Disney Arrival Day: Things to Do on Your First Day at Walt Disney World
Congratulations, it’s your Disney Arrival Day! After the stresses of traveling to the Happiest Place on Earth, you are finally on Walt Disney World property. And you’ve likely taken a picture of this welcome sign:
Always a welcoming sight!
While Annual Passholders can certainly head straight to the parks, even these guests may need some down time from early morning flights or long road trips.
After you check in to your hotel, it’s time to embrace your first day at Disney.
Have some fun checking into your resort.
And I have some suggestions on how to decompress from the real world. Breathe in, let it out, and start soaking in the magic of a WDW vacation.
Make Your Hotel Home
Settle into your Disney resort room. I like to at least get our luggage or carry-on gear situated, phones charging, etc.
Standard Room at All-Star Music Resort
Get your refillable resort mugs, then take a walk around the resort.
Take a walk around your Disney Resort.
Become familiar with the locations of the food court, shop, pool, and transportation depot(s).
Explore your Disney Resort.
You’ll want to know where the boat/bus/monorail stop is before you head to your first park.
This is also a great time to relax by the pool.
Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resort
Let the kids swim away their energy that has bottled up from your flight or drive.
Priceless vacation moment!
Soaking in the hot tub is another way to let your worries whisk away. If you are so inclined, the pool bar will offer libations for over-21 guests as well as kiddie cocktails (for the young and young-at-heart).
Banana Cabana. Cheers!
Swim or take a bike ride, enjoy dinner at your hotel, then have the kids go to bed early or watch the resort’s outdoor movie. Attending the hotel’s campfire offerings is also a carefree pastime for your first evening.
Rent a bike at Wilderness Lodge.
Get a great night’s rest before your first park day!
Dine and Shop at Disney Springs
Shopping and dining at Disney Springs is another fun option. Our teen son likes to head to Earl of Sandwich for one of his favorite counter-service meals.
Bite into a delicious sandwich at Earl of Sandwich.
Walk off your travel jitters and share a counter-service or table-service meal with your loved ones at Disney Springs.
Note that this location will be very crowded if it’s a weekend afternoon and/or evening, so plan accordingly.
Resort Dining and Shopping
Traveling to another resort at Walt Disney World to dine and shop can also be rejuvenating. I find hooting and hollering at Whispering Canyon Cafe at Wilderness Lodge or Hoop-Dee-Doo at Fort Wilderness to be a complete stress-reliever. For comfort food in a quieter atmosphere, make a reservation at Trail’s End Restaurant.
Comfort foods are on the buffet at Trail’s End Restaurant at Fort Wilderness.
Another favorite first night meal is Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary. You’ll get a home-style buffet meal plus meeting Mickey all done in one outing. This place is noisy but you simply can not walk out of here without feeling a little more light-hearted.
Chef Mickey’s is extra fun when traveling with extended family!
Visit Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach
If you arrive early in the day, take advantage of your free time for a water-filled adventure at one of these gorgeous water parks.
Escape to Blizzard Beach Water Park.
Impressively themed, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach offer attractions for all ages. I just love floating down the lazy river!
Attend a Magic Kingdom Holiday Party
If you’ve got energy (especially if arriving from a different time zone that has you wired not tired), purchase tickets for an after-hours party at the Magic Kingdom. We highly recommend both Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Main Street, U.S.A. is spooktacular!
And hey, if you decide to just crash and take a nap on your Disney Arrival Day, it’s all good. It’s YOUR vacation. We used to plan every second of our Disney vacations and now we have more fun just winging it. I love to get to our resort, check into our hotel, and park myself in a pool lounge chair (preferably in the shade). LOL! 😉
Kim enjoys the shade at The Dig Site pool at Disney’s Coronado Springs.
What’s your family tradition for your first day at Walt Disney World? Or tell us what you’re planning to do on your first trip! We love to hear from our readers.
Planning our Disney vacations always starts with a tough decision: Which Walt Disney World Resorts should we consider?
Since, we’ve stayed at nearly all of the Walt Disney World resorts, we want to help you with this part of your vacation planning. After all, my favorite part of a Disney trip is time spent at the Walt Disney World resorts. I love to shop, dine, relax by the pool with a good book, sip on a Banana Cabana or Pina CoLAVA, and go on walks to take in the resort’s decor. The hotel themes and amenities are an important part of my Disney adventures. Let’s make sure that your family opts for the hotel that suits your budget and other requirements. We’ll start today by exploring some of our preferred hotels at Walt Disney World.
Preferred Walt Disney World Resorts
My husband and son also enjoy staying at the resorts. We’ve selected our preferred Walt Disney World resorts in each budget category — deluxe, moderate, and value. However, we want your family to carefully select the resort that is right for you. For now, let’s explore the resorts that my family finds the most appealing. First up, Michael and I select our favorites, followed by our teen son’s choices.
Deluxe Walt Disney World Resorts
In the deluxe category, guests at Walt Disney World will find examples of exquisite themeing, convenient locations, luxurious rooms, concierge services, a variety of restaurants, and, the less than fun aspect — higher prices.
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
The Grand Floridian (GF) is our family’s favorite resort, thus we’ve stayed here for many special occasions. Our honeymoon, 10th anniversary vow renewal, and my birthday are among the celebrations that we’ve opted to spend (probably too much cash!) at this Victorian-style hotel. At first glance, you may get the impression that this isn’t a family resort. However, there are fun activities for kids of all ages! I love the Alice in Wonderland theme at the splash area.
Mad Hatter Splash Area.
Exquisitely appointed with red gabled roofs, it’s reminiscent of Victorian beachside lodging.
Red gabled roofs of Disney’s Grand Floridian
A visit to the lobby to listen to the ethereal music played by the pianist or orchestra is a perfect pastime.
Listen to the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra
Aptly named, the multi-storied lobby is grand. From the marble flooring to the stained glass rooftop’s domes, no matter how many times we see it, we always find this room jaw-dropping. And then, there’s the grand staircase that I absolutely adore (or the caged elevator) that beckons guests up to the second floor where the monorail, plus additional shops, restaurants, and lovely outdoor decks await.
Monorail access to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot (via transfer at the Transportation and Ticket Center), and Disney’s Contemporary and Polynesian Village resorts make this a convenient vacation spot. Plus, there’s the gorgeous marina connecting to Seven Seas Lagoon adding more transportation and recreation options at nearby Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge.
The restaurants live up to the grandness too. Open 24 hours, the quick-service Gasparilla Island Grill is situated with outdoor views of Cinderella’s Castle.
Booth with a view at Gasparilla Island Grill.
Narcoossee’s, with its prime waterfront real estate, is a fabulous place to dine. It serves up the best steak on property as far as Michael is concerned. 😉
Narcoossee’s waterfront restaurant
Rooms are larger than you’ll find at most Disney hotels and they are decorated in luxurious textiles. Views of the inner courtyard, lagoon, and Cinderella’s Castle are all memorable.
All amenities including the spa and pools are easily accessible via lighted garden walkways.
Reserve your room at the Grand Floridian if:
- your budget is deluxe sized
- you’ll be spending a lot of time at the Magic Kingdom
- you want luxury over value
- you love waterside activities (Electrical Water Pageant, marina rentals)
- spa amenities are important
- an assortment of table service dining is high on your list of requirements
- you are night owls and want a 24 hour dining location (Gasparilla Island Grill)
Guest Tip: Take a romantic moonlit walk from the Grand Floridian to Disney’s Wedding Pavilion to the Polynesian Village.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
As guests arrive Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, the landscaping immediately pulls them into the exotic theme. Relaxation is nearly guaranteed here since the ambiance lends itself to leaving real world cares at the front entrance.
Entering the lobby at Jambo House, your eyes will need to adjust to the low lighting. The dark woods, intoxicating fireside smells, ambient background music, and cozy furniture are welcoming.
Animal Kingdom Lodge Lobby
A room with a savannah view isn’t necessary but it does make a stay more fun. Imagine standing on your balcony and watching animals grazing.
Savanna view of giraffes grazing
Here, you can explore the large pool area and then venture to the animal viewing areas near Arusha Rock.
Animal Viewing from Arusha Rock area
Other than the villas, rooms are smaller than some other deluxe resorts. We think the resort’s theme more than makes up for the lack of personal space.
Exotic decor in room
Dining at Boma for the bountiful breakfast buffet is one of our favorite meals to savor at WDW. This is where we had our first sip of Frunch.
Breakfast at Boma
We also highly recommend the accommodations at Kidani Village. While further removed from some of the resort’s amenities, it offers a pool area that is divine.
Reserve your room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge if:
- your budget is more deluxe than moderate or value
- you’ll be spending a lot of time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, especially to explore the new Pandora – The World of Avatar
- you want luxury over value
- you love animals
- spa treatments are important
- an assortment of table service dining is high on your list of requirements
- you want to spend time at the pool and prefer shaded lounge chairs
Guest Tip: Ask for a room close to the lobby as the hallways are LONG.
Moderate Walt Disney World Resorts
Moderate resorts are your middle options at Walt Disney World. Not as expensive as the deluxe hotels but not as inexpensive as the value resorts, moderates offer nice amenities such as family-friendly food courts and well-themed rooms. You’ll get queen beds (not the doubles found at most values) too.
Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter
We have stayed here many times because the resort is absolutely charming. While compact, Port Orleans French Quarter boasts a convenient main building with amenities such as registration, lobby area, store, bar, and a recently updated food court, Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory. As you stroll the resort, listen to the uplifting jazzy tunes.
The architecture and design details are amazing. We love the wrought iron fences, soft lit lampposts, beautiful fountains, meandering streets and sidewalks, and serene courtyards. Plus, the alluring walkway between Port Orleans French Quarter and Port Orleans Riverside parallels the Sassagoula River.
While the rooms are not large, they are pleasantly appointed and easily accessible from the parking lots or bus stop after a long day in the parks.
Port Orleans French Quarter Room
Access to Disney Springs via the Sassagoula river boats adds to the endearing ambiance of the resort.
Reserve your room at Port Orleans French if:
- your budget is moderate
- you’ll be spending a lot of time at Disney Springs
- a compact resort with less walking fits your needs
- you like jazz music
- beignets are one of your favorite treats
- quick service dining is enough for your resort meals
- you want parking that may be close to your building
Guest Tip: Take a walk or boat to Port Orleans Riverside for shopping, dinner, or a carriage ride.
Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort
Port Orleans Riverside wasn’t on the top of our list until recently. We had stayed several times in the Alligator Bayou section. While these lodge buildings are quaint, the sprawling walkways were tiresome especially since we always seemed to stay here during rainy days and nights. With no elevators, these buildings were inconvenient for our road trips to Walt Disney World. Maybe we just packed too much stuff. 😉
Mansion section, Magnolia Bend, of Riverside.
This year, we opted for a Royal Guest room and thus, were introduced to the Mansion buildings. Although we still had to navigate in some rain, we fared much better this time. We were finally able to relax and take in the resort’s finer aspects: large food court, quaint bar, cozy pool bar, beautiful landscaping, and large store.
Muddy Rivers Pool Bar.
The real downside here remains the multiple bus stops and often chaotic main depot. However, the Sassagoula Riverboat transportation to Disney Springs is extremely convenient.
Reserve Your Room at Port Orleans Riverside if:
- your budget isn’t deluxe but you are okay spending more than the value prices
- you’ll be spending a lot of time at Disney Springs
- you need to sleep five people in a room (Alligator Bayou rooms accommodate a fifth person with a trundle bed)
- you want a moderate resort with a table service restaurant
- the Royal guest rooms appeal to you
- sharing amenities between the two Port Orleans resorts seems fun
- watching Yehaa Bob Jackson at the River Roost is on your must-do list
Royal Guest Room.
Honorable Mention: Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
Note that this resort is currently undergoing renovations.
Update: We’re moving Coronado Springs down a bit due to the ongoing construction. The Club Level building that we once enjoyed has been demolished to make way for the new tower. Rooms are also under renovation. We’ll need to stay here again before recommending it as a top choice in the moderate category.
Our impression prior to construction: The first time we stayed here, we had mixed feelings as Coronado Springs was different (less quiet) than the other moderates. Different? Well, for one, it has a convention center, which attracts business people and large groups. However, once we gave this resort a second chance we were pleased with the amenities it offers.
We liked the concierge/club level (business class) option as it was available at a moderate price, although it wasn’t a necessary upgrade. Cabanas 9B that housed the club level rooms and lounge has now been torn down.
We still like that the resort offers a room service menu for breakfast and dinner. Pepper Market continues to offer delicious quick service food in a lovely setting.
The resort is well-themed in Spanish-Colonial architecture with soothing background music as well.
Exterior of the resort’s main building, El Centro.
While the walk from your room may be lengthy, the lake and surrounding landscaping are beautiful (or were before construction took hold). The rooms with dark woods are transforming too. Renovated rooms have a lighter, sleeker and more modern atmosphere; we can’t wait to try one.
Coronado Springs Room Before Renovation
The Dig Site pool has a great slide, lots of lounge chairs, and even some shade!
Dig Site Pool
Let us know your recent experiences at Disney’s Coronado.
Guest Tip: Spending most of your down time at the pool? Request a room near The Dig Site.
Value Walt Disney World Resorts
What do we love most about the value Walt Disney World resorts? First, the lower costs, and second, the food courts. When we check into a value resort and see our room account balance, we are always amazed by the low bill. These resorts are instantly appealing when you can vacation at Walt Disney World for the fraction of the cost of a deluxe hotel on property. Stay at a value if you won’t be spending much time in your room. While Pop Century is being renovated and adding queen beds to the updated rooms, the other value resorts still have double beds. Note, however, that All-Star Music has a suite option.
Renovated room with queen bed.
Disney’s Pop Century Resort
While we tend to waver between Pop Century, Art of Animation, and All-Star Music, we’re giving Pop Century top billing now due to the renovated rooms. What we like most about them? The queen bed! Check out all the memorabilia and great photo-ops!
Great photo ops at Pop Century!
What else does Pop Century offer? Well, convenient bus service, for starters. Plus, the food court has ample seating and some unique offerings.
Reserve Your Room at Pop Century if:
- a smaller hotel bill is a high priority
- you’ll be spending a lot of time at the parks
- you don’t mind having to take a Disney bus (or you have your own car) to all WDW destinations
- there’s no need for a table service restaurant at your resort
- the new queen bed/trundle bed rooms appeal to you (note: while refurbishments are on-going these rooms are not guaranteed)
- two food courts (including the one at Art of Animation) would be helpful to your dining needs
- a hotel with fun photo ops, themed food, and nostalgic decor sounds fun
Guest Tip: Take a walk around the resort to read the trivia. Plus, head over the bridge to shop or dine at Art of Animation.
Bridge from Pop Century to Art of Animation
Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
As we mentioned above, All-Star Music is one of our favorite value resorts. And we still think a lot of fun can be had here. We really think All-Star Music is a hidden gem.
All-Star Music Pool
The themed areas, background music, charming outdoor lights, and well-groomed landscaping make this resort seem more moderate than value. Well, until you enter the room. Yep, the rooms are still small and motel-like but for an affordable visit to WDW, we think All-Star Music is a pleasing option.
Guest Tip: You can easily walk to the other All-Star resorts (Sports and Movies) from All-Star Music. It’s fun to explore the different shops.
Nic’s Picks of Walt Disney World Resorts
As you’ll see below, Nic’s picks are quite similar to ours but they’re not exact. Here are the top resort choices from a 17-year old teen who has stayed at nearly all of the resorts. He also mentions briefly why he chose each hotel.
Grand Floridian – architecture and atmosphere
Contemporary – walk to Magic Kingdom, monorail, rooms are very nice
Easy walk to the Magic Kingdom
Monorails going through the Contemporary Resort
Contemporary Resort Room
Port Orleans French Quarter – atmosphere, themeing, boat to Disney Springs
Caribbean Beach – food court, Pirate room
Pirate Room Prior to Refurbishment
Pop Century – convenient bus transportation, food court
Epcot Bus at Pop Century
All-Star Music – theme
Swimming Pool All-Star Music Resort
What are your favorite Walt Disney World resorts? Where do you hope to stay on your next (or first!!) WDW visit?