Preparing For the Magic: A Timeline Leading to a Stress-Free Disney World Vacation

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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)

Disney Important Date Magnet

Shortly after I made my Disney resort reservation for my upcoming trip, Disney sent me this handy magnet in the mail.

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

Touring Plans FastPass+

When creating touring plans at TouringPlans.com, you can see which attractions are recommended for a FastPass+ reservation. How helpful!

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)

6am FastPass+ Reservations

This might the last thing you want to be doing at 6am on the day reservations open up, but you will thank yourself later when you sit down to eat at Chef Mickey’s or walk past the crowd in the standby line with a 90 minute wait.

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.

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Posted on July 31, 2014

17 Responses to “Preparing For the Magic: A Timeline Leading to a Stress-Free Disney World Vacation”

  • The Crowd Calendar is a valuable tool so long as the Crowd Levels don’t magically double during every “slow” season in the first half of 2015. Early May is just as busy as parts of the summer!

    • by Trista VanderVoord on July 31, 2014, at 8:17 pm EDT

      It has definitely felt busier even during the “slow” seasons than it did just a few years ago. I think everyone has discovered the awesomeness of Disney or something. :)

  • Question, we have our 60 day window coming up. Right now it shows FP+ for the next 30 days out (we have APs). I assume on the morning of day 60 the dates of our trip (check in plus 5 days) the calendar will show as available to make FP+ reservations?

  • I just wanted to say thanks for this post. My family is visiting for the first time this fall. I have done all of the above (58 days to go!!) and was concerned that I had been working “too hard” on our trip. Thanks for the reassurance that all the planning was worth it :)

    • by Trista VanderVoord on August 1, 2014, at 8:31 am EDT

      Congratulations on your first Disney vacation! Rest assured that your planning will be worth the effort. Have a magical time!

  • It’s actually possible to uber-plan way further ahead: resort reservations can be made 499 days in advance. I recently had a situation where I tried to book ~200 days in advance, and the “standard” (read: cheap) rooms I wanted were all sold out. If you book rooms before park ticket prices are available, you’ll have to give a deposit equal to the first night of your stay. Once the tickets become available, you can upgrade from the room-only reservation to a package, and the deposit will be applied to that. Once you have a package, changes can be made, or the entire thing can be cancelled with a full refund, up to 45 days out.

    • by Trista VanderVoord on August 1, 2014, at 8:37 am EDT

      Wow, 499 days ahead! I have a friend who recently booked her resort reservation just over a year ahead (she finally got her extended family to agree on some dates and wanted to book before they changed their minds)… and I thought that was overkill. I bet during the busier times the rooms sell out quickly, though. It’s good to know that you can get you reservation in before the rush, if there is a concern of that!

  • by Mariana Ruiz on August 1, 2014, at 9:14 am EDT

    I want to share how Touring Plans have perfectly worked for us making our summer vacation a success. Even in a high season, we beat the crowds and got to do everything we wanted (frozen meet and greet, TTMM, SDWT, etc) with no wait. We began planning 6 months in advance and it really pays up!

    • by Trista VanderVoord on August 1, 2014, at 9:32 am EDT

      Good to meet another Uber Planner! There’s no substitute for good preparation. (And I agree that TouringPlans is an incredible resource for planning your Disney World vacation). Do you have another Disney vacation plan in the works? It’s never too early to start planning! ;)

      • by Mariana Ruiz on August 1, 2014, at 6:28 pm EDT

        We do have a Fantasy Cruise booked for next May and we are already planning shore excursion options!

  • If you didn’t follow these great instructions and were unable to get seven dwarves fastpasses, is there any chance these will be available on same day? In other words are any fastpasses reserved to be issued on same day basis? Thanks

    • by Trista VanderVoord on August 3, 2014, at 8:51 am EDT

      It sounds like the Fastpass+ is hard to come by at the last minute. You can still check online up to the date of your vacation, you might get lucky. If not, I would still try first thing in the morning, at one of the in-park kiosks. Worst case scenario, you can wait in the standby line (it would be best to arrive at Magic Kingdom 30 minutes before opening and head straight to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train). Good luck, I’m crossing my fingers for you!

  • by Mariana Ruiz on August 1, 2014, at 6:25 pm EDT

    Not at all. We tried in our six days of parks last week and there was never availability. We used our FP booked 30 days before and one day we did rope drop.

  • If staying on site, don’t forget to make your magical express (airport transportation) reservations as soon as you book your flight. And customize your magic bands at least ten days before your arrival so you can pick your color and have up to nine characters printed on the inside of the band.