Archive for October, 2011

Unofficial Guides to Walt Disney World with Kids, Disneyland, and More

by on October 20, 2011

We are happy to let you know that the 2012 Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and the 2012 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids are now available through a bookseller near you. Corrections and updates for the Kids book have been posted, and Disneyland’s are forthcoming.

With so many titles, you may have some questions:
Q: If I have the “Big Book,” do I need the Kids book?
A: Honestly, no. However, if your trip is mostly centered around traveling with children, the Kids book is for you.

Q: Are either of these titles available for Kindle/Nook/iBooks?
A: No.

Q: Do book owners get a discount on TouringPlans.com subscriptions?
A: Yes, the Kids book gets you a discount on a Walt Disney World subscription. The Disneyland book gets you a discount on a Disneyland subscription. Just answer a couple of questions that I promise were not written to trick anyone to get your discount.

Q: How often do the books come out?
A: Each book is released once a year.

Walt and the Promise of Progress City by Sam Gennawey

We are also super happy to let you know that friend of TouringPlans.com and Unofficial Guide contributor Sam Gennawey has a new book out. Walt and the Promise of Progress City is available at Amazon and is a first ever look at Walt Disney’s fascination with urban planning. Sam will write more about this title this fall, but we thought you would like to get a jump on reading it now. It’s a great addition to the bookshelf of any fan of Disney Parks.

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Crowd Calendar Updates Confirmed

by on October 20, 2011

Thanks for your patience everyone. We feel comfortable confirming the Crowd Calendar is now properly up-to-date.

Some of you may have noticed some changes to the calendar as discussed in this blog article.

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Correction To The Crowd Calendar

by on October 20, 2011

Like a classic Disney runaway train, the Crowd Calendar occasionally falls off the tracks. Our update on Tuesday, October 18, included some incorrect park hours and schedules, which sent some of our crowd estimates uncharacteristically high. Many of you caught this and let us know, which we certainly appreciate.

We believe the dust has settled and that our calendar is back to normal. If you received notice that the calendar had changed for your dates, please come back to check your dates. You should now see correct estimates. Those estimates may be different from what was there a week ago because recent park hour changes did affect our crowd estimates for some dates.

Thank you for your understanding, and we apologize for the confusion.

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Food and Wine Festival – 3D Disney’s Dessert Discovery Review

by on October 19, 2011

One of the newest events at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is the 3D Party – Disney’s Dessert Discovery.  The event began last year as a special upcharge party where fans were able to get unlimited desserts and a special viewing area for IllumiNations.  My wife and I attended the event last year and enjoyed it, although we had some small quibbles.  We decided to attend again this year to see if those minor things were addressed and to enjoy the party.

Lining up in World Showcase to enter

We purchased tickets online ahead of time through Disney’s Food and Wine Festival website.  The cost for tickets was $55 plus tax for the party.  You must book a reservation online for the party, as there were no walkups taken.  There was also a “Sweet Seats” option, where guests who paid extra were allowed into the party 15 minutes early, given a guaranteed seat and a special beverage and dessert.  That option cost $80 plus tax.

Once we arrived in World Showcase, we checked in at the small nook across from the World Showplace, in between the Canada and United Kingdom pavilions.  A line formed very quickly at this space, but it was not regulated by the Disney people on site.  There was a great deal of confusion amongst attendees as to who would be doing the Sweet Seats option, as their check in was at the gates, not across the way.  Once that was sorted out, the Sweet Seats attendees were let in at 6:40, while the rest of us waited outside.  Right at 7pm, the giant gates opened, and we were allowed inside.

Upon entering, we were greeted with a large curtain in place, keeping us from going into the dessert party.  There were “menus” on tables as we entered, but again, there was not a Disney person there to hand them out.  Instead, as we walked into the building, they were giving us “3D” glasses.  More on those later.

The menu of delights that awaited us.

With a typical dramatic Disney flair, after all attendees were in the holding area in front of the curtain, a female voice came over the sound system, and with some flowery language invited us into the “delicious dessert discovery.”  The curtain parted all on its own, and the stampede was on to the tables.

Upon entering, we were presented with a scene of several tables scattered across the room, a band in the midst of the room playing music, and the Sweet Seats people rolling their eyes at us latecomers.  Ok, not really, but it was an odd disconnect to see them sitting and enjoying their second plate while we were scurrying around for a table.

Once we found a table, it was time to hit the desserts.  The room is setup with redundant tables, and is color coded to match the menu.  So on one table you would have a collection of savory items on one side and dessert classics on the other, on another table across the room you would have dessert classics on one side and doughnuts and ice cream on the other.

Here’s the full roster of desserts throughout the room:

Doughnuts and Coffee

Red Stag doughnut topped with ice cream. Yum.

-          Flambeed Cinnamon Doughnuts with Red Stag Infused Sundried Cherries served with Red Stag Ice Cream

-          Iced Coffee Cream with optional Jim Beam Bourbon Pipette

-          Chocolate Malted Milk with optional Devil’s Cut Bourbon Pipette

Cheese and Fruits

-          Display of Four Artisan Cheeses with Dried Fruit Chutney Bread and Crackers

-          Warm cheese with Sundried Tomato Pesto and Capers served with Boiled Potatoes, Cornichons, Onions and Crusty Bread

-          Golden Pineapple, Ripe Melons, Grapes, Apples and Driscoll’s Berries with Agave Greek Yogurt Parfait

 

Fresh fruit was a nice addition to the desserts.

Sweet Classics

-          Espresso Panna Cotta

-          Strawberry Guava Bavarois

-          Chocolate Laced Eclairs

-          Linzer Diamonds

-          Sugar Dusted Bavarian Cream Puffs

-          Chocolate Chip Cannoli

-          Mini Assorted Whoopie Pies

 

Confectionary Factory

The warm funnel cake bread pudding was delicious.

-          Tubes of Colorful Candies

-          Werther’s Original Caramels

-          Cotton Candy

-          Assorted Fresh Baked Cookies

-          Crispy Rice Treats

-          Warm Funnel Cake Bread Pudding

 

 

 

One of each from the Savory table

Savory

-          Ocean Spray Craisin Polenta Cakes

-          Gorgonzola Muffins with Prosciutto Streusel

-          John DeKeyper & Sons crave Chocolate Chile Muffins

-          Seasonal Mini Cinnamon Pumpkin Buttons

-          Sliced Prosciutto, Smoked Ham and German Sausages

 

 

 

Babycakes NYC

The Babycakes NYC mini doughnuts

-          Assorted Flavors of Mini Cookie Sandwiches

-          Assorted Flavors of Mini Doughnuts

-          Brownie Bites

 

In addition to the desserts, though, there was a full menu of liquors and cordials on display.  This is where you really get the value of this party.  If you are into nice cocktails, wines or cordials, you will be well taken care of at this party.

Here are the drinks available throughout the room:

John DeKuyper & Sons crave

A full array of DeKuyper cordials

-          Chocolate Cherry

-          Chocolate Mint

-          Chocolate Chile

 

Cruzen

-          Car #9

 

 

 

Thatcher’s Organic Liqueurs

-          Blood Orange Margarita with Sauza Tequila Blue

-          Apple Ginger Cooler with Cruzan Single Barrel

 

DeKuyper Cordials & Liqueurs with Coffee

There were many cocktails available

Red Stag Hot Cranapple Pie

Devil’s Cut Bourbon

 

Grigich Hills Estate

-          Grigich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon

-          Grigich Hills Chardonnay

-          Grigich Hills Fume Blanc

 

Opici Wine Company of Florida

-          Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz,Western Cape,South Africa

-         KWV Tawny Port,South Africa

-          Clayhouse Malbec

The Jam Jar Shiraz on ice

Courvoisier Rose

MARTINI Asti and MARTINI Rose

In addition to the alcoholic beverages, there was also coffee, Twinings Tea, Evian water, organic juices and hot chocolate available to drink.

So what did we like the best?  I particularly enjoyed all the Babycakes items, the warm funnel cake bread pudding and the Red Stag doughnuts and ice cream.  As far as drinks go, the Blood Orange Margarita was amazing, and my wife enjoyed the MARTINI Asti.  She was also a fan of the doughnuts and ice cream.

Our main complaint with the party in 2010 was the lack of savory items to go with the alcoholic beverages.  Very sweet items and sweet cocktails do not mix well for me, so it was good to see Disney add many more savory items to the menu.  It was also fabulous to see them adding Babycakes NYC to the roster for vegan or vegetarian guests.

There were some negatives as well.  Last year there were many desserts that were freshly prepared, much like the doughnuts and ice cream were this year.  That was the only one prepared in front of you this year, and there was a small difference in the freshness of the food.  Many of the things found this year were standard if you’ve been to any fireworks viewing party, and not special for the Food and Wine Festival.  And again, the combination of desserts and liquor did not sit well with me.  It was difficult to try everything and really get your money’s worth out of the party without getting sick.

The band provided familiar favorites while we ate

The viewing area for IllumiNations is a positive to the party, however.  The area that guests are shown to is the area between the two shops on the World Showcase area right as you enter from Future World.  It’s prime viewing space.  There is no food or drink carried over from the party, which seems like a mistake, but the viewing of the fireworks is spectacular.  Remember those 3D glasses?  This is where they come into play.  When you put the glasses on and watch the fireworks, you’ll see little Mickey heads around each burst of light.  It sounds silly, but in reality it’s amazing.  I tried to get a picture, but the effect did not work with the low lighting.

All in all, the 3D Delicious Dessert Discovery party is a fun time, but may not be for everyone.  While the value for the money is definitely there, with unlimited desserts and drinks, it is very difficult to take advantage of it all.  There was a definite difference in quality of the food from 2010 to 2011, and after doing it twice, I won’t be going back next year.    However, if you love any of the desserts or drinks on the menu, you should definitely check it out, and enjoy the IllumiNations viewing as well.   You can get your money’s worth and enjoy a very unique event at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

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Planning With My Non-Disney Family: Tickets

by on October 19, 2011

If you’ve been keeping up with my TouringPlans.com blog posts you may remember I’m planning a trip to Walt Disney World with my family, none of whom are Disney people.  As these trips go, some of our plans have already changed.  In my last post about my family trip I reported we would be making reservations at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  However, after pondering our options, we’ve switched to the Polynesian Resort.  Now that we’ve settled on our home base during our trip, it is time to decide what the best ticket options are for the group.  I have to admit I’ve become spoiled having an annual pass to the parks for the last 5 or 6 years.  I wasn’t sure how much regular park tickets would cost, so I had to research just like any other WDW visitor.

There are several ticket options so I thought I’d take my family’s experience as an opportunity to go over the possibilities with our blog readers.  Let’s start with the basics: guests may purchase these tickets for anywhere from 1-10 days.  The cost starts at $90.53 (including tax) for adults and $84.14 kids aged 3-9 for one day and tops out at $309.92 for adults and $289.68 for kids for a 10 day pass.  The base ticket allows one admission per guest per day at one of the main theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom).  It is important to know the cost per day goes down when you add more days to your ticket.  For example, one day’s admission costs for an adult is $90.53, but five days admission costs $267.32 or $53.46 per day and 10 days works out to $30.99 per day for adults.  You may purchase as many days as you need.  Some families want to hit the Disney parks every day of their vacation, but others may want to spend a full day at their resort in order to relax.  Or maybe they’d want to visit another area attraction during their stay to get a break from the Disney magic.

If you would like to visit more than one park in a day you will need to purchase the Park Hopper Option.  This type of ticket will allow you to visit any of the four major Disney parks each day of your trip.  For instance, if you wanted to tour Disney’s Animal Kingdom for the day and Epcot for the evening you would be able to without any issue.  The cost to add this feature is $35 for a one day ticket and $55 for 2-10 days.  To clear up any confusion the $55 is a flat fee per ticket and will apply to all days on your pass so it is more economical with the more days you plan to purchase.  Guests often ask if they are able to use two days of their ticket in exchange for park hopping, but this action is against Disney policy.  Whether you want to park hop is a completely personal decision.  I like the idea of park hopping, but I can see why it is not for everyone.  If you are looking for a way to trim a bit off your budget saving $55 per person in your party by opting out of park hopping is a good place to start.

Perhaps you’d like to also visit the water parks during your vacation.  Well, no problem, you would want to look into buying the Water Parks Fun and More option for your tickets.  This option is also a flat fee of $55 per ticket no matter the length of stay.  You will be allowed admission to either of the Disney water parks called Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, Disney’s Wide World of Sports, Disney Quest, or be able to play a round of golf at Oak Trail for each day included in your ticket.  If you were to stay 10 days that would be a lot of access to attractions outside the main parks!  I really love the water parks, but I haven’t experienced the other offerings included with this pass.  If you think your family would be up for any of them the Water Park Fun and More Option may be a great choice for you.

There is one last option guests may add onto their base ticket called the No Expiration Option.  Normally, your pass would expire 14 days after your first use whether you used all of your days or not.  However, you may purchase the ability to keep your tickets valid until they have been used if you are planning to come back in the future.  This advantage doesn’t come cheaply though!  A two day no expiration will set you back $25 with prices ranging to $225 for 10 day tickets.  There may be times when this option makes sense for you, but you will have to do the math for yourself to figure it out.  You may add this feature after you have started using your pass, but you will have to pay for no expiration for your entire length of your pass rather than just your unused days.

After a bit of consideration we decided we’ll be purchasing length of stay Magic Your Way base tickets for four adults and two children.   Children under the age of three do not require park admission.  They simply get to roll through the turnstiles in their strollers!  My nephew fits into this category which makes his parents very happy.  There was some debate about whether or not to get park tickets for the last day since the family wouldn’t get a full day in the parks.  Then, we realized it was only about $10 more per person to add the extra day so it was a no brainer.  Now, we plan to hit a park in the morning before returning to our resort to be picked up by Disney’s Magical Express.  We don’t plan to visit the water parks or Disney Quest so we will opt out of the Water Park Fun and More option for this trip.

Our biggest question is whether or not to purchase the park hopper option.  At the moment the plan is to do one park per day, but we all know that could change.  Since I have an annual pass I am used to being able to park hop so it seems odd to me to plan to spend the whole day in one place.  However, I completely understand the desire to not wear out the kids (and newbie adults) too much and try to stick to one destination a day.  I’ve advised the family to purchase the base ticket for now and we can always upgrade it later.  Disney will always allow guests to upgrade passes as long as they have not expired.  This way if we never park hop we won’t have wasted the money on the hopper option, but if we decide “hey, let’s go to Epcot tonight” it shouldn’t be a problem to add the option during the trip.

The four day base ticket seems to be the best fit for our family, but it may not be for yours.  That is the beauty of the Magic Your Way program; you are able to customize your tickets to your needs!  The ability to add on so many options can also be confusing though so if you’re still stumped about which ticket option would be best for you try the TouringPlans.com ticket calculator to shed some light on the subject!  I’d also be happy to answer any of your questions in the comments!

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Using The Crowd Calendar

by on October 18, 2011

Well, it has been more than a year since the launch of the new Crowd Calendar 2.0 and we at TouringPlans.com have found ourselves taking a little refresher course in how it works and how to use it. It reminded us of a few things that we thought we should share.

What is it?

The Crowd Calendar is a list that ranks from 1 to 10, the wait times that we predict will occur on every day of the year. A ’1′ means that the wait times are predicted to be in the bottom 10% of all days, a ’2′ would be the bottom 20% of all days, etc.

What does it show us?

Since the crowd calendar is a relative rank, we can tell how one day compares to another. A ’6′ is more crowded than a ’5′ which is more crowded than a ’4′, etc. The neat thing about setting the calendar up this way is that it allows us to compare any two days throughout the year on an equal playing field. So a ’2′ in September has roughly the same predicted wait times as a ’2′ in May. The calendar can be used to answer the question “Which day has higher wait times?”.

What does it NOT show us?

The numbers in the calendar do not represent the relative magnitude of the crowd. So a ’4′ is not twice as crowded as a ’2′. The average of a ’7′ day and a ’3′ day is not a ’5′. Similarly, an increase or decrease in the crowd level index may not represent a change in size of the crowd but rather a change in the ranking. It also doesn’t work for comparing two parks against each other because a ’6′ at the Animal Kingdom represents a completely different size of crowd than a ’6′ at the Magic Kingdom.

But the rankings are based on wait times, aren’t they?

Yes but there is an important distinction between a day’s rank and its magnitude. Think of it like the Top 40 music charts. The Top 40 songs are a rank based on sales of records but we can’t say that song number 8 on the charts sold twice as many as song number 16. We can say, however, that it sold enough to finish 8 places higher on the rankings.

How should we use the calendar?

The calendar is set up to answer this question: “Between two days, which day is predicted to have the lower wait times?” We have found through the years that predicting the size of the crowd is not as important as predicting the difference between two crowds. We like to think of ourselves as your personal shopper at the grocery store. We want to save you $20 off a coffee maker just as much as we want to save you 10 cents off a jar of peanut butter. Picking a ’9′ day instead of a ’10′ day may mean a much bigger gain in wait times than picking a ’2′ day instead of a ’3′ day, but it is all relative.

This also means that unless you care about the 10 cents, maybe a ’3′ day isn’t that bad.

For those that are interested, the distribution of wait times throughout the year is bunched up between the rankings of ’3′ and ’8′. The difference in wait times in this range is actually fairly small. The wait times take a big jump when you get to levels ’9′ and ’10′ though, as anyone visiting at Christmas or Easter can attest. We made some adjustments to our methodology this year given this distribution and we have seen some significant gains in our accuracy. On average, the crowd figures on our site are within 1 index point 90% of the time.

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Typhoon Lagoon Closed Today, Oct. 18, Due to Inclement Weather

by on October 18, 2011

In response to a strong storm moving across the state of Florida, Disney has chosen not to open Typhoon Lagoon today, October 18, due to the inclement weather.

At this time (7:45am EDT) Blizzard Beach is still scheduled to be open 10am to 5pm, but Disney may choose to close the park at any time.

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Walt Disney World Park Hour Updates: November 2011 and May 2012

by on October 17, 2011

Walt Disney World updated its park hours for November 2011 (and the first three days of December).  The preliminary hours for May 2012 have also been released.

November

The Magic Kingdom hours have been extended until midnight, with a second Main Street Electrical Parade on the following evenings:

  • Saturday, November 5
  • Saturday, November 12
  • Saturday, November 19 through Saturday, November 26, inclusive (Thanksgiving week)

The Magic Kingdom is also closing at 1am on Saturday, December 3, with two Main Street Electrical Parades.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios also has extended hours.  This park’s closing is 8pm with two Fantasmic! shows on:

  • Monday, November 7
  • Saturday November 12
  • Sunday, November 13
  • Saturday, November 19

In addition, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will now be open until 9pm, with two Fantasmic! shows on the following days:

  • Saturday, November 5
  • Sunday, November 20 through Sunday, November 27, inclusive (Thanksgiving Week)

Hollywood Studios is also closing at 10pm on Saturday, December 3, with two Fantasmic! shows.

May 2012

The preliminary hours for May are fairly standard with the Magic Kingdom being open from 9am until 10pm with one Main Street Electrical Parade every day, Epcot being open from 9am until 9pm, Disney’s Hollywood Studios being open from 9am until 9pm with one Fantasmic! every day, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom being open from 9am until either 6 or 7pm.

These May hours will be updated sometime in April of 2012.  If you are wondering how Disney goes about releasing park hours, you can read all about it here.

==============

TouringPlans.com will be updated soon with all of these hour changes, and any changes that will occur to the Crowd Calendar will be seen shortly as well.  Thank you for using Touring Plans!

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TouringPlans.com Friend Feed – October 17, 2011

by on October 17, 2011

It is another week and another opportunity to check in with the podcasts and websites that TouringPlans.com sponsors to see what is going on in the Disney community!  Let’s take a look at this week’s Friend Feed.

Food and drink from France at the Food and Wine Festival

The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is still in the news, and the great eats continue at Walt Disney World.  On the Be Our Guest Podcast this week, the gang looked back at the Festival events they attended a couple weeks ago.  It was dubbed “Epic October” because of all the things going on, so make sure to listen to hear about the 40th Anniversary celebration, the Food & Wine Festival, and much more.

One of the most fun events at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is the Wine & Dine Half Marathon.  Every year some great runners line up for the 13.1-mile event that culminates in Epcot, the home of the festival.   The WDW Today team took a look at this year’s event with Kesha Christensen, the Senior Sales Manager with runDisney Events.

Disney giving something away for free?  Apparently so, as this week free wireless Internet access came to the Deluxe resorts.  Lou Mongello discussed this and other topics on this week’s WDW Newscast.  Check out Lou’s weekly interactive video chat show from last week, and don’t miss this week’s show on Wednesday.

Disney has been reaping HUGE rewards from their 3-D re-release of The Lion King.  On this week’s Disney Film Project, the crew is joined by TouringPlans.com blogger Kristen Helmstetter to discuss this release and their affection for this Disney classic.

The AllEars Newsletter continued its great coverage of Aulani, Disney’s newest DVC resort.  If you haven’t seen the amazing work that the Imagineers did on this new property, then head over to AllEars.Net for more information.  And if you’re not subscribed to the newsletter, check out the archives to see what you’re missing.

Halloween Time at Disneyland via Dateline Disneyland

With Halloween coming up, there are all kinds of fun ways to celebrate at the Disney parks.  Mousetalgia took a look at one of these ways on this week’s show, as the hosts discussed the Halloween Haunts Tour at Disneyland.  See what the gang thought about the tour and whether it was worth the price.

Dateline Disneyland has even more coverage of Halloween Time at Disneyland.  The park goes all out for this special fall event, and not even the construction walls or refurbishment tarps can ruin the fun.  Check out all the great photos and info here.

Ever been interested in space?  Walt Disney sure was.  Throughout his years at the head of the studio, Walt consistently produced great space-themed entertainment that also served as education to a nation getting used to the idea of space travel. Exploring this, WEDway Radio began a new series this week called Disney in Space.  First up in the series is Space Station X-1, one of the first attractions at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.

Annual Passholders at the Disneyland Resort get all kinds of great benefits, and Disneyland Live this

Mac and Cheese with Bacon Hot Dog - via MousePlanet

week reported on one of the latest.  Last week, Disneyland held an Annual Passholder event where the creative team behind the Soundsational Parade came and spoke with Passholders, talking all about the creation of the parade and what led to it.  Check out the video to see the great information they revealed.

Meanwhile, the MousePlanet Disneyland update has details on the private Passholder party that preceded this roundtable, as well as the food that Disney decided to preview.  Anyone for a mac and cheese with bacon hot dog?

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Trip Planning 101: Budgeting for Your Trip to Walt Disney World

by on October 17, 2011

Let’s face it, a trip to Walt Disney World can be an expensive undertaking. The good news is that there are plenty ways to conserve funds and still have a magical vacation. I’m going to walk you through the process of creating a budget for your trip, and suggest some areas of potential savings. What you should know right off the bat is that planning an accurate and economical trip budget is going to involve some math, some research, and possibly some hard decisions. As a first step, download the TouringPlans Budget Planning Worksheet.

You’ll see that there are seven main areas in which you’ll spend money on your vacation:

  • Transportation
  • Lodging
  • Theme Park Tickets
  • Food
  • Activities
  • Souvenirs
  • Miscellaneous

Let’s go through these one by one to see where you can find information on obvious costs and hidden costs, as well as where you can find information on ways to save money.

TRANSPORTATION

The main options here are flying vs. driving. In some cases, the choice will be clear; if you’re coming from Tampa then you’re driving, if you’re coming from the UK then chances are you’re going to fly (or get very wet :)). However, for most of the rest of us, the decision may not be so easy.

Your ultimate choice must be based on real numbers – not only the cost of plane tickets vs. gas, but also factoring in all related expenses. For example, if you’re flying, you’ll need to get on the phone or search the airline website for hidden fees such as baggage or onboard snack charges (yep, AirTran recently charged me for crackers). Fliers should also consider the cost of parking or taking a taxi to the airport, tipping for baggage handlers, and other related expenses. Even if you are using frequent flier miles, many of these ancillary charges will apply. You may also want to consider the opportunity cost of using frequent flier miles. Would using your miles for this trip impede your ability to take a more expensive trip later on?

Drivers must consider not only the cost of gas, but also meals on the road, wear and tear on the car, and possibly more on-the-road entertainment. Longer drives may even include a night in a hotel along the way depending on the length of the drive and the number of drivers in your party. For a good rough estimate of gas cost on your trip, try consulting AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator.

Additionally, your fly/drive decision will impact transportation charges once you’re in Orlando. For example, if you’re flying and staying at a Disney resort hotel, you have the option to use Disney’s free Magical Express bus service to get you to your hotel. If you’re flying and staying off-site, you’ll need to pay for a car service or rent a car to get to your hotel. If you’re driving and staying off-site, you will need to pay for parking at the theme parks (unless you are a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder) and possibly also at your hotel. If you need to work while on vacation, or just want to upload your digital photos at night, budget for in-room internet charges if your resort does not include them (usually around $10/day when there’s a charge). Be sure to factor all of these stealth charges into your budget.

When looking at the cost of flying, there are now dozens of online tools and apps that can help you locate the most cost effective flight. Popular choices include Kayak, Google Flight (new), Trip Advisor, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. These tools make it easy to experiment with your flights to find the best deal. Try playing with departure dates or number of connections. Sometimes a Saturday night stay or a brief stopover can save you hundreds of dollars.

If you decide to fly to Orlando, many of the sites above also offer discounted rental car opportunities. When renting a car, be sure to check your personal auto insurance policy and your credit card benefits. These often make the purchase of insurance on a rental car redundant. Declining insurance on the rental can also provide big savings.

LODGING

As a starting point, log on to disneyworld.com and get a price for your preferred hotel during your travel dates. This will tell you the standard “rack rate” for the room. A little sleuthing can often uncover discounted prices on the exact same room. Twice this year I have saved about $20 per night at the Pop Century simply by booking through Expedia rather than through Disney directly. I had no loss of Disney benefits, I still got Magical Express service, Extra Magic Hours, and the like, I just paid less for them.

If you’re looking for room discounts, try asking a travel agent or using one of the online services listed in the transportation section. Additional discounts might be available for Disney annual pass holders or AAA members. You may even want to tinker with the timing of your reservation as a cost variable.

Another rule-of-thumb is that if cost is your primary concern, then staying at an off-site hotel can be a big money saver. While this often the case, be aware that some off-site hotels tack on additional fees not represented in the room rate. For example, the non-Disney-owned Swan and Dolphin hotels add resort fees and charge guests to park at the hotel. These add-ons can add up fast. Before you settle on an off-site stay, pick up the phone and ask what additional fees you might expect.

THEME PARK TICKETS

The best place to start for park ticket pricing is the TouringPlans.com Ticket Calculator. The Ticket Calculator makes it easy play around with variables and see the real price differences between several choices. For example, a few clicks will show you that once you’re visiting for several days, the price of adding another park day has minimal impact on your admission ticket price.

While you’re figuring out how much park tickets will cost, don’t forget to consider the price of the popular evening parties at the Magic Kingdom if you’ll be traveling during the fall or winter. You’ll also want to consider the price of admission to other nearby attractions if you’ll be venturing off campus to see the Wizarding World at Universal Studios.

FOOD

Planning your food budget takes some serious number crunching. Some Disney guests swear by the Disney Dining Plan (available to guests staying at the Walt Disney World resort hotels), but by no means does the Dining Plan make sense for everyone. To see if the plan is right for you, take a few minutes to look at the detailed menus and pricing for Disney restaurants available at DisneyWorld.com or AllEars.net. Ask yourself some questions and map out a few days of sample eating for your family. Will we eat full breakfast or will a muffin and coffee do? Will we eat dessert with lunch and/or dinner? Can our children share a meal? Do we eat appetizers? … and so on. By really pricing out several days of eating, you can extrapolate your actual food budget needs.

Don’t forget to factor in the cost of snacks you bring from home or buy at a local grocery, as well as the price of tips and alcoholic beverages, which are not included on the Dining Plan. Be aware that many Disney restaurants tack on a surcharge during peak seasons such as the winter holidays.

On the cost savings side, many restaurants offer discounts to Disney Vacation Club members, Disney annual pass holders, Disney Visa holders, and other affiliations. I ALWAYS ask my server what discounts are available.

One cost savings measure might not be all it’s cracked up to be. I’m talking about “Free Dining,” a promotion that Disney has run each of the last several autumns. I’m going to leave it up to the extremely capable Tom Bricker, who explains the pros and cons of free dining HERE.

ACTIVITIES

While there is certainly plenty to do at Walt Disney World with just your theme park tickets, there are also many ways to enhance your experience with activities and entertainment. And, no surprise, many of these items cost money. For example, strolling through Downtown Disney is free. But then your child sees the oh-so-enticing-and-not-so-free Characters in Flight balloon and begs for a ride. For my family of five with older children, that 10-minute ride is $90 proposition.

Of course the best way to economize on these activity extras is to simply say “no,” but you may want to indulge a bit with that balloon ride, a visit to the spa, or a round of golf. Pricing for these items is readily available online or with a call to 407-W-DISNEY. Factor them into your budget if you’re planning to partake.

SOUVENIRS

The purchase of souvenirs is another area where saying “no” is your biggest budgeting tool. However, as I discussed in a previous post, coming home with absolutely no souvenirs is unrealistic. Use the advice in the post found HERE, to help create realistic souvenir expectations for your family.

While you’ll likely not get away without souvenirs for your kids, you can often skip souvenirs for friends at home. Does your dog walker really want a Mickey sweatshirt? Do you absolutely have to bring a mug back for your child’s teacher? You may be able to easily trim these items from your budget.

MISCELLANEOUS

This is where everything else settles: stroller rentals, PhotoPass purchases, shipping fees, kennels, and so on. Not all of them will apply to all guests. As with nearly everything else in your budget, it pays to shop around for these miscellaneous items. For example, there are several ways to save money over renting a stroller from the Disney parks. You can save money on airline baggage fees by doing some laundry while on vacation, but then you’ll need to factor the cost of washing into you budget. Again, play around with numbers to see what works for you.

So what’s your budgeting process? Where have you found ways to cut corners? What do you spend money on that I forgot to include? Let us know in the comments below.

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