by Evan Levy
on June 18, 2011
Preview: Best Deals on Rental Cars in Orlando for Rest of 2011
If you take a look at the taxes and other fees you’re billed when you rent a car at an airport, you might wonder whether a better deal might be available offsite, where many of the extra charges do not apply. In cities such as Las Vegas, for example, rentals are often less expensive at some of the larger hotels, which generally have at least one full-service office of a national brand on-site. Our research team set out to determine whether similar deals could be found in the Orlando market off airport property.
As in past years, we began by obtaining quotes from the Web sites of all the car rental companies in the Orlando airport–for economy cars, midsize vehicles, and minivans–for Saturday-to-Saturday one-week rentals during every month from June through December, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. We also got quotes for companies located near the airport, at major hotels around International Drive, and on Disney property–more than 300 quotes in all. To get the very best prices, we also used car-rental discount codes available at MouseSavers.com.
Although there are more than two dozen combinations of car rental companies and locations around Walt Disney World, our research indicates you’ll only need to look at the following to find the best car deals:
- Let’s first look at economy cars. As it turns out, Alamo and Dollar locations at the airport are the two least expensive choices for every week throughout the remainder of this year except for holiday weekends. So your best strategy may be to start by checking out Alamo (Codes: AD4538JCD and 7014139) and Dollar (Code: KISS2) at the airport. (Note: The discount and coupon codes for Alamo have to be entered at the same time in order to get the discount. Also, be aware that you won’t see the complete discount until you’re almost done booking on the Alamo website.) For holiday weekends, check out Budget (Code: W810011).
- For midsize cars, the airport location of Dollar (Code: KISS2) provides good value in June, August and December, while the airport location of Alamo (Codes: AD438JDC and 7014139) wins out in September, October and November. Going on the July 4 holiday weekend? Check out Budget at the airport for the best rate (Code: W810011).
- Looking at minivans? The airport location of Dollar (Code: Kiss 2) will do right by you in June, August, September and October. However, if you’re going on either the summer or winter holiday weekends, call the Enterprise at the Royal Plaza DTD, which can save you, for example, over $600 vs. Budget over Christmas.
Except for certain holidays (see above), renting a car at the Orlando airport is always cheaper for than offsite locations. Most likely, competition among on-site agencies keeps prices at the airport low–it’s difficult to charge significantly more than a competitor when that competitor is 20 feet away and smiling at your customers! Off-site car rental locations, on the other hand, typically have little nearby competition, so they can charge higher rates.
For families, whatever markdowns may be available off-site may not be worth the cab fare and hassle of shuttling kids and luggage back and forth. However, if you’re planning on renting around Downtown Disney, factor in a $52 cab ride each way from the airport for family of four. (Orlando’s public bus service, Lynx, is $2 a person from the airport to Downtown Disney, but you also have to factor in a long walk—a mile to the farthest car rental place.)
If you’re staying at a hotel with a car-rental office, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask about specials for guests. But in general, the airport is a pretty good deal, unless you’re looking at minivans for the holidays.
What have your car rental experiences been like? What are your tips?
by Erin Foster
on June 17, 2011
There comes a time in every Walt Disney World vacation when you find that not all members of your group want to do exactly the same thing. Maybe Mom wants to shop while the kids want more time on the rides. Maybe little brother wants another turn on the Teacups, while big sister wants to cool off on Splash Mountain. Maybe Dad wants to go for a swim, while big brother wants to sleep in at the hotel. Many of these situations involve parents and children with differing vacation wants and needs. Would everyone have a better time if kids and parents spent some time apart?
Kids and parents may have different attraction priorities
When children are small, splitting up is not an option; you know can’t send a four-year-old to explore Tomorrowland on his own. And when you’ve got high school seniors, you may be grateful that they want to conquer the Tower of Terror without you. But what do you do in the intermediate years? How do you know when it’s OK to give your child some time alone at your hotel or in the theme parks?
Is there an official policy?
Over the past five years, I’ve asked at least a dozen Disney cast members in various positions whether there is a policy about what age is acceptable to allow children alone in the hotels or parks. I’ve never gotten a firm answer. While there may be no publicly released policy, there is information from which you can infer the party-line point of view: the on-site childcare centers will accept children only until age twelve. After that, families have to answer the evening supervision question on their own.
Currently, there is no age-of-required-supervision given on the official Walt Disney World website. However, I did find reference on several older Disney-related discussion board threads to a statement on the 2004 version of WDW Annual Passholder site which stated, “Persons under the age of 10 years must be accompanied by a person over the age of 21 years while attending Walt Disney World® Water parks and the DisneyQuest® Indoor Interactive Theme Park. Persons under the age of 7 years must be accompanied by a person over the age of 21 years when attending the Magic Kingdom® Park, Epcot®, Disney-MGM Studios or Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park.” The implication here was that you could send your eight-year-old to the Magic Kingdom alone.
As for what the law allows, I have found that Florida has no legally mandated age for leaving a child unsupervised at home or elsewhere. (I’m not a lawyer. If you need more information, please consult a professional attorney.) But just because it may be technically acceptable to leave your child alone in a hotel or theme park, that doesn’t mean this makes sense for your personal situation. As with most parenting decisions, this really boils down to a judgment call.
Factors to Consider
When deciding whether to give your child time alone at Walt Disney World, there are a number of questions to ask yourself:
The answers to these and a multitude of related questions will influence your decision on whether to allow your child some time alone at Walt Disney World. For some families, a child as young as seven or eight might be ready to go on a ride alone. For other families, a 16 or 17 year old might still need watchful attention at all times.
Practice Makes Perfect
In between constant supervision and a totally solo trip to the parks, there are a number of intermediate steps on the road to a child’s independence at Walt Disney World. Here are some milestones along the way:
Each of these steps gives a different degree of freedom that may feel more or less comfortable given your unique situation. You can use them as building blocks on the road to theme park independence. At each step, stop and assess how comfortable both you and your child are with more separation. If there is any anxiety, then take a step back or wait until your next trip before trying again.
In every case, be sure to discuss contingency planning with your child. For example, several of the restrooms at Walt Disney World have multiple entrances. Would your seven-year-old know what to do if she accidentally chose the wrong one to leave through? If a ride breaks down and someone is delayed or a cell phone battery fails, do you have a fail safe meeting time and place? A few minutes of advance planning can go a long way to making sure everyone has a positive experience.
What have I done?
While each family is different, I personally started letting my daughters go alone into a restroom or onto a ride when they were about eight years old. We’ve gone through several of the steps above and are now at the stage where my 11-year-old twins have stayed alone in our hotel room while I went to the resort’s quick service restaurant for a few minutes. Our 14-year-old has been allowed to explore Epcot alone for a few hours during the day. We have also allowed her to leave the Magic Kingdom and take the monorail on her own back to our room at the Contemporary, texting us all the way. Other families might consider our timetable to be too restrictive or too permissive. Tell me what works for you…
UPDATE March 2013: Disney has changed its policy on allowing unaccompanied children in the parks.
by Tom Bricker
on June 17, 2011
Few people, outside of a certain proprietor of a website dedicated to the park, will claim the Studios (while I am not so entrenched in the past as to keep calling it the Disney-MGM Studios, I haven’t quite adopted the new name yet, so “the Studios” is my compromise for its name) as their favorite park. I know I don’t. In fact, out of the domestic Disney theme parks, the Studios ranks as my fifth favorite park out of the six parks. I suppose if you add Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach to the mix, its ranking of fifth out of eight sounds a little better, but the point still stands: the Studios isn’t at the top of my list.
However, this is not to say the Studios is a bad park by any stretch of the imagination. If it were, this post appreciating the Studios would be somewhat pointless. Rather, it’s much like a flavor of ice cream that isn’t one of your top flavors: it’s still ice cream, and it’s still a heck of a lot better than cauliflower and broccoli. Likewise, the Studios is still an incredibly well done theme park, and should be appreciated as such. But because it doesn’t have the lineup of the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, people often dismiss it as a park. Here are some tips to help you see the true quality of the Studios while touring.
The No-Brainers: Obviously, you’d be remiss if you skipped the Great Movie Ride, MuppetVision 3D, Toy Story Mania, Star Tours, Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. As far as headlining attractions go, this is an incredibly strong line-up. The last of these is arguably the best attraction at Walt Disney World. Unfortunately, it (and many of the other items on the list) doesn’t appeal to all guests. Despite this, I strongly encourage you to venture over to the Tower, walk the queue, experience the pre-show, and then take the chicken exit. A good portion of the amazing experience in the Tower of Terror isn’t the main show itself, but the build-up. Everyone should at least experience that.
The Architecture: From the Pan-Pacific Auditorium inspired turnstiles to the California Crazy Dinosaur Gertie to giant Sorceror’s Hat inspired by…err, let’s just skip that one. With the exception of the Big (insert lewd adjective) Hat, the architecture in the Sunset Blvd, Hollywood Blvd, and Echo Lake areas are really impressive in that they combine multiple styles to create something that flows as representative of the golden era of Hollywood.
The Details: Like the windows on Main Street, USA in the Magic Kingdom? Then check out the windows on Hollywood Blvd in the Studios. These windows allude to the origins of Walt Disney, Hollywood in general, or contain clever puns. In addition to the windows, you can find references to classic Hollywood films scattered throughout the Studios. This first became apparent to me on the D23 Great Disney Scavenger Hunt, when we had to run all over the park finding them. If you want a fun diversion the next time you find yourself bored in the afternoon at this purported half-day park (it’s not!), have your party split into teams and see who can find more film references throughout the park. Or, you could spend the afternoon enjoying many of the great overlooked attractions at the Studios including the Backlot Tour (it takes a lot of heat, but Catastrophe Canyon alone redeems all of the Tour’s other faults), Voyage of the Little Mermaid, the American Idol Experience, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, and One Man’s Dream.
Streetmosphere: Dubbed the Citizens of Hollywood, these characters from Hollywood’s past are the glue that hold together the gears of the Studios. As they are not a fixed “Guide Map Attraction,” I fear the Citizens of America are often overlooked. This is a huge mistake, as the Citizens are essentially an E-Ticket (with no lines!) right on the streets. Performing daily on Hollywood and Sunset Blvds, these characters perform entertaining sketches that feature audience participation. The characters range widely from the washed up starlet “Dorma Nesmond,” who is clearly reminiscent of Norma Desmond from Billy Wilder’s classic film Sunset Boulevard, to police officers who anoint younger guests as honorary officers to help keep law and order on the dangerous streets of Hollywood. The Streetmosphere characters do brilliant work, and are a true gem in the Studios crown.
With all of these positives, you might wonder why the Studios isn’t my favorite park at Walt Disney World. Well, it’s actually only a few attractions away from being a contender for that title. Just for fun, here are the things that I think would make touring the Studios better:
The Muppet Studios: this idea was actually floated for the Studios prior to Jim Henson’s death, and it’s an idea that I think should be revisited. A Great Muppets Movie Ride, wherein the Muppets spoof classic films, should be the first addition to this land. Converting Mama Melrose to a restaurant featuring the Swedish Chef would be next, followed by converting Pizza Planet to a restaurant spoofing Ratatouille featuring Rizzo the Rat. Since this imaginary world is devoid of budgetary constraints, I’d also add an interactive Fozzie Bear Pie Toss game similar to Toy Story Mania.
Expanded Pixar Place: the Monsters, Inc. family coaster that has been rumored for years is the obvious fit for this area, and Pizza Planet would also round out the land nicely. The real estate presently occupied by the Backlot Tour would make a great location for Radiator Springs Racers, but given the current inequity between family attractions and thrill rides, I would instead opt for a Cars dark ride. Use the concept behind Monsters, Inc Ride & Go Seek! but instead let guests control the vehicles headlights.
LucasLand: replace the Backlot Express with…well, something else. The Studios has already gained a restaurant with these additions, so I’d like to see this replaced with an attraction, rather than rethemed to something Lucas Films. Additionally, the rumored expanded Jedi Training Academy in the Sounds Dangerous building would be nice.
Okay, so if I got my way and everything on this wish list were added, the Studios would undergo a more extreme makeover than California Adventure’s $1.1 billion face lift. For what it’s worth, I think the Studios is a great park to tour even without all of these changes, and if even one or two of these additions/changes came to fruition, it would be an even more solid park. It’s fun to dream and play armchair Imagineer, though!
What do you think? Is the Studios really underappreciated? Do you think these changes would improve it? What changes would you make?
by Fred Hazelton
on June 17, 2011
Lines now includes up-to-date wait time models for Star Tours (Disneyland and Hollywood Studios) and The Little Mermaid attraction (at Disney California Adventure). Thanks to all our great Lines users who submitted wait times for these new attractions and of course, a big “hats off” to our front line staff who pounded the pavement in painful repetition to track these attractions for us.
As always, we encourage your feedback! Tell how these models are doing when you are in the parks.
by Fred Hazelton
on June 17, 2011
We booked a holiday for the week starting 20/6/11 based on the predicted crowd calendar crowd levels of between 2 and 3 at the Disneyland park. There has now been a huge jump so that that week has upper 4 and 5 levels. Can you tell me why this has suddenly changed one week out? Is there something I should know and plan for?
We record wait times and track crowds every day at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Every few days or so, we have information in the form of new park hours, up-to-date wait time data or improvements to our attraction models. Whenever these minor changes affect our estimates of crowds, we update the calendar. The question is, what should you do with it?
First of all, let’s be clear that a jump of 2 index points (in this case a 2 to a 4 or a 3 to a 5) represents a jump in the average wait time of about 6 minutes, on average. Not a huge increase by any standard. An average day at a Disney theme park will be between a 3 and an 8. Why such a large range? Well it has to do with the distribution of crowds. Think of it like measuring the height of a large group of people. The seven dwarfs will be the 1s and 2s while the L.A. Lakers will be the 9s and 10s but almost everyone else will fit in the middle. Our crowd calendar is meant to give you a comparative rank of all days irrespective of the size of that difference. So we’re saying that even though the 5-foot 1-inch man only has an inch over the 5-footer, it is enough to get a full point higher in the ranking.
The point is, it is important to remember that although the crowd level for your travel dates may change, if it still in the range of 3 to 8, the difference may not be as great as you think.
by Fred Hazelton
on June 16, 2011
Before January 2009 the Hollywood Studios hosted its nighttime spectacular Fantasmic! nightly at the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater. Since then, the performances have been a few nights a week. This change in schedule caused the single greatest impact in crowd flows at the Studios that we had ever seen. Guests flocked to the Studios on days with a scheduled Fantasmic! show and left the park virtually empty on days without. Well, the days of nghtly performaces of Fantasmic! have returned … at least for a while.
We have changed the schedule and re-calculated our crowd calendar and we were surprised to see that overall, the changes aren’t as significant as we expected. The affect is a slight increase to crowd levels on days when Fantasmic! was not originally scheduled and a slight decrease to days when it was scheduled. Make sure to double-check your travel dates, the calendar may have changed.
This means that when planning your touring at the Studios you don’t have to be as concerned about the Fantasmic! schedule as in the past. Still, keep an eye out for how many shows are planned how they relate to other factors like the extra magic hour schedules.
Fantasmic! performances will move to a nightly schedule from July 2nd through September 30th.
by Kristen Helmstetter
on June 15, 2011
Photo by Betsy Bates
Have you been looking for something to do at night after a fun day in the parks? There seems to be a lack of nightlight around Walt Disney World property these days, but one of my favorite places to hang out into the wee hours is Kimonos Sushi Bar. Kimonos stays open until about 12 a.m. most nights (although the signage outside the restaurant simply says “late”) serving drinks and sushi to karaoke singers, but it is also open for dinner starting at about 5:30 for folks looking for a more relaxing sushi experience. At that hour Kimonos would also make a great place to stop in for a happy hour cocktail during a break from the parks. Karaoke gets started around 9:30 pm so if you are interested in belting out a few songs, stop in later in the evening.
Photo by Betsy Bates
Located in the Swan resort, Kimonos Sushi Bar is an easy walk from any of the Epcot area resorts or from Epcot’s International Gateway entrance. Guests could also easily access the Swan via a boat from Epcot’s International Gateway or Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you’d like to visit this restaurant from another location, hop on the next bus heading for the Swan and Dolphin from any park. Of course the easiest way to get to any resort restaurant is with your own car, and valet parking is available at this location.
The decor here is modern with Japanese details including bamboo, paper
Photo by Betsy Bates
lanterns, and actual kimonos. There is a small stage for karaoke performers at the front of the room and a bar at the back. The space isn’t huge so it creates a more intimate setting especially with its lounge-like lighting and atmosphere. There a few seating areas including a more traditional table set up as well as more lounge like seating groups. You may select whether you’d like a regular table perhaps if you intend to eat, or maybe a couch will be more your style during the late night karaoke festivities. Guests may also sit at the bar if they so desire. A fun feature of the restaurant’s design is the open sushi kitchen where diners can watch their dinner being prepared.
Photo by Betsy Bates
Kimonos is by names sake a sushi bar so you can expect a lot of rolls and sashimi on their menu. There is a small soup, salad, and appetizer menu, but the majority of their offerings center around fresh fish. I am just starting to ease my way into sushi so I have not eaten here, but I have heard nothing but good things about their rolls. The Orlando Sentinel even voted Kimonos as the best sushi restaurant in Orlando! Readers of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World seem to agree since they have given Kimonos a four star rating! It is also a more affordable than WDW’s other sushi hot spot, California Grill.
Photo by Betsy Bates
The restaurant also offers a fairly extensive bar menu, especially as far as Disney bars go. They serve some unique cocktails which cannot be found in the standard bar menu found around property as well as well as wine by the bottle and glass. If you are looking for a Japanese libation to accompany your sushi a selection of sake, plum wines, and Asian beers are also available to guests. Even if you aren’t hungry Kimonos is a great place to hang out with friends and have a few drinks, especially after the karaoke festivities begin.
Like I mentioned, the karaoke festivities get started around 9:30 each night. Now, let’s get one thing clear. I cannot sing. Nope, can’t carry a tune and therefore you will probably never see me attempt karaoke. I will make a fool of myself in a lot of ways, but this isn’t one of them. So I enjoy Kimonos for the sheer entertainment factor. I like to laugh with (maybe at) my friends as they sing along with the most ridiculous songs they can find. Some other guests may take themselves a bit seriously when hopping up on stage, but we’ve always taken a more humorous approach when we visit Kimonos. There is always a karaoke host or hostess on hand to organize singers and queue up the requested songs. I’ve had experience with really great hostesses and also some not so stellar ones. If you’d like to sing just select a song from their list fill out a card for the host/hostess. Then, run right up for your moment of glory when your name is called.
Photo by Betsy Bates
Photo by Betsy Bates
There are few things to note before you head over to Kimonos. They do accept the Tables in Wonderland card, but they do not take the Disney Dining Plan. Also since the Swan is not technically a Disney property, they do not allow guests to charge their room card for their tab. Advanced dining reservations are also not available at this location. If you are in the mood for sushi and have no plans for dinner, stopping into Kimonos should be no problem since reservations are not taken!
I can heartily recommend Kimonos for a night of good food and good times with your friends. It is a little off the beaten path, so it is rarely very crowded, the food is good, and karaoke is often a riot. Have you been to this night time fun spot? Let me know what you think about Kimonos in the comments!
by Henry Work
on June 13, 2011
Just received word that Fantasmic in Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be returning to nightly performances starting on July 2nd through September 30th, 2011! Park hours have been adjusted as well, see below! UPDATE: our system now displays the most current park hours, but it’ll take a couple of days to update our Crowd Calendar and wait time models.
Date: 7/6, 7/8, 7/13, 7/15, 7/20, 7/23, 7/27, 7/29, 8/1, 8/3, 8/5, 8/6, 8/10, 8/12, 8/13, 8/17, 8/19
Update: Park close extended from 19:00 to 21:00 and added Fantasmic! at 21:00
Date: 8/8, 8/15
Update: Park close extended from 20:00 to 21:00 and added Fantasmic! at 21:00
Date: 8/22, 8/24, 8/26, 8/27, 8/29, 8/30, 8/31, 9/3, 9/5, 9/6, 9/7, 9/9, 9/12, 9/13, 9/14, 9/16, 9/17, 9/19, 9/20, 9/21, 9/23, 9/24, 9/26, 9/28, 9/30
Update: Park close extended from 19:00 to 21:00 and added Fantasmic! at 20:30
Fantasmic! will be not be perfoming on 9/2, 9/27, 10/1.
Are you excited to see Fantasmic return to nightly performances? If you’re traveling in July, August, or September 2011, how will this affect your travel plans?
For details about how this new schedule may change the crowd calendar, click here.
by Ryan Kilpatrick
on June 13, 2011
A few years ago, my wife and I took our children to the Rose and Crown Dining Room in the United Kingdom pavilion at Epcot. After a long wait, lukewarm food and high prices, we decided we would never venture there again. So, when my fellow Touring Plans blogger Todd Perlmutter and his lovely wife suggested that we meet there for lunch, I was concerned. Turns out, there was no need.
The view approaching the Rose and Crown
It was the four of us for lunch at Epcot on a busy Saturday afternoon, yet once we checked in it was only a few minutes before we were able to be seated. Within moments, our waitress appeared and was able to take drink orders. When we had a special request, the chef came out and chatted with us all about not only what we wanted to eat, but other things that were going on around the park.
Having been to Walt Disney World as much as I have, I’m used to cast members being nice. But throughout this meal, the cast members were exceedingly nice to us. We were seated on the exterior of the building near World Showcase Lagoon, and it began to rain. Our waitress and the staff jumped to our aid, pulling the table away from the rain at first, then changing our table. They were wonderful about the entire thing.
The view from our table. Notice the approaching storm clouds.
So the service was great, but how was the food? Last time I was there, I had a steak that was unbelievably bad. This time around, it was a complete change. I ordered the Doncaster burger, which sounds like a heart attack on a plate. Eight ounces of angus beef, topped with a fried egg, bacon, cheddar cheese and horseradish cream. I had the cream on the side, since I don’t normally enjoy horseradish. This was good, though, once I spread it on the burger. It was lighter and creamier, and added to the flavor.
I have to say, this may be the best burger on property. There, I said it. I am somewhat of a burger aficionado, and in general, I think Disney’s burgers are pretty bad. Beaches & Cream and Pecos Bill’s are okay, but not the same caliber as something you’d get outside the parks, like Five Guys or some local restaurants around my house. But the Doncaster is fabulous. The chef explained that it was something that is served in pubs in Doncaster, and he decided to add it to the menu. He related that the chefs had visited other pubs and locations around the United Kingdom, and that more pub food items would be coming. I say bring it on.
My wife ordered the fish and chips and was presented with two large pieces of cod and fries. While it did not seem like anything special, it was exactly what you would expect from fish and chips ordered in an English pub, but if you want fish and chips, you’re probably better off at the Harry Ramsden’s stand around the corner or at Raglan Road.
Besides the Doncaster, the main reason you would want to go to Rose and Crown is the beer. They have it all here, from Guinness to Harp to Smithwick’s to any mixtures of the above and more. My advice to you is that you don’t drink beer because you’ve tried the domestic brands in a can and didn’t like them, you should try draught beers at Rose and Crown. Talk to the waiter or waitress and tell them your tastes, and they’ll suggest something for you.
I could not have been more pleased with our dining experience at Rose and Crown this time around. From the service to the food to the company, it was a marvelous experience. If you are looking for a lunch spot in Epcot with a magnificent view, you would be hard pressed to find a better spot than Rose and Crown. Enjoy a nice beer, grab a Doncaster and enjoy life for the afternoon.
by Len Testa
on June 11, 2011
In a surprise move, Disney has announce it is raising ticket prices tomorrow for both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Increases range from around 3.7% for a one-day pass ($82 to $85), to around 7% for a 7-day ticket. More details and prices can be found on Disney’s blog: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2011/06/disney-parks-ticketing-update/