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Eight great tips for visiting Walt Disney World

A trip to Walt Disney World can be overwhelming for even veteran visitors. After all, we're talking 25,000 acres, four major theme parks with hundreds of activities and attractions, and some 500 places to eat, drink, and be Disney.

However, those who do their homework and dig a bit more deeply will find that doing the most interesting parts of Disney in-depth will be rewarding-and much less overwhelming. Below are eight great tips for doing Disney Parks in-depth.

Location, Location, Location

Families with young children will want to consider staying at one of the monorail resorts, including Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Polynesian Resort and Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (featuring a Disney pool where visitors have been known to spend an entire day)--all convenient to the Magic Kingdom and monorail transportation to both Magic Kingdom and Epcot.

Couples visiting without children will enjoy a location close to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios, including Disney's Yacht Club Resort, Disney's Beach Club Resort and Disney's BoardWalk, which also features great nightlife.

Staying in a Walt Disney World owned- and -operated resort has many other advantages, including: complimentary Magical Express baggage service and transportation from Orlando International Airport (with special luggage tags that bypass baggage claim and send bags straight to the room); Extra Magic Hours; the Disney Dining Plan; complimentary transportation to and from the parks; and much more.

Let the Memories Begin

As part of the new Let the Memories Begin show, Disney guests become part of the nightly spectacular when photos taken in the park during the day become larger-than-life projections on Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom and at It's a Small World at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. This groundbreaking new experience celebrates the deep memories created in Disney's theme parks every day. Guests can also share their home videos and snapshots at a special Let the Memories Begin hub at www.DisneyParks.com/Memories.

In-Depth Tours & More

More than a dozen in-depth Disney tours are reasonably priced and provide a backstage behind-the-scenes way to be very Disney. The half-day Keys to the Kingdom Tour (ages 16 and older) features visits to themed lands and backstage including lunch. The all-ages Family Magic Tour is just two hours.

Certified scuba divers will want to go deep in the Epcot DiveQuest tour in the 5.7-million-gallon saltwater tank with 6,000-plus sea creatures. Other options for going deep at Disney include buckling up and riding in IndyCar Series vehicles at Walt Disney World Speedway or watching a performance of Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba.

Time-Savers for More In-Depth Time

The Extra Magic Hours program provides access to certain parks before and after normal opening hours. It's only available to those staying in Walt Disney World owned- and -operated resorts plus Walt Disney World Dolphin, Walt Disney World Swan, Shades of Green, and the Hilton at Downtown Disney. The exclusive time is one hour before park opening, and up to three hours after park closing.

Disney's FASTPASS system that allows guess to avoid most waiting at certain popular attractions in all four theme parks, but many may not know about innovative rider swap programs that allows one parent to wait with a child who is unable to ride an attraction while one parent rides--then they switch with minimal wait time.


Park hopping can be stressful at times and that's why Walt Disney World features several world-class spas. The Spa at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa features themed treatments and packages like the Adirondack Stone Therapy (using hot stones) and First Spa Experiences for those ages 4 to 12.

The Mandara Spa at the Walt Disney World Dolphin radiates Balinese tranquility and Eastern-leaning treatments, including special Generation Mandara YSPA offerings.

In addition, there are other spa and massage treatment locations, including Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort Hotel, Disney's Coronado Springs Resort Hotel, and Disney's BoardWalk Inn. Disney's Grand Floridian Spa at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is closed for enhancements until early 2013.

Don't Drop the Shopping

The theme parks have lots of unique shopping options, but the resorts and Downtown Disney also have some super shops. Tren-D carries chic sundresses, handbags, and more with oh-so-subtle Disney designs. Hoypoloi features fine art and jewelry pieces.

Magnetron has 20,000 magnets in every size, color, and shape (including Mickey ears of course). Once Upon a Toy in Downtown Disney Marketplace is a great place for kids and kids at heart to build and customize decadent toys in five uniquely themed rooms. Disney's BoardWalk contains a quarter-mile of shops, restaurants and entertainment. Take the water taxi from Epcot to the BoardWalk.

Bon Appetit

New Epcot options right on the lagoon include Tutto Italia and La Hacienda--a perfect place to dine and enjoy the nightly fireworks. Those staying at or visiting Animal Kingdom Lodge will want to enjoy Africa-inspired cuisine and South African wines at Jiko, The Cooking Place, as well as more casual buffet-style dining at Boma, Flavors of Africa.

For a splurge, it's hard to beat Todd English's bluezoo and Grand Floridian Resort & Spa's Victoria & Albert's. When combined with hotel accommodations and attractions as well as Magic Your Way packages, the Disney Dining Plan features a complete cruise-style vacation stay/play/eat offering to suit different budgets and appetites.

Specialty Dining

In addition to varied Cinderella's Royal Table offerings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there's Princess Storybook Dining at Akershu Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot's Norway Pavilion. Both provide princesses and their families with a regal dining experience complete with special guests. Other lesser-known morning options include Supercalifragilistic Breakfast with Mary Poppins at the Grand Floridian 1900 Park Fare restaurant and Ohana's Best Friends Breakfast with Lilo and Stitch at the Polynesian Resort.

The Disney Fantasy Sets Sail Soon

Departing from Port Canaveral on its maiden voyage March 31, 2012, the new Disney Fantasy is the second of two newly-designed Disney Cruise Line ships that take the family cruise and Disney experience to new levels. Sister ship to the Disney Dream, which entered service in early 2011, the Disney Fantasy will sail weeklong Caribbean cruises year-round.

The new ship will feature many of the innovative features guests have already grown to love aboard the Disney Dream and more including: Aqua Duck, the world's first shipboard water coaster; Animation Magic, the new dinner show in Animator's Palate restaurant; and Disney's Aladdin offering new main stage entertainment.

Disney Heads to Hawaii

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, welcomed its first guests this past August. Set on a beautiful lagoon along the coast of Oahu, Aulani combines the beauty and spirit of the Hawaiian Islands with the magic of Disney storytelling and guest service. The new resort occupies 20 acres of oceanfront property in Ko Olina and is adjacent to a nine-acre blue lagoon and white sand beach.

Highlights of the new resort have to include: traditional hotel rooms and Disney Vacation Club villas; two signature restaurants; Aunty's Beach House (a kids' club); Waikolohe Valley, a seven-acre water park; Laniwai, a Disney Spa; fireside storytelling; and a variety of discovery excursions with the aid of local experts with Disney Adventures.