By Rishika Sharma, on November 30, 2022

Disney World 101: Hacks, tips, and tricks to help you save on your big Disney adventure

If you had to guess one of the USA’s most popular places, where would you pick? New York City? LA, or Vegas maybe? Well, what if we told you that Orlando is a top travel destination for Americans not just every year, but every single month of the year?

While Orlando is blessed with beautiful beaches, palm trees, and a tropical climate, its unwavering popularity is especially due to its illustrious theme parks – most notably Walt Disney World Resort. Drawing crowds since its opening in 1971, Disney World holds the title of the world’s most-visited theme park and welcomes an average of almost 60 million mouse-ear-wearing, Disney fans annually.

We caught up with one such fan on Out Travel The System, who has visited the park over a thousand times (yes, really). To call Lou Mongello an expert is a serious understatement. Lou has written numerous books on and audio guides to the resort and even has his very own award-winning podcast and radio show, WDW Radio (Walt Disney World Radio), dedicated to his fierce passion for Disney World. We’ve teamed up with him to give our listeners and readers tried-and-tested hacks, tips, and tricks for planning the ultimate Disney trip.

The Walt Disney World Resort is made up of four of Disney’s most famous themed attractions from across its impressive global repertoire. Including two water parks, it’s the largest resort in the world – in fact, it’s almost as big as the city of San Francisco! First there’s the Magic Kingdom, home to the spectacular and characterful parades along Main Street, the epic Space Mountain, and the iconic Cinderella Castle. Then there’s the giant golf-ball-like EPCOT center, where science, discovery, and worldly cultures collide. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is also located in the resort – it’s where Star Wars fans can geek out in a galaxy not so far away. And, finally, there is the much-adored Animal Kingdom, where Lion King fans can meet the real-life Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa, and friends. 

Vacations to Disney World can be hugely complex when you consider not only how much there is to see and do, but also start thinking about the best time to visit and where to stay (on site or off). It’s enough to make your head spin. So that’s where our guest this week, Lou, comes in. In this episode, we’re getting the master’s guide to accommodation in and around the resort to make your Disney adventure so much easier. Here are his top takeaways.


Timing is everything

Disney breaks the year into six seasons; regular, peak, holiday, summer, fall, and value. Though there’s no specific dates, “value” seasons crop up several times throughout the year. For example, there are value seasons around the first week after New Year’s, in mid-January to early February, in mid-August, and in early September. Value seasons usually fit in between holidays like President’s Day, and they can even fall in summer time, but offer lower prices than the official summer season. In terms of savings, a trip during the peak Christmas period is likely to cost you around $1200, while the same trip during a value season is likely to come in at around $760.

Consider staying off site

If Disney is a stop-off on a longer trip around Florida, or if you just want to consider options outside of the complex, an insider’s tip is to look at Disney Springs. These are Disney’s ‘good neighbor’ hotels, such as The WyndhamHilton, and Holiday Inn. The area offers excellent – and sometimes themed – dining options, as well as great entertainment like Cirque du Soleil. The benefit of staying at Disney Springs is that you still have great transport options back to the park and can still enjoy many of the same privileges of staying in one of the Disney-owned-and-operated resorts, but usually at a much lower rate. For example, during value season you can stay at the Wyndham in Disney Springs for about $100 a night. 

You can still enjoy seasonal events off-season

One of the best hacks is to look at Disney’s events calendar and plan your trips around their special festivities but time it during value or more off-peak periods. This way, you can soak in the same Disney energy and ambiance that comes with these big events, but without the crowds and price tags that come with the high tourist seasons. For example, Halloween season in Disney World begins in mid-August. So, you can still enjoy Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, which runs from August 15th through to October 31st, but rather than traveling for Halloween specifically (like most visitors), visit in mid-August to hit value season instead. Similarly, while Christmas is Disney’s peak period, the resort starts gearing up for the holidays from November 1st. So, if you visit a month earlier, you can still experience the decór, festivities, and the extra magic that gets sprinkled all over the resort for Christmas but at shoulder-season prices.

Moderately priced options

Disney has some moderate to low-priced resorts on site, which are all incredibly well-themed. In terms of moderately priced accommodation, there’s Disney’s Caribbean Beach ResortCoronado SpringsPort Orleans French Quarter, and Port Orleans Riverside. These resorts hit the sweet spot in terms of theming, location, dining, amenities, and transportation. With Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort or Coronado Springs, for example, you have access to the Skyliner, which are cable cars that can conveniently take you around the resort to places like Hollywood Studios and EPCOT. And in terms of discount, you can stay at a place like Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort for $250 during value season, which is on par with going to Florida and staying on or near a beach town at a four-star resort. 

In terms of the lower-priced options, there’s the All-Star Resorts, which are centered around musicmovies, and sports, and Disney’s Pop Century Resorts, which celebrate Disney pop culture through the decades – from the ‘50s and ‘60s up to the ‘90s. There’s also Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, which is great for fans of Finding Nemo, Cars, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King. Art of Animation guests also have access to the Skyliner. And in terms of pricing, staying at All-Star Resort during value season can cost around $128. Additionally, these resorts offer Family Suites that can fit up to five people, which is a great budget-friendly option to consider if you don’t want to spend money on eating out every day. The suites have small kitchens, so you can have lunch, chill by the pool, and then hop on the Skyliner and go right back to the parks. 

Bonus tip from our data hacks expert, Christie

Our internal data shows that January is the cheapest month to go to Disney World, followed by September. These are the months that come right after the busy Christmas and summer rush, so have a look at Disney’s events calendar to see what’s going on at the resort during these periods and plan a trip around one of the park’s celebrations to get that amazing Disney energy, but with fewer crowds and hotel rates that are around 35% cheaper.

For more Disney World tips, make sure to follow Lou on Instagram or give his podcast a listen. In the meantime, if you have any Disney tricks you want to share, we’re all (mouse) ears! Tweet us. Or if you don’t have any wisdom to share but do have cute Disney adventures to take us on, tag us and include #ExpediaPic on InstagramTwitter, or TikTok.

Want to learn more?

Listen to the podcast now, check out the complete transcript below, or catch the full conversation on Spotify or Apple.

Nisreene Atassi, Expedia Global Head of Social Media, and host: I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel The System. This week we are talking about the illustrious Disney Resorts and how to best navigate the trip for the whole entire family. We’ll talk trends…

Christie Hudson, head of Expedia PR for North America (sound bite): January is the cheapest month to go, followed by September. These are the months that come right after the busy Christmas and summer rushes. And as a result, the crowds are going to be less and the hotel rates go way down. They drop up to about 35%.

Nisreene: ..hear from author and Disney expert Lou Mongello…

Lou Mongello, author, Disney expert and podcaster (sound bite): So if you or your kids love animals, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is obviously located near Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, is an amazing option because, literally, your room, if you choose one with a savanna view, can look out over a savanna where there are live animals. It’s that sort of movie picture. You open up your blinds and just steps away from your balcony you might see a giraffe grazing in the morning.

Nisreene: ..and really get down to business.

Lou: There’s the Port Orleans French Quarter and Port Orleans Riverside. And honestly, these are some of my favorite resorts on-property. I think they really sort of hit a sweet spot in terms of theming, location, dining, amenities, and even transportation.

Nisreene: Here we go!

[Musical interlude]

Nisreene: I love that we’re doing this episode right around Halloween time because we talk about just how great it is to go to Disney during Halloween. It’s such a festive time. Everybody is dressed up. It’s a completely different experience. So this information, hopefully, is coming to you right at the perfect time. We are going to talk all about Disney and the best way to get some quality time with your family. And a big part of that is finding the best place to stay, unwind and accommodate everyone’s needs. So we know that can get a little bit tricky. Of course, we want to make sure that the kids are going to have fun. But let’s not forget about the adults, too. They need a little bit of fun and rest and relaxation as well. So, whether you’re wondering, “When’s the best season to book my tickets? What’s the best resort to go to for the entire family?” We have absolutely got you covered. We’re going to give you tricks. We’re going to give you treats. We have all trends, all things Disney.

Okay, Christie. So tell us, what is the research and data telling us on Disney these days?

Christie: Well, it’s no secret – Disney is very, very popular. In fact, so much so that Orlando is one of the top travel destinations for Americans every single month of the year.

Nisreene: Wait, every single month? Orlando?

Christie: Every single month. And, yes, Orlando has nice weather and it has palm trees, but it’s not really those things that are drawing the crowds. It’s the more than a dozen theme parks, including Disney World.

Nisreene: I mean, that doesn’t really surprise me. There is a ton to do in Orlando. So when is the best time to go?

Christie: Yeah. So we wanted to make sure travelers had all the info on how to go to Walt Disney World and save some money. So we took a look at the data and according to Expedia hotel prices, January is the cheapest month to go, followed by September. So these are the months that come right after the busy Christmas and summer rushes. And, as a result, the crowds are going to be less and the hotel rates go way down. They drop up to about 35%.

Nisreene: I mean, 35% is a pretty good discount to get. It’s huge, especially when we know that hotels around parks and things like that are always going to be just a little bit more expensive. So that’s great to know. And January is still going to be a good time to go to Florida, especially if you live in the Midwest or other areas throughout the continental United States that are still probably going to be a little bit chilly in January. So getting to Orlando is still going to be great even then.

Christie: Absolutely. You know, I think once you get too far into the spring, you could catch some rain. But honestly, I would I carry an umbrella just to say 35% on hotel rates, personally.

On the flip side, the priciest time to go to Disney World is going to be December. It’s Christmas time at the theme parks and a lot of travelers are taking advantage of school breaks to spend the holidays at the park.

Nisreene: I feel like December is always a really popular time to travel, regardless of where you’re going. Well, so, there’s not just Disney World, though. What about some of the other Disney resorts?

Christie: Yeah, exactly. So, Orlando isn’t the only place in the US you can go to visit a Disney park. So, here are a few tips if you want to do California instead. So, first of all, my tip is to do a little comparison shopping when you’re planning your trip, because you actually have multiple airports that you can fly into. The closest airport to Disneyland isn’t actually LAX. It’s John Wayne Airport in Orange County. It’s only about 15 minutes from the park, so that could be a good option. The flip side is LAX is a larger airport, so there’s probably more flight options. So that’s why that comparison shopping is going to be good.

Nisreene: So do you think it’s going to be more expensive, then, to fly in to John Wayne, or do you think it’s worth looking at prices from both airports?

Christie: Yeah, it really depends. It depends where you’re coming from. It depends whether you have to make stops if you fly into John Wayne versus a direct flight into LAX. So, some things to compare and contrast. But, you know, if you’re going to be renting a car anyway to explore a little bit, then LAX being a drive isn’t as big of a deal.

Nisreene: I mean, that makes sense. So, then, what are the best or cheapest times, then, to go to Disneyland?

Christie: Yeah. So similar to Disney World, you’re going to want to avoid the peak seasons when you go to Disneyland. So, January and February are the cheapest times to go based on average hotel prices. And July is the most expensive. It’s about 30% more expensive than January and February. So that gives you a sense. Try to hit the early part of the year and avoid the summer.

Nisreene: All right. Well, that is fantastic. And, as always, thank you for the great information, Christie.

Christie: You’re welcome. Thank you.

[Musical interlude]

Nisreene: Today I’m joined by author and Disney expert extraordinaire Lou Mongello. Lou left his career as a lawyer to become one of the most knowledgeable Disney experts on the planet. And he’s devoted so much of his time to finding the best tips, tricks and hacks that you need to know. So not only has Lou stayed at basically every Disney resort, he has literally been to the parks over a thousand times. So he absolutely knows a thing or two about storytelling, amusement parks and customer service. He is also the host of his own podcast called WDW Radio Disney, which is an award-winning show all about the Disney brand. So Lou really does know it all. Hi, Lou. Welcome to Out Travel The System.

Lou: Thank you so very much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Nisreene: No pressure, but Disney episodes are always, like, top, top-performing episodes every season. So I’m really excited to have you on.

Lou: And now the pressure’s on.

Nisreene: Yeah, there you go. Okay. So, Lou, I really want to start, actually, by just hearing a little bit about your back story. Well, I want our listeners to hear about your back story, because I found it to be so interesting. So, tell me a little bit about, sort of, your journey to Disney.

Lou: So I’ll give you, sort of, the condensed version. Rewind to about 2003 or so, I am a I’m a lawyer in New Jersey. I have an IT consulting company on the side because, clearly, I don’t like to sleep. I was always in the service business. I had this idea from watching infomercials that I wanted to make a product and resell it. I had an idea for a book and I really wrote… I really set out to write the book that I wanted to read. I’ve been fascinated by Disney and Walt Disney World, specifically, since I went, three weeks after the park opened in 1971. I learned all I could about book publishing and wrote a book and found a publisher and thought that was it. I wrote a Walt Disney World trivia book because I love the details and minutia. Long story longer, the book turned into a website, into a community, into live video, and started to snowball from there. And at some point, I took a huge leap of faith and I sold my house and I moved to Florida. I live about a mile away from Walt Disney World, and I’m very grateful and fortunate and blessed to be able to to have turned what I love into what I do and talk about Disney for a living.

Nisreene: So, Lou, when did your passion for Disney start? Like, do you remember, as a young child, being in love with Disney? Because a lot of adults are, you know, they realize their, sort of Disney, love later on in life. It’s not necessarily always carried on from, like, their childhood. I’m curious – is this something carried on from your childhood? Are you like a… were you, like, a late bloomer to the Disney fandom, I guess?

Lou: No, Disney has always been part of my life and my family. I was very close with my parents and my brother and, growing up, you know, you gather around the TV on Sunday nights to watch the Wonderful World of Disney. And after that first trip in November of ’71 – like the Griswolds, we hopped into the Family Truckster and drove from New Jersey to Disney World. And some of my best memories with my family, not just on vacation, we had in Disney and that love continued to grow. I started to go with my brother and, eventually, my wife and then my kids. So it’s sort of been something that’s carried with me and continued to sort of increase in terms of not just my fandom but my interest in Disney as a whole.

Nisreene: Do you find yourself trying to replicate your childhood Disney trips with your kids?

Lou: Well, I think we always try. And, at least for me, you always try and do better than what your parents gave you, right? And I was very fortunate for what they did. So it’s not replicate it, but I want to emulate – you’re going to make me cry. I’ve always wanted to emulate for my kids that feeling, right? It wasn’t about the things that we did, it was that feeling that we had and those memories that we made. And, hopefully, as you’re asking me the day before my daughter goes off to college for the first time, hopefully that’s what visiting Disney… Now I’m really going to cry! Visiting Disney and…

Nisreene: Do it, Lou. I love tears on this show. (Laughs)

Lou: (Laughs) Podcast gold, I know.

Nisreene: So why don’t we sort of start at the very, very high level. Tell us about some of the different lodging options that people have when they visit Disney World with regards to Disney’s own lodging or maybe partner lodging or, you know, maybe there are some like unrelated lodging options.

Lou: I think going to Walt Disney World is unlike traveling to anywhere else – you don’t have to, like, say, “Okay, we need, sort of, to get the game plan and we need to plan six months out what park we’re going to go to, where we’re going to eat, what we want to eat, what our tickets…” So there’s a lot to it that makes it complex and sometimes complicated. Especially when you think about, you know, where you’re going to stay. I think it’s a very important part of your overall Disney vacation experience, because it not only can make or break your trip in terms of atmosphere and theming, but it can also make or break a trip in terms of budget, too. And for a lot of people, budget is where they almost start with. “How much do we or can we spend on this vacation? When can we go?” Because those are two things that are going to play a huge factor in terms of what your overall cost of vacation is going to be.

So, just to sort of give you a 30,000ft view – staying on Disney property, which is something I really try and highly recommend, because I think it adds to the overall immersion of the experience in going to Disney. Disney has a wide variety of onsite resorts that range from value to moderate to deluxe. And then even – they have something called the Disney Vacation Club, which is sort of their version of timeshare. If you’re a repeat visitor to Disney, that might be something that makes sense. But knowing when to go can save you literally thousands of dollars on your room nights, because Disney breaks the year down into seasons. There’s value, fall, regular, summer, peak, and holiday. And there’s a very, very wide spectrum of costs in terms of what resort you stay in and when you decide to go that’s going to really be the big determining factors.

Nisreene: I would guess that the, sort of, closer you are to the park, the more expensive the property is going to be. Is that an accurate assumption or not necessarily?

Lou: Not necessarily, because a lot of the resorts are in very close proximity to the four theme parks. There is a free transportation system – or multiple transportation systems – that Disney offers, from buses to monorails to boats to the new Skyliner system. That is sort of like those skyway buckets that will connect you from certain resorts to certain theme parks.

Nisreene: So what are some of the deluxe resorts?

Lou: So some of their deluxe resorts will be Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Yacht and Beach Club, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. All incredibly well-themed, a little bit of a step up in terms of the type of room that you can get, again, your location, the amenities that are there, even some of the dining options that are there as well. There’s so many different, sort of, factors that play into it, ’cause each of those also has – you can tell by virtue of the names – has a different theme. So if you or your kids love animals, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is obviously located near Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, is an amazing option because, literally, your room, if you choose one with a savanna view, can look out over a savanna where there are live animals. It’s that sort of movie picture. You open up your blinds and out, you know, just steps away from your balcony, you might see a giraffe, you know, grazing in the morning.

Nisreene: When I do eventually go, I have plans to stay at the Animal Kingdom because I want to feed a giraffe, because I’ve seen the pictures or the videos of people, like, having breakfast and, like, feeding a giraffe. And I just feel like, what a way to start my Disney experience. But, also, I’m a big fan of Lion King, so I just feel like I’m going to really love that theme. What about… so you mentioned The Grand Floridian is one and it’s right by the Magic Kingdom. What’s the theme of The Grand Floridian?

Lou: It basically is themed after, sort of, old Victorian-era Florida. So if you imagine the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego with the white exterior, with those red-shingled roofs, very delicate, ornate features in it, Disney’s highest-end restaurant, something called the Victoria & Albert – it’s a AAA Five Diamond Award-winning restaurant. It is absolutely gorgeous and some of the best food you’ll have anywhere. And you’re right on the monorail loop. So you can literally hop on a monorail from the resort or take a boat across the lagoon and you’ll be right at the steps of Magic Kingdom. If you have young kids and you need to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon, the ease of accessibility of quickly getting back to your resort for a nap, for a swim in the pool, you know, maybe you need to change your kids or whatever it might be. There’s a lot of value that I think has to be factored into that.

Nisreene: That is a very, very good tip, because I’ve been thinking about wanting to take a trip to Disney, but I felt like my child is just too young because she’s three. And I think in my head, “Well, how is she going to get a nap in? We would waste so much time” and all that kind of stuff. But that’s a really good tip. If you do have children that are still napping, staying closer to the park is probably going to make that process a whole lot easier.

Lou: Without a doubt.

Nisreene: What are some of the prices that you think people can expect, just like averages, for some of these more deluxe properties? Because I’d love to give our listeners just a rough estimate at the range of rates between some of the deluxe ones and maybe the more economical lodging options.

Lou: So I’m going to give you the recovering lawyer answer, because it really does depend, right? It depends on when you go, the type of room that you have, right? Because it’s not just a matter of the season, but what sort of view do you have? Do you want one of the outer buildings or do you want sort of that…? You know, the Grand Floridian has sort of a main building and then sort of outbuildings around it. There’s garden views, lagoon views. Do you want a theme park view? Do you want to be able to sit in your room or on your balcony at night and watch the fireworks across the lagoon over Magic Kingdom?

Nisreene: Oh, wow.

Lou: Yeah, right? There’s a lot of wow-factors to that. I’ll give you sort of a general range. These are not, obviously, specific numbers. But for value season for a garden view room at Disney’s Grand Floridian, you might spend about $750, $760.

Nisreene: When is value season?

Lou: So value season is a number of times throughout the year. So, it’s the first week after New Year’s. It’s also the middle of January to early February, as long as you start avoiding some of the Presidents Day and some of the holidays. But even, like, in August, mid-August to early September, when the kids are getting back into school, that’s also… it’s a nice, sort of easy way to sort of sneak in. Like, it’s summer time, but it’s value season. So, again, there’s no sort of defined, “This date to this date, this date, to this date.” They come and go. But, so, value season might be around $760. If you want to come for Christmas, right, the busiest time of the year. You want to come in between, you know, December 15th through Christmas Day, that number is going to jump up to about $1200.

Nisreene: Wow. Yeah.

Lou: It’s the far end of the spectrum, yeah. But even during some of the special or regular seasons, that number could be $850, $950, somewhere around there.

Nisreene: Let’s go into, maybe, some of the more, like, moderately priced accommodations. What are some examples of those, you know, sort of resorts? How much farther out are they? What kind of price ranges are we looking at?

Lou: Sure. So Disney has basically four moderate resorts. There is Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, and then Port Orleans has two resorts. There’s the Port Orleans French Quarter and Port Orleans Riverside. And, honestly, these are some of my favorite resorts on-property. I think they really sort of hit a sweet spot in terms of theming, location, dining, amenities, and even transportation. Because places like Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, you have access to the Skyliner, or Coronado Springs, you have access to the Skyliner – these beautiful, very quiet, serene skyway buckets that will take you to other resorts, as well as places like Disney’s Hollywood Studios or EPCOT. So you don’t have to worry about a bus. You don’t have to worry about getting on a boat. That Skyliner that’s going back and forth runs throughout the day and evening. And the theming in the resorts is gorgeous. Port Orleans French Quarter is the smallest of all of the Disney resorts in terms of size. But it’s also, I think, one of the most beautifully well-themed. There’s an intimacy to it on these small, quiet streets with wrought iron railings that make you feel as though you are in the heart of the French Quarter. Beignets in the morning are awesome too, as long as we’re going to mention it. And, again, moderate resort prices are going to, you know, offer you a much greater discount. You can stay at a place like Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort for $250 or so during value season. Obviously that’ll go up to probably, you know, in the five-hundreds for a similar room. But I think it’s actually a great value for all those different factors.

Nisreene: Yeah. And those rates are actually pretty on par – if you went to Florida and stayed anywhere on, like, a beach or near a beach town, I feel like you’re going to be looking at prices around $250 a night, you know, if it was a four-star resort type of place. So those prices seem pretty reasonable to me. They don’t seem like you’re really paying a premium to be on-property. So it seems like a really great choice. Does Disney have, like, value resorts? Like, really, really economical for the most budget-conscious traveler?

Lou: Absolutely. And all of the value resorts, along with the moderates, they’re all also incredibly well-themed. So they have three different All-Star resorts. There’s an All-Star Movies, Music, and Sports, all themed, obviously, appropriately. Disney’s Pop Century Resort celebrates sort of pop culture through the decades, and each section of the resort is themed after the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and you see all these artifacts and architecture that represents those different decades. Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, similar and very close to Disney Pop Century, celebrates in different areas, Finding Nemo, Cars, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, right? You said you’re a Lion King fan. Themed, less expensive, super well-themed, beautiful, large, iconic imagery, some amazing pools, and those, too, have access to the Skyliner. So you still get some of those other amenities, but you’re also going to pay a much lower price. So, for example, if you were to stay in some place like All-Star Sports or All-Star Movies, you can come in there for about $128 during value season.

Nisreene: Oh, wow.

Lou: Yeah. I think the highest you’ll probably go is the low threes and that’s Christmas week. Art of Animation is a little bit more, about $200 during so for value season. But those two, just so you know, if you have a larger family, they also have family suites, so you can fit, like, five people. There’s a small kitchen. So if maybe your family doesn’t want to go out and spend money on buying breakfast every day, you can have breakfast there. You can have lunch in there too, come back to this amazing, big blue pool for a swim in the middle of the day, and then just hop on the Skyliner and go right back to the parks.

Nisreene: It sounds like there are a lot of really, really great options to accommodate just a variety of different budgets and travelers staying on-site. And so even the more value properties still have really great themes. And so you still kind of get that Disney energy, which I think is really great.

Lou: Yeah, I think sometimes people say, “Well, we’ll save money if we go, you know, a 20-minute drive off property, we might save, you know, $15, $20 a night.” But what are you really giving up, right? Not just the theming, not just quote-unquote “Disney magic” that is sprinkled throughout all these resorts, but you’re also losing out on the convenience, right? Time is money. If you have a car, you have to pay to park at each of the theme parks every day. So the money that you think that you might be saving, you might actually be spending more in terms of not just actual dollars but time, stress, aggravation, etcetera.

Nisreene: If someone does decide to stay offsite – which, I could see reasons why people would do that. Like, maybe they’re packaging, you know, a Disney trip just for one day, like, in the middle of a larger vacation or something like that. Maybe their whole trip isn’t necessarily centered around a trip to Disney. So they’re probably going to do something more offsite. Where… what are the areas around Orlando that you would recommend they stay in?

Lou: There’s somewhat of a secret hotel option that I think a lot of visitors – not just to Disney but the Orlando area – don’t think about, what Disney likes to call their Good Neighbor hotels. So in Walt Disney World property, there’s an area called Disney Springs. I consider it like Disney’s fifth theme park because it has a huge dining, entertainment, recreation area that you don’t need a theme park ticket for. It has some of the best restaurants, not just in Walt Disney World or Orlando, but, like, some of the best food I’ve ever eaten anywhere. There’s a Cirque du Soleil show there. There’s a lot of stuff for adults to do at night, families to do together. But on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, just, literally, like across the street from Disney Springs, are some Disney Good Neighbor hotels. There’s a Wyndham, there’s a Doubletree, there’s a Hilton, there’s a Holiday Inn, there’s a Drury resort that’s being built now, that are literally within walking distance of Disney Springs, have a lot of the same amenities and privileges that the Disney-owned-and-operated resorts get, but oftentimes at a much lower rate as well. You can stay at the Wyndham in Disney Springs for about $100 a night in value season.

Nisreene: Wow!

Lou: Yeah, and sometimes the rooms are even bigger too. You’re not going to get all the theming, but they have pools, they have restaurants, and you’re literally a walk across the street where you can hop on Disney transportation if you want to.

Nisreene: I have heard, repeatedly, the guests on the show talk about Disney Springs, and they always talk about the food and the shopping. So to be able to – frankly, anywhere in the United States, if you’re getting a hotel that’s 100 bucks a night and it’s in close proximity to good restaurants and good shopping and things like that, you are absolutely getting a great deal. So that is a fantastic tip right there.

Lou: And if you have Wyndham or Hilton or Marriott points and you can apply those to your vacation, again, it’s another great way to save money and earn reward points as well.

Nisreene: That’s great. All right. Well, where else? Where else off-site? So let’s say somebody is looking to do perhaps a vacation rental.

Lou: So that’s another option that a lot of people do, especially if you, one, have a larger family, are coming for a longer period of time. I have a lot of people in my community and friends that come from the United Kingdom and will often… You know, if you’re going to make that long of a trek, you’re not doing the long weekend, right? You might want to stay for 14, 21, 28 days. That’s where a lot of vacation home rentals in the area really make a lot of financial sense. Many of them are owned by individuals, but they’re in communities that are sort of managed by management companies. But part of the advantage of staying there is one, it’s not just a hotel room. You have an entire home all to yourself, and that home can be a two-bedroom home. That home can be a 15-bedroom home – and that’s not an exaggeration. So, if you maybe want to go with a couple of your friends and their kids and you don’t want to be staying in all these different things, and you want areas for the kids to play in, the vacation home rental makes a lot of sense. You have your own kitchen. A lot of them have game rooms, home theaters built into them, your own pool and hot tub outside. There’s also complex amenities, like its own restaurant. It’ll have food-delivery services, it’ll have their own pool, which is almost like a mini waterpark area. And night for a night, you know, you sort of prorate it out. Something like that could make a lot more sense, especially if you’re splitting it among maybe a couple of families, too.

Nisreene: Let me ask you this. Does Disney offer various vacation rental options or, like, timeshares on site?

Lou: They do. And for a lot of people who – if you know that you’re going to be coming to Walt Disney World every year or even every couple of years, the Disney Vacation Club makes a lot of financial sense. They don’t call it a timeshare, but you are sort of buying time blocks at some of the different Disney Vacation Club properties, which you can also use at Non-Disney resorts. You can also use on Disney Cruise Line, you can also use at Disney’s resort in Hawaii, Disney’s Aulani Resort. So that is something that is a smart vacation investment for people that know that they’re going to come back every single year.

You know, there’s one other thing I wanted to just quickly mention, too, because we’re talking about ways to save money and where to stay and how. One of the things you should also look into as well when you’re thinking about or booking your vacation is Disney offers throughout the year a wide variety of discounts, right? And sometimes people don’t think about the word “discount” and “Disney” in the same sentence. But if you’re a Disney Visa cardholder, you can save, depending on the time of year, up to 30% off the rack rate of your room. If you’re an annual pass holder, you can save 30%. If you’re a Florida resident – you actually have to be living in Florida – again, you can save up to 30%. If you are from the UK, Ireland, Canada, there’s discounts. AAA, AARP, military and veteran – there’s a lot of discounts throughout the year and throughout the property. There’s actually a resort called Shades of Green, which is restricted to active and retired military and honorably discharged veterans, that has amazing amenities and really comes in at great rates for military and their families too.

Nisreene: For a lot of people, even if you have a decent budget, everyone’s always sort of looking for a discount, because you don’t want to spend money that you don’t have to spend, right? Because then the savings you get on whatever that trip is, you know, the accommodations or the tickets or whatever you can put towards other experiences like dining or souvenirs and that kind of stuff. So, if I’m sort of like a first-time, you know, traveler to Disney, what’s the number one thing that I should consider going into my trip – but then also when, you know, booking my hotel?

Lou: I’m really trying not to be a lawyer here, because it really does… it depends, right? It’s so – I think the first thing I would think of is, “When do we want to go?” And it’s not just when in terms of “When will save us the most amount of money?” but “What is going to make sense for us?” Right? Some people dig the heat and humidity and come in August because we have plenty of it.

Nisreene: Who are those people?

Lou: Right? I’m sure they’re out there. But there’s also so much that goes on throughout the year that helps determine when you might want to go. So, for example, Disney during Halloween – and I’m not kidding when I say Halloween season in Disney begins in mid-August. Mickey’s-Not-So-Scary Halloween Party begins August 15th and runs through October 31st. Magic Kingdom is decorated in fall colors and there is a ticketed event called Mickey’s-Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, which is a ton of fun. Special parade, special fireworks, overlays, characters, trick-or-treating in the parks. Like, for some people, getting dressed up as a family and going during Halloween is a lot of fun. The entertainment and the stage shows are remarkably good. Literally the day after, November 1st, it magically transforms and it’s Christmas time. They have a similar thing too – the entire resort, not just Magic Kingdom, is decorated for Christmas, it’s decorated for the holidays. All of the resorts have holiday decorations. There are these massive themed gingerbread installations in many of the resorts. There’s Christmas music everywhere. There’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. So some families are like, “Hey, instead of spending Christmas at home, fighting around the dinner table, we want to go to Disney World instead.” It’s a great time to go. And there’s festivals throughout the year. There’s a Festival of the Arts, which is an art and food festival in EPCOT. There is the Food and Wine Festival, also in EPCOT too. Like, there’s always something going on that’ll help you sort of determine what is going to make the most sense for you. And what I said, to come full-circle, when I said going to Disney World is really unlike going anywhere else, there are all of these things to consider, to help entice you to go at a certain time or maybe say, “Hey, we want to save some money. We should go at a little bit of a different time of the year as well.”

Nisreene: One tip that sort of just occurred to me, based off of what I just heard you say, was if the holiday time sort of around actually Christmas is peak, but the decorations go up November 1st, I bet you it’s a little bit cheaper to go in November than it is in December. But then you still get that same sort of Christmas and holiday energy, just a little bit earlier. So maybe that’s a good tip for people if they really want to get the Disney Christmas energy but don’t want to have to pay peak prices.

Lou: That is an absolutely 100% correct assessment. I think, really – so, the secret time of year to go, if you can go, is that first week or so in December. Why? It is some of the lowest pricing of the year. The weather is amazing. We actually get a little bit of cool weather here in Florida. It’s not crowded at all because everybody’s back in… everybody’s back in school. A festival is going on at EPCOT. It’s decorated for the holidays. You can still do the Very Merry Christmas Party. Again, the ticket prices are lower during that time of year than they will be as you get closer to Christmas. It really is sort of the ideal time, if you’re able to go in that first week in December.

Nisreene: Great tip. All of the events that you mentioned, Lou, where do you find this calendar of events? So, if people maybe are really flexible with their schedules and they want to plan it around maybe some of these festivals or just when the seasonality is sort of happening, where’s the best place for them to find this information?

Lou: The official DisneyWorld.com website will have all that, including a calendar of events. You’ll actually be able to pull up the month grid and see what’s going on. You know, because like I said, EPCOT basically almost has a festival going on, save for a few weeks here and there, throughout the year. Festival of the Arts, Flower & Garden, Food & Wine, and then Festival of the Holidays, which adds just another layer on top of things that you can do in that park specifically.

Nisreene: I’m going to ask you a question that I know is going to be really difficult for you to answer. But it’s a very important one. I want Lou’s top five places to stay, in order.

Lou: In order? Oh, my gosh. This is tough.

Nisreene: I know. But it’s really important for everybody. I think everyone’s going to really… (Laughs) Before we dig into that, actually, Lou, maybe we should give some context to people. How many times have you been to Disney World?

Lou: So the answer is, I don’t know. I’ve lost count. I did go – even before I moved here…

Nisreene: Triple digits?

Lou: ..I did go a few times of the year. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Without… I mean, it could be in the four digits. Yeah.

Nisreene: Four digits?!

Lou: Yeah. I mean, because…

Nisreene: Are you serious?

Lou: Yeah. I’m not going to tell you how old I am, but I’ve been coming since November of ’71, so you can sort of do a little of the math. I went – when I lived in New Jersey, I probably came every year, at least two times a year. And then, now, living here, and I go not just because it’s what I do, but because I still really, really love this place. Like, I still get excited when I walk in the Magic Kingdom.

Nisreene: Okay. Now, back to the hard one. Give me your top five.

Lou: All right. I’m going to give you my top five in no particular order, and then I’ll try and lay it out for you.

Nisreene: No, I need them in order, Lou. Come on.

Lou: So difficult. The pressure’s on. All right. In order. Um, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Disney’s French Quarter Resort, which is a moderate. Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Um… that’s three. I really like the Gran Destino Tower, which is a new tower they just built at Coronado. And number one, I’m going to put Disney’s Riviera Resort in there.

Nisreene: All right.

Lou: It’s the newest resort. It is themed after the French and Italian Riviera. It is absolutely gorgeous, has a very wide selection of rooms, including new tower suites, which are small suites, which are great for, like, an individual or just a couple. It’s on the Skyliner. It has one of the top three restaurants in all of Walt Disney World. Topolino’s Terrace is amazing. Listen, I’m from New Jersey. My last name ends in a vowel. I’m sorry, Mom. It’s the best pasta I’ve ever put in my mouth.

Nisreene: Whoa. Whoa.

Lou: (Laughs) I know, I know.

Nisreene: Italians all around the world are rolling over.

Lou: The chicken sugo rigatoni. It’s house-made pasta. It is absolutely to die for.

Nisreene: I’m a sucker for house-made pasta. Like, honestly, I will… I will eat it any time of day.

Lou: I’ll make a deal with you. When you come down, I will take you on a culinary tour and we will go to Topolino’s Terrace for dinner and you can see if I’m telling the truth.

Nisreene: It’s a deal. All right. How far in advance do you recommend people book? Based off of your own research, in your experience, when have you seen some of the best deals? Because I’m guessing a lot of these places probably do book up quite quickly.

Lou: They do. They do book up very, very fast. Disney fans are planners, right? They look to, sometimes, book out – especially people like Disney Vacation Club that really need to think about when and how they’re going to use their points. Usually you’ll start to see vacation packages come out probably around this time of year, like, for Disney. So for 2023, you’ll see some vacation packages and specials and rates coming out for 2023. You can book – I think it’s, like, 499 days out is when you can start booking a room-only reservation. And depending on the time of the year or the packages, it’s 365 to 499 for vacation packages of your booking date. So you have a very long runway to book. But, certainly, I think the earlier you do it, the better. And always… and always stay, you know, keep an eye out for any discounts that might pop up, any other sort of changes and rates as you start to get closer too.

Nisreene: Got it. Okay. I’m assuming that on your travels to Disney World and just through, probably, networking events and things like that, you probably get a chance to talk to a lot of people. Has anybody ever shared with you, like, an unreal deal that they scored?

Lou: Knowing the time of year I mentioned, some of those discounts. Look to AAA, look to, you know, if you have a… Sometimes people get a Disney Visa just for the discounts. Sometimes Target has discounts on Disney gift cards. So people will go and they’ll buy, you know, 23 $100 gift cards because it actually costs less. They’ll apply that to their vacation.

Nisreene: Genius!

Lou: It’s a roundabout hack, but it works. I mean, we all walk inTO Target and spend $2300 when we go for toothpaste anyway.

Nisreene: I see, like, gift cards and stuff at Costco all the time and it’s $100 worth, but they’re selling it for $89 or something like that. And, so, I didn’t even think about that from Disney. What a great tip.

Lou: AAA too, AAA. I think people don’t think about AAA, asking about AAA discounts. And one other one, we didn’t I didn’t mention it, but the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin – which, by the way, have the most comfortable beds on-property. It’s those Westin Heavenly beds.

Nisreene: Oh, gosh.

Lou: They also offer, not just military discounts, but I believe it’s also teachers and first-responder discounts. So if you’re a teacher, they have specific discounts just for teachers.

Nisreene: As they should. Everybody should have discounts just for teachers.

Lou: I agree 100%.

Nisreene: Can you leave our listeners with Lou’s ultimate hack or tip for Disney? If you’ve got one, great. If you’ve got two, great also. But, like, what’s the ultimate, ultimate Lou hack for anything? Lodging or even visiting the park – anything that you think would be critical for our listeners?

Lou: So I gave you what I think is the best time of year to go, not just for weather, crowds and price. The longer you go, the longer you stay, not just the more you can play, but the more you will save, too. You can save a lot of money on your theme park tickets if you stay longer. It’s a sliding scale of what your day, per day is going to cost you in the parks. I would also not only choose your resort, but choose the time of year and choose your vacation length, if you can, and allocate time to enjoy the resorts themselves, especially if you come during something like Christmas time, when all the resorts are decorated. Really, as you can tell, this is my favorite time of year because the parks and all of the resorts take on a new life. You can spend an entire day just touring resorts and seeing how they’re decorated and going to some of the different restaurants. I think sometimes, again, a way to save money is unless you’re, like, a big breakfast person or you pick, you know, one or two places for a special breakfast, eat breakfast in your resort, bring snacks in your bag for yourself or the kids, bring reusable water bottles, because, yes, you can get free water at all counter service locations, but sometimes it’s nice just to have a reasonable bottle of your own. Disney has water-refilling stations throughout the parks, so it makes it nice and easy for you. You know, there’s so much to do beyond just the confines of the four corners of the parks. There’s all kinds of special add-on events, experiences, tours that you can do, not just over the property, but even backstage as well. Spend a little bit of time on the Disney World website and, you know, to quote Princess and the Frog, dig a little deeper into some of the other things that are there, because the more layers of that onion that you peel back, the better time that you can have.

Nisreene: Lou, such great tips. Thank you so much for chatting with us today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I always learn so much and I always walk away from these episodes thinking, “I got to go to Disney this year. I got to go.” So you’ve done a great job really inspiring me and I feel, like, I feel excited about my future trip, whenever that ends up being. Lou, where can people get in touch with you, or hear, or follow on your journeys, or get more information from you?

Lou: Well, thank you for having me. This is a lot of fun and hopefully I’ll get to see you when you come down and I can introduce you to some of my favorite dining locations on property. That could be a whole other episode that we never even got to.

Everything that I do on the Disney side of things is at WDWRadio.com. I have been doing a podcast weekly about Walt Disney World since 2005. I also do weekly live video, not just from the home studio, but oftentimes out and about from the parks and resorts and Disney Cruise Line as well. I am at @LouMongello on all social accounts – Instagram and Twitter and Facebook. And you can also visit LouMongello.com to find out what I do on, sort of, the business and entrepreneurial and speaking side as well.

Nisreene: Thanks, Lou.

[Musical interlude]

Nisreene: I always love doing these Disney episodes because I know that it is an incredibly daunting trip to plan. And every time we do this, I not only walk away feeling inspired, but I also walk away feeling a little bit less stressed about it, and especially with this one. Lodging in general is really, really tricky to find because you want something that’s going to please everybody in your group, which is always so hard. But I felt like Lou did such a great job of really breaking it down. So I feel like it’s, you know, a little bit of an easier task to to go ahead and embark on. So I’m ready to plan my next Disney trip.

What’s your favorite Disney resort? Tell us on social and tag @Expedia and @PRX.

For more info on episodes, guests, and to find travel inspiration, be sure to visit Out Travel The System’s blog at expedia.com/stories/podcast.

All right, everybody. Well, I want to wish you all a very, very Happy Halloween. And hopefully you are dressing up, maybe as your favorite Disney character, or maybe you are still sitting there trying to figure out what you’re going to dress your dog up for. But either way, enjoy it and be safe out there.

I want to thank Lou Mongello for joining us today. If you have any questions for me, or comments, or thoughts, or, better yet, travel suggestions, be sure to DM us. We are @Expedia on Instagram. Oh, don’t forget to give the show a follow and subscribe on your favorite podcast player so that you don’t miss an episode as soon as it drops.

Out Travel The System is brought to you by Expedia with special thanks to PRX and Sonic Union. I’m the Executive Producer and your host, Nisreene Atassi. Special thanks to the following:

Additional writing by Kimu Elolia.
Producer Rishika Sharma.
Associate Producers Syma Mohammed and Nathanael Taylor.
Production assistant is Alex Thiel and Carolina Garrigo.
Theme music and original composition by Kevin J Simon.
Music edit, sound design, and mix by Rob Ballingall, and music supervision by Justin Morris.
Executive Producer and Writer Halle Petro.
PRX Executive Producer Jocelyn Gonzalez.
Out Travel the System is recorded with Sonic Union in New York City.

Join us next week as we’ll be discussing how to plan your dream getaway with Patricia Schulz, the author of 1000 Places to See Before You Die.

Till next time, this is your host, Nisreene Atassi, for Out Travel The System. Find us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Happy travels!