Don't have time to wade through loads of information about your Orlando holiday? These 14 simple tips are all you need to get you started with planning your amazing Orlando theme park holiday...
1. PLAN what you want to do in advance
This is not the kind of holiday you can take in a freewheeling, make-it-up-as-you-go-along kind of way. The amount and complexity of attractions make it essential to know what you want to do before you set out, including having, at the least, a rough day-by-day plan while you are there. Most importantly, all the info in Expert View is designed to help you with your own itinerary planning.
The Brit Guide to Orlando offers a unique Touring Plan service which is ideal for getting the most out of your holiday.
2. BUY your attraction tickets in advance
You really will save time and money if you have all your theme park tickets before you arrive. Not only do you by-pass all the queues at the ticket kiosks, you benefit from tickets designed purely for the UK visitor, like the 14 and 21-Day Disney Ultimate tickets, with built-in savings, and will be able to schedule those all-important FastPass+ times (up to 60 days in advance if you’re staying onsite at a Disney resort, or 30 days in advance if you’re staying offsite). Once you have purchased your tickets you need not worry about the parks raising prices (which happens at least once a year). There are also a plethora of unofficial ticket sources throughout Orlando, and these often fool the unwary, while there are rogue websites which are neither secure nor reliable.
3. MULTI-DAY and combo tickets are much better value than single-day tickets
If you’re visiting Orlando, it’s likely you’ll want to visit as many of the amazing theme parks as possible. Combination tickets are the best way to ensure you get access to all of the parks you want at the best available price, as the cost is always cheaper than the gate price. As well as saving you money, combination tickets and multi-park tickets offer much greater flexibility and allow you to park hop, which means you’re not restricted to one park for the entire day. Single-day tickets can also only be purchased at the parks themselves, which means queuing up at the ticket windows (never a good idea!).
4. SCHEDULE Your Visit for the Spring or Autumn Seasons
Schedule your visit for the spring and autumn seasons if possible (and try to avoid U.S. holiday periods). You will get the best combination of good weather and lower crowds – and Orlando is famous for crowds. With more than 50 million visitors a year, there are inevitably long queues at the main parks and attractions, and these can seriously take the fun out of your holiday. If you have to go in summer because of school holidays, try to pick the latter half of August when some American children are back at school and the crowds ease off a bit. Other times to avoid, if you can, are America’s Spring Break holiday (usually two weeks on either side of and including Easter), the week of Thanksgiving (the 4th Thursday in November) and the Christmas-New Year period.
5. PREPARE for the tropical weather
Prepare for the fierce heat, humidity and short, sharp daily thunderstorms in summer. Unless you have been to the tropics before, nothing fully prepares you for the exhausting conditions of a Florida summer, when temperatures can hit 100F (38C) and the humidity is close to 100%, building to a daily climax with a (usually) brief electrical storm, which doesn’t cool things down too much!
6. PACE yourselves
Pace yourselves – especially in summer. With the combination of high temperatures and long queues, you need to be patient and relaxed when touring the parks. You simply cannot take them at a fast pace or you will be tired and irritable (and perhaps ill!) in no time flat. Drink plenty of water – your body will need it—and try to avoid alcohol, tea and coffee during the day as they can leave you dehydrated. Use plenty of high factor sunscreens, and keep applying them when you stop for a break or are queuing. Too many people pick up cases of sunburn in Florida and this can really make life miserable.
7. FLORIDA'S theme parks are huge!
Be aware of the huge scale of this Central Florida wonderland. The Walt Disney World Resort alone covers 47 square miles and all their attractions are well spread out. Despite what some of the tourist maps may show, it is rarely possible to walk between attractions (and, in summer, walking is not a popular pastime!) and it can take up to 30 minutes to drive between some of the parks. So, you always need to allow plenty of time in whatever you do and try not to schedule too much in any one day, tempting as it may be.
8. LITTLE ONES will get worn out!
Young children have an absolute ball in Orlando, but they can easily be overwhelmed, daunted and exhausted by much of what’s in store. Try to let their stamina dictate your pace and be aware they will need frequent rest-stops, drink-breaks and chill-out opportunities. We see too many parents try to force the pace with their youngsters (and many of the attractions can be loud and/or scary) and this inevitably leads to a melt-down of either children or grown-ups (if your child baulks at trying an attraction, simply use Child Swap rather than forcing the issue or you may find they baulk at everything!). All the parks provide ways to cool down (water fountains, sprinklers, etc) and even if it’s only going into a shop, you will notice the air-conditioned difference.
9. ARRIVE as early as possible
Arrive early for the main theme parks, especially at busy times of the year. The gates will often open a good half-hour before the official time and it pays to be among the early birds as you can often do a lot more in the first hour of the day than later in the morning. Head for the big rides FIRST as these are the ones that will draw the longest queues later on, and try to save the shows for the afternoon when it’s hot and you need a sit-down in air-conditioned comfort.
10. DINING outside the theme parks saves money
Don’t have all your meals in the theme parks – you can easily double the cost of your day out that way. Try to have a good buffet breakfast before you arrive (there are literally hundreds of restaurants outside the parks) and fill the family up at the all-you-can-eat options, like Ponderosa, Golden Corral, Shoneys, Cici’s Pizza, Black Angus and the healthier option of Sweet Tomatoes. They also offer dinner buffets from 4pm – perfect for families with a lot of mouths to feed, or for picky eaters! Those who use the Kids Eat Free dining card offered by AttractionTickets.com will certainly feel the benefit in their wallet.
11. CHILL OUT – literally
Especially at the busy times of year (and almost essential in summer), give yourselves an afternoon break from the parks, whether it be to return to your hotel/resort/villa for some pool time, go shopping (and Orlando boasts some brilliant shopping opportunities) or perhaps visit one of the many multi-screen cinema complexes in the area (which offer reduced prices before 4pm). You will really feel the benefit of taking a rest when the parks are busiest, and then returning for the evening entertainment (often the best part of the day) when it’s cooled down a little. We know you want to pack your days full, but we also know you’ll enjoy it (and remember it) more if you take mid-day breaks as needed.
12. USE the FastPass+ system at the Walt Disney World parks
More than ever, it is essential to use this free system that allows you to visit some of the attractions with minimal queuing, and, having purchased real admission tickets in advance (not vouchers), you are able to schedule ride and show times up to 60 days in advance if you are staying at a Disney resort, or 30 days in advance if you are staying offsite. Simply create a My Magic Plus account, then follow the prompts to create your My Disney Experience and schedule FastPass+ times. Many of the most popular attractions will run out of FastPass+ well in advance, so be sure to schedule your times as soon as possible.
13. UNIVERSAL Orlando offers a paid-for Universal Express Plus pass
While it isn’t necessary during the slower months, purchasing an Express Plus pass for each member in your group during summer or holiday periods can pay off grandly in terms of less time spent queuing, resulting in better overall attitudes as the day wears on and temperatures heat up. Just be sure to arrive at the parks early or purchase online and be aware a few attractions are not included in this queue-busting scheme. Universal Express Plus passes do sell out during busy seasons.
14. SEAWORLD and BUSCH GARDENS Quick Queue Passes
Seaworld and Busch Gardens offer something similar to Universal Express Plus in their Quick Queue passes (Quick Queue Unlimited at SeaWorld and Quick Queue Unlimited at Busch Gardens). They are a real boon in peak season, especially for coaster fans visiting Busch Gardens. How great is it to glide past the 2+ hour queue for SheiKra and Manta in the heat of summer? We think it’s worth every penny! Not a fan of the big thrill rides? SeaWorld also offers Signature Show Seating for special reserved seating at their most popular shows.
FINALLY, don’t try to ‘Do it all,’ it simply isn’t possible in a typical two-week or even three-week holiday. With eight main theme parks, five water parks, dozens of smaller attractions, plus the great shopping, nightlife and more natural lures of Florida, there is too much to fit in for any one visit. But don’t despair; you WILL be back!