PlanningThe ParksTips

How and When To Plan Your Disney Trip

A big question we get a lot is when should I start planning my Walt Disney World vacation?   For us we are always planning a vacation to Walt Disney World even if it is just in our imagination.  

For those that only go once to Walt Disney World, when should you be planning?  How early can you book a resort?  When is dining?  We have those answers and more below!

Credit: Disney

A Year Before

Planning a Walt Disney World vacation can start a year before you want to head down to the magic.

A about a year before you want to visit Walt Disney World these are the steps you should start to process through.

  1.  What is the dream?

When thinking of your Walt Disney World vacation, what is the big dream?  What is the goal of the trip?  Is it a family reunion?  A birthday celebration?  A family vacation to relax?  

Thinking about what you want out of the vacation will help you move forward as you start making decisions about your vacation.

2. What is your budget?

A big decision that needs to be made early on is setting a budget.  It is no secret that Walt Disney World is expensive.  Make sure you know what you can afford so you aren’t stressed out about what you are spending the whole time you are on vacation.

Think about what is important to you (see point one) and focus your money on the area.  If swimming is what your kids want to do, stay at a Disney Resort hotel with a great pool.  Wanting to hit the Parks everyday, invest in those Park tickets.

Knowing your goals for the trip will help you set that budget.

3. When to go?

The next big step is determining when to go.  We realize a lot of families have to plan around school calendars, but think about when you would prefer to head down.

Spring break offers great weather as the temperature starts to rise and the flowers start to bloom, but the crowds show up as well.

Summer months are hot and humid but we have seen lower crowds than spring break.

The fall starts to get cooler later on, but you also run into hurricane season followed by the holiday season of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Three day weekends such as Memorial Day and Labor Day also see larger crowds as families try to escape for a quick vacation.

4. Look at Disney’s Calendar

Once you narrow down when you might want to visit Walt Disney World, take time to check into Disney’s calendar of events.

See if EPCOT is holding any special festivals (highly likely) when you are there or if there are any after hour parties that you might want to attend or might impact Park hours.

You also might want to see if runDisney events are happening or Dapper Days events that many of us might not be aware of but do add to the Disney crowds.


5. Book that hotel

Finally, around 10-12 months before you want to head down to Walt Disney World you will want to book that Walt Disney World Resort.  

The sooner you book the better inventory you have to choose from giving you a better chance of snagging that Walt Disney World Resort of your choice.

The great thing about Walt Disney World is that packages are able to be modified without any penalties up to 30 days prior to check in.  This gives Guests the flexibility to adjust if needed and to add discounts if they become available.

Our biggest tip is to book those Walt Disney World resorts early!

6-9 Months Before Travel

The first thing you want to make sure you have completed as you hit this time stretch before your Walt Disney World vacation is having your hotel booked.  At this point specific rooms and Resorts might start to fill up so you will want to make sure you have your deposit down.

My Disney Experience App

  1.  My Disney Experience

After making your reservations, the next step that you need to make sure you do is set up your My Disney Experience account.  This is your key to the magic and the official Disney app.

Guests need to create an account and then make sure that they

  • Link family and friends
  • Link reservations
  • Make Park Pass Reservations

These are essential to making sure that My Disney Experience is set up and ready to go for a great experience in Walt Disney World.

This app does so much while in Walt Disney World from showing wait times to finding bathrooms.  The more time you spend ahead of a vacation looking over the app the easier it will be when you arrive.

credit: Disney

2. Genie, Genie+ and Lightning Lanes

Use these months to start getting familiar with all things Disney Genie.  This new feature in My Disney Experience (more on this later) is designed to help make a Disney vacation easier for Guests.

We have a lot of information on these features HERE  as well as suggestions on which Genie+ selections to make HERE.  

These features can be extremely helpful, but you are going to want to do your research ahead of time so you are prepared on how to use them and if they will work for your family or not.

3.  Research

Use these months to start to learn about Walt Disney World.  It might seem like a whole new world that you are diving into.  We have some phrases you should get familiar with HERE as well as some tips from pros here.

The more you learn about Walt Disney World the more comfortable you will feel when you arrive.  Take time to watch videos, listen to podcasts and read blogs so you know what to expect when you arrive.

3 to 5 Months Before Travel

During this stretch of time, you will want to continue gathering information about what to do and not do on your vacation.

  1.  Dining Plans

Take some time to look into different dining options.  Think about if you prefer to do quick service meals or table service meals.  

All menus can be found online making it easy to see if you will find something to eat before you head to Walt Disney World.

2.  Phone Prep

Use these months to get your phone ready for Walt Disney World as well.  Yes your phone will be a big part of your vacation so you will want to check out our post HERE about what to make sure you have on your phone.

You will also want to make sure that you have portable chargers as well as cords for those chargers.  Phones drain quickly in Walt Disney World with the use of My Disney Experience so be ready for that with a back up charger.

3. Must Dos

This is the fun part of planning as you start to look at what rides and experiences you want to do when in the four Theme Parks.  

We have some posts about our favorites in Walt Disney World as well as the top two rides in each Park in our opinion  HERE.  Use these and similar posts to start preparing for your touring plans.  

We realize that not everyone wants to create a detailed plan, but being aware of what experiences can be found in each of the four theme parks can really make a big difference when you arrive.

2 Months Before Travel

As your vacation gets closer the details need to be more locked in.

  1.  Dining Reservations

If you are planning to do table service meals you will want to make sure you are making dining reservations 60 days prior to check-in.  Many popular dining locations (see those here) book up quickly so you will want to be on top of it.

2. Lock in those plans

This is also the month where if you are wanting to do any special experiences such as tours, firework packages or similar experiences you will want to get those booked.

Slowly Disney is bringing back tours (see those that are currently available HERE) as well as special dining options such as firework packages.

These are great ways to add a little extra magic to special vacations to Walt Disney World.  They do sell out quickly so make sure that you are ready to book at the 60 day mark.

3. Make a touring plan

Use this month to start to lock in a touring plan. You know what Disney Parks you are going to be on each day of your trip, but now start to determine which rides you are going to head to first and if you are going to use Genie+ which rides will be your first choice.

This doesn’t have to be a minute by minute plan, but knowing ahead of time where you want to head when you arrive at the Park each day will help the day start smoother for everyone.

4. Transportation

If you aren’t planning on driving and having your own car, use this month to plan how you are going to get to and from the airport.  

There are a lot of options such as Mears Connect, Sunshine Flyer and private transportation.  Determine what will work the best for your family and get that set up during this month.

Credit: Disney

One Month Before Travel

Only 30 days prior to the trip!  Things are getting real now!

  1.  Packing

Start getting those suitcases out and get your packing started.  We have tips from pros on what to pack as well as suggestions for you Disney Park Bag as well.

We also have items that most Guests forget HERE to take a look so you aren’t one of those that forget.

2. Tips and Tricks

Spend the last month before your trip gathering some extra tips and tricks.  We have so many to choose from, but some are how to deal with weather such as rain and the heat.

The more information you gather prior to your trip, the more prepared you will be.

3.  Get Ready

Finally, get ready to go to the magic.  You have done everything you can to prepare and now it is time to sit back and enjoy!

Know that not everything will work out perfectly but you have done your research and are ready!

We hope that this timeline of planning a Walt Disney World vacation will be helpful to you as you begin thinking about heading to Walt Disney World!

Continue coming back for more tips and tricks on how to do Disney!


Jennifer Retzlaff

Jennifer became a lifelong Disney fan during her first trip to Walt Disney World in 6th grade. From that moment, Disney became a big part of her life. She quickly started to introduce her love of Disney to her family with a Disney honeymoon and then family trips when her youngest was 18 months old. She loves the magic that Disney brings to people through theme parks, cruises, and adventures. As a teacher, she tries to bring Disney magic into her classroom to help kids believe that “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It.” She is also part of the Magic Vacation Planner team as a personal travel advisor. With this team, she can now help others plan magical vacations. She loves bringing her love to Disney to readers with How to Disney.

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