Special Info for these Crazy Times:
Everything is Different at WDW since it Reopened See these Posts to see what's different!
- Planning and Executing Your Walt Disney World Vacation During These Trying Times
- Our Return to Walt Disney World
- Our Second Trip Back to Walt Disney World
- Using the Walt Disney World Theme Park Reservation System
Here is Military Disney Tips’ 2021 Walt Disney World Planning Guide that will guide you through the process of preparing for your vacation.
(Updated December 2020)
Hi there, I’ve written this guide and checklist to help guide military members and their families through the complexities of getting ready for a Walt Disney World vacation.
This checklist has milestones and timeframes that are a certain number of months or days prior to your vacation start date. These are the dates that you should ideally accomplish these items if you have all the time in the world to plan.
But we all know how military schedules can be and that you could very well be playing catch up for a short notice trip, or planning a trip for shortly after a new year’s Salute offer is announced.
If that is the case, just do the best that you can to get all the items accomplished as needed in order to get yourself on schedule. If there are some items that you can’t accomplish you can come back to them, but be sure to do anything that you can.
This post covers what you will need to be learning and doing and also offers some explanation of each topic or item. I’ll then provide links to other material which will cover the individual topics in more depth.
Well, there is a lot to do and think of while you are planning and getting ready so lets jump right into it, shall we?
Note: That since reopening in summer 2020, Walt Disney World has been operating in an abnormal operations mode due to social distancing issues. You should see our Special Info for these Crazy Times section of links at the very top of this post for full info. We have made some notes as needed on this post also.
The Planning Stage – Well in Advance
When to Go
Your first important decision is when to go. Your duty schedule may dictate a certain period that you are required to take leave or you may be able to choose any date that you’d like (perhaps based upon the kid’s school schedule).
The most important thing cost wise to consider is that if possible you should take your Disney vacation during a period when Disney’s Armed Forces Salute is in effect.
These Salutes are offered individually for roughly one-year periods. But the Salutes are typically blocked from use for a weeklong period from just before Christmas through New Years or just after, as well as a week to 20 days during the height of Spring Break.
Using the Disney Armed Forces Salute will save you about 50% off of select ticket lengths and 30% to 40% off of your Disney Resort Hotel stay.
How long to Stay
The next decision is how long to stay on vacation. You schedule may be the deciding factor here but if you’ve got plenty of leave, then what tickets you’ll use and where you’ll stay will factor into how long you’ll want to stay based upon what each of these will cost and your budget.
What Tickets Will You Use
Note: Not all ticket options are available.
As I mentioned above, the Disney Armed Forces Salute tickets will save you 50% off of similar tickets. These come in 4, 5 and 6-Day lengths for Walt Disney World and in several versions: Park Hopper, Water Park, and both Park Hopper and Water Park together.
Because of the huge discount on these tickets there are very restrictive rules, the biggest of which is a limit of 6 tickets per military member during the life of each Salute offer.
So using the Salute tickets a family of 4 or more people would be limited to 4 to 6 theme park days. Buying the Salute tickets with the Water Park option or both the Park Hopper and Water Park option together would allow you to extend your vacation by up to 6 days by using the Water Park Fun and More options on these tickets.
There are other ticket options that are also available to fit other vacation lengths. These are the Regular Military Discounted Magic Your Way Tickets and the Shades of Green Stars and Stripes Passes.
The Regular Military Discounted Magic Your Way Tickets are identical to the tickets offered to the general public, but at a slight discount to the military through Base Ticket Offices. They come in 1 to 10-Day lengths, in Base, Hopper and Hopper Plus options. You will only save 4% to 8 % off of the gate price based upon length and options when using these tickets.
The Shades of Green Stars and Stripes Passes are sold exclusively by the Ticket Office at Shades of Green (WDW’s military only resort) only to those staying at hotels and resorts on Disney World property. The Stars and Stripes Passes come in 2 to 10 day lengths and include the Hopper and Water Park options. These passes are purchased for a set number of days and expire 1 day after their length, for example a 5-Day Stars and Stripes Pass expires 6 days after purchase.
There is a lot that goes into deciding on the right ticket beside just price, check the link just below for our post on that subject.
- Disney Armed Forces Salute
- Regular Military Discounted Magic Your Way Tickets
- Stars and Stripes Passes
- Water Park Fun & More Option
- What’s the right ticket?
- Tickets Overview
Where to Stay
Note: Not all Resort Hotels have opened.
Now on to where to stay. There are 4 broad classes of where you’ll stay during your Disney vacation: a Disney World Resort, Shades of Green, a non-Disney on property hotel, or off property. Each of these comes with different amenities and price points (pluses & minuses).
Disney World Resorts offer the Disney Armed Forces Salute discount of up to 30 to 40 percent off rack rates. The amount of your discount depends on resort category and availability. Disney Value Resorts are up to 30% off, Moderates are up to 35% off, and Deluxe Resorts are up to 40% off. A set undisclosed amount of these discounts are offered by resort, room type, date and available inventory. As inventory is filled up by desired day at each resort in the varied room types it is used up for that day, room type at that resort. Discounts on the most expensive rooms are offered in far less quantity than cheaper rooms.
Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center located on WDW property. Room rates are based upon rank with junior troops paying less than more senior ranks. Prices are generally lower than those available in the area.
There are several non-Disney on property resorts: the Disney World Swan and Dolphin, and the Disney Springs Hotels (comprised of national chains). All of which offer some sort of military discount.
There are also multitudes of off property hotels that are too plentiful to go into. Just check the national chains or a travel aggregate website (Travelocity, Expedia, Trivago, etc.)
- Disney Armed Forces Salute
- WDW Resorts
- Shades of Green
- Shades of Green’s cost compared to Disney Resorts
- Shades of Green compared to Disney’s Value Resorts
- Shades of Green compared to Disney’s Moderate Resorts
- Shades of Green compared to Disney’s Deluxe Resorts
- Disney’s Swan & Dolphin
- Disney Springs Hotels
- Lodging overview
Start Planning Your Vacation’s Cost
As you’ve been investigating the cost of tickets and rooms you’ve become aware of the biggest military discounts that are available to you. But there are a few others to look into.
Learn about all Military Discounts
We’ve already talked about the Disney Armed Forces Salute room and ticket discounts as well as other discounted tickets and the room discounts that are available. Lets see what other military discounts might be available.
Disney DOES NOT discount food! But there are several non-Disney locations at Disney Springs that do offer military discounts. All of these are very good restaurants offering from 10 to 25 percent off, some just on food, and others on your entire bill.
Read up on Disney World Dining Locations and what they have to offer.
Decide on a few must dos, especially if your kids want to do any Character meet and greet meals.
Learn if the Disney Dining Plan is right for you.
Note: Not The Disney Dining Plan is not available.
Some people love it, others don’t think it really saves anything, rather it is just pre-paying and you might even loose a little.
We don’t really have a lot of dining info besides military discounts here at MDT, so these links, which are all external will help you.
Start deciding which attractions you’d like to experience – Decide which are mandatory, which you don’t care if you hit, and which are in-between.
Study Material for learning all about WDW’s attractions and dining are the following books and their associated websites:
- Walt Disney World for Military Families – This website, Military Disney Tips
- The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit – YourFirstVisit.net and EasyWDW.com
- The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World – TouringPlans.com
- The Disney Food Blog
- AllEars.net especially their Dining Menus with prices.
- Create an Account at disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/
OK Great, we’ve discussed planning; now we will move on to the execution of your plan. From here on out we’ll be talking about timed items that should be completed at a certain time, some on an exact date and time!
Items listed by how many months are “more like guidelines,” whereas those listed by number of days are firm day that you should do something.
These timed items can start as early as 15 months out (room reservations), but don’t worry if you have decided much closer than that to go to Disney, just get done what you need to catch up on.
The most important timed items take place 60 or 30 days out from your vacation dates (FastPasses) followed by the next most important item (must have dining reservations) at 180 days out.
The Execution Phase
15 to 3 Months Prior to Your Vacation
Make Your Resort Reservations
This particular item has a wide timeframe, due to some variables, which we will discuss, but it is always best to make your reservations as soon as you can in order to have the best selection, which should give you a better chance of getting the accommodations that you desire at the best price.
Disney Resort Reservations
Why 15 months? Disney typically announces the upcoming year’s Disney Armed Forces Salute in late September. Those who were waiting for the announcement to come out will now have between 3 months (January) and 15 months (December) until their next calendar year vacation dates.
It is important to make your Salute room reservations as soon as you can!
Disney Armed Forces Salute room reservations cannot be made online, you must call the Disney Reservations number or work through an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner (Travel Agent).
Military Disney Tips has recommended Ears of Experience for over 10 years, over 17,000 military Disney Tips readers have reached out to Ears of Experience during that time. Ears of Experience is owned and operated by a Military Family! Ears of Experience makes more Disney Armed Forces Salute reservations that any other agent in the country. They book all Disney properties: Walt Disney World Resort®, Disney Cruise Line®, Disneyland Resort®, Disney’s Aulani Resort®, and Adventures by Disney®. They have over 16 years of experience booking travel and helping clients plan their dream Disney vacations as well as over 32 years of personal Disney travel including a honeymoon, and A LOT of trips with kids.
If you choose to use Ears of Experience, Military Disney Tips will earn a small commission for referring you. Neither the MDT nor Ears of Experience commissions will come out of your pocket. You will pay the same if you do all the work and make reservations yourself.
Shades of Green Reservations
Shades of Green begins accepting reservations 12 months prior. It is not essential that you reserve that early unless you want to book one of their suites (there are very few) or you are booking for a high volume period like Christmas or Spring Break. You can check availability on their online reservations page.
Link your Disney Resort Reservation to you’re my Disney Experience account.
- Ears of Experience
- My Disney Experience
- Shades of Green Reservations Page
- Disney World Reservations Phone Number: (407)-939-1936
180 days Prior (60 days at this time)
Note: Dining Reservations can only be made 60 days in advance at this time..
If you are planning to partake in one of the hardest to get dining reservations you must make your reservations first thing 180 days prior to your Disney resort check in date for Disney Resort guests (Disney Resorts, Shades of Green, and the Swan and Dolphin) or 180 days prior to the desired dining date for non-Disney Resort guests. Some of these high competition reservations will be gone within half a day (or less) after reservations open.
Options for making your reservation are: using the Dining Reservations function of Disney World’s website or you’re my Disney Experience phone app or calling the Disney Dining Reservations number (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463).
Online and app reservations open at 6 am Eastern Time Zone, while the phone reservations lines do not open until 7am. If you want breakfast at Cinderella’s you need to get online right at 6!
Note: Disney Resort Hotel guests may make dining reservations 180 days in advance of check in for their entire stay (up to the first 10 days your trip). Have your Disney Resort reservation number ready! Non- Disney Resort Hotel guests must make their reservations day by day 180 days prior to the desired date.
The length of trip reservations window gives those staying in a Disney hotel an advantage over those who aren’t and those with longer Disney reservations an advantage over those with shorter ones. You will always have better luck snagging a hard to get reservation later in you reservations window, as there will be less competition.
Reservations will be secured by a valid credit card number, which will not be charged unless you are a no show. In which case there will be a $20 no show fee. This prevents you from making multiple reservations for one meal (to cover your bases), taking up availability that others could use and throwing off the timing of the reservations system at those restaurants. There are a very few restaurants that require pre-payment for your meal, such as Cinderella’s Royal Table and dinner shows.
Hardest to get WDW Dining Reservations:
- Cinderella’s Royal Table Character – Breakfast
- Be Our Guest – Breakfast & Dinner
- Victoria and Albert’s Chefs Table
Harder to get WDW Dining Reservations:
- Victoria and Albert’s – Dinner
- Le Cellier – Dinner
- Chef Mickey’s
- California Grill – Dinner
- The Plaza Restaurant
- Beaches and Cream Soda Shop
You can also begin making reservations for the following items at the 180-day mark:
- Theme Park Tours – (407) WDW-TOUR (939-8687) – See our Keys to the Kingdom Tour Review
- Recreation Reservations – (407) WDW-PLAY (939-7529)
- Spa Treatments – – (407) WDW-SPAS (939-7727)
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique Reservations – – (407) WDW-STYLE (939-7895)
- Theme Park Desert Parties – (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463)
3 Months to 6 Weeks
Make Airline Reservations
If you are looking for the lowest fare this is the timeframe to book your flights.
Prior to 3 months out, airline seats generally have a “regular” or “standard” price, but at 3 months airlines start to actively manage a flight’s prices and will try to incentivize flights with lower bookings by offering lower fares. When you get to 6 weeks out fares will typically go back up, sometimes a lot as those who must fly for specific shorter notice reasons will pay what it costs at that point.
- Disney Tourist Blog’s Tips for Cheap Flights to Disney World
6 to 2 months
Purchase Your Disney Tickets – Have a plan for where you will purchase your tickets: Your local Base Ticket Office or a Ticket Office that ships. Note most Ticket Offices require up to 2 weeks to get your tickets ordered and shipped to the office so plan ahead.
You want to have your tickets in hand prior to 60 before your vacation (Disney Resorts or 30 days (non-Disney Resorts)!
Link your tickets to your My Disney Experience account.
Make your Theme Park Reservations
Theme Park Reservations are required in order to enter a Disney World Theme Park.
Purchase and customize your Magic Bands on your My Disney Experience account, if desired.
Look into Stroller and or ECV Rentals – While Disney World Rents these items, it is at a much higher price point and only in the parks. If you want the use of these items all day you’ll need to go with an outside vendor. Military Disney Tips has negotiated military discounts with several vendors
Arrange Airport Transportation – Minnie Van, Uber, etc.
- Linking Disney Military Tickets and FastPass Plus Reservations
- Uber – Free ride up to $15 by signing up via this link for Uber (or use the promo code steveb14703ue if the link doesn’t work). This promo is for your first ride only, any value not used expires so this is not good for a quick hop across WDW property, but it is perfect for a ride from Orlando International to WDW.
- How to make Theme Park Reservations
60 Days (staying at a Disney Resort, Shades of Green, the Swan and Dolphin, and the Disney Springs Resorts)
Note: FastPass+ is not currently available!
Make FastPass+ Reservations
Those staying at a Walt Disney World Resort and the Disney Swan and Dolphin may make their advance FastPass reservations 60 days prior to check in for up to the first 10 days of their stay.
If you want to experience one of the hardest to get FastPass reservations you must make your reservations first thing 60 days prior to your Disney resort check in date. Some of these high competition reservations will be gone within half a day (or less) after reservations open.
Hardest to Get FastPasses:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Frozen Ever After
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Test Track
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster
- Toy Story Mania
- Tower of Terror
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Avatar Flight of Passage (Currently the hardest to get! Often gone 60 days out)
- Na’vi River Journey
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Expedition Everest
FastPass Plus reservations may be made either online through your My Disney Experience account or via the My Disney Experience app at 7 am Eastern Time.
The 60 vs 30 day window gives those staying in a Disney hotel an advantage over those who aren’t, and the length of trip reservations window gives those with longer Disney reservations an advantage over those with shorter ones. You will always have better luck snagging a hard to get reservation later in your reservations window, as there will be less competition.
30 Days (staying at a non-Disney Resort)
Note: FastPass+ is not currently available!
Make FastPass+ Reservations
Those not staying at a Walt Disney World Resort may make their advance FastPass reservations 30 days prior to each FastPass Plus’ desired date.
- My Disney Experience
- Disney Technology Overview Page
- My Magic Plus – What all this New Disney Technology?
- Linking Disney Military Tickets And Fastpass Plus Reservations
Accomplish your Online Check In through My Disney Experience website or app
Set up Grocery and other items to be delivered to your Walt Disney World Resort or Shades of Green
Many people will ship items they’d rather not lug through the airport directly to their Disney Resort. Food, drink, and disposable items are ideal for this tip.
Start your Packing
Make sure you bring your Magic Bands, Military Tickets, and ticket receipt!
- See our full Packing Checklist
I hope that you find this planning timeline and checklist heplful!
Do you have any other things that you do to plan for a Disney vacation? Let us know in the comments section below!
Planning a Disney Trip? Want to get the best military discounts that are available? Feeling a little confused? Get Our Email Newsletter
Read about the Temporary Changes to Disney World during their Post-Lockdown Re-OpeningSee Our Great Disney Discount and Planning Info:
- Disney Veteran & Military Discount Eligibility Guide
- The Military Family’s Walt Disney World Comprehensive Vacation Planning and Preparation Guide
- Military Disney Tips Disney Packing Checklist
- Disney Military Tickets – Your Start to Finish Guide
- Resorts/Hotel Overview Page
- Dining Overview Page
- Transportation Overview Page
- Technology Overview Page
- Shades of Green, WDW’s Military Only Resort
Military Disney Tips' Recommended Disney Travel Agent
Ears of Experience Disney Only Travel Agency. Military family owned and operated! They know all the ins and outs of Disney military discounts!