How to Do Disney

Some simple strategies can make a visit to Orlando actually fun

Visiting Florida's Walt Disney World with your kids for the first time is supposed to be fun, fun, fun. But crowds, high prices, and sensory overload can make the vacation seem more like an endurance test. With a little planning, though, you can avoid most of the pitfalls. Here are some tips to help make your family's first visit a blast:

-- When to go, Part 1 Wait until your youngest child is about 5. Disney's theme parks are relatively tame, but some attractions have loud music and special effects that can scare little ones. Height restrictions for some rides can spark sibling jealousy if some can't join in the fun. Besides, your 3-year-old won't remember the trip by age 6.

-- When to go, Part 2 Beat the hordes, high hotel rates, and 45-minute waits at popular rides by visiting in the off-season. The best times are after Thanksgiving through mid-December, January, most of February, after spring break to mid-June, and fall. If you must go during a school holiday such as President's Day weekend, arrive on Sunday and visit the parks starting Monday, when the crowds thin out.

-- Why it pays to stay at a Disney resort Convenience. The efficient Disney bus and monorail system lets you avoid renting a car. But the real draw is that each day one of the four theme parks opens an hour early (8 a.m.) just for Disney resort guests. That means your kid can ride Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin three times in a row instead of standing in line for 30 minutes at 11 a.m. Check MouseSavers.com, run by Disney aficionado Mary Waring, who started the Web site as a hobby, for promotion codes to use to get discounted rates when calling the Disney central reservations office (407 W-DISNEY). The official site, disneyworld.com, also offers deals.

-- Get there early From 8 to 10 a.m., the rides have virtually no waits. To get your brood to the early-opening park of the day by 7:45 a.m., order breakfast via room service. Or request a mini-fridge, pack plastic bowls, spoons, and cereal, and buy milk at the hotel shop.

-- Schedule downtime A day at a theme park can be overwhelming. So skip the Cirque du Soleil and other night shows outside the parks. Make time for a midday dip in the hotel pool and for breaks at playgrounds in the parks.

-- Make advance reservations Call 407-WDW-DINE at least two weeks ahead (up to 120 days if you're visiting at peak times) to get priority seating for dinner at Disney restaurants. To avoid lining up for an hour to see the Fantasmic! mixed-media show at Disney-MGM Studios, book tickets with dinner before or after the show at Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano, Hollywood & Vine, or the Hollywood Brown Derby. They reserve seats for dinner patrons.

By Amy Borrus

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