Sharon Zenz - November 24, 2007
Disney has long been known as "the happiest place on earth." If your family is planning a Disney getaway, here are some keys to the kingdom that are sure to make your trip even happier.Since the opening of Disneyland more than fifty years ago, Disney has been finding new ways to make your life a little more magical. Disney now has parks in California, Florida, Tokyo, and Paris, but the fun doesn't stop there. If staying in one place isn't your style, you can hop on one of the Disney cruise ships and enjoy a little magic while touring exotic locales. Whatever your pleasure, Disney has something for everyone. From FastPass to specialty tours, we've got your trip covered from beginning to end. h3. Walt Disney World The first big decision to make in a Disney World vacation is where to stay. *Pros and Cons of Disney Resorts* Off Disney property, vacation rentals compete fiercely, and you'll usually spend less than you would for a Disney property. Generally, hotels will offer free breakfast, ranging from donuts to buffets. They will also have shuttles available to Disney parks and other area attractions. On Disney property, you'll pay a bit more and lose the free breakfast, but gain time and a host of perks Disney reserves for those in its resorts: Magical Express airport pickup and luggage handling, package delivery, and extra hours in the parks (an hour early, or up to three hours past closing) when lines will be shorter. Being closer also makes it easier to take midday breaks. *Specialty Tours* Disney World offers several specialty tours, all offering backstage glimpses tailored to different interests. These tours aren't free, but after taking one, you may conclude that the extra cost pays off in much bigger dividends than you'd expected. With Epcot's Aqua Tours, for example, there is a two-and-a-half-hour program that includes a photo and a T-shirt, and offers guests ages eight and up the opportunity to swim in The Seas enormous salt water tanks. Epcot provides all of your gear (except swimsuits), and an instructor is there to make sure you and the animals are safe. You don't need to swim well; you'll be wearing flotation devices. Before the swim, you'll learn about the animals and their natural habitats, and be briefed about the rules. (For instance, you may not reach out to sea turtles, a protected species.) After you're suited up, you have about thirty minutes in the water. Hold still and the animals might actually bump against you. You can even wave through the windows to guests inside. Some other great tours are: Family Magic, which includes a scavenger hunt through the Magic Kingdom for twenty-five dollars per person, and Backstage Magic--a seven-hour adventure tour of EPCOT, the Magic Kingdom, and Disney-MGM Studios for two hundred dollars per person. This tour includes lunch and does not require park admission. There are also VIP tours where guests can design their own tour for the cost of approximately seventy dollars per hour, with a minimum of three hours and a maximum of eight. h3. Disneyland Many hotels are within walking distance of Disneyland, and others provide shuttles (some free, some inexpensive). Most provide free breakfast. Staying at one of Disney's hotels gets you no closer, but still offers perks such as extra hours, package delivery, and a private entrance to California Adventure. As at all Disney parks, the busiest time is midday. You can use at least part of those hours to roam Tom Sawyer's Island (Disneyland) or Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (California Adventure) where you don't have to wait in lines. If you want to watch Fantasmic!, an all-new twenty-five-minute festival of lasers, lights, dancing fountains, and magical special effects, you'll need to stake out a spot at least an hour ahead of time. The best and most comfortable spots go fast. *FastPass* Whether you choose Disneyland or Disney World, Fast Pass is a great way to get on your favorite rides in half the time or less. This little trick allows you to insert your ticket into kiosks at popular attractions and receive a pass with a return time on it. At the designated time, you return and join a shorter line. If it truly is a "must do," get a FastPass early in the day; at some attractions, the day's allotment will be gone before lunchtime. *Character Encounters* The character dining experiences, like the Wonderland Tea Party, take reservations, as do the nicer restaurants. If you have your heart set on somewhere in particular, make a reservation early, preferably before you even leave home. The most popular dining, such as Cinderella's Royal Table, can be filled months in advance. If you're not good at planning in advance, your best bet is to visit at lunchtime. Space for breakfasts and dinners goes quickly, but you will sometimes be able to walk in with no reservation and little to no wait when you go at lunch. Be sure to pick up a map in each park. "Character Greetings" are marked, showing where you can meet Mickey or other favorites. Some are available all day, and some only during certain hours. It may mean standing in line, but it guarantees a hug from Pooh or a photo with Buzz. *PhotoPass* One of the newest additions to the parks is Disney's PhotoPass. The first time your photo is taken at one of the parks, usually just after you enter, the photographer will hand you a card. Every time you or a family member gets a photo taken after that, the photographer will scan your card. The photos are immediately available for viewing on the Internet or for purchase at any Disney photo shop. h3. Disney Cruise Lines Disney Cruise Lines are a fantastic way to experience Disney magic without having to fight the crowds. These cruises offer a wide range of accommodations to cater to different budgets, timetables, and tastes. All of them offer great shore excursions and awesome onboard entertainment. Cruise rates can be steep, but the magical entertainment, great food, fireworks, and a private island may be worth the price. While buying tickets early is the best option for park-goers, you'll find that cruise rates will often get cheaper the closer you get to the departure date. Booking online less than ninety days in advance can be your best bet if you're looking to snag a deal. Whether your Disney vacation is once in a lifetime or one of many, you're sure take home priceless memories that will last forever. After all, Disney is in the business of creating magical moments for all their guests, including kids and kids at heart. h2. A Very Disney Christmas *While Disney is loads of fun any time of year, it has a little something extra during the holidays. With five million lights in Disney World alone, your Christmases are guaranteed to be absolutely magical when you spend them with Disney.* From mid-November through early January, all the Disney parks are decked in Christmas garb, Christmas music fills the air, and many rides are completely made over for the holidays. If you're planning to celebrate Christmas with Mickey and his friends this year, here are a few things you can look forward to. h3. Walt Disney World *Magic Kingdom:* Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party On select nights over several weeks, the Magic Kingdom closes to the general public early, and partygoers purchase a ticket to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Disney rolls out special entertainment, parades, fireworks, characters, and photo opportunities exclusive to the event. On these nights, you could easily spend the evening going from event to event without going on any rides, but since the lines for the rides are often short (about five minutes), it's the perfect time to head for your favorite attractions. As an added bonus, parties also include free treats! *Disney-MGM Studios:* Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights Started in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1986 when a father strung up 1,000 red lights for his daughter, this family tradition grew until the neighbors complained. They eventually moved the whole thing to Walt Disney World. Now you can enjoy millions of dancing lights as you stroll down New York Street, along with a little Florida snowfall--talk about magical! And, of course, it wouldn't be complete without a visit from Old Saint Nick. *EPCOT:* Candlelight Processional The Candlelight Processional is not to be missed--a mass choir, joined by a fifty-piece live orchestra and a celebrity narrator, tells the story of Christmas through words and music in a beautiful performance at the America Gardens Theatre. h3. Disneyland *Santa's Reindeer Roundup* During the Christmas season, Frontierland becomes a West Pole, where Santa hangs out with Mrs. Claus and their live reindeer. Kids can visit with Santa and then go to the workshop to make souvenir crafts and play fun holiday games. *Christmas Fantasy Parade* At night, Santa can be seen riding down Main Street in his sleigh. Santa is joined by all your favorite Disney characters along with nutcrackers, toy soldiers, and dancing snowmen. And the whole thing is topped off with magical snowfall. *Haunted Mansion Holiday* If you're up for some spooky fun, the Haunted Mansion is a must-see at Christmas. The entire ride is made over for the holidays with characters and scenes from The Nightmare Before Christmas, complete with music. *Disney Cruises* If you're set on going on a cruise over Christmas, this is a great option. You can enjoy all of the Christmas festivities on land for a few days before setting sail on a three or four day cruise with Mickey. This way, you get to keep playing without all the lines, and you can let the kids go to age-specific activity areas while you rest up for a bit. On board, you can enjoy a tree-lighting ceremony, complete with Christmas carols and appearances by several of your favorite Disney characters. And Santa Goofy has special surprises for all of the children on Christmas Day. Disney's private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay, also has plenty of holiday decorations, a tropical Christmas tree, and a winter wonderland display.
© LDS Living Magazine, Nov/Dec Issue