For millions of Disney fans around the world, one of the most memorable moments of their life is the first time they visit Walt Disney World. Those first memories of WDW can be a truly magical and life-changing experience.
We hear parents say all the time that they want to wait until their kids are old enough to remember visiting WDW before they plan a Disney family vacation. While it is amazing to see the happiness and excitement on the faces of little kids at Disney World, waiting until they are a little bit older really does make a lot of sense. Our first WDW memories prove that point pretty well.
As we started sharing our first WDW memories with each other, Halie said she didn’t remember much about her first visit to Disney World, because she was too young to really remember it. Danny’s first Disney vacation took place as an adult, and he still remembers that trip like it was yesterday. He still remembers the excitement he felt on that trip. Even after hundreds of park visits since that first trip, Danny still feels that same excitement when visiting the parks to this day. Every visit is still as magical as the first.
Halie’s first visit to WDW was with her dad when she was three years old. It was early December 1993, and they spent a great daddy/daughter day together at Magic Kingdom. Halie still lived in Michigan at the time, but her dad was working in Orlando for a few months, and she got to come down to Orlando to visit him.
Here are Halie’s earliest WDW memories:
Since I was only three years old, the only thing I really remember about my first Disney visit is riding Dumbo the Flying Elephant with my dad. My dad remembers the whole day and has told me all about it though.
We got to Magic Kingdom shortly after the park opened. My dad said I was completely in awe as we entered the park, and I couldn’t stop smiling. My eyes lit up immediately when I saw the castle for the first time. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.
As we made our way down Main Street, I couldn’t stop smiling and staring at everything around me. My eyes lit up. There was so much going on, and I was amazed by everything I was seeing. Sensory overload set in quickly.
As we walked through the castle, I was absolutely elated. To a little girl, walking through a castle was a dream come true. I always loved everything Disney-related I had seen in pictures, in movies, and on TV, but seeing it for real for the first time was the greatest experience I could imagine.
After we walked through the castle, we saw Snow White. I loved Snow White when I was little. That movie was my favorite! I was so excited getting to see her and meet her!
As we continued after meeting Snow White, I saw the Dumbo the Flying Elephant attraction. Immediately, this attraction was a must-do. It had to happen. The wait time was about as long as a little kid could handle, but it was well worth the wait to create a memory that has stuck with me my whole life. We ended up riding Dumbo twice, actually.
I have never had much fear when it comes to rides. Even at such a young age, I wanted to ride Space Mountain, but changed my mind last minute, because the thought of a dark ride was scary to me. Instead, we rode the People Mover.
As we went along on the ride, I could see characters below. I wanted to stop and meet them all right away, but had to wait for the ride to end. I eventually ended up meeting Donald, Mickey, and Minnie. I loved meeting them! It was so cool! My dad has a stuffed Donald Duck that his mom gave him when he was little, and I loved playing with it when I was little, too. So, getting to meet Donald was really exciting for me.
As is usually the case with kids so young, the day got to be very long and exhausting. I fell asleep a few times throughout the day, but fought it as much as I could. I didn’t want to miss anything, and didn’t want to sleep. My dad carried me around the park while I napped.
We stayed and enjoyed our Disney day together until early evening, when I was finally too exhausted to keep going. I still didn’t want to leave though. Overall, it was a truly magical first visit to WDW. Before we left, I started to get cold, so my dad bought me a Disney sweatshirt. I might actually still have that sweatshirt somewhere.
I got to go back to Disney World with family a couple of years later. Since I was a little bit older, my memories of that trip are a bit more clear. I remember being at Epcot, and my cousin, Nick, tried to fight me for a stroller. I got out of the stroller, and he fell back and broke his nose. This isn’t exactly the perfect “magical” memory, but it’s the type of memory that I’m sure a lot of people can relate to. Kids will be kids. That memory will always stick with me.
Danny first visited WDW with his family when he was 23 years old. It was a short weekend trip from December 12th-15th, 2008 that included two visits to Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs), and visiting Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom all in the same day.
In case you’re wondering, no, we absolutely do NOT recommend visiting three parks in the same day. It was completely exhausting and didn’t allow enough time to experience very many things in each park.
Here are Danny’s first WDW memories:
We started that trip with dinner at T-Rex Café at Downtown Disney after getting settled at the hotel. Following dinner, the rest of the evening was spent checking out the Lego store and wandering around Downtown Disney, before heading back to the hotel to rest and get ready for a marathon day in the parks the next day.
Coming from North Dakota and not knowing anything at all about Florida, I didn’t understand that Florida can actually get fairly cold in the winter. I didn’t expect to wear a hoodie most of the weekend, but it was still much better than the alternative… North Dakota got pounded by a blizzard while we were gone.
The first park I visited at WDW was Animal Kingdom. Although I had been a lifelong Disney fan, I have to be honest, the majority of my knowledge of WDW prior to that trip was from what I saw on the WDW episodes of “Full House”. I knew very little about Animal Kingdom, but was excited to check it out.
I remember seeing Expedition Everest from the parking lot and thinking how cool it looked. Wheeling up to the park entrance, I was amazed when I saw the massive Christmas tree decorated.
After going through security and scanning my ticket, I remember it finally hit me that I was in a WDW park for the first time in my life! I honestly didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to visit WDW, so realizing that I was actually there seemed a bit surreal.
In an effort to make sure we made it to all three of the parks we planned to visit that day, we rode Kilimanjaro Safaris, then took the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch (where I got to see my favorite Disney princess, Pocahontas), and then we made our way out of the park. Next, we headed to Hollywood Studios.
Hollywood Studios was another park that I only knew a little bit about. I was excited to check it out, but knew it wouldn’t be the highlight of my day. The highlight for me would come after Hollywood Studios. I just couldn’t wait to get to Magic Kingdom!!
When we got to Hollywood Studios, once again, we were a bit rushed trying to do and see as much as we could in a limited amount of time, in order to make sure we had plenty of time at Magic Kingdom that night. We rode The Great Movie Ride and The Backlots Tour, then wandered around the park to take pictures of Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.
We had now visited two parks and were well into our parks day, but it all felt like just the opening act for the rest of the night. I will never forget the excitement I felt as we passed by the Magic Kingdom welcome sign for the first time and entered the parking lot. When we arrived at the Transportation and Ticket Center, I just knew that what I was about to experience was going to change my whole life. As we approached Seven Seas Lagoon to board the ferryboat, I looked across the lagoon, and there it was… I had my first view of Cinderella Castle. I was completely exhausted at this point, but when I saw the castle for the first time from across the lagoon, suddenly I forgot how tired I was. I couldn’t stop smiling.
After the six minute ferryboat ride across the lagoon, we went through security again and scanned our tickets.
As I entered the park and got my first look at Main Street, my jaw dropped and I could feel my whole body go numb. I felt like I had just entered into a dream world. All of the stress in my life, and everything my family and I had endured throughout 2008 just completely melted away for me. I could feel it.
2008 was the worst year of my life. Within nine months, I lost my mom after a long battle with cancer, and then both of my mom’s parents passed away. Losing my mom and my grandparents in the same year was more than I knew how to handle. When I entered Magic Kingdom for the first time, I instantly knew I had found a place that made the world feel normal for me again, even if it only lasted for a few hours. I could forget about everything in my life and just enjoy the magic of Disney.
With such a limited amount of time in Magic Kingdom, the only attractions we rode that evening were Mad Tea Party and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. The two things I had been looking forward to the most all day long ended up being the highlights of the day for me: the SpectroMagic parade and the Wishes fireworks show. Both were absolutely perfect and were even more amazing than I had hoped they would be.
The next day was the last day of our trip. We spent the day at Kennedy Space Center and Cocoa Beach, before heading back to Downtown Disney for dinner at House of Blues.
Although it was a very short and very rushed weekend trip, that weekend changed my life forever. When I boarded the plane to fly home the next morning, I promised myself that someday I would live in Orlando. Less than seven years later, I fulfilled that promise to myself and officially moved to the Mouse House.
We hope you enjoyed the stories of our first WDW memories! What are your first memories of visiting Disney World? How old were you? We would love to read everyone’s stories in the comments!
XOXO, Halie and Danny
RIP, Nicky! I love you!