Category Archives: Orlando

Universal Studios Discounted 4-day Passes

I’ve got Orlando on my mind these days.  Travelzoo’s Top 20 has a Universal Studios deal today.  The deal is through Best of Orlando

“With this sale, a four-day park-to-park pass is now just $139.99 (regularly $175.99) for adults and $129.99 (regularly $162.99) for children. Considering a single-day pass goes for $118, this deal offers huge savings on admission alone.

Through Oct. 31, visit the haunted houses, scare zones and live shows at the special Halloween Horror Nights event with this offer admission starts at just $57, reg. $81. Also, not to be missed is the excitement of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, now open at Islands of Adventure.

Select the first option, “2-Day Park to Park (Plus 2 Additional Days Free!),” by choosing the quantity and clicking “Add to Cart.”

Note: An additional $12.95-$13.60 per ticket in fee will apply.”

This is tempting now that the boys are into Harry Potter.  However, I’m not sure if we would actually go to Universal Studios more than one day.


Non-Disney Hotels on Disney Property

Man, this trip to Disney keeps getting better every day.  The last time we went to Disney, my parents were nice enough to let us stay at their timeshare about 20 minutes outside of Disney.  This time, we wanted to try staying on property.  I researched MouseSavers to find out which hotels were the best in each of the category types.  I was fairly certain we were going to stay at Coronado Springs or Fort Wilderness Lodge.  But I have a hard time paying full price (or in this case AAA prices) for a hotel.  I was talking with a friend of ours about where were planning on staying.  During the course of the conversation, he mentioned Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort.  I can’t remember why he mentioned them, but it got me thinking.

Later that night, I was searching around to see if I could find a deal for for the resort.  And low and behold, the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort is a Westin hotel and part of Starwood Hotels!  That means I could use points!  I was hoping that the cash and points option would be available, but unfortunately it’s not right now.  The hotel is listed as a category 4 hotel, so it is 10,000 points per night.  And they give you the 5th night free when you use points for the first 4.  Now I am always very reluctant to use Starwood Hotel points because they are so valuable.  But the hotel is more than $200/night.  We’re staying for 5 nights and using 40,000 points.  When you can transfer 40,000 Starwood Hotel points to an airline, Starwood gives you an extra 10,000 points in the transfer (so you get 50,000 airline miles).  I value airline miles at 2 cents per mile.  So for it to be worth it to me, I need to get at least $1,000 worth of value from 50,000.  And I would in this case, so it’s worth it to me.  You have to love not having to pay for an on-property Disney resort!

What’s great about the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort is it’s right on Disney property (near Epcot and Hollywood Studios).  And you get Extra Magic Hours with this hotel.  The only hotels, outside of Disney owned hotels, that offer Extra Magic Hours are Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort, Hilton Orlando Buena Vista (located across the street from Downtown Disney), and Shades of Green (a resort for U.S. military and Department of Defense personnel).

There are also hotels located on Disney property that are not run by Disney.  These hotels are usually less expensive than the Disney hotels.  And you can use the Disney transportation buses to get to the resort (so you don’t have to get a rental car).  The hotels are:

Check out this map I created to see where these hotels are located in comparison to the Disney Parks.
View Non-Disney Owned Hotels on Disney Property in a larger map

I’m going to continue to check hotel deals as we get closer to our travel dates, but as it stands today, we’re staying at the Disney Swan Resort.

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Free Things to Do at Disney

I love this article on the Frommer’s Family site..  It has 10 free things to do at Disney.  It’s nice to have a list of fun, free things to do considering how expensive Disney can get.  I especially like the watching the fireworks from the Disney Polynesian Resort and going to the Campfire Sing-a-long at Fort Wilderness.  Here’s the full list in case they ever pull the article:

  1. Explore Downtown Disney - My kids loved downtown Disney when we went.  They loved building racecars at the Lego store.
  2. Cruise along the Boardwalk
  3. Visit Disney Value Resorts (you can park for free for 3 hours if you tell the attendant you’d like to visit the resort)
  4. Ride the Monorail - They talk about how you get a bird’s eye view of the resort.  I got a tip from a friend that it’s also a great place to take your kids who need a nap.  It’s air conditioned and runs in a continuous loop.
  5. Enjoy a campfire with Chip ‘n’ Dale (at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort)
  6. Catch a fireworks show from Disney’s Polynesian Resort - They suggest bringing a picnic dinner.  Again you can park for free at the resort if you tell the attendant you want to explore the hotel.
  7. Hunt for Hidden Mickeys at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – I love this idea.  What a great scavenger hunt for the kids.
  8. Go on a safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  9. Sample some new types of cuisine - Get pre-dinner samples Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  10. Enjoy holiday fun at Celebration - We visited Celebration when we went to Disney based on a suggestion from my parents.  The kids really enjoyed walking around and getting ice cream.
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Walt Disney World Phone Apps

I read the following article on USA Today about phone apps for Disney World.  They talk about 3 apps that they liked to make your life easier when visiting the parks.  The apps they suggested were available on the iPhone.  I searched the Android Market and didn’t see them all.  So I searched the Android Market to see which ones had the highest rating.  I also read through the comments to see what suggestions readers had.  Here’s a summary:

  • Disney World Lines (Android – free, but to get all features you have to subscribe to for a year; I talked about this site in my Disney post) – This is an app by the people who write the Unofficial Guide to Disney and the web site  It includes a crowd calendar to help you decide which park to visit on each day and wait times for the rides.  The people commenting on the USA Today article said this was the best app.  If you buy the Unofficial Guide book, you get a discount on the site.
  • Walt Disney World Pro (iPhone, $4.99) – see the article for a review
  • Disney World Magic Guide (iPhone, $4.99) – see the article for a review
  • Disney World Wait Times, Dining and Maps (iPhone – $3.99, Android – $.99, there is a lite version that is free on Android) – see the article for a review
  • Verizon’s Mobile Magic – (Android – free) The commenters who tried this app loved it.  I checked the Android Market and the reviews were mixed.  But hey, it’s free, so what have you got to lose?
  • Ridemax – ($15 app – yikes) The commenter on the article loved this app.  You can download it to your computer via and use it on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry.  Here’s what he had to say about it: “You select the rides you plan on going on, the exact dates you’ll be at the park(s), and what time you plan on arriving & leaving – and this app maps the rides in the exact order you should go on them to avoid the lines. I did it for our trip to Disney 2 weeks ago – and it was amazing.. we hit the busiest rides early & late, and the slower rides in the middle of the day during “peak” times. Also tells you when to get a fastpass or not. Totally worth it!”

Sample trip – Disney World

Few trips are as magical for a family with young kids as a trip to Disney World.  We were lucky to go last year with our boys and they absolutely loved it.  And much to our surprise, we really enjoyed ourselves as well.  I spent a lot of time planning our trip months in advance.  This was necessary since we were traveling over spring break.  I also planned this trip before I started using credit card sign-up bonuses, so we were not using miles for any part of the trip.

Airfare: We wanted to take a direct flight to Orlando because we didn’t want to worry about how the boys would handle a layover.  This left us only 2 airlines we could fly – Delta or Southwest.  Southwest was much less expensive.  In order to get the lowest fare, we had to book the tickets on the day Southwest opened up the schedule.  For those not familiar with Southwest’s ticketing, they open up blocks of days.  I needed to figure out when they were opening up the block of time for our trip.  You can find when the schedule will open up in the Travel Tools section of the site.  I searched right when the dates opened up and got our tickets at the lowest fare.  I checked back later in the day to see if the lowest fares were still available and they were already all gone.

Lodging: My parents own a timeshare in Kissimmee.  So we were lucky to stay for the entire week for only about $200.  We actually liked staying off property because it allowed us to escape all the stimulation from Disney. 

Car: As I said in a previous post, I like to use Priceline for car rentals and hotel stays.  I used Priceline for the rental car.  We had a full-sized car for only about $200 for the week.

Tickets: We bought our tickets through Undercover TouristTouring Plans and Mouse for Less have a ticket calculator that will help you figure out where you should buy your tickets.  We used the Mouse for Less calculator and it pointed us to Undercover Tourist.  Generally buying your tickets directly from Disney (unless part of a package) is not the best deal.  Disney does not include sales tax of 6.5% in the prices it quotes on their web site.  So make sure you take that into account so you can do an apples to apples comparison with other sites.

There are so many resources to help you plan a trip to Disney.  You can talk with a Disney travel agent, a regular travel agent, friends, books, web sites, and others.  It can be overwhelming.  My favorite web sites for planning the days at the parks:

  • Tour Guide Mike – Access to the site costs $21.95 (the amount of you have access is based on when your trip is).  I highly suggest getting a subscription to this site if you’re planning a trip to Disney.  I found it to be the most useful site of all I looked at.  The crowd calendar was the best one that I’ve seen.  For every day of the year, he gives a crowd rating for each park for the morning and afternoon.  And he explains why he is giving the rating.  For example, maybe there’s a special event at the park that is going to draw bigger crowds that day.  Tour Guide Mike also explains how to tour the parks.  He has some touring plans, but more importantly he explains why you want to tour the way you do, so you don’t have to follow any plan to a T.  As I explained above, we went to Disney over Spring Break.  We followed Mike’s advice and didn’t wait more than 15 minutes in any line!  Best tip from Mike – get to the parks at the opening.  It is the best way to cut down on your ride wait times.
  • Touring Plans - Access to the site costs $10.95 for 365 days (less if you own the Unofficial Guide book).  This site is by the people who write the Unofficial Guide books for Disney.  They have sample touring plans for each of the parks.  The plans suggest which rides you should go on and when based on the ages of the people in your group.  They have a crowd calendar for each park for every day of the year.  And they have phone apps that let you know how long the lines are for each ride.
  • Mouse Savers – This site is a wealth of knowledge.  You could spend days reading through all the tips that they have gathered.

Best tip I received from a friend: Ride the tram for nap time – it’s air conditioned and runs in a circle so you can ride it as long as you need to.

There’s so much more that I could write about Disney.  I’m sure I’ll cover more in future posts.  I hope that this gets you going for your research on how you want to plan your trip.

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