/ Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

If, this time last month, you told me that in a month’s time I would have experienced and come back from a White RabbitDisney vacation, I would have scoffed at the remark.

In a big family with various school and work schedules to finagle around, we typically know our WDW trip dates 6 months or so in advance. And even then, we have a general idea of when we’d like to go up to a year beforehand. I’m sure many of you are like this, as well: You book your hotel and tickets as far in advance as possible to allow maximum time to get excited for the magic ahead. This also leaves plenty of time for planning and mapping out everything you’d like to do when you visit the Mouse.

I feel like when you make it official that you’re taking another Disney trip, it’s a similar sensation to when a movie studio announces a sequel to your favorite film, or when a television station confirms your favorite program is renewed for another season. You remember the fun times you’ve had there before, and become ancy with anticipation at the thought of making all-new memories. This is for real. You’re going to Disney World!

Because I am so used to planning far in advance, it was a very new experience to decide in an extremely fast series of events that, yes, my next Disney trip will be much sooner than I thought! Granted, it was a relatively quick trip (three nights, with one day in the park), so there wasn’t a huge amount of planning to do. But still, it was much different than what I was used to. The whole planning process was entirely new. Here were my biggest take-aways from planning a last-minute Disney vacation:

Budget carefully. When you know you’re going on vacation months beforehand, it’s somewhat easy Scrooge McDuck's Money Bin(though it still does take discipline) to say, “Ok, I get paid $x a month, so I should set aside $x every month for x months to save up for the big trip.” When you pin down a date quickly and plan to go in a few weeks rather than a few months, you’re putting all your marbles in one pile at a very fast pace.

This was the first trip that I took the reins of financially, since I traveled with friends rather than family. I sat down and charted how much money I would need for each specific area of the trip (gas, dining in the parks, dining outside the parks, hotel, etc.) before I made the definite decision that the trip was something I could manage. If the money didn’t add up, the choice would be simple: no Disney. (But, it did add up, so yes Disney!) I’ll be experiencing the repercussions the rest of the summer of blowing a chunk of my money on WDW, but I knew this going into it. It’s worth it to me to be on a more limited budget for a while if it means setting aside money for something that is important to me.

Dining reservations are unrealistic. There are a few exceptions here and there depending on the restaurant and the time of year, but for the most part, table-service restaurants on Disney property sell out very quickly. With the booking window opening up 6 months in advance, it’s nearly impossible to score a reservation for the more popular venues if you wait until the last minute.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to eat fast food for every meal, either. There is an abundance of Be Our Guest Restaurantwonderful quick-service spots around WDW. We tried Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian one night on a whim, and liked it so much that we came back both remaining nights of our trip! (Oh, the flatbreads…) And the new Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom serves “quick-service” for lunch, but the service really feels more like an elegant table-service meal. No reservations required, just show up about 45 minutes before the restaurant’s [10:30] opening. (I’d much rather do that than try to jump through hurdles to score a dinner reservation, anyway.)

Additionally, had I not been looking for underrated places to eat around WDW that don’t require a reservation, I would have never found out that some of the good neighbor hotels near Downtown Disney offer character breakfasts! Since the hotels are not owned by Disney, Disney doesn’t advertise the meals, so not many people know they exist, thus requiring no reservation and granting you more quality time with the characters that you might not have at the busier locations. Search around, you’ll find some fun ones!

Hotel reservations are limited. It’s not as difficult to obtain a last-minute reservation for a hotel as it is for dining, but the selection available will be limited to what is still not booked. To keep things economical, we stayed offsite, so this was not a particular issue for us.

Forums are your best friend. Online resources (like this very website you are currently frequenting) are a dream come true for planning a vacation. In today’s technology-driven world, the answers to our many Disney inquiries are no more than a click away. Find a forum that you like and take advantage of the people and resources that frequent it. Definitely don’t flounder in trying to do it all yourself. Don’t let yourself get stressed—if you have a question, ask somebody! People are always more than happy to answer, and you’ll usually get a speedy response, too.

Get creative with your anticipation. If you’re like me, then half the fun of taking a Disney trip is counting down the weeks and months leading to its arrival with movie nights, family get-togethers, countdown clocks, and other fun treats. With just a few weeks between the time of deciding that a trip is even happening and the arrival of the trip, it’s hard to do much of anything because everything is moving so fast. I made a list of my top 10 favorite Disney movies with the intention of watching all of them before WDW, and only got through 2 of them. So that didn’t really work out. BUT, the night before the trip, my traveling crew and I were able to get together to watch the free WDW vacation planning DVD. So it wasn’t the typical, multi-week movie event that I’m used to having before a trip, but it worked.

I will be honest and say that I really did miss not having a long time to look forward to the trip. I look back on the preceding months leading up to the vacation, and if I had known during that time that a Disney trip was on the horizon, I would have been able to plan things a little more thoroughly, not to mention I might have trudged through some things with the goal of WDW at the end of the tunnel. But that’s blowing everything a bit out of proportion, and by all means I would rather have a last-minute Disney trip than no Disney trip at all. Would I prefer a little while longer to know a trip is on the way? Yes. It makes the whole process go a bit smoother. But I now know that I can indeed handle a last-minute trip if need be, and I would absolutely jump at the chance to do it again if the situation presented itself.


Blake is a college student focusing on Creative Writing and Media Studies. He enjoys making his family of six watch the parade on Main Street and then sprint to Frontierland in time to see it again. You can follow Blake’s random Disney ramblings on Twitter at @blakeonline, or at BlakeOnline.com.



3 thoughts on “The Last-Minute Disney Trip Survival Guide”

  1. Julie says:

    Completely disagree with the “Dining reservations are unrealistic” bit. As a former cast member, I used to be in the habit of making dining reservation the week-of, and sometimes even a couple of hours beforehand. You really just need to know where and when to go. Obviously if you’re trying to go to the most popular restaurants like Ohana or anywhere in the Magic Kingdom, you won’t be very lucky, but places like the Wave at the Contemporary, Kona Cafe at the Polynesian, and even Whispering Canyon (if you plan on a later lunch or early dinner) at the Wilderness Lodge are often open for availability. Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is my favorite restaurant on property, and usually has availability for both breakfast and dinner. Of course, since we are now in the crazy summer months, it will definitely be more difficult to score reservations, but I promise they are out there! The resort hotels have some AMAZING restaurants that are often overlooked by anyone not staying there. Try Boatwright’s at Port Orleans, the food is awesome, and they will always take walk-ins at 5:00 and usually after 8.

    That’s very interesting about the hotels by Downtown Disney offering characters meals. I had no idea! Definitely something I will look into.

  2. Frank says:

    On a Friday in January and found that I was about to miss Long Lost Friends Week. It was 11am. I was in my car (I live in NJ) and driving to WDW by 1pm. I called and book a room at Pop Century while I was on the road. I arrived around 6am and slept for 2 hours then was off to MK to see Robin Hood. I took an hours to go lay back down around 2pm and the stayed until park closing. Woke up and was on the road home by 11am.

  3. Kendall Foreman (MoretotheWorld) says:

    Frank, that is awesome. Many years ago I heard a story about a man who loved the lemon pie from either the Main Street Bakery or the Grand Floridian (I don’t believe it is served anymore). He really wanted to serve it at his Thanksgiving dinner, so he flew down spent the day, bought his pie, and took it home. My husband and I wish we could do this – fly to Disney just to eat the food items we love for a day.