Best Value for Disney World Accommodations

To experience Disney World at its finest, choosing the right accommodation means everything. You might be asking yourself: “Why does it matter what hotel I get if I’m spending most of the day at Disney World?” Your “home away from home” can make your vacation more fulfilling and allow the magic of Disney to continue even after you leave the park. There are two types of hotel options when it comes to staying at Walt Disney World: First, you have the Disney area hotels that are close to Disney World but not on Disney property. Second, there are the Disney owned and operated on site hotels that get you right in the action day and night.

Briefly consider Disney area hotels. We know that Disney World sits on 47 square miles of land and has 4 theme parks and 2 water parks. You could be close to Disney World by staying off site but still be 45 minutes from the Disney theme park of your choice. While these hotels are wonderful, you end up losing precious Disney time just trying to get to certain parks. I prefer Disney on site hotels as they offer free transfers between the airport and hotel, free access to Disney transportation to get you from one park to another, and extra magical hours where, for resort guest’s, one theme park opens 1 hour early and another stays open up to 3 hours after park closing time.

Disney offers 4 different types of hotel experiences on site and choosing the best selection for your family helps make the trip much more exciting.

Value Resorts:
These are wonderful properties which I would equate to a Holiday Inn type hotel. They offer 1 king or 2 double beds. They have several swimming pools and a large food court. These hotels work well if you plan on spending the majority of time away from the hotel. Two of the value hotels offer family suites that will sleep up to 6 people, but you can usually get 2 rooms with connecting doors for less money than the family suite.

Moderate Resorts:
These resorts offer 2 queen beds and some have a trundle bed that can sleep a fifth person. The rooms are larger than the value resorts and they have more pools and food options.

Deluxe Resorts:
These resorts are the best of the bunch, rated 5 stars and have several transportation options (three are on the monorail system). They also have 2 queen beds and most rooms will sleep up to 5 people. They offer fine dining as well as the quick service food court. These rooms are very large.

Disney Vacation Club Resorts:
The Disney Vacation Club has condominium type accommodations. They offer a full kitchen, living room areas and are 1-3 bedrooms in size. You can have food delivered to your condo but there are no grocery stores on Disney property. These are the most expensive accommodations, but are the best suited for larger families. You do not need to be a member of the Disney Vacation Club to stay at the condos.
Carrosel_Kids

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Going Away for the Holidays

There are almost 3 months until Thanksgiving and you can almost smell the roast turkey and Thanksgiving trimmings. Halt- Thanksgiving?! Already? Well, if you want to travel for the holidays- whether that is Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year’s- not only is it the right time to think about it now, but it’s time to talk to a travel agent about booking your holiday vacation.

Home away from home:  The holiday season is by far the busiest time for airlines, hotels, and cruise lines. Hotels are running at premium prices and the airlines rack up costs during this busy time, but people left and right are booking like crazy in order to book their holiday vacation. And it is easy to see why! The stress of preparing and cleaning up dinner, getting the house ready for guests and relatives, and kids running around the house all goes away when you are on vacation. This is also an opportune time because kids are out of school and many jobs give their employees time off. The holiday celebrations during vacation are longer than the one day holiday you would be spending at home, giving your family more time to bond over the holiday break. It’s a win-win situation all the way around.

When to book: More often than not, the longer you wait to book a vacation for the holiday period, the more expensive it can become and the less chance there will be availability.  After August, your chances of going to your number one choice destination decreases, especially for popular vacation spots such as Hawaii or Cancun. While you may still find great deals and prices up to a month before, remember that space on board a flight or cruise may already be full. In reality, the later you wait, your pickings will be slim and you may not like the leftovers.

Where to go: Popular destinations to head to during the holiday vacation are just about anywhere that is warm and sunny. These places include Hawaii, Puerto Vallarta, Thailand, Jamaica, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Florida. But Christmas away from home doesn’t have to be so tropical. If you can’t stand not to have snow on Christmas day and you would cry without having a traditional Christmas tree, then head to Quebec City, Canada; Manhattan, New York; Reykjavik, Iceland; or Barcelona.

Make this year’s holiday season unforgettable. It is a perfect time to start new traditions or enhance the old ones. The memories you create walking through the streets of Italy, sunbathing on the shores of Cancun, or riding Splash Mountain at Disneyland won’t get hidden behind the buffet of past traditional Thanksgiving dinners. This time, it’s going to be a memory your family will talk about for years to come!

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MY FAVORITE HAWAII BEACHES

I love Hawaii. I love everything about Hawaii. I am constantly trying to figure out how I can get back to the islands. In just two months time I will make a return trip to Hawaii. In fact, this upcoming trip will be my 165th visit to Hawaii. My first trip was when I was a 16 year-old surfer boy from California. It was love at first site…and first wave!

I particularly enjoy the beaches. It’s beach heaven. I want to share with you some of my favorite Hawaiian beaches. This is not a complete list, but just a few to get you started.

Waikiki Beach Oahu. Crazy, chaotic, and crowded. I have sometimes referred to Honolulu and Waikiki Beach as the “Tijuana of the Pacific.” Yes, it is crazy, but I love this beach. There are so many activities and a great place for “people watching.” Ask your hotel which nights “Sunset Movies on the Beach” are shown on a big screen right on Waikiki.

North Shore Beach Oahu. A seven-mile stretch of beach on the windward side of the island where the winter surfing championships are held. It’s a great place for whale watching during the migratory season. This area is also home to Pu’u Mahuka Heiaum Oahu’s oldest ancient religion shrine. Be sure to stop at one of the many fresh shrimp trucks for lunch. The Famous Kahuku Shrimp Truck and Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, both located near Kahuku, are the most well known with their garlic and butter shrimp being popular.

Lanikai Beach Oahu. This picturesque beach with pristine sand and turquoise water, calm waves, and a lush tropical garden environment it is perfect for couples and families. Located near Kailua and less than an hour’s drive from Waikiki. Presently there are no washrooms or facilities available.

Poipu Beach Kauai. A beautiful beach on the southern part of the island. Calm water with facilities and food service available, it is perfect for families. Easy accessible from many hotels.

Kauna’oa Beach Hawaii. Located on the Big Island, Kauna’oa is a secluded crescent-shaped beach in a serene tropical setting located on the west side of the island not far from the Mauna Kea Hotel. The beach is popular for swimming and snorkeling, but parking is limited. Be advised, this beach is limited to just 25 persons at any given time. It’s best to arrive before 9:00AM.

Punalu’u Beach Hawaii. You will recognize this beach from photographs. Punalu’u is the Big island’s famous black sand beach and home to the endangered green sea turtles located on the east side of the island. It’s a great pace to camp, picnic, relax, and snorkel.

Kaanapali Beach Maui. Okay, it is “hotel row” and the many areas of the beach are narrow due to hotel construction, I still love this beach. Kaanapali is a great place for swimming and paddle boarding and one of the best places in all of Hawaii for whale watching during the winter months. The area offers a wide variety of hotels and restaurants.

Hawaii no ka oi! (“Hawaii is the best!”)

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AIR FARES: SNOOZE AND YOU LOSE!

Snooze and you lose is a reality if you hear about a low price for air travel. Hear of a bargain and you’d better get your tickets pronto because that low fare probably won’t be available in a week. For example, recently American Airlines was selling round trip fares to Boston from Salt Lake City for $171. A week later the cost was $446. Two days after that, $300.

So what happened? Can’t they make up their mind? Well . . . no.

Any number of things could have occurred. American may have been sending a message to another airline – perhaps someone else may have had a sale into Boston and they wanted to tell them to knock it off. It could have been that American might have seen lower than average sales into Boston and wanted to fill up its flights. Or maybe someone made a mistake (i.e.: perhaps entered a “1” instead of a “3” or “4” as the first digit in listing the price).

Whatever the reason, if you get a Hot Deal Update from Columbus Travel, or hear on radio or television about a fantastic bargain, you should purchase your tickets immediately.

And what a time it is to go to Boston! The Red Sox are in the World Series, New England is ablaze with glorious fall foliage, and after thanksgiving, Massachusetts is breathtakingly picturesque. The entire landscape offers a plethora of lithographs as “colored engravings for the people.” by Currier and Ives.

But I digress.

There are other ways to find cheap tickets. Probably the best is get what are called “tour operator fares,” bundled with other travel commodities such as hotel stays and/or car rentals. Utah’s leading travel agency, Columbus Travel, is a tour operator, and also works with many other tour operators, who are allowed to sell lower than list price air travel as part of a package. I’ve seen packages including hotel stays and car rentals plus air for the same or even less than the lowest listed air fare price.

However, tour operators don’t have such deals to everywhere, because they only operate where large quantities of tourists are headed. If you are planning a trip to Minot, North Dakota, Log Cabin, Texas, or Horse Cave, Kentucky, forget anything that might involve a tour group – they just aren’t on very many bucket lists. On the other hand, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Walt Disney World, Disneyland, San Francisco, and most certainly Hawaii, as well as lots of other well-traveled places are indeed tour operator destinations.

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CARNIVAL IS WORKING ON A COMEBACK

No need to ask, Carnival Cruise Lines is a big operator. It is thee cruising giant with an estimated 30-percent of the total cruise business in the world; however, that business has been off for them this summer in the wake of bad press resulting from a couple of incidents; most recently, the February fire aboard the Carnival Triumph. In an effort to bring back the bucks Carnival “is making significant investments to enhance the level of operating redundancies” (“redundancies” meaning back up systems) “and the scope of hotel services that can run on emergency power, and further improve each ship’s fire prevention, detection and suppression systems,” says a statement from the cruise behemoth.

But that isn’t all. Not by a long shot!

I just returned from a Caribbean cruise on Carnival’s brand new Breeze, and I found the service was supreme, the dining to be delightful, and the entertainment . . . well, entertaining – really great! Not only that, I found the price lots of people paid for the cruise was about a third of what I paid last November when I purchased it as a Christmas present for my oldest son and his family. Too bad Carnival doesn’t do what many other cruise lines do: allow customers to make a refundable deposit in order to hold staterooms. If they did, I would have cancelled in June and rebooked at the low rate people were paying at that time.

All of this great service, food, entertainment and low prices, I think, is part of a plot to get you to book a Carnival Cruise.

Carnival has the reputation of being the “party cruise company,” and while it is true that they do emphasize fun, we found lots of families with children of all ages on board. While the bars appeared to be very active, we didn’t find a single staggering drunk anywhere. Nobody was rude or obnoxious, and we slept soundly each evening (retiring usually before 11:00 p.m.) to only the sounds of the air conditioner and our own snoring.

As I said, the food was fantastic. We had breakfast each day on the Lido Deck where the buffet included four omelet stations (my favorite) and the cook remembered me and how I wanted my omelet after the first day, as well as that my wife wanted two eggs over-easy. Each evening we ate in the main dining room at 6:00 p.m., and the menu was varied and exquisite – as good as we’ve had on a cruise, and better than most.

The service, particularly in the main dining room, was over the top – very friendly, prompt and attentive. The steward, the waiters, everyone knew what we wanted and when we wanted it after being asked the first time. And, darn it, they were really friendly.

The entertainment was very good, particularly the comedians, all of whom are selected and supervised for Carnival by the George Lopez comedy company.

But the really good news is that in an effort to fill every stateroom, which is a must for every cruise line on every cruise for various reasons I won’t mention here, the prices are lower than at any time I’ve observed in my 24-years of doing The Travel Show radio broadcast. Six and seven day cruises from now through January, 2014 for as low as $269 for inside cabins, as low as $479 for balconies.

Too good to be true? Not so!

Check out the prices yourself using the cruise search engine on the home page of columbusvacations.com. Needless to say, the very best cruise search engine on the planet from Utah’s leading travel agency, Columbus Travel.

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AIR TRAVEL SAFETY

The fear of flying possessed by many folks wasn’t alleviated by the two mishaps this month: the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco and the failure of landing gear on the Southwest aircraft landing at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Utah’s leading travel agency, Columbus Travel, has some great reasons for encouraging peace of mind when you are taking a airplane trip.

On her daily television show Whoopi Goldberg expressed what many people feel: “I have no fear of flying, because when I go on a trip, I take my bus.”

Humorous, but an expression of a false notion.

The fact is: Whoopi is far more at risk for injury or death in her bus than she would be in an airplane. The only thing more dangerous than a bus ride would be if she drove her car, or perhaps a motorcycle. The most risky part of an airplane trip is driving to and from the airport. That’s a statistical fact.

But there are many more factors relating to airline travel safety, not the least of which is how much better trained are the pilots and other crew members today than at any previous time. And Pilots tell me they have much more of a team approach. No longer is it a matter of the pilot speaking and the thinking has been done. He’s the captain, not the dictator. Decision making is fed by the cabin and ground crews, dispatchers, meteorologists, as well as others in the cockpit.

Then there are the modern technological factors. Flying an airplane is no longer a matter of just pulling back on “the stick,” it involves operating and overseeing numerous high tech systems. All of which make the journey much safer.

Some people think they might be more safe with one airline company than another, or that a certain type of aircraft promises more safety than another. Such comparisons result in miniscule differences if any.

What about those smaller 50-seat regional jets? Some think a larger aircraft would be better. My response would be “Why?” Does anyone really think bigger means safer? You may find more overhead bin space, but there is nothing factual that would make a large plane more safe. Actually, aren’t larger aircraft more difficult to maneuver than smaller ones?

So, what do we need to do “in the unlikely event that an emergency should occur?” Unfortunately, the lawyers long ago took over – like they have in so much of our lives – the safety instructions given by flight attendants; so, we get legalese in the form of lengthy disclaimers and qualifiers. As a result, almost all of the flying public simply tunes them out.

Here are four really important tips for dealing with airplane emergencies:

First, if the overhead oxygen mask drops in front of you, put yours on first before helping someone else with theirs. If you pass out from lack of oxygen, you won’t really be able to help your children or anyone else. Put yours on immediately, then your help will be more effective.

Second, make sure you know where the exits are. Emergencies usually result in chaos. Know where you need to go in order to get off.

Third, follow the instructions of the cabin crew. The flight attendants have been trained to handle almost any possible occurrences in emergency situations. Do what they tell you to do.

Finally, keep your hands free. Forget your purse, your computer, your briefcase, your pillow, your i-pad, your lunch, your carry-on suitcase in the overhead bin (if it’s still there). You can retrieve those things later. And if you never get them, it’s more important to be alive than to risk life and limb and the lives of others. Yes, if you have nothing in your hands you will actually be safer.

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It’s a must see world wonder, a fantastic feat of extraordinary engineering, and a colossal cruising experience. Going through the Panama Canal is definitely bucket-list worthy. High bucket-list.

The Panama Canal is a 48-mile connection between the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean that cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake (85 feet above sea-level), a man-made body of water created to reduce the amount of work required to drive water through locks that allow those ships to be raised up and then lowered into the ocean waters. Our ship cruised into a lock, the door was closed behind, the water gates were opened and the lock filled with water until the ship was 42-feet higher (21.5 in two more cases), then the door in front of the ship opened and it sailed into the next lock, and so on.

France began work on the canal in 1881 after it completed the building of the Suez Canal in Egypt. The French wanted to dig a sea-level canal, but had to stop because of engineering problems and high mortality due to disease. The United States later took over the project and took a decade to complete the canal in 1914, enabling ships to avoid the lengthy Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America. How much time does it save versus the old way of sailing from New York City to Los Angeles? More than two weeks!

There are two types of Panama Canal cruises, which interestingly, if you go the way we went (from Atlantic to Pacific), you sail from the northwest to the southeast because of the way the isthmus between North and South America turns and twists. The vast majority of the cruises start in either Ft. Lauderdale or Miami, Florida and sail through the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic side to Gatun Lake, then turn around and go back out the way they came in and go back from whence they started. Such cruises never pass through the Culebra Cut, the actual part of the canal that was dug, or the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side; nor do they go under The Bridge of the Americas, which symbolically links North America with South America, or past Panama City on the southern shore of the canal where it empties into the Pacific Ocean. All of which is why I highly recommend you cruise the Panama Canal all the way through, and this requires sailing up or down the west coast of Mexico, depending on whether you are going from Atlantic to Pacific or vice versa.

Yes, if you want to go “from sea to shining sea,” you are probably going to cruise the canal in the spring or the fall. Why? Because the vast majority of cruises through the Panama Canal that go “all the way,” so to speak, are what are called “repositioning cruises.” Repositioning cruises result when a ship has been following a particular itinerary in one part of the world and is sailing to another part of the world for a completely different itinerary.

Here’s how it works. Alaska is very popular. Almost every cruise line in the world sends ships to Alaska for the summer, but that season only lasts from May through September for those companies. Almost everyone also loves to cruise in the Caribbean – Southern Caribbean, Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean, the cruise lines are all there from October through April. Really hot places are not nearly as popular in July as they are in January. How convenient: those two areas of the world have popular seasons for us cruisers that dovetail wonderfully. You can do one, and when it’s done, you do the other. But this means the ships have to reposition themselves from the one to the other; hence, the “repositioning cruise.” All cruise lines plan them for anywhere from four to seven days down the west coast from Vancouver, B.C. or Seattle to Los Angeles in late September or early October, and going up the coast in late April or early May. Then there are cruises from Los Angeles to Florida (or vice versa depending on whether it’s spring or fall). Some of them even go all the way to or from New York City, such as the one we just completed with 45 of our close personal friends.

Ah, but wait, there’s more! The really great news is these repositioning cruises are almost always priced at really low rates. You’d be lucky to find a seven-day Alaska cruise in July for under a thousand dollars, but our 17-day cruise going all the way from New York City to Los Angeles had prices starting at $999 per person. $59 a day. $118 per couple. You cannot stay at the Salt Lake City Motel 6 and eat at McDonalds for that. And believe me, the food on the cruise ship is way better and offers far more choices; plus, cruises offer lots of choices for nightly entertainment.

Here’s my next recommendation. Get a balcony cabin – a stateroom with a floor to ceiling sliding glass door with a veranda. You’ll find two chairs and a small table – perfect for the room service breakfast we were offered whilst we enjoyed the trip into the canal. Our balcony cost us a few hundred dollars more apiece, but we loved having a constant view of the sea, as well as being able to view our ports of call as we sailed in and out.

Traversing the Panama Canal is a 12-hour proposition starting early in the morning. We were out there before dawn as the ships lined up to go through. We were second. Breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs and toast and other goodies was served at 6:00. We actually went to one of the dining rooms with wall to wall windows for lunch. We sailed past Panama City shortly after 5:00. Everything in between boggled the mind as we comprehended what a tremendous feat was accomplished over a hundred years ago.

by Don Shafer (5-23-13)

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This World Could Use a Little More Blarney!

I have visited Ireland several times. It is a beautiful country – rightly living up to its Emerald Isle nick name.   Its grass seems to be bright year round.  Many don’t realize that Ireland gets little snow so the bright green is rarely covered.  Many of its trees do not shed their leaves during the winter so those trees are green year around also.  Emerald green is indeed an appropriate color by which the country has come to be known.

While Ireland is full of beauty, castles and interesting history, its people are its greatest asset .   Have you ever seen a sad Irish person?  Not many, and if they are sad it doesn’t seem to last long.  They are happy and welcoming and possess a sense of humor that is not acquired but seems to come as standard equipment.  Two examples of this are their humorous witticisms and the gift of blarney.  Here are a few of my favorite witticisms:

  • May the Lord keep you in his hand and never close his fist too tight
  • The Irish ignore anything they can’t drink or punch.
  • Here’s to our wives and girlfriends: May they never meet!
  • God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world.
  • The Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scotts as a joke, but the Scotts haven’t seen the joke yet. ~ Oliver Herford
  • “My mother’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.”

Many countries can lay claim to similar witticisms, but none can lay claim to the gift of blarney.   What is the difference between blarney and baloney? Perhaps the best explanation was given by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who said, “ Baloney is flattery laid on so thick it cannot be true, and blarney is flattery so thin we love it.”

An unknown Irishman explained, “Baloney is when you tell a 50-year old woman that she looks 18. Blarney is when you ask a woman how old she is, because you want to know at what age women are most beautiful.”

I have been to Blarney castle several times and many ask if I have kissed the Blarney Stone.  I have to confess I have not.  My answer is that I don’t just kiss any stone – I am saving myself for just the right stone.  Apparently President Clinton did not feel that was as he claimed at a fundraiser for John Kerry to have kissed the Blarney Stone, although Jay Leno reckoned he’d initially denied it claiming “the stone kissed him.”

Young ladies looking got their first kiss can take a lesson from the Blarney Stone.  It is not easy to get to and requires climbing to the top the Blarney Castle though steep, narrow and winding stairs.  Then one must almost risk his life to kiss it as it actually protrudes out from the castle and requires one to lean over the wall a the top of the castle to kiss it.  Lesson to young women:  It is possible to do, but one must work hard enough to do it so as to appreciate it once done.

The Irish people are a proud people.  Not proud in the sense of feeling superior to others, but that they are lucky to be Irish and their traditions, history and their freedom.  Ireland as a free country is relatively new.  It was ruled by Britain for nearly 600 years and did not become a free country until 1922 so they are not so far away from independence that they have forgotten how hard it was to become independent and how valuable freedom is.

On my recent trip to Ireland I had a large group needing four coaches for transportation and sightseeing. Two of the coaches were driven by older gentlemen and two by younger drivers.  These driver guides are all excellent.  They take pride in not only telling stories, history and interesting facts about Ireland but in keeping their guests entertained.

As the driver-guides talked about gaining independence the two older gentlemen became quite emotional , and still bear a little animosity.  I am always surprised at that thinking it is long past time to put such feelings behind and move forward.  Then I remember the feelings some in the U.S. have regarding race issues and realize that such feelings are found among all people. The good news is that it seems such feelings are not shared by the younger Irish people.

One of the darkest parts if Irish history was the potato famine.  The people depended on the potato crop as a main source of sustenance and when the crop failed between 1845 and 1852 it brought mass starvation, disease and emigration.  Approximately one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland.

Tragic as it was it had two positive side effects.  One is the emigration of millions of Irish people to the U.S. and other parts of the world. Where would we be without the diversity and contribution brought to America and other countries by the Irish?  There are approximately 5 million people in Ireland today and approximately 20 million throughout the world who claim Irish ancestry.

The second was the fermentation of the determination of the Irish to govern themselves ultimately leading to their independence.

Among the many things the world could learn from the Irish is an application of a bit of blarney – not the baloney we hear so often but blarney which puts a positive and humorous spin on things which the Irish are masters at.

While there may not be such things as Leprechauns there really is a magic in Ireland.  You have to visit Ireland to appreciate it – it should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Can You Really Save Money at a Disney Park?

One of the most asked questions travel agents get from clients about visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World is “How can I save the most money?” Now what you have to realize is that there are many variables to take into consideration when answering that question. So today we’ll delve into how to save on lodging, food and tickets.

First, where do you want to stay? If you would like to stay at a Disney property in Anaheim you will pay a premium. Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel is the most affordable option if you want to experience Disney hospitality. The off-site hotels that are within walking distance of the park are more reasonably priced, but families need to keep in mind that for these properties you will pay for the convenience of being able to walk across the street to enter the gates of Disneyland. If you choose a hotel property a block or two from the theme park you can reap considerable savings on your stay.

At Walt Disney World in Florida, you have a much wider variety of choices when it comes to picking a Disney-owned hotel. Disney offers properties of the Value, Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villas variety. They even have a campground for the more adventurous sort. There is a budget category for every pocketbook at Walt Disney World and Disney has made staying on-site very attractive by adding some extras for those who chose to do so. Imagine being able to play after hours in one of the parks after the gates have closed because you are a guest of the resort? If you stay at a Disney property, you will have this amazing opportunity!

Many clients ask how they can save money on food while visiting a Disney park. We get it. Food at a Disney park is expensive. Obscenely expensive, and they only let guests bring in snacks or foods that do not require heating. You can bring in bottled water and soda, but will not be allowed to bring in juice boxes or Capri Sun drinks that have straws. You may also bring soft-sided coolers. For people with food allergies or special diets, you are allowed to bring in some food, but it must be disclosed to security. If you are lucky enough to have a big cooler with you and you can pack a meal, you can rent lockers just outside the entrance of the park and enjoy your meal there. Because food is such a hot-button issue, I’ll spend most of this article discussing it.

If you are visiting Disneyland, the park is close to the outside world so you are able to leave and eat at a restaurant off-site. The least expensive options directly across the street include McDonalds, IHOP, Quizno’s and Denny’s. If you have a car and are able to venture further away, dining options include California Pizza Kitchen, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Joe’s Crab Shack and Red Robin.

If you decide to stay in the park, there are many options to saving money. You’ll save a lot of money by sticking with counter-service or cafeteria-style restaurants, which are substantially cheaper than the table-service restaurants. If you look around you can find some decent options besides corn dogs, hamburgers and fries.

Note that the cheapest beverage options at all of the theme park counter service restaurants are apple or orange juice and milk, all which will cost you $1.79, though the portion is small. You can also ask for a cup of ice water, which is FREE. Regular-sized fountain sodas or bottled water run $2.79 each. And the cost of coffee or hot tea is also $2.79.

A few restaurants that are relative bargains within the parks are Rancho del Zocalo, River Belle Terrace and Plaza Inn in Disneyland; and Pacific Wharf and Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta in Disney California Adventure.

The plates at Rancho del Zocalo near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad can be very substantial, and the Mexican food served at this location is very tasty. For example, one order of fish tacos includes two tacos (each with a fairly big piece of mahi and two corn tortillas, plus toppings) plus a lot of rice and beans. The tamale special includes a good-sized tamale, a serving of beef carnitas, rice, beans and several small flour tortillas. Many of the platters at Rancho del Zocalo are so large that a couple can share.

At River Belle Terrace on in Frontierland, the freshly carved turkey sandwich, while a bit pricy, is large and comes with two good-sized sides (baked beans and a cold item), plus there is a toppings bar for the sandwich with lettuce, tomato, onions, etc. This lunch is easily shared between a couple. The River Belle Terrace also offers a great breakfast at a reasonable price. The “Steamboat Breakfast” includes three pancakes, scrambled eggs and three strips of bacon.

The Plaza Inn on Main Street, U.S.A., is also a good dining option. After the Mickey and Minnie breakfast is over, it turns into a cafeteria-style restaurant for lunch and dinner. The food is quite good, the portions large, and prices decent. For approximately $15.00 you get half a chicken, a large serving of mash potatoes, and a large serving of fresh green beans. This is more than enough to share between 2 people.

Pacific Wharf Cafe at Disney California Adventure serves a variety of hearty soups in a freshly-made sourdough bread bowl. You can order the soups with the bread bowl “on the side” or they’ll give you a bowl of soup and a whole loaf of bread. It really is a lot of food. Pacific Wharf also offers the least expensive breakfast in either of the theme parks. They offer an Egg and Bacon Boule – Scrambled eggs served in a traditional bread boule, served with two slices of bacon and fruit or a Breakfast Croissant Sandwich – Freshly baked croissant with Scrambled eggs, Cheddar Cheese and Bacon for $5.99. They also offer a hot bowl of oatmeal served with brown sugar, honey and raisins for just $3.99.

I’ve already discussed that how portion sizes at many of the restaurants already mentioned are huge and can be split among a couple people. If you’re not sure, a good trick at the counter-service restaurants and snack stands is to stand to one side and watch as people leave with their orders, so you can see how the portions look. If the portions are big and you are not big eaters, consider splitting an entree or combo meal between two people. If you could use just a little more food, possibly order an extra side dish or appetizer and you will find you have plenty of food to share.

Adults looking for a smaller portion at the counter-service restaurants should not hesitate to order from the kids’ menu. The kids’ meals are an especially good deal because they include a cold beverage – you can usually choose from a small lowfat milk, small lowfat chocolate milk, juice box, small bottled water or small soda; some locations have a more limited selection of beverages, so make sure to check the posted menu. The kids’ meals are also often healthier than the adult options.

For some of the best choices in in kids’ dining check out French Market, Rancho del Zocalo, River Belle Terrace and Plaza Inn at Disneyland; and Flo’s V8 Cafe, Paradise Garden Grill, Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta, Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill and Lucky Fortune Cookery at Disney California Adventure. Remember: adults are not allowed to order from the kids’ menu at full-service restaurants.

If you are dining at a table-service restaurant and are not feeling particularly hungry or want to save some money, consider ordering an appetizer instead of an entrée. Appetizers can many times be just as filling and delicious as an entrée, but can save some big bucks!

Options for saving money on food at Walt Disney World are bit more varied. There are over 250 dining choices ranging from American to African, Polynesian, Sushi, Norwegian, British and everything in between. You name it, you can probably find it somewhere at Walt Disney World. This also includes snacks, counter-service and fine dining experiences. So how can a family save money when the nearest off-site restaurant is in the food court of a shopping mall over a half-mile from Downtown Disney? You just need to know a few tricks!

Keep in mind the same tips about portion sizes, ordering appetizers and kids’ meals to help keep costs low.

Another tip that was shared by a friend is for those traveling with small children who are often picky eaters and don’t finish all their food is to visit the food court in one of the resorts and buy two slices of bread for 69 cents plus tax. You can add peanut butter for about 50 cents, and in some food courts it’s free because there are packets of it with the condiments. Jelly can be obtained for free because it’s a condiment. So for around a dollar or less, you can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for those little ones!

In a few cases, an expensive table-service restaurant and a nearby counter-service location offer the same food item for two very different prices. It can really pay to know the difference. At a counter-service location, the item will usually be presented without any garnish or sides and served on a paper plate. Here are some hints (note that prices are subject to change at any time):

At Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom, a bowl of New England Clam Chowder is $7.49 (plus tax and tip) at lunch. Get the same chowder at the nearby Columbia Harbour House for $4.69 a bowl, plus tax.

Kona Cafe in the Polynesian Resort serves its Tonga Toast with a side of breakfast meat for $12.99 (plus tax and tip). At Captain Cook’s Snack Company nearby, Tonga Toast is served by itself for $5.19 plus tax.

At Chefs de France in Epcot at lunch, you’ll pay $14.99 (plus tax & tip) for Quiche Lorraine served with salad and $7.25 (plus tax and tip) for Crème Brulee with a madeleine. At Boulangerie Patisserie, located in a building behind the restaurant, the quiche without salad is $5.20 plus tax, and the crème brulee by itself is $4.50 plus tax.

If you’d like to try the famous Zebra Domes desserts, you can get them at the rather expensive Boma buffet at Animal Kingdom Lodge ($32.99 and up, depending on season, for an adult meal, plus tax and tip), or just buy them a la carte at the Mara food court for around $4 each. Mara also offers soups that are the same as Boma’s, but priced at $2.99-$3.49 per serving.

Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot serves fish and chips at lunch for $17.99 (plus tax and tip). A smaller portion of the same fish and chips (without a side of peas) can be purchased next door at Yorkshire County Fish Shop for $8.99 plus tax.

Disney offers some great options on Disney Dining Plans. When you can buy these plans on sale or get them for free they offer a substantial savings on meals and snacks. Take advantage of them when they are available. They can save up to 30% off your food bill while visiting the parks if you choose to stay on-site at Walt Disney World. They can include all types of meals from counter-service to fine dining and character meals. They are definitely something worth looking into and asking your travel agent about.

Many clients want to know when the best time to visit a Disney park is and when they can get the best discounts on tickets.

The BEST times to go to Disneyland are:

September-December, except holiday periods. In September kids are back in school, so the crowds drop off. The weather cools off in late October, though it can be crowded on fall weekends. Beginning in early October, you can enjoy Haunted Mansion Holiday. Beginning in early November, the Christmas decorations and it’s a small world Holiday will be up. Decorations stay up until approximately January 3. If you want to visit Disneyland during the Christmas-New Year period, pick whatever day the Rose Parade is held — it siphons off a lot of tourists and locals, especially in the morning.

Second week of January-March (except holiday weekends). However, often rides will be closed for refurbishment at this time of year. The first week of January can be busy due to extended holiday vacations.

Any rainy day. Southern Californians think they’ll melt if they get wet. Seriously, the parks are often dead when it rains. A few of the more exposed rides (i.e. Dumbo) may close temporarily if it’s really pelting down, but if the rain stops they’ll open back up. A lot of the rides are indoors, so you can still ride. It is actually quite nice to be there during a storm despite being wet.

Weekdays, especially if you have to go in the summer or holiday seasons.

The BEST times to go to Walt Disney World are:

Mid-November through mid-December (except the week of Thanksgiving). The weather is usually cool but pleasant, the Christmas decorations are up, special events are running, and the attendance is usually moderate. Expect crowds on Saturdays, especially at the Magic Kingdom. Disney’s resorts typically fill up early for all of December, but this doesn’t necessary translate into huge crowds in the parks during that time.

Second week of January through mid-February. It’s cool this time of year. This is one of the least busy times of year and hotel prices are usually quite low. However, some rides will be closed for refurbishment. The first week of January can be busy due to extended holiday vacations and the Walt Disney World Marathon. Avoid any holiday weekends.

First three weeks of May. The weather is warm in May, but usually not unbearably so. Crowds and hotel prices are moderate. Memorial Day weekend will be more crowded, but not as bad as you might expect.

Late August and entire month of September (even Labor Day weekend). It will be extremely hot, and this is peak hurricane season. Plan on taking afternoons off and visiting water parks. Crowds are low. Off-site hotels usually have their rock-bottom deals during this period, and Disney has offered “free dining” packages in this time each year since 2005.

Some people mistakenly believe that they can buy discount tickets to a Disney park on the Internet or even from a travel agent. Sometimes, Disney offers a ticket special like “Everyone plays for the kids price” or “Pay for 3 days get 2 free.” But rarely will you find discounted Disney tickets. There are a few places that sell them, but most reputable travel agencies do not have access to these tickets.

If you are traveling to Southern California and intend to visit Universal Studios and San Diego, you can purchase a Southern California City Pass. This will allow you admission to the Disneyland Resort for 3-days, Sea World for 1-day, Universal Studios for 1-day and either the San Diego Zoo or the San Diego Wild Animal Park for 1-Day. This pass will does give the holder great savings when visiting all of these attractions.

I have seen on eBay sellers who buy multiple day admission tickets to Disneyland, use one or two days and sell their remaining days at discounted rates. This is illegal. Disneyland is fully aware of this practice and is cracking down on these scammers. So beware of this and do not buy any tickets from eBay sellers promising you the remaining days from their unused tickets. There are even a few businesses that have been set up to look legitimate. Do not fall for their tactics. It is still illegal and if you get caught with their tickets, you will be escorted from the park.

If you plan on being in Florida for at least 4 days, a park hopper pass may not be the ticket you want. The parks at Walt Disney World are huge to say the least and you have to take some sort of park transportation or a car to get from one to another. So you could easily spend one day in one park. To cut costs, you could buy the basic theme park tickets that allow you entrance into one park per day. If you added the park hopper option it would add $57 per ticket. Depending on how many are in your traveling party your savings could mean the difference between a food for a day or getting in a couple extra rides in another park.

There are definitely a lot of ways you can save money while visiting the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. All it takes is a little time and planning. There’s something there for everyone

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Disney World vs Disneyland

Many people mistakenly believe that Walt Disney World in Florida and the Disneyland Resort in California are synonymous; that the two parks are identical or very similar. Trying to compare Walt Disney World to Disneyland is like trying to compare an iPad with an iPod. Though manufactured by the same company, operated by the same system, and meant to provide hours of fun and productivity, each product is unique, stands alone and should be enjoyed and experienced differently. The same holds true with “The Happiest Place on Earth” and its counterpart in Central Florida where “Dreams Come True”.

Nothing can prepare a visitor to Walt Disney World for the enormity of the complex. Disney World is comprised of 4 different theme parks, 2 water parks, 27 resort hotels and villas including a campground, 259 eateries, 5 golf courses, a variety of man-made lakes, the spring training facility of the Atlanta Braves and much, much more. The property itself takes up over 30,000 acres, although many of those acres have yet to be developed. One could easily spend a couple of weeks taking in everything Walt Disney World has to offer. But for an average family vacation we recommend planning at least 5 -7 days.

Magic Kingdom Park at WDW can be compared to the whole of Disneyland Park in Anaheim. Many people who have visited both destinations prefer Disneyland because it is a smaller, more intimate park. At the Disneyland Resort you have two theme parks and 3 resort hotels all within walking distance of each other. Everything is very convenient and tidy. Visiting Disneyland is very easily done in three days.

The Disneyland Resort is walkable or the monorail is available to ride to Downtown Disney, the Disneyland Hotel and around Disneyland Park. Whereas, to park-hop at Walt Disney World you need to employ either a car, shuttle bus, water taxi or monorail. Walking just isn’t an option due to the size of the property.

There are several attractions that are shared by both parks. For example, in Fantasyland, both parks have an “it’s a small world” attraction. The one at Disneyland has the big showy world’s fair facade, whereas WDW’s version is located within a block and is visible by a large sign only. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is longer and more detailed at Disneyland and the Haunted Mansion is a stately antebellum mansion where the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World is a Gothic Revival Style. There are several differences in queue as well as at the ride entrance and beginning. The Magic Kingdom in Florida does have many advantages. Cinderella’s Castle is a magical masterpiece and Main Street, U.S.A. is quite impressive. Tom Sawyer’s island is also much larger and the Mad Tea Party is very fun with its pastel saucers twirling around a towering teapot underneath colorful paper lanterns. These are just a few of the attractions shared by both Disney parks.

There are also many attractions and rides that are unique to each park. At Disneyland you will find The Disneyland Story Presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Indiana Jones Adventure, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Sailing Ship Columbia, Tarzan’s Treehouse, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Casey Jr. Circus Train, and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. At the Magic Kingdom in WDW you will find: Stitch’s Great Escape, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, Swiss Family Treehouse, and The Hall of Presidents.

While there are many more rides and attractions within Disneyland and Magic Kingdom to be discussed, there are other parks that cannot be ignored. Disney California Adventure Park combines the magic of Disney with the best that California has to offer. Everything in this park is a journey from the California of yesterday to today and a tribute to this land of dreams. You can ride the Red Car Trolley down Buena Vista Street in 1920s Los Angeles, take a raft down the rapids with a mining company on Grizzly Peak, travel down Route 66 in Cars Land or brave a white knuckled roller coaster in a seaside amusement park at Paradise Pier…the sights and sounds are inspired by the rich history of this majestic state.

Discover exhilarating attractions, charming international pavilions and award-winning fireworks. Celebrating the human spirit, Epcot has 2 distinct areas: Future World, which features technological innovations, and World Showcase, which shares the culture and cuisine of 11 countries: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom and Canada.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is the largest animal theme park in the world. Here you can encounter exotic animals and exciting adventures at the park that is home to more than 1,700 animals across 250 species. The park reflects Walt Disney’s dedication to conservation and is committed to animal care, education and research. Explore 7 alluring lands: Oasis, Discovery Island, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia and Dinoland, U.S.A. areas. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, you can experience their newest attraction, Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain as you careen through the Himalayan Mountains on a hurtling train while escaping the clutches of the fabled Yeti.
Movie magic comes to life at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Step into the action with attractions and rides based on blockbuster movies and TV shows, and delight in sensational entertainment that puts you center stage. With the animation of a lively movie set, this park features 8 sections: Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, Sunset Boulevard, Streets of America, Commissary Lane, Pixar Place, Mickey Avenue and Animation Courtyard areas. Take a stretch limo ride like no other on the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. Plummet 13 stories into the 5th dimension on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or peek into the magic on a backstage tour. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios there is so much to do!

Another major difference between the two parks is the type of visitor you will encounter at each park. Disneyland has a higher percentage of locals. The park draws fewer people than WDW, with a large majority of them living within a couple hour drive of the park. WDW draws many more tourists from all over the world and most fly in or have to travel a much longer distance.

There is so much more that could be discussed and even more that I cannot include. Just know that the differences between the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and the Disneyland Resort in California are immense. If you are trying to decide the best park for your family to visit,  it would be a good idea to call your travel agent and discuss your family dynamics, length of time you can be away from home and work and of course your budget. But regardless of which park your ultimately decide to visit, one thing is certain. It will be magical!

Disney, Disneyland, Walt Disney World and attraction names are registered property of the Walt Disney Company.

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