’ll be happy to help! Thanks for reading!

  • hey Kristen,

    I swear it sounds like you read my mind in planning this trip! The only difference is that I’m heading down when you come back up. I’ll be at the POP the night of the 16th, then headed to the Wilderness Lodge for the rest of the week. As for the rental car, my friend and I are taking the DME to the POP and picking up a car at Shades of Green the next day after spending the morning at the MK. DOn’t want to miss all of the magic, even on the bus! Have a great time!

  • Charlotte

    Did anyone else notice that the graphic of the Guide cover is 2011? Do I dare hope this means it’ll be showing up soon?

    • Charlotte

      Never mind! Answered my own question. amazon.com has it available for pre-order with a release date of Aug 23. And it’s only $13.49!

      *happy dance*

  • Amy from KC

    I LOVE the planning stage of vacation almost as much as the actual vacation. I love to anticipate the fun we will have, and map everything out. Having a vacation in the works makes me H-A-P-P-Y! My plans involve tables and timelines, and a spreadsheet…but once we get going on the vacation I am flexible about chucking plans, or adjusting them as needed. My husband likes having a plan, but also likes being able to deviate from it as needed. It works for us!

    Have fun our your trip, Kristen! Hope you found a great deal on your rental car. Can’t wait to read the trip report.

    • Thanks Amy! I love all the planning too and I’ve been doing a lot for our big group and with the newbie in tow. I’m like you in that I plan a lot, but I’m totally fine with changing things up once I’m in the parks. A little flexibility is key to enjoying a great vacation.

      I’m sure we’ll have a great time. And I did finally get a good deal on a car! I wound up canceling my original one and booking with dollar who has dramatically lowered their prices now that we are closer to the dates.

      • Charlotte

        If you haven’t done this already, sign up for the rewards program on their website. It’s free, and it allows you to use to express lane at the airport. Not only does this mean you have a shorter line, but you also indicate all your preferences (like buying extra insurance or not) at the time you sign up for the program. It saves a TON of time. (Thanks to the Guide for this tip!)

      • Amy from KC

        Oh, I just love the sound of the phrase “express lane!” It makes me feel almost as warm and fuzzy as “Fastpass.” 😉

      • Rest assured, girls I belong to several car rental companies’ customer loyalty programs. I’ve never waited long at all and it’s fantastic. You know how we touringplannners like to save time in line!

  • Wonderful post! Good luck on your travel plans,We’re also planning for a Disney break.

    • Thank you, Wendie! I’m sure we’ll have a great time. I hope you have a great time on your planned trip too! Let us know if we can answer any questions you might have while making your plans.

  • I’m only go every 2 years or so, but when I went with a friend who hadn’t been since a child I knew I was taking the lead. I reviewed restaurant stuff and sent her info on places I thought we would like, from there we had a list for reservations. Then we each made our own MUST do list. We did everything we both wanted to do and had a great time.

    • Those all sounds like great things to do with a newbie! I’m glad you guys had such a great time! Thanks for reading, Crissy


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