Planning a trip to Walt Disney World in the near future? Here are a few suggestions to make your vacation as enjoyable as possible for every member of your family:
** Don't underestimate the need for advance planning. We laughed at the need for a guidebook on our first trip ... and boy, were we sorry. Great advance planning can mean the difference between a great time and a "never-again" experience. For more great tips on WDW, pick up one of the super guides to WDW, such as Birnbaum's Walt Disney World (the official guide), Kim Wright Wiley's Walt Disney World With Kids or The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger. All are in the $10-$15 range and are updated yearly. If you and your family would like an advance look at the park, take a look at Disney Interactive's new CD-ROM, Walt Disney Explorer. This $35 CD-ROM for Mac/Windows will give you an in-depth, interactive tour of the WDW theme parks, hotels and attractions so you can plan your trip together. Another great idea: Pour over the WDW Official Website: Walt Disney World - Official Home Page. It has all of the information you need to plan a visit to Mickey's home.
** If at all possible, buy your tickets in advance before going to the theme parks. The ticket lines can get very long. If you're staying at one of the Disney resorts (and some other Orlando area hotels), you can purchase your admission passes from Guest Services at the property. Ask the concierge for more information. You can also purchase tickets by mail by calling (407) W-DISNEY or by visiting any of the Disney Stores (800-237-5751).
** Clearly understand the advantages of staying at a WDW-managed hotel, and weigh these perks against the cost of doing so. If you're staying at a WDW property, you'll be able to take advantage of early admission to the parks (a 1 1/2 hour head-start on everyone else!), free parking at the parks, and loads of transportation options. When it comes down to it, it's convenience and preferred treatment vs. the generally lower cost of rooms and meals outside the parks. Take your pick. With the prices available at the All Star Resorts, however, the cost of rooms factor may be less of an issue.
** Make your dining, activity and event reservations early -- preferably at the same time you make your hotel reservation. Some dinner shows (such as the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue) can often be sold out months in advance. You can make your reservations up to 2 years in advance for some events, up to 60 days in advance for WDW restaurants, and up to 30 days in advance for golf tee times. Call Central Reservations at 407-W-DISNEY or dining reservations at 407-WDW-DINE for more information on these policies.
** Know your way around the system. The first time we visited Disney World, we were badly prepared and didn't make advance reservations for any events or shows. We wanted to attend one of the character meals but were told they were booked for the entire length of our stay. If this happens to you, don't despair. Be aware that some character breakfasts (like those at the Dolphin and the Swan) are not booked through central reservations and tend to have space when others don't. Also, do your homework and find out which characters will be at each event so you can make decisions accordingly.
** Find out the schedule for which park will be opening early for WDW guests. Here's how it looked when we visited recently: Magic Kingdom -- Monday, Thursday, Saturday; Epcot Center -- Tuesday and Friday; Disney-MGM Studios -- Wednesday and Sunday. The Animal Kingdom generally opens at 7 a.m. and closes at dusk -- check for current times based on the season you'll be visiting. If you're staying in WDW, plan go to the early-admissions park as often as possible and be there as soon as it opens. You'll be asked to show your WDW guest identification cards at the gate in order to get in early. If you are not staying in WDW, avoid the early-admissions park as often as possible. The crowds there will be much greater than in the other areas of WDW.
** Investigate your transportation options and make decisions wisely. If you are staying within WDW at one of the more convenient resorts (such as the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Beach & Yacht Clubs), Disney's transportation system is the hands-down winner. The folks at WDW have done a masterful job at implementing a fun, effective transportation system -- especially on the monorail and ferry lines. If you will need to use the buses during a heavily crowded period, ask about the length of your ride and the numbers of transfers and stops. This is especially important when trying to weigh using the WDW transportation system vs. driving your own car.
** If you will be needing childcare during the day or in the evening, make reservations well in advance. Childcare is not available in the theme parks, but many WDW and off-property resorts offer great kids camps and childcare options. In the past, our kids have enjoyed the Neverland Club at the Polynesian Resort (make reservations by calling 407-WDW-DINE) and we've heard similar rave reviews from other parents. Daytime supervised childcare is available through KinderCare (make reservations by calling 407-827-5437). Other evening activity centers are also available within the Walt Disney World complex, and can be reserved through WDW-DINE or through the Contemporary Resort (407-824-1000 ext. 3038). If you're not staying at WDW, call the concierge at your hotel or resort and find out what's available. Many concierges can also help you find in-room sitters. We've also heard of a service called Fairy Godmothers in Orlando that can provide in-room babysitting as well as a host of other services. You may reach them at (407) 277-3724.
** Try to go to popular rides or shows during off-peak hours. We've found the best times to be from 7:30 - 9:30 in the morning (for early-admission parks), from about 5:30 - 7:00 p.m., and then for an hour before closing. The waiting lines are substantially less at these times. Likewise, how the crowds are moving and go in the opposite direction. Usually this means going left instead of breaking to the right.
** Let every family member participate in planning your WDW stay. Allow everyone to pick one ride or event to go to, as long as it's within your budget. Decide on what time you'll get to the parks, an appropriate time to break for meals or a rest, whether you'll split up or stay together, where you'll go for lunch and dinner, and how late you'll stay at the park. This process helps to manage expectations and avoid any disappointments. Above all, make sure to designate a meeting place in case someone accidentally gets separated from the group. The Guest Relations area has always worked for us. Other parents have suggested dressing the family in the same bright color t-shirts (like yellow, orange or red) or wearing easily identifiable caps. In case the worst happens, go immediately to the lost child area at Guest Relations. They are experienced in this type of event and can help.
** Know your own family and be your own judge. While it's helpful to know what other people think are the "don't miss" attractions or the "too scary" rides, our family has found it's important to make your own decisions. While some may deem "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Big Thunder Railroad" tops, others may find them to be boring or too frightening. If your six-year old is a major thrill-seeker (and is tall enough!), you may be surprised to find Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and MGM's Tower of Terror at the top of their "can't be beat" list, while Take Flight might merit a yawn. Know what's likely to scare or thrill, and choose your rides and events accordingly. Some of the 3-D shows, like "It's Tough to be a Bug" at Disney's Animal Kingdom, may be a bit intense for little ones.
** Don't be totally focused on "getting your money's worth". This was another of our big mistakes on our first trip to Disney World, and according to a few Disney World experts -- one of the most common. We pushed too hard. Focus instead on the needs of your family and on having a good time. Accept the fact that you may not see everything, and just enjoy yourselves. For example, try to leave the park in the afternoon and take a relaxing dip at your hotel. This is especially important during the summer months when the heat can be a problem.
** Be prepared for LOTS of walking. Make sure to wear comfortable, well broken-in shoes, take some well-timed rest breaks, and bring or rent a stroller. It's easy to get exhausted on your first day at the park, especially in the heat of the summer. Strollers can be rented at all three theme parks, and the rental covers the whole day. We've seen parents renting strollers for kids as old as six. If you rent a stroller, personalize it with something like a brightly colored handkerchief. All rental strollers look alike, and sometimes they disappear when you've parked it at a ride. While you can get another one by presenting your receipt, it is annoying to have to walk back to the entrance to get one.
** Make sure to bring sunscreen from home, and apply it during any season. You'll find the Florida sun is very strong, and it's easy to get burned even if it's relatively cool outside. If you're coming to WDW during the winter season, make sure to check the weather. Highs during the day may be in the low 70's, but at night it may dip to the high 30's to low 40's. Pack accordingly.
** Be flexible and remember: you can't plan for everything. A trip to Walt Disney World brings with it so many expectations. You want everything to go perfectly. Unfortunately, sometimes that doesn't happen -- but there's no better place to make the best of it than at Walt Disney World. If it rains, go to the parks anyway. You can buy inexpensive rain ponchos that will allow you to get around even if it IS pouring. If you have small children, you already realize that you can expect the unexpected when it comes to tour planning. Some kids get fixated on a specific ride, stop for every single character, or actively avoid the characters all-together. Do your best and go with the flow.
There are so many rides and attractions to choose from at Walt Disney World. Everyone will have their own favorites. To help gauge which rides and attractions would be most enjoyable for your family, take a look at one of the great guides such as The Unofficial Guide by Bob Sehlinger (also available on AOL), Birnbaum's Walt Disney World, or Kim Wright Wiley's Walt Disney World With Kids.
Below, you'll find a few of our personal favorites for different age groups:
For Younger Children:
Dumbo, The Flying Elephant - Magic Kingdom
Legend of the Lion King - Magic Kingdom
Peter Pan's Flight - Magic Kingdom
It's a Small World - Magic Kingdom
Skyway to Tomorrowland (also good for moving around) - Magic Kingdom
Country Bear Jamboree - Magic Kingdom
Grand Prix Raceway - Magic Kingdom
Jungle Cruise - Magic Kingdom
Mickey's Toontown Fair - Magic Kingdom
Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - Magic Kingdom
Spaceship Earth - Epcot
The Epcot Fountain - Epcot
IllumiNations - Epcot
Voyage of the Little Mermaid - Disney/MGM
Beauty and the Beast Performance - Disney/MGM
Toy Story Parade - Disney/MGM
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Playground - Disney/MGM
Jim Henson's Muppet-Vision 4D - Disney/MGM
Festival of the Lion King - Animal Kingdom
The Boneyard - Animal Kingdom
For Older Children and Teens:
Splash Mountain - Magic Kingdom
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Magic Kingdom
Alien Encounter (can be intense for some) - Magic Kingdom
Space Mountain (watch for motion sickness) - Magic Kingdom
Pirates of the Caribbean - Magic Kingdom
Evening Parade - Magic Kingdom
Jungle Cruise - Magic Kingdom
Body Wars (watch for jolting and motion sickness) - Epcot
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience - Epcot
Test Track - Epcot
Cranium Command - Epcot
IllumiNations - Epcot
Tower of Terror - Disney/MGM
Great Movie Ride - Disney/MGM
Star Tours - Disney/MGM
Jim Henson's MuppetVision 4D - Disney/MGM
Backstage Studio Tour, Tram Segment - Disney/MGM
Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular - Disney/MGM
Fantasmic! - Disney/MGM
Kali River Rapids - Animal Kingdom
It's Tough to Be a Bug - Animal Kingdom
Countdown to Extinction - Animal Kingdom
Kilimanjaro Safaris - Animal Kingdom
Cirque du Soleil - Downtown Disney
DisneyQuest - Downtown Disney
Families can find great accommodations for a WDW vacation, both on and off the Disney property. Your first decision when looking at accommodations will be: do you want to stay on the Disney property or outside of Disney World? For most people, this decision comes down three issues: price, convenience, and planned length of stay at Walt Disney World.
Walt Disney World has worked hard to provide a wide range of accommodations in all price ranges. Guests staying on the WDW property at selected resorts will be able to:
* Enter specific theme parks on selected days up to 90 minutes before the general public.
* Conveniently move from the parks to your resort -- you're as close as you can get.
* Purchase length-of-stay passes to the theme parks, available only to Disney resort guests.
* Enjoy free transportation from your resort hotel to the theme parks.
* Have purchases at Disney shops delivered to your room free of charge.
On the other hand, there are some real bargains available on accommodations outside Walt Disney World. For those planning to combine WDW with other Orlando attractions, accommodations outside Disney may make more sense.
Here are a few of our favorite places to stay, both inside and outside the parks:
INSIDE WALT DISNEY WORLD
Disney's All-Star Resorts
These properties are designed for families on a budget, and are a real favorite with kids. Rooms are small, and will accommodate up to four plus a child under three in a crib (although that five is a bit of a tight fit!). The resorts have their own food courts, laundry facilities, lounges and pools. Rates start at $74 and go up to a little over $100 per night during peak seasons.
Fort Wilderness Campground
These private campsites are just a short launch ride away from the Magic Kingdom theme park, and are convenient to recreation, swimming,and other amenities. Bring your own camper (full hookups available) or tent, or your can stay in one of the wilderness home trailers which accommodate up to six people. This beautiful wooded campsite area is very popular with families. Campsites start at about $35 and Fort Wilderness homes start at about $180 per night.
Coronado Springs Resort
This resort intrigues the explorer in everyone with theming based on Francisco de Coronado's travels from Northern Mexico to the American Southwest. You can go on your own archeological dig in the playground too. Prices range from $119-$154 for rooms and $238 to $655 for suites.
Take a trip back in time to the bed-and-breakfasts found along the mid-Atlantic coast. These villa-type accommodations feature shingled rooftops, private courtyards, and New England-style gardens. Prices range from $254 to $330 for studio rooms and $315 to over $1,500 for 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, and grand villa accommodations.
How does a crackling fireplace and secluded woods sound? The lakeside Lodge is inspired by the beautiful Early American National Parks. The refreshing interiors are Northwest-themed, and at the center of the lobby is a massive, three-sided stone fireplace. Prices range from $175 to $390 for rooms.
Port Orleans Resort
One of Disney's moderately-priced hotel properties, Port Orleans is designed to capture the charm of the French Quarter with lots of wrought iron and cascading flowers. The themed pool area here is fantastic, and kids will love the Serpent of Doubloon Lagoon waterslide. Prices range from about $119 to $164 per night.
Caribbean Beach Resort
This large complex definitely has an island feel, with bright colors and lush plantings. Guests can cross the footbridges to reach the island playground and a great food court area. When we stayed here, we were pleasantly surprised by the size of the rooms and the value received for the price. AOL Members continue to rave about this great property. Room prices range from about $119 to $164 per night.
Disney's Yacht and Beach Resort
These resorts are just a short walk away from Epcot, and offer lots of New England-style charm. Rooms are spacious and well-decorated. In addition, both resorts offer fantastic beach and pool areas, complete with sandy beach areas (with sand on the bottom of that pool area to simulate a beach), a water park with a cool waterslide coming out of a ship, three pools, and even an ice cream parlor. Our kids love this waterpark, and we love the properties' location within easy walking distance to Epcot. Room prices range from $264 to over $500 per night.
It's hard to find a resort more convenient than the Polynesian. Located right on the monorail to the Magic Kingdom and within walking distance of the Transportation Center and monorail to Epcot, the Polynesian makes travel around Walt Disney World easy. This is our family's favorite resort, with its waterfalls, lush gardens, white sand beach, and South Seas setting. Rooms are large and accommodate up to five easily. Disney's fantastic Neverland Club is located here, offering great programs for kids. Accommodations range from $274 to about $530 per night.
Grand Floridian Beach Resort
This is Disney's top of the line property, and it shows in the service, luxuries, and amenities guests receive. This grand, 1920's style resort is set on a man-made white beach overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon and the Magic Kingdom. The monorail location makes transportation easy. Guests have access to six restaurants, three lounges, a mini-water park, three pools, health club, and childcare. Prices range from $299 to over $600 per night.
For more information, current prices, and reservations at any of these resorts, call (407) W-DISNEY. You may also wish to consult one of the WDW guidebooks for more information on these properties.
OUTSIDE WALT DISNEY WORLD
Hosteling International's Orlando/Kissimmee Resort
In case you didn't know, hostels are no longer just for teens and young adults. Many of Hosteling International's properties are well-designed for families, and this is definitely one of the best. Located just five miles from Walt Disney World, the Orlando/Kissimmee Resort offers family-size rooms, a lake, pool, picnic area, and a shuttle to WDW for a small fee. Rates for rooms are $36-$47 for non-members and $30-$38 for members. Hosteling International memberships cost $35 per family per year. For more information call (407) 396-8282.
Holiday Inn Sunspree
This Holiday Inn is home to "kid suites", specially themed rooms for families including a mini-kitchenette, and a kids' bedroom/playroom with its own TV, video player, and video game. Families love this resort because it offers so many amenities, including its own Camp Holiday for kids, a special kids check-in area, fitness center, and free transportation to the theme parks. Prices range from approximately $79 to $160 per room plus an additional $50-$60 per night for the "kids suite". There are a number of different "kid suite" themed rooms including "Noah's Ark" and "Igloo", so ask which themes are available for your desired dates. For more information, call (800) HOLIDAY.
Buena Vista Suites
If you're seeking more room for your family, this property offers two-room suites including a refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, and snack bar. It's located only 1 1/2 miles from WDW, which offers a convenient location at a lower off-property price. On-site facilities include a heated pool, laundry, game room, and a fitness center. Room rates are approximately $80 to $165 for a two-room suite. For more information, call (800) 537-7737.
Hilton at Disney Village Resort
Conveniently located close to the Disney Village and Pleasure Island complexes, this hotel caters to families with attractive rooms, convenient shuttle service to most of the area's attractions, and the Vacation Station kids' club for children 4-12. This great kids area is open from 5 p.m. until midnight. Rates range from approximately $190 to $325 per night. For more information, call (800) 782-4414.
Hyatt Grand Cypress Resort
Not planning to spend a lot of time and Disney and looking to splurge on a fantastic resort property? This may be the one you're seeking. The Hyatt Grand Cypress offer nice rooms, an unbelievable waterpark complete with waterslides, grottos, waterfalls, and a rope bridge, golf, horseback riding, a kids Camp Hyatt program, and other activities and amenities. Once you're situated here, it may be hard to get your family to leave to visit any of the Orlando attractions. Room rates range from about $220 to $380 . For more information, call (800) 233-1234.
OTHER SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Other sources of information on accommodations in this area include:
Disney/AAA Travel Center: (352) 854-0770
Central Reservation Service (800) 548-3311
Room Exchange (800) 846-7000
Condolink (800) 733-4445
Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitor's Bureau (800) 255-5786
Great reference guides on this topic include: Birnbaum's Official Guide to Walt Disney World, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney There are a lot of dining options to choose from on the Walt Disney World property. In fact, the choices can be a bit overwhelming. A word to the wise, however: make meal reservations in advance whenever possible -- and as early as possible. It may seem incredible to you, but some character meals and events sell out two months in advance or more.
You can make advance reservations (Disney's term is "priority seating") up to 60 days in advance for WDW restaurants and up to 2 years in advance for certain events. For more information or to make reservations, call (407) W-DISNEY or (407) WDW-DINE. Many guide books state that only those staying at Disney-managed resorts can make dining and dinner show reservations in advance. When we called the staff at (407) WDW-DINE, we were told by several operators that "anyone can make dining reservations 60 days in advance ... and dinner show reservations can be made at any time".
Here are a few of our favorite places to dine with kids:
Character meals can be a great opportunity for your children (especially little ones) to meet and greet their favorite characters. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner character meals are available at a variety of different locations, both in the parks and at Disney resorts. Be aware that there are different characters present at each of the meals, so if your child is crazy about Minnie -- make sure to choose a character meal at which she will be present. Food is generally served buffet style and varies somewhat by location. Make sure to ask the operators at WDW-DINE about menus and prices at each location. Generally, character meals range from $8-$20 per person. While expensive, they can be a relaxed way to meet the characters on those crowded park days.
Some of our favorite character meals include:
Minnie's Menehune Breakfast at the Polynesian's Ohana
Chef Mickey's Breakfast and Dinner at The Contemporary
Breakfast with Mary Poppins and Friends at the Grand Floridian
Liberty Tree Tavern Dinner at the Magic Kingdom Park
Pocohontas and Friends Breakfast at The Wilderness Lodge
Advance reservations are required for all dinner shows, and some of these are extremely popular. Make sure to call (407) WDW-DINE as soon as possible to make reservations. The Hoop-Dee-Do Musical Review at the Fort Wilderness Resort is a big hit with families. Although three seatings are offered (5:00, 7:15 and 9:30 p.m.), this show sells out fast.
OTHER DISNEY AREA DINING Budget or Moderate Resort Food Courts: We've found the food courts at the All-Star and Caribbean Beach Resorts to be good options for moderately-priced food. $
Rainforest Cafe: This chain restaurant, located in the Disney Village Marketplace, is an entertaining place to eat for families. Advance reservations are not accepted, and lines can get very long at peak hours. $$
50's Prime Time Cafe: Kids love this restaurant located at Disney-MGM Studios. The atmosphere is fun, and your waitress "Mom" will be happy to serve you such favorites as meatloaf and macaroni and cheese. Desserts are particularly great here. Don't expect fancy food, however. $$ Reservations Suggested.
Planet Hollywood: This very popular restaurant is located at Disney's Pleasure Island (right next to the Disney Village Marketplace). Meals are reasonably priced for the WDW area, and the kids will love all of the Hollywood memorabilia. Reservations are not accepted, and lines can get very long at peak hours. $$
Epcot Restaurants: There's something almost irresistable about eating at one of the Epcot eateries. It seems like a wonderful way to "sample the world", and it can be hard to walk away from this area at dinner. In our experience, some of the most family-friendly places to eat at Epcot are: Biergarten (the oompah music is very entertaining for younger ones, $$), San Angel Inn (kids can ride El Rio del Tiempo while waiting for the food, $$), and Yakitori House (fast food - great skewered chicken and beef, $).
The Coral Reef: Our family loves this Epcot restaurant, and makes this a "must visit" when we come to WDW. One whole wall is glass, giving diners a marvellous view of the Living Seas tank. Try to get a table right next to the tank for maximum enjoyment and value for your dollar. This restaurant is very expensive, and is very difficult to get into without reservations. $$$ Reservations Strongly Suggested.
Jungle Jim's: This family restaurant located close to WDW offers a great kids' menu, special entrees, and reasonably-priced food. Reservations are not accepted. For more information, call 407-827-1257. $$
California Grill: Looking for an awesome place to have dinner and watch the fireworks exploding over the Magic Kingdom? This is it. This award-winning restaurant located atop WDW's Contemporary Resort has the best view in all of Walt Disney World, and the food is fantastic. I'd recommend this restaurant for parents wishing to dine out alone, or for those with kids at least 10 and up. Call (407) WDW-DINE as early as possible for reservations. $$$
What's New At Walt Disney World This Year
Walt Disney World is on a major growth spurt, with a number of new rides, attractions and accommodations being added. This year-long, property-wide expansion is the largest in the 27-year history of Walt Disney World. Here's what's new for 1999:
· Cirque du Soleil premiered its renowned blend of acrobatics, theatrics and special effects with LaNouba, its all-new production located in Downtown Disney's West Side. The custom-built theater allows the cast of over 60 artists from around the world to perform their show year-round. Performances are twice daily, Wednesday through Sunday. As of now, no shows are offered on Monday or Tuesday.
· Don't miss Fantasmic!, a great new show presented nightly at the new Hollywood Hills Amphitheater at Disney-MGM Studios. In this 25-minute show, Mickey Mouse dreams he is in a battle to overcome a number of wicked adversaries. Mickey's world of magical dreams creates dancing waters, dazzling lasers, shooting comets, animated fountains, swirling stars, balls of fire, and other special effects. A cast of 50 performs this show, which is set to the melodies of favorite Disney classics.
· Test Track has finally opened at Epcot. Each Test Track vehicle is powered by three onboard computers which together have more processing power than the Space Shuttle. An assortment of proving grounds test covering suspension, brakes, and ride-handling, the nearly mile-long track climaxes in a 65 mph turn banked at 50 degrees. This attraction has been experiencing long lines, so plan to ride this at off-peak hours if possible.
· Asia has opened at Disney's Animal Kingdom, giving guests more to explore in this theme park. Great new attractions include the Kali River Rapids, a wild river raft ride on the turbulent Chakranadi River. The 12-person rafts go over waterfalls and encounter a number of steep drops. Even in a full-length rain slicker, you will get wet on this ride! The Maharajah Jungle Trek takes you on a walk through the lush home of a wide variety of animal and bird species. Here, in the mythical village of Anandapur, you'll see gibbons, tigers, giant fruit bats, and a Komodo dragon. Flights of Wonder is a humorous show highlighting the beauty and diversity of birds. Macaws, ibis and other birds come out of the alcoves to fly high overhead. Trainers also demonstrate how birds respond to a variety of audio or visual clues, as well as how they hunt and eat.
· The curtain is going up for "Disney's Doug Live!", bringing the star of the animated television show to life in a musical stage show at Disney-MGM Studios. The new stage adventure follows 12-year old Doug Funnie, his dog Porkchop, best friend Skeeter, secret crush Patti, and the class bully Roger, through the adventures of pre-teen life.
· Disney's Winter Summerland is an elf-sized golf course divided into two 18-hole experiences. Located next to Disney's Blizzard Beach water park, the miniature golf courses have two different themes.
· The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh will be coming to the Magic Kingdom during the summer of this year. Guests can join Pooh and his friends in Fantasyland for a magical journey through a storybook page and into the Hundred Acre Wood.
· This summer will mark the return of the original "Main Street Electrical Parade" at Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom. More than 500,000 twinkling lights bedeck the 26-float procession depicting Disney fantasy themes. This original parade enchanted millions at California's Disneyland.
· Coming to Disney-MGM Studios in August is Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, the first Walt Disney World attraction to feature a high-speed launch and multiple complete inversions. The twists and turns of the vehicle will be amplified by a synchronized rock soundtrack playing from mounted speakers inside each vehicle.
· There's a third value-priced All Star resort, Disney's All-Star Movies Resort, featuring giant images from "101 Dalmations", "Fantasia", "Toy Story", "The Mighty Ducks", and "The Love Bug". Guests will also enjoy a movie-inspired food court and a hockey-themed pool.
Dream vacations to Walt Disney World are fun, but they can also be expensive. Here are a few ideas for saving money on your next trip:
** Carefully budget an amount of money to be spent on souvenirs, and make sure to communicate that in advance to all members of the family. It's very easy to break the bank in this one area alone. One money-saving tip that's worked well for us is the "WDW Bottle Bank". At the beginning of each year, our family sets out a large clear plastic jar for saving change. Each family member deposits loose change into the jar to be used for a vacation at some time in the future. During some years, we've had enough change in the jar to pay for an entire four-day vacation. This year, it was just enough to pay for souvenirs. Once we took the change to the bank, we divided the total amount and everyone knew what their souvenir budget was for the trip.
** Purchase one of the great WDW guidebooks available at your neighborhood bookstore. We really liked The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger, but Birnbaum's 1999 Walt Disney World is also helpful. Disney Interactive's new CD-ROM, Walt Disney World Explorer, is another great way to plan your trip. These books will save you money, time, and aggravation in getting around WDW. It's a small investment to pay for the return you'll receive. For more online help, check out Walt Disney World's online site: wwww.disney.com.
** There are a mind-boggling array of ticket and pass options for admission to WDW. Carefully evaluate your admissions options for entering Disney World and choose the option that suits your vacation best. Again, don't purchase more than you need -- but don't underestimate, either. The one-day ticket is your least expensive option, but it's restricted to use in one area of WDW only. Some options, like the length-of-stay pass, are available only to those guests staying at a WDW hotel. Ticket prices can range from a one-day/one-park price of over $40 per adult to a Five-Day World Hopper Pass of almost $225 per adult. Plan carefully. If you're really only going to visit two parks during your three-day stay, it will be cheaper to purchase two one-day passes rather than a 3-day length-of-stay pass ... and you'll save a lot of money.
** If you're planning on taking lots of pictures, make sure to buy your film at home or purchase it outside of the WDW theme parks. Film and disposable cameras are very expensive at WDW, as are extra tapes for your video camera. Don't forget to purchase sunscreen at home, too. You'll need it!
** Rules at the WDW theme park prohibit individuals from entering the park with food or drink. We have, however, seen and read about families bringing lunches and juice boxes into the park in backpacks and diaper bags in order to save money. Another alternative is to pack a lunch and leave it in the car to enjoy as a "tailgate party" at the appropriate time. Other families take pains to return to their rooms for lunch, or make sure to rent condos or rooms with kitchens. Make no bones about it .... meals and snacks at WDW are expensive. If you're not staying in one of the WDW hotels and don't want to go all the way "home" for lunch, think about going to one of the WDW budget hotels for a meal there. Check in advance to see which food courts are open for lunch.
** Do you have your heart set on eating at one of WDW's most expensive restaurants -- but can't stomach the price? Try eating your main meal at lunch. The entrees are about the same as those on the dinner menu, but they're much less expensive than you'd pay a few hours later.
** Try to check out a few "fast-food" outlets at the park before purchasing take-out meals. Prices can vary as much as $10-$15 for the same family meal ... just by walking around the corner.
** Try to visit Walt Disney World during one of their Value Seasons. Typically, these take place right after New Year's through early-February, from mid-April through early June, from September through early November, and most of December (except for Christmas week). During these time periods, you will find lower rates at the WDW properties than in the Regular Season. Because these periods are also less busy, lines are shorter, too.
** When considering accommodations, don't pay for more than you need. The economy properties at Disney are great (especially the All Star, Port Orleans and Caribbean Beach Resort options), although they aren't as close to the parks as other hotels in the World. Also, weigh the "on property/off property" decision carefully. Rooms and meals outside of Walt Disney World tend to be considerably cheaper than those on property, although there are some really advantages in favor of staying at WDW. These include the convenience and shorter commuting time (although this varies considerably by hotel); early entry into the theme parks (1 1/2 hours earlier than everyone else -- a huge advantage during the busy seasons!), priority seating for lunches, dinners, shows and other events; guaranteed theme park admission; free parking; recreational privileges and discounts; and great options for child care, kids programs and babysitting. Weigh your family's needs carefully and choose accordingly.
** If you want to stay on the Walt Disney World property, consider joining the Magic Kingdom Club. On past trips, membership in this club saved us up to $100 per night on our room at Walt Disney World! There are only so many rooms allotted for Gold Club discounts each night, so make sure to book early. The amount of the discount on lodging varies by the classification of the property (30% for deluxe, 20% for moderate and 10% for economy) and the time of the year. Gold Club members also receive discounts on park admission, car rentals, some flights on Delta Air Lines, some Disney merchandise, and special vacation packages. The cost is $65 for a two-year membership. Seniors or Disney stockholders may join for $50 for two year memberships. For more information, call 1-800-56-DISNEY or 714-781-1550. It takes two weeks to have your membership materials delivered, but if you're calling at the last minute, you can have your materials delivered in two business days for an additional $8. You must have the card in hand to receive the discount.
** If you're driving down to Walt Disney World and have not yet booked your accommodations, check in at the Disney/AAA Travel Center off I-75 at Exit 68 in Ocala, Florida. This center Disney hotel rooms at substantial discounts (rumored to be as high as 40% at times!), but you must reserve your room in person at this center. They will not take bookings over the phone, and the number of rooms at each hotel varies by date and season. The Center also books hotels off the WDW property as well. For more information, call 352-854-0770. Please note: the Center will not quote specific rates or discounts over the phone. Those who have reserved rooms on a walk-in basis, however, have reported getting great deals.
** If you are a member of AAA, AARP, or other organizations, check to see what types of discounts you might receive. You will often receive discounts on park admission, and may also receive other discounts on packages and Disney hotels.
** If you call Disney to make reservations (407-W-DISNEY or 714-999-4565 for Disneyland), make sure to ask about any discounts or special rates in effect for the hotel you are interested in during the time period you'll be there. The Disney reservationists will not volunteer any discounts. Likewise, if you are a member of the Gold Club, Magic Years Club, or other organization, make sure to mention it to the reservationist and ask about the discount.
** If you're planning a camping trip to Disney, think about joining the Florida Camper Club. Your $19.95 membership will earn you discount coupons valued at $500 which can be used at campgrounds, attractions, RV parks, restaurants and other locations. A Florida camping directory is also included in your membership. For more information, call 877-226-7352.
** If you're booking through Disney, be aware that reservations are held for a week while awaiting payment. If payment is not received, these reservations will expire. If the property you're seeking is not available, don't give up. Make other reservations, and then check back during your grace period to see if a room at the hotel (and price level!) you desire has been freed up by a cancellation or non-payment. This strategy worked very well for us two years ago and saved a substantial amount of money.
** Call and order the Orlando Vacation Planner. You may do so by dialing (800) 646-2092 or (407) 363-5847. Specifically request the Orlando Magicard. Your Vacation Planner will contain information on receiving discounts of up to 50% on area accommodations, as well as discounts on attractions, shopping and restaurants.
** Check out the Econoguide: Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Epcot, and other Major Florida Attractions. It contains over $2,500 in discount coupons and offers, and is available for $15.95 in bookstores.
** For cheap airfares, the operative rule is to shop around. Call a travel agent and see what they can find for you. Then, call some of the consolidators and wholesalers (you'll find names and phone numbers in the "Money Saving Tips" area of FTN's Bargain Bonanza) and see what fares they have listed from your city. Watch AOL (the Independent Traveler's "Bargain Box" is especially good) and scan your newspaper for short-term promotions and fare wars that might lower your rate. Make sure to check out some of the discount-price airlines (such as Delta Express, MetroJet and Southwest) that offer low rates. If great Orlando airfares are sold out, check out bargain seats to Jacksonville, Florida. Those seem to be around long after Orlando and Tampa have sold out.
** Orlando's Visitor Information Center located at 8723 International Drive, can provide discounts of up to 25% on tickets to major area attractions, including a small discount on WDW tickets. For more information, stop by after you arrive in Orlando or call 407-363-5872.
** Think about whether you really need a rental car. If you're going to be staying on the WDW property at one of the hotels on the monorail (like the Polynesian) and you don't plan to tour other Orlando attractions, you may not need a rental car. The WDW transportation system is very efficient. Transportation times can vary dramatically, however, depending upon your hotel destination, crowds, and other factors. For this reason -- or if you're visiting attractions outside WDW, you may decide a rental car is necessary. National Rental Car (the official rental car agency of WDW) offers some specials for WDW guests. Call all of the major rental car firms and see what specials they are offering. If you're staying for at least 5 days, you'll qualify for the special weekly rate. Low weekend rental rates are also available.