Courtesy of Walt Disney World
The kids are begging to see Mickey and the gang, but you have a much more relaxing trip in mind. You can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Stay Book a room a few miles away from all the fanfare and characters and drive to the parks. At the Grande Lakes properties (a combo of the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton), you can kayak on the creek, take a family nature hike, float down the lazy-river pool, and get a spa treatment on days that you're not in the park. (Rooms with two double beds start at $169 per night for the Marriott and $283 per night for the Ritz.) Another option: Stay in Orlando for three nights, then drive 90 minutes to the St. Petersburg/Tampa area to end your vacay on Fort De Soto Beach; its calm, clean water is perfect for families. Stay at the Beach House Suites, the budget-friendly sister property of the Loews Don CeSar Hotel. Rooms (starting at $179 per night) offer a separate sleeping area for children, kitchen, DVD player, and washer/dryer.
Play Choose two of the four theme parks to visit -- the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are the best picks if your children are under age 8, says Koma. Get there when the parks open. "You can usually do more in the first two hours at the park than in the next four or five," she says. Head straight to Fantasyland, in the Magic Kingdom; it will be far more crowded as the day progresses. "In Animal Kingdom, go on Kilimanjaro Safaris, at the back of the park, first. The lines are shorter then, and the animals are usually more active in the morning, when the temperatures are cooler," suggests Koma.
Eat Make reservations in one of the lower-key restaurants that tend to be less crowded and noisy, such as The Crystal Palace, in the Magic Kingdom, and Tusker House, in Animal Kingdom. Outside Disney, the Winter Park area of Orlando is a foodie (yet family-friendly) mecca with several restaurants, including Briarpatch (great for brunch) and 4 Rivers Smokehouse, highly ranked in Zagat's new Orlando guide.
Save Skip the "Park Hopper" option on your two-day tickets, which will trim $57 per person. Says Testa: "Plan your trip for the late summer or fall when rates -- especially in the Florida beach towns -- are at their lowest."