Here at Chip and Company, we share a lot of money–saving tips and strategies. Getting more for your dollar just makes sense to me, especially in today’s economy. One of the easiest ways you can get more from your Disney dollar is to visit during one of Disney World’s many special events where you can be part of even more magic. It’s true that you will need to purchase an additional ticket for some events but most of them are free or low-cost. During these events, the parks are at their finest – decked out in their holiday best, providing access to the biggest names in sports, or showing off the creativity of Disney Cast Members who create incredible one-of-a-kind experiences.
Here are my picks for the top ten kid-friendly Disney World events.
Marathon Weekends. Ready, set, go! What better way to encourage kids to be fit and active than for them to participate in one of the Walt Disney World Marathon weekends? Kids can sign up for special races where everyone is a winner and receives a medal. Mickey’s Marathon Kid’s Fest 2011 is the weekend of January 7-8th and Disney’s Royal Family Kid’s Races 2011 is February 26th. Both feature Diaper Dash, 100m, 200m, 400m, and a Mickey mile race. Registration fees are low, $25 for the Mickey mile and $10 for other races. Register here.
ESPN the weekend. Guests at Disney’s Hollywood Studios can meet their favorite athletes, test their skills in sports zones, watch live ESPN broadcasts, and purchase special collectibles during this special event. The interactive sports zone is typically divided into sections for perennial favorites such as baseball, football, and basketball. All-star athletes may make an impromptu stop in this area to toss a ball around.. Disney’s ESPN weekend is traditionally the last week of February but rumors are swirling that it will be the first weekend of March this year. No special ticket is required, just admission to Hollywood Studios.
YES. Disney World becomes a classroom during the Youth Education Series (YES) programs. Now featuring Individual Enrollment, students of all ages can sign up for programs that bring learning to life by showing how math, science, history, and more are applied in attractions and other aspects of the Walt Disney World Resort. Programs fall into the following areas: Leadership & Careers, Arts & Humanities, Physical Sciences and Natural Sciences, and usually involve an opportunity to experience a few select attractions. Theme park tickets are required to participate but they are heavily discounted. For more information, visit Disney’s Youth Education Series.
Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival. This festival is a gastronomic feast for all ages. Running for about six weeks during the fall, Epcot visitors enjoy noshes from other cultures. Over twenty different booths around the World Showcase Lagoon serve up small plates, similar to tapas, representing their country’s cuisine. For about $3-5 a plate, guests can take a culinary tour of the world. This festival is great for kids for a couple of different reasons. First off, you would be hard-pressed to find a less expensive way to introduce your kids to international foods. If they don’t like it, you’re not out big bucks. Secondly, these booths redefine “fast food.” You’ll receive delicious, expertly cooked food in just a few minutes. Hungry kids can eat and go – no more sitting patiently waiting for dinner to be served.
Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival. Epcot is often misunderstood; parents tend to think it is too adult for kids and skip it altogether. This is a shame as there is a lot going for it – some great attractions, wider walkways, and the opportunity to meet popular Disney characters with shorter waits than at other parks. The Flower and Garden Festival, which begins in late winter and runs through the spring, is one of the best times to introduce kids to Epcot. Whimsical play areas appear overnight, amazing topiaries spring up, butterflies flutter in the butterfly garden, and the already beautiful gardens are elevated to a higher level with gorgeous and imaginative plantings. If you’re in Walt Disney World from March through mid-May, don’t miss an opportunity to experience this event.
Star Wars Weekends. The Star Wars franchise has stood the test of time. It captures the imagination of children (and adults) as much today as it did thirty years ago. Star Wars fans descend on Disney’s Hollywood Studios during weekends in late spring for autographs of their favorite Star Wars stars, a special motorcade, a parade, and perhaps even Storm Troopers standing guard high on top of the buildings. These four weekends are the only time you’ll likely to find lines for autographs rivaling the wait for top attractions. In fact, Fastpasses are distributed for autographs and guarantee that you’ll receive one.
Candlelight Processional. The Candlelight Processional in the outdoor American Gardens Theatre is the most moving event of the Holiday Season. The Christmas story is retold by a narrator while a splendid choir fills the stage. This event is free but you’ll have difficulty getting a seat as a walk-up unless you get in line early. Standby seating is limited due to the reserved seating for guests who purchase the Candlelight Processional dinner package. The cost of the dinner package varies based on which participating restaurant you select. Try a lunch packages to save a little money.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. You may embarrass your pre-teens if you dress up for Halloween and tour your neighborhood but not so at Disney World. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is the perfect excuse to put on your pirate garb and take your kids trick-or-treating inside the Magic Kingdom. This special hard-ticket event takes place on select nights. Highlights of this event include a special nighttime parade, Boo-to-You, and HalloWishes, a Halloween-inspired fireworks show.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Similar to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a special after-hours event in the Magic Kingdom that requires the purchase of a separate ticket. Celebrate the holidays with “snow” on Main Street, cookies, hot chocolate, Cinderella Castle bedazzled with lights, a special Christmas themed parade, the Holiday Wishes fireworks show, and live stage shows. There’s something special about celebrating the holiday season at Disney World and this event is full of holiday spirit.
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. I love this free event; only park admission is required. When the sun goes down in Hollywood Studios, the lights on the Streets of America backlot turn on. The area is artfully covered in millions of little Christmas lights that “dance” to the music. It truly is a sight to behold and one you won’t want to miss.
These special events are a great way to plus up your Disney vacation. The hardest part is deciding which one to attend.
Lisa M. Battista is the author of Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers When she’s not chasing after her little ones, you can most likely find her at the beach or in the kitchen trying her hand at a new recipe. You can follow her on Twitter @DisneyExplorer or become a fan of Beyond the Attractions on Facebook.