It’s becoming increasingly popular to create elaborate countdown timers that tick away the seconds, counting down until folks can once again escape reality and come back to the most magical place on earth. But, if you are anything like how I was when I was planning my first handful of Disney trips, you’re left wondering, how do I know when to start checking off important to-do items? If you don’t plan ahead, it’s easy to miss an item, or get to an item too late.
That’s why we’ve created this handy pre-arrival planning checklist to help make the process as smooth as possible. By following these simple steps, you’ll be ready for a perfect Disney trip! Feel free to bookmark this page and revisit the steps at any time.
Disney Vacation Pre-Arrival Checklist: What To Do When
We’ve compiled some of the top items to check off your list. Since some checklist items can be done earlier than others, each item is listed below in a chronological order.
Research Travel Insurance
In our humble opinion, the first, and most overlooked, step is to research travel insurance. This is important in case you have to cancel your trip for any reason.
In many cases, you would need to purchase travel insurance at the time of booking your lodging. So, it’s important to know what is offered, what the costs are, and if you feel it would be beneficial to purchase travel insurance in the first place. There are many third-party travel options available.
We recommend purchasing travel insurance through our trusted partner, Allianz Global Assistance. With Allianz, you can protect your DVC rental as well as other portions of your Disney vacation. Click here to start customizing your travel insurance and receive a free quote.
Purchase of travel insurance must be made on the same day your DVC reservation is booked and paid for when booking with DVC Shop. We recommend purchasing the Classic with Cancel Any Time coverage option from Allianz.
Alternatively, DVC Shop also offers a Point Protection Plan when renting through our company, which offers cash refunds or credits if you need to cancel your reservation for any reason.
Create A Disney Account
If you don’t have a Disney account set up already, you’ll want to create a Disney account. You can do this by visiting Disney’s website and clicking on the “Sign In or Create Account” link in the top right-hand corner of the screen, or by opening the My Disney Experience app on your phone, and tapping the “Create Account” link that appears at the top of the homepage on the app.
Creating an account is free and easy, and will allow you to manage all aspects of your Disney vacation online and through their mobile apps. This includes making Disney dining reservations, buying and using Disney Genie+, and linking your Disney Resort hotel reservations and theme park tickets to your account.
If you’re staying at a Disney Resort hotel, you’ll also be able to use the account to manage your Disney Resort hotel reservation. You can even check in online before your trip using Disney’s Direct-To-Room service, which is highly recommended to skip those lines at the front desk.
Download The My Disney Experience App
Disney’s My Disney Experience app is one of the most useful tools you can have when planning your Disney vacation, and when you’re on your trip. You can use it to book dining reservations, make mobile food orders throughout Disney World, check wait times for rides and attractions, see character meet and greet locations, view and download your Disney PhotoPass photos, and so much more.
You can also use the app to link your Disney park tickets, annual passes, and Disney Vacation Club membership. This will allow you to make Lightning Lane selections for your entire party and so much more!
The My Disney Experience app is a must-have for any Disney vacation and is available for free on the App Store and the Google Play Store.
If you’re planning on staying at a Disney Resort hotel, we recommend downloading the My Disney Experience app as early as possible, as it will assist you in many of the steps that follow.
Add Your Friends & Family To Your Disney Account
After you’ve downloaded the Disney app, the next step is to add your friends and family members to your Disney account.
You’ll want to do this so you can easily manage experiences such as making Genie+ selections and managing dining reservations for your entire party. If you’d like to get step-by-step instructions for adding to your Friends and Family, you can read our guide for doing so here: How To Add To Your Friends & Family List Using The My Disney Experience App.
Book Your Lodging
The next step is to book your lodging. If you’re flying to the Orlando or Anaheim areas, you may want to check flight prices prior to booking your lodging to see if you can save some money by flying on cheaper dates, but we would advise against booking non-refundable flights prior to knowing you have your lodging squared away.
If you’re thinking of renting Disney Vacation Club points to stay at a Disney Deluxe Villa, you can book your room up to 11 months in advance.
If you’re a DVC member, you can start booking your home resort 11 months in advance. For DVC owners, it’s advisable to book your home resort as far out as possible, then modify your reservation at 7 months out if you would like to stay at another non-home resort.
Get Your Disney World Tickets
The next step is to get your Disney World tickets! You can currently buy Disney World tickets over one year in advance of your desired date, so it’s important to plan ahead and not wait until the last minute.
There are a variety of ticket options available, from one-day passes to annual passes, from Park Hopper Tickets to Water Park & Sports options, so it’s important to do your research and decide which type of ticket will work best for you and your family.
Make A Park Pass Reservation
If you’re planning on visiting any of the Walt Disney World theme parks, you’ll be required to make a theme park reservation. You can currently make Park Pass reservations over one year in advance, and we recommend doing so as soon as possible after your tickets are purchased.
You can make Disney World park reservations online or by using the My Disney Experience app. If you’d like to know everything there is to know about Park Pass Reservations, you can read our article on the subject here: Disney World Park Pass Reservations: Everything You Need Know.
If you’re staying at a Disney Resort hotel, you’ll also want to make sure to plan for, and take advantage of, the Early Morning Magic perk which allows you to enter the Disney theme parks a half hour early.
Make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs)
The next item on the list is to make sure you have all of your Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) made. Advanced Dining Reservations can currently be made up to 60 days in advance, and we recommend doing so as soon as possible, especially if you’re hoping to eat at one of Disney’s more popular restaurants.
If you’d like step-by-step instructions on how to make a dining reservation you can refer to our in-depth article here: How To Make A Dining Reservation On The My Disney Experience App (Video).
Arrange Your Transportation
The next step is to arrange your transportation. If you’re flying into the Orlando International Airport, you’ll want to make sure to have a plan for getting from the airport to your Disney Resort hotel.
There are a variety of options available such as using the Mears bus service, hailing an Uber ride, renting a car, or going all out with the Minnie Van Service. We recommend doing your research to decide which option will work best for you.
If you’re driving to Disney World, you’ll want to make sure to have a plan for parking at the Disney theme parks and at your resort hotel. If you’re a DVC member, or renting DVC points, you can currently park for free at any of the Disney Resort hotels, so we recommend taking advantage of that perk if possible. If you’d like more information on how much parking costs, and how to avoid parking fees like an expert you can read our article here: Do DVC Members Pay For Parking?
Create A Packing List
The next item on our Disney Vacation Planning checklist is to create a packing list. This may seem like an obvious step, but it’s important to make sure you’re not forgetting anything important. We recommend creating a packing list that includes items like clothes, toiletries, medications, travel documents, and any other essentials you may need.
If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve got a great packing list template that you can use to get started with some useful do’s and don’ts of packing for a Disney trip.
Order Groceries & Supplies
If you’re staying at a Disney Resort hotel, you can always order groceries and supplies in advance and have them delivered to your private villa. Supermarket giants, Publix, Walmart, and Amazon Fresh all offer a convenient grocery delivery service that allows you to have your groceries and supplies delivered right to your room.
You can learn more about the costs, timeframes, and availability of grocery deliveries you can read our article here: Save Time By Getting Groceries Delivered To Your DVC Resort.
Registering For Online Check-In Service
The next step in our Disney Vacation Planning checklist is for guests staying at a Disney Resort hotel to register for Disney’s Online Check-In Service, which is called the Direct-To-Room service. This service allows you to select your room preferences, check-in online, and go directly to your room without checking in at the front desk.
Once you are notified that your room is ready, you can open the room door with your MagicBand or mobile phone for truly seamless check-in experience. If you’d like to learn more about Disney’s Direct-To-Room service, you can read more on the subject here: How The Direct-To-Room Service Works On The My Disney Experience App.
Plan Things To Do Inside The Parks
One very important, but often overlooked item, is to start planning things to do inside the Disney parks. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be seeing what time the park you’re going to is open, strategizing your path through the parks, planning attractions around any dining reservations you have made, seeing where character meet & greets are in the parks, making lists of must-do items, and taking note of where and when Disney’s parades and shows are being offered.
If you have some particular souvenirs you’d like to purchase, doing some research on where certain items are sold can be extremely helpful as well and can save you valuable time when you’re inside the theme parks.
Plan Things To Do Outside Of The Parks
Everyone knows Walt Disney World is a great place to visit to enjoy the theme parks, but it’s also a great place to visit if you are looking for things to do outside of the parks. There are many non-theme park activities that Disney World offers that can be enjoyed by everyone in the family, such as:
- Exploring Disney’s Boardwalk
- Taking a carriage ride or getting tickets for Hoop Dee Doo Revue at Disney’s Fort Wilderness
- Dining at some of the amazing restaurants at Disney Vacation Club resorts
- Taking a trip to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports
- Going bowling at Splitsville or spend a day shopping around at Disney Springs
- Making a splash at one of Disney’s Water Parks
- Play at Fantasia Gardens Mini-Golf
- Having a blast on a Disney Fireworks Cruise
- Participate in a runDisney event
- Spend the day at the pool in your Disney Resort hotel
As you can see, there are so many options to stay entertained, well-fed, and in a constant state of wonderment throughout Walt Disney World. Be sure to take advantage of all there is to do outside of the Disney theme parks!
Consider Using Disney’s Genie & Genie+ Services
If you’re looking for a little help with your Disney vacation planning, you may want to consider using Disney’s Genie service. Disney’s Genie is a free personalized trip-planning tool that helps take the guesswork out of planning a Disney vacation.
Genie+ is a paid version of this service that allows you to select return times for certain attractions, skip the standby line, and go through Disney’s lightning lane entrances.
You can learn more about Disney’s Genie+ service by watching some of Disney’s videos that explain how the different services work and what their benefits are here: Disney Explains Genie+ & Individual Lightning Lanes With New Videos.
Let’s Get Planning!
Phew! That’s a lot to think about and plan for, but by following our Disney vacation planning checklist, you’ll be sure to have a magical Disney vacation! So, what are you waiting for? Start planning today!
We hope you found this Disney Vacation Planning checklist helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment below and we’ll do our best to help out. And be sure to check back soon for more Disney vacation planning tips and tricks.
Have you ever been on a Disney vacation? What tips do you have for first-time Disney travelers? Let us know in the comments below!