Vote of the Week: When Do You Start Planning a Vacation?

December 19, 2014, 4:13 PM · When's the right time to start planning a theme park vacation?

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?

Buena Vista Street for the holidays
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!

Replies (8)

December 19, 2014 at 8:32 PM · Usually I'm fairly certain 6-12 months prior to the vacation & I start some of the planning, even though the actual bookings may be down the road. As an example, we've decided to go to WDW for two weeks next October but haven't booked the room yet or purchased the tickets......But this past spring, after a terrible winter in the northeast, I made a spur of the moment decision on a cold Sunday at the end of April and booked a week at Universal's Portofino Resort for May. Vacation turned out great.
December 19, 2014 at 8:50 PM · I haven't taken any unusual paths but think it a good idea to plan several months in advance, especially when booking an airline award reservation, as this is something that may not be available at the last minute. I booked an award reservation to Toronto for 6/21/14 on 3/8/14 to be certain that I could get to Canada's Wonderland as soon as it was warm enough to be shorts weather. (I like to travel light.) There was one glitch, however, in that I waited until the last minute to order POV sunglasses and didn't contact the park to request permission to videotape rides until they arrived. The park gave me permission to do so and even offered me 4 complimentary admission tickets but I had already purchased a ticket online to avail myself of the discount for a three-day advance purchase. So my planning was both good and bad. Oh, and the POV sunglasses turned out to be defective - the second time this has happened.
December 20, 2014 at 2:50 AM · Coming to Orlando is a major exercise for us (and very expensive) so we are currently planning our next trip for.... November 2017!!! (It would be 2016 on our usual 4-year 'cycle' but with Avatar land due to open in 2017 it seems sensible to delay it a year). We won't make firm plans or any bookings until about 12 to 15 months ahead of time though - at this stage it's just running options around our heads and making generic plans.
December 20, 2014 at 6:48 AM · Generally, we're in the 6 - 12 month planning group. That gives us plenty of time to check out most of the events in a region that we like - and the opportunity to schedule something new. With so many venues offering events on a year-round basis (zoos, aquariums, museums, concerts, sporting events, etc.), we've found that we can often find numerous attractions that are both varied and flexible. We will then select our vacation dates based upon what we've decided we'd like to see.
December 20, 2014 at 6:55 AM · I usually plan 18 months in advance
December 20, 2014 at 8:02 AM · I am ALWAYS planning trips. Always. The planing is what keeps me going during the 40-50 hour work week. I may not take a given trip, but I have a plan for it!
December 20, 2014 at 3:57 PM · Depending on what you consider planning, I fall under either the 3-6 month or 6-12 month option. I don't personally consider it planning until you've decided on a destination (hence why I chose the former), but if you count the idea generation phase I would be in the latter. When it comes to theme park trips, each December I compile a list of the theme parks I'd like to visit for the next season. I then take about a month to see how many reasonable trips I could form from the list of 20+ parks. After this is done, I start looking at other factors to determine which trip(s) to do, and by about March I've got the entire summer nailed down. After that point, all that is left is booking flights, hotels, and car rentals.

Now, I haven't actually booked a trip myself yet (at 23 and with no income it's difficult to do so), but I have done group trips with other organizations (generally Theme Park Review). For these, signups typically occur in the Fall and you have until around March to commit or drop. However, when I'm able to start creating my own trips in a couple years I'll most likely follow the above procedure (I've done it for fun for the last couple years, just haven't booked anything). Personally, I would never plan something more than a year out other than in the most general form (for instance, I'm currently thinking about a Florida trip in 2017 that would include all the parks over two weeks, but I haven't got further than that), and unless it's a day or weekend trip that doesn't involve flying it's too risky to plan less than three months in advance.

December 22, 2014 at 11:05 AM · Being DVC members, we "have" to start planning our Disney vacations a year ahead of time.

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