Last Friday we made the one hour drive South to spend a day with friends Karen and Al (http://wishuponanrvstar.blogspot.com/) at Epcot Center. We have been following their blog for several years now, and we finally met them while working last fall at Amazon. They are “Disney experts”, in that they have visited Walt Disney World over 80 times over the past several decades. This was our very fist visit!
I decided to split this blog post into 2 parts. The first part will be more background information, and the second part will be on our visit. So if you have been to Disney many times, or really have no interest in going, you can skip this post!
A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON DISNEY
The Walt Disney World Resort covers 40 square miles in Orlando, Florida, and has four main theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In addition, there are 2 water parks, several golf courses, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and Downtown Disney, which has shops, restaurants, a bowling alley and other entertainment attractions. The complex has about 20 resorts and one campground, Fort Wilderness. There are Disney trams, boats and buses that will take you to all the attractions from the resorts and campground.
The Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Epcot in 1982, Hollywood Studios in 1989, and Animal Kingdom in 1998.
Ouch! was my first thought when I started looking into ticket prices. Disney is not cheap, and is certainly a vacation that needs to be built into the budget. A one day pass to the Magic Kingdom is $95.00 for ages 10 and older, and $89.00 for ages 3 – 9. Disney “allows” those under the age of 3 to get in free! A one day pass to Epcot, Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios is $90.00, or $84.00 for ages 3 – 9. If you wanted to see more than one park in the same day, then you would need the “park hopper” add-on, which is another $59.00 per ticket, or $84.00 per ticket with the 2 water parks as well. I don’t think you can realistically see more than one park in a day, unless you have visited these parks before.
If you are going to be staying awhile, then your pricing options improve. A four-day ticket is $279.00 for ages 10 and above. This will allow you four visits to the parks (one park per day without the hopper add-on) over a 14 day period. That reduces the cost per ticket to $69.75. They also have more options, which further reduces the price of the tickets. An annual pass may be the best option if you plan on spending a lot of time at all the parks. We thought about getting the 4 day pass, but after factoring in the cost of driving 120 miles each day, and the cost of food and parking, it just wasn’t going to work this year. It would have been a big budget buster.
If you have AAA, they offer a very small discount on tickets, about $6.00 on the 4 day pass. There is another company that advertises discounted tickets, Undercover Tourist, but their discount is also about the same as AAA. Neither one offers that much of a saving, in my thrifty opinion. And there is no discount on one day passes, so you can just wait and buy them at the park. Disney is more than happy to take your money, and there are plenty of ticket booths! The savings for AAA comes on the accommodation’s, as well as some food and merchandise in the park. Fort Wilderness has a 20% discount for AAA members.
Karen and Al changed their residency to Florida, after they sold their house and went full-time. As Florida residents, there are many reasonably priced options for Disney tickets. They have a Weekday Select Pass, for $209.00, which allows them admission to four theme parks Monday – Friday, but blocks out the summer and holidays. So when it’s very hot, or very crowded, they can’t go!!
Fort Wilderness Campground
Both the Disney complex and the Orlando area have many hotels and condos for rent for their visitors. But there is only one campground on the Disney complex, Fort Wilderness. Al and Karen have stayed there the last several years, and love it. They usually stay about 2 weeks during their visit. You can view a few photos of their campsite if you click on their blog post that I linked to above. They also have their shiny new 5th wheel in the photos!! It is very nice, and has a wonderful pantry!!
The campground covers a massive 750 acres, and has 799 sites, with prices starting at $49.00 for tent/pop – up sites, and going up to $81.00 per night for premium sites. And if you have AAA, there is a 20% discount. Although it may sound a little pricey, when you factor in the cost of diesel, parking and meals, it would be worth camping at Disney during your stay. And they allow up to 10 people per site, not the usual 2 adults, 2 children that most campgrounds allow.
When we drove down for the day, we parked at Al and Karen’s spot in the campground. It was easily the nicest campground that we seen so far. There is a lot of privacy between the sites. And there is so much to do at the campground as well – water park, horseback riding, canoe/kayaking, etc. There are also dinner shows and a buffet restaurant. Given all that is going on, it was surprising how quiet the campground area is.
Bus service is available right at the campground, so you would not need to drive anywhere, and you get free parking at the parks if you stay at the campground. There is also daycare for both children and pets.
We would definitely consider staying at Fort Wilderness when we visit Walt Disney World again. It was so close to all the parks, and you can leave the park you are at, go back to the campground for lunch, dinner or a nap, and then return to the park later that day. The savings on parking and meals would certainly offset the higher campground fees.
WHAT PARK TO SEE?
Since we decided only one park was in our budget for this year, the hard part was deciding which one to see. They all seem worthy of a visit. Since we had been to Universal Studios – Hollywood about 10 years ago (highly recommend by the way), we eliminated the Disney Hollywood Studios for this visit. Each theme park has a signature attraction. For the Studio’s, it is a 122 foot Sorcerer’s Hat, resembling the one Mickey Mouse wore in “Fantasia” (one of many Disney movies I have never seen!).
Animal Kingdom, which has four themed areas, sounds like a lot of fun as you go on a Safari ride, an Expedition into the Himalayas, a dinosaur park and an undersea world from “Finding Nemo” (saw that movie!) The signature attraction is a 14-story Tree of Life with carvings of animals.
But we narrowed our choices down to 2 parks, Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The Magic Kingdom has six different themed lands, and has the famous Cinderella Castle as their signature attraction. As you already know from reading this far, we ended up at Epcot. After talking with Dan’s brother (who refers to Disney as “Walt’s Wallet – come with a full one, leave with an empty one”) and Dan’s niece Kami who just visited all the parks last fall with her family, they both felt Epcot would be our best choice. Spaceship Earth, a geodesic sphere (it’s all about math) is their signature attraction.
And now I’ve babbled on enough, without even giving you any information on Epcot. So you will have to read tomorrows blog post for that. And then perhaps next year, we will do all the parks….stay tuned!
Quote for the day: “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney