10 First Timer Must Sees at Walt Disney World

With the Disney Social Media Moms Conference fast approaching, lots of my friends will soon be en route to my second home: Walt Disney World!  With them in mind, I thought I’d put my expertise to good use, and post a few Disney-centered lists.

This particular post was inspired by my friend, Stephanie, who–together with her husband–will be taking their two little girls to Disney World for the very first time.  She asked me what I recommend that they absolutely MUST SEE during their visit.  It’s not an easy task–narrowing all those possibilities down to measly list of ten–so I kind of cheated a little: I made two lists.  Tomorrow, I’ll publish my list of top 10 free must sees.  Today’s list, though, represents what are, in my opinion, Disney’s best and brightest offerings, without regard to cost.  I tried to include a little bit of everything because, as any Disney enthusiast will tell you, the magic lives in the details.  If this installment were being rated by the Motion Picture Association, it would fall under the “G” rating for general audiences.  It’s tough to do an all-encompassing must see list without knowing the specifics of your traveling party, so this one is geared towards guests ranging in age from 1-101.

Honorable Mentions

While I couldn’t include these in my top 10, the following should definitely be experienced, if time allows: The American Adventure (World Showcase – Epcot), The Kitchen Sink ice cream sundae (Beaches ‘n’ Cream – Disney’s Beach Club Resort), surrey bike rental (various resorts).

10. Pirates of the Caribbean

One’s Disney trip is simply not complete without a rousing rendition of Yo Ho! with everyone’s favorite swashbuckling pirates.  ‘Nuff said.

9. The Pirates League – Magic Kingdom

Speaking of pirates, the Pirate League is the more economical counterpart to Disney’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.  Open to boys and girls alike, it’s where buccaneers-to-be go for a makeover unlike any other.  Jayce visited the Pirates League in October and we found it to be an excellent value.  To compliment his “new look” he was given a bag full of pirate treasure, a sword, certificate, rotten removable teeth and bandanna.  If you’re looking for an economical way to give your child a unique experience, this is it!

8. Mickey’s PhilHarmagic

I know this one wouldn’t make a lot of people’s lists, but it’s a big hit with my bunch.  It’s a 4-D show in Fantasyland that takes viewers on a musical journey through Disney’s most beloved films.  The experience goes beyond 3-D, by also engaging the viewer’s senses of smell and touch.  And for that reason, it’s an attraction we must see during every visit.

7. Fort Wilderness

We stayed at Fort Wilderness a couple of years ago and fell instantly in love with the rustic charm it offers.  There are a plethora of activities in and around Fort Wilderness, including: inexpensive pony rides, beach volleyball, bike and boat rentals, carriage rides, fishing, nature trails, and even a nightly sing-a-long/campfire with Chip and Dale.  For guests looking to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks, Fort Wilderness is just what the doctor ordered.

6. Ambiance

Like I said, any true Disney enthusiast will tell you that the magic lives in the details.  Rushing through the parks will cause you to miss out on some of the best parts!  There are wandering street performers in Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.  Each of their acts are fun and unique and add such an authentic feel to the theme of each park.  While Epcot, too, has great performers, they’re less spontaneous, but equally memorable.  Also, take a time-out to enjoy an ice cream cone or box of popcorn while you wander the park.  There are thematic details and little surprises just waiting to be uncovered!

5. Pin Trading

Pin trading is a favorite park activity for my kids.  They wear their lanyards into the park each day and by the time we’re ready to head out in the evening, they’ve traded for a whole different set of pins that the ones they started with.  While you do have to buy pins for trading, the actual act of trading is completely free.  Not only does it give kids an opportunity to collect a set of memorable souvenirs, so too does it allow them to interact with the Cast Members, who often have interesting tips to share.

4. Epcot’s World Showcase

Strolling along the World Showcase promenade is one of my absolute favorite parts of a Walt Disney World vacation.  We love to peruse deep into each country’s pavilion, exploring the sights.  The serene settings, together with the music and native Cast Members and specialty shops lend to the illusion that you’re actually experiencing a foreign country–all without even requiring a passport!  We like to taste our way around the world, stopping in each pavilion for a regional snack.

3. Toy Story Midway Mania

This relatively new attraction is a MUST SEE.  It’s unlike any theme park attraction I’ve ever seen before in that it’s totally interactive.  Disney’s Imagineers completely outdid themselves when they brought this experience to life; it leaves guests of all ages laughing, and wanting to try it again as soon as possible!

2. Hoop Dee Doo

This long-running dinner show takes place in Pioneer Hall at Fort Wilderness.  Not only does it include an all-you-care-to-eat menu, but so, too does it feature the hilarious antics of the Pioneer Hall players.  The show is chock full of audience participation so don’t be surprised if you find yourself on stage should you decide to visit.  Disney has been performing this dinner show so long that they’ve perfected the pace of the meal; you won’t feel rushed at all.  The show and the meal are totally family-friendly.  We took Jayce when he was two and he had no trouble at all sitting through the entire show.

1. Extra Magic Hours (AM ONLY!)

One thing I know for sure is that the easiest way to experience the most attractions in the shortest amount of time is to be at the gate thirty or so minutes before the park opens.  The thickest crowds start filing in around ten or eleven in the morning, but if you play your cards right, you could easily be 2/3 of the way through your day by that time.  To gain even greater advantage?  Make good use of those Extra Magic Hours for resort guests, which will afford you a full hour of play time before the park opens to the general public.  I won’t fib and tell you that we’ve never slept in on our vacation, but what I will say is that our most stress-free park days have started long before our sleepyhead counterparts even consider rolling out of bed.

Click here to see my list of Top 10 *Free* Must Sees!

Tell me: have you been to Walt Disney World?  What would your Top 10 look like?

18 thoughts on “10 First Timer Must Sees at Walt Disney World”

  1. Great list! I agree, it’s hard to narrow down the lists for other people. Off the top of my head, we have 2 other must-dos (do you hear Stacey saying that? Let’s do the must do’s!).

    We’re not big fans of Animal Kingdom, but we make time every trip to go see Finding Nemo: The Musical. Amazing! Like our own little taste of Broadway. Our youngest sat through it at 2 and paid attention the whole time – it must be great!

    Our other favorite is IllumiNations. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! We have the CD that we listen to at home and from the age of 2, our other son has been conducting to it and singing along. He even has it on his own little MP3 player and listens to it every day during rest time now!(He’s now 5)

    Looking forward to seeing your next list!

    1. I whole-heartedly concur with the Finding Nemo: The Musical addition! I can’t believe I forgot that one. As for Illuminations, I’m just lukewarm. I have no explanation except that the first time I saw it I got ash in my eye from the fireworks and it’s just been okay for me every time since. I know it’s a must see for lots of peeps, though!

  2. I can’t wait to refer back to this list one day when we’re headed there! There was a Lion King show at Animal Kingdom that I loved. It was probably about 12 years ago…. do you know if they still do it? I love that music, and the show really brought the music to life.
    I guess they changed the name of MGM Studios to Hollywood Studios? It has been way too long for me!

    1. Speaking of you heading there…you know you have an open invitation to join us any old time. ;)

      The show you’re referring to is called the Festival of The Lion King. It is still performed at Animal Kingdom. It’s a great show, though not as good as the new Nemo: The Musical show also at Animal Kingdom (in my opinion, of course). MGM Studios just recently changed to Hollywood Studios because some contract with MGM expired or something.

    2. They still have the Lion King show. I suggest getting there early for the show bc you will get the best seats.

  3. I love your list! I agree that Mickey’s PhilHarmagic is a must see and Toy Story Mania is a must ride. My whole family LOVES that ride! Our favorite store in Epcot’s World Showcase is Japan; we could spend hours in there. Mostly we love all the Japanese candy and snacks, each time we get something new. I agree with the ambiance and in my opinion there is nothing like Main Street at Magic Kingdom. Just standing there is joyful to me. We love to get a Dole Whip and sit on a bench on the walkway leading from Adventureland into the circle and just enjoy the atmosphere. We’ve never been to the Hoop Dee Doo Revenue or stayed at Fort Wilderness, so that is on my list for a future visit, maybe for my daughter’s 10th birthday in October.

    I am going to Disney World twice this month and your list has gotten me excited!

  4. AM only? Really? I like the late-night EMH! Of course I’m more of a night owl than you are, but…Animal Kingdom is our 2nd favorite park, so we love getting 3 more hours there. And if you’re there when the EMH takes you until 1 or 2 am, even the Magic Kingdom is practically deserted. It’s fabulous being able to walk right on to, well, everything!

  5. I love all the tips and tricks that you give-My family and will be traveling to WDW this August for the first time and I appreciate all the help I can get :). I have actually been following your blog for about a year now, I heard about it through your husband in our first class last year at ASU. I absolutely love the advice and recipes, keep up the good work!

    1. He’s my biggest fan. ;)

      Thanks for speaking up, Angela. You must be SO excited for your family’s first trip. Where are you staying? I’m happy to offer tips/advice if you have any questions. You should also check out http://www.disneyworldmoms.com for some really great stuff!

      1. We are getting very excited, although, it seems sooo far away from now :). We are planning to stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort. We have gone to Disneyland the past two years and the kids are now obsessed with pirates, and they had a pirate themed room there. One question that immediately comes to mind is the buses from resort to resort-what is the average wait time, and is there anywhere on the website to find a map or bus schedule? I would hope we can fit in all the theme and water parks in during our 10 day stay, but I am sure I will have to have some sort of plan in place. Also, because I will be in class during our vacation, what evening events would you most recommend? I know there will be some nights I will have to be doing homework at the hotel, so I want to make sure we make the events that will be truly special. I appreciate your help and hope I don’t drive you crazy with all my questions in the coming months, because I am sure I will have lots more. Take care and have a great weekend!

  6. Our 4-year-old is SUPER excited about “Pirates of the Caribbean.” She was scared of it last time we were at Disneyland, but now she insists that it is going to be her favorite.

    I’m also excited to scope out the Finding Nemo musical after reading your readers’ recommendations.

  7. I thought of you and your expertise often while we were at the #DisneySMMoms conference. EPCOT’s World Show Case is by far my favorite place to visit!
    I also enjoyed meeting your sweet friend Stephanie!!

  8. I haven’t done everything on your list, so I can’t comment on some of them, but I couldn’t agree more with “Ambiance”. Enjoying the music, architecture, and subtle details of the parks and resorts enables me to forget the rat race at home. But 2 things I thought your list lacked were the monorail and Soarin’. I just don’t feel like I’ve been to WDW unless I’ve done these 2 things.

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