When heading to Walt Disney World, many of us start planning trips months in advance. In fact, we suggest starting at least 7 months out. There are numerous reasons for that and we cover them all in our other guides. Generally speaking though, the average Walt Disney World visitor will spend about 5 months planning their visit. Speaking from experience, some people will also spend more than a year dreaming and planning.
Occasionally though, that last-minute opportunity arises. So how can you approach that? There just isn’t time to optimizing every portion of the trip. Can you still go and have a wonderful time? Absolutely. In fact one of my absolute favorite visits was a spur of the moment, we’re stuck in Orlando anyway, let’s get park hopper passes for tomorrow and go crazy visit. I don’t think there could have been any less planning!
In some ways, that was actually incredibly freeing. Take what some may consider a negative – no opportunity to plan every moment getting all of your ADRs and FP+ reservations – and enjoy the lack of planning. Although my day wound up rushed because we did some running it was also exhilarating that we didn’t really have a plan beyond what we were doing.
For a last-minute trip like we’re discussing you need to have a mindset of ‘good enough.’ Things are not going to be ‘perfect’ and that’s ok. A ‘bad’ day at Disney is better than a ‘good’ day at work, right? Of course, I’m fortunate enough that Disney is my work =)
Although I just said that we’re going to have minimal planning and it will be freeing… there are still some essentials that you need to consider and address. So without further ado, I present our Last Minute WDW Guide.
What Are Your Disney Trip Expectations?
Before we go any further, what do you want from this trip? I’m not one to believe in a “size fits all” solution. There are countless ways you could enjoy a short notice trip to Walt Disney World. I truly believe that most people’s frustrations with vacations, wherever they may be, are that they don’t always align expectations with the reality of the situation. You’re just not going to experience the same things with a last-minute trip that you would when given more time to plan.
Do you have a list of ‘must-do’ items? Can you check them before you make any reservations? This may also be just the nudge you need to try something different. If you’re anything like myself and my family we get caught in a bit of a routine sometimes. There is so much to offer that a little focus on not doing the same old can be really exhilarating.
Disney Travel Airfare
For my family and me, airfare is the first hurdle. If we’re looking at a last-minute trip it’s also likely to be a quick one. Both of these factors make finding “cheap” airfare more difficult. Understanding that everyone’s threshold is different I’m not going to get into judgments on what makes a good value.
Airfare is constantly changing based on the market. Yes, most of the time seats jump in price the closer you get to a departure day. However, since a seat on a flight is a perishable commodity, sometimes last-minute airfare will be cheaper than airfare booked months in advance. This is not normally the case. Airlines have made it a science, their business even, to anticipate demand and price fares accordingly.
We suggest using Google Flights to search for your flights. You can set several parameters to watch and receive automated alerts. The site tracks nearly all airlines; Southwest is a notable exclusion. Don’t forget to check not only Orlando International (MCO) but Orlando Sanford International (SFB) and possibly even Tampa International (TPA) or St. Pete-Clearwater International (PIE). Those last two start getting pretty far away, and most savings will likely be offset by the time and need for a car. They are at least additional options to consider.
To me, this is less of a concern but still important. Although you may not always spend much time there, your room is typically central to your visit. Unless you live local or really will only be there for a day this can make a difference. For a short trip, this can be a big influence if you’re taking advantage of a last-minute deal. What good is cheap airfare if you have no place to stay?
If we’re doing a last-minute trip, room rate and airfare are the determining factors. If neither is a deal or just simply not available then it isn’t going to work. Really though, Disney has so many rooms that they’re rarely all filled. Especially if you’re looking for something short-notice, we can find you a room.
Of course, if you’re squeezing this in amongst some business, or other travel, those items may not matter as much.
Disney Ground Transportation
If you’re going to be renting a car, it never hurts to look for some last-minute deals. Take a look at the rental company’s site and the ever-popular Priceline. Don’t forget to look at Sam’s Club or Costco too, they sometimes offer deals. We use Amex for most business things, they also will occasionally have offers that we can take advantage of.
If you’re going to use Disney’s Magical Express for an on-site stay, don’t worry about the luggage tags. If you call Disney’s Magical Express directly at 866-599-0951, you may ask them to be sent to you immediately. They can usually accommodate with at least a week’s notice. Your other option is to simply go to the luggage carousel and collect your bags before going to the bus too.
Of course, we can’t dismiss all of the ride-hailing options either.
Dining may be the biggest adjustment for a last-minute trip as opposed to one with extended time to plan. If this isn’t your first time or you’ve read our other guides you likely know to start making your Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) at the opening of the 6-month window. While there may be limited availability only a week or two out, there will be some.
Fortunately, the days of all restaurants being filled months in advance are in the past. You’ll still have options like Be Our Guest Restaurant that will have limited or no availability. Most of the time though, you can find some options that will satisfy. An exception of note though is during the ‘Free Dining” periods. If ADRs are important to your trip it is worthwhile checking them before making commitments, you can’t get out of.
If you leave yourself open, you just might be surprised by what you find available. It is not uncommon for people’s plans to change at the 48-24 hour window. Sometimes people book an ADR just for an ‘in-case’ and that’s when you’ll find them pop open. Again, may not be your first choice but it might be something new and interesting to experience.
Another point to remember, ADRs are not required. You may try calling the restaurant directly or just walk up to the podium. There may be an opportunity to work you in. Just remember the larger your party the more difficult that becomes. The worst that happens is they say ‘no’ and you proceed on to another restaurant.
Our other suggestion is to focus on counter service restaurants. There are some great options there too. You also have some great options around the World Showcase kiosks, whether there is a festival or not. There is never a shortage of food options anywhere throughout Disney World. This is all without even considering the extended options at all of the resorts and Disney Springs.
Basically, doing a last-minute trip from the perspective of dining just requires altering your expectations. There’s a good chance you won’t get into all of your favorite options, but there will likely be great alternatives. Give those a try instead!
Walt Disney World has a ton of ticket options, some that will be better suited to your plans than others. The right option will again depend on what you want to do. Looking to park hop your days away or just looking to lounge by the pool and check out nightlife?
Disney Travel Itinerary
Some people chart out their entire Walt Disney World trips, spending months preparing the perfect itinerary to maximize their fun. Some people enjoy that (we’re some people), and there’s nothing wrong with having fun planning. However, most last-minute trips don’t allow this level of granular planning. You can still have a strong 1-day plan, it just won’t be far in advance and it may not be all of your top choices. A last-minute trip is not the time to worry about a perfect trip. Which, by the way, there’s no such thing.
This will be easier said than done, but our recommendation for a last-minute trip is to ‘wing it’ as much as you can. We’ve always been planners but with a few last-minute wing-it trips under our belts now we’ve found they can be just as much fun. Often times fun in ways that we hadn’t even anticipated.
Make the ADRs you find, if you want, perhaps even look for a FastPass+ or two, but I wouldn’t stress beyond that. Go with the flow and trust that Fairy Godmother will take care of you where she can.
Obviously, this isn’t for everyone, and some people are cringing at just the idea of it. If you’re one of those people, you might want to seriously reconsider if a last-minute trip is even worth it to you. Last-minute traveling isn’t for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There’s not really much you need to know when planning a last-minute trip other than flexibility will be key. Last-minute trips can be a lot of fun, even if you typically start planning trips 18 months in advance. It’s all about your expectations and your willingness to go with the flow. Disney trips don’t require months of advance planning, and most last-minute planning is actually pretty similar to early planning!
Feeling Overwhelmed? Let Us Help YOU!
Heyday Travel Company can plan a Disney vacation that’s perfect for you. We are a free Disney travel planner with expert knowledge of the entire Disney catalog and Universal Parks destinations. No matter where you want to go, our experienced team is excited to help you make it happen. We provide our service at no charge, so you’ll only have to pay for the vacation itself. If you want help planning a Disney trip that’ll make your dreams come true while also fitting your budget, let’s talk!