Colorful resort sign near main lobby at Disney's Art Of Animation Resort

Disney World Vacation Planning Timeline: What To Do When

Planning a Disney World vacation can be exciting, stressful, invigorating, joyful, and maybe a tad bit overwhelming – even for some frequent visitors. It seems like there’s so much planning ahead involved that you might wonder if you’ll have any time to do something spontaneous like eat a cupcake or stop for an unexpected character meet and greet.

Fortunately, I’m here to help you! Some people thrive on structure while others just want to go with the flow. Whatever your vacationing style, you can use this timeline to plan all the necessary and the optional parts of your vacation!

Let’s get started!

Necessary: Disney Resort Hotel Reservations

When: Whenever you want to!

You can make your Disney Resort Hotel reservations anytime you want to!
You can make your Disney Resort Hotel reservations anytime you want to!

So you’ve decided to vacation in Disney World! You have a huge selection of Disney resort hotels to choose from including luxurious Disney Deluxe Resorts, really nice and more affordable Disney Moderate Resorts, and basic but fun Disney Value Resorts. Choose which one works best for you and your family, and book it whenever you feel like it! Ideally, this would happen about six months before you plan to visit, but it can happen as far in advance as two years or as close as two months and sometimes even two weeks!

To complete the booking process, you’ll have to make a deposit.

Optional: Check Park Schedules

When: Six Months before

Park schedules are normally released six months in advance to help with planning Advanced Dining Reservations especially for in-park restaurants.

At least one park per day will have Extra Magic Hours either in the morning or at night, and knowing this schedule will help you plan which parks you want to attend on which days. While this is a totally optional planning step, it will help you navigate crowds.

Another important part of the park schedule is whether or no a park has a special event going on. Disney’s Hollywood Studios hosts Star Wars events at different times throughout the year, and Magic Kingdom hosts holiday parties for Halloween and Christmas. If one of these hard-ticketed events is going on and you don’t have a ticket for it, you will have to leave the park early to make way for event guests.

Optional: Advanced Dining Reservations

When: 180 Days before

Disney Resort guests can make Advanced Dining Reservations 180 days before the first day of their Disney World vacation and can often make up to ten days of reservations at this time, which means you get 189 days to plan ahead! All other guests can make ADRs 180 days before they plan to dine.

If you'd like to eat at a table-service restaurant during your Disney World vacation, it's a good idea to book your ADRs 180 days before you arrive.
If you’d like to eat at a table-service restaurant during your Disney World vacation, it’s a good idea to book your ADRs 180 days before you arrive.

The reason I say this is option is because some people go to Disney World and never eat at a table-service restaurant. I’ve done it several times. While the table-service restaurants are almost always excellent, the quick-service restaurants offer less expensive options and save time while still having very good food. I’ve even been very spontaneous and walked up to a table-service restaurant and requested a table. I’ve almost always been able to get in without much of a wait. I do have to say, though, that this would be very difficult to do with a larger party.

Optional: Flight

When: 5 months before

Unless you’re driving to Disney World, you’ll need to book your flight about five months before your trip to get the best deal and have a selection of travel times. This is listed as optional because you could be getting to Disney World via some other form of transportation.

Necessary: FP+ Reservations

When: Disney Resort Guests – 60 Days before
When: Off-property Guests – 30 Days before

Even if you never plan to step foot inside a table-service restaurant your entire vacation, it’s highly unlikely that you don’t plan to visit any shows or attractions. While you could, theoretically, not plan any of your attraction visits, you would most definitely save some time if you do.

Disney World’s FastPass+ system is entirely digital, so no more running around to get paper FastPasses. The digital system also allows you to “get in line” up to 60 days before you actually arrive in Disney World! The service is free, and you can seriously cut down on your wait times if you take advantage of this program.

Optional: Online Check-in

When: 60 Days before

Check in online and skip the Front Desk! Start having fun right away!
Check in online and skip the Front Desk! Start having fun right away!

If you’re staying on property, Disney allows you to check-in online up to 60 days before your arrival. If you have any special requirements or requests, this is a good idea because they can begin to try to accommodate these requests. Checking in online also speeds up the process once you arrive on property, and you can sometimes even skip the front desk all together since Disney can now text or e-mail you your confirmation with your room number and directions to get there!

If you choose not to check in online, you will just have to stop by the front desk and complete your check-in there. Just know that they might not be able to accommodate some special requests without advance notice.

Optional: Customize your MagicBands

When: At least 35 Days before

If you customize your MagicBands in advance, they'll be sent to your home in time for your vacation!
If you customize your MagicBands in advance, they’ll be sent to your home in time for your vacation!

MagicBands are Disney’s key to everything. They house your resort room key, your park tickets, your Disney Dining Plan credits, your PhotoPass photos, and an array of other features!

Disney allows you to choose colors for your MagicBands so each member of the family has their own favorite color! Disney will mail your MagicBands to you about a month before your vacation! If you don’t choose a color, Disney will choose for you, and you’ll pick them up at your Disney Resort Hotel.

Optional: Disney’s Magical Express Reservations

When: At least 30 Days before

If you are flying into Orlando International Airport (MCO) and you plan to use Disney’s Magical Express to get to your Disney Resort Hotel, you’ll need to provide your flight information at least 30 days before your trip to allow time for your vouchers and luggage tags to be included in your final travel documents, which will be mailed to your home. The vouchers (which are also stored on your MagicBands) are your ticket to board the bus, and the luggage tags mark you bags for luggage delivery to your room.

In most cases, if you aren’t able to provide this information or you forget, you can still use Disney’s Magic Express. Just arrive at the terminal and tell the Cast Member which hotel you’re going to. They can usually accommodate you. However, it will be harder to use luggage delivery service, which means you’ll just have to take your luggage to your room with you. I prefer to do this anyways because I like as few people to touch my bags as possible and it can take up to three hours for your bags to be delivered via the Magical Express.

Necessary: Final Payment

When: At least 30 Days before

When you booked your vacation, you had to make a deposit. Your final payment for your vacation will be due a month before your arrival if you haven’t already paid off your trip.

Optional: Order Groceries

When: 14 Days Before

This is a totally optional step. You don’t have to order any groceries at all because Disney provides all of your dining needs right on property including the ability to purchase the ingredients to make peanut butter and jelly right from your hotel room! However, you will pay a premium for these groceries when you can order groceries from a delivery service like Garden Grocer or Amazon Prime. It’s a great idea to order some snacks, drinks, and some breakfast items. Eating breakfast in your room and packing some snacks in your day bag will save you a good bit of money in the long run. Since most of the Disney Resort Hotel rooms from Value to Deluxe have at least a mini-fridge, you’ll be able to keep milk for cereal, water, and other beverages cold. You can even use a microwave in the resort common areas to heat up prepared foods- hello, popcorn and a movie!

Necessary: Arrive in Disney World and have fun!

When: the day of your trip!

When you arrive in Disney World, whatever planning you’ve done or haven’t done will be a thing of the past. Now it’s time to have fun and enjoy your vacation! Remember to be flexible and just go with the flow. Don’t stress over crowds, wait times, or things you can’t change.

How much planning do you do for a Disney World Vacation?