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Reader Email: Stress-free, low-cost trip with Young Children.

Hi Chris,

I have followed your other blogs since before the twins were born.  I came over to EWDW to ask for advice. I have two boys, age 5. We want to visit WDW in Feb (for their 6th birthday) and would prefer to go over a week end to reduce time away from work and school, and want to keep cost to a minimum. We only need simple accommodations, but clean is a must. I have been to Epcot and was not thrilled, really don’t want to spend the $$ for the kids to go there this trip. Should we just focus on WDW and leave all the rest (universal, etc) for another trip?

What is the best way to enjoy the most for the least spent in $$, time and energy/frustration?


Hi, Robin:

Thanks for reading this and my other blog.  From what you’ve written, it seems like you want a really low-key trip, which is totally doable with some preparation.   Here are a few thoughts.

February is a great time to go, as long as you avoid the days leading up to Valentine’s day plus the weekend after.  Not only does it get crowded during mid-month, but Disney raises its resort prices because it’s a popular time to visit.  I think you’d be safe going any time early or later in the month (possibly avoiding Superbowl weekend).  You can check the Touring Plans crowd calender to get a more exact idea of how crowded the parks will be, but they only have free access 30-days out.  

As for inexpensive places to stay, I love Pop Century.  It’s a Disney Value resort, so you have all the benefits of staying on-site, the most important being transportation, but the cost is comparable to a mid-price room off site.  It’s also very clean.  I’m the type of person who notices everthing and I felt our room at Pop was immaculate.  Most kids love Pop.  It’s brightly colored and has fun pools.   The food court is probably the best of all the Disney resorts. There’s no sit-down restaurant on site, however, and if you want a refridgerator in your room, you’ll have to pay a daily fee of $10.  The only downside of having everyone in the same room is that you can’t do much after the kids go to bed.  

There are a lot of places off site that will meet your needs, including many that will be cheaper (although, not as clean), but none of them will be as convenient as staying on site.  Right now you can still get rooms at Pop, although you should book as soon as possible if you’re interested in staying on site.  I went to Disney.com and put in a check-in date of February 3, staying five nights, and was quoted $484.  That’s a great price.   You can sometimes get better rates from a Disney-certified travel agent, so you might try that as well; they should be up to date on the latest discounts.  Check Mousesavers for other discounts; they are your best bet if you’re booking on your own.

Tickets are what really hurts your budget.  Whatever you do, avoid buying tickets on Ebay or from brokers right outside of Disney World (mostly on Highway 192 and International Drive).  For the cheapest tickets, try Undercover Tourist.  There are only a few Disney-authorized discount ticket brokers and they are one of them. To get the absolute lowest rate, sign up for Mousesavers newsletter and use the Undercover Tourist code; that will save you a few more dollars.  The only downside to using UT is that those tickets can’t be tide to your Disney reservation, so if you lose them it can be a pain to replace them.  Make sure you make a copy of each of your tickets, that way the guest services can replace a lost ticket more easily.

Since your boys are young, I’d avoid Universal, which is geared more toward older children.  Your boys will love the Magic Kingdom, of course, but they’ll also like Disney Hollywood Studios (DHS) and if they enjoy animals, Disney Animal Kingdom can be fun.   There are fun things to do with kids at Epcot, but if you don’t like that park, not worries:  There’s so much to do at Disney, you really can’t do it all, even on multiple trips.  When you buy a Disney ticket, you can get into a Disney park that day, but you can only visit that one park. If you want to go to other parks that day you’ll have to get a park hopper option, which costs roughly $50 more per person (although it’s for the entire trip, regardless of how many days your ticket is for).  Unless you see yourself going completely “commando” and seeing and doing everything, you probably don’t need this option.  You can always add it once you get to the parks if you find you need it.

You don’t say how many days you want to stay in Orlando, but if you’re only going to be there a few days, I would only try to primarily visit DHS and the Magic Kingdom.  DHS has great shows, one of which is the Beauty and the Beast. Take your boys; I promise they will love it.  It’s all action and singing.  My seven-year old son wanted to see it again and again.  If they like Star Wars, they might want to try being in the Jedi Training Academy.  Get their early, as kids are chosen on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Of course, the big draw at DHS for younger kids is Toy Story Midway Mania (TSMM), which is a carnival-like game in 3-D.  Really, it’s the most fun ever; I find myself yelling and screaming through the entire thing.  Unfortunately, there’s always a wait.  Your best bet is to go to DHS when they open and have one of you take your park tickets (for the entire family) and run over and get fastpasses, which allow you to bypass the lines at a specified time.  While your husband is doing this, you could take the boys over to Star Tours and get in line for Jedi Training Academy.  By the time the boys have done Jedi Training Academy, your fastpass window will likely be open for TSMM (although if your husband is really quick, it could be earlier). Or, if you don’t care for Star Wars, you can always get your fastpasses right away, ride TSMM or go and ride another ride with a short wait.  Either way, getting your fastpass first thing assures that you’ll get to ride one of the more popular rides at  WDW with a minimum amount of wait.

The Magic Kingdom is a huge hit with kids and there’s so much to do that you could spend days here and not do everything.   Since there’s a lot to do, you might consider using a touring plan.  You can get them from  TourGuideMike or from TouringPlans.   You don’t have to stick to a plan entirely and in fact, I find it almost impossible to do so with young children, but you can take the basic ideas and save yourself time and walking.  It’s well worth the money.  If this seems like you’re making your vacation too complicated, don’t worry.  Barring the busiest time mid-month, February is a slow time and you can still do everything you want to do with some planning.  Just remember to get there early and get a fastpass for the attraction you most want to ride (that also tends to have long lines–don’t waste your FP on an attraction no one wants to ride), then go ride something else while you wait.  Dumbo, Splash Mountain, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White and Peter Pan are all rides that young kids like that also tend to have long lines all day, so try to get to those attractions early, before the parks get busy.

You don’t need to spend a lot of time preparing for your trip, but a little bit of preparation can save you a lot of time and make your vacation more enjoyable. If you’re only going to do one thing, buy an Unofficial Guide (they’re also the people behind Touring Plans).  It’s the best one out there. If you don’t want to spend the money or if you find the guide just too huge to deal with, go to the Disboards for specific questions and post your own or use their search option. The Dis is one of those places where no question will go unanswered.

Good luck and have fun!


  1. Robin should check out the Special Offer just posted. For a 1 – 4 night stay at one of Disney’s Value Resorts from now until 3/27 and again from 4/11 – 6/3/2010 she may be able to save 25% on accommodations. Stay 5 nights or more and save 30%.

  2. Hi, thank you. I didn’t know about this one!

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