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As you have probably discovered by now, Walt Disney World is a huge resort with a multitude of things to do. In addition there are many options as to where to stay and when to go. To avoid a hectic and possibly disappointing vacation some amount of planning is required. The purpose of this page is to provide some general information and some helpful tips that may not be obvious or easy to discover. At the end of this page is a list of links to some web pages that have useful or helpful information about Walt Disney World.
General Park Information and Tips
The theme parks at Walt Disney World are open year round. The parks usually open daily at 9:00 am and close anywhere from 6:00 p.m. to midnight depending on what part of the season it is. Animal Kingdom usually opens at 7 or 8 am every day. Disney changes its hours of operation throughout the year, but there are many places to find the hours of operation including calling Disney World and certain web pages.
The busiest periods at Disney World are from mid-February to August and from Christmas Day to New Years Day. The slowest months are January, September, October and November. The busiest day of the week seems to be Tuesday with Friday and Sunday being the least crowded.
Hurricane season is roughly from August to October. This is probably why these months are less crowded. Though it may rain every day during this season, the showers are often short and sometimes very light. Having a plastic rain parka can make this a very minor inconvenience.
The theme parks are generally less crowded after 4:00 p.m., especially Magic Kingdom and MGM Studios. Epcot seems to be the opposite, it is least crowed early in the morning.
Attraction boards are located in all of the theme parks. It is a large board that lists all the attractions in the park and approximate waiting times for that attraction. This can be helpful in choosing what to see based on the length of the line. There is also a Disney staff member stationed at each board to give you directions to attractions.
Find out when parades are taking place at the park you are visiting. If you have already seen the parade or are not interested in seeing it, this is a good time to see one of the more popular attractions, as lines are generally shorter.
The "great debate" among Disney enthusiasts and vacationers is whether to stay "on property" in one of the Disney resort hotels or to stay "off property" in one of the many hotels and rental properties surrounding the Disney area. The focal point of this debate is price. It is not always easy to tell which option is the best deal. The "off property" lodgings generally offer lower prices and if you get a package deal they often include tickets to the park and a rental car, but the "on property" packages are usually all-inclusive which may end up saving you money depending on what they are including. Also Disney offers certain deals to its guests such as early park entry and e-tickets which are not available to visitors staying "off property". The best thing to do when trying to decide where to stay is look at some packages on and off property and compile an exact list of the things that they include and then compare the prices based on what it would take to make the lists even. Following is a list of tips regarding lodging.
"Off property" lodging options offer a wider variety of pricing and do not require as much advanced booking. The accommodations are often nicer for the same price.
"Off property" lodging is generally more convenient to non-Disney attractions.
Although most hotels in the area offer some sort of shuttle service to and from the parks, transportation around Walt Disney World is much more convenient if you are staying "on property".
Guests of Disney World (staying "on property") can get length of stay passes, which allow unlimited entrance to all the Disney parks. Lengths of stay passes are usually included in all Disney Hotel packages. The freedom of unlimited entry and exit to parks can relieve much of the pressure to see everything. All-in-one-hoppers are roughly equivalent to Length-of Stay passes and are available to anyone.
Early admission to some of the Disney parks is available for guests of the Disney Hotels. During busy times Disney World will open their parks 1 ?hours early for guests of Disney Hotels. Only certain attractions will be open at this time though. MGM Studios opens early on Sunday and Wednesday, Magic Kingdom opens early on Monday, Thursday and Saturday and Epcot opens early on Tuesday and Friday.
Magic Kingdom E-ride tickets are available for guests of Disney Hotels. On certain nights Magic Kingdom will stay open 3 hours after normal closing time and the most popular attractions will stay open. In order to be able to stay late you must purchase an E-ride ticket.
Some other conveniences that Disney Hotels offer to their guests are room charge privileges and package delivery. You have the ability to charge meals and merchandise to your room throughout the Disney World Resort, and you can have any merchandise purchased in the Resort delivered to your room so you don't have to carry it with you.
All the Disney Hotels and many of the non-Disney Hotels offer flexible checkout times to accommodate flight schedules. You have to check with the individual hotels to get the details of this option.
Refillable mugs are a new feature offered at all Disney Hotels. It is a mug that you purchase for a flat rate and you can refill it with soft drinks or coffee for free or very cheap. Unfortunately each mug is only good in the Hotel area that it was purchased in. However it is usable for the duration of your stay and possible later return trips, so it is still a pretty good deal.
Discounts and Money Savers
The Magic Kingdom Club is a Disney sponsored program, which may save you money. There are two ways to get a MKC card. The first is to purchase one which costs $65 for 2 years ($20 additional fee if you are outside of the US). The second way is to get it free through your company, union, credit union or other large organization. Whether you pay for the card or get it free, the benefits are about the same. You do get a few extra gifts if you buy the membership. The card provides you with discounts throughout the Disney resort. Whether the card is worth the money or not depends on what you plan on doing on your trip. Although the lodging discount alone could save you the cost of the card, beware many lodging discounts are not to be used in conjunction with other discounts. At the least though, if you buy the card you get a free tote bag, vacation planning video and 2-year subscription to "Disney Magazine".
The Sunshine Getaway or the Fall Fantasy packages are two package options that can save you some money. They both include free breakfast daily and a coupon book. This may not seem like a big deal but just the free breakfast daily can save you a lot of money if you take advantage of it everyday. Both require at least a three night stay at a Disney Hotel and include unlimited park access but The Sunshine Getaway has only limited availability from Jan. 1st to Feb. 12th and the Fall Fantasy has only limited availability from Aug. 23rd to Nov. 18th. If you plan on traveling during those times anyway look into one of these packages.
Disney Flex Feature plans are a way to save a little money and customize your vacation. If you purchase a vacation plan that includes any flex features, you may use the flex features to purchase from a number of options which include among other things tours, meals, merchandise and golf outings.
All Disney World sit-down restaurants offer call-ahead priority seating. This means that you may call up to 60 days in advance to make a reservation for dining. This may seem extreme but it is recommended that you do call as far in advance as possible, especially if you wish to eat at one of the more popular restaurants or if you have a large party. Keep in mind that this is not a set reservation. When you arrive at the restaurant you will still have to wait 15-30 minutes to be seated, but without the reservation you may not be able to eat there at all. It is highly recommended that you call ahead if you would like to participate in one of the character meals. For preferred seating you can call the Central Reservation Office or 1-407-WDW-DINE (407 939-3463).
If you are a lover of food don't miss the buffet at The Grand Floridian. The buffet is a little pricey but worth the money. Remember that The Grand Floridian is Disney World's premier hotel.
Character meals are very popular with the children. These are normal meals (breakfast, lunch or dinner) with some of your favorite Disney characters. They are held in a number of places and at different times throughout the day. Don't forget to call ahead for a reservation, as the character meals are very popular. If you can try and schedule a character meal for off-peak dining times (not 11:00am to 1:00pm or 5:00pm to 8:00pm), they will be less crowded and your children will receive more attention from the characters.
Richard Petty Driving Experience
The "Richard Petty Driving Experience" is not actually a Disney attraction but it is held at, among other places, the Walt Disney World Speedway. This is not a ride, but an actual Nascar driving experience. You attend a class and then get to ride in or drive an actual Nascar racecar depending on the class you enrolled in. The "Richard Petty Driving Experience" can be somewhat pricey but remember this is an actual racecar with 600 hp, and everyone who's ever done it, without exception, seems to love it.
The Disney Institute is another alternative to the traditional Disney Vacation activities. They offer classes in various categories that are designed to be as fun as they are educational. Emphasis is on participation and hands-on activities. Most classes last only a few hours so you can try one or two in only a day. For a change of pace check out this option, Disney has a good section about it on their Official Home Page.
"Illuminations" is a laser and fireworks show that is done nightly at Epcot. It is always held around closing time and takes place every night at the World Showcase Lagoon. It has become quite a popular attraction and should be seen at least once.
The Disney SpectroMagic Parade is a definite must see parade. It is held in the Magic Kingdom usually later at night. Unfortunately it is only held during peak times so it is recommended that you check if and when it will be held during your stay.
There are several behind-the-scenes tours available at Disney World. They usually cost extra and in some cases involve a lot of walking but if you have the time and the money they are great. You get a chance to see the hidden technology behind Disney World that no one ever sees.