This creator of this website, me, is Canadian! I live in Ontario. So, while this website is for everyone that loves Walt Disney World as much as I do, I do feel a sense of civic responsibility to help my fellow Canadians get to Walt Disney World as cheaply and easily as possible.
Seat sales on airlines are obviously the way to go when flying, but good seat sales are hard to find if you live north of the 49th parallel. With only 2 major airlines flying to Orlando from Canadian cities (Air Canada and West Jet), there isn’t a whole lot of incentive for either airline to provide good deals to fly to Florida. Even then, I think your best opportunity to find deals would probably exist if the west-most province in which you live is Ontario. The drive from Winnipeg, Manitoba is 30 hours to both Walt Disney World AND Disneyland in California, so I think this is probably safe to assume.
Driving from the Toronto area takes roughly 19-21 hours, depending on if you take the I75 or I95. If you plan to drive, do yourself a favour and pick up the book Along Interstate 75. In addition to the TripTik we picked up from CAA (free with membership), it was invaluable, pointing out high speed trap areas, speed limit changes, areas of interest along the way, and it shows you where you can exit the highway in the event of a crash or road closure. You might also want to pick up the “Florida Interstates” version too, as Along Interstate 75 ends once you cross the Florida border (and I really wish we had the Floridian companion book when it took us 3 hours to make what is normally a ten-minute drive because of a truck rollover just north of Orlando).
Driving can be fun, and can be more economical than flying. A family of 4 may well end up spending upwards of $2000 to fly return out of Pearson in Toronto (well, Mississauga to those already in the know), while driving will be a lot cheaper than that. We have a car with an incredible engine when it comes to fuel efficiency, so we spent very little on gas – we were averaging just under 1,000 km per 50-liter tank. A minivan (probably what you’re driving if you have a couple kids with you, because otherwise, good luck getting all your luggage in a sedan) would likely get you less efficiency than that, but if you spend $500 on gas and $500 on hotels, and another $150-$200 on food, you’re coming out way ahead. Keep in mind that as of September 2014, West Jet has joined Air Canada in charging $25 per checked suitcase per trip, so a family of 4 might end spending another $150 just to check bags. By driving, you also have a car as well, in case you want to drive to Universal Studios, the outlet malls, etc. Parking is free at Walt Disney World parks and resorts if staying on-site, so that’s an added perk (parking at Universal Studios hotels, operated by Loews, charge $10-$17 per day depending on the resort, just to park your car – grrr). For more information on the fun that can be had on a drive down to Disney World from Canada, check out my post on driving.
One more thing to keep in mind – every state is a little different. Michigan has terrible roads, Ohio is flat and boring (and has a lower speed limit than anywhere else on the I75 at 65 mph/104 kph, which is still faster than our ridiculous 100 kph limit in Ontario), and Kentucky and Tennessee are full of beautiful mountain ranges and winding roads – a little precarious at times at night, though). Georgia is interesting – horrible Atlanta traffic, and lots of graphic anti-abortion road signs. Either way, it’s a fascinating journey. Just keep your eyes on the road (and on your speedometer!)
We have decided to fly for our next trip down. Last time we went down, I was unemployed, so it didn’t matter a whole lot if we spend an extra couple of days heading down and heading back by car. This time, we’re on a tighter schedule due to work vacations, so flying is the way to go. We spent tons of time looking for flight deals and seat sales, including signing up for West Jet and Air Canada email lists.
Pro-tip: When looking for flight deals, on ANY website (including Travelocity, Expedia, etc) make sure you put your browser in Incognito or InPrivate mode, and when done, clear your cache/cookies (just in case). The reason is that all of these websites, including airline websites, track when you check for prices. If they see that people are checking for prices on certain dates, they know that those dates are “high-demand”. This means that the prices will never go below a certain threshold for those dates, so if you are constantly looking at certain travel dates, you are contributing to spiking page views, keeping prices artificially high.
Also, as much as we like dealing with our CAA travel agent, there are two things to keep in mind if booking travel through CAA: Disney reservations don’t cost you extra, but booking flight through CAA does. Secondly, CAA quotes airfare in US dollars, meaning you might end up paying more for the same fare because of exchange rate and credit card foreign transaction fees.
Finally, you’ll find better travel deals depending on when you fly. Case in point – we are flying out on a Saturday and returning on a Wednesday. On the Wednesday flight, it’s still empty (2 weeks after booking it) at less than $150 per person. The flights home on each of the previous and subsequent weekend dates are ridiculously expensive, and completely booked up. So, if your work schedule allows you to do a vacation from mid-week to mid-week, do it.
As for the flight down, because we are flying out on a weekend day, it required some creativity. Instead of flying out of Toronto, we are flying out of Buffalo on Southwest Airlines. Much cheaper than out of Canada, and Southwest doesn’t charge baggage fees. 60-75 days before your trip is a good time to check for flight deals, and make sure you sign up for those email lists – that’s how I found our return trip home. Good deals are out there, but timing is everything.
Trust me – take your kids out of school to go to Disney World. The week between December 25 and January 1, March Break, and Easter are the three busiest times of year at Walt Disney World. On some of those days, you might not be able to park hop, because some parks close due to capacity (Magic Kingdom regularly closes due to capacity before noon on Christmas Day every year). Long lines, premium prices, packed buses – why bother with all that? Your kid won’t fail their grade if you take them out for a week, and a cooperative teacher will probably help keep your kid from falling behind. The beginning of September is an absolutely ideal time to travel – as long as you’re okay with ridiculous heat and humidity – and so are the two weeks in November before US Thanksgiving, the first 3 weeks of December, most of January and February up until President’s Day, and a lot of the Spring outside of major US holidays and March Break. Avoid the summer (except for the last two weeks of August – whereas Canadian schools start the Tuesday right after Labour Day, US schools tend to begin in late August. Parks are a ghost town, and prices are cheaper, too.
Saving up your US Dollars
Remember when the Canadian dollar was better than the US dollar, back in 2007/2008 (then ran at par until roughly 2012)? I do, partially because I worked in a book store at the time and book store customers were awful to book store employees during that time because of the at-par dollar (as if we had the power to change prices, but I digress). Today though, the Canadian loonie sits at about $0.90 USD, and that’s just the trading rate – your bank and credit card companies will give you a worse exchange rate than that (probably in the $0.85-$0.88 cent region). That means if something at Disney World costs $10, it will actually cost you more like $13 when you get home and pay for it. There are some ways to mitigate as much of this damage as possible, though.
US Bank accounts – if for some reason you come into possession of American currency (wedding gift, you own a small business, you have American relatives that give you cash), don’t convert it to Canadian currency if you have a WDW trip coming up. Instead, open a US bank account, and any US cash you deposit into it retains its US value. $100 US goes in, $100 US comes out. It’s a good way to save those greenbacks for Disney World, without converting to Canadian dollars and back again (you’ll lose a lot this way).
No Foreign Transaction Credit Cards – Amazon.ca has the Amazon.ca Rewards Visa, through Chase Morgan (a US bank) that has no foreign transaction fees when shopping outside of Canada. That means you’ll save a little on each transaction (I believe it’s 1-5%, depending on the bank). You’ll also get $20 off your Amazon.ca purchase, and you get a small amount of cash-back on purchases with it. Once you accrue enough points to get your cash-back reward, a $20 credit instantly goes on the next statement. Not bad for a free card, not bad at all. I’m sure there are others with the no foreign transaction fee perk – you’ll have to do your research.
Unfortunately, Though… – us Canucks get a little screwed on two things – 1. We aren’t allowed to get the Disney Visa card, that has all kinds of perks including (usually) pretty huge sign up bonuses – I’ve seen anywhere from $50 to $200 credits offered for signing up (additional perks include front-of-the-line access to some Disney World Resort discounts like free dining and rack rate discounts). 2. Disney Gift Cards purchased in Canada cannot be used at Walt Disney World, only at the handful of Disney Store locations in Canada. However, here’s a pro-tip if you want to buy Disney Gift Cards throughout the weeks/months/years preceding your Disney World trip – check out some retailers in the US and buy the card there – retailers like Target, BJs, Costco and Sam’s Club have been known to sell discounted Disney Gift Cards (and Universal stuff too, though US Costco stores didn’t have Universal discounts available when I checked last year). I think at Target, you need to have the redcard in order to get the discount (5%), and I don’t know if Canadians can get American Target redcards or not, but apparently you can get 2-5% off the cards at BJs and Sam’s Club (and Canadians can acquire Sam’s Club memberships – also, your Canadian Costco membership WILL work in the US – just don’t ask Pittsburgh-area Costco cashiers if you can buy beer there; you WILL be lectured about it being a Commonwealth State, as I was).
Make Sure You Call Your Bank, and Debit Card Tips
If you use your credit or debit card in the US, in Florida, without telling your bank first, you could really screw yourself over if they think the activity is suspicious and freeze your card. Just call your bank and credit card companies ahead of time (use the phone number on the back of your card) and tell them the dates of your travel, as well as locations (if driving, this is important, because you might be using your cards in places like Detroit, Cincinnati, Nashville, Atlanta, etc – especially if buying gas with your cards!) It takes 2 minutes and can save you a lot of headache.
Also, while on the phone with your bank telling them about your impending travel, do make sure you ask them about what your US partner bank is. Some Canadian banks actually do have locations and ATMs in the US (TD, for example), but others have “global partner networks”, meaning you can use the ATM machines of your bank’s US partner just like you would use your bank’s Canadian ATM at home – no additional fees. Those fees can get pretty damn expensive, so try to avoid them.
If you go to Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s, and ask for milk in your coffee, you will get a weird look and the cashier will insist that you must mean cream. Apparently, milk in coffee is a Canadian thing. Also, prepare to be blown away by the cheap prices at places like Taco Bell, and be prepared for the fact that even though these chains exist everywhere in Canada, the menus are significantly different.
If you like beer on tap, do yourself a favour and order it! I’ve never paid so little for a pint as I have anywhere in the US I’ve been, and they often have amazing beers on tap (Sam Adams seasonal beers, for example). Do try the Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, on tap at Raglan Road in Downtown Disney.
Finally, be okay with splitting meals. Portion sizes are huge in the US, so you might find that ordering two entrees is too much. Also, there is no such thing that bacon doesn’t go with.
Accents and Languages
Everyone will be able to tell that you’re Canadian, as my wife can attest when she blew out her knee at Islands of Adventure and had to go to the first aid office. When it comes to language, everything is in either English or Spanish, so if you don’t speak either well, bring a dictionary, I suppose.
Canada at Walt Disney World
It’s obvious, isn’t it? The Canada Pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase! You’ll see the Victoria Gardens, the Hotel du Canada and totem poles. Attractions include the O Canada!, a 360 degree Circle Vision film narrated by Martin Short (it made me a little car-sick, heh). You’ll also find the acclaimed restaurant “Le Cellier” Steakhouse (seriously, go to it! You’ll need to book an ADR 6 months out though). The Northwest Mercantile sells typically Canadian items, like hockey sweaters and maple syrup, as well as Canadianized Disney characters. The Celtic band Off-Kilter has played the pavilion for 17 years, but Epcot recently announced they and a few other acts will be playing their final performances very soon (time of writing this – September 2014). Word is that a lumberjack show will replace them, which is exactly why the Canadian government in 1982 didn’t provide funding for the pavilion, believing it was going to be one big stereotype. The pavilion is small, but very well done, and not terribly stereotypical either. I’d love to see more beers available though – Moosehead is okay, but not the best our country has to offer (though apparently, Americans are nuts for it).
I love Americans. I’ve chatted with so many on various trips – Cooperstown, Disney World, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh (when we went to see the Jays take on the Pirates). They are very friendly, and I’ve found it to be a given that if an American has a southern accent, you’ll have a pleasant experience. So, good ahead and make some new friends!
Anyway, that’s it for now. If you want me to answer any more Canada-centric question on travelling to Walt Disney World, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.