Hi, I’m Trista. I live far from Disney World, and I’m an Uber Planner when it comes to my Disney vacation. [Hi, Trista.]
Whether you are a planner or not, there are two reasons to use this Disney World vacation planning timeline. The first reason is to make hard-to-get reservations for attractions and dining. While it’s great to be spontaneous, spontaneity is not your friend if you hope to score the Chef’s Table at Victoria & Albert’s, or if you want a short wait time for Toy Story Midway Mania!. These things are difficult to come by at the last minute, even when the parks are at their lowest crowd levels. The second reason to plan ahead is to avoid decision fatigue while you are on vacation. During one day at a theme park, you will be faced with many decisions: which attraction should you head to next? Where should you eat lunch, and when? Is it worth it to stand in line right now for 90 minutes for a meet-n-greet with a favorite character, or is it likely to be better later? For which attractions should you select FastPass+? And many more. I don’t know about you, but I am a person who reaches decision fatigue rather quickly. Once my brain is overloaded, I’ll begin the “blank stare” until I have some down time to recharge (and down time is a commodity that’s difficult to come by on a go-go-go Disney World vacation).
Before you ever step foot on Disney property, you can influence how long you will wait in line for popular attractions and which amazing dining experiences you can have. Follow this simple timeline to make your magical vacation stress-free.
Step 0 – Pick your dates
Erin Foster has a great article on a step by step method for picking the best dates for your Disney vacation. If you want some help deciding which park to visit on which day, the Crowd Calendar feature of TouringPlans.com is a valuable tool (especially if you are as crowd-averse as I am). I’ve found that even 180 days out, the relative crowd predictions for each park are pretty accurate.
Reserve your Disney resort lodging, reserve your park tickets (optional)
6 Months+ to 60 days Prior to Your Vacation (DISNEY RESORT GUESTS)
If you are certain of your vacation dates at least 6 months in advance, I would recommend making your Disney resort reservation this early. The biggest advantage to early booking is the ability to make Advanced Dining Reservations up to 10 days before the general public (especially helpful for those very popular restaurants with hard-to-get reservations). See the Advanced Dining Reservations section below for details.
If you make make a Disney resort reservations six months prior, it is likely that you will be booking without one of Disney’s Special Offers (such as room-rate savings, a free dining plan offer, etc.) because most offers are not announced that far in advance. If your stay becomes eligible for a Special Offer after you have made your initial reservation, it is easy to have your balance adjusted by simply calling the Disney reservation line with your confirmation number and ask for the Special Offer to be applied. Be sure to act quickly – some deals have limited numbers available, such as limited rooms per resort. (I have had to change resorts once because I called just 3 days after the deal became available and all eligible offers at my first choice resort were taken.) Of course, there is no guarantee that a special offer will become available for your stay, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the cancellation/change policy ahead of booking. A historical record of when Special Offers have been released is a good reference for when offers have traditionally become available.
If you choose not to purchase park tickets through Disney directly, I recommend using a ticket price calculator to find alternate tickets. If you purchase tickets this way, you will need to link your park tickets to your Disney resort reservations prior to making FastPass+ reservations. Remember that regardless of whether you are staying on- or off site, buying your tickets ahead of time is a great way to hedge against future price increases on admission from Disney.
Make your Advanced Dining Reservations (table service dining)
180 Days Prior to the FIRST Day of Your Resort Reservation (DISNEY RESORT GUESTS)
180 Days Prior to Each Day of Your Vacation (OFF-SITE GUESTS)
Advanced Dining Reservations are available 180 days in advance for any Disney guest. With a Disney resort reservation, all Advanced Dining Reservations for the first 10 days of your trip can be made at 180 days prior to the FIRST day of your reservation, which is a big advantage for booking at very popular restaurants. Online reservations begin at 6am Eastern Time, phone reservations begin at 7am Eastern Time at the 180th day.
In my opinion, there are many great table service dining options at Disney World that enhance your Disney vacation. Unfortunately, other people agree, making it necessary most of the time to secure an Advanced Dining Reservation or suffer the fate of a long wait for a table. Making Advanced Dining Reservations early can be very important during peak times, for popular restaurants, during times when free dining plans are offered, and even for some less popular restaurants whose prime dinner slots fill up quickly (and who wants to eat dinner at 2:30pm?). If you are interested in a reservation at Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table (for example), you will need to request the reservation the day it becomes available or you will likely be out of luck.
If you want to make Advanced Dining Reservations for restaurants within the theme parks, it will require deciding where you will be on the day of your reservation. Meaning, in order to eat at one of the theme park restaurants, you will need to have a valid park ticket to enter that park. If you have Park Hopper tickets, you can tour and eat at different parks in the same day. But if you have standard tickets, you will need to tour and eat in the same park on the same day. [If you choose to make a dining reservation at any of the Disney resorts, your park choices are not necessary at this time.]
Create your touring plans
Before 60 Days Prior to Your Vacation (DISNEY RESORT GUESTS)
Before 30 Days Prior to Your Vacation (OFF-SITE GUESTS WITH PARK ADMISSION TICKETS)
If you want to minimize your time in lines at the parks, you will want to hit the attractions when they are not busy by following a touring plan. TouringPlans has an incredible number of recommended touring plans available. Each Touring Plan can be copied and customized, or you can create your own plan from scratch. Even better, you can optimize each touring plan by date (which you have probably determined already if you made Advanced Dining Reservations). The importance of creating touring plans prior to 60 days before your trip (or 30 for off-site guests) is to use them to guide your FastPass+ selections.
Make your FastPass+ selections
60 Days Prior to Your Vacation (DISNEY RESORT GUESTS)
30 Days Prior to Your Vacation (OFF-SITE GUESTS)
FastPass+ reservations are available at 60 days to guests with Disney resort reservations, at 30 days for other guests with valid park admission tickets, and to walk-in guests the day of admission. First come, first served is the policy here, so selecting early gives you the best picks. If you’ve created touring plans, they will be a great help in determining which attractions (and times) to schedule your Disney FastPass+ selection. (Once you’ve indicated that you’ll be using FastPass+, the touring plan prompts you for recommended attractions to schedule the FastPass+ selection.)
Begin online check-in at your Disney resort
60 Days (DISNEY RESORT GUESTS)
Checking in online will help speed up your check-in time at the resort, but online check-in may become even more important if Disney switches to this new process, allowing guests to bypass the check-in desk at the resort altogether.
With a bit of planning, you can begin your magical vacation stress-free and ready to relax, knowing that you won’t need to worry about those dining reservations and FastPass+ times. If done correctly, the only decision fatigue you will have will be in agonizing over which font to choose for your Mickey Ears.