In order to do everything you want to do on your Disney World trip, you need to start planning more than 6 months in advance.
Of course, not everybody has that much notice on their trips, so they have to figure out how to plan on a shorter schedule.
Here is the ideal planning timeline as well as what you can do if you are running short on time.
(Click the image below to view it larger.)
More than 6 months before your trip
More than 6 months before your trip begins, you should have steps 1 (picking your dates) and 2 (choosing lodging) figured out. You need to make sure you're booked so that you can move on to the next steps.
After your hotel is booked, move on to step 3 and make your daily plan. Figuring this out allows you to move on to planning your dining which is important to know before you get to the 180 day mark.
Exactly 180 days in advance
At the 180 day mark, you need to move on to step 4 and make all of your dining and special event reservations.
You can find the date that you can begin making dining reservations on the monthly calendars.
If you're staying on-site, you will be allowed to make all of the dining reservations for your whole trip 180 days before your trip begins.
If you're not staying on-site, you'll need to log on or call 180 days before each day of your trip to make those reservations.
Although you should make all of your reservations 180 days ahead of time (if possible), these are the items that are the most likely to get filled up the fastest and will be the hardest to get after the 180 day mark:
- Cinderella's Royal Table
- Be Our Guest Restaurant
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
- Chef Mickey's
- Wishes and Illuminations cruises
- Chef's Table at Victoria and Albert's
- Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue
- Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
- Le Cellier
(If you've had trouble booking any of the items on the list, scroll down for ideas on good substitutes.)
Between 2 and 5 months in advance
After your dining and event reservations are made, you should spend the remaining time before your trip on steps 5 (plan your park touring) and 6 (adding extra magic).
When planning your park touring, be sure to stay aware of any park hour changes that could alter your plans.
Right before your trip
Confirm all of your reservations, make sure you have transportation figured out (including from airport to hotel) and pack your bags. I like to use the Ultimate Packing List to make sure I don't forget anything.
What if you don't have 6 months?
When people have less than 6 months to plan, it always gives me a little bit of anxiety because they need to be willing to adjust their expectations.
The first thing to know if you have less than 6 months to plan is that you need to work around what's still available. That means you might need to eat at odd times, make another restaurant choice and/or remove something from your wish list.
The list posted above will be the hardest things to get for your trip, but here are some ideas for substitutions.
If you can't get Cinderella's Royal Table...
- Consider booking Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus in Epcot. This princess dining is on the list above as being popular, but is worth checking into as a possible second option.
- Check out Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom. This character dining will be in high demand for breakfast before the park opens (the best time to go since you're not missing out on park touring time and can be in the park when it's empty), but you can be flexible on times and try to get in.
If you can't get Be Our Guest for dinner...
...then try to get a reservation for breakfast or lunch. Although it's a Quick Service for breakfast and lunch, Disney allows you to make reservations and they're usually much easier to get than dinner.
If you can't get Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique...
- Did you check to see if the Disney Springs location had openings instead of the Magic Kingdom location?
- Harmony Barbershop is located on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom and, although they don't do the fancy up-do hairstyles, they do use pixie dust and provide services at very affordable rates.
- The Pirates League is located in the Adventureland section of the Magic Kingdom. They offer pirate packages, but also a very pretty mermaid option.
If you can't get Chef Mickey's...
...then dine with Mickey for breakfast at Tusker House in the Animal Kingdom. Word is getting out about this character dining meal so it is popular, but may still be easier to reserve than Chef Mickey's.
If you can't get a Wishes or Illuminations cruise...
...check out the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage which allows you to watch Wishes and the Electrical Water Pageant from the boat. Snacks and beverages are included.
If you can't get Chef's Table at Victoria and Albert's...
...consider ordering private dining from The Grand Floridian. You will be provided a butler and a view of the fireworks for your meal, with dessert timed to arrive just in time for the fireworks. Dinner can be ordered from the private dining menu or for a 25% service fee, you can order from any of the menus of The Grand Floridian restaurants. Couples can expect to pay around $200 (plus tax and tip), depending on what is ordered. Private dining can be booked by calling (407) 824-2474 at least 7 days in advance.
If you can't get Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue...
...try eating at Trail's End at Ft. Wilderness and heading over to the Chip and Dale campfire afterward.
If you can't get Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall...
...then hop on over to the Grand Floridian where you can eat with Cinderella at 1900 Park Fare (Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner) or attend a Perfectly Princess Tea Party with Sleeping Beauty which includes tea for two and a doll for each girl.
If you can't get 'Ohana...
...try Kona Cafe instead. The food and atmosphere are not the same, but they are both well-liked and located near each other inside the Polynesian Resort.
If you can't get Le Cellier...
...try Yachtsman Steakhouse instead. Located just outside the International Gateway of Epcot at Yacht Club, it's not too far away from Le Cellier either.