Sunday, May 12, 2019

Is it possible to book a last minute Disney vacation?

We have six weeks of school left and, naturally, conversations have turned to summer plans.  With friends headed to Disney World over summer break, I've heard questions surrounding booking a "last minute" vacation to Disney World.  How far in advance do I need to make reservations?  Will I be able to get FastPasses?  Will all the restaurants be booked?  Will we be able to do what we want to do or will we be stuck on the unpopular rides?

When you begin to look into booking a Disney vacation, you will see constant reminders to make your dining reservations at 180 days out.  And don't forget to set your alarm to get those FastPass+ reservations!  Is it possible to book a last minute vacation?  Yes, it most definitely possible.  You could go next week if you really wanted to.  Although, most people leave a bit more time to plan.  Our December 2012 vacation was booked at about 8-10 weeks out.  We were able to reserve FastPasses and make Advanced Dining Reservations.  It was a fun and fantastic vacation.


(Complete sidetrack here.  I was looking at old blog posts of mine trying to figure out when we booked that December 2012 vacation and I came across the video Rich took when we told the girls about the trip.  They had no clue and we surprised them that morning.  They were in kindergarten at the time and poor Allie was upset over the thought of missing school.  I later found out it was because they were going to be working on a snowman craft and she had been looking forward to it.  I'm happy to report she was able to complete the craft when we returned.  You can watch the video clip here on Rich's old blog.  My heart, they were so little.)

If you are contemplating a Disney vacation this summer but haven't booked anything, this may be a really good time to go, especially if seeing the new Star Wars Land isn't super high on your list of priorities.  Let me explain.  The new Star Wars Land is scheduled to open on August 29th.  Disney is expecting higher crowds at all the parks beginning on that date and carrying through the fall.  Guests who were on the fence pushed back their vacations to coincide with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and there is much speculation that crowds may be lower this summer because of that.

In fact, Disney still has special offers available for this summer:
  • Book through June 30th and receive one free quick-service meal per person (ages 3 and up) when you purchase a non-discounted package that includes a room for 4 nights at a select Moderate or Value resort and a 5 day theme park ticket.  Valid for arrival most nights May 28th through August 21st.
  • Save up to 25% on rooms at select Disney resort hotels, valid for stays most nights May 28th through August 28th.  When you book this offer for arrivals May 28th to June 30th, you'll receive a Disney gift card at check-in.  (Gift card amounts vary based on resort type.)

Okay, so what do you need to do if you're booking a Disney trip without much lead time?  Here's my advice!

Be Flexible

I think this is the most important attitude to have or it will never work.  The resort you want to stay at may be fully booked, FastPasses may not be available for certain rides, dining reservations may be hard to find.  Stay flexible!  You may not get everything on your wish list but there is so much to do at Disney, you will still have a great time.

Make FastPass+ Reservations ASAP

After you've booked your room and travel, the first item I would take care of is FastPasses.  I wouldn't even bother checking crowd calendars and trying to figure out which parks to visit on which days.  Which FastPasses do you really want?  If you've missed the 60 day mark, your options may be limited.  If Slinky Dog Dash FP+ is only available on Thursday but you were thinking of visiting Magic Kingdom that day, change your plans.  Go with what FastPasses are available.


Speaking realistically, Slinky Dog Dash FastPasses will not be available for any days or times.  It is still massively popular.  Don't worry, not all hope is lost.  So what can you do?  Rope drop.  If you are unable to secure FastPasses and there are rides you really, really must do but you don't want to wait in line for 90 minutes, get to the park before it opens.  When you pass through the gates, go immediately to the ride.  Do not stop and look around.  Do not stop to take photos.  Do not stop for breakfast.  Go to the ride and get in line.

Don't fret over Advanced Dining Reservations

Many, many years ago Disney changed their policy on ADRs to eliminate no-shows.  It was a well known planning strategy for guests to book ADRs for different restaurants at the same time and then decide at the last minute where they wanted to eat.  This made securing ADRs extremely difficult.

The current policy now charges no-show guests $10 (per guest.)  If you want to cancel an ADR without that charge, it must be done within 24 hours of the ADR time.  In addition, if I try to make an ADR through the My Disney Experience app or website, it will not let me double book.  These changes have greatly helped in opening up ADRs.  For our last trip, I booked ADRs a week beforehand.

Guests still change plans at the last minute and that is to your advantage because now they must cancel those unwanted ADRs.  I had the best luck checking the My Disney Experience app for open reservations at 6:00 in the morning (we are Eastern Standard Time.)  I found the ones I wanted for Chef Mickey's and 1900 Park Fare, but I also came across several popular reservations (Be Our Guest) and as you can imagine, those were snatched up pretty quickly.

(I've never used their services but Touring Plans offers a Reservation Finder tool.  You do need to set up an account but there is no charge to use the tool.  The service will notify you if the reservation you are looking for becomes available but it cannot secure the reservation for you.  The one complaint I've heard from others who have used this is that by the time they get into the reservation system, the open reservation has been taken by someone else.)

A Note on Disney Dining Plans

It is often assumed that you will save money by purchasing a Disney Dining Plan.  Note that this may not necessarily be true.  For one of our trips, I saved all of our receipts and used my accounting skills to analyze the cost of purchasing food out of pocket versus what we would have paid for a dining plan.  You can see my analysis here.  Also, remember that nothing in life is free.  When Disney offers free dining, you are paying rack rate for your resort room and, of course, the least expensive room categories are never included.  Run some numbers to see that it makes financial sense to book those offers if other options are available.

If you're interested in reading my trip reports (six of them!), you can find links HERE.

If you're looking for more planning tips for a Disney World vacation, click HERE.


MaryAnne said...

I booked a Disney vacation a couple years ago three weeks before we left. Was able to get fast passes for everything we wanted including seven dwarf mine train and Pandora thanks to my stalking the app constantly. Also made adrs for everywhere we wanted including be our guest and Cinderella's castle for breakfast. It's definitely doable but takes some work.

Melanie said...

It's so much planning!

I thought of you this morning when I was up at 6:00 am to make our dining reservations for our trip in November. Disney didn't release the park hours for that week until this morning either which makes me crazy because I try to avoid the extra magic hours parks. Anyway, I was able to get the two reservations I really wanted (Be Our Guest and Cinderella Castle) so all in all I was happy although BOG ended up being an extra magic hour day at MK.

I booked this trip 2.5 months ago (furthest ahead I have ever booked a Disney trip) and I wanted club level at the Beach Club and that was already sold out. We booked regular rooms and I have been checking it ever since with no luck. You can do last minute, but you have to be flexible.