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
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
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