Published: December 19, 2014 at 4:13 PM
I suspect that many Theme Park Insider readers would answer "anytime!" So let's change the question a bit: How far in advance should you start planning your vacation to ensure that you will find the best deal at the place you really want to visit?
The view at Disney California Adventure this week. When did you start planning this year's holiday travel?
On our travel tips page, we quote some industry studies that suggest travelers should book their airline tickets 50-60 days before departure to get the best deal on U.S. domestic tickets, and about 150 days (five months!) before departure for the best prices on trips between the U.S. and Europe. But Walt Disney World starts accepting Fastpass+ reservations for its hotel guests 60 days before the start of a trip, and the resort takes dining reservations six months in advance. So if your dream trip includes a meal at hard-to-book WDW restaurants such as Be Our Guest or Cinderella's Royal Table, you'll want to have your plans in place before that six-month window opens, as those restaurants often "sell out" the day that their reservations become available.
But you don't have to plan that far in advance to enjoy a great theme park getaway. Many fans have taken a spur-of-the-moment roadtrip to visit a theme park, with no reservations in hand, and ended up having a wonderful time. When my (then-future) wife and I were in graduate school, we were sitting in the cafeteria on a Friday afternoon with no plans for a rare homework-free weekend. What should we do? Being a couple of former cast members with some leftover free tickets, we answered "Let's go to Disney World!"
Twenty minutes later, we were in my car and on the road from Bloomington, Indiana to Orlando for the 14-hour drive to my parents' house near Walt Disney World. By 8am the next morning, we were riding on the ferryboat from the Transportation and Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom. Later that day, over at Epcot, we ran into one of Laurie's former sorority sisters from Northwestern, who'd jumped on a last-minute discount airfare (remember those?) from Chicago to visit Disney World on a whim that weekend, too.
Obviously, having some free tickets and a place to stay makes last-minute theme park visits quite a bit more affordable. But with apps helping people book same-day discount hotel rooms, gas prices dropping, and many regional parks offering discounts to fans via their Twitter and Facebook accounts, fans can find ways to make spur-of-the-moment trips possible.
So how do you do it? Even if you're always thinking about your next theme park visit (and for that, we thank you!), how far before the trip do you start "getting serious" and move into more active trip planning?
Thanks for voting! In the comments, we'd love to hear about any unusual paths you've taken to a theme park visit, from last-minute trips to epic group-planning efforts. As always, thank you for joining us here in the Theme Park Insider community and we wish you a very merry Christmas week!