You’re Going To WDW For The First Time – How Do You Even Start To Plan?! Here Are Some Tips

With over 20,000,000 visitors in 2017 alone, Walt Disney World (WDW) is the undisputed leader in theme park attendance. It’s a huge complex, with four major theme parks, over 140 restaurants, over twenty five hotels, three 18-hole golf courses, two full-sized water parks, a miniature golf course, a shopping district, special events galore, and dozens of other options packed into a resort that encompasses nearly 25,000 acres or just shy 40 square miles.

For those who visit WDW on a regular or even semi-regular basis, they learn how to negotiate everything that the resort has to offer. But for newbies who have never been before, or who haven’t gone in decades, planning their WDW vacation can be a daunting and even overwhelming task.

Here are some things to make things easier and hopefully give you the lay of the land…

Books

There are two books available that have been around for close to 30 years and I recommend both of them for different reasons:

Birnbaum’s 2019 Walt Disney World: The Official Guide

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This book has been around since at least 1989, and has been updated every year ever since. Sanctioned by Disney and with official photos (and coupons!) supplied by them, the book gives detailed descriptions of all of WDW’s attractions, resorts, and places to eat, offers money-saving coupons and strategies to maximize your vacation budget, and includes a peek into what’s new. Originally just offering a guide to WDW, the writers (there are several. Stephen Birnbaum actually passed away in 1991, at the age of 54) have expanded and also offer official guides For Kids, to Disneyland, and to Disney Cruise Line. Available in the U.S. at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, books.Disney.com, and many brick and mortar bookstores (if you can find one), as well as online book sellers outside the U.S.

Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2019

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This book was first published by Bob Sehlinger in 1990 and, like the Birnbaum guide, is updated every year. This one is not sanctioned by Disney, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. In fact, it actually has more value in some respects, because it tells you things that don’t necessarily tow the company line. As per the book’s description on Amazon.com, “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2019 explains how Walt Disney World works and how to use that knowledge to make every minute and every dollar of your vacation count. With advice that is direct, prescriptive, and detailed, it takes the guesswork out of travel by unambiguously rating and ranking everything from hotels, restaurants, and attractions to rental car companies.” There are several other Unofficial Guides that Sehlinger has authored or co-authored, including those of WDW With Kids, as well as to Universal, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Las Vegas, and other places. Besides Amazon.com and other online and brick-and-mortar vendors, this book is also available as an eBook on iTunes and The Microsoft Store.

Online Websites and Forums

There are a bajillion websites that are devoted to WDW, including WDW’s official web presence. However there are a handful of sites that I think are especially good for newbies:

AllEars.net

Online since 1996, Deb Wills and her team have built what may be the best independent online Disney travel guide out there, and it’s updated constantly. Deb retired not long ago, and sold the rights to AllEars.net to a friend. From what I’ve seen, she’s left the site in excellent hands.

There are also plenty of WDW forums out there, when you can ask questions and/or see the questions/answer/discussions that others have written. Each forum has a different feel – some may be “all Disney, all the time,” some are more chit chatty, some may be more snarky, etc. Here are some of them: (please note that you’ll have to sign up and log in in order to ask questions but you should be able to read existing threads without being a member)

Facebook

There are literally hundreds of FB groups devoted to Walt Disney World. The group that Joe and I run, Travel: Disney, the US, Points, Miles, Savings & Everything Everywhere Else, has a strong focus on WDW as well as on travel in general (because you have to travel to get to WDW or anywhere else, right?), with lots of opportunities for people to ask/answer questions and share/learn about travel. Other groups may focus on a specific aspect of WDW – just do a search on FB for “Walt Disney World” or “WDW” or “Orlando,” with whatever other key words might be important (kids, adults, food, special needs, etc.)

Just like the online forums, different Facebook groups will have different vibes to them. Some just have a few messages a day, some have hundreds. Some ensure that threads remain true to the group’s focus, whereas others will allow some off topic discussion. Some groups have members that are genuinely willing to help people, whereas others groups seem to be more focused on snark, posting memes, spreading rumors and/or selling items and services. Feel free to ask me my opinion on any group(s) – I’m in several hundred of them 😉

One Important Suggestion

The one thing I would recommend when it comes to groups and forums is to have *some* knowledge before you start asking questions. Logging on and saying, “It’s my first time at WDW, what do I need to know?” is way too much to cover in a reply and chances are not many people, if any at all, will answer. Same goes for writing one post with ten questions about ten different topics – it’s just too much for readers to digest, even if they’re some of the most kind and helpful people in the world. After you’ve done some research (seriously, check out those books that I mentioned at the top of the post), write separate posts for each question – one for how to narrow down which hotel to stay at, one about FastPass+, one about Disney’s Magical Express, one about how strict height requirements are, etc. Chances are you’ll get much better feedback to help you plan your trip.

WDW is a huge place and it takes a lot research to understand the complex so you can really make the most of your time there. Between doing your homework with books, websites, forums and friends and family who can give you advice, you should do fine!

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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