As a Walt Disney World vacation veteran, you may have already built your own traditions to start your trip in style; either a first night meal at the resort restaurant your family loves, or you head straight to ride your number one park attraction. However, if you're new to Disney, or even better, bringing someone on their first visit, what should be the very first thing you do to show them that this will be a vacation like no other? You've been telling them that Walt Disney World is a place like no other, they've seen all the photographs from your previous trips. Now you need to show them why, from the moment they cross under that famous welcome sign. If the first thing you do is take them on Stitch's Great Escape at Magic Kingdom, or if you’re hungry and you grab food at Electric Umbrella, it's not going to make a great first impression. So, depending on time of arrival or where you're staying (walking into the lobby at Animal Kingdom Lodge is enough to give anyone the wow factor), how do you start your visit proving you really are at the most magical place on earth?
5 - Illuminations: Reflections of Earth - If you're arriving after dark and can make your way to Epcot, then start your vacation with a bang! Many people would want to experience the nighttime fireworks at Magic Kingdom first, but I find the feelings I get from "Happily Ever After" (and it's predecessor "Wishes") are more appropriate to a last night activity. So how about taking their breath away at this stunning pyrotechnic show that's been lighting up the World Showcase lagoon since 1999. Illuminations never fails to play with my emotions, from the dazzling fireworks to the moving musical score, and wherever you watch from, it will make the start of your time at Walt Disney World feel like New Year’s Eve. An epic start to any vacation!
4 - Tusker House at Animal Kingdom - One of the first things people want to do is meet their favorite Disney characters. But rather than starting your vacation in a queue to meet them, you can get to say "hi" to the big 5 while enjoying buffet food and experiencing cuisine you may not have tried before. While some prefer Chef Mickey's, I find it can be rather too busy and loud, and might put off a first-timer. So, meet the gang in their safari suits, get your autographs and photographs, and tuck in to a famous Micky Waffle along with some tasty African delights. It's also a great way to prove to more cynical first-timers that Disney isn't just bland theme park food and queues!
3 - Festival of Fantasy Parade - Most people will want to head straight away to Magic Kingdom; for someone who hasn't visited before, that is Disney to them. So, why not plan your visit to arrive in time to stand on Main Street U.S.A. and catch the daytime parade. With so many characters passing by on fabulous floats with the castle in the background, it's hard not to be overwhelmed, and they'll be standing on actual Main Street USA (hopefully with a Micky ice-cream)!
2 - Fantasmic - Another great idea if you arrive late afternoon is to head over to Hollywood Studios for its epic nighttime production. Classic movie music, water effects, pyrotechnics, and almost every Disney character you can think of floating past you is a perfect introduction of what's to come on a Walt Disney World vacation. Even though the story-line is somewhat sketchy, I like to embrace the magic of Fantasmic, and love to watch the expressions on people’s faces as they watch the show for the first time. You'll know you're doing a great job if you can get a little tear from them!
1 - Let the Magic Begin - The Magic Kingdom welcome show is perfectly designed to start your day in the park, so this is also a wonderful way start your entire vacation (especially if you're arriving late the previous day). Set your alarm early, walk down Main Street USA while it's not too crowded, and be prepared to be officially welcomed by Mickey Mouse himself with his friends. Although I preferred the old rope-drop show by the park entrance, and still miss the arrival of the train, this is a great touch of anticipation in front of Cinderella Castle to kick off your vacation. In addition to seeing the show, you'll then also be first in line for many of the rides before the park starts to get busy.