Sunday, October 07, 2012

The joys of Disney World in the off-season

Early afternoon, the busiest time of day and look how empty Main Street USA is!
We just returned from Disney World and I wanted to share my top 5 reasons why the off-season is the perfect time to go to the "Happiest Place on Earth." (And yes, I realize going while school's in session isn't an option for teachers and older kids. But my children are only 5 and 7, so we decided it was worth pulling them out of class.)

1. Price! Our 5 night/6 day vacation at Caribbean Beach Resort, one of Disney's moderate properties, was just over $2000 for a family of four. That included lodging, all transportation (to and from the airport and within the World), 3 days of base park tickets (no hopping), unlimited soft drinks at the resort and a "free" Disney Dining Plan. The DDP (5 quick service meals, 5 table service meals and 5 "snacks" per person) might not be a great value to those who have to pay for it, but getting it included in our vacation price meant we ate like kings and never felt like we were being gouged. Dining costs within Disney World are high, especially at table service restaurants and character meals, so to be able to order virtually whatever we wanted (and dessert at lunch and dinner!) without looking at the prices or whipping out a credit card was really nice. A couple of words of warning: Gratuity is not included in the DDP, so you will be responsible for paying the tip and as well as for any alcoholic beverages. We paid for all our tips using a Disney gift card I'd earned by switching to the Disney Rewards Visa. Also, due to the popularity of the DDP, Advance Dining Reservations (ADP) are absolutely necessary. With the help of our travel agent, we booked our tables months in advance and it was clear most of our fellow diners had as well. Walk up patrons walked away disappointed. 

Character breakfast at Crystal Gardens
2. Food! We were there during the 2-months long Epcot Food & Wine Festival. I followed advice I'd read online and hoarded our snack credits. Instead of blowing them all on breakfast pastries or bottled water, we grazed our way through the World Showcase, sampling cheeses and dishes from Poland, Singapore, France and Korea. However, there is a limit to how many "snacks" even we can eat and we sended up splurging on ice cream sundaes at Ghirdelli's in Downtown Disney to use up credits on our last day. 

3. No lines! The security lines at the airport were the longest lines we stood in all week. Through a combination of savvy planning (thanks to the WDW Lines app from, judicious use of FastPasses and generally low attendance, we never had to wait more than 10 minutes for any ride, show or character meet and greet. Time after time, we'd find ourselves whipping through long, winding line areas only to reach the front and step right onto the ride car. In fact, as we were getting ready to ride Haunted Mansion (posted wait time: 0 minutes) and Expedition Everest (posted wait time: 5 minutes), Josh lamented not being able to explore all the interesting distractions displayed along the line route.

4. No crowds! Given that the busses connecting our resort with Downtown Disney and the various parks filled up each time we rode them, I can't imagine how awful it would be to try and squeeze on in the high season. I am not a fan of crowds, but I never felt particularly crowded. Not waiting to enter the Magic Kingdom, standing in line or at the pool. The only time I remarked that "wow, it seems pretty busy here" was the morning we decided to have breakfast at our resort. The quick service dining hall was bustling and most of the tables were occupied.

5. Weather! Okay, the weather wasn't that ideal. It wasn't summer in Orlando hot, but highs were in the mid-to-upper 80s every day we were there and it was very, very humid. It was warm enough to really enjoy the pools at our resort as well as the water rides (you will get very wet on Animal Kingdom's Kali River Rapids), but I could have done without sweat-inducing humidity and the daily showers that made buying rain ponchos a must.

I realize this is more of a practical post than a warm, fuzzy family memories post, so stay tuned for my top 5 joys of Disney World (and a few things I could have done without).