Shortly after returning from my family's annual Winter trip to Florida in early January, I started thinking about this year's vacation. Why get started so early? Because this year (actually, in early January 2018), we're taking both of our kids to Disney World. It will be my 3-year-old son's first trip and my 6-year-old daughter's third but her first lasting longer than a single day. I want it to be as magical as possible for both of them, but I know creating that magic requires work.
Many a mom has discovered that a trip to Disney takes some serious advance planning (and some insider knowledge). Of course, it's possible to plan the whole thing a month or two out, especially if you're not visiting during a high-traffic time like we'll be over the holidays, but if you really want to get the most out of your Disney experience - and, considering the price tag, who wouldn't?! - starting early is key.
Not only will following the timeline below give you your best chance at the most coveted restaurant and FastPass+ reservations, making your kids' trip extra magical, but it will also make things a whole lot less stressful for your family's travel agent (most likely you, Mom!). Here's the ideal timeline for planning your trip to Disney World.
- Nine to 12 months out: Start researching flights. Although you don't really need to book a flight until a couple of months out, now's the time to start looking at fares. Last year, we waited until October to book our flights; this year we did it in March, and we saved $150 per ticket, which adds up when you're flying with your whole family. Flights to Florida can be pricey and can vary a lot, so start doing your research now and you might score a deal.
- Six to nine months out: Book your resort. Not everyone will tell you that staying at the park is the best option (and yes, the food is pretty mediocre), but the perks for staying at a Disney resort (early and late access the park through Extra Magic hours, free transportation, more Disney-themed excitement at your hotel, great pools) are pretty enticing. Although Disney resorts do tend to be more expensive than regular hotels, they still come at a variety of price points, so check out your options and decide what will work best for your budget and family. Once you book your resort, you can also personalize your Magic Bands through the My Disney Experience website or app (a must for your trip). Your Magic Bands will be mailed to you about two weeks prior to your vacation.
- Four to six months out: Make a rough park plan. Start figuring out which days you'd like to visit each park and whether you'll take a day off to chill in-between (highly recommended if you have small kids). You'll need this plan to make the most of the next step.
- 180 days out: Make dining reservations. Mark this specific date in your calendar and book your reservations first thing that morning. If you're staying at a Disney resort, you can book all your reservations for your entire stay during that time. If you're not staying on site, you'll have to call 180 days before each day of your trip. The hottest tickets: Cinderella's Royal Table, Be Our Guest Restaurant (the only spot you'll find alcohol in the Magic Kingdom, by the way), Chef Mickey's, and Ferrytale Wishes: A Fireworks Dessert Cruise. I recommend booking dinner for every night you're there, and if you have a princess devotee, definitely include a lunch or dinner at Cinderella's castle so you won't have to track down and wait in line to meet every princess in the park. One hundred and eighty days out is also when you can book your Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique reservations, if you're traveling with a tiny princess or prince who wants to look the part.
- Two to three months out: Finalize your park day plans. This is when you want to have a pretty clear idea of how and where you'd like to spend each of your Disney days. Also start thinking about which attractions are the must sees for your family so you're ready to book those FastPass+ reservations. A couple of tips to make the most of each day: plan to arrive before the parks open, as the smaller crowds might allow you to do more in that first hour or so than the rest of the day, and consider taking an afternoon break for a couple of hours and then returning to the parks in the evening. You'll avoid the busiest time of the day and have energy to do and see more in the less-packed evening hours.
- Three months out: Make sure your park tickets are purchased. This allows you enough time to get ready to book those FastPass+ reservations!
- Two months out: Book FastPass+ reservations if you're staying at a Disney property. You'll want to use your FastPasses on attractions that have long wait times. At the Magic Kingdom, that includes Space Mountain, Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Toy Story Midway Mania, meeting Anna and Elsa, and the Festival of Fantasy parade. At Epcot, try to book Soarin' and Test Track; at Animal Kingdom, Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest; and at Hollywood Studios, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. If possible, book all your FastPasses in the morning. Once they're gone, you'll be able to score more passes at the kiosks located around the park, but if you're last early FastPass+ isn't until the evening, then you won't have an opportunity to get more. Two months out is also when you can officially check in to your Disney property and provide any special requests for your stay.
- One month out: Book FastPass+ reservations if you're not staying on site. They will open at midnight of your scheduled day, so you might want to stay up late if you're trying to score a hot ticket.
- Two weeks out: Download the My Disney Experience app. You'll want to have this app up and running in plenty of time for your trip. Not only will it track all your resort, dining, and FastPass+ reservations, but you'll also find a map of each park and constantly updated wait times for each attraction on it, a major must have for your visit.
- Two weeks out: Start packing. Don't forget all the kid essentials, including sunscreen, a stroller (even if your kids have been out of one for years), a backpack for hands-free carrying, snacks, comfortable shoes, and layers for varying temperatures (and also remember to think about your own wardrobe must haves). Then get ready for the magic!