Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Top Ten Tips - Planning A Holiday To Orlando


Universal Studios, Florida

What do you think of when you hear the word Orlando? Mr. Bloom or a fantastic holiday destination packed full of things to do and places to see!?

I have been to Orlando, Florida, on a number of occasions and can't rate it highly enough for families and also grown-ups with a sense of adventure and fun.

So where do you start when booking a holiday to Orlando? This is a guide to my top ten tips.

1) Read About The Destination

My first port of call when booking any holiday is to read about the destination, be it in guide books, travel brochures, apps, or the Internet. There is a wealth of information out there.

Visit Orlando is a good place to start to read about places to stay and things to do in Orlando. Visit their calendar of events for up-to-date seasonal news.

Two guide books I recommend are The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and The Brit Guide to Orlando . In the back of The Brit Guide, there is a section of vouchers for money off attractions.

A great site for those that like Disney is The Dibb - Disney With A British Accent. They mainly focus on the Disney theme parks but also cover other theme parks and travel advice too. To get real insider information it's the website to check out.

Of course, Trip Advisor is a great site to compare reviews of hotels, restaurants, and attractions. The forum section is very useful if you have a question to ask.

2) When To Go?

Many of you may be confined by school holidays however if you can, consider going out of high season to save money. 


Package holiday prices and flights will be higher if you fly from the UK in the school holidays. This can severely impact on your budget! Other dates to take into account are the 4th of July, Spring Break, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The parks will be very busy on these dates and hotels are likely to be more expensive.

If you can go out of high season try May, September or November for quieter parks and cheaper prices. September however, is in the middle of their hurricane season - the heat can feel oppressive at times and you will get thunderstorms but these clear quickly.

If you want to stay at a Disney hotel many have free Disney Dining at certain times of the year, you usually have to buy theme park tickets at the same time as your booking to qualify.

If you can't go out of high season a great time to go is October half term, as most parks will have some sort of celebration for Halloween and this often goes on for the whole of October. Halloween is celebrated with Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom which is suitable for little ones and the Halloween Horror Night at Universal which is only suitable for older teenagers and not for those of a nervous disposition. My personal favourite is the Halloween Horror Nights at Universal but M.N.S.S.H.P. is great for those with young children.

Another great time to go is the end of November and December for the Christmas celebrations in the parks and beautiful festive decorations.




Hollywood Studios


3. Package Holiday Vs DIY

Firstly think about where to stay. 

One of the main areas is International Drive, which is in the heart of the action, close to Wet and Wild, Universal Studios and Seaworld and surrounded by shops and restaurants. This area has a range of affordable accommodation too.

I like staying on site at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios but this is a more expensive option. The main advantage of staying onsite is that you can often enter the parks earlier. 

You may prefer to stay in a villa, apartment or condo instead of a hotel for more space. There are a lot of independent places to stay and you can get some good deals. 


My personal favourite hotel is The Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Studios. With movies at the pool, early entry to the park and a great rock 'n roll vibe it's a perfect hotel if you have teenage kids. Another great place to stay is Vista Cay near Universal Studios. These condo apartments have very high-quality accommodation and are reasonably priced. 

When booking holidays I price up a package holiday and compare it to a do it yourself holiday where I book flights, accommodation, and tickets separately.

Compare package holidays with companies like Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Thomson. 

A flight comparison site such as www.skyscanner.com or www.kayak.com can help compare prices for the best deals on flights, and accommodation is often cheaper if you book direct, however hotel comparison sites such as Trivago are useful for booking hotels at the best price.

Go to the travel agent with your dates and preferred hotels/areas to get a quote. Can they match what you have found online? Most allow you to pay a deposit to book flights or a package so you don't have to pay for the flights immediately as you would if you were booking direct. I have often found DIY is the cheapest option, but some people find good deals so it's always worth checking out your local travel agent.

4. Theme Parks

Most people visiting Orlando will visit a Disney theme park, or two or three. It's the home to The Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Universal, Islands of Adventure, and Seaworld and that's just for starters!

The parks are vast so consider buying a multi-park ticket to get the most out of your stay. These can be bought from the Theme Parks direct on the day or through specialist ticket agencies where you can sometimes get a good deal. Always go through a reputable company. I check out Money Saving Expert for some great advice on where to buy theme park tickets.

My favourite parks are Universal, Islands of Adventure, and Hollywood Studios, as I love the movie theming in these parks and I feel they cater for slightly older children, perfect for my teenage son. Amazing rides include Aerosmith's Rock and Roll Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror in Hollywood Studios and Spiderman in Islands of Adventure. If you love Harry Potter you must go to Islands of Adventure and visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Hogwart's is amazing.




Epcot

5. Shopping

Orlando has shopping for everyone, whether you are after great bargains or are happy to splash the cash.

The Mall at Millenia is a designer oasis, with brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Cartier.

Orlando premium outlets on International Drive has a range of discount outlets from Ted Baker and Tommy Hilfiger to Michael Kors and Hugo Boss all at great prices and Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores has Converse and a Disney outlet amongst others.


Downtown Disney has a wide array of over 40 shops including a great Lego shop where you little kids (and big kids) can play with their creations.

6. Restaurants

Orlando has plenty of budget options but also lots of high-end restaurants too. I find Trip Advisor great to give you a general idea of restaurants in the area. There are just so many places to eat and drink I can only talk from personal experience. 


For a meal on a budget consider I.H.O.P., Dennys, and Earl of Sandwich at Down Town Disney. For a moderately priced meal, I rated Olive Garden and Bahama Breeze on International Drive. 

Regarding high-end restaurants, the best meal I had was at the Yachtsman Steakhouse at Disney's Yacht and Beach Club. A delicious starter of scallops, beautifully cooked steak, and a fabulous vanilla cheesecake, with impeccable service with a smile. Another recommendation for a special meal is the California Grill in the Contemporary hotel. If you time your meal right you can also view the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom.





Hollywood Studios
7. Tipping

Tipping in the USA is expected especially for those that are paid relatively little like porters, chambermaids, and restaurant staff. Tipping is a way of showing your appreciation with the service you have received. It is considered really bad form not to tip if the service was good, so I feel it is best to budget for tips in your spending money.

A general guide to tipping in the US which I have taken from various websites:-

15-20% waiters/waitresses.
15-20% for taxi drivers.
1 to 2 dollars a drink for bartenders.
1 to 2 dollars a bag for porters.
Housekeeping staff 2 to 5 dollars a day.


Obviously, don't tip if you have had poor service but it's rude not to if the service was good or exceptional.

8. Transportation

Many package holidays offer "free" car hire but you almost always have taxes and fees to pay on top, so read the small print. You can always book a car yourself and car hire is relatively cheap in the US. Driving is fairly simple in Orlando, lanes are wide and generally, traffic is not fast moving around the theme parks.

If you do not want to drive, many hotels near the parks have shuttle buses that are free or have a nominal fee to use.

If you are based on International Drive, the I-Ride trolley can take you up and down the street, to Wet and Wild for example.

9. Off The Beaten Track




Kennedy Space Centre

There are some great attractions if you want to explore slightly further afield.

Kennedy Space Centre is an easy 45-minute drive away and is a fantastic place to visit for older children and those with a love of space. A trip to the coast to visit Clearwater or Sarasota is also to be recommended.

There are many places to explore and interesting attractions within the Orlando area, so please take some time to go outside of the theme parks and explore further. 


10. Take Time Out


If you plan too much you will be exhausted after a few days. The theme parks are huge and you maybe walking for miles. This coupled with jet lag may find you flagging by the third day. Plan in some downtime, early on, such as a day spent by the pool, or visiting a beach resort. Your body will thank you for it later in the holiday.

This maybe a once in a lifetime holiday or you may have gotten the Orlando bug and find you will be back. Don't forget to savour the experience, and take time every night to reflect on your adventures. There is so much to see and do you may try to cram so much in after a few days you may be exhausted! 





The Magic Kingdom

So this is my top ten tips on planning a holiday to Orlando. I hope you enjoyed the photos as they were all my own. Let me know if you have been or if you have a top tip too. I would love to hear from you!




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49 comments

  1. I've been to Florida twice, and the first time I was meant to go on the Rock and Rollercoast me and mum fled the queue as we were about to get on and had to take the chicken-exit to the side, and loads of people were sarcastically clapping us...i was only about 9, it was horrifying!

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    1. Aw Sara! I went with my son to Disneyland Paris when he was 8 and he did exactly the same thing. The start of this ride is amazing, it's a shame you didn't go on it. I am not one for rollercoasters but I adore this ride.

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  2. This is my dream holiday, mostly for the kids as I would love to take them to Universal Studios. Looks awesome Mellissa, you can tell you had a great family holiday. I always wondered about Package Vs DIY, good tips to investigate.
    I have never been to American, fingers crossed for the future. I want to go shopping there so badly x

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    1. It is such a fun place Lucy. Your kids will love it :)

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  3. I have never been to Florida but I really would love to. Now you ahve made me want to go even more! I have been to the Hard Rock Cafe in Cancun though and it was AMAZING!!!

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    1. The Hard Rock Cafe next to Universal Studios is just the best Erika. You have to go! When we were there it was Halloween, and all the staff were dressed up. Being served by Pinhead from Hellraiser was an experience lol.

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  4. I've been to Orlando three times now, loved it. Best holiday of my life. Love your tips. I really want to go back and these could help.
    www.leeshastarr.com

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    1. Thanks for your kind comments. Yes there is so much to see and do, I have been three times also. Next time I go I want to see more of Florida, and maybe travel down to the Keys and Miami.

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  5. very useful to read, as I'm really keen to go to Orlando! not that we have anything booked, still need to save up!!

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    1. It is honestly worth saving the pennies. I hope you manage to go in the future :)

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  6. This sounds great. I don't have kids, but i'd love to go to Orlando!

    xx

    www.forevermissvanity.com

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    1. Jessica - kids are optional ;) I first went before I had children.

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  7. This is such a useful post. It can be such a minefield and the pressure to get it spot on is enormous, so all good advice is useful :)

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    1. I agree it is a minefield, and as you say all advice is useful. I am glad you liked the post.

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  8. I've never been tempted to go to Orlando, but would love to visit the Kennedy Space Centre.

    Have you ever been to the National Space Centre near Leicester? That's well worth a trip if you're at all interested in space.

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    1. No I haven't been Ruthy, in fact i didn't know there was one there. Thanks for the information.

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  9. We went to Orlando for our family holiday this summer. We had a great time at the parks but I also loved the day we spent at the gorgeous little town of Winter Park.

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    1. I have never been to Winter Park but I heard it was lovely

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  10. Brilliant tips. We went to Orlando in February and that was a great time to go. Our kids were 11 and 7 and their favourite places were Universal Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios (Simpsons and Harry Potter rides especially), and then Hollywood Studios, so are with you on that. I also loved Epcot and made them traipse around everything!

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    1. Epcot is great too. I adore the movie themed parks too :)

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  11. I'd love to visit Orlando! great tips, if we ever are lucky enough to then I'll be sure to be back to check your tips! :) xx

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    1. Thank you, it's such a big holiday I think any help with planning is welcomed.

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  12. Fantastic tips, I can't wait to take Ethan when he's a bit older. I've been (pre kids) and loved it so much, it must be magical bringing little ones and seeing their faces light up :)

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    1. My son was 11 when I took him first to Florida but he was 8 when I took him to Disneyland Paris and he was in awe at that age.

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  13. I've never been to the States but I love how informative this post is, like Fritha, if we ever plan on going I'll be back! x Happy New Year

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  14. Sadly I've never been abroad, let alone the States but you make it sound absolutely wonderful. Hope you have a great New Year!

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    1. It is wonderful :) I have also been to LA and Vegas and love these places as well.

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  15. I have bookmarked this for the day this becomes a reality!

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    1. I hope it does become a reality for you one day.

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  16. Brilliant tips, we could have done with this kind of advice when we went to Disneyland to make the most of the time we had there. & I had no idea that there was a Harry Potter element to Disneyworld!

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    1. Yes it's fairly new - I think it opened about three years ago

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    2. But it's in Islands of Adventure not Disney.

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  17. Brilliant, thank you. Am getting excited about plans for next year!!

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  18. Thanks for the breakdown. So many theme parks to visit, spoiled for choice!

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    1. Yes you are certainly spoiled for choice in Orlando.

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  19. we have been with my now teen daughter when she was 8 but I would love to take my littles in a couple of years when they and I can cope with a long flight!! Disney and Universal are magical! x msedollyp x

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    1. That is a great idea. Nobody does Disney like....well Disney lol

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  20. My MIL lives in Florida, so we go every couple of years to visit. Orlando is always on the list somewhere! They do the parks so well there, that I don't tend to mind the crowds etc.

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    1. They do the parks brilliantly in Orlando!

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  21. A great set of tips! As you know we love Orlando, but can always do with learning more!

    How did you find HHN at US? I really want to go, but don't know if I'm too much of a scaredy cat!!

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  22. I really can't wait to take my daughters to orlando and this is a great post of tips thanks so much for linking to Time Traveller, this is a diamond post.

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    1. Thank you Mari that is so kind. Hope you get to go one day, Orlando is an amazing destination for all the family.

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  23. I have to say this is one of the places on my would to travel list .. in fact is our top place to visit :-)

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    1. I would love to go back again, hope you get the chance to visit one day Jaime.

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