Here is Military Disney Tips’ 2023 Walt Disney World Planning Guide that will guide you through the process of preparing for your vacation.
Updated for 2023 – Dec 2022
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 Disney Armed Forces 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?
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 and occasionally other holidays.
Using the Disney Armed Forces Salute will save you about 25% to 30% off of select ticket lengths when compared to the regular military discount tickets and up to 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
As I mentioned above, the Disney Armed Forces Salute tickets will save you about 25 to 30% off of similar tickets. These come in 4-Day and 5-Day lengths for Walt Disney World, both lengths are available in Park Hopper or Park Plus.
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 or 5 theme park days. Buying the Salute tickets with the the Park Hopper Plus option would allow you to extend your vacation by up to 5 days by using the Plus options on these tickets to visit the Disney Water Parks and other venues.
There is another ticket option that is available to fit other vacation lengths. These are the Regular Military Discounted Magic Your Way Tickets.
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, Water Park and Sports, 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.
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
- Water Park Fun & More and Water Park & Sports Options
- What’s the right ticket?
- Tickets Overview
Where to Stay
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: The Disney Dining Plan is currently not available. But Disney has said it will be back. Perhaps in 2023…
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.
I’m not a fan of the DDP. But you might be…
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.
Learn about the Disney World Attractions
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.
See my Theme Park Pages
- Walt Disney World Theme Park Overview
- Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
- Walt Disney World’s Epcot
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Study Material for learning all about WDW’s attractions and dining are the following books and their associated websites:
- The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World
- The Disney Food Blog
- AllEars.net especially their Dining Menus with prices.
Learn about Disney Genie, Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lane Purchases
Disney Genie is Disney’s new planning and line bypass purchasing smartphone app.
Genie can give you tips while touring the parks on the current shortest wait times
Genie+ can grant you daily access to shorter lines on many of the Disney’s theme park’s attractions.
Individual Lightning Lane Purchases allow you to purchase a la carte shorter lines on the most popular of Disney’s theme park’s attractions.
Read more on all three parts of Disney Genie in my overview.
- Create an Account at disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/
- Download the My Disney Experience app
My Disney Experience (often abbreviated MDE or MDX) will be your planning and execution website/app. Disney Genie is part of this app on your phone.
Consider a Date Night
Between deployments, TDYs, training schedules and schools, it’s hard to find time for each other. Consider a date night (or day) while the kids are entertained by a trusted service.
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.
With the end of FastPass+, the only important item to do on a specific day is to make your dining reservations.
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.
Keep in mind that you can always modify or cancel reservations later!
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.
Note, since reopening in the summer of 2020, Disney Armed Forces Salute announcements have been at first erratic and more recently LATE (in November). I’m hoping that Disney will return to September in the future.
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 15 years, and over 27 thousand 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 20 years of experience booking travel and helping clients plan their dream Disney vacations as well as over 35 years of personal Disney travel including a honeymoon, and A LOT of trips with kids. An experienced military spouse agent will assist you with your reservations.
If you choose to use Ears of Experience, Military Disney Tips will earn a small commission for referring you.
Note: when calling Disney prior to the upcoming year’s Disney Armed Forces Salute being offered, some cast members will tell you that you can just make a reservation at the full rate and then “convert it to the Salute rate. This is not true! because:
- The resort, room type, and dates you’ve reserved may not be eligible for the Salute discount (see why)
- Disney Armed Forces Salute rates cannot be converted, a new reservation must be created (per Disney) A cast member may tell you they are converting it, but they are starting from scratch
If you have specific dates and desires I DO however recommend going ahead and making your full price reservation prior to the Salute being announced in order to have the full price reservation to fall back on.
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, Spring Break or during the DoD Warrior Games (in 2022 Shades of Green actually cancelled many confirmed reservations in favor of lodging games participants). You can check availability on their online reservations page.
Link your Disney or Shades of Green Resort Reservation to you’re my Disney Experience account – After you have made your hotel reservation, link it to your My Disney Experience account and assign the guests who will be in the room.
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 some Ticket Offices require up to 2 weeks to get your tickets ordered and shipped to the office so plan ahead.
Link your tickets to your My Disney Experience account.
Make tentative Theme Park Reservations at this time. Make your reservations for your ideal plan taking into account what day you’d like to do each park. You may need to modify these later if your dining reservations don’t align. Reserving a park now will ensure you are not blocked out of any due to attendance caps.
NOTE: In order to make theme park reservations you must have your tickets and link them to your My Disney Experience account! And in order to make Advance Dining Reservations for your entire trip (instead of day by day at the 60-day mark) you must have your resort reservation linked in your My Disney Experience Account.
- Ears of Experience
- My Disney Experience
- Shades of Green Reservations Page
- Disney World Reservations Phone Number: (407)-939-1936
- Purchasing Military Tickets Long Distance
- Disney Ticket Physical Security
60 days Prior
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 60 days prior to your Disney resort check in date for Disney Resort guests (Disney Resorts, Shades of Green, and the Swan and Dolphin) or 60 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 a.m. Eastern Time Zone, while the phone reservations lines do not open until 7 a.m. If you want breakfast at Cinderella’s you need to get online right at 6!
Note: Disney Resort Hotel guests may make dining reservations 60 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 if calling! Non-Disney Resort Hotel guests must make their reservations day by day 60 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 per person 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
- Space 220 – All times
- Chef Art Smith – Dinner
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
- My Guide to Making Advance Dining Reservations
- Online Reservations
- My Disney Experience
- WDW DINE: – (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463)
You can also begin making reservations for the following items at the 60-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)
Adjust your Theme Park Reservations
If the dining reservation you were able to obtain do not align with your previously made Park Reservations, change them now if you can. If you can’t you will have to rething your dining reservations.
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
Make Mears Connect or Sunshine Flyer Reservations (or other airport transportation arrangements)
Now that you have your flights nailed down, it’s time to reserve your ride from the airport to your Disney Resort or Shades of Green.
6 to 2 months
Brush up on Disney Genie, Genie+ and Individual Attraction Purchases – You will want to be up to speed on this brand new technology.I have a Genie Overview here.
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
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. I often have a case of water delivered!
Start your Packing
Make sure you bring your Magic Bands, Military Tickets, and ticket receipt!
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!
How to use the internet for Travel Planning a post on all the ins and outs of using the internet to plan a vacation (external Link Poarch.com)
This MDT Post By: Steve Bell
Steve is the the Military Disney Tips Founder. He a retired U.S. Military Member who's been touring the Disney Parks since 1971! Steve's mission is to help military families with their Disney vacations in every way. Check out Steve's Bio.
Subscribe to Steve's email newsletter to get website updates and news by clicking this link.
Planning a Disney Trip? Want to get the best military discounts that are available? Feeling a little confused? See 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!