So you’re thinking about a trip to Disney World … ouch, that intro is kind of a cliche, huh? But, it’s what we’re here to talk about today. When should you go? Where should you stay? How much will it cost? How do you even get started?!?!
The vacation planning timeline below should help guide you through the choices you’ll make and when you need to make them. And it has lots of links in case you want to take a deeper dive into individual questions. Keep in mind that you can do almost everything below on a shorter timeline than we’ve shown here. You just might find that some of your options are a bit more limited.
First Things First: Know Thyself
How much planning do you need to do? Some people can go to any destination and never be disappointed by their experience. Everything is an adventure. Missed out on seeing the Vatican because you didn’t buy tickets in advance? Oh well, you’ll be back (maybe), and you still had a great time in the trattorias eating delicious Italian food.
Is that you? More importantly, is it everyone you’ll be traveling with? If so, I have great news. You can have a terrific vacation at Disney World without a plan. Read this article: How to Have a Great Vacation at Disney World Without a Plan. Then come back here and skim for topics where you’d like a little more detail.
If that’s not you, then I’ll leave it to you to work out who in your group is going to do the planning and how questions about what to do are going to get answered. In my family, we try to find a balance between “too many cooks spoil the broth” and “how come you never asked me”? If you’re going with a large group, here are some things to consider: Traveling to Disney World with Friends or Extended Family: Good Idea or Bad Idea?
7+ Months Before Your Disney World Trip
You can start on most of these activities anytime – as soon as you begin thinking that you might want to visit Disney World.
Is Disney World Right for Us?
As much as I love Disney World, some people just aren’t into it. (Some of those people are my friends and family. It’s OK, I love them anyway.) If you’ve only ever been to your local amusement park, you’ll find that Disney World is pretty different. The rides and entertainment are different and there’s a lot you can do outside of the parks. If our Disney World Attractions by Type and Technology rundown leaves you cold, you may want to plan to mix in some of the activities from 101 Things to Do Near Disney World Without Going into a Park. Or you may (gasp!) decide that a Disney World vacation isn’t for you after all.
If you’re far enough out from your trip, a great way to learn about Disney World is to take a few minutes each day to read the blog. We have lots of useful articles for those who’ve never been. On Mondays, you can read Erin’s Disney in a Minute series that covers all sorts of Disney lingo and basics. On Thursdays, you can see new articles from Bob’s Attractions in Five series that give an overview of individual rides. And you may want to consider whether you should get a TouringPlans subscription: Five Reasons You Need a TouringPlans Subscription.
Establish a Budget & Trip Length
Start by taking a look at The Cost of a Disney World Vacation in 2024. That article gives base estimates for your stay including hotel, tickets, and dining. If you’re planning to stay in a Disney World hotel, it’s a good way to make a first cut at which hotel tier you’ll be shooting for. (Value, Moderate, Deluxe, Villa: What’s the Difference Between Disney World Resort Categories?).
If those numbers feel like you can just barely manage them, or they feel totally out of range, your vacation might not need to cost that much. You can save quite a bit of money by staying off-site; it’s worth looking into. Even if you need to soak up the cost of a rental car and theme park parking fees, you can realize considerable savings by
- Paying less for your room – it won’t have that Disney theming, but hotel rooms offsite can cost quite a bit less for the same amenities
- Using that car to eat at non-Disney restaurants in the surrounding area, which are often cheaper
- Getting lodging with a kitchen and cutting food costs by preparing your own
Which Disney World Hotel Should You Stay At?
If you’ve decided to stay on-site, you’ll want to give a quick skim at Four Ways to Book a Disney World Vacation. The biggest question you need to answer is whether or not you want to book a Disney World Vacation package. The package is a bundle that comes with room, tickets, and optionally a Disney Dining Plan. (Should You Buy the Disney Dining Plan?)
One of the biggest benefits is that Vacation Packages are easy to cancel. But you can often save money by assembling it yourself. For instance, our Least Expensive Ticket Calculator can help you save hundreds on tickets by getting them from authorized resellers, no matter how you book your hotel. Don’t forget to check for current discounts. Also helpful:
- Which Skyliner Resort Should You Stay At?
- Which Crescent Lake Resort Should You Pick?
- Which Monorail Resort is Right for You?
Want to be daring and stay at more than one resort? Disney World Split Stay: Add More Magic to Your Vacation can help you decide whether that’s a winning move or more hassle than it’s worth.
When Should You Go?
How you’ve decided to book might impact your decision; some choices like renting Disney Vacation Club points require a little more lead time. If you’re just looking to avoid the crowds, the TouringPlans crowd calendar can help you find the quietest times. You may also need to consider school schedules and personal events on your own calendar.
Should You Book Your Disney World Vacation Right Now?
If you’ve addressed the questions above then you might be wondering what are the advantages or disadvantages to booking right now. Here’s what to know:
What’s the risk?
There are two possible downsides to booking now. One is the risk if you need to cancel. FAQ: Canceling a Walt Disney World Vacation. The other is that you’ll need to make a deposit, and you might still need time to save.
If you’re booking at a Disney World hotel, both the risk and the deposit will be minimized. Vacation Packages are fully refundable up to 30 days in advance, and only require a $200 deposit. Room-only reservations are fully refundable up to 5 days in advance, and only require the cost of a single night’s stay as the deposit. (For trips beginning in 2025, the window to cancel a room-only reservation without penalty will be 8 days instead of 5.)
If you can book now, you should think about doing it right away, because it will lock in your rate. You may be able to rebook at a lower rate later on. But if the price of anything goes up, you’ll be protected from the increase. One thing to know: Disney releases room rates and Vacation Packages in June (or sometimes earlier) for the following calendar year. So you will not be able to book for 2025 until sometime in 2024.
If you’re booking a Disney World Vacation Package the cancellation risk will be minimized as they are fully refundable up to 30 days in advance. You should think about booking right away to lock in your rate. Disney World Vacation Packages are released in June for the next year. Depending on when your trip is, you might not even be able to book it yet! But, if you can, you should.
If you’re not staying at a Disney World hotel, or you’re booking one through a third party such as Orbitz or Expedia, deposits and refund policies may be different. You’ll need to evaluate based on your specific circumstances.
Ticket prices usually go up sometime in February. Aim to buy before any increases. Again, understand what’s refundable and what isn’t, and balance that against locking in your price.
Disney Vacation Club Rentals
If you’ve decided to rent Disney Vacation Club points, you may need a longer lead time to get a bespoke reservation in place or find the perfect confirmed deal for you. (Don’t Be Intimidated! How to Rent DVC Points)
Other Things to Consider
This is the time to think about whether you’ll want to buy travel insurance. And if you’re traveling from outside the United States, you should make sure to check your passports and apply for any visas you might need. Last but not least, you’ll want to set up your My Disney Experience account. (Disney in a Minute: What is My Disney Experience?) If you’re traveling with older kids — your partner does not count, I mean kids in the 13-18 age range — you’ll want to consider Should Your Kids Have Their Own My Disney Experience Accounts?
4 to 6 Months Before Your Trip
If you didn’t already, it’s time to book. Make your hotel reservations. Buy your tickets. Set up your rental car if you’re using one. And make plans for how you’re getting to Disney World too. If you’re traveling within the US, the best time to book a flight is often from 1-3 months in advance (internationally it’s 2-8 months). But a number of factors can affect whether or not that “average” recommendation applies to you. Even if you want to wait on booking, now is the time to start tracking fares.
If you’re going with a large group, or staying for long enough that you’ll have time for some extras, now could be the time to begin discussing what you want to do while you’re there. If you aren’t already, it’s a good time to start checking on the blog weekly or so. The Travel Beat Series on Saturdays covers minor news and all the week’s major headlines and will keep you up to date on points of interest for your upcoming visit.
2 to 3 Months Before Your Trip
Yes, get it booked.
If you still don’t have a hotel reservation or tickets, now is probably the time to get that locked in. Also rental car arrangements, flights, etc. Other things to reserve by the 2-month mark: strollers, as well as wheelchairs or ECVs. Not sure if you want to rent a car? Renting a Car for Your Walt Disney World Vacation: How Do I Decide?
Beginning 60 days before arrival, you’ll be able to check in online if you’re staying at a Disney World resort.
Get familiar with the tech
You could wait, but from this point on you’ll be using the My Disney Experience app more and more frequently. It’s not a bad time to get familiar with it. How To Use the My Disney Experience App Like a Pro (Even if You’re a Beginner). If you’re a TouringPlans subscriber, you’ll also want to download and browse around the Lines app so you know what’s there. Five Things You Can Do in LINES But Not The Disney World App.
Prepare to make dining and other reservations
If you’re planning to do any Table Service Dining or Extras such as Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, tours, and the like, you’ll want to finalize your plans for that before your booking window opens. If you’re staying onsite you can begin booking dining and extras at 70 days from your arrival date. (Disney in a Minute: What is the 60+10 Rule?) If you’re staying offsite, you can begin booking 60 days out.
You can book dining online (Step by Step: How to Make a Walt Disney World Dining Reservation Online) or in the app (Step-by-Step: How to Make a Disney World Dining Reservation On Your Phone). Dining reservations typically open online between 5:45 and 6:00 am on the morning that you’re eligible, and at 7 am if you’re calling at (407) 939-3463. Unless you’re looking for a hard-to-get reservation, any time that morning will usually net you everything you’re looking for.
Learn about Disney World queues
You might be thinking: “What’s to learn about standing in line?” Well, you’ll want to know about Disney World’s upcharge options for skipping the lines. Step-By-Step Guide: How to Use Genie+ and Lightning Lane at Disney World. Some newer attractions use a Virtual Queue: Answering All Your Questions About Virtual Queues. If you have kids, you’ll want to know about Rider Switch, which lets parents trade off efficiently when their kids aren’t old enough for a particular ride. Rider Switch at Disney World: Guide and FAQ. And if anybody in your party has issues waiting in a traditional line, you’ll want to learn about whether Disney’s Disability Access System is an answer for you. What You Need to Know about Disability Access Service (DAS) at Disney World.
Begin planning your park time
Now is a good time to make preliminary Touring Plans for attractions you’d like to see. If you’re planning to buy Genie+, review the Genie+ priorities for each park. You might also want to know about Making the Most of Disney World Rope Drop; arriving early to the parks is a great way to beat the lines.
If you’re a subscriber, you can start with one of our Premium plans. Follow it as written, or customize it to suit you. Step-By-Step Guide: Make and Use a Touring Plan in the Lines App (Including Lightning Lane). Thinking about splitting up from your kids for a bit? Walt Disney World Alone: Is Your Child Ready?.
If your admission media requires it, you’ll want to make Park Pass reservations now. Step-by-Step: How to Make a Disney World Park Reservation.
Start a walking regimen
Most guests to Disney World clock in upwards of 5 miles a day, and as high as 12. Since you’ll be getting your 10,000 steps and then some, get in shape for it in advance.
45 Days Before Your Trip
It’s transportation time! If you’re driving to Orlando, have your car inspected and tuned up. If you’re flying, make sure you know how you’re getting from the airport to Disney World, and make any necessary arrangements. How to Get from the Airport to Walt Disney World.
If you’re a TouringPlans subscriber, get your automatic room request ready. We’ll send it at the 30-day mark. How to Send A Hotel Room Request to Disney – Automatically!
Now is also the time to order your pre-arrival MagicBands if you choose. They’re no longer free with your stay, you can get a preorder discount with your Disney World hotel stay. You can order them up to 11 days in advance for shipping to your home, but do you really want to be biting your nails and wondering if they’ll arrive on time? If you’re not using MagicBands (or even if you are), get MagicMobile set up on your phone. Everything You Need to Know About Disney’s MagicMobile.
30 Days Before Your Trip
It’s almost here! But if something has gone awry, and you need to cancel a Disney World Vacation Package, make sure you do it now. You can only get a full refund if you cancel more than 30 days in advance.
If you’ll be using DAS, set up your DAS Advance reservations. What You Need to Know about DAS Advance.
14 Days Before Your Trip
If you’re planning to do grocery delivery, place your order now. Many services accept orders up to 2-3 days in advance. But you may have a wider choice of delivery windows if you do it now, and it will be one less thing to do later. Not sure about how this works or what the options are? Grocery Delivery to Your Walt Disney World Resort.
Finalize any plans for hotel, travel, admission, reservations, etc. that you haven’t already locked in place.
Order Memory Maker if you’re planning on it for your trip. Again, you can do this up to 3 days in advance and still get the discount price, but why make yourself crazy in the last few days? FAQ Walt Disney World PhotoPass and Memory Maker.
Review recommendations for what to pack. We have articles on packing no matter what your travel style, and there’s still plenty of time to pick up anything you need to buy.
7 Days Before Your Trip
Your Disney World vacation is only a week away!
- Check the weather forecast and finalize your packing list.
- Review your Touring Plans and make sure they still match what you want to do. Reoptimize to account for any changes in park hours etc. since you made them.
- Fill in any last-minute dining reservations you were on the fence about. You can always cancel later (up to 2 hours in advance).
- Make sure travel arrangements to the airport are in place, if you’re flying to Orlando.
24-48 Hours Before Your Trip
The homestretch! You’re almost there!
- Check into your flights online and confirm your departure time and gate.
- Consider printing travel or reservation info that you’ll need in transit. At the very least, take a screenshot – there’s no guarantee you’ll have WiFi or cell service if you’re trying to retrieve details from your email to clear up a problem.
- Finish packing.
Take a deep breath. You’re ready. Have a great vacation!
What are your favorite planning tips? Did we leave anything out? Let us know in the comments!