As I was planning a trip for a friend who is making their first visit to Walt Disney World this summer, I realized that there is a lot of information to help one plan a trip. A LOT of information. I also realized that, while I wish this friend could have all the benefits of my years of reading guidebooks and dozens of Disney trips, that, too, is A LOT of information. Too much information. It’s all so overwhelming!
I decided that for a typical first-timer, I need to remember to keep it simple. Can I narrow it down to just a few things that will save them time and money? I decided that a simple timeline could cut all the clutter and get down to what’s most important.
180+ days out – Set up an account on My Disney Experience. It’s free and it’s easy. Once the account is set up, go to the My Family and Friends page and “Add a Guest” to add people who are traveling with you.
180 days out – Make dining reservations for table service restaurants. Log into My Disney Experience. Hover your mouse over Things to Do in the top menu and click on Make Reservations under dining. Enter the info on the next screen and a list of available restaurants will come up. You can see the location of the restaurant right on that screen and click on the restaurant’s name for more info. Find the one you want, enter the info on the following screens, and click on Reserve. If you are staying at a Walt Disney World resort, you can make reservations for your entire trip 180 days out from your check in (up to 10 days meaning you could be making reservations for 185 days out or even 189 days). This is advantageous if you’re trying to get reservations for popular restaurants like Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table. If you’re staying at a non-Disney hotel, you can only make reservations 180 days out from the day you wish to dine. Your reservations will now show up under My Reservations and Tickets in My Disney Experience. Important Note – For busier seasons like summer and around the holidays, these reservations are important unless you plan to eat at counter service (cafeteria or fast food type restaurants where they don’t take reservations) the entire trip.
90+ days out – Purchase your tickets if you haven’t done so already. Shop around, http://www.disneyworld.com doesn’t always have the cheapest prices, but be careful that you are purchasing from a reputable location. I usually check http://www.undercovertourist.com, http://www.officialticketcenter.com, and AAA offices. Once you have your tickets, log in to My Disney Experience and click on My Reservations and Tickets. Click on the Link Tickets button and follow the instructions. If your tickets were part of a Walt Disney World vacation package, it is possible that they are already linked.
60 days out – For those staying on Walt Disney World property, start making your FastPass+ selections. This will give you an hour window to visit an attraction without having to wait in the long standby line. Log in to My Disney Experience. Hover over My Disney Experience in the top menu and click on FastPass+. Follow the prompts on the following screens. Don’t worry if the options for times aren’t exactly to your liking. Once your FastPass+ reservations are made, you can go back in and edit the times and/or attractions as long as they are available. Generally, it’s best to use FastPass+ for the attractions that have the longest wait times. These attractions may include (this list not necessarily all-inclusive): Magic Kingdom – Meet Anna & Elsa, Meet Mickey Mouse, Peter Pan’s Flight, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train; Epcot – Soarin’ and Test Track; Hollywood Studios – Toy Story Midway Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Star Tours; and Animal Kingdom – Kilimanjaro Safaris, Dinosaur, and Expedition Everest. As you get closer to your trip, FastPass+ reservations will also become available for the parades and nighttime shows. These also can be popular. Important Note – The FastPass+ system sometimes does not work exactly as it should. Once you have FastPass+ times, print them out or take a screen shot or photo of them and bring it with you so that if for some reason your bands/tickets are not working properly, you can show the cast member at the ride entrance that you do indeed have a reservation. As of this writing, they will override the system and allow you in the Fastpass+ line with that “evidence.”
31+ days out – For those staying on Disney property, be sure to customize your Magic Bands. Log in to My Disney Experience, hover over My Disney Experience and click on Magic Bands and Cards. You may need to confirm your shipping address first, but you’ll be taken to a screen where you can customize your Magic Bands. For those staying off property, unfortunately, you can only purchase Magic Bands in the parks and they will link them to your tickets so that you can use them for park entry and Fastpass+, but in reality your tickets work just as well.
30 days out – For those staying off property, it’s now your turn to make FastPass+ reservations. Simply follow the same instructions as on-property guests did at 60 days out.
2-3 weeks out – For on-property guests, watch for your Magical Express documents if you booked Magical Express. Check out Walt Disney World’s website for details. Remember that it can take a few hours to receive your luggage so be sure not to pack anything you need upon arrival, including your Magic Bands, in your checked luggage.
Did I leaving anything out? Unfortunately, yes; however, this timeline is enough to save you some time and money without having to spend hours researching or planning for your trip. If you’d like more information, www.disneyworld.com has lots of information on everything you can do/see/experience and Birnbaum’s Official Guide to Walt Disney World is a good start if you’re looking for a guidebook. My two favorite “unofficial” websites for research are http://www.allears.net, where you’ll find everything from dining menus to reviews from other guests, and http://www.touringplans.com, where you’ll find anticipated crowd levels and touring plans to save time. Of course, there’s more than that out there as I’m sure you’ve found if you’ve even just done a simple Google search. Just remember… the most important thing to plan is to have fun!!!