Ask Trip Coach: Walt Disney World

Brad Tuttle reads the fine print so you don't have to.

Ask Trip Coach (Illustration by Chris Gash)

USAC_USA_FL_Orlando_28.553154_-81.364438I want my kids to get the most out of their visitand I want the most out of my money. So what's the perfect age for our first Disney trip?
To an infant, a trip to Target is as exciting as riding on It's a Small World. That is to say, some kids are just too young to fully appreciate the Disney experience. Even toddlers are amazed by simpler things—a petting zoo, the county fair, a bug on a stick. Go when your kids will be capable of walking (and walking and walking); when they understand that the payoff for a 75-minute line just might be worth it; when they won't be freaked out by enormous cartoon characters who have come to life and want to give them hugs; and, perhaps most important, when they'll remember both the trip and what wonderful parents you were for taking them there. Cut to the chase: The perfect age for the trip is 8.

Should we go with a package or book all the components of our trip separately?
Unfortunately, the only way to figure out whether a "deal" is a deal is to research what each component would cost separately, tally up the total, and compare that with the package price. A few tips: 1) There are no freebies. Promotions claiming to include "free" airfare, meals, or admissions are deceptively alluring. Remember that what matters is the package's overall cost. 2) Many packages are good values compared to paying à la carte—but only if you're actually interested in everything in the package. Chances are you won't want admission tickets on your arrival and departure days, for example, and you may be ready for a day off from the parks in the middle of your trip. But many packages automatically include the maximum number of passes for a trip's duration. 3) Disney's website is, well, difficult—not least because it pushes extras and never lays out all the options and details you need to make an informed decision (actual prices, anyone?). Calling a Disney agent is better (407/939-6244).

What sort of tickets should we get? One-day or multiday? Park Hopper or one park only?
People 10 and up pay $75 for a one-day pass, but the average daily cost goes down sharply on multiday tickets. A seven-day pass, for example, averages out to $32 a day. There are many add-ons, too, including the popular Park Hopper feature, which lets you visit more than one park in a day. The feature tacks a flat $50 onto an adult multiday ticket, so ask yourself if you really have it in you to do that much in one day. Finally, don't wait until you get to Disney to decide on a pass. Buy in advance, either as part of your vacation package or through a discounter like Undercover Tourist (800/846-1302, undercovertourist.com), which can save you several dollars per day.

Should we stay inside the park or outside?
Disney has made it hard to argue for staying outside the park, even though it's way cheaper. Among other perks, Disney hotel guests enjoy extra hours in the parks and complimentary airport transfers via the Magical Express bus. As for where to stay inside Disney, ease is as much a factor as price. We like the Contemporary Resort (the only hotel within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom); Fort Wilderness Resort (the faux-rustic cabins fit six comfortably); and the All-Star Movies Resort (rooms are small but cheap, from $82). If Disney's value resorts are booked, the only other options on-site may run $300 a night or more. Outside the park, you'll find tons of hotels at a quarter of that rate—and there are always house rentals. While three-bedroom units at vacation rental site vrbo.com go for about $150 a night, the equivalent inside Disney would easily cost $700.

Are the meal plans worth it?
Basically, they're only worth it if you eat a lot (the portions tend to be hefty) and if you were going to have the bulk of your meals in the parks anyway. Note that the pricier plans include sit-down meals that'll take up a lot of time—time that might be better spent riding rides or enjoying laser shows. Better to stick with the two most basic plans (Quick-Service or the standard Dining plan, which cost $30 to $40 per day per adult and about $10 per day per kid). Or just forget the meal plan and do the following: 1) Get a fridge in your hotel room. Disney charges $10 a day at some properties, but it's worth it. 2) Have groceries delivered ahead of time from gardengrocer.com (866/855-4350). 3) Have breakfast in your room every morning. 4) Bring snacks and a picnic lunch like everybody else. Disney allows small coolers, but no glass, in the parks. Freeze juice boxes ahead of time so they'll still be cold for lunch; they'll also keep sandwiches cool and fruit fresh. 5) Figure on buying some hot dogs and mouse-ear-shaped ice cream here and there, and expect to pay inflated, ballpark-level prices.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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