The ideal Disney World planning timeline (and what to do if you are short on time)

(Article last checked: April 11, 2016)

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.


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More than 6 months before your trip


idealtimelinepinterestimage1 - The ideal Disney World planning timeline (and what to do if you are short on time)
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 dashboards.

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 I think 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
  • Cirque du Soleil La Nouba
  • Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
  • 'Ohana
  • 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 I 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 Mickey's Backyard BBQ which is another dinner and entertainment show that takes place at Ft. Wilderness Resort. Shows are on Thursdays and Saturdays, March through December.

If you can't get Cirque du Soleil La Nouba...
...then you're kinda out of luck. Cirque is super unique and there really isn't an equivalent to take its place.

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.

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30 Comments on "The ideal Disney World planning timeline (and what to do if you are short on time)"

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We are having lunch at Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus while we are there. Will the characters be there for lunch or only for dinner?

Thanks! We are a bit behind schedule but seem to be having luck finding good times for reservations with characters. Only thing we couldn’t get is CRT, but if we can see Cinderella somewhere else, our 5 year old will be happy. Can’t wait to get to 60 days to start reserving FastPass things! Really hoping to get a meet and greet with Anna and Elsa. Your blog and advice are very helpful.

Question – CRT for dinner or Hoop Dee Doo Revue? Only here for one night and staying at mk the entire day –

We are going to WDW December 14. Today is my 180, and it 12:29 in the morning. Why can’t I make my reservations yet and what time can I start? I am really trying to get Cinderella’s Royal Table and Chef Mickey but I need some sleep.

Nevermind, I found my answer.

We are planning our first trip to WDW with 4 kids (one 3 1/2 yr old princess) We are past our 180 day ADR mark and I’m realizing what a big deal that is! Is there any chance of finding character dining reservations from now until our trip (Nov.22-27) Is it worth my time to keep checking back on the WDW website for any of the character dining meals?

I don’t have an answer for you Emily, but I second your question! We are in the same boat (and visiting the same week as you, too 🙂 )

Keep trying closer to time! I just got a reservation for Chef Mickey’s 10 days out. I think I happened to check within minutes after somebody else cancelled. Apparently cancellations are highest in the week or two before the date. Good luck!

If we are planning a trip for spring 2016 and plan to make the reservations over the phone spring or summer 2015 (our tentative 180 day mark was 11/11/15) … is it possible for us to make reservations at restaurants and such before the 180 day mark if we have made reservations at our Resort and have purchased our tickets?

How early can you buy the park tickets?

If I plan on going in February 2015, what is the earliest release dates for packages/pricing during this time? Will I be able to make vacation reservations in July/August?

Would like to go to Disney world in late July with my six year old daughter. I thought three months was enough time to plan. I had no idea you could reserve 180 days ahead. Should i throw in the towel and just try for another time or keep going with my planning? Is the bippity boppity boutique in downtown disney just as good if the other one is booked?

Jennifer,
My family of 4 just went to WDW at the end of April and we didn’t decide until the end of January. It was a ton of planning but turned out fantastic.

Is it possible to get a Fastpass for 2-3 different rides at one time?

Right now you can get 3 fastpass for one day but the times cannot overlap (so not all at once, if you meant that literally). Once all three are used, they are working on adding an additional pass the same day.

So my boyfriend and I just started planning a disney trip for end of may early june (I know super late). He wanted to surprise me with it but he didn’t realize it was a last minute thing and neither did I(he has never been to disney world only disneyland and I havent been to either) We will be reserving everything friday (when he gets his new debit card) and I was wondering if you had any tips for us, or a link wheere we can find some. We have three separate seven day time frames in mind and really… Read more »

We just returned from our first (very short/quick) trip and I’d like to start planning for next year so money isn’t quite as tight. However, when I go to the Disney website the date planning only goes through the end of 2013. If you are planning 6 months in advance how do you do that and make a realistic budget?

Hi! I’m loving your site, thanks for all the helpfull information you provide.
I’m planning a trip for either the second week of december or the second week of january. Do you think I’ll need to make dinning reservations even if I decide to go in january? I’m not planning on going to any carachter dining as I’m not traveling with children and have experienced Cinderella’s Royal Table and the Cristal Palace on my first trip. I just think I’d like the option of choosing whatever I’m in the mood for on any given day.
Thank you!

My sister went in early December and did not make many ADR (if any) she wanted to do what she felt like and/or is not a big planner. She regretted it, as they were not able to get into a lot of places. I would recommend at least picking on place each day for ADRs or you might get stuck eating places that are not what you are in the mood for that day because you cant get in. I think if you have places you want to try get an ADR otherwise you might not get in. I have… Read more »

Love your site! Great recommendations. We are currently planning our trip for September 2013. We’ve got our dining and room booked, now it’s just fine tuning!

Thanx so much for the fast response! Your site is really great. It was the first site I looked on after deciding we were gonna go to WDW, and you have gotten my family and I, really excited about it. Your tips and plans are just wonderful, and Im sure you will hear more from me soon, as I have already emailed you about some hotel advice as well! LOL
🙂 Thank you!

🙂

Hello 🙂 Great site, it has been so helpful to me. I have started planning my trip to WDW for the end of October 2013, and my question is since I am doing my itin now so I am able to be at a specific park on the day I have reservation at a restaurant we have chosen, how do I get around the extra magic hours? I dont want to be in the park that has the EMH, but since it is ever changing how can I plan for that 7 months in advance? I have signed up at… Read more »
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