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Last-Minute Trips to Walt Disney World: Brilliant or Bad Idea?

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When you’re a Disney junkie like I am, there is a lot of fun to be had in the planning process for a Walt Disney World vacation.  Where to stay, where to eat, which parks to visit on what days, special events, FastPass+ attractions…so many choices and decisions!  I am a huge fan of planning.  I am the chick on the computer at 7AM Eastern Time 180 days out booking ‘Ohana and Cinderella’s Royal Table.  I set my alarm for 5 minutes to midnight (Eastern) 61 days out so I can visit Elsa and go Soarin’.  But I’ve also done the thing nobody talks about very often:  I went on a Walt Disney World vacation that we planned…wait for it…less than TWO WEEKS before we left.

It was November, 2014.  My husband and I were opening our own business on December 1, and we knew that would limit our vacation opportunities for the next couple of years.  He had a week of vacation to burn before he left his job, so I suggested we fly out to Walt Disney World after Thanksgiving.  After deciding that we (OK, I) couldn’t bear to leave our almost-two-year-old at home, we recruited my mom to come along and the decision was done.  Walt Disney World trip for 4, please!

BUT NOW WHAT?  Where will we possibly get a dining reservation so late?  Surely all the good attractions will be out of FastPass+ times.  Our situation seemed hopeless. And then…I started looking. I got a dinner reservation at Cinderella’s Royal TableTusker House had a lunch opening.  Whew!  We were going to get to eat!  Lo and behold, I can get FastPasses for Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad!  Hey, maybe we will get to see some headliners after all!

We went, we had a blast, the photos are terrific and the memories are forever.  Based on my experience, I compiled a list of hints for those times when you just want to go to Walt Disney World RIGHT NOW.

  1. Manage Expectations: It’s not going to be the artfully arranged, perfectly scheduled itinerary of a vacation planned 6 or more months out. You may have to have dinner at [4:15] or [8:45].  You may have to wait in the standby line for 7 Dwarves Mine Train.  But you will still have fun!  You will see and do lots of things!  It’s going to be fine, I promise.  If you’re worried because you’re traveling in a busy season like summer, sit down with your family and let everyone choose one or two things in each park that they MUST do, and plan to do only those things.  If you have time for more, great!  If not, at least everyone goes home feeling like they got to experience their top attractions.
  1. Pick Your Season: Easter Weekend or the week between Christmas and New Year is probably not the best time for a last-minute trip – the resorts and parks are already close to capacity with people who got a bigger head start on making reservations.  I recommend late November/early December, January/February (watch out for runDisney and Holiday weekends) or September/October.  While there really isn’t a “slow time” at Walt Disney World like there used to be, these times of the year historically have smaller crowds which will allow you to experience the most during your trip, even without spending months on planning.
  1. Plan Meals: Make whatever reservations are available during your trip so that you know you’re going to be able to sit down and eat when you want. If you have a Disney Dining Plan, you will want to make sure you can make use of all the credits available to you on your plan.  Once you have reservations, don’t worry if they aren’t exactly what you wanted or the times are less than desirable.  Check the My Disney Experience app often!  As the dates get closer, people change or cancel their dining reservations.  You may just luck into a dinner slot at Be Our Guest! Also, keep in mind that much of the best dining on property is outside the theme parks.  Cape May Café has a great breakfast with Mickey and a couple of his friends, and is easier to get than Chef Mickey’s. Garden Grove is another good character meal choice that isn’t hard to book.  If characters aren’t your thing, there are a number of amazing restaurants at Disney Springs or on the Boardwalk.
  1. Nab Some FastPass+ times: Even if you have to wait for the super headliners, you can cut down your wait on other popular attractions. It’s very likely that even a week or so out, Jungle Cruise and Haunted Mansion will still have FastPass+ times available.  Big Thunder, Splash Mountain and Space Mountain are also likely to have times.  Soarin’, Mine Train, and a couple of the other major attractions may be gone, but you will save enough time on your 3 selections to warrant standby line times on the rest.  Anna and Elsa are likely to be sold out, but it’s not hard to get a FastPass for Ariel in her grotto or Cinderella and Rapunzel in Princess Fairytale Hall.  If there is a very popular attraction that you just can’t miss, consider using the single-rider line if available (Test Track, Rock’n’Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and Expedition Everest all offer this service).  Even though your party will be split up, you can dramatically reduce your wait time.
  1. Relax and Enjoy: There is so much to see and do in Walt Disney World! Watch the parades.  See the shows, which often have shorter wait times due to increased capacity. Let your little ones run off steam in the Casey Jr Splash and Soak station, the play area in the queue for the Dumbo ride, or the Boneyard in Animal Kingdom. Hang out on the bridge by Splash Mountain and see if you get sprayed – I just heard that this has started to happen again after a hiatus, and it’s a fun way to experience the Splash without waiting in line for the Mountain!  There is so much live entertainment in the parks that you could make a whole day of it without standing in a single line!  Outside the parks you can shop, tour resorts you’ve never stayed in, play miniature golf (or actual golf, if that’s your jam).  You could even visit a spa for a nice relaxing massage and facial!

So when that irresistible urge to go to Walt Disney World hits, don’t be scared off thinking that you have to take months to plan the perfect trip.  There is plenty of great entertainment to be had, so just pack your bags and get ready for fun.  You may even end up trying new restaurants or attractions that become favorites!  And let’s face it, the worst day at Walt Disney World is better than the best day at home, right?

(Photos ©Disney)

Aly Miller is a lifelong Disney fanatic. She recently discovered the WDW Radio Podcast  and became a member of the WDW Radio Nation. When she isn’t obsessing over all things Disney, she and her husband run Chad Miller Auto Care, an independent full service automotive repair shop in San Antonio, TX.