The Right Way to Cut in Line at Disney World and Other Theme Parks
We here at Budget Travel were pretty disgusted by the recent New York Post's story about wealthy Manhattanites hiring disabled "black market tour guides" to pose as family members at Disney World. The benefit? For $130 per hour—or more than $1,000 per day—up to six of the disabled guide's "family members" can cut in line at popular rides such as It's a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean, while the less fortunate wait, sometimes more than two hours, for their turn. The practice is, of course, not endorsed by Disney, and takes advantage of the park's sensitive policy toward disabled guests.
While we share the revulsion just about everyone else feels about this illicit scheme, we're also a little puzzled. For one thing, major theme parks handle long lines really well, and increasingly keep them moving along briskly or keep folks entertained while they wait. Some of my friends have even told me that the whole line-wait experience is, for them, part of the fun. Not sold on that idea? Well, theme parks like Disney, Universal, Six Flags, and Busch Gardens offer express pass programs that can get you to the head of the line for free, or for a (relatively) modest fee. Here, details about the pass programs at some of the most popular parks. Think of this as your theme park cheat sheet (or, make that your NOT-cheat-sheet):
Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom. FastPass is free, but distributed only on a first come, first served basis at machines around the park. You get to skip the line within specified times printed on the pass.
Six Flags Great Adventure. Flash Pass starts at $43. A beeper alerts you when it's your turn to board select rides.
Universal Studios Florida. Express Plus Pass starts at $20 but is free if you stay at an on-site hotel. It lets you skip lines at select rides.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Quick Queue starts at $20 and lets you skip lines at select rides.
TALK TO US! Do you have favorite strategies for beating the lines at theme parks? We'd love to hear them, and might share them in an upcoming Budget Travel story!
5 Easy Ways To Save Money On Meals
Looking to save more money on your next family vacation? I recently chatted with Anne Taylor Hartzell, founder of the family travel website, HipTravelMama.com, to find out about the best ways families can get the biggest bang for their buck—especially when it comes to meals. Here are her five top tips for saving money on your next big trip. Create a list of favorite restaurants for your destination.Everyone thinks about the price of airfares, hotels, car rentals, and how much they should spend on activities and attractions, but people sometimes forget to set aside enough money in their vacation budgets for meals. Anne says a good idea is to research the place you're traveling to and create a list of favorite restaurants. That way you can estimate how much you'll really be spending, and you won't be tempted to blow your budget on an impulsive dinner at that fancy restaurant you know is way out of your price range. Stick to hotels that have in-room kitchens or resort credits you can use towards meals. Instead of eating at restaurants for every breakfast, lunch, and dinner during your trip, consider booking a hotel room with a kitchenette, visiting the local farmers market or grocery store to make sandwiches for lunch or even cook your own special family dinner. Alternatively, you can scope out hotel deals and packages that include daily breakfast to help cut spending on one meal a day, or look for places that offer resort credits towards meals at the hotel restaurant to offset the cost of dining out every night. Eat where the locals eat.Instead of being herded into one of the more touristy restaurants in the town you're visiting, talk to some of the locals and find out where they like to eat. Ask the hotel staff, your tour guide, or even your taxi driver, about their favorite places to eat—not only are you more likely to end up with an affordable meal, but you'll also get to try local specialties and have a more authentic dining experience. It's okay to splurge...sometimes. You may be on a budget, but you're also on vacation. Make enough room in your plans for a special splurge—eat at that amazing Italian restaurant everyone's been raving about or treat yourself to a sunset dinner on the beach in Tahiti because, honestly, how often do you get a chance to something like that? It's okay to splurge once in a while, just don't make it a habit or you won't be able to afford your next vacation. Look up deals and coupons online before you go.Scour the internet for coupons and meal deals—look for dining vouchers, discounts for activities and attractions on sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, and Travelzoo Local Deals, or seek out coupons for popular restaurants in the place you'll be visiting.
Surprising Airport Services
Time was, an airport was a place to get on or off a plane. If you were so inclined, you could pay way too much money for terrible food or kill time at a bar. That was about it. Boy, have things changed. As Cheapflights.com demonstrates in a news item on its website by Emily Fisher, airports now offer some unexpected services. Not only will you find the obvious chain stores, boutiques, and other shops, but also medical services, fitness centers, and even pet care and movie theaters. But for me, the most eye-catching airport offerings in recent years have been the cultural ones. Here, some examples, courtesy of Cheapflights.com, of how airports have given themselves an infusion of class. Live music. Sure, Brian Eno's Music for Airports album was a gorgeous, pioneering piece of ambient music. But live performances of country, pop, and jazz are now regular fixtures at some major airports. In "Music City," free concerts are offered at Nashville International Airport. Texas's Austin-Bergstrom Airport showcases local music artists performing for passengers Monday through Friday. Vancouver International Airport in British Columbia features Take Off Fridays parties in summer. Concerts are also regular occurrences at airports in Atlanta, New York, and Washington, DC, which often includes jazz artists in its performance roster. Museums. Public art has become increasingly common at terminals around the world. But how about paintings from Dutch masters? Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has partnered with the Rijksmuseum to create an annex of the Netherlands' national museum featuring a permanent collection and a series of new shows. Similarly, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have helped create 30 galleries throughout San Francisco International Airport focusing on art, culture, and history. Classes. We always like to say that travel educates us. But you can literally take classes on local culture at South Korea's Incheon Airport and savor a tea-making workshop at Hong Kong International Airport. Also, Cheapflights.com's Emily Fisher points out that Paris's Orly and Charles De Gaulle airports have offered classes in French cooking and hopefully will again! Nature exhibits. I remember fondly how getting off a plane at Glacier International Airport always feels a little like stepping right into the wild—exhibits include mountain goats and loons. Singapore's Changi Airport raises the bar, with a Butterfly Garden with an indoor waterfall and more than 1,000 winged beauties. Vancouver International boasts a mini-aquarium with 5,000 marine creatures, plus a separate tank devoted to jellies. TALK TO US! Share your own airport discoveries with other Budget Travel readers: Have you found a great free cultural perk while flying?
4 Hotels That Offer Special Perks
We recently asked our Budget Travel audience how important toiletries were when it comes to deciding which hotel to book—most of you felt fancy shampoos and conditioners were a nice touch but not a deciding factor, noting that you often pack your own personal favorites, while others said they were curious enough to at least Google the types of toiletries and amenities offered by hotels prior to booking a room. Overall, it seems larger amenities (like hair dryers), price, and location are more important to you when choosing a hotel. We wanted to dig a little deeper and find out if different, more unique amenities could become deciding factors. From free international calls to nifty personal touches when you're far from home, these four hotels are pulling out all the stops to keep their guests happy. Free International Phone Calls Seattle's Hotel 1000 wants international guests to stay connected with their friends and family back home, offering free unlimited international phone calls to Canada, India, China, or Europe free of charge as a standard hotel amenity. General Manager Denny Fitzpatrick said, "Part of the experience is to not ‘nickel and dime’ our guests, but to include as much as possible in the room rate. We’ve done this in the past by offering complimentary, high-speed internet since opening and are now continuing this with free calls to anywhere in the world." Personal Touches When You're Far From Home Every time you book a stay at Kimpton's Hotel Solamar in San Diego, you'll be given the option to send a photo of someone (or something) special so the hotel staff can print it out and have it waiting in a signed greeting card on the night stand upon your arrival at the hotel. A nice idea for travelers who are constantly on the road and missing loved ones back home, or for anyone who misses their favorite pet while traveling. Fun & Games Want to unleash your inner child while you're on vacation? Play a game of oversized chess at Sea Island in Georgia or poolside at the Doubletree San Juan in Puerto Rico. Sea Island also offers Bingo games in The Cloister Ballroom on Tuesdays and Thursdays where up to 500 guests can play for cash prizes.
How Important Are Toiletries When You Choose A Hotel?
In an effort to help attract more guests, hotel chains across the globe have begun changing the quality of their toiletries, upgrading their shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, and soaps to top-shelf brands like Paul Mitchell and other high-end products typically found in pricey salons. An article by USA Today recently reported that Ritz-Carlton, InterContinental, and other Marriott brands like Courtyard, SpringHill Suites, TownPlace Suites, and Residence Inn are also getting on board. The folks at Hyatt have taken this one step further—in addition to upgrading their toiletries to high-quality bath and skin products from KenetMD Skin Care, Le Labo, June Jacobs, and Aromapothecary, they've also updated their in-room menus with healthier options that include smoothies, fresh juices, and well-balanced portions. Their new service, Hyatt Has It, also allows guests access to essential-but-often-forgotten items like makeup remover wipes, slippers, and shower caps (complimentary) as well as larger items like phone chargers, curling irons, yoga mats, and steamers (available to borrow or buy). I recently stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn Mont-Tremblant where I was given small bottles of Paul Mitchell shampoo and conditioner. Did I love those little luxury touches and the way my hair looked? Yes. Would I purposely book my next hotel stay at a Marriott Residence Inn because of it? Probably not. But maybe that's just me. What do you think? Do the types of toiletries offered by a hotel factor into where you book or do other, larger details like hotel location and overall price matter more in your final decision? Would a certain brand of shampoos or soaps be enough to ensure your loyalty to a specific hotel chain? Sound off below!