If you’re planning to visit Disney World, you and your family will probably want to relax and enjoy the wonder of this magical place with minimal effort or distraction. And ironically, one of the best ways to have a carefree trip is to plan ahead! Disney World resort hotels, restaurants, theme parks, and even some attractions offer reservations — but are reservations required for Disney World?
We’ll start with the bottom line up front: Reservations may be required for Disney World Theme Parks (depending on your ticket), are strongly recommended for hotels and table service restaurants, and are optional for most rides. Now let’s look at each of these in further detail.
Disney Theme Park Reservations (Disney ParkPass)
The four major theme parks — Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom — may require you to have a reservation to enter; it depends on the type of ticket you have.
The good news is that all single-day theme park tickets automatically include a Park Pass reservation with the purchase. For example: when you buy a One-Day ticket that’s good only for Magic Kingdom, your Magic Kingdom theme park reservation is automatically created for you.
And starting January 9, 2024, any date-based theme park ticket will automatically include your park reservation, too.
Until then — and even after that date for some undated tickets — you may need to make a reservation for the park you want to visit. Be sure to check with your travel agent for details on whether reservations are needed for your tickets.
In our experience, it’s best to make these reservations as far in advance as possible; they can and do “sell out” (though they’re free to make). While it’s certainly possible to find same-day reservations, the most-popular days may become unavailable several months in advance; even the less-popular days may become unavailable a week or two ahead of time. You’re allowed to make your theme park reservations as soon as you purchase your tickets, so you’ll want to buy your tickets as early as possible, too.
More information on how to make Disney World theme park reservations is available in our complete guide to the Disney Park Pass system.
Disney Resort Hotel Reservations
While Disney World resort hotels technically don’t require reservations, only the bravest long-distance travelers show up at the world’s most popular tourist destination without a place to lay their heads. Same-day hotel availability is not unheard-of, even at Disney’s on-property resorts; but hotel reservations are strongly recommended, especially if you have a particular location or room type in mind.
Without a reservation, there’s the risk that you won’t be able to find any rooms at Disney World resort hotels for the night and have to take your chances off-property. If you do find a room upon arrival, don’t be surprised if it’s in a far-flung building at one of the larger sprawling resorts furthest away from the theme parks. It might also be rather pricey; Disney hotel rooms are subject to dynamic pricing, meaning that prices tend to become higher over time as demand increases. Booking early not only ensures you’re not spending the first day of your vacation worrying about finding a place to sleep — it may also save you some money. With hotels being such a big part of the cost of a Disney World vacation, planning ahead just makes sense.
You can reserve a Disney hotel room by paying a small refundable deposit; the remaining balance won’t be due until closer to your arrival. For vacation packages that bundle hotel rooms and tickets, you’ll pay a $200 deposit; for room-only reservations, the deposit is equal to the cost of one night’s stay plus tax. And thanks to a generous cancellation policy (even during hurricane season), you’re able to modify or cancel your reservation for free in most cases.
Reservations can be made as soon as Disney has released that year’s room inventory, which is often a year or more in advance.
Free Help Making Your Disney World Reservations
One of the best ways to make your Disney World reservations is to let a trained professional do all the heavy lifting for you. Using an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner (AKA a Disney Travel Agent) means you’ll have a dedicated point of contact to help plan your trip from start to finish; they’ll answer your questions, make all your reservations, and might even help you save a bit of money on your trip! And one of the best reasons to use a Disney travel planner is that they do all of this at no additional charge to you!
Our preferred Disney travel agency is The Vacationeer, an Earmarked Diamond level Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. Their team of more than 90 Disney fanatics provide one-on-one service and a level of expertise that can’t be beat! Get a free quote for your Disney Vacation today… their planning services are provided at no additional cost to you, and you’re never under any obligation to book.
Disney World Restaurant Reservations
Reservations are not actually required at most Disney World restaurants, but they’re strongly suggested. Most restaurants are happy to accept walk-ups during most times of the year, but it’s not unheard of to have to wait 30-60 minutes for a table on even moderately busy days.
During the most crowded days at Disney World, walk-ups may not be accepted at all because all available tables have been promised to people with reservations. No tables are set aside solely for walk-ups (though you might be able to grab a spot in a nearby lounge and order from the restaurant menu in some cases).
Dining reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance of your visit, and we offer a handy reservation calculator to help you figure out when you can make your Disney World restaurant reservations.
Dining reservations are only offered at table service restaurants. While quick-service restaurants don’t offer reservations, many of them allow you to use the MyDisneyExperience app to order and pay for your food ahead of time, then schedule a pickup time for it.
Disney World Attraction/Ride Reservations
You can make reservations (of sorts) for many attractions at Disney World, meaning you don’t have to wait in a long line to experience them. But it’s not a requirement in most cases — almost every ride allows you to simply wait in a so-called Standby Queue that doesn’t require advanced planning. The only exception is whichever ride happens to be offering a virtual queue when you visit.
Here’s a look at the different kinds of ride reservations that are possible at Disney World:
Each theme park has several rides which offer a so-called “Lightning Lane” expedited entrance, and many of them are bundled together into a single package deal called Genie+. You can purchase Genie+ on the morning of your park visit; you’ll pay somewhere between $15 and $30 per person and can then make ride reservations for the remainder of the day, subject to availability. Reservations are made one at a time, and you’ll generally be able to use the system to skip the lines at two or three rides over the course of the day (maybe a few more on less-crowded days).
Individual Lightning Lane
For the most popular rides at Disney World, Lightning Lane access is a separate paid product and not included in Genie+. Typically one or two rides in each park offer reservations under this system, at a cost that’s usually between $10-$20 per ride (occasionally a bit more or a bit less).
Typically reserved for the newest ride in all of Disney World, the Virtual Queue is used to prevent people from having to wait hours and hours to ride a brand new attraction. The virtual queue replaces the traditional standby line; if you want to ride the attraction (and haven’t purchased Lightning Lane access), you’ll need to try to join a boarding group through the MyDisneyExperience app. You won’t be able to just walk up and stand in line. There is no additional cost to use the Virtual Queue.
Competition to grab a spot in the virtual queue can be fierce; on the busiest days, all available slots can be claimed within seconds of being released. The virtual queue is currently only being offered at EPCOT’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Magic Kingdom’s Tron Lightcycle Run.
Other Disney World Experiences Taking Reservations
You’ll find many other offerings at Disney World which accept reservations, but it’s rare that reservations are actually required in order to participate. In most cases, walk-ups are generally able to be accommodated — but it’s always best to have a reservation to ensure a smooth experience.
Reservations are accepted for special dining packages, recreation such as golf tee times, boat rentals and fishing excursions, fireworks cruises, spa treatments, salon appointments, and separately-ticketed stage shows such as Cirque du Soleil.
Note that some experiences, such as the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, are extremely popular. Although walk-up can theoretically be accommodated, it’s extremely unwise to rely on that possibility. Absolutely no spots are held solely for walk-ups; the venue can be completely at capacity for the day and walk-ups can be refused at any time.
You’ll also need to make a reservation if you’re planning on going aboard Galactic Starcruiser, the Disney Star Wars Hotel. With this experience being a fixed two-night immersive experience that is only offered on certain “boarding” dates, it’s not conducive to walk-ups.
Disney World Experiences that Don’t Accept Reservations
Many Disney World experiences and services neither require nor accept reservations.
There are no reservations for Disney World’s two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. You also won’t be able to pre-reserve mini-golf at Fantasia Gardens or Winter Summerland. Disney Springs itself does not accept reservations (though you can always reserve a table at the restaurants there or a show at Cirque du Soleil). And you don’t need to pre-arrange your parking at any of the locations throughout Disney World.
Final Thoughts on Reservations at Disney World
While much of Disney World doesn’t require a reservation, you’re much more likely to get to do everything you want during your trip if you plan ahead and reserve as many experiences in advance as possible.
You won’t be able to enter a theme park at all without a reservation; everything else is at least possible to do as a walk-up, though your chances greatly diminish as the parks become more and more crowded. For the best chance at a disappointment-free vacation, plan ahead and reserve, reserve, reserve!
Disney World Reservation Assistance
A Disney Vacation Planner such as The Vacationeer takes the hassle out of getting your Disney World reservations! You’ll work with a dedicated travel professional who focuses on Disney World vacations — no more waiting hours on hold to speak with Disney Customer Service! Your Vacationeer will arrange park tickets, hotel reservations, and more — all within your budget and based on the things you actually want to do. They’ll even wake up early to make your dining reservations so you don’t have to!
Plus they’ll help you set up a payment plan for your trip and will help you keep track of all your vacation planning mileposts and deadlines. And they do all of this at no additional charge above the cost of your trip.
So contact The Vacationeer today and see just how hassle-free Disney planning can be!