Going to Disney This Winter?

Experts share tips for ‘dream trip’

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Want to keep Disney the “happiest place on earth” when you take your grandchildren? Keep in mind the following tips from local travel agents:

Patricia Bean, owner Bean Cruises and Travel, Rochester.

Bean has taken her granddaughter, Aila Beisheim, to Disney before, and is planning another Disney trip with her.

• “Stay directly at a Disney resort property as opposed to off the property. Oftentimes, you have a free shuttle for off-site, but they only travel certain times of the day. If you want to go back and rest, that is so much easier if you’re at a Disney property as their shuttles run every 10 minutes.

• “Staying on Disney properties allows you to have early morning and late evening hours at the parks that you won’t get if you’re not on their property. You can start the days before the crowds or stay later. They change throughout the week.

• “If you’re on Disney property, if you buy something at a park gift shop, you can have it sent back to your resort at no additional charge.

• “They offer the Magical Express, free of charge, from the airport and back. You put a special luggage tag on before you leave home and it appears in your room ‘magically’ within three to four hours when you arrive at the resort. You can also check in advance at Disney resorts; you literally can go right to your park.”

• “Get Magic Bands before you leave home. Everything is loaded onto it: the key to your room, park admission, you can buy food and it includes your Fast Pass, managed through a smartphone. You can look at the restaurants to see who has the shortest line, menus, how long the wait is for Space Mountain right now. It’s a real timesaver.

• “It’s nice to add the photo package, which is an additional charge for about $200. Pro photographers will take them in the right place. You won’t lose a nice camera.

• “Purchase the meal plan. You can’t purchase the meal plan if you stay off-property and that makes a world of difference. If you buy everything a la carte it can be very expensive.”

Natalie Fichera, office manager, Lori’s Travel Service in Rochester

Fichera worked at Disney World for five years.

• “Use My Disney Experience, which lets you link your account and reservation to plan your days. They give the calendar of events, hours of operation, when nighttime shows will be.

• “The fall months, right when kids go back to school, tends to be the slow season. The only problem is, it’s the rainy season and hurricane season. It will rain about 20 minutes a day at least. There’s the week right after the holidays where it slows down. But it picks up after the holidays because people want to escape winter. Early May might be another month where you won’t see as much of a crowd. School hasn’t quite let out yet. Or early June is an okay time. Once you hit summer, that’s peak season.

• “You know what types of mood the children are in. That assists us as travel agents. If your family would only use the parks once a day, it might be good to have something off-property where you can have a vacation home experience. For someone whose children are a little older and you know they’ll enjoy the experience, staying on property is the way to go and you can use the complementary transportation. That helps while navigating.”

Lynn DiMaria, owner DiMaria Travel in Rochester

• “If you buy a meal plan, you can do character dining. The package will cover that. These are restaurants that have that character as its theme.

• “They have ‘value resorts’ ‘moderate resorts’ and higher end. Value is so far away from the Magic Kingdom. It’s better to pay a little more to be closer, which is important if they’re under 8. Even on the shuttle, that could take an hour. From the Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom, it’s 15 miles. Disney is huge. Even if you are close, it takes a while.

• “My friends’ 3-year-old could not wait to see Mickey, but he was afraid of everything, even Cinderella. When people take very little kids, it can be overwhelming.

• “It’s $129 a day per park: Disney Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot. Any children over 9 are the same rate as an adult. Consider the Park Hopper, which lets you go to as many theme parks a day as you can. Children around age 10 or older could probably do it. If they’re little kids they won’t be able to make it at night and you can do one park per day.

• “If you bring some snacks because food is very expensive, they’ll put you through scrutiny. Bring a stroller if they’re young. It’s overwhelming.

• “Some stay for three weeks because there’s so much to do. You can rent a condo on the property as a home-away-from-home. It’s also good for a larger family so you can spread out.”