USA ‘11 – TIPS & TRICKS

This year was our sixth visit to Orlando doing the park with the kids (although they’re not really kids these days). Over the years we have learnt a thing or two about making the place tick for a great holiday and I thought that I would pass on.

Obviously these tips and tricks worked well for us but, as they say your milage may vary and all information was correct at April 2011, where that is relevant.

1. Travel when Easter is at the end of the school holidays. Occasionally, every few years, Easter comes as the final weekend of the school holidays rather than in the middle and this seems to make the first week much quieter and therefore more pleasant, in the parks.

2. Don’t use walkie talkies they’re useless get phones. Walkie talkies can only operate on a limited number of frequencies, something like 20 I think. 20 divided into all the visitors in Disney with walkie talkies means that you are sharing the frequency with a lot of people and this in turn means that they have a range of about 20 paces. Mobile phones are cheap and don’t suffer from this problem – see here for info.

3. Sales tax is not included in prices. Even after all these years I still get a shock when I get to the till and the price is higher than on the ticket. Sales tax is about 7.5% in Florida at the time of writing – don’t forget to allow for it. I found this particularly annoying and don’t understand why the taxable price isn’t displayed – unless it is to deliberately confuse tourists.

4. Things are more expensive in the parks. This may seem like stating the bleeding obvious but you get a Disney price hike and nowhere is this more obvious that in the places to eat. If you are on a budget take food in.

5. It is hot. Drink plenty of water and avoid collapsing with dehydration like one (un-named) member of our party did on our first trip.

6. Bring a second empty suitcase. If you like shopping then this is the place to be but it is easy to get carried away and you are left with three choices: throw stuff you have brought with you from the UK away to make more space, buy a new suitcase or bring one with you.

7. Parking at parks $14/$15. You spent several hundred pounds on your park entry tickets so you naturally assume that there is nothing else left to pay right? Wrong! You have to pay to drive and park at the place and (currently) this is an eye-watering $14 at Disney and $15 at Universal. Obviously this adds to the overall cost of the holiday.

8. Park photos are very expensive. At the entrance to pretty much every park and on many of the rides there is the opportunity for an official photo, often with a stunning view behind. To purchase these photos costs anywhere from $18 – $25. They can be a great momento but a wallet busting one too. However, the official photographers are willing to take the same shot with your camera, which is obviously free.

9. Got a hire car? You need to know how big your tank is. If you have hired a car then ask how big the tank is in gallons before you leave the rental desk otherwise you are going to be in trouble when you fill up the tank for the first time. At the petrol (gas) station you cannot pay after you have filled up as you can in the UK. You must either pre-pay on a credit card or at the desk. To pre-pay you must have the zip code of the credit card, which you don’t have so you must pay at the desk and the first question they will ask is how much you want. You don’t want to over pay so check before hand.

10. Tipping. This is a big thing in the US. Like the UK the US has a minimum wage (currently $7.31/£4.46 per hour) but, crucially, a “tipped employee” can be paid a lower rate (currently $4.29/£2.62 per hour) on the expectation of a tip. Dig deep!

11. Right turn on red. If you get to a junction and the lights are red and you are turning right, if the coast is clear you can go. This is great and such a time saver. It should be introduced in the UK (although in the interests of safety it should be left turn on red).

12. Sell your tickets! And finally, make some money back. If you have bought 14 day park tickets and you are strongly encouraged to do so, you will be hard pressed to use all the days on them as they expire 14 days after first use. Therefore, you will almost certainly have one or possibly two days remaining on the tickets – sell them. There are a number of places down the 192 that will buy them from you. We made $60 which paid for our lunch on the last day.

A trip to Orlando and the parks is a fabulous family holiday and great for all ages and while the prices seem good there are, as outlined above, so hidden gotchas. But forewarned is forearmed. Enjoy your holiday!