Long lines, up to two hours or more, can be avoided with planning
When is the best time to visit Disney World and Universal Studios?

Aside from the obvious “anytime”, the off season at Disney World provides the greatest value and the shortest lines.   The off season runs from the last two weeks of August through early March-- with some notable exceptions. Among the busiest weeks of the year are Thanksgiving, late December, Presidents Day and Spring Break.  In between those dates you will find nearly empty parks and fantastic bargains on hotels and Disney area rental homes. Take advantage of the low crowds, low prices, short lines and cooler weather while visiting Florida theme parks including Universal Studios, Sea World, Disney World and Legoland. 

Imagine being able to ride all of the biggest attractions to your heart’s content!  Because of such short lines in the off season, you can ride the most popular rides like Splash Mountain, Soarin’, Toy Story Mania and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with minimal wait.  No need for fast passes or the magic wristbands!   No long waits in the hot sun!  Low season provides many opportunities to ride your favorite rides multiple times.

Making the most of this quiet time also includes being able to relax and check out the newest attractions in the parks.  You can enjoy the minimal crowds and take your time while visiting the New Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom.   Dinner at the new Be Your Guest restaurant often requires reservations months ahead of time during high season.  Riding Toy Story Mania in Hollywood Studios has proven to be almost impossible during the busy months due to Fast Pass running out most times by mid-day!  Otherwise you have no choice but to wait in line sometimes up to 2 hours or more.  The newly refurbished Test Track in EPCOT will surely be a very popular ride in the high season.

Low season is a great way for little ones to spend extra time with the characters. They will be delighted with pictures, autographs and spending a little extra time interacting with the characters without getting antsy standing in the hot sun and long lines.

At Universal Studios, imagine being able to roam freely in Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, enjoying a delicious butter beer or selecting your very own magic wand without getting stressed out that hundreds of others are trying to do the same. The newest 3-D attractions, Despicable Me, Minion Mayhem and Transformer are very popular. In the winter months, you can practically walk right on!

Other advantages begin even before you leave home.   Many airlines offer discounted tickets during this time, and many hotels and vacation rental homes offer discounted rates. For instance, the specials at Disneyarearentalhome.com can be nearly half off the weekly rates for prime season. Picture your family in your spacious vacation rental home a few minutes from Disney, being able to sleep late, have a leisurely breakfast at your house before venturing out to the parks.  You have no fear of trying to beat the crowds and feeling stressed out.  At the end of the day, you have plenty of time to come home, have a relaxing dinner or maybe take a ride to Downtown Disney.  Enjoying the heated pool, taking in a movie or bowling at Splitsville are some of the many options available because you would have already fulfilled all of the rides and attractions your family wanted to visit that day. 

Off season saves you money on tickets as well. During the high season, you often need a multi-day pass to ensure that your family can enjoy all of the rides and see all of the shows. During the off season, you can probably get everything in that your family wants to see in half the time.  This allows you to save the money you would have spent on additional days in one park to explore other neighboring attractions such as Sea World, LegoLand or even the beautiful Florida beaches. 

Mid Novemeber and no lines at Harry Potter, by Christmas you can count on two hour lines.
In early to mid November the lines at Wizarding World are nearly non-existent. By Christmas this will be the start of a two hour wait. Certain weeks are best, early November, early December, the last three weeks of January and all of February except for President's Day week. A great resource is the calendar offered by Undercover Tourist. This helps you plan not just the week but the specific park to go to on any specific day.

Plan ahead and visit Disney World in the off season if you can. You will be amazed at how much you can do in a day and still have time to enjoy the Florida sun!

Traveling to Disney World with a group of friends and family should be a magical experience.  Research and planning is essential if you have a large family or a group, otherwise you may become frustrated finding and choosing the right places to go in the Disney theme parks.  For first time group visitors one of the best investments is the Disney VIP tour.

Many of the Disney area rental homes sleep up to ten or more. This is a wonderful way to travel to Disney World with a large group or family, but figuring out how to get such a large group through the parks in unison is a daunting task. The VIP tour makes it a snap. It is not cheap, but dividing the cost among ten people makes it a great value.  For non-holiday bookings, Disney charges $340 per hour for a group up to ten. The hourly price is the same whether you have five or ten people, so it is most economical the closer your group is to ten. The minimum length of the tour is 6 hours. Note that Disney charges slightly more on holidays ($380 per hour).  While the cost is high, $2040 for 6 hours, when divided among ten people it comes out to about $200 per person.

So what do you get for your VIP Disney tour? First, you can have Disney tour guides pick you up at your Orlando area vacation rental home and whisk you into the back entrances to any of the Disney theme parks.  Your tour guide will answer any questions and bring you to the front of any theme park ride through VIP corridors, regardless of the length of the line for everyone else.  This is extremely beneficial at peak times when lines can run two hours or more.  With this benefit you could see three or four times more rides and in greater comfort than everyone else in the park. If you want to see multiple Disney parks in one day they will drive you to the next park and again take you to the front of the line for any ride.  If priority seating for a show is your thing, you can have special VIP seating for any parade, show or nighttime spectacular.  Again, this is a huge benefit during peak times and a special, pampered way of viewing shows regardless of how crowded the park may be. Imagine seeing Illuminations in your own private area with no one else around you.  This is truly a luxury experience.  You can even get your guide to get you into restaurants that you might not otherwise have a chance of getting reservations.

To be sure, this experience is pricey and not everyone can afford it.  But for those that can afford it, this tour can greatly enhance the ultimate Disney World vacation.  In one day you can accomplish, in style, what others may take three days to accomplish.  In the end, you will be less exhausted and ready for the remainder of your Orlando area vacation.  You could even plan a second VIP tour at Universal Studios Orlando.  Universal’s VIP tours are similar, but are available per person or as a group of ten.  The group tour is more exclusive and runs $2750 for ten and includes both parks.  The tour lasts about 8 hours.

A Disney World vacation should be a trip of a lifetime.  If you are planning your Disney World vacation and want to ensure the ultimate Disney experience, consider the VIP tour.

Disney area rental home perfect for large family or group
Finding ways to make a Disney World vacation affordable for the whole family has become an industry unto itself. Most people realize that a stay in a Disney hotel room will cost thousands of dollars after all the incidentals are added up.  Previously, we examined the cost of Disney World resort hotels versus other lodging choices. In this article we examine the very affordable alternative of renting an entire home for a week or more. The savings are more than just the nightly lodging cost.

A Disney World vacation is very expensive. The cost of park tickets alone can run a few thousand dollars for a large family. It is important to do a lot of research before making your plans for a Disney World vacation. Many people are not even aware that there are quite a few neighborhoods that offer short term rentals for Disney World vacationers. Short term rental communities are specifically zoned for this type of rental and are found primarily along two corridors, the Poinciana area to the east of Disney and Route 27 to the west and south. The Poinciana area is a bit more crowded but offers numerous dining choices along its busy corridors. The route 27 area is a little quieter but still offers many dining and shopping choices.

Rental home communities, like hotels, vary greatly in price, amenities and quality. Some communities are 25 years old and offer very affordable no frills rental homes at prices as low as $75 a night. Don't forget to add 13% local tax to these rates and generally, if staying less than a week, a $125 cleaning fee. Other communities offer golf course locations in prestigious resort locations for $500 a night. In between you can find luxurious gated communities with 5 bedroom homes for around $170 a night. We'll examine some of these communities, but first, what are the advantages of the rental home?

A rental home is affordable as the nightly price compares favorably to any single room at a decent area hotel and is almost always less than even a value resort at Disney World. But we all know that price is not the only consideration in our dream trip to Disney World. Convenience is a key selling point for Disney resorts. So how convenient is a rental home? The answer may surprise you. Staying inside the parks is fun, but not as convenient as you may think. You are usually at the mercy of the Disney transport system to get anywhere, and it can take awhile. Your food choices are limited and very expensive. If you want to try something else in Orlando you will need a rental car or pay a steep price for transportation. A rental home, on the other hand, does require a rental car to make the ten to fifteen drive to the parks. But for this you get freedom to travel anywhere and on your schedule. You will have unlimited food and entertainment choices. The Orlando area offers numerous things to do other than just the Disney parks and a rental home is a great base from which to see it all.

We all want to be comfortable on a hectic vacation. So how does an Orlando area rental home compare to Disney World resorts? While you generally won't have daily maid service in a vacation rental home, you will have loads of comfort. If you have ever stayed with four people in a single hotel room you know just how crowded and cramped it becomes by day two. In a rental home you have lots of room to spread out with multiple bedrooms and living areas. When it comes to comfort the vacation rental home beats a hotel room by a comfortable margin.

Amenities are a big factor in choosing a Disney resort hotel and the same holds true for a rental home. Just as you can choose between a Holiday Inn or the Polynesian, rental homes have choices too. Some, like Reunion, offer water parks and resort style amenities. Other rental homes offer no amenities other than usual home amenities. But in either case a rental home offers you space to have family fun. A moderate priced rental home will have more than enough amenities to keep you busy at the end of a long day. Consider this home which, in addition to 3200 square feet of living space, offers a pool and spa, games room with billiards, foosball and air hockey, a huge kitchen and a clubhouse with community pool, volleyball, gym and party room. The home also offers seven flat screen televisions and XBox with Kinnect. Try getting all that in your resort and your cost will be exorbitant  In this case, you get all that and five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a 40' balcony, gated community and more for about $175 to $225 a night.

If you have done your homework and now your trip comes down to price, what is your best option? Here is another area where a Disney World area vacation rental home blows away any value resort at Disney World. As discussed in a previous article, rental homes are a fraction of the nightly cost of Disney resort rooms. However, that is just the beginning of the savings. One of the greatest expenses at Disney World are all the incidental items; food, drinks, souvenirs. Disney resorts typically have restaurants and snack areas where snacks can be purchased at several times what they cost outside the park. Worse yet, if you are interested in a few adult beverages, you will pay very high rates inside the park for this privilege. In a rental home you will typically have a full kitchen and an outside barbecue where you can cook as much or as little as you want. Just a few meals, even cereal in the morning, can save a small fortune. And if you like a little wine or beer with your dinner you will save even more. Even if you choose to eat out, the prices at offsite restaurants are considerably less than in the park. And yes, those tacky souvenir shops offsite do offer incredible savings.

So where do you stay? If you can afford $5000 a week a luxury golf course home at Reunion is a great choice. It is in a nice location and offers many amenities including championship golf courses. For the rest of us the choice boils down to location, size and price. Generally speaking, the larger homes in any neighborhood are not that much more than the smaller homes. Therefore, strive for as big a home as you might need for ultimate comfort. As for location, choose the area you like best. Close in is not as big a factor as you might think. A home 3 miles from Disney is not really twice as close as one 6 miles away as most of the traffic is in the last few miles. However, keep in mind that the entrances on the east side are generally more crowded. The easy access is the back way on the south side at Sherberth Road. This consideration favors the Route 27 area homes to the south in Davenport. Gated communities are often favored for the extra privacy and security they offer. Also keep in mind the feel of the location. Those homes close to International Drive will be part of the hustle and bustle surrounding Disney. If crowds don't bother you then this may be your area. If you want to get away a bit, the homes at West Haven in Davenport are in a quieter area but a stones throw from the beautiful Champions Gate Resort with golf, shopping and more and yet just 15 minutes to Disney World. 

When pricing your rental home keep in mind several factors. First, the nicer neighborhoods will be more expensive. Except for a few neighborhoods, the increase in price is generally worth it. Having a gated community, professionally landscaped with community clubhouse is a nice feel for the one or two hundred bucks extra for the week. The price may or may not include all charges. Hotels quote prices without taxes. In Orlando the hotel tax runs between 12.5% and 13%. Many vacation villas include the tax in the price. A hotel charging $149 a night is generally abut $169 with tax. A rental home also has a cleaning fee that costs between $110 and $135 but is usually waived for stays of 7 nights or more. Also, expect significant discounts for longer stays, even discounts for a one week stay. Like hotels, many rental homes offer specials at different times. For instance, this home offered a discount of nearly 15% to fill an unfilled week. You can find many vacation rentals by a simple Google search for "disney area rental homes". Good planning and good research will make your Disney World vacation both enjoyable and affordable.

The Epcot Flower and Garden Festival 2013
Spring is a great time to visit Walt Disney World with fewer crowds, lower costs and, of course, the weather is wonderful. From March 6 to May 19 you can also enjoy EPCOT’s 20th anniversary of the International Flower and Garden Festival. The festival is sponsored by HGTV and offers many interesting exhibits, demonstrations, and over 50 seminars on improving the landscape of your home.

The beautiful 3D character flower displays are a huge draw to this festival.    In the past, displays have included 3D forms of Tinkerbell, Winnie the Pooh and friends, princesses, and, of course, Mickey. Many Pixar characters are on display as well. There will even be illuminated gardens and displays for after dark enhancement! This years festival will highlight Monsters Inc and Oz and will include a circus themed area. Only the Disney imagineers can pull this off, and they never disappoint. Children will delight in the Land of Oz play area with play equipment featuring huge flowers.

There is plenty of exciting entertainment, family fun with interactive play areas for kids and a Flower Power concert series, featuring artists from the 60’s and 70’s.   Food kiosks will be added in the World Showcase, as well as special menus offered by Epcot’s top chefs. There will be circus themed tents filled with carnival games and many photo opportunities with characters and even a "crashed" hot air balloon from Disney's upcoming "Oz The Great and Powerful".  

There is something for all ages to enjoy, so long as you love fun, games, flowers, landscaping or whimsical topiary creations. If some in your party are not so interested, there are still many other spring time attractions for them.  Enjoy the flowers and festivities while hubby is off at spring training baseball games or playing golf. Spring is an enchanted time of year at Epcot and one you have to see for yourself. The festival is included in the price of your Epcot Admission. 

More reason to visit Disney World in the spring
2013 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival features topiaries and far more
Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2013 dates
The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival will take place starting September 19 and last until November 10, 2014. Disney has now published many of the acts and special events. 

In prior years approximately 30 marketplaces lined the world showcase at Epcot offering various culinary delights and beverages. Renowned chefs will offer signature experiences during this festival and there will always be demonstrations and wine seminars and classes for the wine enthusiast. To compliment the experience, Disney offers the Eat to the Beat concert series. With three shows each night, at 5:30, 6:45 and 8:00, the 2013 Eat to the Beat concert series includes the following lineup (subject to change): 

·        Sept 19-21 – Jo Dee Messina

·        Sept. 22-23 – The Pointer Sisters

·        Sept. 24-25 – Rick Springfield

·        Sept. 26-27 – Christopher Cross

·        Sept. 28-29 – Hanson

·        Sept. 30-Oct. 2 – Air Supply

·        Oct. 3-5 – STARSHIP starring Mickey Thomas

·        Oct. 6-8 – Sugar Ray

·        Oct. 9-10 – Fuel

·        Oct. 11-12 – Sister Hazel

·        Oct. 13-14 – TBD

·        Oct. 15-16 – Billy Ocean

·        Oct. 17-19 – Night Ranger

·        Oct. 20-22 – Smash Mouth

·        Oct. 23-24 – Jim Brickman

·        Oct. 25-26 – Los Lonely Boys

·        Oct. 27-28 – Wilson Phillips

·        Oct. 29-31 – Dennis DeYoung, original member of STYX

·        Nov. 1-2 – 38 Special

·        Nov. 3-5 – Boyz II Men

·        Nov. 6-7 – David Cook

·        Nov. 8-10 – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

While individual events may eclipse the entertainment value of Food and Wine Festival at Disney, nothing else compares to the Food and Wine Festival for adult entertainment during a week long stay at Disney World.  For a wealth of information on the food events check out http://www.disneyfoodblog.com.

Disney offers few experiences that cater to adults, especially since the demise of Pleasure Island.  The Food and Wine festival, while not reminiscent of Pleasure Island, is a suitable family experience but caters to adults more than children. Historically, this has always been a slow time for Disney and the Food and Wine Festival seems to help a bit.  It is unquestionably one of the best times to go to Disney World if you can manage to plan a vacation at this time of year. The crowds are among the lowest of the year and the hotel and rental home prices are rock bottom. Disney's advertised rates are among the lowest of the year and the dining package is usually offered free with a full price room. For larger groups, rental homes are often priced 25% below peak times and can accommodate large families or groups for the same price as a room at a moderate Disney resort.

One concern for travelers during this time frame is hurricane season in Florida.  While hurricane season runs until November 30, the busiest time is August into September. Odds of a hurricane disruption are slim and you can protect your trip with travel insurance.  The weather during the 2014 Epcot Food and Wine Festival should be pleasant with temperatures in late September averaging about 88 degrees Fahrenheit and by early November averaging about 79 degrees.  September is the fourth rainiest month in Orlando while October and November are very dry.

If traveling as a couple you can stay within walking distance of Epcot by booking at the Boardwalk, Yacht Club or Beach Club. All are pricey but fun if you can afford them.  You can also try the Swan or Dolphin which, while not Disney hotels, are in the park and adjacent to the Boardwalk area sharing the same boat service to the back entrance to Epcot. For larger groups, a rental home is your best bet and the entire home with pool, spa and games room will be considerably cheaper than the Disney deluxe resorts.