Photos: Disney around the World

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  1. Feast for a Beast

    The Beast welcomes guests to his castle in the Magic Kingdom, where Be Our Guest Restaurant will serve French-inspired cuisine for quick-service lunch and table-service dinner. Part of the newly-revamped Fantasyland, the stylish restaurant will have its grand opening on Dec. 6, 2012 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Matt Stroshane / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Dumbo's pre-flight deck

    Waiting in line for Dumbo the Flying Elephant is as much of an event as the ride itself. As guests arrive, they'll receive a circus ticket pager that will virtually hold their place in line and notify them when it's their turn to board the attraction, leaving them free to explore the interactive wonders inside the big top while they wait to take to the skies. Dumbo the Flying Elephant is part of the expansion project which nearly doubles the size of Fantasyland, a multiyear project that will have its grand opening on Dec. 6, 2012 at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Ali Nasser / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Luxurious cuisine

    French-inspired cuisine will be highlighted when Be Our Guest Restaurant opens in the New Fantasyland. Furthermore, select wines and beers will be offered to complement the elegantly-themed meals. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Fit for a princess

    Visitors to Disneyland can walk through Sleeping Beauty Castle and see 3-D scenes from the classic film, originally released in 1959. (Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Birthday girl

    Singer Miley Cyrus performs at the "Miley's Sweet 16 Share the Celebration" party at Disneyland in October 2008. (Mario Anzuoni / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Boo!

    The Haunted Mansion, a New Orleans Square attraction, opened Aug. 9, 1969, and is the home of 999 happy haunts. As Disney's website suggests, "Enter...if you dare!" (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Time for supper

    Ghosts dine inside Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. Disney classifies the ride as gentle but warns that younger children could be frightened by its special effects. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 50 and fabulous

    Fireworks explode over The Sleeping Beauty Castle as part of "Remember ... Dreams Come True," the biggest fireworks display in Disneyland's history. The display took place during the Disneyland 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2005. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Shiver me timbers!

    Villainous pirate Barbossa is hot on the trail of the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow in Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The classic attraction re-opened following an extensive three-month enhancement and featuring new characters and elements from Walt Disney Pictures' "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. (Scott Brinegar / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Around the world

    Walt Disney World's It's a Small World ride is a great option for youngsters. Visitors can sing along to the famous tune while visiting countries around the world. Hong Kong Disneyland opened the classic boat ride in 2008 in an attempt to boost sluggish attendance at the theme park. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. My, what big ears you have

    Dumbo the Flying Elephant takes riders over Fantasyland, and lever controls let them fly at their desired altitude. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Eating under the sea

    Larger-than-life replicas of prehistoric sea creatures combine with giant aquariums of exotic fish in the lounge area of T-Rex: A Prehistoric Family Adventure, at the Downtown Disney area in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 600-seat restaurant, operated by Landry's Restaurants, combines table-service dining and retail in an interactive prehistoric environment built around water, fire and ice. (Gene Duncan / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Mickey hops the pond

    Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt Disney, poses with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, in front of the Sleeping Beauty castle during a press preview of Euro Disneyland, now called Disneyland Paris, in Marne La Vallee, France. The site opened in 1992. (Eric Feferberg / AFP - Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Dive! Dive!

    The original submarines from the Disneyland Submarine Voyage, a popular attraction for many years at the California theme park, have been extensively refitted for the 21st Century adventure of Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. The attraction now takes explorers on an undersea voyage where they'll have close encounters with the fish characters from the Disney-Pixar movie, "Finding Nemo." (Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Fun after dark

    Downtown Disney is a promenade that offers shopping, dining and other activities. The avenue shown here leads to both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Should've seen it in color

    Crowds are seen walking around the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, Calif., circa 1955. (Archive Photos / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A visionary's vision

    Walt Disney unveils his plans for Disneyland to a national television audience during the premiere of "Disneyland," the television show, on October 27, 1954. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Blank canvas

    Walt Disney purchased 160 acres in Anaheim, originally covered with orange groves, to build his dream of a place where parents and children could have fun -- together. (Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
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By
updated 6/25/2009 10:52:40 AM ET 2009-06-25T14:52:40

I want my kids to get the most out of their visitand I want the most out of my money. So what's the perfect age for our first Disney trip?
To an infant, a trip to Target is as exciting as riding on It's a Small World. That is to say, some kids are just too young to fully appreciate the Disney experience. Even toddlers are amazed by simpler things—a petting zoo, the county fair, a bug on a stick. Go when your kids will be capable of walking (and walking and walking); when they understand that the payoff for a 75-minute line just might be worth it; when they won't be freaked out by enormous cartoon characters who have come to life and want to give them hugs; and, perhaps most important, when they'll remember both the trip and what wonderful parents you were for taking them there. Cut to the chase: The perfect age for the trip is 8.

Should we go with a package or book all the components of our trip separately?
Unfortunately, the only way to figure out whether a "deal" is a deal is to research what each component would cost separately, tally up the total, and compare that with the package price. A few tips:

1. There are no freebies. Promotions claiming to include "free" airfare, meals, or admissions are deceptively alluring. Remember that what matters is the package's overall cost.

2. Many packages are good values compared to paying à la carte—but only if you're actually interested in everything in the package. Chances are you won't want admission tickets on your arrival and departure days, for example, and you may be ready for a day off from the parks in the middle of your trip. But many packages automatically include the maximum number of passes for a trip's duration.

3. Disney's Web site is, well, difficult—not least because it pushes extras and never lays out all the options and details you need to make an informed decision (actual prices, anyone?). Calling a Disney agent is better (407/939-6244).

What sort of tickets should we get? One-day or multiday? Park Hopper or one park only?
People 10 and up pay $75 for a one-day pass, but the average daily cost goes down sharply on multi-day tickets. A seven-day pass, for example, averages out to $32 a day. There are many add-ons, too, including the popular Park Hopper feature, which lets you visit more than one park in a day. The feature tacks a flat $50 onto an adult multi-day ticket, so ask yourself if you really have it in you to do that much in one day. Finally, don't wait until you get to Disney to decide on a pass. Buy in advance, either as part of your vacation package or through a discounter like Undercover Tourist (800/846-1302), which can save you several dollars per day.

Should we stay inside the park or outside?
Disney has made it hard to argue for staying outside the park, even though it's way cheaper. Among other perks, Disney hotel guests enjoy extra hours in the parks and complimentary airport transfers via the Magical Express bus. As for where to stay inside Disney, ease is as much a factor as price. We like the Contemporary Resort (the only hotel within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom); Fort Wilderness Resort (the faux-rustic cabins fit six comfortably); and the All-Star Movies Resort (rooms are small but cheap, from $82). If Disney's value resorts are booked, the only other options on-site may run $300 a night or more. Outside the park, you'll find tons of hotels at a quarter of that rate—and there are always house rentals. While three-bedroom units at vacation rental site vrbo.com go for about $150 a night, the equivalent inside Disney would easily cost $700.

Are the meal plans worth it?
Basically, they're only worth it if you eat a lot (the portions tend to be hefty) and if you were going to have the bulk of your meals in the parks anyway. Note that the pricier plans include sit-down meals that'll take up a lot of time—time that might be better spent riding rides or enjoying laser shows. Better to stick with the two most basic plans (Quick-Service or the standard Dining plan, which cost $30 to $40 per day per adult and about $10 per day per kid). Or just forget the meal plan and do the following:

1. Get a fridge in your hotel room. Disney charges $10 a day at some properties, but it's worth it.

2. Have groceries delivered ahead of time from gardengrocer.com (866/855-4350).

3. Have breakfast in your room every morning.

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4. Bring snacks and a picnic lunch like everybody else. Disney allows small coolers, but no glass, in the parks. Freeze juice boxes ahead of time so they'll still be cold for lunch; they'll also keep sandwiches cool and fruit fresh. 5) Figure on buying some hot dogs and mouse-ear-shaped ice cream here and there, and expect to pay inflated, ballpark-level prices.

Do we need a stroller? Should we bring one or rent one?
Yes, you need a stroller. Heck, a lot of adults wish they could have someone wheeling their tired bones around. Bring your own stroller, preferably a sturdy umbrella type that folds up easily and quickly. Disney's strollers can't be taken outside the park gates, and chances are good that you're going to wish you had one in the parking lots or at the hotel or airport. And Disney's rentals are pricey: $15 a day for a single or $31 for a double, with a small discount ($2 to $4 off) for multi-day use.

How do we pack in all of the things we want to see and do?
You don't. You can get up early, rush around, and strategize to beat the crowds all you want, but remember: You're on vacation. Relax. And assume that you'll be back.

Suprisingly free stuff

Make a race car
Outside the Lego Imagination Center in Downtown Disney is a 3,000-square-foot area with bins and bins of Legos. Kids can build whatever they want—like race cars that speed along a sloping track. Huge Lego sculptures, including a dinosaur, a robot, and a dragon emerging from a lake, are the work of professionals.

Learn to use the force
At Hollywood Studios, there's a stage that several times a day hosts a Jedi Training Academy, in which two dozen or so kids are picked to learn the Jedi arts from a full-fledged master. It's worth showing up early to make sure your child gets picked.

Gather 'round the campfire
Be sure to catch the nightly sing-along and outdoor movies at Fort Wilderness Resort. Bring marshmallows for toasting or purchase a s'mores kit at the nearby Meadow Trading Post.

Captain the monorail
Before boarding, ask a cast member (a.k.a. a Disney employee) if your child can ride with the driver. Four people are allowed per trip.

Walk right in
Throughout 2009, get in free on your birthday. Register in advance at disneyparks.comand bring ID.

Resources

Our favorite Disney guidebook is "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2009" (Wiley, $20). The 850-page tome is loaded with practical advice and info you won't find anywhere else, plus quotes from real Disney visitors who weigh in with their opinions and tips.

The following independent Web sites are also obsessively detailed and helpful: wdwinfo.com, mousesavers.com, allears.net, themeparkinsider.com, and wdwplanner.com.

Princess time!

Get up close and personal with your kids' heroes at "character meals" around the parks. What you pay varies based on whom you dine with, and when. (Starting prices for all characters based on kids 10 and up.)

Goofy $14, breakfast at Vero Beach Resort
Mickey Mouse $19, breakfast at Animal Kingdom
Jasmine $29, breakfast at Epcot Norway Pavilion
Ariel $31, lunch at Epcot Norway Pavilion
Cinderella $32, dinner at Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

More tips

Especially sunny day? Go to Animal Kingdom, which was designed to have more shade than any other park.

Psst! There's a black market for rental strollers from families leaving early. Don't pay more than $5.

Buy tickets through AAA and you can park right by the front gate in a AAA Diamond Lot.

Copyright © 2012 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.

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