Doing Disney right means more than just booking a flight and snapping up a pair of Mickey ears. You need to do a bit more homework to really knock the trip out of the park. So we turn again to our resident Disney expert to answer the real life questions that can make all the difference. Put it this way, would you rather leave with "It's a Small World" stuck in your head or with photos of you and your loved ones dining out Disney-style? Think about it.
Want to ask our Fodor's Disney expert a question? Shoot her an email: DisneyExpert@fodors.com.
Q: I'm considering getting married at Disney but don't know what is included. Is a Disney wedding worth it?
A: On Valentine's Day dozens of couples renewed their commitment to one another in a large ceremony in front of Cinderella's Castle. Hosted by Disney Fairy Tale Weddings, it offered a glimpse of their services. Five years ago, I was married at Walt Disney World, and what they offer is a lot more than a Mickey and Minnie wedding. Brides have the option of six different locations for the ceremony, and dozens for the reception. These options range from a garden gazebo to a beach front ceremony or Disney's Wedding Pavilion, designed with a view of Cinderella's Castle—and there are options even within the parks themselves. (I opted for a garden wedding at the Yacht and Beach Club followed by a reception at the American Adventure pavilion in Epcot.)
And of course, Disney service is provided throughout. Couples will meet with a wedding consultant at Franck's Bridal Studio, and determine everything from the flowers to catering in one fell swoop (in-laws should be included with caution). And brides are allowed to piece together their own package—for instance, I had Disney cater the food and take care of the flowers, but hired my own photographer and did my own invitations.
Worried about the wedding being too Disney? Don't! While there are perks that can be added—Mickey and Minnie at the wedding, a ride in Cinderella's carriage—these are all just options. And the options abound. One memorable aspect of my wedding was the appearance of a "butler" who brought forward our wedding rings and later announced our wedding party at the reception.
And the number one question—how much will this cost? The average price of a wedding in America is about $26,000. Disney helps brides come in at that number or even lower. Some ceremonies are designed to accommodate only family, while the couture collection is prepared to take on an army. To save, consider getting married during the week, or on a Friday or Sunday.
But the number one thing? Relax! Disney is taking care of your big day.
Q: Do we need the Disney Dining Plan? What does it include?
A: The Disney Dining Plan is an add-on offered to all guests staying at a Disney resort. For a set price, guests will receive a certain number of meals per day that can be used at Disney restaurants. The meals are divided into three categories: quick service (for fast food restaurants), table service (sit down), and snacks (kiosks around the park). The number of meals per day depends on which of the five plans you choose.
The basic is called the Dining Plan, and offers one quick service, one table service, and one snack per day. The Quick-Service Dining Plan offers two quick service and one snack per day. The Deluxe Dining Plan, Premium Dining Plan, and Platinum Dining Plan all offer three meals per day with snacks. All packages include a refillable drink mug to be used at your hotel.
So which is best for your family? Unless you have some major foodies, stick to either the basic plan or the Quick-Service Plan. Parents with younger kids will want to get the Quick-Service Plan, or consider skipping the Dining Plan all together. That many meals a day is a lot of food, and picky eaters, or those who only eat small amounts, won't get their money's worth.
Parents with older children who want to try a little fine dining will enjoy the Dining Plan. You can combine two table service meals to experience one of Disney's signature restaurants or dinner shows. This may be your cheapest way of getting into one of the popular character meals.
Bottom line: each quick service meal will run about $10-$15 per person, with sit down meals running over $20 on a regular basis. Crunch some numbers to see if the Dining Plan makes economic sense for your family.
Q: Do we need a rental car?
A: Being able to by-pass on a rental car can save a family a few hundred dollars. But being stranded without your own transportation can ruin a day. Consider these questions when looking into a rental car.
Where will my family be visiting? If your family is staying at a Disney hotel and visiting only the Disney theme parks, forget the rental car. Disney has complimentary transport to and from the airport and from the parks to your hotel. If your family is planning on visiting some of the other Orlando tourist destinations, a rental car could be worth it. But really, if you're leaving Disney for only one day, a cab will be cheaper.
Where will my family be staying? If you are staying in a non-Disney hotel, a rental car makes more sense. Though hotels may have a shuttle bus to and from the parks, they will often run only a few times a day or drop guests off at only one location, forcing you to spend up to an hour trying to get to the park of your choice. The $14 parking fee Disney charges could be well worth it. Likewise, if you are renting a condo, a rental car will be a necessity.
Leigh C.W. Jenkins is co-author of Fodor's Walt Disney World with Kids. She has visited the parks over twenty-five times, including a two year stay to work at the Magic Kingdom. She is an expectant mother who currently lives in Charlotte, NC.
Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Walt Disney World