Tips for planning the perfect Disney World itinerary


Planning a Disney World vacation may seem like a daunting task, but for the Type A planner, it’s a dream come true.

Maybe you’re the go-to planner in the Disney World family, with a carefully crafted master plan for every visit. Or maybe it’s your first time planning a trip to the parks and you’re ready to seize the opportunity. Either way, you’ll want to be sure to check the boxes in this Type A step-by-step guide to Disney World, especially considering how much has changed in the parks since 2020.

How far in advance can you book a Disney World vacation?

While some of us wish we could book the next ten years of Disney World vacations, we are limited to specific booking windows for our hotels, park tickets and flights. Disney usually releases dates for the following year in early summer. So if you want to travel in December next year, you may be able to book those dates up to around 18 months.

With that in mind, the first decision you will need to make in your Disney World master plan is when you want to visit. Consider factors like weather (Florida has very hot summers but can be quite comfortable in the winter months), crowds (popular school vacation seasons like summer and holidays are busy), and your family calendar. If you are able to travel during low season (although there are no guarantees, Disney low season generally includes the months of January, February, May and September through early November), not only will you You can potentially avoid large crowds, but you may be able to save on your flights and hotel.

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The last thing you’ll need to decide early on is whether you’ll fly or drive to Disney World. This decision doesn’t need to be made immediately, but it should be a factor when considering your travel dates. For example, driving can increase the number of days you will need to be away from work. Additionally, the cost and time advantages of driving and flying can impact your vacation budget and itinerary.

Book your hotel room

You’ve chosen the dates you want to visit Disney World, now what? Perhaps the most important (and most exciting) part of the process is booking the trip itself! This comes in the form of booking your hotel room as well as purchasing your theme park entry.

Indicate which parks you plan to visit, which days if you want to add the Park Hopper option to your park tickets, which rides you might want to prioritize, and where you think you might want to dine.

If you want to do it all and essentially live in the Disney World “bubble,” you’ll want to book a Disney-owned resort hotel located on Disney World property. Disney has dozens of hotels at different price points (categorized as “Value”, “Moderate” and “Deluxe”), each offering different perks and benefits as well as varying proximity to the park.

As a quick example, if it’s important for your family to be as close to Magic Kingdom as possible, you might want to consider the stations along the monorail loop: Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Polynesian Resort. But, these three hotels are on the higher end of the price range and further away from the other three theme parks. So, there are pros and cons to consider with each hotel!

While staying at a Disney World property isn’t as important, there are plenty of off-property accommodations to consider. As a major tourist destination, Orlando is full of resort hotel and vacation home rental options.

Make your park pass reservations and create your daily itinerary

Prior to 2020, a purchased theme park ticket was all one needed to enter all four Disney World theme parks. These days, however, you must also book a Park Pass reservation (at no additional cost) for each day you wish to visit the parks.

Related: These 6 hacks will give your kids the Disney trip of their dreams

For example, if you purchased a 4-day park ticket, you must make four separate reservations for each day. Are you park hopping between parks each day? All you need to do is make a reservation for the first park you plan to visit that day. Subsequent theme parks after your first scan do not require their own reservation.

This phase of your planning is where you’ll want to create a daily park itinerary (this is where your fun color-coded spreadsheets come in handy). Indicate which parks you intend to visit and which days if you wish to add the Park Hopper option to your park tickets, which rides you might want to prioritizeand where you think you want to dine.

60 days before arrival: make restaurant reservations

Speaking of catering, booking your restaurant reservations is a major step in the planning process. Not only is the logistics important to understand, but you just have to decide where to eat can be a time-consuming, albeit exciting step.

Previously, customers could reserve their restaurants 180 days in advance. These days, that booking window is only 60 days in advance. So be prepared to set your alarms 60 days before your arrival as these restaurant reservations open early (usually around 6am EST each morning, but it could be a little earlier – start checking around 5:30am for the best availability ). If you’re staying at a Disney World property, you can reserve restaurants for the duration of your stay (or up to 10 days, whichever is shorter).

Some Disney World restaurants are more popular than others, so you’ll want to have a strategy for your reservation window. Character meals can usually fill up quickly, especially in and around Magic Kingdom (Cinderella’s Royal Table and ‘Ohana are two good examples). Newer restaurants like Space 220 at EPCOT can also be a tougher reservation to grab, so be sure to prioritize those if you know you want to dine there.

Can’t get the reservation you want? Keep checking! Plans change all the time and you may find a last minute booking or two. Also consider which restaurants have lounges that don’t require advance reservations. My Disney Experience, Disney World’s smartphone app, now shows walk-in restaurant availability once you’re at the parks to help you with last-minute dining plans.

Assemble the final details

As you anxiously count down the days of your Disney World vacation, there are a few key details you’ll want to figure out before you leave home. For example, you will need to confirm your ground transportation if you are flying to Orlando International Airport and choose not to rent a car. There are taxi services and ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, or you can book a charter bus like Mears Connect or The Sunshine Flyer.

This is a good time to decide if there are any magical “extras” you want to incorporate into your itinerary, like a walking tour or any recreational activity. Disney World is packed with more things to do and see than the four theme parks, so look around and see if your family would be up for a behind-the-scenes tour of Animal Kingdom, a boat rentalor a game of miniature golf.

The last step would be to pack your bags! Before you know it, you’ll be heading to Disney World with your carefully planned, color-coded itinerary. Make sure you have a realistic battle plan and allow some leeway when plans inevitably need to be adjusted.

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