There are hundreds ways to tackle Orlando and a visit to the Sunshine State. There is so much on offer it is truly bewildering when you first hit the ground, even for those that have been before, so you need to absorb as much advance info and as many tips as you can. First-timers in particular will benefit from taking their time to read up in advance.
Here, the Orlando Like A Pro team offer their Top Tips for tackling all the fun in store……
- Plan what you want to do in advance
- Buy your Attraction Tickets in advance
- Multi Day Tickets Value for Money
- Scheduling Travels around Peak Seasons
- Prepare for the Heat
- Pace your Activities
- Be Aware of the Size of the Parks
- Young Children in Orlando
- Arriving at the Theme Parks
- Dining in Orlando
- Where to Chill Out
- Using a Fastpass at Disney World
- Using a paid-for Universal Express Plus
- Using a Quick Queue pass at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens
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 Orlando Like A Pro is designed to really help you with your own itinerary planning.
The Brit’s Guide to Orlando offers a unique Itinerary Planning service which is ideal for getting the very most out of your holiday. Check it out here.
BUY your attraction tickets in advance. You really will really 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. Once you have purchased your tickets you need not worry about the parks rising the price of the admissions fee and the theme parks do like to raise prices 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.
MULTI-DAY tickets are much better value than single-day tickets. You will save money on the various multi-day and combo options as against buying the same number of single-days, they offer much greater flexibility, and you won’t feel the need to try to cram everything in if you have the chance of a second visit to a park. Disney’s multi-day passes are especially good value, as the price of a Single Day pass is just over $87 for the day, while the per-day cost of Disney’s 21 Day Ultimate pass is just over $21! Single-day tickets can also only be bought at the parks themselves, which means queuing up at the ticket windows (never a good idea!).
SCHEDULE your visit for the spring and autumn seasons (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 around 43 million visitors a year (2009 figure), 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 many American children are back at school and the crowds ease off. 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.
BE READY 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 much.
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 for you.
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.
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 balks at trying an attraction, simply use Child Swap rather than forcing the issue or you may find they balk 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!
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!
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 some great 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 Attraction Tickets Direct will certainly feel the benefit in their wallet.
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 5pm). 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.
USE the FastPass opportunities at Disney Parks. These free-to-use systems allow you to visit many of the main attractions with only minimal queuing, although they do run out at peak periods. The best way to use them is to visit a popular ride to get a FastPass (from the distribution machines outside each ride) as soon as you arrive, then do one or two smaller attractions while you wait for your set FastPass time to arrive. As soon as you use your specially-timed ticket, you can get another (NB: you must ensure ALL members of your family or group get a FastPass ticket – they only apply per person, not per group). The FastPass facility is available on all Disney tickets sold on this website.
UNIVERSAL Orlando offer a paid-for Universal Express Plus. 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 on line. Universal Express Plus passes do sell out during busy seasons.
SEAWORLD and BUSCH GARDENS offer something similar to Universal Express Plus in their Quick Queue pass. The pass must be purchased separately for the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks, but again, 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!
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!