It had been 6 years since our family's first trip to Disney World when my children were 4 and 6. It was so much fun but my children had only vague memories of that trip. I had been intending to plan another trip much sooner but finances, work demands and busy schedules seemed to keep us from ever actually hitting the "go" button on our plans.
I had been dreaming of a return trip for years. As I began to research more about a trip to Disney World, the more I was overwhelmed. There are so many blogs and articles out there! So much of what I was reading indicated that people typically planned their vacations to Disney a YEAR in advance. Reading these articles and their comments indicated that in order to get the reservations you wanted at restaurants and dining experiences at Disney World you needed to plan things basically 6 months in advance. Well, that much advance planning is difficult for me. With our jobs, my husband and I both generally have to wait until only 2-3 months in advance to get official approval of our time-off requests. So...the best I could do with the planning was 2-3 months in advance which seemed very last-minute in comparison to all that I was reading. I feared I would not be able to have the sort of trip I really wanted because we would miss out on all the reservations and fast passes (pre-scheduled times to ride certain rides where you can wait in an express line) and be left lost and wandering not able to get the most out of our vacation.
But I do want you to know that there is hope for those like me who are only able to schedule their trip a few months in advance! I was able to get all the dining reservations and most of the fast passes we wanted! When we were unable to schedule a fast pass, I was also able to maneuver and get minimal wait times on most of the rides and character experiences we wanted by asking friends for advice and researching some strategies and tips from others in blogs and articles.
Calculator to Determine Dates for Advance Planning
- PS Calculator 10.0
The PS (Planning Strategy) Calculator for Disney Reservations lets you enter in a Date and it tells you when and where you can make your PS times at Walt Disney World.
Planning Timelines to Remember:
Dining Reservations: start at 180 days out
Fast Pass Reservations: 60 days out for resort guests and 30 days out for non-resort guests
Early Morning in Magic Kingdom
My first steps of planning were to utilize the many resources of Disney information I had available to me.
1. Ask for tips and advice from friends and family that have been to Disney World.
2. Subscribe to blogs and social media feeds regarding Disney Planning.
3. Do a internet search for information and articles with reviews of restaurants and hotels that interest you.
4. Utilize the Disney World website to access information like restaurant descriptions, menus, hotel descriptions and costs, etc.
Making the Reservations
After many days of research and arranging for time off of work, I finally was ready to make my reservations. We chose 4 nights/5 days at the Wilderness Lodge Resort with 5 day Park Hopper Tickets! We did also purchase the Disney Dining Plan and the Memory Maker Photo package.
Now to plan which days for which parks and to make reservations for dining and fast passes!
Planning Dining (Sort of) Last Minute
Now for me making dining reservations 60 days in advance is NOT last-minute. I am a laid-back procrastinator and 2 months in advance is very early for me! However, in the Disney vacation planning world you can make dining reservations starting at 180 days in advance of your trip. I read about many people that do make reservations this early in order to make those hard to get dining reservations. There are many very popular character meals such as CINDERELLA'S ROYAL TABLE and BE OUR GUEST which are reportedly VERY HARD to acquire. And, as I person who recently had to be in search of those very reservations, I can attest that the options were very scarce or non-existent on 95% of my searches.
Now don't get me wrong! I think if you are able to plan in advance then you should! I think it will reduce stress and guarantee you get the reservations you most desire if you can do the 180-day advance booking. But, I wanted to let those of you like me who have difficulty planning that far in advance know that there is hope of still getting the reservations you want and having a wonderful, magical trip!
Thankfully, Disney has wonderful online planning tools where you can search for restaurants at specific time or ranges (breakfast, lunch, dinner) to see what is available. This tool allowed me to easily search multiple times daily to attempt to find the desired reservations. Although I might have come up empty 9/10 times, on that 10th attempt I sometimes hit pay dirt and was actually able to book all the reservations I was hoping to get! (albeit one or two were only found a few days before we left for our trip!!)
So my advice is just keep searching! Search at multiple times and hours of the day and hopefully you will have the same success as I did! And the great thing is that if you find a reservation you are desperate for, then grab it even if it is not at an ideal time. You can still keep searching and if you are able to find that more ideal time available then you can just cancel the less desirable reservation time.
And sometimes I did have to take a less desired time like 9:00 pm for dinner. I did find though that most restaurants would seat you early if you went around 30 minutes early which helped for some of the reservations and odd times. (Though it is to be noted we went in May before Memorial Day when things were only moderately busy)
I just kept checking and checking and finally was able to find a reservation to all the character meals I wanted. Cinderella's table was the hardest to find and I only got it after 2 months of searches - 2 days before we were supposed to leave on the trip! There were other meals I reserved just to know I had them secured but later changed the times to a better time if available. For example, I had a hard time finding a reservation for breakfast at Chef Mickey's character dining but was finally able to find a slot at 7:00 a.m. As we are not morning people I was worried about us getting there and also getting transportation so early. Later as I kept searching, I was able to find a slot at 9:15 a.m. and changed my reservation to that which worked great for our family.
Be Our Guest
More on Be Our Guest
- Be Our Guest: An Enchanted Disney Dining Experience
Our first visit to the Beast's castle was a favorite Disney meal and memory!
Don't Forget to Pack....
Don't forget to pack items you might need for the park such as:
-Hand Sanitizer/Wet Wipes
-Autograph Book and pens
-Extra SD cards
-Medicines or wrist bands for motion sickness (Sea Bands work great my daughter who gets motion sickness very easily and will NOT take medicine - link below to Amazon - I have also seen them at various drugstores)
-Quarters and pennies - if you want to collect the souvenir pennies at stations all around the park!
Cinderella's Royal Table
Fast Pass planning
I was able to schedule my trip just in time to hit the 60 day fast pass advance scheduling window for those staying in a park resort. (It is 30 days in advance for those not staying in a park resort)
I didn't really know what I was doing at this point but I scheduled the Fast passes as best I knew at the time. They all worked out pretty well. Though I might have scheduled a few differently had I realized the popularity of some rides. I researched various articles and blogs on the internet for crowd predictors and picked the park that was supposed to be least crowded each day. Then I scheduled Fast Passes for that park. You can only schedule 3 passes per day initially and only in 1 park at a time. After you use all 3 passes in that park you can schedule one more pass at a time in any park you choose.
I did't realize at first how long the predicted waits usually are with the new roller coaster in Magic Kingdom called the Seven Dwarves Mine Train or for character meeting with Anna and Elsa from Frozen. Once I realized from reading and research how popular these were, I tried to go back and get a fast pass for these only to find they were all gone!
When I started investigating to find out the best way to avoid long lines on these attractions, I found out that if you scheduled a breakfast in Magic Kingdom early before park opening that would allow you to be in the park right where you needed to be right before the park opened thus reducing the crowds and waits. I was able to schedule a reservation at Be Our Guest for breakfast at 8 am which was in Fantasyland near both of those attractions I was trying to hit. This worked great to get us in short lines for 20 min of less of both attractions which had waits later in the day of almost 2 hours!
(Even though there are ways to work around it, of all the last-minute issues, I think that if it is at all possible you should at least try to book your trip 60 days in advance. This way you book your Fast Passes as soon as possible before they are gone. Usually we did not find fast passes in the parks left for the most desirable attractions after we used our original 3 fast passes for the day. And I also did not find fast passes I wanted coming available on the website prior to our trip. I think grabbing those fast passes early will be a big advantage if you are able to plan at least 2 months in advance.)
While you might be much more last minute than the 2-3 months in advance where I threw my trip together, hopefully this hub will give you encouragement that you too can have a dream vacation and get most if not all of the reservations you want! In fact, I just read an article today about the hardest reservations to get at Disney World. The article, of course, recommended making your reservations well in advance. Almost all of the restaurants mentioned in this article were ones we were able to secure in our last-minute planning. As I mentioned, we got only a few of the reservations just days before we traveled! So don't give up! Keep checking!
And even if you are a planner, hopefully this will encourage you that you might get a reservation you might have missed out on or still give you some information you haven't thought of that will help you. Disney World is a wonderful, happy vacation destination! I hope you get a chance to visit and have a magical trip!