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The Ideal Timeline for Planning a Magical Disney World Vacation

Your family’s first visit to Disney World has the potential to be a cherished magical memory…or a hot mess. With a little pre-planning, you can greatly increase your chances of magical success. I can’t guarantee that your 2-year-old won’t have a meltdown when he sees Donald Duck for the first time, but planning can help you avoid that 2-hour wait-time for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train {yes, people do it!}. Even if you haven’t been to Disney World, you’ve probably heard all sorts of advice from family and friends on how best to plan your trip. As a travel agent specializing in all things Disney, I’ve told you how you can save your money, time, and sanity there, and now I’m here today to educate you about the ideal Disney planning timeline for your next vacation too.  {And if this entire timeline and all of the information below makes your head sort of spin, remember that my planning services are absolutely free. Yes, free. So I’ll just leave my contact info right here for you too.}

Lots of planning and vacation don’t always mix. If you’re not the planning type – that’s okay. Planning your Disney vacation doesn’t have to mean the death of all spontaneity and flexibility. It simply means doing a little bit of research to minimize disappointment and wasted time. You will still have many fun, magical, spontaneous moments during your trip. There are just certain aspects of a Disney vacation that can be tackled in advance to make your trip a lot more enjoyable!

Disney Planning TimelineClick here for PDF download, pin this image to save for later,
& keep reading for more info!

Disney Timeline - 1MORE THAN 6 MONTHS FROM DEPARTURE

You should book your Disney World vacation more than 6 months in advance {technically, you can even book your room up to 499 days in advance!}. I know, I know…it’s hard to know what your family will be doing next week let alone 8 months from now, but trust me. Booking more than 6 months out is ideal for several reasons.

If budget is a priority – you can get the best deals and the least expensive room options the farther out you book. As you get closer and closer to your departure time, the least expensive rooms and resorts fill up. Plus, the farther out you book, the better chance you have of grabbing a discounted room when and if Disney releases a discount or promo.

Booking your Disney package far in advance also gives you ample time to save for your trip. When you book, only a $200 deposit is required upfront to reserve your package. Final payment isn’t due until 30 days before you leave. If a certain dining experience or character meal is a priority, it’s also best to book your Disney package more than 6 months out in order to get all your dining plans squared away before the 180-day mark, which is when you can begin to make dining reservations.

A FEW WEEKS BEFORE THE 180-DAY MARK

Now is the time to begin looking over Disney’s huge list of restaurants and figuring out what sounds like a magical fit for your family. After developing a list of where you want to dine, you should take a look at park hours and crowd level predictors to draft a rough plan of which restaurant{s} you want to visit on each day of your trip.

If this sounds overwhelming, you can always get free help from a travel agent {like me!}. This way you are prepared for the next milestone…

Disney Timeline - 3180 DAYS BEFORE DEPARTURE

Disney opens up the ability to make dining reservations 180 days before your departure. This {again} might sound crazy, but plenty of dining experiences will book up this far in advance {Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest, for example}. If there’s a must-do character meal on your list, if you have a lot of people in your party, if you want to snag some amazing pre-park-opening breakfast times, or if you’re visiting during a crowded time of year, making your dining reservations as close to the 180-day mark as possible is a must.

If you’re curious about the specifics, the magical internet portal {via your My Disney Experience account} that allows you to make dining reservations opens up at exactly 6am EST {5am Houston time}. You can make all your reservations for the day of your departure plus 10 more days {if you’re staying on Disney property}. This means you or your trusty travel agent can make meal reservations for your entire trip on this 180-day mark. Since you’ve been planning on our ideal timeline, you will already have all your dining preferences ready to book on this day!

The 180-day point also marks when you can begin scheduling appointments at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and Pirate’s League, for princess, mermaid, and pirate makeovers for the little ones. The BBB inside Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom books up quickly, so it’s advisable to book this one as far out as possible as well.

A WEEK BEFORE THE 60-DAY MARK

Now’s the time to begin thinking about your FastPasses. Disney’s FastPass+ system, allows you to electronically reserve a spot on their most popular rides and attractions in advance of your trip. Using this system can save you tons of time waiting in line at the parks. You are allowed to book up to three FastPasses per day of your trip for each guest, and they all need to be in the same park.

Take a look at the list of which attractions and rides offer FastPasses at each park. If you’re following the ideal planning timeline, you can take a look at the dining reservations you’ve booked and already know which park you plan to hit on each day of your trip. Then, you can plan out your FastPasses accordingly.

You want to pick the FastPass rides and attractions that your family wants to do that are the most popular. FastPasses can honestly save you hours of time waiting in line if utilized correctly, so don’t waste them on rides that usually don’t have much of a line anyway! Make sure to take height restrictions into account, along with parade times, firework times, and mealtimes too.

Disney Timeline - 260 DAYS BEFORE DEPARTURE

If you’re staying on Disney property, today is the day you can log into your My Disney Experience account and make those FastPass reservations! {Note that if you aren’t staying on Disney property, you have to wait allll the way until 30 days before your departure date to book your FastPasses!} FastPass booking becomes available online at midnight EST on the 60-day mark, or 11pm Houston time {so technically, 61 days out!}.

FastPasses are bookable for one-hour time ranges, meaning you can go “skip” the regular line once during that hour. It’s a good idea to book your 3 FastPasses for times that are earlier in the day. This is because you can actually book a 4th FastPass in the park at a special kiosk on that actual day after the time of your 3rd FastPass has passed. Clear as mud, right?

30 DAYS BEFORE DEPARTURE

If you booked a Disney package {room + tickets + possibly dining plan}, your remaining balance is due on this day. {Note that this is for 2016 departure dates only.} That means if you booked more than 6 months out, you’ve had a nice long while to budget and save up money to make that final payment.

OMG. WHAT?!

It may sound a bit overwhelming to do all of this prep work for a vacation, but remember that it’s spread out over 6+ months. Following this planning timeline will help you find the best deal for your budget, get the magical dining experiences you want, and spend the least amount of time possible waiting for those magical moments while you’re there. This process also helps you become familiar with the Disney resort, parks, operating hours, and attractions in advance, which means you won’t waste time trying to figure out your day once you’re at Disney. You can simply follow the plan and have fun!

Disney Timeline - 4

That being said, this is simply the ideal planning timeline. If you decide you want to go to Disney World in 3 months, you can still do it! You might not be able to have breakfast at Cinderella’s Castle with a party of 8, but you can still have many other magical experiences. The wonderful thing about Disney World is that there is always plenty to do and see!

I know that this can all be overwhelming, so if you need help, remember a travel agent specializing in Disney can offer free planning services for you. That means they can take care of each of these items on the correct day {do you want to wake up at 5am to book your dining on Day 180 or would you rather someone else handle that?}, or help you effectively plan a last-minute trip when you’re not on the ideal timeline. I’d be thrilled to help you start planning YOUR magical Disney World vacation, and I can help walk you through it all and lift some of that stress for you.

Janet LeBlanc – The Mouse Detectives

Facebook | Email ::[email protected]


Janet - Bio 2About Janet L.

Janet is a Houston mom, creative entrepreneur at Paper+Spark, and travel agent specializing in planning memorable Disney vacations. Need some help researching, planning, or booking your family’s next magical vacation? Visit Janet with the Mouse Detectives here or email her at janet@themousedetectives.com.


Please Note :: We are so very grateful to have Janet sponsor this post and share her WEALTH of knowledge on all things Disney.  Our hope is that this post will be a precious guide to planning YOUR family’s upcoming trip, and we strongly encourage you to reach out to her to make the process seamless!

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