BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS
The Completely Obsessive Absolutely Indispensable Guide to Disney World
An insider manual to Disney World for first-timers and fanatics alike.
5. Drink for free—in eight languages
Disney World isn't exactly known for its giveaways—which is why Epcot's Coca-Cola-sponsored Club Cool is such a score. Located in a nondescript storefront behind Epcot's silver geodesic sphere, Club Cool doles out free samples of eight soft drinks from around the world, including Costa Rican Fanta Kolita, Israeli Kinley Lemon, and Japanese VegitaBeta. Just beware the bitter and syrupy Italian (nonalcoholic) aperitif known as Beverly. It's a doozy.
6. Grab some shut-eye (and a quick history lesson)
During summer's peak, when the Magic Kingdom can stay open as late as 2 a.m., the conventional wisdom is to return to your hotel for a refreshing afternoon catnap or a cooldown by the pool. But really, there's no need to leave the park. My apologies to the Hall of Presidents—Disney's audio-animatronic celebration of the American presidency—but there's no better place for a quick midday snooze. Comfy seats, a long running time (23 minutes), perfect air-conditioned temperatures, and Morgan Freeman's warm narration make for a dreamy combination.
7. Look at the line. Now skip it
Trying to fit all the highlights of a given park into a single day can feel like a race against the clock, so every little time-saver helps. At Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (Hollywood Studios), Test Track (Epcot), and Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom), riders have the option of queuing up in a dedicated singles line to fill any empty seats that might open up between larger parties. Sure, you won't be able to buy the requisite cheesy souvenir photo of you and your family screaming your heads off, but you'll halve that hour-plus wait time. Multi-kid families have another option, called the rider switch. If one of the kids is too young, short, or scared to ride, one parent-child pair can enjoy the attraction while the other waits by the loading zone. When the riders finish up, the parents can swap positions and the new parent-child team sets off for another run—no extra waiting involved.
8. Squeeze in time for cocktail hour
At a certain point in every young Floridian's life, Epcot graduates from "the educational theme park" to "the park where you can drink your way around the world." Everything from Chinese green-tea plum-wine slushies ($7.50) to icy, blended French Grey Goose citron cocktails ($9) is available in the grab-and-go bars that ring Epcot's World Showcase Lagoon. Sure, these drinks are delicious, but there's an even better alternative. For those unconcerned with trying to hit every attraction before the park closes, I suggest setting some time aside to duck into La Cava del Tequila, hidden inside Epcot's Mexico Pavilion. With only 30 seats, the grotto-like restaurant is an unexpectedly intimate shelter from the bustle outside and serves some mean specialties like flavored margaritas (avocado, cactus, jalapeño, and hibiscus), house-made guacamole, small plates like blue crab tostadas, and flights of top-shelf tequila (margaritas from $10, small plates from $6).
9. Buy a souvenir you'll actually want
For years, the most popular souvenirs at Disney World were hyper-collectible but decidedly uncool pins. (That didn't stop me from gathering them by the hundreds.) But now Disney has gone and added a twist: It's introduced a line of souvenirs that are at once cartoonish, crowd-pleasing, and surprisingly hip. With their trademark Mickey Mouse ears, the three-inch-tall Vinylmation figurines (from $10) come in hundreds of designs. You'll find everything from classic characters like Goofy and Pluto to iconic attractions like the monorail and Cinderella Castle. The catch? These pop-art-inspired action figures are sold in unmarked boxes, so you never know which pattern you'll find inside. If you're unhappy with your randomly selected design, most stores keep three options in full view by the cash register, and you can swap yours for one of those backups.
10. Don't skimp on your hotel. I promise you'll regret it
Most people are quick to think you'll get the best hotel deals outside the parks. And while that's probably true—a $35 room on congested International Drive is not unheard of—value-oriented visitors should not rule out Disney resorts. For example, the All-Star (Music, Sports, and Movies—three separate hotels) and Pop Century resorts are just minutes from the parks via Disney buses, and they start at $82 a night (make reservations at disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts). Each is outfitted with oversize props that suit their respective themes. Think 51-foot-tall tennis rackets, a guitar-shaped pool, and pop culture figures like Mr. Potato Head and Pac-Man. If all of this overblown theming comes off a bit kitschy, Port Orleans (from $149) and Coronado Springs (from $154) offer more subtle experiences inspired by New Orleans and the American Southwest. Whichever you choose, I recommend you embrace it—along with your inner kid. At Disney, that's kinda the point.