Here’s what you need to know about visiting Disney for the first time. What should we pack? How does the new Genie Plus Lightning Lane work? Is Disney Photo Pass worth it? Where should we dine?
For the full YouTube video, watch below.
For this trip I will be showing our experience staying at the Disney Beach Club Resort and visiting two parks in two days — Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. This is our first trip as a family! So you’ll be seeing it fresh through our eyes and hopefully I’ll be able to answer the questions that I had when I was in the planning stage.
First let’s talk about what to pack on your big trip. Dress for comfort! You will be walking and waiting and standing. Now is definitely not the time to try out a new pair of kicks. Wear your most comfortable sneakers. We walked over seven miles each day. Bring a stroller for little ones. Our six year old well, but I think younger than that would need some help.
When we were at the park in early 2022 masks were required inside buildings, but not outside. So pack extras.
Here’s what I packed for our family of 5. We did go in January so I took things like sweatshirts and jackets are included.
- Magic Kingdom outfit: Mickey tee, Minnie sweatshirt, black jeans
- Animal Kingdom outfit: Mickey tee, sweatshirt, leopard jeans
- Flip flops
- Minnie ears
- Toiletries bag
- Flat iron/curler
- Fanny pack
Six year old girl
- Princess dress
- Magic Kingdom outfit: Mickey tee, Minnie sweatshirt, black jeans
- Animal Kingdom outfit: Mickey tee, sweatshirt, leopard jeans
- Princess nightgown
- Flip flops
- Minnie ears
9 and 10 year old boys
- Magic Kingdom outfit: Mickey tee, shorts, sweatshirt
- Animal Kingdom outfit: Mickey tee, shorts, sweatshirt
- Extra tee and shorts
- Flip flops
- I don’t really know except the Mickey t-shirt I bought him ;)
Here is what was in our backpack we took into the park:
- 2 water bottles
- Hand sanitizer
- Baby wipes
- Glow in the dark necklaces
- 5 ponchos
Snack ideas (that don’t need refrigeration)
We packed some of these in our backpack and left the rest in the hotel room. It was great to give the kids a PBJ and fruit in the morning instead of stopping for breakfast.
- Granola bars
- Cereal bars
- Fruit pouches
- Loaf of bread
- Peanut butter
- Tablets/chargers/headphones for kids during travel
- Sound machine
- Phone Charger
- Apple watch charger
One thing more I wish we would have included is a portable phone charger. Those phones go through a workout using the Disney app and taking all those videos and photos!
Some things you can bring from home to save money:
- Snacks. You are allowed to bring snacks into the park. Now we did choose to sit down to lunch, but having some snacks to prevent kids from being hangry will prevent meltdowns and give them something to focus on in line.
- Water bottles. We brought two plastic water bottles and filled them up at water fountains.
- Sharpie for autographs and writing our phone number on kids’ wrists.
- Minnie Mouse ears. These are fun and so many people join in.
- Glow in the dark bracelets and necklaces. They add an element of fun during nighttime and fireworks. Plus you can identify your kiddos easier.
- Ponchos. You never know when it will rain in Florida. We used ours on the Kali River Rapids in animal kingdom and we were so grateful because you get SOAKED on that ride!
- Bubble wand. Vendors are selling these fun bubble wands everywhere and of course my 6 year old wanted one. They’re 30 bucks! I knew this in advance and thought about buying one to take with us for a third of the price, but decided we didn’t need another thing to carry. She was satisfied with a Mickey ice cream bar instead.
We stayed at the Disney Beach Resort for two nights. It was a really beautiful place with so much to do. I wish we could have spent more time here. (We did get a small Florida resident discount, but of course, it’s pricey so two nights was it for us!)
When we arrived at the resort, parking wasn’t too far from the door so we just carried our belongings in.
You can check in without even going to the front desk and unlock your assigned room with the Disney app. Just tap on the reservation on your home page and the option to unlock the door is there. Match up the Micky icon with the icon on the door.
I hope you can forgive my poor “photography.” Some of these are just screenshots of videos because I was focused more on the YouTube video for this one.
There was someone at the front to scan our code, but my phone was dead and Marcello‘s app wasn’t working! She quickly guided us to the front desk where they gave us each a key card with individual codes which worked also at the park entry, Lightning Lane and Photo Pass. We were actually grateful for these physical cards because our phone batteries were low by the end of the day.
Our room was fine. We paid a little extra for a water view, but it was more of a bush view with a pool on the other side. We had two queen beds and a day bed for the five of us. I’ll spare you on how spending the night in the same room went with snoring, sleep talking, sleep walking and a toss and turner!
There are water slides, pools and easy access to the Skyline and Ferry Boats that go to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
In fact, we rode both modes of transportation just for fun the first night we were there! The Skyline was beautiful at sunset. And the Ferry goes across the lake to the Boardwalk (show in the background of the photo) where there are restaurants and street entertainment like magicians and dancers.
A couple perks of staying at a resort are early booking for Genie Plus Lightning Lane. And early park entry by 30 minutes, which will help you get on that popular ride without spending 2 hours of your day waiting right off the bat.
The age of our kids are 6, 9 and 10 and they met the height requirement. Our kids are close in age, that’s one reason I waited until they were older — so they could walk and no one would have to sit out on any rides.
You’ll probably have to go watch another video for a ride strategy or game plan. We weren’t exactly sure what we were doing. In the old days you would just go around the different rides in each area before you moved onto the next. Now with the Genie App we found ourselves going to different areas and back-and-forth due to time waits and what time we had reserved a ride.
One good thing that we did was utilize our early entry and head straight to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. This is one of the most popular attractions and the wait times are lower earlier in the day, especially if you don’t want to pay the extra lightning Lane fee.
We managed to ride most of the rides at Magic Kingdom, but missed some like the Haunted Mansion, Winnie the Pooh and Buzz Lightyear. Of the ones we did ride, our favorite rides, along with seemingly everyone else, were in order: Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Big Thunder Mountain (Splash Mountain was closed).
They were really into the thrill rides rather than shows, but Clara was very excited to see the Princess Processional parade and take pictures with the princesses in the castle.
At Animal Kingdom our favorites by far were Avatar and Dinosaurs (which we rode twice). These were just fantastic, thrilling experiences. And we also really enjoyed the Kilimanjaro Safaris, which is longer than most rides and offers a variety of animals.
If you ride Kali River Rapids, go ahead and break out the ponchos! We did, but still got soaked. I think we spent more time trying not to get wet than enjoy the ride, haha!
With kids it’s always helpful to manage expectations. I had to warn the kids that we would not be buying toys and drinks, maybe just a few snacks. I told them it would be a day full of ups and downs, like an emotional roller coaster! One minute you’re extremely excited because the ride was so much fun and the next your bored or hangry from waiting in line. I made sure they knew it would be lots of waiting and we would just have to be patient.
They did well for the most part, but we kept having to tell them not to climb on things, touch EVERYTHING or wrestle in line!
It was important to us to make sure we all stuck together the entire time so we held hands most of the time and I wrote our phone number on the kids wrists with a Sharpie in case we got separated.
How to use Genie Plus Lighting Lane
The Genie app is free — it’s included in the Disney app, that’s the only app you need — and shows the park map with wait times and offers suggestions on where to go according to your preferences.
The newer feature at Disney, Genie Plus, you can pay $15 per person per day to skip the line on select rides at select times.
This has some catches. You can only book one ride at a time and you may not rebook the same ride. The most popular rides book early in the morning. The problem with that is that if you book a ride at 3 pm, you will not be able to utilize your pass until that time.
We decided to utilize our pass for medium-sized waits and go ahead and wait the longer times for the couple of most popular rides at the end of the day.
And finally not all rides are included in Genie Plus. For us that meant if we wanted a Lightning Lane pass for Seven Dwarfs or Space Mountain we would have had to pay $7-10 extra per person. If you are just two people or in a rush to do everything or have a lot of money to spend this is a good option. We chose not to buy these. We waited 45 minutes for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for our first ride and 1 hour and a half for Space Mountain for our last ride. Then the second day we ended waiting about 2 hours for Avatar for our last ride. And yes, it was actually worth it!
One side note, it wasn’t on purpose but we ended both days with the biggest rides — Space Mountain and Avatar, which really put the family in a good mood and ended the days on a high note.
Average of 57,000 guests a day. We were told that on the days we were there they said her levels were actually low. Which is crazy to me!
How to use lighting lane
There are three ways to use Lighting Lane:
- The Disney app: Tap the ride you reserved on your home page and just tap you phone to the Mickey touch pad at the entry. You will have to slide through each person in your party.
- Magicband: Disney sells these handy bands that make entry and Lightning Lane super easy — you know, instead of digging around in your bag each time. They cost $20+ and would be worth it if you were repeat visitors.
- Key Card: We ended up using the keys we got at the hotel most of the time, old school style.
Is Genie Plus worth it?
Disney Genie App is helpful but you’re looking at your phone all day and might have to zig and zag around the park according to wait times and ride appointment, which is harder for kids to walk. We were only able to use the pass three times in Magic Kingdom and two times in Animal Kingdom.
Ultimately though, I would buy it again to save a few hours of waiting to do a few more things.
How to use Photo pass
I was excited to check out the Photo Pass service for our first trip to Disney. For $100 you get professional photos of your group in front of various locations across the parks. Find a photographer dressed in blue pants, white shirt and carrying a large camera. You can find designated locations on the park maps, but Disney says sometimes they are located in other locations, though I never saw any. They will scan the code in your app under photos.
This is a great way to get the perfect shot in front of the castle or iconic spot you love.
Here’s where I’m STILL confused. Disney also offers Memory Maker. Photo Pass is the system they use. Memory Maker has the packages you can purchase.
I downloaded all our photos from the app to my phone free of charge though. I don’t know if that was a fluke or you actually need Memory Maker, which can get pricey! Clear as mud? I know, I’m sorry.
Is Photo Pass worth it?
The first day at Magic Kingdom I saw ONE photographer. One! Fortunately it was the most important one to me because he was right in front of Cinderella’s castle. So we only got those photos for the whole day. I have to say, I was pretty disappointed in that. But that could have just been my experience.
But Animal Kingdom made up for that and we saw at least three photographers. One of which was very fun and took photos of just Marcello and I, which I hadn’t thought of.
Photo Pass also captures your group on rides. We got a cute one on the Seven Dwarfs ride, but that was it. We missed one because we were in the lightning lane and didn’t walk past the sign with the code. We missed one because I couldn’t figure out how to scan the code in time. In front of the Dwarfs you scan your code. In front of Space Mountain you scan THEIR code. And keep in mind only a select amount of thrill rides have this feature. We did figure it out by the time we went to Animal Kingdom, but we only rode one ride with this option and got a photo of us talking in our masks because the Dinosaurs ride is indoors.
My conclusion: I’m glad we paid for the service for our first experience together, but I wouldn’t do it if we were frequent visitors. This was a special experience, so I’m glad we captured it.
I did not understand beforehand that you need a reservation for almost every meal you eat! The first night we were there we took the ferry over to the boardwalk across from our resort in were surprised we could not get into any restaurant even at 7 o’clock at night. It worked out OK though because there was a pizza place and we found seating outside.
Fortunately I had already reserved dining inside the park. All dining reservations are also done through the Disney app. And you can order from many of the non-sit down restaurants on the app.
I was talking to another mom on the shuttle and her approach was different. She didn’t want to waste time sitting down to eat lunch or dinner, but instead wanted to focus on rides. It made complete sense to me. But our family instead needed a rest and I liked that we could add a few vegetables and fruit instead of just eating fried food from the stands. And they turn around people so quickly that you can be in and out within an hour.
While we were in Magic Kingdom we ate at liberty Tavern and Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. We ate at Rainforest Cafe in Animal Kingdom. We had snacks like chicken dumplings, Mickey ice cream bars, popcorn.
It was so dark in the other two, we really don’t have photos worth showing you. You can watch the video to get a better idea of the atmosphere.
At Liberty Tavern, a colonial style restaurant, they gave us a buffet-style family lunch where they brought large plates of salad, turkey, pot roast, mashed potatoes and Mac and cheese. The food was good (minus the Mac and cheese), but we found it overpriced compared to the other restaurants.
Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen
We were impressed with Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. The waiters are funny and quirky. Our waiter sat down at our table and asked what we were bringing him. It’s a fun, lighthearted experience and the food was enjoyable. My husband enjoyed his ribs and claimed he chose best, over my chicken. Of course the food is very kid friendly and even comes with steamed vegetables as an option. The kids options were about $10 each which I thought was very reasonable. One kid got mac & cheese, one kid got steak, and the other chicken tenders.
On our second day we only went to one restaurant because we could not get a reservation until 2 o’clock. We were so full that we were not even hungry by dinner! The Rainforest Cafe in Animal Kingdom was by far our favorite. The entrance is lush, beautiful and inviting. The large gift store is adorned with hanging vines and flowers and tropical fish. And the inside is enormous with animated animals and jungle atmosphere. And everyone in a while there is a thunderstorm and The lights flicker and all the animals start moving and calling.
As far as the menu, I asked the server what her favorite dish is and she recommended the salmon and shrimp. It was delicious and I ate the entire thing! My husband got the burger and said it was delicious. The kids meals again we’re about $10 each. They got mini hotdogs, grilled cheese and shrimp. They came with fruit and juice or milk. Of course it’s hard to go wrong with hotdogs and grilled cheese so they ate all of those, but my son didn’t really care for the shrimp.
This one is really cute and we would definitely go back. One note though, if you have a child sensitive to loud noises, you might want to skip this one.
Overall this was and great experience, full of fun and excitement, but also exhausting! Lots of planning, expectations, walking, standing, waiting, laughing and memories. We’re glad we went, but two days of parks were plenty for this fam.
I’m a newbie, so feel free to add your own advice in the comments!