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Anyone considering a Disney vacation should visit Mousesavers (www.mousesavers.com) first. The website's developer and frequent Disney-goer, Mary Waring, is a consumer advocate who is passionate about her theme parks and helping people get the best Disney bang for their buck. The website itself is deliberately simple by design, with clear and easy navigation (much simpler than the official Disney websites) -- even an adult can use it!

I spoke with Mary about the upcoming fall season and her number one Disney tip is to go in the off season (or what Disney calls "value season") -- and not just for the obvious reason of saving money. According to Mary "Yes the resorts and accommodation are cheaper, but they are also better value, often throwing in added extras like free meals, plus ultimately the parks themselves are less crowded and those dreaded lines are invariably shorter." She went on to say "September is actually the cheapest month of the year to visit Walt Disney World in Orlando." Why? Glad you asked. Firstly it is the peak hurricane season in Florida so the weather may not be pretty. It's also still extremely hot and kids are back in school so there's a gap in their market! This year Disney offered free dining packages for all resort vacations which for a family of four represented a saving of approximately $100 a day. Unfortunately that deal has expired but you can still save big for late August and September bookings, with discounted rates per night on accommodation at most Disney resorts.

Mary is an expert on all things Disney. She has visited all Disney theme parks around the world with the exception of Hong Kong and visits Orlando up to four times per year. She started the website in 2001 and it has grown in content and fans ever since. Coming in late September Mary will be expanding her website to include a revamped section on weddings, honeymoons and romance at Disney. For those of you who think Disney is all for kids think again. Not only did Mary spend her honeymoon at Walt Disney World but it turns out that it is the number one honeymoon destination in the world. . .so if you haven't got kids or you want to get away from them for a while -- consider an adults only Disney vacation and check out mousesavers.com next month for all the information.

One little tip I picked up on the site was that the taxation rate at Orlando resorts was going up from 11.5 percent to 12.5 percent on September 1, 2006.

On my first trip to a Disney theme park in the 1970s, things were simple -- you bought your ticket at the gate, it was affordable and there was only one theme park (at Disneyland at least). At Disney World there were two parks -- the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Today the choices and options of tickets, passes, discounts, hoppers, theme parks and water parks makes things rather confusing -- no wonder people now spend an entire week on vacation in Orlando, trying to get through each of the parks and see everything. This article just isn't long enough for me to lists all the in's and out's -- that's what the mousesavers website is for -- but I will try to provide a brief summary. In short, a base day pass to one park (Magic Kingdom) for one day is $71.36 for an adult and $59.64 for children, including tax. The more days you pay for, the cheaper the per-day rate becomes. A five-day pass is $219.39 and $179.99 -- but to be honest for just $10.65 more, you can get a ten-day pass (if of course you have ten-days to actually spend at Disney). If you add the Park Hopper Option, you can come and go to any or all of the four major Walt Disney World theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney MGM-Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom Park) each day of your pass for an extra cost of $47.93, which is a bargain if you are staying a week or more, but a little pricey for a single day (and frankly in a single day you'd be hard pressed to get through even one park). All Walt Disney World ticket prices went up on August 6, 2006 -- a complete ticket price chart is available at www.mousesavers.com/mywpricechart20062007.html#advance.

There are so many ways to stay at Walt Disney World and a brief price scan of availability and pricing for September came up with the following options based on a five-night stay:

  • Pitch a tent of your own at the Disney Fort Wilderness campsite from $39 a night
  • Stay at a Value Resort like Pop Century or All-Star Sports from $79 per room per night (maximum occupancy four people)
  • Take it up a notch at one of their Port Orleans resorts or Coronado Springs Resort from $139 per room
  • Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort (six people) is priced from $205 per room as is the Animal Kingdom Lodge (five people)
  • Go luxurious at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa from $359 per room (maximum five people)

You can choose to stay at one of the dozens of budget hotels located outside the immediate Disney area, but then you will need to contend with traffic, parking, and transportation. Other benefits of staying at Disney resorts include:

  • Each day one of the Disney theme parks opens an hour early or stays open up to an extra three hours after regular closing time exclusively for resort guests. For a limited time Disney Water Parks will also offer Extra Magic Hours for Resort Guests.
  • Disney offers a complimentary service that allows guests to bypass baggage claim when they arrive at Orlando airport and board deluxe air-conditioned motor coaches to Walt Disney World Resort. A return bus ride to the airport is also included.
  • Complimentary transportation throughout Walt Disney World Resort, including motor coaches, water taxis and the Monorail.
  • Disney resort guests can enjoy the convenience of having purchases from select Disney shops delivered right to their resort
  • Select Disney purchases (i.e. meals, merchandise and tickets) can be charged directly to guest rooms.

Current Walt Disney World specials include a discount off the room rate for any Magic Your Way vacation package or room only deals for stays from August 19 to September 30, 2006. The discounts are a flat amount off the regular room rate per night:

  • Value Resorts (All-Stars and Pop Century) - $15 off
  • Moderate Resorts (Caribbean Beach. Coronado Springs, Port Orleans) - $40 off
  • Deluxe Resorts (Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk Inn, Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Yacht & Beach Club) - $70 off

A three-night minimum stay is required. To book this special package, contact a Disney specialist travel agent and request code YYC for Magic Your Way or YYD for Magic Your Way Plus Dining packages. For the same discounts off room rates only, use code BPN.

American Automobile Association (AAA) and Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) members qualify for room-only discounts throughout the year and can generally save between 10 and 20 percent at Disney resort hotels, depending on the season. During Value season get up to 15 percent off at Disney Deluxe and Disney Vacation Club resorts, or 20 percent off at Value and Moderate resorts and the Ft. Wilderness campsites.

On the actual Walt Disney World official website (www.disneyworld.disney.go.com) they are currently promoting that a family of four people can enjoy a six-night, seven-day Disney vacation staying at a Value resort and visiting one theme park a day between now and September 30, 2006 for less than $1,600.

For stays outside the park area, Buena Vista Suites (www.buenavistasuites.com) is an all-suite resort featuring 280 one-bedroom suites. All room rates include a free full American breakfast. Located only one and a half miles from the park entrance, this is a pet-friendly hotel with a few rooms, mostly on the first floor, reserved for those traveling with up to two small (25 lbs. or less) pets. A pet fee of $10 per night applies and there is a $50 per pet refundable deposit. Stay at Buena Vista Suites from September 1 to 30, 2006 and a one-bedroom (queen sized bed) suite with breakfast is priced at $85 per night plus tax. Add $20 for a king suite.

Beware of websites offering "too good to be true" Disney packages -- they are invariably trying to sell you something like timeshare.

For a sophisticated Disney experience this fall, the 11th Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival will take place from September 29 to November 12, 2006. Each day during the six-week-long festival, the park's Future World and World Showcase overflow with first-rate food, wine and beer that spotlight regional experiences from New Zealand to France. 20+ international marketplaces serve tapas-sized portions of regional specialties, and daily seminars offer tastes of wine and beer from around the world. In addition, a series of special culinary programs features a lineup of renowned winemakers and guest chefs participating in elegant dinners, wine schools, cooking schools and pairings. Some 250 Disney chefs and guest chefs conduct culinary demonstrations, hosting elegant dinners and tasting events. Up to 1,200 wine and beer seminars providing complimentary samplings.  More than 100 wineries offer complimentary tastings, and guests can sample the marketplace cuisine in tasting portions ranging from $1.50 to $4.50.There's a traditional Biergarten in the Germany showcase or help celebrate Twinings Tea's 300th anniversary with daily festival tastings. The Eat to the Beat concert series features a variety of bands and entertainment acts, including top name rock, classic, country and pop performers. Included with Epcot admission are wine and beer seminars, cooking demonstrations, Eat to the Beat concerts, culinary exhibits and all rides, attractions and park entertainment.

Another special event this fall is ABC Super Soap weekend which will be held at Walt Disney World in Orlando on November 11 and 12, 2006. Last year, close to 40 ABC soap stars and celebrities were on hand as part of the festivities, and although the 2006 program has yet to be posted on Disney websites, vacation packages are on sale. Try Small World Vacations (www.smallworldvacations.com) for a vacation quote within two the ABC Commissary where visitors can purchase show costumes, props and other one-of-a-kind items direct from the sets of their favorite ABC soaps, autograph locations, the "Wide World of Soaps Live" show, SOAPnet's I Wanna Be A Soap Star Live Competitions, celebrity motorcades, the Super Soap Special Edition of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" -- where lucky contestants will get the chance to share the "hot seat" with a pair of ABC Daytime stars and the Total Street Jam concert each evening.

The Rosen Plaza (tel. 800/627-8258; www.rosenplaza.com) located minutes away from Orlando's main theme parks, has a back-to-school vacation package called "Back-to-School Memories." Priced at $105 per night, plus room tax, the deal offers deluxe accommodations for up to two adults and two children, as well as free transportation to Universal Studios and several other area attractions like Wet N' Wild. As an added bonus, guests who book a minimum of three nights at this special rate receive a free breakfast buffet for two at the hotel's Café Matisse each morning of their stay. Breakfast is free for children under six years of age. Regular room-only summer rates are up to $155 per night so this deal represents a big savings. This package is available from now until September 11, 2006, including the Labor Day weekend.

While we have mainly concentrated on Walt Disney World, let's not forget where it all began -- back in California in sunny Anaheim at Disneyland (www.wdwinfo.com). They currently have a fall special -- stay at any of the Disneyland Resort hotel (Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel and Grand Californian Resort and Spa) and receive the fourth night free for stays form October 1, 2006 to December 17, 2006. Reservations must be made by December 13, 2006 and travel completed by December 21, 2006.

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