Disney World Planning Timeline
Planning a Disney World vacation can be a daunting task, especially for first-time guests. The properties of Walt Disney World cover 47 square miles – almost two times the size of Manhattan! There are so many exciting attractions, engaging activities, magical details, and wonderful resorts and restaurants that it’s nearly impossible to experience everything at Disney World over the course of several trips, let alone in a single visit.
So how do you even begin to prepare for your trip? We recommend you first consult our Disney World planning timeline to familiarize yourself with what you should do, and when you should do it. Next, start your research, book your trip, and create an itinerary for each day at the park you have selected. We know what you’re thinking – “A daily itinerary? Where’s the fun and spontaneity in that?” Without a daily itinerary and at least some knowledge of the parks, Disney World can be a confusing place, and the options can get overwhelming. Informed and organized vacationers are less stressed, see more of what they want to see, save more money, and have more fun.
With that said, when is the best time to start planning your Disney World trip? We believe that the sooner you start the process, the better. At least 6 months prior to going is ideal, but the bottom line is, as soon as you decide to visit Walt Disney World, start the initial stages of planning.
Do you want help with your planning? Regardless of how much time you have to plan, a Disney travel agent can greatly reduce your effort in the process and help make your Disney vacation dreams a reality. Plus, their services are completely free of charge. You can’t get any better than that! We recommend booking your Disney vacation through The Vacationeer.
General Information for your Disney World Planning Timeline
Before we review the details of our Disney World planning timeline, let’s start by highlighting some of the important Disney terms you will encounter as you plan your Walt Disney World vacation.
Anyone coming to Walt Disney World has to choose whether to stay at a Disney-owned resort or a non-Disney resort. This is often referred to as the choice between staying “on property” or “off property.” There are many factors to consider when making this choice, and it has an impact on your planning, as you will see below.
My Disney Experience
The myDisneyExperience.com website, as well as the My Disney Experience app, plays a big role in the planning of your trip. You’ll use My Disney Experience to, among other things, provide details about your travel party, view and make reservations and itineraries, and see your Disney PhotoPass pictures. It will also serve as a resource while you’re at the parks, as My Disney Experience includes park maps, restaurant menus, current wait times for attractions and experiences, and much more.
MagicBands are colorful wristbands which act as an all-in- one device to effortlessly connect you to the vacation choices you made with My Disney Experience. They are used to enter the parks, activate your FastPass ride reservations, unlock your Disney Resort hotel room, buy food and merchandise, and more.
Extra Magic Hours
One of the perks to staying at an aforementioned “on property” Walt Disney World hotel is utilizing Extra Magic Hours. This benefit allows registered guests of Walt Disney World Resort hotels to experience extended park hours, and lower crowds during these extended hours. Each day, Walt Disney World chooses one of its theme parks to open one hour earlier or remain open up to 2 hours later than the standard operating hours. In addition, Disney Water Parks offers Extra Magic Hours during select times of the year. Off property guests are not eligible for this benefit.
FastPass+ is a complimentary benefit provided with the purchase of any park admission or Annual Pass. Each Walt Disney World ticket holder receives three advanced FastPass+ selections for a single park (per day). This service allows you to reserve access to attractions of your choosing at a specific time, with a minimal wait. Depending on availability, additional FastPass+ selections may be available to guests once their three selections have been used each day. Advanced FastPass+ reservations may be made up to 60 days in advance for on-site guests, and 30 days for off-site guests.
Advanced Dining Reservations
Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) secure your table at some of Disney’s most popular restaurants. On-site resort guests can make ADRs at the 180-day mark of their check-in date, starting at 6AM EST online and 7AM over the phone, and can book them for up to 10 days past their check-in date. Off-site guests must make their ADRs no more than 180 days out. (In other words, every day a new date 180 days out will be available to book an ADR.)
Planning Timeline for Disney World Vacations
So now that you are familiar with some of the terms we use, here is a timetable of the things you should consider prior to arriving at Walt Disney World.
Up to 365 days before your trip
Once you have decided to visit WDW, begin to investigate which month/week/days are the best times to visit the park. Use the MagicGuides Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar for daily, up-to- date crowd expectations for each Disney World theme park. Dates for making advanced FastPass+ selections and ADRs are included, and it’s totally free to use.
Up to 180 days before you trip
Decide which park to visit on each day of your trip. Consult the MagicGuides Crowd Calendar for daily crowd estimates of each WDW theme park.
Go to mydisneyexperience.com and create an account. This will allow you to make advanced FastPass+ selections and Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) when your reservation window opens.
The early bird catches the worm, so make your Advanced Dining Reservations and special activities reservations (fireworks, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, dessert parties, and more) at the 180-day mark, if possible.
Up to 80 days before your trip
Order your Walt Disney World park tickets so they arrive before your FastPass+ booking window opens.
Begin to narrow down your selections for FassPass+ reservations. Research rides and experiences so you will be prepared to make your selections as soon as your window opens.
Up to 60-30 days before your trip
Book FastPass+ reservations as soon as your window opens. Disney World Resort guests can book their reservations for their entire length of stay 60 days in advance, at 7:00 EST, while off-site guests can make their reservations up to 30 days in advance for each day at the park.
Up to 45 days before your trip
Continue to familiarize yourself with the rides and experiences at each park. Make a list of which ones are priorities.
Begin to customize your MagicBands. Make sure you customize these by 30 days out, as that is when they will be processed for shipment, whether or not you have customized them!
Make your Disney Magical Express reservations, if applicable. This service gives on-site guests free transportation to/from the airport and your Disney Resort.
Up to 10 days before your trip
As your departure nears, start to finalize your park plans. Write a daily itinerary with high priority rides and attractions.
Up to 3 days before your trip
Review and print maps and reservation details.
Review and print our Disney World Packing List. Check items off the list as you pack.
Purchase Disney World’s Memory Maker photo service. You will save $20 and ensure that it will be available for you to use upon arrival at Disney World if you buy the Memory Maker at least 3 days in advance.
A Few More Considerations
For those of you who are early birds, Walt Disney World room-only reservations may be booked up to 499 days in advance. Booking this far in advance is not generally necessary for most reservations, but it may ensure that you get a particular high demand room type. One caveat is that you won’t know the exact pricing on park tickets and dining plan packages this far in advance. In addition, you can only book room-only reservations this far in advance by calling Disney reservations or a Disney travel agent. Recent history suggests that room/dining plan/ticket packages will be available around late June for the following year, but this is always subject to change.
There are certain dining reservations and activities that get filled up quickly. Therefore, if you would like to make a reservation for popular attractions, be sure to set them as a high priority at the 180-day mark, if at all possible. Here are some of the most popular experiences to book in advance:
✓ Beaches and Cream
✓ Be Our Guest Restaurant
✓ Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
✓ California Grill
✓ Chef Mickey’s
✓ Chef’s Table at Victoria and Albert’s
✓ Cinderella’s Royal Table
✓ Cirque du Soleil
✓ Hoop-Dee- Doo Musical Revue
✓ Le Cellier
✓ Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
✓ Other experiences periodically offered by Disney
Likewise, you should make your FastPass+ selections as soon as your 60 or 30-day window opens, if possible. These are currently some of the most difficult FastPass+ reservations to make:
✓ Peter Pan’s Flight (Magic Kingdom)
✓ Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Magic Kingdom)
✓ Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom)
✓ Frozen Ever After (Epcot)
✓ Soarin’ (Epcot)
✓ Flight of Passage (Animal Kingdom)
✓ Navi River Journey (Animal Kingdom)
✓ Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (Hollywood Studios)
✓ Toy Story Midway Mania (Hollywood Studios)
Well, there you have it. These are just a few guidelines for getting you started in planning your trip to Walt Disney World. Remember to sign up for our free e-guide entitled “The 9 Steps to Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation,” which provides more in-depth information on this subject. Also, browse through Magic Guides pages for more WDW information.
If you need help planning and booking your magical Walt Disney World vacation, contact our friends at The Vacationeer. Their services are always helpful and totally free of charge! Thank you for reading our page, and we hope you have a magical Walt Disney World vacation!