The period from late September through November in Orlando usually brings bright beautiful days, cooler temperatures, and some of the lightest crowds all year, making it one of the best times to go to Walt Disney World. While weather and crowds are a factor, the real secret to enjoying Disney is to let your mantra be "quality over quantity." Keep these tips and suggestions in mind as you explore the parks.
The Magic Kingdom
1. Try to come toward the end of the week, because most families hit the Magic Kingdom early in their Disney visit.
2. Ride a star attraction while a parade is going on if you're willing to miss it; lines ease considerably. (But be careful not to get stuck on the wrong side of the parade route when it starts, or you may never get across.)
3. At Town Square, near the entrance, pick up a Guide Map and the Times Guide, which lists show times, character greeting times, and any special hours for attractions and restaurants.
4. Book character meals early. Main Street, U.S.A.'s Crystal Palace Buffet has breakfast with Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, and Piglet 8–10:30 AM. Lunch at Cinderella's Royal Table in Cinderella Castle is extremely popular—so much so that you should reserve your spot six months out. At an afternoon Wonderland Tea Party in the Grand Floridian Resort, you interact with Alice and help bake (and eat) cupcakes.
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5. Epcot is so vast and varied that you really need two days to explore everything. If you have just one day, be highly selective.
6. It's best to go early in the week, when others are at Magic Kingdom.
7. If your family loves festivals, go to the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (late March–early June) or the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (late September–mid-November).
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8. Visit early in the week, while most people are rushing through Magic and Animal kingdoms.
9. Check the tip board periodically for attractions with short wait times that you can visit between Fastpass appointments.
10. Be at the Fantasmic! amphitheater at least an hour before show time if you didn't book the Fantasmic! dinner package.
11. Need a burst of energy? Snag a freshly baked chocolate-chip cookie or a pastry at Starring Rolls Cafe, at the corner of Hollywood and Sunset. Alternatively, Hollywood Scoops Ice Cream on Sunset might be just the thing on a hot day.
12. If you plan to have a fast-food lunch, eat before 11 am or after 2:30 pm. There are food stands along Sunset. You can get a burger (meat or veggie) or chicken strips at Rosie's All-American Cafe, a slice of pizza from Catalina Eddie's, or a chili dog at Toluca Legs Turkey Company.
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13. Try to visit during the week. Pedestrian areas are compact, and the park can feel horribly packed on weekends.
14. Arrive a half hour before the park opens as much to see the wild animals at their friskiest (morning is a good time to do the safari ride) as to get a jump on the crowds.
15. For updates on line lengths, check the Tip Board, just after crossing the bridge into Discovery Island.
16. Good places to rendezvous include the outdoor seating area of Tusker House restaurant in Africa, in front of DinoLand U.S.A.'s Boneyard, and at the entrance to Festival of the Lion King.
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The Water Parks
17. In summer, come late in the afternoon when park hours run later or when the weather clears up after a thundershower (rainstorms drive away the crowds). Afternoons are also good in cooler weather as the water is a bit warmer. If you plan to make a whole day of it, avoid weekends, when locals as well as visitors fill the parks.
18. Women and girls should wear one-piece swimsuits unless they want to find their tops somewhere around their ears at the bottom of the waterslide.
19. Invest in sunscreen and water shoes. Okay, so you know why sunscreen is important, but it's easy to forget to reapply it, so plan on several sunscreen dousings throughout the day. Meanwhile, an inexpensive pair of water shoes will do wonders to save your and your kids' tender footsies from hot sand and walkways and from grimy rest-room floors.
20. Arrive 30 minutes before opening so you can park, buy tickets, rent towels, and snag inner tubes before the crowds descend, and, trust us, it gets very crowded.
Now that you've got all this extra time and money on your hands, what are you going to do with it? Here are some upcoming special events worth checking out.
The Magic Kingdom gets specially dressed for Halloween with Mickey's Not-so-Scary-Halloween parties, which begin on Friday, September 4 and run a couple times a week, 7 pm to midnight, through November 1. Costumes and trick-or-treating are encouraged. Special lighting and music help set the scene; a parade with costumed characters and fireworks cap things off. Buy tickets ahead of time (disneyworld.com/halloween, 407/W-Disney), and save $7 on each.
This year's Epcot Food & Wine Festival (September 25 to November 8) will feature the chance to try one of 70 types of tequila; attend a Spanish cheese seminar; or pair Italian food and wine. Along with these and other special, ticketed events (disneyworld.com/foodandwine, 407/WDW-FEST) are the regular festival activities that let you sample food from 20 cities around the world and attend Eat to the Beat concerts held nightly at the American Garden Theatre.
You don't have to wait for the January marathon to run through the parks, thanks to the Endurance Series (disneyenduranceseries.com) of 3K, 5K, 10K, and 13K races in Disney's Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom. In true Disney fashion, these runs are as much about the need to play (think obstacle courses and scavenger hunts) as they are the need for speed.
Running not your thing? Try booking a golf vacation (disneygolf.com, 407/WDW--GOLF), and save some money, while you're at it. During September, stay at a Disney hotel and save 30% on greens fees at the Magnoilia, Palm, Osprey Ridge, and Lake Buena Vista courses. There are other perks as well.
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