This year, more than 43 million people are expected to visit Disney’s theme park complexes in California, Florida, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo – and summer marks the start of the high season. But visiting can require a hefty commitment. A one-day admission to Anaheim, California’s famed Disneyland in June, for instance, starts at $87 for those aged 10 and older.
To get your money’s worth, it pays to check out independent Disney trip-planning websites in advance. They have excellent track records for keeping their detailed trip-planning resources up to date, and are not affiliated with the Disney brand, enabling them to provide unbiased recommendations for saving money at the various parks. Some of the sites also dispense advice on how to avoid long queues, find lodging and otherwise make the most of your visit.
Undercover Tourist is a website run since 2000 by an authorised Orlando broker where tickets to Florida’s Walt Disney World are usually less expensive than tickets sold at the park gate; a recent five-day pass purchased through Undercover Tourist was 11% cheaper. The site anticipates that Walt Disney World will hike single-day admission prices this year – the park traditionally makes these announcements every June and has been averaging 6% hikes in recent years – but notes that tickets booked at current prices will remain valid, so you can buy tickets now, and use them after the price hike. The site also sells competitively-priced lodging and discount tickets to other Orlando-area attractions, such as SeaWorld or Universal Studios. As a bonus, the website’s free apps for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry list real-time wait times at all the rides in the park.
Mousesavers specialises in publishing deals and promotions offered by Disney and related companies, such as 15% discounts off park hotel stays. The 12-year-old site mainly publishes deals for Disney’s US parks, though non-US residents can take advantage of most of the offers and the site does have trip-planning information for the non-US locations. Especially useful is Mousesavers’ frequently asked questions sections for the California and Florida parks. For example, the site explains that some non-Disney affiliated hotels near Disneyland and Walt Disney World pay for the right to advertise themselves as official Disney’s “Good Neighbor” hotels. But according to Mousesavers, these hotels aren’t consistently better in quality, price or upkeep than other properties in the area and the label shouldn’t be used as a factor when picking a place to stay.
Theme Park Insider, founded in 1999, reports on all sorts of entertainment venues worldwide, but its coverage of global Disney parks is incredibly authoritative, frequently updated and even-handed. In a May blog post, it pointed out that, unlike the other Disney complexes, Disneyland is heavily patronised by locals – hundreds of thousands of whom hold annual passes. So the site recommends you visit on dates when those annual passes aren’t valid, such as on Saturdays in June and July, and it tells you to look up Disney’s official blockout calendar to find other dates on which the park will have relatively shorter queues.
DLRP Magic, created a decade ago, is dedicated to advice on visiting Disneyland Paris, aka “Euro Disney”. One of its most popular sections explains the advantages of “meal plans”, vouchers redeemable for meals at certain restaurants inside the park – a feature available at the US parks too, but not at the Asian locations. By paying in advance, you can take advantage of an average of 10% off menu prices and more effectively budget your food expenditures, instead of giving in to impulse purchases. But various plans cover different sets of restaurants at different total costs, so it’s wise to read the site’s side-by-side comparison of each plan.
DISBoards is a set of online bulletin boards launched in 1997 by fans seeking insights from previous visitors to the various Disney parks. Given the absence of English-language websites dedicated to either Tokyo Disney Resort or Hong Kong Disneyland, DISBoard’s discussion threads have the best information about those complexes. A recent discussion informed first-time visitors that foreign credit cards are accepted throughout the park, even though Japan generally has more of a cash culture than the US or Europe. Another helpful tip: most of the park signs have English translations, even though the majority of visitors are Japanese.
AllEars.Net began as a simple fan site 14 years ago but has since blossomed into a leading online resource for details on Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line. The site is updated frequently with news about attraction opening dates, reviews of new rides and advice for solving common dilemmas, such as whether you should bring a car or rely on each resort’s various transit options. The site even posts menus for most of the restaurants in the parks.
Sean O’Neill is the travel tech columnist for BBC Travel