I recently returned from a rather incredibly magical two weeks in Orlando, Florida. This was my second time visiting what is arguably one of the most popular destinations for family holidays, as it offers some of the most thrilling rides at the Universal parks, to childhood nostalgia and family fun at Walt Disney World.
So if you’re thinking of planning a trip to Orlando, or already have one booked, I’ve rounded up my top tips to help you get the most out of your holiday.
1. Plan your trip as much as you can
Research is so important when it comes to Orlando, so make sure you take time to look at what’s on offer and try to plan each day out when you can. And if this is your first visit to Disney World, I recommend you order yourself a free copy of The Little Big Book of Magic, which gives you a great run-down of all the parks, rides and experiences.
2. Download the My Disney Experience app
Disney World is massive, with four parks to explore you need to make sure that you have a plan in place. Whether you’re staying on or off the resort, the first thing you need to do is download the My Disney Experience App. Through this, you’re can book your fast passes, check wait times and even order food to pick up at a select number of restaurants.
3. Book your fast passes
As soon as your tickets have arrived, start booking your fast passes. You can start booking them up to 30 days before your visit, which gives you a better chance of bagging one for one of Disney’s popular rides like Pandora’s Flight of Passage, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
Booking your fast passes is easy; simply sign in to the app, link your tickets to your account and you’re good to go. You can even swap and change your fast pass options on the day, which is super handy if you find a pass pops up for a ride that you really want to go on.
4. Buy a Magic Band
We picked up our Magic Band’s on our first day at the park, and I can honestly say it was the best thing I brought the entire time. Priced from around $15, you can sync your tickets to your band using the app and use it to get into your hotel room, enter the park, check-in for your fast passes and collect your photos for rides and from photographers if your tickets include the Memory Maker. Basically, it saves you constantly having to pull your ticket out of your bag!
5. Check what’s included with your ticket
While some tickets come with unlimited access across seven, 14 and 21 days to all parks, others come with added extras like Fast Pass Plus, the Memory Maker and even free mini golf at select courses.
6. Leave the car at Disney Springs
Something we learned very quickly on our holiday is that parking at any of the Disney or Universal parks was not cheap if you’re staying off resort. Disney charges $25 per day to park, but make sure you keep hold of your receipt as you can move on to another park and that $25 that you’ve already paid will still count. Yet there is a loophole that luckily we discovered just a few days into our trip that saved us hundreds of dollars in parking.
Disney Springs is wonderful for many reasons: it has a great selection of shops, bars, restaurants and entertainment. But the best thing by far is that you can park there all day for free! So, if you’re trying to be careful with money, just park your car at one of the huge carparks at Disney Springs and hop on a free resort bus to one of the parks. It’s also worth noting that parking is free at Universal after six, so if you fancy a bite to eat at City Walk before heading for a round of crazy golf, leave the car at the resort and hop in an Uber, it’s really not that pricey!
7. Don’t forget about the free shows
There’s more to the parks than the rides you know, so with that being said, make sure you check out all of the free shows at the parks. You can even book fast passes to make sure you get a decent seat. You’ll always find something going on, whether it’s the Barbershop Quartet singing Mickey classics on Main Street or experiencing what it’s like to be a stunt actor at the Indian Jones show. And if you hop on over to Universal Studios, don’t miss the incredible Cinematic History show at the lake just by San Francesco.
Make sure you use the Disney and Universal apps too to keep up to date with show times and parades.
8. Take your own food
While we didn’t deny ourselves of a few delicious meals and sweet treats, we found that by picking ourselves up a sandwich and some snacks from Walmart and filling up our water bottle at the parks fountains really helped in cutting the costs down. The parks don’t like you bringing excessive amounts of food in, but we had no issue with taking in a few giant sandwiches. And if you’re at Epcot, make sure you head to Club Cool to try out soda’s from around the world, maybe just avoid Beverly…
9. Leave the water parks to the weekend
Whether you’re planning to visit Universal’s Volcano Bay, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach, we found that by visiting the water parks at weekends rather than weekdays, we were missing the crowds that were visiting the parks as part of a short break. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to lounge around in the lazy river or soak up the sun from your sunbed.
10. And finally… have fun!
For me, a holiday to Orlando doesn’t come around very often, so I want to go knowing that I’m going to have the best possible time. Throw on some Mickey ears, be a complete child when you meet characters, laugh and cry at the incredible shows, and enjoy yourself!