Mary Waring of mousesavers.com answered your questions on Disney vacations in Orlando and Anaheim.
Mary Waring: Hi! This is Mary Waring of MouseSavers.com, and I'm excited to talk with you today about ways to save money on travel to Disney destinations. So let's get started!
Kingston, ON, Canada: We are a family of 6 (2 adults and 4 children). We are just beginning the planning of a 7-night Disney cruise (land and sea). We have no preference of which one as they all look wonderful and this is our first cruise!
We need flight and cruise. Available to depart from Toronto: departing date anytime from Dec 19 - 22nd and returning after Christmas. We will be traveling with 3 other adult family members (a couple and 1 single).
What is the best (most cost-effective) way to book staterooms? The children will be ages 9, 10, 13 and 14 at the time and would be comfortable being 'bunked' with any of the 5 adults.
We also wish to bring along our then-14-year-old son's service dog on our cruise. Do the Disney Cruise boats accommodate Yellow Lab service dogs? What (if anything) is required at reservation to allow for his attendance?
Thank you for your assistance as this is quite confusing to attempt to figure out...
Mary Waring: So if I understand your question correctly, you actually have a total of 5 adults and 4 children who would like to take a 7-night Disney Land and Sea vacation, which consists of 3 or 4 nights at Walt Disney World followed by a 3- or 4-night Disney cruise.
First, be aware that you are planning your trip during the most popular, and therefore expensive, time of the entire year. I would strongly advise you to leave as early as possible (December 19, or even earlier if you can manage it) because December 25-31 is an absolute zoo at Disney World and you'll never get any kind of discount during that time.
Here's a tip for accommodating your large group. Since you're willing to break up the kids and bunk them with various adults, this gives you some flexibility. Disney only offers super-expensive suites for families of 6 or more who want to share a stateroom, but if you house some of the children with another adult, you can book 3 standard staterooms that sleep 3 or 4 people each, which will be much less expensive.
Also, be sure to get pricing on both the Land and Sea package and on the individual trip components. It is frequently cheaper to book the cruise and the Disney World vacation separately.
Disney does accommodate service dogs on its cruise ships. Some paperwork is required and the dog may not be able to leave the ship at certain ports. You'll need to coordinate this with Disney in advance.
Dallas, Tex.: We planed a trip this mid Jan 2008 for WDW. We are going after the Mickey race and before the MLK Holiday weekend, yet we are told that almost ALL hotels are sold out. Our friends that wanted to go with us can only book a room for only 2 WDW hotels (YC, WLCabins). When I asked why so sold out for Jan. during this time, I was not given a reason for any kind of event either. Does this mean that WDW is going to be really full like summer, Easter or Christmas time? We booked thinking January would be the slowest time of the year.
Mary Waring: January is still an off season time at Disney World, since school is back in session and the holidays are over. It's one of my favorite times to visit. Disney World is popular year-round these days and the parks are really never "dead" anymore, but you can expect pretty light crowds in the parks in January and the first two weeks of February, except during the two events you mentioned (the Disney World marathon weekend on January 10-13 and MLK weekend, January 18-21).
Disney aggressively discounts its hotel rooms at that time of year, which may succeed in filling them on some dates. However, even if all of the Disney hotels are fully booked, the off-site hotels will be well below capacity in January. Also, locals usually don't visit the parks much at that time of year. It will not be anything like summer, Easter or Christmas, believe me!
You might have your friends check for room availability on a day by day basis, since if they ask for a range of dates that includes even one "sold out" date, they'll be told the resorts are unavailable. Maybe it's only one date during their stay that is blocking availability.
Parma, Ohio : Mary, we have booked rooms at the Caribbean Beach Resort at Disney World for 9/18/08 through 9/27/08. We are looking to find discount tickets to Disney World—what should we do? Also is it better for us to cancel our rooms and go with a complete package (room, tickets, dinner)?
Mary Waring: I would advise taking a "wait and see" approach. For the past three years, Disney has offered a "Free Dining" vacation package during that time of year. You receive the Disney Dining Plan (two meals and a snack every day for everyone in your party) for free when you book a full-price package that includes your Disney hotel room and park tickets.
The "Free Dining" package has only been offered for stays in late August and early September. It is an enticement to get people to visit the parks during the slowest time of year, and it is a phenomenal deal for most people. It usually becomes available for booking in April. If it meets your needs, just change your existing "room only" reservation to the special package.
If you end up deciding against the "Free Dining" package, or if for some reason it isn't offered in 2008, the cheapest place to buy tickets is usually through a reputable ticket broker. I recommend a very good one on my site.
Swarthmore, Pa.: We enjoy the convenience of staying on Disney property. Could you tell us if there are any bonus offers being considered by Disney in the near future? —Barb
Mary Waring: For Disney World, you can currently book discounted vacation packages for stays January 1 through March 15, and room discounts are available for Annual Passholders and Florida residents through February 13.
For Disneyland in California, there are package discounts available January 7 through April 24, and Annual Passholder/Southern California resident room discounts for stays January 6 through March 6.
Beyond that, only Disney knows when (or if) more discounts will come out. However, if you're planning a Disney World trip, you can get a general idea of the historical trends by consulting a chart I maintain on MouseSavers.com that lists the past release dates for room and vacation package discounts.
In addition, I can give you some general guidelines. When they are offered, the biggest discounts are usually rolled out about 2 to 4 months in advance. Of course Disney only offers discounts in order to fill empty rooms, so the most popular dates, room types and/or resorts are not discounted. For instance, I can virtually guarantee you'll never get a discount between December 26 and 31, which is the busiest week of the year at Disney World and Disneyland. Major holiday periods like Easter week and Thanksgiving week are also usually "blacked out," meaning most discounts don't apply at that time. Suites are almost never discounted.
AAA (Auto Club) offers Disney room discounts year-round for its members. They are not usually the biggest discounts, but they can be booked way in advance (currently through the end of 2008) and they sometimes are available for dates that are otherwise not discounted. You can book AAA room discounts directly with Disney or through any travel agent.
Mohnton, Pa: I think the Swan and Dolphin are mucher better then a lot of the other Deluxe hotels especially when the various discounts they are offfer are used. My question is will they ever become Disney-owned? If not, will we ever see more hotels not Disney-owned/run inside Disney property—that are at the fringe of Downtown Disney?
Mary Waring: I agree that the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, which are operated by Starwood (Westin/Sheraton), can be a very good value at times. You don't get all of the same privileges offered by the Disney owned-and-operated resorts, such as free transportation to and from the airport, but the location of the Swan and Dolphin is excellent. They are within walking distance of two of the theme parks.
Likewise the seven hotels in the Downtown Disney area, which are located on Disney property but not owned and operated by Disney, can offer some excellent deals. Some of them are closer to the theme parks than certain Disney resorts.
I don't believe the Swan and Dolphin will become Disney-owned in the foreseeable future, since Starwood has a very long lease on the property. I also don't anticipate that Disney will lease any more land to outside hotel companies. Disney's hotel operations are extremely successful and lucrative. There is no incentive to give away those profits to another company. Reportedly the former CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, very much regretted that Disney had ever allowed outside hotels to be built on the property.
Thatcher, Ariz.: When deciding on a hotel for our Disneyland vacation, we're debating on whether we should stay at a Disneyland property or whether we should save the money and use a Good Neighbor Hotel. Are the benefits really that much greater by staying there at Disneyland?
Also, if we decided to stay at one of the Disneyland properties, would it be worth it to upgrade to Concierge at Paradise Pier or stay in a standard room at Disneyland Hotel or Grand Californian? It seems that Paradise Pier is more out of the way than the other two hotels. Thanks for your help!!
Mary Waring: Some of the non-Disney hotels in Anaheim near Disneyland are quite nice and pretty similar in quality to Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. (Actually the Paradise Pier Hotel started its life as a non-Disney property anyway.) Unlike Disney World, where Disney's resort guests enjoy a host of special privileges, there aren't any particular benefits to staying at one of the Disney hotels at Disneyland.
Many of the off-site hotels on Harbor Boulevard are just as close to the theme parks as the Disneyland Hotel and the Paradise Pier Hotel. For instance, the Howard Johnson is exactly the same walking distance from the theme park entrance plaza as the Wonder Tower (formerly the Bonita Tower) building at the Disneyland Hotel.
The Paradise Pier Hotel is not really out of the way. It's actually closer to the entrance plaza than Wonder Tower at Disneyland Hotel. Paradise Pier is a quality hotel but not heavily "themed," which may or may not be a consideration for you.
In general I'm not an advocate of the concierge rooms at any of the Disney hotels. You don't get a nicer room. All you're buying is access to a lounge where you can eat a light Continental breakfast and snacks. To me that's usually not worth the substantial extra cost.
As an aside, I would not rely on the "Good Neighbor" designation as an indicator of quality. Disney merely sells that name to hotels as a marketing tool. The hotels in the "Good Neighbor" program are extremely inconsistent in terms of value, room quality and upkeep. You'll want to do your homework on any hotel you're considering.
Vancouver Island, B.C.: We are planning to exchange a timeshare to a Disney resort in Orlando. Is there anyway that we can still get in the dining plan?
Mary Waring: No, unfortunately the Disney World Dining Plan is only available to people buying a vacation package (including hotel room and tickets) at a Disney owned and operated resort.
Sitka, Alaska: I am taking my grandson, who will be 5 years old in February '08, (I am 53) to Disneyland in May '08. We depart Sitka on May 4 to Los Angeles via Seattle, returning to Sitka on May 9. I have reserved rooms at the Park Vue Inn, which is right opposite the main entrance to Disneyland. My questions are: We have 4 full days—how many days do you think we will need in Disneyland & California Adventure? (He is not a very adventurous kid—he may be a little nervous on some of the rides.) Is the "Garden Walk" open & is it exciting enough for a 5 year old? I would also like to take him to Universal Studios for one day. Does all of this sound possible to you for a 4 day trip? If not, what should our priorities be?
Lastly, he has seen pictures of Chuck E. Cheese and truly wants to go there—is there one close to Disneyland, or something comparable? I want to make this trip memorable, for both of us!
Thanks so much in advance for answering my questions.
Mary Waring: Debi, unless you're visiting during a very busy period (like midsummer or a holiday weekend), two days at Disneyland and one day at California Adventure will usually be adequate. With four full days, you can take your time exploring, which makes visiting with a young child a lot more fun. If he gets tired and cranky, you can go back to the hotel and swim or take a nap.
GardenWalk is an outdoor shopping mall. Currently only one business is open there (Bubba Gump restaurant) and the center won't be fully open until about the time you're visiting. I don't think it would be of any interest to a 5-year-old. If you're inclined to go shopping, he's more likely to enjoy the World of Disney store and maybe the Lego store, both of which are in Downtown Disney, right next to the theme parks.
Universal Studios is a long drive from Disneyland and it's really geared toward older kids, especially teens. I think your grandson would be more likely to enjoy Legoland, SeaWorld San Diego or the San Diego Zoo. You'll need to rent a car to visit any of those locations easily.
There are two Chuck E. Cheese locations close to Disneyland. The nearest one is about 3 miles away on Harbor Blvd. in Garden Grove.
Metro Memphis, Tenn.: Disney World dining: Is it worth the trouble to try to make reservations months in advance for dining? Or, when a Disney World vacation is a once (or twice) in a lifetime pilgrimage, take meals as they come (and as you're hungry)?
Mary Waring: It used to be that you could skip making reservations at most Disney table-service restaurants, particularly in the off-season. If you didn't have a reservation, you could usually just walk up and put your name on the list. You might have to wait, but you would get seated eventually. Those days are gone!
With the popularity of Disney's Dining Plan and the general upswing in attendance at Walt Disney World, the table-service locations are constantly busy and many of them do not have same-day walk-up availability. It has become very important to make advance dining reservations if you want to be assured of eating at a full-service location.
There is no cost or penalty associated with skipping most reservations (a few dinner shows and the extremely popular Cinderella's Royal Table meals are the exceptions), so there is really no downside to making reservations, even if you end up not using some of them.
Palmyra, N.Y.: Can we get tickets to the Hoop Dee Do Revue and attend the dinner show without using any Disney ticket to get in?
Mary Waring: Yes. The Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue is held at Ft. Wilderness Campground and does not require a theme park admission to attend. Just buy tickets and go!
Woodbury, Minn.: We have a family of 6 (2 adults and 4 kids ages 10, 8, 6,and 5), traveling to WDW from Jan. 21 to Jan. 28th. It appears like WDW really makes a vacation more affordable for families of 4. I have found a suite at the family value resort. Do you recommend a suite or two connected rooms? Which is the better deal? Also, what's your opinion of the dining option? It seems like 10-years-old is really too young to be paying adult prices. Why doesn't WDW make the dining plan age 12 for adult prices?
Mary Waring: Family suites are available at Disney's All-Star Music Resort, in the Calypso and Jazz buildings. These suites, which sleep up to 6, were created by combining and remodeling existing guest rooms at the resort in 2006. The bedding consists of a King bed in the "master bedroom" and a pull-out double sofa, pull-out chair and pull-out ottoman in the "living room." There is one bathroom and a "kitchenette" (tiny fridge, microwave, coffee pot and sink).
There are virtually no discounts offered on the family suites. Unless you really want the King bed or the "kitchenette" in the suite, you may find it's a better value to book two standard rooms at one of the Value resorts instead. This will give you two bathrooms and four double beds, for a maximum occupancy of 8 people. Two standard rooms cost slightly less than a family suite and can be additionally discounted with any available code or special rate.
The Dining Plan must be purchased as part of a vacation package that includes a stay at a Disney hotel plus admission tickets. You get one table service meal, one counter service meal and one snack per day. You must purchase the plan for your entire stay and for each person staying in your hotel room.
The additional cost for the 2008 Dining Plan (on top of the vacation package) is $37.99 per night per adult or junior (ages 10-17), $9.99 per night for children (ages 3-9). It's not hard to spend that much per person on one table service meal, so the plan is a good value if you will eat at a full-service restaurant every day. Disney set the adult rate for the dining plan at 10 years and up to match its theme park tickets—10-year-olds pay adult admission, too.
Lexington, N.C.: I am taking my family—two grown children with spouses and four grandchildren ages 7, 7, 5 and 1—to Disney World for 5 days in January. What is the best way to feed this crew in the park and what kind of tips can you offer for making the most of the trip without spending a fortune? Since this is my Christmas present to my family I want to make it a memorable experience!
Mary Waring: You've picked a great time of year to visit, as the parks won't be crowded. That alone will add value to your vacation.
You don't say whether you've purchased a Disney vacation package or not. If not, you might consider buying one adult Annual Pass and then purchasing the Disney Dining Experience (DDE) card for $65. The DDE card is only available to Annual Passholders and Florida residents and it entitles you to 20% off food and beverages at almost every table service restaurant in the parks and resorts. One card is good for up to 10 people dining together. Even taking into account the additional cost of an Annual Pass over and above a 5-day ticket, it might save you a ton of money!
An Annual Pass can also save you money on off-season Disney hotel rooms. There is an Annual Passholder rate for January stays. You don't have to have the Annual Pass until you check in, so you can book rooms with the discount now and buy the pass when you arrive.
Birchdale, Minn.: We will have two grandparents and two grandchildren (ages 3 and 6) going to Disney World on Jan. 11 and 12, 2008. Is there any way to get reduced prices to Disney World? The grandparents are 60 and 63 if that makes a difference. It gets to be a very expensive trip. Thanks.
Mary Waring: If you're asking about senior rates, unfortunately Disney doesn't offer any at Walt Disney World (there are some at Disneyland in California). The best ticket discounts for Disney World tickets are usually through a reliable ticket broker. I recommend one on my site.
Shorewood, Ill.: Hi, Mary. We are going to Walt Disney World March 1 through March 6. I've been looking at flights from Chicago every day for the past few months already and they are so high. I see sales, but they are only through January and February. Do you think I should book now (Southwest is the cheapest at $1153,for non-stop) or do you think there will be more deals as March grows nearer? There are 4 of us, 2 adults, one age 6, one age 9. We will leave from Chicago, either Midway or O'Hare. I appreciate your advice. Love your website!!!
Mary Waring: Melissa, playing the "airfare lottery" is one of the toughest parts of planning a vacation. March is a peak-season time to visit Orlando, so I imagine fares will never be super-low. You might want to check out farecast.com—based on a historical database of fares, it tells you whether to buy now or wait for a lower fare.
Ooltewah, Tenn.: If Disney is family oriented, then why does Disney not offer value rooms for families of 5 instead of 4?
Mary Waring: Good question! It's also one of the most frequently asked questions I receive. Disney's failure to provide reasonably-priced accommodations for larger families is indeed puzzling. I recommend several excellent all-suite hotels on my site, some of which are actually located on Disney property but not operated by Disney. They are the best bet for families of 5 or more.
Sheldon, Iowa: Planning a July 2-9 trip to Disney World for a dance competition. Prefer to stay on Disney property in a Moderate range hotel that's closer to the parks. Would like to know which Disney Resort we could stay at with 5 people (2 adults, 3 kids). Which hotels allow 5 in either a regular or suite room?
Mary Waring: Of the four Moderate resorts operated by Disney, only one section of one resort (Alligator Bayou at Port Orleans-Riverside) has standard rooms that will accommodate 5 people. One of the Value resorts has "family suites" that accommodate up to 6, but they are pretty overpriced. The Port Orleans rooms are your best bet.
Pearl City, Hawaii: What's the most cost efficient way of getting transportation (don't want to rent a car) from LAX to the Disneyland area hotels?
Mary Waring: The least expensive option is Disneyland Resort Express, a private bus service that connects LAX to a host of Disneyland-area hotels on a regular schedule. No reservation is required. Walk out of the terminal at LAX, go to the center island and stand under the overhead green sign.
From LAX, Disneyland Resort Express will cost $19 one way/$28 roundtrip for an adult; $16 one way/$20 roundtrip for a child, plus tip. If you check my site, I have a link to a coupon for $3 off each person's round trip.
Denver, Colo.: We will be in the L.A. area from 12/30 to 1/4 and would like to know if Disneyland does anything special for New Year's Eve. Also, any prediction of which day that week might be the least crowded?
Mary Waring: Expect big crowds on the 30th, huge crowds on the 31st, moderate crowds on the 1st and low crowds starting January 2. Disneyland will have extra parades, Fantasmic! performances and fireworks on the 31st and will stay open until 2:00 am.
If you decide to go on the 31st, be sure to arrive early in the morning and bring jackets or anything else you'll need in order not to leave the park until you are ready to go home. The park usually sells out and no new admissions (or readmissions) are permitted once it's full.
Pleasantville, N.Y.: Hi, Mary. When do they begin to announce the entertainment for the Flower and Garden Festival? We are going April 17 to 26 and love to see the Flower Power Concerts.
Mary Waring: The 2008 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival will be held March 18-June 1. It seems to me that the associated Flower Power concert performers are usually announced in about January. You can sometimes get an jump on the official announcement by visiting Pollstar.com and searching Lake Buena Vista or Disney—as the acts are booked, they are frequently reported to Pollstar.
New York, N.Y.: My boyfriend and I will be visiting Orlando for our anniversary. What do you suggest as a fun, yet romantic activity for an evening on the town?
Mary Waring: I actually have an entire web site devoted to romance, anniversaries, honeymoons and weddings at Disney World. Visit mouseweddings.com/wdwromance.html where you'll find a whole page of romantic ideas you might enjoy.
Baltimore, Md.: What are the least crowded times of year to visit Disney World?
Mary Waring: The least crowded times to go to Walt Disney World are the second week of January through mid-February; the entire month of May; late August and entire month of September (even Labor Day weekend); mid-November; and mid-December.
Basically, times of year when kids are in school tend to offer the lowest crowds.
Kansas City, Kans. : When is the least expensive time to go to WDW? We plan to take our daughter, her husband, and their girls (ages will be 18 months and 4 1/2 years) next fall. We would like to be able to stay for at least a week. What we read lists rooms for 4-6 people... do we have to pay a lot more for the baby, even though she will sleep with one of us? Thanks!
Mary Waring: Disney's room rates are published well in advance—currently you can find all of the rates through 2008 on my site—so it's easy to look up different dates and get a feel for the prices. The highest rates are over holidays (including all holiday weekends, except Labor Day), on weekends and in midsummer. Generally room rates will be lowest during the least crowded times of year. See my answer above for those times.
Babies under 3 years of age who will sleep in a crib are not counted in the room occupancy at the Disney resorts.
Houston, Tex.: We are interested in doing Walt Disney World strictly for adults. Are there any activities, hotels, offers, etc., specifically for adults who want to enjoy WDW?
Mary Waring: While of course Disney World is a family destination, there is a lot for adults to enjoy. My husband and I visit without children and have a wonderful time. The Deluxe resorts, in particular, have a romantic ambiance that will appeal to couples. There are adults-only nightclubs in the BoardWalk area and in Pleasure Island. You can take advantage of lots of fine dining options (though you can expect to see kids there, even late at night). The Chef's Table at Victoria and Albert's is a fantastic experience for foodies and those seeking romance.
You might want to take a look at Birnbaum's Walt Disney World Without Kids guidebook for more ideas.
San Francisco, Calif.: My wife is currently undergoing chemotherapy. We are driving to Anaheim Disneyland in December (12/16 through 12/21/2007) along with a couple of other families—10 of us in all. My wife is strong enough to walk, but may be too weak to keep walking all over the park over a 4-6 hour stretch. I was thinking of renting a wheelchair just in case. What is your suggestion for someone that does not really need a wheelchair all the time, but might need one to keep up with the group over the long stretch? Or should I simply take her back to the room earlier than usual? We are staying in Paradise Pier, so the hotel is relatively close to the 2 parks.
Mary Waring: Walking distance from Paradise Pier to the front gate of Disneyland is almost half a mile. When you add that onto the additional walking in the park, which can be up to 4 miles in the course of a day, I think you'd be very wise to rent a wheelchair. It would be a shame for your wife to miss out on all the fun because she has worn herself out with too much walking.
Disney rents wheelchairs, but they charge a lot, have a limited number and the chair has to be turned in as you leave the park. If you rent from a local company for the length of your stay, you'll save money and be assured of having the chair when you need it. Plus, you'll be able to keep the chair when you leave the park, in case your wife is too tired to walk back to the hotel.
Hackensack, N.J.: We are planning our first family trip to Disney World in late August 2008 (two adults and two children). We have received identical prices from Disney and a travel agent who specializes in Disney trips. I am not sure if I should give up control of my vacation to a travel agent when their price is the same as Disney. I like to research and plan but I am feeling overwhelmed. Any advice as to what I should do?
Mary Waring: The reason you've received identical quotes is that discounts for next August haven't been released yet. Discounts typically don't become available much more than 2 to 4 months in advance. The top Disney-only travel agencies will make a reservation for you now at regular price and then continue to monitor your reservation, later applying any discount or promotion that may become available. They usually know when the discounts are about to be released, and they are on the phone to Disney first thing in the morning on the release date. Discounted rooms and vacation packages often sell out very quickly, so it can be an advantage to have a Disney specialist travel agent working for you.
A Disney specialist agent will be able to offer you useful advice and helpful tips. In addition, some agencies will book your dining reservations for you, which can save you a lot of time and toll charges. (Disney doesn't offer toll-free numbers for its room or dining reservations.)
By the way, if a travel agency books a Disney hotel room or vacation package, there should be no cost to you, since the agency is paid a commission by Disney. Agencies that book airfare will charge a fee for that, since they no longer get any commission from the airlines. I recommend booking your own airfare directly through the airline's own web site.
In short, unless you really have a strong preference for doing everything yourself, I don't see any down side to using a Disney specialist agency. I recommend an agency on my site that I use myself.
Fairfield, Conn.: Does Disney World allow you to bring food/drinks/cooler into the parks?
Mary Waring: Officially, Disney asks that no outside food or drink be brought into the theme parks. Unofficially, this is not stringently enforced. Bags are searched, but a few items in a small soft-sided cooler (such as sandwiches, crackers, granola bars, juice boxes or bottles of water) will be ignored.
If you eat your snack/meal discreetly, without using park resources (i.e. taking up a table at a restaurant without buying anything) and you don't make a mess, no one will say anything to you.
You absolutely will NOT be allowed to bring in the following: hard-sided coolers, large coolers, glass containers, or alcoholic beverages. Also, you cannot bring any type of straws (even the little ones attached to juice boxes) into Animal Kingdom.
Providence, R.I.: Are there discounted dining options for Disney or discounts for an annual pass?
Mary Waring: There are many, many discounted dining options—too many to detail here. Among other things, you can save with the Disney Dining Experience card or the Dining Plan at Walt Disney World. There are also coupons, various membership discounts, etc.
Annual Passes are only discounted for Florida and California residents, for Disney World and Disneyland respectively.
Las Vegas, Nev.: I am taking my husband and our 2 kids (Sean, 4, and Jack, 20 months) to spend Christmas in Disneyland, California. We are celebrating not only Christmas, but having the whole family together at last. This is our first Christmas together and also their first time to see Disneyland. I am on a tight budget so how do we make the most of our trip?
Mary Waring: Christmas is a beautiful time to visit Disneyland, but expect crowds. You'll want to get up early and head straight into the parks as soon as they open. The crowds really pick up after 10:00 am, and the Fantasyland rides your children will enjoy are very slow-loading. Lines for Dumbo just get bigger and bigger as the day goes on.
Since you're on a tight budget, I would recommend booking a hotel off-site but within walking distance of the parks—there are many. This will save you money on your hotel bill and you won't have to pay for a shuttle service.
As far as tickets, be sure to buy them in advance. You'll save a lot by not purchasing Disneyland tickets at the gate. If you or your husband happen to be in the military, be sure to check with your MWR office to buy discounted military tickets, which are a great deal.
Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.: I am planning to be in L.A. between Christmas and New Year's this winter. I would like to visit Disneyland, but worry about the massive crowds that would be there that week. Is there a preferable day for a less hectic visit? Thanks!
Mary Waring: That's the busiest week of the year at Disneyland, with the parks filling to capacity on many days. Christmas Day and December 31 will be the worst, but the whole week is pretty much a zoo. If you're staying through January 1, that day will be significantly less crowded than the prior week. If you decide to go, be sure to get there at park opening, so you'll have some hope of getting on the rides!
Algonquin, Ill.: We are planning a trip to Disney World in March. We want to also visit Universal so we will be splitting our 10-14 day stay between the two. We love Disney and have stayed many times on site. I am wondering what deals might be available for a family of 3 at the resorts which would allow for 2 queen size beds. My guys are tall and the double beds just don't work. We would love to stay at the higher-end resorts but get a great deal as well. Time frame is March 6-20. Any deals??? How do you get uprgraded? Has never happened to us in all of our 12+ times there.
Mary Waring: If you want to stay at a Disney resort, you'll need to spring for a Deluxe hotel. The Value and Moderate resorts only offer double beds, except in their expensive suites. The two least expensive Deluxe hotels are Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge—both offer Queen beds.
You might also look into renting a studio at a Disney Vacation Club resort (aka a Disney Deluxe Villa resort). They have Queen beds. The best prices for those are at Old Key West or Saratoga Springs Resort.
Your time frame is during Peak Season, so discounts are hard to come by. Currently there is a discounted vacation package that runs through March 15, so if you're willing to split your stay, you could book March 6-15 on that package and save some money.
Upgrades are very rare at Disney resorts and really just a matter of luck.
Buffalo, N.Y.: Hi, Mary. We are a family of 12 (includes 6 children ages 3 to 11) traveling to Moorpark, CA for a 5/10/08 wedding. We plan on arriving in CA about a week early (on 5/4) and leaving CA on 5/12 and want to visit Disneyland & Universal Studios. I read all your transportation tips from airports to Disneyland, but would like some cost effective advice to make traveling between all locations as easy as possible. Should we fly into SNA first and visit Disneyland first(thought we could do this in 2 days) and then onto Universal (can we do this in 1 day?) and then onto Moorpark. What type of transportation could get us all (with luggage) between Disney & Universal and do you have any recommendations on where to stay near Universal? Are there places to rent vehicles near Disney &/or Universal to get us to Moorpark?
Arranging this trip for everyone sounds like a planning nightmare. Should we just give in and let a travel agent handle all the arrangements?
Mary Waring: I would recommend using a travel agent for this. As a veteran planner of family reunions, I can tell you it's a thankless task. Having a travel agent as a central point of contact really simplifies things—everyone in the group can just deal with the agent.
The least costly solution to your transportation issues would be to rent two minivans. It's going to cost you a fortune and take a lot of time to use public transportation between all those points. Consider flying into SNA and departing from an airport near Moorpark (LAX or Burbank, I would guess—I'm not very familiar with that location). It's often the same price to fly into one airport and out of another within Southern California, instead of buying a round-trip to one airport.
Two days at Disneyland and one day at Universal would be adequate. An additional day at Disneyland would be ideal if you really want to see everything at both parks.
Mary Waring: Thank you all for your great questions. If I wasn't able to get to yours, please be sure to visit MouseSavers.com for hundreds of pages of information about how to save money on Disney vacations. You may also want to sign up for the free MouseSavers Newsletter, which is delivered by e-mail once a month. Enjoy your planning!