Four months before her trip, Lucia Hurley started planning her family's first overnight to Walt Disney World. "It wasn't soon enough," says the Marathon, Florida, mom. "We were a group of 12, including relatives, and we couldn't get reservations at several restaurants despite the fact that my mom kept checking back. I was even more bummed that there were no appointments left at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique to get my 4-year-old a princess hairstyle."
Lesson learned: Jump on Disney plans early. "If you delay booking your room, meals, and rides, your family will probably miss some things they wanted to do," says Len Testa, author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Besides, Disney rarely offers last-minute discounts, so usually there's no financial upside to waiting if you'll stay on property, adds Don Munsil, president of Mousesavers.com and dad of two. So how far in advance do you need to get the ball rolling? Follow our custom timeline to optimize and organize your trip. Game on!
Kick Off the Planning
With the staggering number of places to stay (26 Disney-owned resorts and Disney Vacation Club options, ten more resorts on Disney property, and hundreds of others in and around Orlando), more than 135 Disney restaurants, and 150-plus rides and experiences, you're going to need a couple of months just to wrap your mind around this trip. Make these tasks your priority:
Make Some of Your Key Decisions
In a couple of weeks you'll be able to book dining. If a reservation at the hot Be Our Guest Restaurant or a coveted table with a view at 'Ohana during the fireworks is on your must-do list, start with the first tip below; otherwise jump ahead to the second one.
My Disney Experience shows which parks are open early or staying open later for resort guests when you're visiting. (All Disney-owned properties plus Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin and the Hilton in Downtown Disney are eligible.) Use this to your advantage. "Our kids, ages 7 and 9, are big Star Wars fans, so they wanted to do the Jedi training in Disney's Hollywood Studios, but sign-ups are first come, first served. Our strategy was to do it on the day when the park had morning Extra Magic Hours," says Heidi McIndoo, from Framingham, Massachusetts. "We walked directly to the attraction and even though some time slots were already taken, we were able to grab one of the few remaining."
Book Your Tables
You can get a sense of what's going to be the most difficult by using My Disney Experience and searching for reservations on dates that are just slightly earlier than yours. Some other things to consider:
Settle On Your Hotel
Even if you already booked a place in order to get a jump on dining plans, it's time to firmly commit.
Time To Schedule Your Favorite Rides
If you're staying at a Disney resort and have bought your tickets, you can book three Disney experiences 60 days in advance so you don't have to wait in the full line. Otherwise, you can book them 30 days ahead of time.
Tie Up Loose Ends
Your trip is just around the corner. Just a few more things to do!