I think most girls at some point have wanted to visit Disney World or Universal Studios, no matter what their age. I mean who wouldn’t love to jump through to the wizarding world or dance with their childhood heroes? It’s been years since I’ve been to Disney World and I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Universal. So, I’ve brought in Hannah who has been to both several times. Hannah is currently studying Computer Science at Morehead University and is a HUGE Disney fan.

Traveling to Florida to visit one of the two parks is a yearly occurrence for her. I love seeing her pictures and stories every year after she comes home from visiting the parks. I had the opportunity to interview her this week, focusing on questions that a first timer would need answered before heading to Disney or Universal.

Let’s start with Disney World

What kind of crowds should a first timer expect if they visit during the summer?

Despite the crazy heat, there’s usually pretty large crowds in the summer. Everyone is on vacation, including the local Floridians. However, it’s not as packed as holiday season! Halloween and Christmas crowds get PACKED! Shoulder to shoulder with too many strollers to move really.

Is there a certain time you recommend showing up at the park?

As close to opening as possible if you just have one or two days there. If you have multiple days and plenty of time: right after lunch. Most people are taking their sleepy kids back for a nap, or switching parks, so the crowd slims down.

What are some of your favorite souvenirs at Disney world? 

Honestly, I tend to avoid buying souvenirs at the parks because they are SO expensive. It’s really better to buy your Disney themed shirts and stuff like that before hand. There’s occasionally a really cute sweatshirt or T-shirt I love and can’t find anywhere else but the parks. I’d have to say my favorite ones would be those little pressed pennies or souvenir cups from the restaurants! The pennies are unique to the parks and only 51 cents! The cups are usually super cute and unique and come with the cost of your drink with the meal (because let’s be real, a pop at the parks costs an arm and a leg).

How much time does someone really need to spend planning their trip to Disney? Is a daily schedule necessary?

Planning everything down to a T is not necessary at all, but it does certainly help if there are specific things you have on your “must do” list. If you are like me, you want to fit in as much as possible so the My Disney Experience app will be your BEST FRIEND for the parks! You can view wait times, order food, make reservations, and plan all your fast passes on the app! What’s a fast pass you may ask? Only the best thing ever! These passes allow you to get in the “express one” during your reserved time frame. Every Disney admission ticket comes with 3 free preplanned fast passes. So the night before your day of magic, go on the app and plan what rides you want to fast pass and when!

If someone has a limited amount of time what one park do you recommend they visit? 

If you have one full day: Magic Kingdom for sure! It has the classic Disney experiences everyone dreams about! Seeing that castle down main street is a fairytale itself! There are tons of things to see, ride, smell, taste, and enjoy at the one park!

If you only have half a day: Epcot! Oh I absolutely LOVE Epcot! There’s tons to see but easy to see all of it within a few hours. Plus, tons of food! Who can say no to delicious food from around the world?!

I know you normally choose to stay off site… Do you think it would be easier if you stayed at a Disney world hotel?

There are definitely some positives to staying in a Disney Resort! The trams that run between Magic Kingdom and Epcot also run to the hotels, so you don’t have to fight the traffic or parking every day. All your purchases can be sent to your room right from the checkout counter in the parks. You can even bill your purchases to the room (but that could get out of hand VERY quickly). Along with the conscience, the overall resort experience would be added magic to the trip! Characters walk through the lobby, your rooms have fun themes, and you get access exclusive hotel restaurants.

What are some of your must try foods or treats in the parks?

Oh my gosh I’m SUCH a foodie!! So I have lots of suggestions! I’ll list them by park.

Magic Kingdom: Casey’s Corner has amazing hotdogs and Mac and cheese fries!! Main Street Bakery has tons of sweets to try but I especially love their cake pops! 

Epcot: France has tons of tasty foods, including beignets!!! 

Hollywood Studios: this one is a restaurant but it has great food and an awesome experience: Sci-Fi dine in restaurant! The tables and seats look like old 50s style cars at a drive in with old creepy sci-fi movies! So fun!! Walk ins are welcome but to make sure you get a seat in the cars, reserve wayyyy ahead of time.

Animal Kingdom: Eight Spoon Cafe has Mac and cheese pulled pork that was absolutely to die for! It’s right before the bridge to Asia.

Are there certain times during the day that the lines are shorter? 

Very early the lines are just starting to fill up, so if you’re quick you can squeeze in these short lines. If it rains, people tend to leave and lines get pretty short. Other than that lunch time makes the food lines huge and the rides a little shorter. Somehow the lines are always pretty full, though, no matter what time of day.

Can you give a first timer some advice on the rides in each park? What are the most popular, are there any that aren’t worth the wait in line? 

There are tons of different types of rides at Disney World. Some are slow and just take you through some different scenes and sets that relate to a movie. This would be the Little Mermaid ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pans Flight, and it’s a small world. Those are the most popular and the ones I enjoy the most. There are also the big scary thriller rides like Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, tower of terror. These always have HUGE wait times. Over an hour sometimes TWO! There are plenty of rides for the kiddos too! Dumbo rides, teacups, and a carousel to keep it traditional! I’d recommend to only take older kids on the haunted mansion ride because it is quite dark and spooky (I got a little scared riding it the first time).

How long should someone plan to spend at Disney if they want to see all four parks? 

I recently did a 4 day trip to Disney with one park each day, and it was fantastic! I had plenty of time to see EVERYTHING at each park! But honestly, some of the parks could both be done in one day. Animal kingdom and Hollywood studios are smaller with less to see than Epcot and magic kingdom, so those two could probably be knocked out in one day. So it’s doable in 3, but 4 days is the best! A park a day, nothing beats that!

What should someone bring into the parks with them? 

Ponchos! Tylenol! A portable charger! And extra hair ties! If you are traveling with little ones maybe a few snackies and wipes.

What was something you’ve learned on your trips to Disney that you didn’t expect? 

There is an entire underground system for the cast members below the parks! I also learned that a LOT of people from over seas come to Disney World!

Lastly, do you have any other tips and tricks for someone who is going to Disney for the first time?

Definitely take a minute to take it all in! Don’t be worried about having the perfect trip and taking pictures of everything! Be prepared but don’t stress! After all, it’s the happiest place on earth.

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Universal Studios

As a Harry Potter fan-was the wizarding world of Harry Potter everything you hoped It would be? 

Yes! And more! It was so amazing and really felt like I was walking down the streets of Diagon Alley! Straight from the movies!

What are some of the best souvenirs from the park? 

These are some of the BEST souvenirs EVER! Authentic Hogwarts house attire! Get your robes, jumpers, ties, socks, T-shirt’s, everything you could dream of! Feather pens, quills, stationary, and ink! The best by far are the wands!! Choose the wand, or let it choose you at Olivanders! 

How long does someone really need to properly visit the park? 

All day! There is so much to explore in Harry Potter but the rest of Universal is HUGE! I don’t even think I’ve seen all of it and I’ve been 3 times.

What are some of the must try foods & treats in the park?

Butter beer!! That’s a MUST and even if you don’t love it (which I do) you can at least say you’ve had the experience. Chocolate frogs are also really good. It’s just solid chocolate but the theme is cute. 

I know when you and your sister visited universal together your sister let her wand chose her at Ollivanders. What was that experience like? 

This is a truly magical show that everyone should see at least once. You are led into a room where an old wand merchant chooses one person from the room to test out wands! He goes about explaining magic and wands, and allows the chosen one to swish and flick and cast a few spells! None of the wands do well, when all of a sudden….. WOOSH a gust of wind and twinkling sounds as a wand reveals itself from the shelves and CHOOSES the wizard! It’s so fun to watch and to watch the face of the person holding the wand for the first time! 

What are some can’t miss rides for someone taking their first trip to Universal? 

The train ride to Hogwarts is a must! The other non Harry Potter rides I recommend are Transformers, and ET! They aren’t too thrilled but still very fun!

What are some of your favorite photo opportunities in the park? 

The dragon on top of Gringots spits fire every once in a while, if you can catch a picture of that it’s awesome! Dr. Suess land is super silly and fun! There are tons of decorative statues around that you can pose next to! There’s a shark hanging by its tail, Homer and the gang, and King Kong! Another two great photo ops are by the spinning globe and the park entrance.

What is something you learned about Universal that first timers may not know? 

They have a “family of the day” event where certain workers pick a family to be the special “family of the day”. They get front row to the parade in their own reserved bench seating, and get to be escorted to the front of the line to any ride of their choice! You don’t have to buy into it, or apply, just talk to some workers and ask about it! That’s how we got picked! My aunt asked why the seat was roped off and we ended up sitting there! So fun!!

I hope this helps everyone who is planning to visit Universal and Disney World. If you’ve been to Universal or Disney before I’d love to hear more advice for first timers in the comments!

You can follow along with me on my travels on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest 🙂

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