We love Disney World! I think families are either in one of two camps—the Disney LOVERS or the Not-So-Much. We are wholeheartedly part of the first camp! And I say this as someone who does not love crowds—I’m actually a crowd avoider. I don’t do local festivals and carnivals because I cannot even handle that kind of chaos! But Disney just does it so well—even when it’s crazy busy, crazy crowded—it is the most beautifully organized crazy I’ve ever seen! As we navigate the park, I feel like I’m in my own little family bubble (truth—my family bubble is large)—and we may bump into 1,000 other family bubbles as we wander through…but we are together, and all is right with the world.
How to Plan a Disney Vacation–With Flexibility
If you are looking for advice on micro-planning your Disney trip—Sweet Friend, this is not the list for you! We have taken our crew to Disney World four times (Jason actually snuck in a 5th trip with just my big girls). It seems like we average a trip there about every 3 years, and we have never planned out our entire day. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a plan or strategy—but we leave a lot of the day open to adventure and enjoy the flexibility! We have always been able to ride the rides we want and not wait very long in lines—and we’ve been there in the peak of the summer and over Labor Day weekend! It’s Disney—not rocket science! Let’s keep this simple and fun!
My 6 Month Guide to Planning a Disney Vacation
I do hope that my planning outline will help you feel organized and give you an overarching plan to carry you through 6 months of Disney vacation planning. There is a lot of information online about Disney planning—it can be overwhelming. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed—please don’t stress! You’re going to have a great trip!
If You Don’t Have 6 Months to Plan…
Also—side note…If you are reading this and don’t have 6 months to plan your vacation, you are good—no worries! We have done some seriously last minute Disney trips…I’m talking—we are leaving in a few hours kind of wildness (we were in our 20’s and had two babies). One caution I’ll add about last minute planning—depending on when you are traveling and where you want to stay, it definitely gets harder to find a room at one of the Disney Resorts!
**Disney Resort Reservations can be made 499 days in advance—if the dates are not yet available online, call Disney at: (407) 939-5277.
6 Months Out:
1) Create a My Disney Experience Account.
2) Book Hotel Room or Disney Resort.
3) Book Airline.
4) Reserve Special Disney Dining Experiences 180 Days in Advance (No park ticket purchases are necessary—so don’t worry if you don’t have these yet!)
*Cinderella’s Royal Table Character Breakfast fills up quickly—if you want this experience, you need to book 180 days out!! Disney will require full payment at the time of the reservation.
**In addition, the Chef’s Table at Victoria and Albert’s fills up at 180 days out.
***All table dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance—begin making reservations after you have decided on your loose itinerary.
****Be aware…Disney charges a no show fee for all their table service meals. Policy details are provided when you make your reservation.
5) Create Loose/Tentative Itinerary
You can create an itinerary online for the trip without staying on-property or having any reservations! Keep adding and tweaking it as your vacation approaches! If you haven’t already, create a My Disney Experience Account and get started—even if you just add the main park you plan to visit each day. This will help you later as you plan more dining reservations and fast pass reservations.
6) Search for the best deal on park tickets if you haven’t bought them as part of a resort package.
7) Put your tickets in a safe place—and remember where you put them!! They can be registered on your My Disney Experience account.
Important Tips: HOW to Schedule Your Park Visits—a strategy that optimizes your time!
Decide on the main park you want to visit each day. To do this, I like to look at Disney’s Park Schedule—it will show the hours of operation for each park and the Extra Magic Hours 180 days out. Extra Magic Hours are only available for visitors staying at a Disney Resort. The park with Extra Magic Hours is going to be more crowded—so if you are not interested in participating in the Extra Magic Hours, or if you are staying off property avoid that park!
When looking at the schedule and you see a park with evening Extra Magic Hours—that would be a great park to go to the following morning. Many people will have been there the previous evening and won’t be going there early the next morning—but you are smart and will use this to your advantage!
If you are planning on going to more than one park (park hopping) or resting part of the day—it may be ok to go early (right when it opens) to a park with evening extra magic hours. People will be getting to that park later in the day and staying late—so an early start there can be a good strategy…Leave around lunch and hit a different park that afternoon/evening or go take a nap (you can reverse this strategy for a park with early Extra Magic Hours—go there in the evening, because everyone will have pooped out from their early morning).
8) Begin Researching Restaurants:
We love the restaurants at Disney—they are so much fun and serve great food! Yes—pricey…but when you get home you’ll think you’re getting a deal everywhere you eat for a least the next month! I used the reviews on Disney Tourist Blog to help me make some dining decisions (I think planning where I’m going to eat is literally my favorite part of planning a Disney trip!)
Here are some of our favorites to help you get started:
Magic Kingdom: Liberty Tree Tavern (Table Service), Jungle Navigation Skipper Canteen (Table Service), Columbia Harbour House (Quick Service)
Epcot: Rose & Crown (Table Service), Nine Dragon (Table Service), San Angel Inn (Table Service), Tangierine Cafe (Quick Service)
Hollywood Studios: Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre (Table Service), 50’s Prime Time Cafe (Table Service)
Animal Kingdom: Tusker House (Table Service)
7) Make dining reservations online, using your itinerary as a guide for scheduling.
3 Months Out:
1) Finalize Travel Arrangements.
2 Months Out:
1) If staying in a Disney Resort make Fast Pass Plus Selections (60 Days in Advance)
What is Fast Pass Plus (aka Fast Pass)? Fast Passes are available to all Disney World Visitors—it is essentially a system for “holding a place in line.” You are given 3 passes per person, per day. Once you’ve used this initial group of 3 passes (reservations for rides or experiences), then you can get additional passes—one at a time. You will get in line and wait for any rides you don’t have a fast pass for–so you want to choose fast passes for the most popular rides with the longest wait times.
Important Things to Consider:
*If you are park hopping—all of the first three passes must be used in the same park.
*If you use one of your passes for a late afternoon or evening time—you cannot get any additional passes until that last, late reservation has been used. We definitely tried to avoid late fast pass times when choosing the first 3 passes for each day—but for some very popular rides it might be unavoidable!
***I thought it seemed a bit overkill to reserve spots in line 30 days in advance—but trust me, do it!! Spots for popular attractions get booked up fast! Get your fast pass reservations as soon as possible!! Try and stick to your initial itinerary plan—but you may have to change things up to get certain rides you want! We did have to reschedule a few dining reservations to accommodate our fast passes! Try to prioritize and be flexible! If you want a very detailed and strategic look at fast passes visit touringplans.com!
2) Make Pet Arrangements.
3) Call Vet and have any documents faxed to kennel.
4) Get any necessary pet vaccinations.
5) Evaluate needs for clothing or luggage.
1 Month Out:
2) Make Fast Pass Plus Selections (30 days in advance for anyone with theme park tickets—register your tickets in My Disney Experience to get started).
3) Put holds or change delivery dates on any monthly services (ie…food delivery or Amazon Subscribe and Save).
2 Weeks Out:
1) Confirm Kennel/Pet Arrangements.
2) Place Hold on Mail.
3) Arrange for neighbors, family, or friends to pick up packages, water plants, care for any other pets, take out/bring in trash cans.
4) Arrange any transportation—we used Mears to pick us up from the Orlando Airport and take us to our hotel. I highly recommend!
5) Check medications—order any refills that will be needed.
Week of Trip:
1) Do laundry—get it caught up and ready to pack!
2) Go to the store! Grab any toiletries you need and any snacks you would like to pack for the hotel—we brought pop tarts, fruit snacks, and graham crackers to keep our little people happy. Our snacks were all packed into a carry-on, which held our souvenirs on the way home!
3) Clean the House!
4) Pack! (Don’t get to stressed about this—if all the clothes are clean and you have all your purchases made—this can be done the day before!!)
5) Add the My Disney Experience App to your phone!
6) Run dishwasher night before you leave!
7) Have pet supplies ready for anyone watching your pets or for taking to kennel.
Getting Out the Door!
1) Get pets settled.
2) Make Beds.
3) Empty all trashes.
4) Take out Trash.
5) Empty Dishwasher.
6) Empty Washing Machine—moldy towels are not fun to come home to!
7) Load up the car with luggage!
8) Adjust Home Thermostats.
9) Adjust Lights.
10) Grab: Wallet, Photo ID, Airline Tickets, Disney Park Tickets!!
Have an AMAZING vacation and make lots of special family memories!!
Don’t miss my post about 5 Must Have Items to bring on your trip! If you have any questions, please feel free to shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org (email link on the sidebar) or leave a comment below! And if you have any Disney Tips or Recommendations—please share them in the comments below!! Disney changes their procedures and policies from time to time—all the information I’ve provided is current through November 2017! Happy Planning!!
P.S. Here is the super cute backpack I bought to carry all our stuff while we were visiting the parks (including diapers, wipes, fans, wallets, phones, SANITIZER)! Loved it!!