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!

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.

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!