This is probably the number one question I get when helping people plan their vacation: “When do I need to . . . “ or “How soon can I . . .” I’ve said it before, Walt Disney World vacation planning can be confusing and it is definitely complex. There are a lot of dates to keep in mind, and I always say the sooner you can start the process the better. Here are some basic tips for a timeline to plan your vacation:
Resort Package/Reservations (ASAP, 7 months+ is ideal):
You can book a room only reservation at WDW up to 499 days in advance. However, when you do this there will not be accurate pricing for your travel dates yet. Once the real price comes out for your dates your room total will automatically adjust accordingly. You also can’t do this online, you have to call your Travel Agent or Disney directly. This is only really necessary if you want or need a particular room type that you know is in high demand and that there are few available.
Most people prefer to wait until the accurate pricing is out and they can book with a package. Normally, this is released in July or August for the following year. At this point you can book your entire package with tickets and dining by contacting your Travel Agent, calling Disney, or booking online.
I encourage everyone to book their resort and as far out as possible. Ideally you want to have that in place well before 6 months before you travel so that you can have the best chance at the rest of your reservations. And don’t worry about a discount coming out later—you can still apply it to your existing reservation for a savings if your dates, resort and room type are eligible and available.
Itinerary (6 months+)
As soon as you have your resort booked, the next thing you need to do is map out a basic itinerary of which parks you will be in on each day of your vacation. Disney normally releases park hours 6 months in advance, so that helps in choosing where you want to be. I also recommend checking websites like touringplans.com and wdwprepschool.com for their crowd calendars and recommended park days to assist you in choosing the least crowded park for each day. Once you have that figured out you will know where to book your dining for each day.
Dining (180 days prior to check-in)
To get the most popular dining destinations you really need to book on the first day possible—which is 180 days in advance. You can use several sites to determine your date, I like this one: http://wdwuntangled.com/advanced-dining-reservation-calculator/ . If you are staying onsite at a Disney resort you can book your reservations starting at that 180 day point, and you can make more reservations for up to 10 days after that (the 180+10 rule as it is called). Offsite guests have to make them one day at a time. On that day you can begin making the reservations online at 6:00am (eastern) or call in at 7:00am (eastern). The majority of “table service” dining locations open their reservations at 180 days, but you can also book the counter or quick service location of Be Our Guest at 6 months out following the same procedure. About 30 days out you should see a link appear in your My Disney Experience account that also allows you to pre-order your food before you arrive—if you think you know what you will want to eat this does save a considerable amount of time.
Magic Bands (as soon as you book, by 30 days out)
As soon as your reservation is linked to My Disney Experience you can customize your Magic Bands. There will be date listed to complete this step which is normally by 30 days before you travel (there seem to be some exceptions to that if you book later). They are mailed directly to you and arrive about 2 weeks prior to your vacation—you can usually track their progress in My Disney Experience (Happy Disney Mail part 1). If you are arriving pretty soon after your reservation then you may just pick your Magic Bands up at the resort.
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Flights (60 days+, with some caveats)
If you are flying down you want to get the best price, and a site like kayak.com will help you decide on when to buy with their confidence rating (whether they feel the rates are going up or down). While you definitely want to take advantage of that, I recommend waiting until after you’ve made your resort package reservation and your dining reservations. With the not-so-lenient cancellation and change policies on airfare, you definitely want to make sure that you are able to get the resort reservation that you want before you book air, and if dining is a make or break part of your vacation you may want to wait to make sure you can get what you want for that as well. If you’ve followed the rest of the timeline I recommend scheduling flights at least 60 days out (again based on the fare recommendations) so you have time to link them to your reservation for Disney’s Magical Express if you are staying onsite and receive your tags with your travel documents.
FastPass+ (60 days prior to check-in)
You can begin making FastPass+ reservations at midnight 60 days before you check-in if you are staying onsite, or 30 days if you are an offsite guest. At that point you can make them for the length of your ticket—so if you have 5 days you can make all 5 days’ worth of FastPass+.
Final Payment (45 days, or at check-in)
Final Payment on WDW packages is due 45 days prior to check-in. For room only reservations onsite you pay the balance upon check-in.
Travel Documents (2 weeks prior)
If you booked a WDW package you will receive a booklet of vouchers for the various elements of your package, along with some discount coupons and souvenir luggage tags. If you are using Magical Express it will also contain the yellow luggage tags to identify your luggage to Magical Express. These normally arrive about 2 weeks prior to your vacation. Part 2 of your Happy Disney Mail. Room only reservations do not receive travel documents—I would recommend printing your confirmation and bringing it with you.
Packing (2 weeks)
This is really personal preference, but I like to start with my list and setting aside things about 2 weeks prior to my vacation. It is like I am going on a desert journey & I don’t want to forget anything.
Last Minute (24-48 hours prior)
- Double check all of your travel papers and documents. Pack them in a carryon bag—put your Magic Bands in a carryon bag. Make sure you have ID
- 24 hours out complete online check in with your airline
- Try to sleep—I know this is the hardest thing because “you’re too excited to sleep!”
That is the basic timeline I like to follow when advising when to do things planning a Disney vacation. Of course, you may not be able to start so far in advance. If you don’t book until a few months before I would prioritize: Resort, Dining, Air, FastPass+. And these could all be done on the same day if you are booking 2 months or less out.
Good luck & Happy Planning!