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.

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.

The best value for your money at Disney World hotels and resorts and comparing family suites to vacation home rentals
The Dolphin Hotel near Epcot and the Boardwalk
Whether it is the trip of a lifetime or an annual destination, the lodging you choose can greatly impact both your wallet and your overall Disney experience. The Orlando area offers numerous choices for the Disney traveler, so how do you avoid making the wrong choice? The first thing you must do is acquaint yourself with your choices. Ultimately, your perfect choice will be a balance between cost and the overall experience you desire. While cost may be a big factor in your choice, the location, amenities and feel of your resort may be even more important. Your choices include Disney resorts, off-site hotels and condos, campgrounds and even large homes capable of handling any size family.

For many Disney World travelers, staying inside the park is the ultimate experience. However, it comes at a cost. Disney has created three tiers for their hotels: value, moderate and deluxe. Value resorts are the cheapest but also offer far fewer amenities than the moderate and deluxe resorts. In addition, the value resorts are massive (as many as 2880 rooms) and your particular room may be a ten minute walk from the pool and food court. Disney offers 5 value resorts, the newest being the Art of Animation Resort. In general, the value resorts are glorified motel rooms offering about 260 square feet for a standard room.   Prices vary dramatically based on the time of year. In non-peak times you may find a room for as little as $96 per night which jumps to $180 in peak times. You will pay extra for a preferred room closer to the pool. These rooms only accommodate four people. For up to six people you can upgrade to a suite. The Art of Animation family suites have 560 square feet, a tiny kitchenette and cost from $252 to $433 per night.  

Disney's moderate resorts are a bit nicer and the rooms are a bit larger (usually 314 square feet), but they are still fancy motel rooms spread out over large areas with some having over 2000 rooms. Like the value resorts, transportation is by bus which may involve some wait times of 15 minutes or more. Finally, for those with a bigger budget, Disney offers the deluxe resorts including the Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Boardwalk Inn, Yacht Club, Beach Club, Animal Kingdom and Wilderness Lodge. These resorts offer the easiest access to the parks, often including monorail or boat service in addition to the buses. Some are close enough to walk to one or more of the parks. All the resorts offer a wide array of dining options and luxury amenities-  but it comes at a steep cost. Starting prices are as low as $313 a night and they go way up from there. These resort rooms can usually sleep up to 5, but don't expect that to be too comfortable. The deluxe suites are for those with big pocketbooks, a one bedroom suite at the Polynesian ranges from $945 to $1382 a night. Keep in mind that all Disney prices are before the local 12.5% tax.

There are several non Disney hotels located on the Disney property. The most intriguing of these are the Swan and Dolphin located on the water by the Boardwalk and Epcot. They offer Disney's transportation services including boats to Epcot and Hollywood Studios and are a short walk to the Boardwalk area and Epcot's back entrance. The rooms are spacious and the resorts offer shared amenities with numerous restaurants and bars as well as a great pool. These two hotels are part of Starwoods hotels and therefore are great choices for anyone looking to use SPG points for a Disney room. Prices are a bit high, but special can bring rates down to around $200 a night at certain times of the year. The Downtown Disney area offers several choices that are better budget choices though they lack the feel of a Disney resort.  Rates at these 7 hotels can be as low as $69 per night but will fluctuate with the time of year.For the budget minded who can fit everyone in one hotel room, these hotels offer a good value.

If your group includes more than four people you may want to consider renting a condo, townhouse or an entire home. These choices are surprisingly affordable and offer additional ways to save money.  Having a full kitchen can save you a small fortune on food, drinks and alcohol even if you eat out every night. A luxurious 3200 square foot home can rent for as little as $179 a night and no more than $1600 a week  (disneyarearentalhome.com). A 3200 square foot home can accommodate 12 people and often comes equipped with pool, spa, games room and full kitchen. The downside to the rental home is that you will not have access to Disney transportation. However, driving to the parks rarely takes any longer than a wait and ride on the Disney buses. You will trade the Disney Resort "feel" for a more vacation home feel, but that is not always a bad thing when you consider teenagers running up and down hotel corridors at two in the morning! Familiarize yourself with the neighborhood you choose, the homes on the west side tend to be newer and some are beautiful gated neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods are very close, but keep in mind that traffic everything is an easy ride until you are about two miles from the park. The west entrance and south entrance tend to be less crowded than up by International Drive.

The area immediately adjacent to Disney offers numerous hotels along International Drive and Irlo Bronson Highway.  These hotels are convenient to all sorts of restaurants and shops, but that can also be a drawback as the crowds can be overwhelming at times.  If finding the cheapest hotel room regardless of the experience is your goal than this is where you should look.  You can also find some wonderful resorts in the area.  These resorts are frequently centered around a golf course or two as this area is full of championship golf courses.  If golf is part of your vacation plans you may want to consider one of the area resorts.  However, if you are traveling with a large party you will do much better at a rental home.

Your Disney vacation planning should focus on getting as much out of the experience as your budget will allow. If you can afford a two bedroom suite at the Polynesian then you can not go wrong with that (very expensive) choice  For the rest of us, a balanced approach is necessary.  If traveling with 3 or fewer people a hotel room is usually fine. For those traveling with four or more people you need to consider your comfort level and cost. Your choice will come down to budget and the experience you want, regardless of your choice, Disney will rarely disappoint!