Go easy on the extras when purchasing Walt Disney World tickets (407/934-7639; waltdisneyworld.com; one-day, one-park pass for adults $71, kids $60). There are four Disney theme parks to tackle: Magic Kingdom (kiddie rides and the iconic castle), Epcot (World’s Fair fare), Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Tinseltown celebrated), and Animal Kingdom (lions and tigers and mice, oh my!). Many folks have had their fill after a long weekend—which means you shouldn’t let the reservations agent talk you into add-ons you won’t have time for. Water-park passes?If you only have a few days, fuhgetaboutit.
Bother chasing after discounted tickets. Advance purchases from Disney or third-party wholesalers knock off only a few bucks. (However, Universal Orlando, 10 minutes from Disney World, regularly posts excellent deals at universalorlando.com.)
Spring for one of Disney’s eight "deluxe" resorts, such as The Polynesian (407/934-7639; waltdisneyworld.com; doubles from $465), if you’re after convenience and comfort. They’re fancifully designed, well-situated, and, like all on-campus hotels, offer guests early entrée to a different park each day, free parking, and free airport shuttles. Less expensive, if a bit less thrilling: Sheraton’s Dolphin, Westin’s Swan, and a Hilton—three of the better non-Disney-owned hotels that have sprouted right on Disney’s turf.
Pay more for that room with a view. You likely won’t be there enough to enjoy it.
Consider renting as a way to curb lodging costs. There are literally hundreds of available houses, many with their own pools, just a mile or two from Disney World. Web sites with rental listings: vacationwithconfidence.com, tropicalpalms.com, and allstarvacationhomes.com. Nightly rates start as low as $88 for a pastel cottage; a two-bedroom condo can be had for $588 for a week—not much more than the price for a night at one of the nicer Disney properties.
Opt for Disney’s budget digs—the Pop Century and three All Star hotels—especially during school breaks. Yes, they’re on park premises, which has its pluses, but they’re crowded and as far from the action as scores of cheaper hotels on U.S. 192 and International Drive.
Reserve seats at one of Disney’s Character Breakfasts (waltdisneyworld.com; adults from $19, kids $12), fun all-you-can-eat shindigs that often get booked months ahead. These guarantee your kids face time with costumed favorites, who get mobbed in the parks. Plus, you’ll fill up on so many sausages and rodent-shaped waffles, you won’t be hungry again until afternoon.
Eat at Disney World during the peak lunch hours, from noon to 2 p.m., when grub lines can easily gobble up 30 minutes. Instead, snack as you go. Turkey leg, anyone?
Brave Disney World’s lumbering free resort shuttle buses, particularly at the end of the day. A ride back to your Disney hotel after the nightly fireworks can drag on for 60 minutes. The same applies to area hotels and their free but infrequent and inconvenient park shuttles—guaranteed to take the Mickey out of you.
Rent a car. They start at $25 a day, about what a five-mile taxi ride costs. Wheels give you easy access to the city’s other attractions, such as SeaWorld and Universal—they both have lighter crowds, and the latter was designed by many of the same brains who created Disney World.
Jason Cochran is the author of Pauline Frommer’s Walt Disney World. He writes T+L Family’s Deals column.
Your kids are little and new to Orlando
First, hit Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Then dip into SeaWorld and Universal’s Seuss Landing.
You need to engage teenagers
Universal’s Islands of Adventure has the most extreme rides in town.
You have a half-day to kill
Disney’s Animal Kingdom opens at 8 a.m., and you can conquer the big stuff by 2 p.m. Another quickie: Gatorland, the 1950’s reptile farm.
You’d like a break from the throngs
Discovery Cove (discoverycove.com; tickets from $189, including lunch), a man-made piece of the tropics, admits no more than 1,000 guests a day to snorkel with rays, wander through aviaries, and frolic with dolphins.
Head to Universal Studios, where most of the attractions—and queues—are indoors. Ironically, SeaWorld is miserable in the rain.
Walt Disney World Fifty times larger than the principality of Monaco, America’s own Mecca is located about 10 miles southwest of Orlando, near the town of Kissimmee. It has, in addition to the four theme parks, 22 company-run hotels, two water parks, and shopping and nightlife districts.
Universal Orlando Located 10 minutes northeast of Disney World on Interstate 4, this complex includes Universal Studios (movies and thrills) and Islands of Adventure (cutting-edge design), plus three Universal hotels, run by Loews.
SeaWorld Home to the famous water works (plus multitudes of Shamus), and as of March 2008, a water park with white sand beaches and a transparent tube slide that plunges riders into a lagoon full of dolphins.
Some Disney fans are—did someone say rabid?Visit these mad mouse holes for details and discussions about the World and its every turn.
If there’s a Disney discount going-especially for hotels and packages—this site will have the details and the code.
This obsessive planning site posts current prices for everything Disney, right down to the popcorn stands.
A slickly presented compendium that includes a section on current deals, plus message boards buzzing with passionate posters, dubbed DISers.
The official visitors’ bureau site offers a free, downloadable Magicard. The measly 10 percent off Planet Hollywood won’t change your life, but the card’s hotel discounts—from about $40—can be worth grabbing.
To learn about Walt Disney World history—what the parks were designed to be, how they’ve changed, and what’s especially cool or disappointing about them right now—head to waltopia.com, intercot.com, or laughingplace.com.