A guide to your first time at Disney World

First time at Disney World - view of Cinderella's Castle with 50th anniversary plaque on it

Disney World boasts 58 million visitors a year, comprised of both Disney fanatics who return time and time again, and those who have never visited before. In fact, Disney World is the most visited theme park in the entire world, which means plenty of brand new guests will uncover why it is considered one of the most magical destinations every single year.

However, with the sheer size of the theme park, along with the heaps and heaps of rides, attractions, experiences, and dining options, if you have never been before, working out what you want to do and what you absolutely should not miss could be very daunting. A trip to Disney World is, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so you don’t want to go home feeling as if you have missed a single thing.

That’s why we have put together this guide for a first time visit to Disney World. Find out what the most famous rides are that you simply must do at Disney World, the very best restaurants, as well as some unmissable experiences, so you can really make the most of your first ever visit. Tick off bucket list rides and complete the most iconic activities – you will go home feeling satisfied, happy, and completely Disney-ed out. Let’s get started with the best sights you must see at Disney World. 

Iconic things to see at Disney World

Before you even get on the rides or visit any restaurants, there are some very easy must see sights at Disney World. Make sure you have your Mickey Mouse ears on and have your camera ready – it’s time to tick off some iconic locations. 

Cinderella’s Castle

The very first thing we have to mention is the incredible Cinderella’s Castle. A towering structure complete with pastel hues, soaring turrets and elegant windows, the castle is single-handedly the most iconic building in Disney World, and the symbol of a beautiful castle is often synonymous with the entire Disney brand. 

It won’t be easy to miss, as the castle stands proudly at the very center of Magic Kingdom, with elegant gardens standing at the forefront, from which you can explore every angle of the castle as it seems to pierce the very sky with its imposing height. In fact, you can still see the castle from many places across the Magic Kingdom. Surrounded by sparkling water, there is no end to stunning photos you and your family can take before Cinderella’s Castle. And once you’re done looking at the outside, you can even head inside to visit the incredible restaurant Cinderella’s Royal Table, which we will talk a little bit more about later on.

If you’d like to find out more about the castle, check out our blog to all things Cinderella at Disney World.

Main Street

Also located within the Magic Kingdom park, Main Street is a bustling, thriving avenue that leads visitors up a sweeping corridor straight towards Cindrella’s Castle. If you can tear yourself away from the view of the imposing, elegant structure at the very end of Main Street, then there are plenty of incredible shops for you to explore here, offering snacks and Disney gear abound. So if you haven’t grabbed yourself a pair of Mickey ears yet, now is the time! 

Head inside to the incredible Disney Emporium, add a charm to your bracelet at the Uptown Jewelers, and fuel up on sugar at Main Street Confectionary – these little activities on Main Street are the perfect way to kick-start a fun-filled day in Magic Kingdom. 

The Tree of Life 

tree of life sculpture at disney's animal kingdom

We’re leaving Magic Kingdom now and heading on over to Animal Kingdom, where the roars of the resident lions shake the ground. Before you head off on the safari to see the wild animals of Disney, including giraffes, zebras and tigers, head first to view the incredible Tree of Life. 

Soaring at 145 foot high, the tree of life is an incredibly realistic and life-like sculpture of a baobab tree, boasting 8000 branches and 102,000 leaves. In the bark itself, you will find incredible details honoring both existing and now extinct animals, including fish, tigers and elephants. You could spend an hour gazing at the trunk picking out all the intricate details!

The sculpture was erected at the park’s opening, after 18 months of incredible work from the Disney imagineers.  It  represents the great circle of life, of which every creature is a part of, and the beauty of all living things. To witness it is truly breathtaking. 

The Tree of Life is easy to locate. It is situated at the very Northern tip of the central island in Animal Kingdom, known as Discovery Island. From the entrance, it is a straight line and a journey over the bridge, with plenty of surrounding walkways from which you can explore and get the perfect angle to take it all in. 

Epcot World Showcase

The park of Epcot is in and of itself, an iconic and unmissable location. Get ready to travel the world and be swept away on an incredible adventure at the Epcot World Showcase, located towards the North of the park. Situated around a massive body of water, you can walk a circular loop and visit some of the most alluring countries in the world. 

If you start at the very Southern tip of the World Showcase and walk towards your right, you will visit destinations such as Canada, France, Morocco, Japan, Italy, China and Mexico, with each location built to fully immerse you in that country’s architecture and culture, and make you feel as if you were really there. Visit several continents within a matter of hours, and experience the sights, sounds, and tastes that make the World Showcase both an incredibly unique experience, as well as an unmissable and unforgettable journey. 

Most popular rides at Disney World

Now that you have your list of the most iconic areas and sights of Disney World ready to go, it’s time to think about the parks’ best rides. Although Disney World is a popular destination thanks to its immersive atmosphere and magical surroundings, no trip is complete without a ride on some of its most thrilling and famous attractions. Have a look at the rides millions travel to Disney World to try out, that gets pulses pounding and laughs bubbling in chests. 

Big Thunder Mountain

thunder mountain at disney world orlando

Everybody who has heard of Disney World has heard of Thunder Mountain. Climb aboard the runaway mine train as you sweep and swerve around an impressive backdrop decked out to look like the American old-west back in its gold-mining era. Combining outdoor stretches and incredible indoor sections complete with blasting dynamite and falling boulders, you won’t be able to help but shriek and giggle as you dodge the obstacles and swoop around on a rickety track. 

This ride is perfect for both adults and children, offering fast-paced thrills, bumps and jumps, all based around a creepy, haunted mine. 

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster

Hold on to your hats, because it’s about to get speedy (note, don’t actually wear a hat on this ride as you won’t have it much longer!) The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is an absolute must do for your first time at Disney World for adrenaline-seekers and music-lovers alike. For those who are both, this is probably your dream ride!

Both inspired by and featuring rock legends Aerosmith, you need to race against time with Steve Tyler and co to reach their concert in time, blasting off from a standstill to hit 57 MPH in under three seconds, before heading straight into a loop that gives you a whopping 5g of force. This indoor coaster isn’t one for the faint hearted as Aerosmith’s iconic classics blast in the speakers beside your ears and you spiral and loop through the building – but the thrill is well worth it.

Space Mountain

You simply can’t visit Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom without a visit to Space Mountain. An iconic coaster located within a large, white domed building, you’ll feel as if you’re truly blasting into space as you shoot and swerve through the galaxy. With a futuristic sound track pumping throughout the building, your ship will dip and dive through comets and meteors, skating around the outskirts of the sparkling shimmer of distant galaxies. But watch out! The coaster is pulled towards a wormhole, and you really will feel the effects as your coaster drops and nosedives!

Expedition Everest

expedition everest disney world orlando

It’s time to don your hiking boots and set off into the heights of the Nepalese mountains. But not the mountain you’ve ever heard of – the forbidden mountain, guarded by an angry yeti willing to destroy anyone who dares cross into its territory. This ride is extraordinarily immersive as you do everything you can to avoid the yeti’s wrath and escape the mountain, including backwards plummets, nosedives, and racing, rumbling tracks. Beginning at basecamp in a sleepy Tibetan village, the peace won’t last long as you make the precarious ascent, and risk catching the attention of a foreboding, frightening beast. If he does come across you – don’t scream. Just get out as fast as you can!

Haunted Mansion

No, you’re not imagining it… something spooky really does lurk in the dark corners here at the Haunted Mansion. The Ghost Host will take you on a tour through the dark, creepy depths of the mansion, where all manner of things could be in the shadows staring straight back at you. Hop onto the ride and sail through the phantom-riddled home as you search frantically for the exit, and uncover the spectacularly spooky goings-on here at Disney World – just make sure that the ghosts don’t follow you out!

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Star Wars fans rejoice – a completely immersive Star Wars experience is on the cards for your first time at Disney World. Featuring an in-depth simulator-style attraction, you will explore the Star Wars universe as a new Resistance recruit. You’ve been captured and taken aboard a Star Destroyer. Your mission? Escape! Evade storm troopers, AT-ATs, and even Kylo Ren as you battle your way to freedom. 

Incredible restaurants for your first time at Disney World

So, you’ve visited the iconic sights and ridden the very best rides and attractions – you must have really worked up an appetite by now! Here are four of our absolute, top-the-charts, must eat at Disney World when it comes to magical dining experiences.

Please note that the following restaurants are often extraordinarily popular, so it is a good idea to reserve your dining experience well ahead of time. Download the My Disney Experience App, and you will be able to nab your table 60 days before you arrive.

Cinderella’s Royal Table

The first restaurant we have to mention is the incredible Cinderella’s Royal Table, located within the iconic castle itself in Magic Kingdom. This restaurant looks like it has been lifted straight out of a story book, and you will feel as if you are walking into a grand feast fit for a Prince and Princess. Modeled on a banquet hall of the chivalrous ages, expect a high, vaulted ceiling complete with wooden beans, elegant archways, and soft lighting through grand stained-glass windows. 

Be our Guest

For a truly sumptuous and elegant dining experience, head to the Be Our Guest restaurant, available for both lunch and dinner in Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom. Modeled after the romantic story of Beauty and the Beast, the dining room is complete with glittering chandeliers, a fantastical decorated ceiling representing an ethereal, cotton-candy cloud morning, decadent archways, glimmering floors, and furniture that looks like it has been taken from Beast’s mansion. 

A meal here is a true romantic escape, and if you have a little one that is a future prince or princess, this restaurant is sure to fill them with pure, unbridled joy. You may even catch a glimpse of Belle and the Beast themselves!

Rainforest Café 

rainforest cafe disney world orlando

We’re stepping out of the story books now and into the wild jungle. Gather your exploration gear and be prepared for a true adventure in the iconic Rainforest Cafe, located within – you guessed it – Animal Kingdom. Dine amongst lush greenery and imposing elephants standing over your table, complete with the sounds of the jungles. Just watch out for the sudden thunder claps and monsoons!

As you enjoy your meal, the sound of twittering wild birds will fill the atmosphere, until you will truly feel as if you have lost yourself amongst a far-away jungle. Let your imagination run wild as you taste the delectable cuisine on offer here.

Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater

Our list simply wouldn’t be complete without the Sci-fi Dine-in Theater. This truly unique restaurant combines the nostalgia of a drive-in movie, complete with 50’s style open-top cars that double as your dining booth. Tuck into some classic American dishes, like burgers and sandwiches, whilst kicking back and enjoying a montage of some of Hollywood’s most iconic sci-fi film scenes beneath a starlit night sky. There is even a retro concession stand available here!

This movie theater/American diner is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, on Commissary lane. Get your reservations in for this unique and memorable experience.

Though these are our absolute favorites when it comes to unmissable restaurants for your first visit to Disney World, there are plenty more incredible dining options available. To have a look at the very best of the best of restaurants at Disney World, check out our comprehensive guide here. 

Unmissable experiences at Disney World

Your visit to Disney World doesn’t stop after the quintessentially Disney landmarks, thrilling rides and delicious restaurants. Next to add to your to-do list for your first time at Disney World are the must do unique and unusual experiences that are also on offer at this famed theme park. 

Unusual experiences

On offer at Disney World are a range of experiences that you may not expect to be on offer when you visit. Why not take a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride in Disney’s Fort Wilderness or in the Port Orleans area? These beautiful horses are well-cared for, and will offer an entirely new experience of the parks as you trundle lazily through the boulevards and avenues, as well as a scenic route through a forest teeming with wildlife. 

You can also get your haircut at a renowned barber shop on Main Street, take to the sky in a hot air balloon to soar above the parks and rival the height of the castle, and even go out for a spot of fishing. 

If something a little more on the unusual side sparks your interest, check out our guide to our off the beaten track experiences at Disney World here.

Fireworks and night time shows

cinderella's castle lit up with fireworks in background

You have had a fun-filled day exploring the acres upon acres of restaurants, rides and shops Disney World has to offer. The daylight is slowly simmering away, replaced by the drawing-in of the velvet night time. You might think it’s time to head back to your accommodation and wait for tomorrow… but think again.

When the sun goes down, the celebrations truly start. Stick around to witness firsthand the famed fireworks shows at Disney World, located at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Whether watching the Harmonious fireworks spectacular show at Epcot or the magical Disney Enchantment show at Magic Kingdom, it’s not time to think about leaving until the last whisper of kaleidoscopic light fades from the sky.

Meet the characters

Did you even go to Disney World if you didn’t grab a picture with Mickey Mouse? Your favorite Disney characters will be busy wandering around the parks, as well as holding fantastic meet-and-greets where you can both get an autograph and that photo. You can also find some characters at select restaurants around the parks too. For a full guide of where you can locate characters, and who you can find where, have a look at our guide to finding characters at Disney World.

Get some iconic photos

It’s not just that photo with Mickey Mouse that you need – there are many iconic photos you can take around the Disney World park that you can keep forever as a treasured memory. From photos in front of Cinderella’s Castle, around the world in Epcot’s World Showcase, and even photos taken whilst on the rides, it’s a great idea to take as many as you can so you have plenty to look back on. Members of the Disney team are scattered around the parks ready to take your photo, which you can then access via the Genie app, or simply take your own. Just make sure you capture those beautiful memories of your first time at Disney World.

Eat something Mickey shaped

snack counter at disney world orlando

Disney World is full of treats that pay respect to the most iconic Disney character of all – Mickey Mouse. Around the parks, you can find a delicious selection baring the famed mouse’s likeness. Keep an eye out for the Mickey Premium Bar ice-cream, and the Mickey pretzels, located in eateries around the parks. This is a true “must eat” at Disney World.

Book incredible Disney World accommodation

If you’re raring to go for your first time at Disney World, it’s easy to get lost in planning your days and deciding what attractions you most want to visit.

But don’t forget the extremely important part of booking any vacation – choosing the right accommodation. Your first time at Disney World deserves to be absolutely magical and everything you’re dreaming of – which is why, when the park gates close for the night, you don’t want to deal with the deflating feeling of heading off to a sub-par home. Where you stay has a significant impact on the overall experience, so it’s essential you choose somewhere where you feel both comfortable and at home, as well as somewhere unique and exciting, where the memories and laughter can continue long into the night. 

Whether you are heading to Disney World as a couple, with a group of friends or with a young family, we have luxury villas to suit everyone. Expect comfortable decor, amples of space, as well as unique additions such as private movie theaters, incredible swimming pools, and games rooms where you can settle some friendly rivalries once-and-for-all. For the little ones, don’t let the magic stop and gift them the ultimate dream of sleeping in an expertly themed bedroom. Whether that’s for your jedi-in-training, your future superhero, or your little Prince or Princess, get ready for the ‘wows’ as they open the door and find the bedroom that will allow their imagination to run wild. 

And what’s more – our Disney World villas are located within easy reach of the parks, so you can catch some more Z’s, roll out of bed, and be at the gates for opening. 

Our best advice for first time Disney World visitors

We hope you have enjoyed reading this guide, and are feeling fully prepared for your first trip to Disney World, with a list of the must do sights, rides and restaurants ready to go. However, if you’re still feeling overwhelmed by the thought of visiting such a large attraction, don’t worry; the experience is absolutely what you make it.

Our best advice is to take each day as it comes. You can plan each day thoroughly, but sometimes schedules don’t go the way you want them to as no day is completely predictable. Go to Disney World with a list of things you want to visit, of course, but be prepared to welcome flexibility and spontaneity too. Regardless of how much you fit in, you are sure to have an incredible and unforgettable vacation, as Disney World is simply magical and you’re sure to uncover some treasures and delights you wouldn’t have thought to look for before you got there. 

For further support when it comes to your first time at Disney World, check out our full guide to planning a trip, which takes you step-by-step through the process of organizing your vacation. Also make sure you check out our best time to go article if you haven’t already booked, and if you’re ready to start filling up your suitcase, have a read through our article about what to pack for Disney World.

We hope you have a fantastic vacation!