Visiting Walt Disney World this summer but not looking forward to hordes of people and hot summer days?
There are ways to ease the mayhem and turn your visit into a relaxing holiday, no matter the time of year.
Ian Ford is a family travel expert and CEO of Undercover Tourist, providing attraction tickets and vacation advice. He also has some tips for those planning to visit the parks this summer, including ways to pinch pennies and have the type of idyllic, fun-packed theme park experience every family dreams of.
When it comes to planning a theme park vacation, there are plenty of subtle costs involved. Everything in the park costs more, so planning ahead, bringing needed items with you and knowing the rules for what you can and cannot carry with you are all important.
Ford recommends guests do their research beforehand: “Check the official websites of theme parks and destinations you are visiting to see what you can bring in. Often families can pack their own snacks and drinks. Plan for a picnic lunch that will beat the high-dollar dining and park crowds.”
Accommodation is another worry for families trying to save. However, there are a lot of ways to find discounted accommodations.
“Use the Orlando crowd calendar to see the busiest times to visit,” Ford suggested. “These are also when hotel rates are most expensive and rooms sell out more quickly.”
For the best savings, Ford reminds to book in advance, even up to a year, but at least several months ahead of time. You can also use a site like Undercover Tourist to take advantage of offers and discounts on hotels in the area.
Planning to visit during a peak time? Ford recommends taking advantage of some of the extra perks and on-site benefits offered through Undercover Tourist such as extended theme park hours, free MagicBands, the earliest access to FastPass Plus (Disney’s free ride and entertainment reservation service), free airport and theme park transportation and more.
No matter how you book, make sure you keep an eye out for hidden fees that will take some of the magic out of that low room rate or attraction price.
“These could include resort fees or additional charges for hotel parking, breakfast, drinks, toiletries and more. Save a few bucks by bringing along or picking up nonperishable foods and snacks from outside the hotel,” Ford said.
No matter when you visit a theme park, unless you are pulling the kids out of school at a really off-peak time, chances are you are going to have to deal with crowds.
But the best thing about crowds is they tend to have a herd mentality you can beat with modern technology. Undercover Tourist, as well as many other tour companies and the resorts themselves, have developed apps that allow visitors to monitor where the crowds are at any given time.
“Monitor wait times with a free app, made by Undercover Tourist, that provides tons of insider information such as opening hours, special events, character greeting times (and where to find them!), attraction wait times, show times and more,” Ford suggested.
If a ride shuts down, then reopens and there’s no line, you will be the first to know.
One surefire way to beat the crowds (without using a smartphone) is simply to get up early.
“Plan to arrive about an hour before the parks open to beat the crowd and head to the ‘preferred’ rides in the first few hours before wait times reach their peak,” Ford said.
While cramming in ride after ride is one way to enjoy the parks, don’t forget to enjoy some of the slower, more relaxing elements of the experience. Heading back to the hotel and taking a break in the pool to cool off and relax in the middle of the day or at peak times is a great way to spend time together as a family.
“Take a step back in the afternoon and make a trip to the hotel pool, Disney Springs or Disney’s BoardWalk, or a midday nap for the sleepy little ones. While the kiddos re-energize, plan the evening activities,” Ford said.
The hotel you choose is just as is important as packing the right items for the park and having all of the necessary apps and accessories.
Make sure you consider who you are traveling with and what their needs are before just jumping into the cheapest stay. Every hotel has a different look, feel and price point to consider.
“Out of all the resorts, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge has the best lobby, hands down,” Ford said. “Here, you will find amazing animal views from the savannah-facing rooms, as well as the best buffet on property.”
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is the most kid-friendly on the monorail.
“Here, families will experience a beautiful Polynesian aesthetic with an overflowing lava pool. Additionally, families have great on-site dining options, including the Ohana and Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show,” Ford said.
Visitors looking for larger accommodation options can look to Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
“Just a short walk away from the Magic Kingdom, this resort offers some of the nicest villas on the property with a sleek and minimalist design,” Ford said.
Or families can kick back and relax at Disney’s Old Key West Resort.
“This is the place for families looking for that special laid-back island vibe,” Ford said. “Out of all the properties, this one has some of the largest and most affordable villas to choose from. Additionally, this resort offers boat transportation service to Disney Springs.”