Zen and the Art of WDW Planning

There are frequent posts here from people who are overwhelmed with the amount of planning required for their WDW vacation. This is understandable - for many people it is the first time they are doing what I call a “destination/activity” vacation as opposed to a “relax at the beach” vacation, and this sort of vacation requires a lot more research and planning. Add to this the high cost of a WDW vacation, and there is a lot of pressure to “get it right”.

The first thing to acknowledge is that a WDW vacation in and of itself can be a stressful thing. Take for example the experience of a typical non-Liner family at WDW:

  • They get up when they feel like it (“I’m on vacation, dammit!”), and stand around the resort lobby trying to figure out what park to go to and how to get there
  • They arrive at a park well after rope drop, and immediately start their day standing in lines for bag check and park entry
  • Once entering a park they get a map and try to figure out where to go – however, at this point it doesn’t matter because there are lines everywhere
  • They try to get FPPs at a kiosk, and discover there isn’t much available except for it’s a small world
  • They go to a TS restaurant for lunch, only to discover that they are not going to be able to get in because they did not make a reservation six months ago
  • They stand in long lines, march all over the parks in the hot sun, and inevitably have a meltdown (“I paid a lot of money for this, so we are going to have fun, dammit!”)
  • After a week of this they go home, and complain to everyone about how bad a time they had

The main objective of planning is to take that stress away from vacation time and spread it out over the months before your vacation. The fact that there are all these different “days” to keep track of (ADR day, FPP day, online check-in day, etc.) seems to cause additional anxiety, but I think that they actually help things, as they provide a framework that tells you what you should be focusing on at any particular time in the process.

More than a year out:
(What? You don’t plan vacations more than a year in advance? DW and I have been discussing our plans for a Fall 2018 vacation for months now…)
During this time period you should be working out when you want to go to WDW and how long you want to go for. There are several reasons you may want to be thinking about this so far out:

  • If you are planning on using/renting DVC points, the first (and sometimes only) reservation window starts 11 months out
  • If you are going to use frequent flyer miles, for many airlines the reservation window opens 330 days out and the available seats can go quickly. Ditto for hotel points, although they vary wildly between the major programs (for example Starwood starts at 18 months out).
  • The base prices for WDW tickets only go up, so if you see a good deal for tickets that will be valid for when you want to go, jump on them
  • If you have a particular WDW resort in mind, you might as well book it as soon as you know when you will be going. If a discount is offered after that, you can always call WDW Reservations and have it applied to your reservation.

One year to 180 days:
During this time period you should be working out what park(s) you want to go to on each day – your go-to source for information to help out here is the touringplans.com Disney World Crowd Calendar, which gives you predicted hours, crowds, and special events. As you get closer to 180 days, the calendar will be updated with actual park hours posted by WDW and revised crowd predictions. Once you have determined your park plans you can then figure out what ADRs you want to get (or vice-versa, if certain dining experiences are a priority).

Many people (myself included) also like to start making Personalized Touring Plans to get a better idea of what each day may look like. The thing to bear in mind here is that the predicted Crowd Levels are going to change, so these plans are definitely going to require some further work. However, it is useful as it gets you comfortable with the software and it helps you determine if you have a reasonable number of activities planned for each day.

Note that the main WDW calendar only has park hours posted up to 180 days out. See this post for ways to get accurate park hours beyond this limitation.

180 days – ADR Day!
My main tip here is to open up separate browser windows and set them up for each ADR you want to make, and then once the reservation window opens launch them all at once. Then keep cycling through each window as you progress step-by-step through the reservation process. If you can’t get all the reservations you want, don’t despair – try the touringplans.com Disney World Dining Reservation Finder. Many Liners have been able to get hard-to-find reservations using it.

Another tip is to avoid the traditional meal times when planning your meal breaks – most people are creatures of habit and want to have lunch at 12:00 and dinner at 6:00. If you schedule your meal breaks before these times you will avoid the crowds at the restaurants and then you will be back out touring when many people are trying to eat. Zig when they zag!

Bonus tip: Before you reach day 180, log into your Disney account and make a few practice reservations. This way you are familiar with the process and how the website operates, and you can make sure that your credit card info is correct. Just remember to cancel the practice reservations. :slight_smile:

180 days to 60 days:
Now is the time to start to get serious with the park planning! Use this time to start making and/or revising Personalized Touring Plans for each park day. The goal here is to make plans based on what you want to see and do and then use them to determine what the best FPP options are for you – I have another forum post that sets out a methodology for doing this.

60 days – FPP Day!
Try to get the FPP reservations that will work best with the Touring Plans you have made. However, don’t worry too much if you can’t get the absolute best FPPs – remember that having a good plan in the first place is the real time saver here, and FPPs are just icing on the cake.

60 days to Day 0:
Adjust your Touring Plans based on the FPPs you were able to get, and re-optimize when the predicted Crowd Levels are updated (tip: use the touringplans.com Disney World Crowd Tracker to get e-mail notifications when predictions are updated). However, don’t stress too much about this or start to re-arrange everything – you have a good plan in place, and it will make a big difference no matter what the Crowd Levels actually turn out to be.

Another thing to do is to get your room request submitted to WDW if you are staying on site. Touringplans.com makes this very easy with their Automatic Room Request feature. Just follow the instructions in the link, and touringplans.com will automatically send a room request fax to your resort 5 days before your stay starts. (Thanks to @PrincipalTinker for suggesting to add this!)

Day 1 and Beyond:
Use the touringplans.com Lines App to track your progress in the parks. Avoid the temptation to re-optimize throughout the day – my recommendation is to only re-optimize if you start to go significantly off plan. If you do re-optimize, make sure that all the things you have completed thus far are marked as “done”, with the most recent thing you completed marked last so that the app knows where you are.

Final thing to remember:
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

In other words, don’t despair if on the day your plans don’t work out exactly as you would like them to. There are so many variables here that are not within your control, and something unexpected like a headliner attraction going off-line can cause major crowd movements and throw everything off. The upside here is that with all the planning and research you have done, you will be in a better position to react to what is going on and deal with it in an efficient manner.


This is perhaps the single best discussion on general planning that I have seen posted. This is essentially exactly how I do it. The only difference is that I have never felt the need for opening multiple windows for ADRs; I’ve booked as many as 14 for a 7 day trip and have had no problem as long as I was on line the second they opened - but I don’t typically have more than one “critical” ADR (V&A Chef’s Table was my “one” for my last trip).


I always meant to ask you about this - are there any Jedi tricks for getting this ADR? I have tried several times to get it the instant reservations opened for the “+10” day with no success. Is it available on a different timeframe? I have not had any problems with any other ADR except this one.

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It may have just been luck. I got it for my +6 day (this was my second choice) about 20 seconds after it opened. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s only offered 4 or 5 nights out of the week, so that may also be the issue. I actually had 7 different sets of 14 ADRs worked out, depending on which day I got V&A; once I got that one, I filled in the others based on that list.

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This is fantastic! I’m so glad you wrote it.
Yes, planning can be tricky, but if you follow the basic steps, it’s amazing how easy this makes things when you actually get there. Personally, I don’t use TP’s (don’t shoot me!) but I plan everything else and that works for my family.
What needs remembering is that most ADR’s and FP’s are easy to get if you make sure you get them as soon as your window opens up. There are only a relative few that you have to ‘fight’ for!
I usually put all my ADR wants on my wish list before the 180 day marker.

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This was a great article. Clear and precise!

Such clear and simple advice, thanks for taking the time to share with those of us who are WDW novices :smiley::smiley:


Great post and I know most of us understand the need for everything you say. So knowing that most of us know I would make this a Sticky Post and rename the subject line to something like

“If you’ve just found us and wonder why we plan, read this first” or “If you’ve just found us and think we’re all mad read this” or something like that.

Oh and by the way some of us “Liners” never stay with Disney so 30 . 29 . 28 … days out is important as well :slight_smile:

Again great post



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Thanks! Only the Mods can make a post sticky for everyone, so maybe they will think it is worthwhile to do so. I like the alternative thread names! :smiley:

Enterprising Liners know ways around the offsite restrictions for ADRs and FPP reservations. But I will not talk about The Trick That Must Not Be Named…

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And rightly so! :slight_smile:



This is absolutely a great post! I wish I had known so much of this when I was planning our last trip. Of course, it was a last minute decision, and we only had one month to plan.

I agree, the mods should make this a sticky post.

@len, would it be possible to pin this post?

Although I think links to forum threads would be great in the comments here, I am wondering if you could add something about The Touring Plans Room Request Feature in your post?

Good idea! I’ll put it in the appropriate section.

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STICKY please

Reservations for Victoria and Albert’s are not available on line. You must call the restaurant directly. I managed to score the Chef’s Table at exactly 180 days by calling when they opened at 9:00 am. There are eight of us going in Oct. The same eight went in May of 2016. It was amazing! We have all contacted our loan officers at the bank for prior approval! :money_mouth_face: :grinning:

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This is not accurate, unless things have changed recently. I have booked both the regular dining room and the Chef’s table on line. Because the Chef’s Table is a personalized experience, they DO call you about 2 weeks prior to discuss likes/dislikes, allergies, special diets, etc.

Thanks! I was pretty intent on getting Chef’s Table, so I called directly, and it worked!

I did not look for Chef’s Table but V &a A is available to book online through a browser.

Enjoy - it was absolutely amazing!