You’ve finally decided to take the leap and plan your first family trip to the Disney Parks!  While planning for the two U.S. resorts can be two very different experiences, here are a few tips that work equally well whether you’re headed East or West.

1. Know Your Must-Dos

The Disney Parks are big.  Probably even huge.  Let’s just get it into our minds that we will not do everything they have to offer, but it is possible to knock off everything on a must-do list.  Take some time to familiarize yourself with the park layout and FastPass system.  This will be very helpful if your top priorities are headliners.  Hit your must-dos during the first part of your day, then take it easy.

Get Park Wise: I supply clients with maps before their vacation.  If you’re not working with a travel agent, both Disneyland and Walt Disney World offer interactive and printable maps on their web sites.  Look over them so you have a general idea where you’ll be headed when you arrive in the park.

2. Prepare Yourself for a Bit of Sticker Shock

No one likes to talk money, but it’s a very important facet of any vacation.  The parks aren’t cheap.  If you’re planning an entire day at the park, you’re looking at two meals and snacks, if not more, at theme park prices.  Disney does allow you to bring in your own food and drink, so you can definitely save a little on snacks if you throw some granola bars and sandwich crackers in your bag.

Since it’s your first go-round in the parks, you’ll probably want to pick up a souvenir or two.  Personally, I try to buy useful items rather than dust-catchers (though I do have a few of those, too).  On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, I picked up a double-walled tumbler at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort and one at Tower of Terror.  I use them both on a regular basis and get some Disney in my day.  There is a huge array of kitchen gadgets, stationary, electronics and other daily items in the shops, so decide what you can use often and consider making that your souvenir purchase for the day.  Besides, the more you use something, the less it costs per use, right?  😉

Get Park Wise: This tip works great for the younger set, but I’ve also known adults to do it, too.  Purchase Disney gift cards pre-trip (or once you arrive) and use those to buy souvenirs.  Purchase one for the trip or several in smaller increments for each day.  When they’re empty, that’s it.  It often makes the kiddos think twice about what they’re purchasing when it’s their money.  Be sure to keep the receipts in case the cards are lost or stolen.

3. Say Cheese, You’re in the Mouse House!

You don’t want to experience your vacation through a lens, but don’t forget your camera!  This may seem like a no-brainer, but we can often forget the most obvious things in the excitement of packing for our trip (I forgot my little guy’s socks on his first Disney trip).  That said, don’t forget all the accouterments that goes with it like extra batteries/charger, memory cards, etc.  If you’re relying on your phone, make sure you have some way to save and dump the pictures.  We have iPhones and use PhotoStream, and it’s nice to know that our pictures are safe if we need more space or something happens.

Get Park Wise: Consider utilizing Disney’s PhotoPass service.  They station photographers throughout the parks at the most popular icons, great backdrops and select character meet and greets.  Looking at your pictures online is free, but there are several purchase options, as well.  If you know you’ll be using PhotoPass, think about pre-purchasing the photo CD which will encompass all photos taken of you by PhotoPass photographers, and you can add fun Disney embellishments and borders.  Not in your budget?  Disney PhotoPass photographers will also use your camera to capture those magic moments.

4. Keep Your Feet Happy

According to Disney, Walt Disney World is twice the size of Manhattan, and Disneyland spans 510 acres.  Of course, this isn’t all guest accessible, but what I’m getting at is it’s a lot of walking.  It’s been reported that the average guest walks 10 miles per day.  Cotton or moisture-wicking socks will help if you’re going the tennis shoe route, and moleskin has been a lifesaver for our family.  Some guests swear by Crocs, while others are perfectly fine in flip-flops.  I’d suggest bringing at least two pairs of shoes, that way you can switch them out if you’re getting a hot spot from one pair or just need to change things up.  Don’t forget give your feet a rest!

Get Park Wise: Your first Disney trip is not the time to break in new shoes.  If you plan to get a new pair for your trip, be sure you buy them far enough in advance to break them in before you hit the parks.  Nothing kills a day faster than finding out your new shoes are uncomfortable.

5. Slow Down

It’s tempting to go-go-go on that first trip: everything’s stimulating; you’ve paid all that money; you only have a few days, etc., etc., etc.  That’s a surefire way to wear yourself out and leave you haggard for the second half of your trip.  Take a down day or even a down hour if you’re on a shorter trip.  Enjoy the sights and sounds Disney has to offer from a bench with a Mickey bar.  While the headliners are fun, a lot of Disney really is in the details, so take a while to soak it all in and breathe.  You finally made it.

If you’re a first-timer, what are you looking forward to most?  If you’ve been, what worked well for you on your first trip?  What didn’t work so well?  What brought you back for the second trip?