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Your Disney Trip Planning Timeline

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TouringPlans logoIf you’re planning a trip to Disney World and reading this blog, you’ll have already seen multiple references to certain milestone dates for your vacation: You can make most restaurant reservations 180 days in advance of your arrival, for example. And that got us talking about what a comprehensive Disney trip planning timeline would look like.

Sure, we’ve tackled trip planning subjects before, including Erin Foster’s  and Evan Levy’s excellent Trip Planning 101 series. But we’ve never tried to fit an entire timeline into one page…until now.

Let us know in the comments if we’ve missed anything.

9 to 12 months before your trip starts You probably already have a general idea of when you want to visit Disney World. What the trip will cost you, however, may be a surprise. Take a couple of evenings to plan out a budget, an approximate time of year, and narrow down your hotel choices.

 7 to 9 months before your trip starts Learn all about Disney World restaurants in this part of your trip planning. When Disney’s dining system opens to you (at your 180-day mark), you’ll be ready to make reservations.

  • Research sit-down restaurants to see which might interest you. We have a complete set of reviews, menus, and prices for every Disney World restaurant, all searchable.
  • If you’re planning to stay at a Disney hotel, also review the Disney Dining Plan to see if it’ll save you money on the restaurants you’ve identified. With these two steps you’re ready to make dining reservations at the 180-day mark.
  • Check the best days to visit each park using our Disney World crowd calendar and pick which parks you’ll visit on each day of your trip.
  • Disney Vacation Club members can make reservations outside their home resorts starting 7 months before their trip.
180 days  You can make advance dining, recreation and other reservations up to 180 days before your trip begins.

  • Make sit-down dining reservations beginning at 6 a.m. Eastern online or 7 a.m.  by phone: (407) WDW-DINE.
  • Check back on the economics of the Disney Dining Plan after you’ve made dining reservations to verify it’s still saving you money. If not, drop it from your package.
  • Make reservations for:
 4 to 6 months Now you’ll become familiar with the rides, shows, and attractions at Disney World’s four theme parks, and start planning what you’ll see each day. Doing this now will help identify any potential bottlenecks, which you can address using Disney’s FastPass+ ride reservation system (and our touring plans!). You’ll be able to make FastPass+ reservations in a few weeks.

  • Review the attractions and shows available in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
  • Make a list of must see attractions in each park. If your children are unsure about experiencing a particular attraction, try previewing it for them via YouTube videos.
  • Begin a preliminary touring plan for each park once you’ve got a list of attractions, using the dates you chose previously to visit each park.By starting your touring plan now, you’ll be able to see which attractions would benefit from FastPass+ reservations, which you can make 60 or 30 days before your trip.You’ll also see whether you’ll need the “park hopper” option on your theme park tickets, which you’ll purchase later.
120 days
60 days Theme for this week is “The 3 F’s”: FastPass, fitness, and refunds. (Put an emphasis on the ‘f’ in refunds if you need to.)

  • Disney resort guests can make FastPass+ reservations beginning at midnight Eastern. Once you know your FastPass+ reservations, update your touring plans and we’ll make sure you get to those attractions on time.
  • Start a walking regimen so that you’re ready for the 7-to-10 miles per day you may be walking in Walt Disney World.
  • You have 2 weeks to cancel most Disney vacation packages without penalty; room-only reservations can be cancelled without penalty until 5 days before arrival (6 if booked online).
  • You can start your online check-in at Disney resorts 60 days before your arrival.
45 days
  • Final payment is due for Disney vacation packages. Final payment for room-only reservations is due at check-in.
  • Customize and order your Magic Bands (if you’re staying on-site).
  • Make Magical Express reservations (if you’re flying) or other transportation arrangements.
  • If you want to switch resorts or make dining reservations, check for any availability from people who cancelled their vacations at the 45 day mark.
30 days
  • Off-site guests can make Fastpass+ reservations beginning at midnight Eastern.
  • Confirm park hours with our crowd calendar and finish preliminary touring plans.
  • Download Lines to your Apple or Android phone, so you can follow your touring plan and get updates while you’re in the parks.
14 days
  • Order your groceries to be delivered to your resort. We recommend GardenGrocer.
  • If you’re flying to the U.S. from another country, complete the APIS (Advance Passenger Information and Secure Flight) process at least 72 hours prior to your flight. You should be able to do this through your airline’s website, or make sure your travel agent has your information. You’ll need the address where you will be staying in the US, so be certain to have your hotel’s address handy when completing this form.
6 days
  • Last chance to cancel Disney room-only reservations booked online without a penalty. Call (407) WDI-SNEY to do so.
5 days
4 days
  • Purchase Disney’s Memory Maker photo package at least 3 days in advance to ensure all photos are linked as soon as you arrive. You’ll also get a $30 discount by purchasing in advance.
1 day before leaving
  • Check in to your airline online
  • Finish Disney resort online check-in, if you’ve not already done so.
  • Cancel any unneeded dining or babysitting reservations
  • Do one last check of park hours and weather


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Len Testa

Len Testa is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and has contributed to the Disneyland and Las Vegas Unofficial Guides. Most of his time is spent trying to keep up with the team. Len's email address is You can also follow him on Twitter: @lentesta.

26 thoughts on “Your Disney Trip Planning Timeline

  • A few things on Disney room reservations:
    – You can book rooms up to 500 days (~17 months) in advance. If you want something specific (e.g. king bed or garden view) at a certain resort, options may be limited by the time seasonal promotions roll out.
    – You generally can’t get vacation packages at 500 days, and room-only reservations require a one-night non-refundable deposit. However, you can upgrade to a vacation package later and have your initial deposit applied to the vacation package, which is likely to require an even larger deposit. But since vacation packages are refundable up to 45 days, you can get the whole thing refunded, including your initial “non-refundable” portion from the room-only reservation.
    – If Disney rolls out a promotion for a period during which you already have a reservation at a non-discounted rate, they’ll adjust your rate if you call and ask.

    Disclaimer: you should always double check refund policies before booking anything, and not yell at me later for ruining your Disney World vacation. I have, however, seen all of this work out cleanly in the past.

  • Hello and forgive my ignorance – when you note to make a “Preliminary Resort Reservation” in the 9-12 Month window, are you meaning to book your planned stay directly through Disney, and make changes later? In doing this, would I be able to guarantee a room at a particular resort even if I was planning on booking a discounted rate through Orbitz closer to my travel dates?

  • For people renting cars. They should book early and check often for better rates. At 14 days, try Priceline.

  • Great post! I’m asked by friends all the time about the process of planning a Disney trip, and I think I’m just going to start sending them a link to this post as a starting point. Very helpful!

  • Great advice as always Len. For us globe trotters, we have to ensure our ESTA (old visa) is submitted and approved at 72 hours before travelling. In fact you cannot check in for your flight without it. They last two years once done, so do them in plenty of time.

  • So, rehashing WDW Today topics is going to become a thing, eh?

    • I developed it for the book, then talked about it on the show, and now ran it as a blog post. Later I’ll make it into a scarf for Etsy.

  • I’d put research/ buy flights in the 4-6 month time frame. I don’t remember seeing that anywhere but is a major piece of the puzzle for a lot of people.

  • Excellent, thoroughly-documented, accessible and family-friendly information. Thank you.

  • 1. When flying from the West Coast, our flights often get in late. We find it useful to book a night near the airport (usually Sheraton Suites). They have a free shuttle that picks us up in the PM. I will take it back in the AM to get a rental car or take us all back to the airport for Magical Express (the service does not require a flight, just a reservation at a Disney resort with airport pickup.)We generally make this reservation when we make our room reservation.

    2. How long ahead of time should we ship cases of bottled water like Mike Newell does?

    • I think water should be shipped so it arrives no more than a day before. That assumes Disney’s willing to hold the package for you. I’ve heard stories of large Amazon deliveries being declined because Bell Services had nowhere to put them.

      • The water comment was actually meant to be ironic. Shipping water for personal use seems an environmental disaster. On the other hand, maybe a pipeline…….

    • Good tip! I started looking at red-eyes from Phoenix, but I don’t know if the kids (or my husband) would sleep on the plane. This makes a lot more sense!

      • Those are difficult flights, especially if the plane is full.

      • Southwest has a non-stop direct that leaves PHX daily mid-late morning arriving late afternoon at MCO. I’ve always found that to be the most convenient flight from Phoenix for an Orlando trip.

      • … the advantages being:
        – Arriving in the late afternoon allows you to still enjoy an evening either at your resort, at Downtown Disney, or (depending on schedules) at a park (though personally, I’m not one to waste a full ticket-day on just a few hours at a park). I like planning for a few leisurely hours at a resort upon arrival, with a relaxing dinner, a few drinks, and whatever amenities are available, getting to bed early to be ready for an early morning and a full day of parks on our first full day.
        – Taking a red-eye to have a full vacation day upon arrival sounds like a great idea, but you WILL be exhausted for it, even if you sleep on the plane. There just isn’t enough travel time across the country to get a full night’s sleep, so you either have a short night on a direct flight (losing 2-3 hours in time difference), or a broken-up one on connecting flights.
        – Direct, non-stop flights will always cut out at least 2-3 hours of travel time.

  • Good timeline! I’ll admit, we’re thinking of going in June 2016, and I’m already thinking about planning…

    It just boggles me when people say ‘oh, I was thinking of going to Disneyworld next month’ and they’ve done no planning at all. Then these same people come back and complain how everything was too crowded and they couldn’t get into anything they wanted. I hope they read this article!

  • Garden Grocer is now offering discounts if you order early. 15 days= 5%, 30 days= 7%, 60 days= 10%

  • At the 9-12 month stage, for those of us who are international guests, this is a good time to double-check that all of your passports are up to date and will not need to be renewed before your trip.

      • Adding to Tim’s comment there are quite a few things to arrange for international travel
        – A passport needs at least 6 months validity beyond your arrive home date to be accepted for travel.
        – Check for the applicable US visa requirements for your country.
        This is an online process for an Australian passport holder and there was a link to the ESTA website directly from within the Qantas bookings section. A US electronic visa is valid for 2 years from the issue date.
        – Check if you need a new visa if you have a new passport (I don’t recall if this is the case with electronic visas or if you only need to also carry your old one with you). The rules are likely to be different for different countries.
        – The APIS (Advance Passenger Information and Secure Flight) details must be completed within your airline booking. This should be possible within the airline booking website. If not, make sure the travel agent has all of the information. This information must be submitted by the airlines at least 72 hours before travelling. It includes the address where you will be staying in the USA – so be certain to have your hotel’s address handy when completing this form.

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