A Walt Disney World Trip Planning Timeline

Planning a trip to a Disney Park can be a frustrating and confusing experience. Part of the reason we started this blog was because we saw others frustration with planning a trip to Disney. Wandering in Disney sadly doesn’t have all of the answers when it comes to trip-planning but we will by the time Star Wars Land is completed (that was a joke). One aspect I do feel comfortable addressing is a timeline for trip planning to both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. The question of when to do and reserve what is a common one as vacationers plan a trip to Disney Parks. In this post, I’ll give an estimated timeline of the most important aspects of trip planning.

Earlier this week I wrote a timeline for planning a trip to Disneyland.  Today we move on to Walt Disney World, a far more complex trip to plan for than Disneyland.  There are exceptions to that, like if you visit Walt Disney World several times a year or are a local who goes all the time.  If you fit into one of those categories then you probably don’t care much about this post.  I’m not sure why you are even reading this.  For everyone else, a trip to Walt Disney World should take some time to plan.

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Why is Walt Disney World so different from Disneyland?  Some of it has to do with Disney wanting it this way.  There was an increased focus on dining (and reservations) and then FastPass+ was implemented.  That led to an increased benefit to planning your trip early.  We could talk about if this increased incentive to planning your trip early makes a Walt Disney World trip better than it used to in a simpler time but… Well, that’s a post for another day.

Another reason Walt Disney World and Disneyland differ is because Walt Disney World has so much more land to offer.  There are four parks in Walt Disney World, hotels that provide transportation to them, shopping and tons of dining.  All of that is on Disney property and makes it so you don’t have to set a foot outside of that property if you don’t want to.  There’s more to do, more to research and more to reserve than at Disneyland.  Not that one experience is better than the other, they are just different.

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World involves several deadlines and dates to look out for.  There are discounts to find, restaurants to reserve and attractions to FastPass.  Unlike Disneyland, advanced planning needs to be done no matter the size of your group. Without further ado, here’s a rough timeline for planning a trip to Walt Disney World.

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5-8 Months Out

  • Decide When You Are Going – Some of your planning will have to do with what time of year you go to Disney World. While this isn’t the post for that, I did write a quick pros and cons of when to go to Walt Disney World a while back. You can check that out here.  Deciding on when you’re going to Walt Disney World should be done at least 4 months out, if it’s a big trip.  You’ll be coming up on some deadlines shortly.  You’ll also generally be able to get better hotel rates if you look further out
  • Decide On A Hotel And Check Rates – There are a number of hotels on Disney property and it will take a while to decide on which one to stay at.  Do some research and find the hotel that fit you best.  Once you decide on a hotel check the rates for the dates (rhyming!) that you are going.  If they seem decent compared to other surrounding dates, go ahead and book.  If not, keep checking and wait for discounts to be offered…
  • Find The Discount That Fits You Best – I plan to write a post covering all of the Walt Disney World discounts in the next few weeks but a quick explanation of this step is in order until that future post is written.  If you’re staying at an on-site hotel during your trip to Disney World there will likely be a discount offered.  There may be even more than one offered.  Get to know these discounts (whether it’s free dining, a hotel room discount, or more of a bundle package) and decide what’s best for your family.  You can often figure out what discount will be offered during your stay by looking at historic dates here.  Discounts are typically released and offered about 3-6 months in advance.  These discounts can really save you a lot of money if staying on site so keep your eye out for them.  If you had already booked a room in advance, you can either call to add the discount to the room (assuming that’s available) or change your reservation to fit what’s offered.  This may be the most important step if you and your family are on a strict budget.  Try to take advantage of the discount almost exactly when it is offered because there will be more availability then.
  • Discuss Where Your Family Wants To Eat – As I said in the intro, dining has become a bigger part of the Disney World experience in the last 15 years.  In our next step we’ll be making dining reservations but before you do that you may want to figure out where your family/friends want to eat.  There are over 100 reservation eligible restaurants to choose from and there are all different kinds of food, themes, and environments.  We have several reviews on Wandering in Disney and if there’s a certain restaurant you’re curious about leave us a comment or Google the restaurant.  There will certainly be a review of it somewhere.

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180 Days Away

  • Make Dining Reservations – I told you it was coming.  180 days from your trip is when you can make your reservations.  For some restaurants, you will definitely need to be on the ball and do it 180 days out.  The most popular restaurants include but aren’t limited to Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Le Cellier, California Grill, and Chef Mickey’s.  It’s best to reserve everything you want and then you can later change it if you need to.  If you’re staying on-site and have a reservation you can reserve dining 180 days out plus the next 10 days after that limit.  If you are staying off-site or don’t have a reservation yet then you have to make a reservation 180 days out for each day of your vacation.

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80 Days Away

  • Do Some Research – Really, you can do this step anytime but I put it here for a reason that involves our next step.  Start to look at the attractions that have FastPass capability and what interests you the most.  We have FastPass guides that you can check out here.  This is also a good time to check out if there are any tours that interest you or activities outside of the parks (fishing, golfing, shows).  If you do find something that you’d like to do then reserve what is necessary.  Some tours do fill up and need to be reserved in advance.

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60 Days Away

  • On-Site Guests Reserve FastPass+ – Those guests that are staying on-site can reserve FastPasses for three attractions per day of their trip.  Again, check out our FastPass guides for strategy when it comes to this.  Reserving these FastPasses will also cause you to plan your days of your vacation to an extent.  Check park hours before deciding on which FastPasses to reserve and then adjust accordingly.
  • Book Airfare – This is about the time most ‘experts’ tell you to book airfare.  Monitor prices in the months leading up to this

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30 Days Away 

  • Off-Site Guests Reserve FastPass+ – This is pretty self-explanatory and does show part of the advantage to staying on-site.
  • Figure Out The Details – If you haven’t figured this out prior to the 30 days, this is the time to square away transportation, payments and whatever else you haven’t taken care of.  Disney transportation isn’t hard to figure out but getting from the airport to Disney World will take a reservation (or an Uber).

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A Week Away 

  • Plan and Research – Before your trip do a little more research on quick places to eat and when to do what.  I’m not a big fan of planning every single minute of your vacation but I do think having a flexible plan is smart.  I also think that doing research on where to eat can make your trip much better.  Instead of being stuck with greasy pizza or bad cheeseburgers you can have an idea of a place with some better food.  My wife teases me about how much I look at menus of different places to eat in Disney Parks but then thanks me when we get there because I know where to find different kinds of food.  If you’re going to spend money, spend it on food that you actually want because there is good stuff all around Walt Disney World.

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Overwhelmed yet?  If you are, don’t be.  While this seems like an awful lot to do none of these are huge time consumers and most of it is fun if you enjoy the Disney Parks.  If you need help with any of it, please leave us a comment or send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com.  Did I miss anything in my timeline?  Let me know in the comments!  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney!

– Andrew

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