Whoever said planning is half the fun of a Disney vacation was right, but it’s a lot of work. The good thing is, the more thought you put into your trip, the better it will–we promise! Here’s a by-no-means-exhaustive list to get you started.
1. First thing’s first: Decide when to go. You may want to base your resort choice on the time of year you’re traveling. Wilderness Lodge is gorgeous during the Christmas holidays. Or maybe you might want to avoid the All Stars during certain sporting events. If you’re going during the Food and Wine Festival, you might want to try Beach Club or Boardwalk, both within walking distance of Epcot.
2. Make your resort reservation. Always ask if there are any discounts available or pin codes assigned to your name. Once you’ve booked, you’ll want to keep track of any new discount offers that might save you money. You can normally apply these discounts to your current reservation without penalty. Decide whether or not you’ll need extras like the dining plan or parkhoppers.
3. At just a little over 6-months out:
- Park hours should be announced at this point. Coordinate park hours and extra magic hours with your projected dining plans. This is especially important if you won’t be using parkhoppers; don’t schedule a dining reservation in a park that you don’t plan on visiting that day.
- If kids are missing school, verify school policy. Give the school a heads up on your plans if possible.
- Get serious about a travel budget. Think about what you want to spend on incidentals, like souvenirs. Don’t forget to plan for tips and little emergencies, like forgotten items.
4. Make your advanced dining reservations at 180-days out. You can do this online at Disney.com or by calling 407-WDW-Dine. Reservations open up at 7:00 a.m. Eastern. You’ll want to make your hardest to get reservations first. These are:
- Cinderella’s Royal Table (dinner is easiest to get)
- Le Cellier
- Ohana (late dinner seatings are easier to get)
- Hoop De Doo Review
5. Three to six months out:
- Purchase tickets to special events, like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
- Purchase flights.
- Once flight arrangements are made, call Magical Express if you’ll be using this service.
- Start comparison shopping for car rentals.
- If you’re not paying for a Disney package, think about buying park tickets. Remember, ticket prices go up in mid-August. Buy them before that if you can!
- Budgets, needs, and wants change. If you find yourself wishing you were staying at the Grand Floridian rather than the Poly, or if your budget has changed from deluxe to value, change resorts now when there’s still availability and you won’t be penalized.
6. Less than three months out:
- Rent a stroller and other baby equipment, such as a crib.
- Arrange for in-room childcare.
- Contact Disney childcare centers if you plan to use them.
- Start your grocery delivery service order. This probably sounds too early, but it’s important to get your order in early so you can ensure you’ll get the right delivery time. You can review and change your order as your needs/wants change.
- If your children will be missing school, this is the time to officially notify the school and arrange for alternative assignments or homework.
- If you’re purchasing a Disney package, pay it off at 45-days prior to travel.
- Keep checking for those discounts! You could save $100s of dollars.
7. Less than one month out. This is your critical planning time:
- If you wear contact lenses, make sure you have enough lenses to get you through the trip (this means at least one replacement pair).
- Contact your pet sitter to make arrangements.
- Ensure that all prescription medications are up to date. This is the last thing you want to be scrambling to get a few days before travel.
- Start a master packing list with all essentials on it. You can add to this as you go; it really does keep you organized.
8. One week to go:
- Verify that your pet sitter is still available and will be coming to your house.
- Arrange to cancel the newspaper and have mail stopped or picked up.
- Pick up medications, extra toiletries, and any clothing you’ll need that you don’t already own.
- Pack kids’ stuff early if possible; you’ll save time running around your last day and are usually easier to pack for.
9. 24 hours to go.
- Pack carry-on bag. Remember if you’re sending your bags via Magical Express to pack what you’ll need that day plus emergency “stuff” like medications. If you’ll be going to the parks, pack sunblock and hats, if you need them.
- Check the weather report to see if it’s unseasonably warm or cold. Don’t be caught off guard by the cold in Orlando. Pack coats and clothing you can layer if it looks like it’s going to be cold.
- Clean out the fridge.
- Pack your phone charger! How many times have you or someone you know forgotten that?
- If you bought your tickets from a vendor other than Disney, make two copies of your park tickets. Put one copy in your checked luggage, leave the other with someone who can read the numbers off to you should you lose your tickets and your checked baggage. It might seem like too much, but it won’t if you’re unlucky enough to lose your tickets.
- If you’ll be driving, get some change for those pesky toll roads!
10. Before you walk out the door:
Take a quick look at your master packing list (I tape mine to the front door the night before so I see it before I walk out). Did you remember your charger, extra glasses, medications, and your two-year old’s favorite blankie? Good!
Time to go have fun.
- How to set your Disney World budget… (couponingtodisney.com)
- Disney Training: How many days to stay at Disney World (couponingtodisney.com)
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