No one skips the lines at Disney, but with an official VIP leader (firstname.lastname@example.org) you leave the crucial strategizing, reserving, and fast-pass punching to someone else. Prices start at $175 per hour with a minimum of 6 hours, for up to 10 people.
Prevailing wisdom says that age five is about right for that first mega-park outing, but whenever you go, make sure you have a detailed plan of attack. Former Disney World VIP host Michael Hewell of Tour Guide Mike charges families $21.95 to map out custom itineraries based on answers to a pre-trip online questionnaire.
The most popular rides at Disney World offer a free “Fastpass” reservation option. Swipe your park ticket at any of the machines outside the ride, and retrieve a ticket with a time stamped on it. Come back during the one-hour window shown on your pass, jump on the Fastpass line (you’ll know it from the regular line because it’ll be moving!) and get on the ride. Hit the FastPass rides early in your visit—on busy days, the park stops issuing FastPasses when the slots run out.
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Do: Go easy on the extras
Choose carefully when purchasing Walt Disney World tickets, which in spring 2009 are a whopping $75 for ages 10 and older, $63 for ages 3–9, per day for one park. 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.
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Don’t: Chase 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.)
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Do: Spring for a “deluxe” resort
Disney has eight “deluxe” resorts, such as Disney’s Polynesian Resort, 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 sometimes free airport shuttles. Less expensive, if a bit less thrilling: Starwood’s Dolphin, Starwood’s Swan, and a Hilton—three of the better non-Disney-owned hotels that have sprouted right on Disney’s turf.
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Don’t: Pay more for a view
If a room with a view at one of these “deluxe” resorts is going to cost you more, don’t bother. You likely won’t be there enough to enjoy it.
Disney’s Pop Century Resort and three Disney All Star hotels—which all offer “value” category accommodations, the lowest price point of the lodging options—are a great bet, 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.
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Do: Book a character breakfast
Reserve seats at one of Disney’s Character Breakfasts (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 that you won’t be hungry again until afternoon.
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Don’t: Eat during peak lunch hours
Disney World during the peak lunch hours, from noon to 2 p.m., is a mad house—grub lines can easily gobble up 30 minutes. Instead, snack as you go. Turkey leg, anyone?
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Do: Rent a car
Rental cars start at around $35 a day (through Enterprise)—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 that created Disney World.
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