Chapter OnePRACTICAL STUFF
PLANNING BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME
There's certainly no scarcity of information on Walt Disney World. There are more than 8,000 books in print (according to Amazon.com), hundreds of dedicated Web sites and blogs, numerous videos and DVDs, and a growing phalanx of podcasts pertaining to this well-known destination. And then, of course, there are "alternative methods" for finding out what you want to know.
We've boiled down the best sources of information on Walt Disney World to a manageable few, each described in this chapter. If you're interested in "alternative methods," we recommend The Unofficial Guide to Channeling Deceased Members of the Disney Family.
In addition to this guide, we recommend the following resources:
1. THE UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO WALT DISNEY WORLD by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa is the most comprehensive guide to Walt Disney World in print and contains field-tested touring plans that will save you more than four hours a day standing in line. The Color Companion is designed to work in conjunction with The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.
2. THE WALT DISNEY TRAVEL COMPANY FLORIDA VACATIONS BROCHURE AND VIDEO/DVD This resource describes Walt Disney World in its entirety, lists rates for all Disney resort hotels and campgrounds, and describes Disney World package vacations. The brochure and video/DVD are available from most travel agents or by calling the Walt Disney Travel Company at [??] 407-828-8101 or 407-934-7639, or by visiting disneyworld.com. Be prepared to hold if you inquire by phone.
3. THE DISNEY CRUISE LINE BROCHURE AND DVD This brochure provides details on vacation packages that combine a cruise on the Disney Cruise Line with a stay at Walt Disney World. Disney Cruise Line also offers a free DVD that tells all you need to know about Disney cruises and then some. To obtain a copy, call [??] 800-951-3532 or order online at disneycruise.com.
4. THE UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO WALT DISNEY WORLD WEB SITE Our Web site, TouringPlans.com, offers a free online trip organizer, more than 100 different touring plans, and updates on changes at Walt Disney World, among other features. The site is described more fully later in this chapter.
5. ORLANDO MAGICARD If you're considering lodging outside Walt Disney World or if you think you might patronize attractions and restaurants outside the World, it's worthwhile to obtain an Orlando Magicard, an Orlando Vacation Planning Kit, and the Orlando Official Vacation Guide (all free) from the Orlando Visitors Center. The Orlando Magicard can be conveniently downloaded from a new Web site, orlandoinfo.com/magicard. To order the Official Vacation Guide, call [??] 800-643-9492 (allow four weeks for delivery). For more information and materials, call [??] 407-363-5872 or visit visitorlando.com. Both telephone numbers are staffed during weekday business hours.
6. FLORIDA ROOMSAVER GUIDE Another good source of discounts on lodging, restaurants, and attractions throughout the state is the Florida RoomSaver Guide, published by Exit Information Guide. The guide is free, but you will be charged $3 ($5 shipping to Canada) for handling. To order, call [??] 352-371-3948 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, or go to travelerdiscountguide.com. Similar guides to other states are available at the same number. The roomsaver.com Web site has hotel coupons that you can print off your computer.
7. KISSIMMEE VISITOR'S GUIDE This full-color visitors guide is one of the most complete available and is of particular interest to those who intend to book lodging outside Walt Disney World. The guide features ads for rental houses, time-shares, and condominiums, as well as a directory of attractions, restaurants, and other useful info. To receive a copy, call the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau at [??] 800-327-9159, or check out floridakiss.com.
8. GUIDEBOOK FOR GUESTS WITH DISABILITIES If you have disabled individuals in your family or group, check out each park's Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities, available online at disneyworld.com.
Request information as far in advance as possible, and allow four weeks for delivery. Follow up if you haven't received your materials within six weeks.
Walt Disney World on the Web
Disney's official Web site, disneyworld.com, offers much of the same information as the Walt Disney Travel Company's vacation brochure, but the brochure has better pictures. Now you can purchase theme-park admission and make resort and dining reservations on the Internet. The site also offers online shopping, weather forecasts, and information on renovations and special events. Supposedly the Disney Web site is updated daily, but we frequently find errors on it.
Other Recommended Web Sites
Unofficial Guide coauthor Len Testa combs the Web looking for the best Disney sites. Here are his recommendations. If you surf while ironing, try not to incinerate the clothes.
BEST OFFICIAL THEME-PARK SITE The official Walt Disney World Web site (disneyworld.com or disneyworld.disney.go.com) recently underwent its third major overhaul in four years. It gets our nod as the best official park Web site over the official sites for Universal Studios (universalorlando.com) and SeaWorld (seaworld.com). All three sites contain information on ticket options, park hours, and the like, but Disney's site is the most comprehensive and best organized. On the minus side, however, the site remains bogged down by multimedia gimmickry that causes pages to load slower than Space Mountain's standby line in July.
BEST GENERAL UNOFFICIAL WALT DISNEY WORLD WEB SITE Deb Wills's AllEars. net is the first Web site we recommend to friends who are interested in making a trip to Disney World. It contains information on virtually every hotel, restaurant, and activity in the World. Want to know what a room at a Disney resort looks like before you book one? This site has photos-sometimes for each floor of a resort. The site is updated several times per week and includes menus from Disney restaurants, ticketing information, maps, and such.
TOURINGPLANS.COM The Web companion to our Disney World Unofficial Guides is chock-full of useful features. For instance, we've designed 140 Disneytheme-park touring plans, in addition to those featured in this book, that include variations for holidays, seniors, Extra Magic Hours, and those who like to sleep in. If our plans aren't quite what you're looking for, TouringPlans.com lets you create your own, either from scratch or by using one of ours as a template (we'll automatically include restaurant information, hidden Mickeys, attraction trivia, park hours, and weather forecasts), and share it with family and friends. As of this writing, around 30,000 reader-contributed plans are available on the Web site free of charge.
BEST MONEY-SAVING SITE We humbly suggest that Mary Waring's mousesavers .com is the kind of Web site for which the Internet was invented. The site keeps an updated list of discounts and reservation codes for use at Disney resorts. The codes are separated into categories such as "For anyone," "For residents of certain states," and so on. The site also lists discount codes for rental cars and non-Disney hotels in the Orlando area.
BEST DISNEY DISCUSSION BOARDS The best online discussions of all things Disney can be found at mousepad.mouseplanet.com and disboards.com. With tens of thousands of members and millions of posts, these discussion boards are the most active and popular on the Web. Posting a question on any aspect of an upcoming trip is likely to get you helpful responses from lots of folks who've been in the same situation.
Walt Disney World Main Information Number
When you call the main information number, you will be offered a menu of options for recorded information on theme-park operating hours, recreation areas, shopping, entertainment complexes, tickets and admissions, resort reservations, and directions by highway and from the airport. If you are using a rotary telephone, your call will be forwarded to a Disney information representative. If you are using a touch-tone phone and have a question not covered by recorded information, press eight (8) at any time to speak to a Disney representative.
Important Walt Disney World Addresses
Compliments, Complaints, and Suggestions Walt Disney World Guest Communications P. O. Box 10040 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000
Convention and Banquet Information Walt Disney World Resort South P.O. Box 10000 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000
Merchandise Mail Order (Guest Service Mail Order) P.O. Box 10070 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0070
Walt Disney World Central Reservations P.O. Box 10100 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0100
Walt Disney World Info/ Guest Letters/Letters to Mickey P.O. Box 10040 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040
Walt Disney World Educational Programs P.O. Box 10000 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000
Walt Disney World Ticket Mail Order P.O. Box 10140 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0140
Important Walt Disney World Telephone Numbers
General Information [??] 407-824-4321 Accommodations/Reservations [??] 407-934-7639 or 407-824-8000 Convention Information [??] 407-828-3200 Dining Advance Reservations [??] 407-939-3463 Disabled Guests Special Requests [??] 407-939-7807 Lost and Found [??] 407-824-4245 Merchandise Guest Services Department [??] 407-363-6200 Resort Dining and Recreational Information [??] 407-939-3463 Telecommunication for the Deaf Reservations [??] 407-939-7670 WDW Information [??] 407-939-8255 Walt Disney Travel Company [??] 407-828-3232
WHEN to GO to WALT DISNEY WORLD
Selecting the Time of Year for Your Visit
Walt Disney World is busiest Christmas Day through New Year's Day. Also extremely busy are Thanksgiving weekend, the week of Presidents' Day, the first full week of November, spring break for colleges, and the two weeks around Easter. What does busy mean? As many as 92,000 people have toured the Magic Kingdom alone on a single day during these peak times! While this level of attendance isn't typical, it is possible, and only those who absolutely cannot go at any other time should challenge the Disney parks at their peak periods.
The least busy time to visit is from after the Thanksgiving weekend until the week before Christmas. The next slowest times are November through the weekend preceding Thanksgiving, January 4 through the first week of February, and the week after Easter through early June. Late February, March, and early April are dicey. Though crowds have grown markedly in September and October as a result of special promotions aimed at locals and the international market, these months continue to be good for weekday touring at the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom, and for weekend visits to Epcot.
The Downside of Off-season Touring
Though we strongly recommend going to Walt Disney World in the fall, winter, or spring, there are trade-offs for visiting at these times. The parks often open late and close early during the off-season. When they open as late as 9 a.m., everyone arrives at about the same time, which makes it hard to beat the crowds. A late opening coupled with an early closing drastically reduces the hours available to tour. Even when crowds are small, it's difficult to see a big park like the Magic Kingdom or Epcot between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Early closing (before 8 p.m.) also usually means that evening parades or fireworks are eliminated. And, because these are slow times at Disney World, some rides and attractions may be closed for maintenance or renovation. Finally, central Florida temperatures fluctuate wildly during the late fall, winter, and early spring; daytime lows in the 40s and 50s are not uncommon.
Given the choice, however, small crowds, bargain prices, and stress-free touring are well worth risking a little cold weather or a couple of closed attractions. So much easier is touring in the fall and other off periods that our research team, at the risk of being blasphemous, would advise taking children out of school for a week at those times rather than battling the summer crowds. We should tell you, however, that teachers don't like this idea one little bit.
Crowd Conditions and the Best and Worst Parks to Visit for Each Day of the Year
Each year we receive more than 1,000 e-mails and letters inquiring about crowd conditions on specific dates throughout the year. Readers also want to know which park is best to visit on each day of their stay. To make things easier for you (and us!), we provide a calendar on our Web site, TouringPlans.com, and keep it totally updated for you. For each date, we offer a crowd-level index based on a scale of one (1) to ten (10), with 1 being least crowded and 10 being most crowded. Our calendar takes into account all holidays, special events, and more, as described below. The same calendar lists the best and worst park(s) to visit in terms of crowd conditions on any given day. All you have to do is look up the days of your intended visit on the calendar.
Extra Magic Hours
Extra magic hours is a perk for families staying at a Walt Disney World resort, including the Swan, Dolphin, and Shades of Green properties, and the Hilton hotel in the Downtown Disney Resort Area. On selected days of the week, Disney resort guests will be able to enter a Disney theme park one hour earlier, or stay in a particular theme park up to three hours later than the official park-operating hours. Theme-park visitors not staying at a Disney resort may remain in the park for Extra Magic Hour evenings but cannot experience any rides, attractions, or shows. In other words, they can shop and eat.
UNOFFICIAL TIP Whatever edge resort guests gain by taking advantage of early entry is offset by horrendous crowds later in the day. During busier times of year, regardless of your hotel, avoid any park on the day it's scheduled for early entry.
Summer and Holidays
If you visit on a nonholiday midsummer day, arrive at the turnstiles 30 minutes before the stated opening on a non-early-entry day. If you visit during a major holiday period, arrive 35 to 60 minutes ahead of the official opening time. Hit your favorite rides early using one of our touring plans, and then return to your hotel for lunch, a swim, and perhaps a nap. Don't forget to have your hand stamped for re-entry when you exit. If you are interested in the special parades and shows, return to the park in the late afternoon or early evening. Work under the assumption that, unless you use FASTPASS, early morning will be the only time you can experience the attractions without long waits. Finally, do not wait until the last minute in the evening to leave the park. The exodus at closing is truly mind-boggling.
Epcot is usually the least crowded park during holiday periods. Expect the other parks to be mobbed. To save time in the morning, purchase your admission in advance. Also, consider bringing your own stroller or wheelchair instead of renting one of Disney's. If you are touring Epcot or the Magic Kingdom and plan to spend the day, try exiting the park for lunch at one of the nearby resort hotels. Above all, bring your sense of humor and pay attention to the morale of your party. Bail out when it gets to be more work than fun.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME AND MONEY
How much you spend depends on how long you stay at Walt Disney World. But even if you only visit for an afternoon, be prepared to drop a bundle. We've already told you about some Web sites that show you how to save money on lodging, and in Part Four, you'll find tips for economizing on meals. This section will give you some sense of what you can expect to pay for admission, as well as which admission option will best meet your needs.