For extra info, buy The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2014 updated annually by Disney expert Bob Sehlinger whose team has tried and tested every hotel, restaurant and ride.
Let the magic begin...
Walt Disney World is a big ol' place. It consists of 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 36 resort hotels (26 Disney-owned ones), Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment, plus sports, spa and golf facilities, all set in a 40-square-mile area - that's about twice the size of New York's Manhattan Island!
The Disney theme parks
When most people picture Walt Disney World, what comes to mind is the Magic Kingdom, home to Cinderella's castle (main picture), Main Street and a non-stop array of Disney characters high-fiving kids (and adults) around the park. The Magic Kingdom is also known for its nighttime Electrical Parade, Wishes Nighttime Spectacular at Cinderella's Castle and rides like Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. This park is made up of six themed lands which include New Fantasyland. Open since 2012, this enchanted area features waterfalls, grottoes, forests and circus big-tops, plus character interactions to the 'Be Our Guest Restaurant' set in the ballroom, Rose Gallery and 'West Wing' of the Beast's Castle.
New additions at the Magic Kingdom include the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (pictured above) which opened to the public in May 2014. This musical ride into the mine is a must for fans of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs who can travel in innovative cradle-like pivots which let the vehicles swing back and forth as the ride twists and turns, accompanied by music from the film and animated characters. Since March 2014, Main Street also hosts a daily Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade with parade floats, costumes and music.
The other 3 theme parks are Disney's Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Animal Kingdom. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, experiences include the stomach-churning tower of Terror of Tower and the magical Fantasmic! evening show as well as the Star Wars simulator, Muppet Vision 3D and the interactive Animation Courtyard. At Animal Kingdom, don't miss the Kilimanjaro Safari game drive (pictured) to see elephant, hippos, lions or let kids become Wilderness Explorers before trying rides like Expedition Everest and the very wet Kali River Rapids.
Other 'lands' include DinoLand U.S.A and its exciting ride DINOSAUR and Discovery Island, home to the Tree of Life. Over in Epcot, science and technology rule in Future World with innovative experiences such as Turtle Talk with Crush for Finding Nemo fans to Disney Phineas & Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure. Popular rides are Soarin's hand-gliding simulator over beautiful landscapes and the Test Track by Chevrolet, open since December 2012. Epcot is also home to World Showcase, offering up food, culture and music of 11 countries and a nightly IllumiNations fireworks display. Walt Disney World also includes Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and Walt Disney World Speedway.
Have a day off from the rides with a visit to one of the two Disney water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Typhoon Lagoon is a 56-acre water park, home to one of the world's largest surfing lagoons and the peak of Mt Mayday, a man-made mountain with an assortment of slides and rafting adventure activities and plenty more rides to boot. The 66-acre Blizzard Beach (pictured) is themed around a storm-battered ski resort. Its centrepiece is the 90-foot peak Mt Gushmore. 30 feet above the peak is the platform for the park's most famous ride, the 350-foot slide Summit Plummet, one of the world's fastest free-fall water slides. Both have enough slides, rides, flumes and reefs to keep you and the family happy for days...
Top money saving tips for Disney holidaysFirst things is, don't be daunted by booking a Disney holiday - it's not as complicated as it seems. Follow these tips to make it more simple.
There are various ways to book your holiday.
1. Book a full package holiday through a tour operator such as Virgin Holidays, Thomson or Thomas Cook. This will include sreturn flights, car hire and your Disney Resort on-site accommodation included (plus park tickets and dining plans)
2. Book an Orlando package holiday with flights, car hire and a villa, apartment or hotel close to Disney instead of staying on-site. You then buy your park tickets separately.
3. Alternatively, you can book your flights separately then book your Disney hotel, tickets and dining plan together.
When to go
Of course, holidaying outside of the summer, Easter and Christmas holidays will keep costs down so if you have pre-school -aged children, book off-season for the biggest bargains.If your kids are at school, this might not be possible and in these cases, the best way is to book a package and look out for special offers.
Staying at Disney
If you want to stay in the Disney complex, the five Value Resorts or camping at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground can work out best value. As a Disney Resort guest, it means you can buy dining plans in advance to keep the cost of your holiday down. You also benefit from extended theme park hours (every day, a different park opens an hour early and stays open up to 2 hours after closing), free parking, complimentary airport and resort transport while shopaholics at Downtown Disney can have their bags sent direct to the hotel. The five Value Resorts are Disney's All Star Music, All Star Movies, All Star Sport, Pop Century Resort and the newest one, Art of Animation Resort (pictured) which opened in 2012 and has themed rooms and courtyards such as Nemo and The Little Mermaid.
If you don't have your own car, don't worry. Depending on which hotel you're staying at, there's a range of transport option from Disney's Magical Express Transportation (pictured) taking you from Orlando International Airport to your hotel to the free buses connecting hotels, theme parks, water parks and the Downtown Disney shopping area. There's also a monorail system, ferryboats and coach shuttles taking you around the resort. If you've hired a car, you can drive from park to park - everything is clearly signposted and parking is free if you're a staying at a Disney hotel.
Buying park tickets
You can buy tickets separately from your flight and hotel but it's recommended you buy in advance from the UK - it saves time, money and disappointment. The Magic Your Way ticket system means you can buy the right tickets for your budget and needs. You can buy day tickets to individual parks but better value are the multi-day options as the per-day is less. It's best to check the Special Deals and Offers page for the latest offers. Currently you can buy 9 days for the price of 7 and includes access to the 4 theme parks and 2 water parks and other Disney locations. This is for people going to Disney between now and 31st December and must be booked by 11 August 2014. Other offers for 2015 includes free dining plans and a 14-Day Ultimate Ticket for the price of a 7-day one with $100 Disney dollars spending money and Disney hotel and tickets from £37 per person per night.
The fast pass: Queuing is the biggest issue for popular rides so make the most of the free fast pass system. Disney Resort guests can visit MyDisneyExperience.com and make their selections up to 60 days before their visit. If you're a day guest or pass holder, you can do this 30 days in advance. You can also visit the FastPass+ kiosks at the park and choose your rides for that park on that day.
When to go: The resorts may always feel busy, but Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are quieter days. Late afternoon is best for the most popular rides and while some holidaymakers will head off for dinner, early evening is another good bet for cooler temperatures and fewer crowds. If you do go early morning, start at the back of the park and work your way around anti-clockwise.
Eating at Disney
If you want to eat at the resort, Disney Dining Plans can work out to be good-value for guests at Disney Resort hotels - you can book them with your park ticket or they are sometimes included as part of your holiday. There are three dining plans which offer a varying number of quick-service meals, snacks and table-service dinners. They're valid at over 100 places and can save up to 40% off buying meals individually. The prices and offers change regularly depending on the holiday/offer you book. Find out more here.
Top tip 1: Avoid the tears - Disney character breakfasts (pictured) and some table-services restaurants are popular so book in advance or call 0800 028 0778 from the UK.
Top tip 2: Dining plans are not compulsory. You can also take food and drink into the theme parks so pack a small coolbag with lunch and drinks to save money.
Ask the Disney 'Moms'
There's an excellent on Disney Parks' Moms' Panel on their website with a dedicated section on budget travel. You can ask questions direct to the panellists or browse the forum for ideas. Here are some top tips from Disney Mom panellist, Elisabeth S.
- Keep an eye on the Deals and Special Offers page for dining, room and package discounts.
- The lowest-priced places to stay on Walt Disney World property are Value Resorts which offer fun pools, whimsical themes, food courts, access to Extra Magic Hours, and free transportation to and from the parks and airport.
- Skip the add-ons such as being able to park-hop and stick to one park per day for the lowest-priced ticket plus you make the most of each theme park.
- Pack peanut butter and breakfast bars as snacks. Save on food costs by eating at least one meal per day in your room or as a picnic. Stock up on juices and snacks for additional savings
- Steer clear of the shops to avoid unnecessary extra spending
- Do your research. Many non-Disney sites such as Mousesavers offer fantastic ideas for saving money when visiting Mickey.
Where to look for Disney World holiday deals in 2015You can book your Disney holiday in many ways. Below you'll find some of the latest deals and a list of travel companies who offer Disney Holidays. Remember, check Disney Packages for the latest offers direct from Disney too.
Latest deals from Virgin Holidays
Summer 2014: 7 nights in Orlando from £689pp including flights with Virgin Atlantic from Manchester to Orlando, room-only accommodation at 3V Disney's All Star Resort Music, Movies & Sport and car hire. Price is based on two adults and two children travelling, sharing an All Star Music Standard departing 18th August 2014.
December 2014: Seven nights in Orlando from £689pp including flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick to Orlando, room-only accommodation at 3V Disney's All Star Resort Music, Movies & Sport and car hire. Price is based on 2 adults and 2 children under school age sharing an All Star Music Standard, departing 8th December 2014.
Summer 2015: Seven nights in Orlando from £1,199pp including flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick to Orlando, room-only accommodation at 3V Disney's Pop Resort and car hire. Price is based on two adults and two children sharing a standard room and departing 10th August 2015.
December 2015: Seven nights in Orlando from £695pp including flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick to Orlando, room-only accommodation at 3V Disney's All Star Resort Music, Movies & Sport and car hire. Price is based on two adults and two children under school age sharing an All Star Music Standard, departing 1st December 2015.
Prices include all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Disney's 7-Day Ultimate Ticket can be added on at an extra cost. Visit Virgin Holidays, call 0844 557 3859 or visit one of their 110 stores located in Debenhams, House of Fraser, Tesco and Sainsbury's stores nationwide.
Other websites to check for Disney holiday itineraries
For more information, visit the Walt Disney World website.
Getting to Gatwick
Gatwick Express is the non-stop 30-minute train between Victoria station and Gatwick Airport, departing every 15 minutes. There are usually a multitude of offers online. At time of writing, these include 10% off any Standard Anytime Return and the web-only ticket called The Web Duo Anytime Return which saves 35% when 2 adults travel together. Other offers include 3 for 2 and 4 for 2 ticket offers. You can also catch a standard train with First Capital Connect, Southern and First Great Western.
Want to know more about what you can do on a Disney holiday? Courtesy of Walt Disney World and Virgin Holidays, goodtoknow's Meera Dattani went to find out...
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Please note: Prices correct at time of writing. Offers subject to availability.