Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse (and friends) are the big draws as families all over North America make room for Orlando in their summer vacation plans. The kids will be out of school, mom and dad have a week or two off, and all systems are go, but the budget is another question.
Because of its enduring popularity, Walt Disney World discounts are as rare as rust on Aladdin's lamp. Never fear. We've gathered our favorite ways to save on Orlando with a hefty dose of Disney and some additional suggestions to round out your trip to Florida.
- Check out fares on new airlines serving Orlando. Delta Express launched service from Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, N.Y. Midwest Express offers new weekend service from Omaha, Neb. ProAir offers weekend service from Detroit. MetroJet has added daily roundtrips from Raleigh/Durham, N.C.
- If cheap seats are sold out on flights into Orlando, head for Jacksonville, usually offering bargain air travel availability long after the Orlando flights are all but sold out.
- Look into major airline vacation divisions that package air, hotel, and (if you like) Walt Disney World tickets at great savings.
- Walt Disney Magic Kingdom Club membership is available as a free employee benefit program to companies with 500 or more employees, and costs $250 for a two-year membership for smaller companies. You get reduced theme park admission and discounts at Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, Disney merchandise, golf, and dining and more. Call 714-781-1550; write to Magic Kingdom Club Membership, P.O. Box 4489, Anaheim, CA 92803-4489.
- The Orlando Magicard offers savings of up to $500 on lodging, attractions, dining, transportation, and shopping. Order by phone by calling 800-646-2092.
- the Mousetales quarterly newsletter offers money-saving tactics, restaurant reviews, and attraction previews for Walt Disney World and Disneyland. An annual subscription is $12.95, but you can also request a free sample issue by writing to P.O. Box 383, Columbus, OH 43216.
- Plan your visits to Orlando theme parks as much in advance as possible. Just as you research every vacation package to ensure the best value, research each park available to ensure the best attractions for your needs. Take into account each participant's age. This way younger children aren't always left sitting on the sidelines with a parent, and older children aren't causing mischief from boredom.
- When planning your magical excursion, try to avoid the most crowded periods. The busiest times for Walt Disney World are Christmas through New Year's Day, Thanksgiving weekend, the weekend of Washington's birthday, the two weeks around Easter, and college spring breaks. Weekdays are the best bet for less traffic throughout most of the year. If summer is the only time your schedule allows for a visit, plan theme park visits on the weekends (Friday through Sunday), when most visitors are traveling to and from the area and many locals stay home.
- Theme parks are most busy between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Build in rest periods during this time to recharge your batteries. If you arrive when the gates open, you will have the morning to enjoy the park while it's relatively cool. Then, return to your hotel or motel for lunch and a swim or a nap. You'll be revitalized for the remainder of the afternoon and into the night.
- Look into accommodations at Disney Resorts if your travel budget allows. You could save money and time. Guests staying at resorts located on Disney property are often allowed entrance into the parks earlier than regular visitors. In addition, resort property guests are eligible for priority seating and reservations for lunch, dinner, and dining with Disney characters. If you opt to drive to the parks instead of using Disney's bus, boat, or monorail system, your parking is free. If you choose not to stay on a Disney property, consider a hotel or motel with shuttle service to the parks.
- Do your Disney shopping on the way out of the park. There are a variety of shops up and down the streets of the Magic Kingdom, each with their own specialty. You don't want to walk out with your arms full and a list of attractions yet to see.
- Econoguide: Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Epcot, and Other Major Florida Attractions contains over $2,500 in discounts. It's $15.95 in bookstores under ISBN number 0-8092-3092-5.
- Cut lodging costs with a $19.95 membership in the Florida Camper Club. You get discount coupons valued at over $500 for campgrounds, attractions, restaurants, RV parks, and stores; a Florida Camping Directory; and a bimonthly newsletter. Call 877-226-7352.