When people travel to Disney World, they often plan months – if not years – in advance. These people are usually part of the “trip of a lifetime” group, but there are others who visit Disney World frequently. Those people are familiar with the layout of Disney World and everything that has to be done to make a vacation happen, and they can plan a trip very quickly.
Still, official planning according to Disney standards starts 180 days before your vacation when you can book Advanced Dining Reservations at Disney’s table-service restaurants.
The next important number is 60, as in the number of days before your vacation when you can make your FastPass Reservations.
How Much Advanced Planning Is Necessary?
Does this mean that even Disney veterans have to plan their Disney vacations at least six months in advance?
Some people have booked and planned an entire Disney World Vacation in just a few months, and it can even be done in just a few weeks if you know what you’re doing and are flexible.
So if you’ve gotten a few days off work and you want to plan a last minute vacation to Disney World, this article is for you. If advanced planning is a requirement for you and you get stressed out when options are limited, you can stop reading here.
If you’re still with me, let’s take a look at how to plan a vacation to Disney World at the last minute.
Whether your last minute vacation is prompted by a discount offer from Disney World (like a discounted room or free dining), or you’ve simply got a Disney itch you need to scratch, you can usually find accommodations at one of the Disney resort hotels. Disney has a huge inventory of rooms, so it’s unlikely that everything will be sold out (unless you are booking in the busiest times of the year).
When choosing a hotel for a last minute vacation, be flexible. Usually the Value Resorts, which also have the highest capacity, will have vacancies. If they don’t, be prepared to choose another option, which might not be possible if your last minute vacation is also on a budget. In this case, your planning might end here.
If you don’t mind staying off property, consider checking out the hotels just outside of Disney World. Many offer shuttles to Disney World theme parks, but then you are at the mercy of their transportation schedule.
Disney Resort guests can book FastPass+ reservations 60 days before the first day of their vacation. Non-resort guests can book up to 30 days in advance. Therefore, if you allow yourself a month or so, you can still get FastPass+ reservations.
That being said, while FP+ is a nice option, it certainly isn’t required. As long as you understand that you’ll probably have to wait in some standby lines and you know a few tricks for finding the shortest lines, you’ll still be able to get on even the busiest rides.
Dining is probably the hardest thing to plan at the last minute.
Since Disney Resort Guests can start booking Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) 180 days in advance, the most popular restaurants like Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table will probably be booked.
However, people often overbook reservations to make sure they have options then cancel these reservations as they get closer to the date once they’ve decided on a final itinerary. This means that you should check for ADRs at least daily to see if there have been any cancellations. You can also call the restaurant or walk up to the podium on the day of and ask if they can accommodate your party. The worst they can say is “no”.
If you’re traveling during one of the busiest seasons, usually coinciding with traditional school breaks, you’re less likely to get a reservation. Heavy bookings also coincide with Disney’s offer of Free Dining.
Regardless of timing, you’ll increase your chances of getting an ADR if you have fewer people in your party. If you’re booking a last minute vacation and free dining is an offer, check for other offers since many of the table-service restaurants will be booked solid. If free dining is not an option for your last minute booking, skip the DDP anyways since many of the best table service restaurants will be full.
If you simply can’t get ADRs during your vacation, there are options. Believe me – you won’t go hungry. You can opt for the counter-service restaurants instead. They offer a ton of variety even for the pickiest or most limited eater, and they’re also much less expensive.
A flight can also be tricky at the last minute. If money is no object or you have airline miles, you won’t have any issues; the rest of us will have to rely on a little luck.
Most experts say the best time to book a flight is a few months out from your trip, but almost any quickly approaching flight will be expensive unless we’re really talking about the last minute – as in tomorrow – since airlines will do anything they can to make sure that their flights are full. However, you’ll be very lucky to get your entire traveling party on the same flight.
If you have a little bit of time, track flights and watch for dips. It’s a gamble whether that’s the cheapest the airfare will go, but you just have to trust your gut.
You also might want to be flexible with your travel dates since some airlines only fly on certain days. Say, for example, that you want to fly out on a Thursday, but your airport only provides flights to Orlando on Wednesday and Friday, you’ll have to change your days or you can choose another airport either one close to your “home” airport or one close to Orlando International, like the Sanford Airport which is located north of Orlando.
Keep in mind that any area airport other than Orlando International will not participate in Disney’s Magical Express transportation to and from your Walt Disney World Resort.
Booking a flight at the last minute can be stressful though. Will you ever find a flight at a price you can afford? Will you have to cancel your resort reservation? And since you can’t book your Magical Express until you have a flight number, that’s more stress. More than that, you can’t plan your arrival day or departure day until you know flight times, which can be really inconvenient if your vacation is just a few days.
If you can’t find a flight that works for you either because of time or price, consider driving if Disney World isn’t too far away.
Getting tickets for Disney World is never an issue. Disney will always be happy to sell you tickets, and there aren’t many solid options for discounts regardless of how far in advance or last-minute you make your purchase.
You can be assured access into the parks, unless you’ve snagged a trip during the very busiest times (Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years Eve). The parks occasionally reach capacity and turn guests away, but that is rare and usually limited to the Magic Kingdom, and possibly Epcot.
If you visit Disney World frequently and/or you like to plan last minute Disney vacations, consider purchasing an annual pass, which will save you time on buying tickets and money at restaurants.
So is booking a last minute Disney vacation right for you?
Avoid last-minute Disney vacations if:
You are highly particular when it comes to dining.
You have to, or like to, plan everything in advance.
You are traveling with young kids who are inflexible about certain things like dining, and attractions.
You want to take maximum advantage of FastPass+ reservations.
Go for a last-minute Disney vacation if:
You don’t mind winging most of your vacation, including dining and attractions.
You have a small traveling party – just couple adults who can just go with the flow.
You can go with the flow, and just want to enjoy the ambiance of Disney.
Have you ever planned a last minute Disney vacation? How did it go?