We’ve been doing the Florida Disney trips for so long now that people have started asking us for advice on planning their own holidays. I have been sending this information out to people that wanted it via email but I thought that it might be useful to put this together in a blog post.
This should be of use to anyone that hasn’t been before and is looking for hints and tips on what to do before you go and where to go once you are there. It will also be of interest to those that have done a package trip before and now want to DIY.
So let’s get that question out of the way straight off…
Package or DIY?
You have two choices here: either go on a package holiday or do it yourself. The pros of a package holiday are that it is easy and (possibly) cheaper but your choices will be more limited. A DIY approach gives you much more flexibility in terms of flight times and villas to choose from.
We always did it ourselves as then we knew exactly what we were getting and had the ultimate control.
Ok so there’s no getting away from this, it is expensive. At least compared to a trip to Spain. You should be expecting to pay in the region of £1,500 per adult for flights, villa, car hire and park tickets. On top of that you have to consider, maybe, car parking at the airport and the US entry ESTA. Oh and spending money of course.
If that hasn’t put you off then read on…
Book early, go direct.
Easter is a very popular time for Brits to go so flights get booked up pretty quickly. The very first time we couldn’t get direct flights and therefore had to stop in Charlotte, NC. We ended up not arriving at the villa until the early hours of the morning. We were knackered but the boys still wanted to go in the pool!
We have flown mostly with BA but once (maybe twice) with Virgin. They are pretty much the same except that Virgin has a check-in at Disney Springs so on the last day you can drop your bags off there and get some Disney time in before having to go to the airport.
Flights leave mid-afternoon so we always spent the morning in the park, then went to Perkins for lunch and then on to the airport.
All the places we stayed in have been pretty similar and all of a good standard with bags of space and a pool. Latterly we also looked for places with games rooms (usually in the garage) for the boys.
For booking we have used “friends of friends” and the following websites:
It is quite easy to put in your requirements and get a list but as we have discovered you have to look at the availability fairly carefully. Also we know what area we like to stay at, Davenport, but we have been in a number of areas and all have been of a very similar standard and distance from Disney etc. Kissimmee is another popular area.
Pool heating is extra and worth paying for (the figures I have quoted above include that). We didn’t pay for it the first year and it was pretty chilly in the water. This was April/May so if you go in the height of summer it might not be necessary.
Davenport is on the US27 which runs between the US192 and the I4 and is about 20-30 from the parks with a Publix and a Walmart close by along with a Dominos!
You can buy directly from Disney/Universal but we have used both of the following:
This is because they are UK based and issue “real” tickets. Others issue vouchers that you have to exchange on the first day which is a bit of a pain. Attraction Tickets Direct also have some good offers too. Last time we used them we got a $25 Disney gift card for each adult.
It is very much geared up to getting you to buy a two week, all park ticket, which we always do. These tickets are heavily discounted and give you access to all four Disney parks and the two water parks. If you are going to go into the parks a reasonable number of times (and if you are going to Orlando isn’t that the point?) then these are worth it.
Just so you don’t get a nasty shock when you get to your first park. Somewhat unbelievably parking isn’t included in your already expensive ticket and will cost $22+ a day but is valid at multiple parks on the same day.
The Universal tickets work the same and are valid for their two parks and the water park. And, yes, the parking is the same price here too. I’m not saying that it is a cartel but the price always matches. Just saying.
Unsurprisingly the parks get very busy and the lines for the popular rides can be hours long. We tended to see this as a waste of time and so used the following plan of attack. Get to the parks as close to opening time as possible and head straight to a ride you are interested in and get straight on. Secondly use Fastpass+ this is a way of pre-booking your attendance at certain rides – there is an app that allows you to do it. It’s not as flexible as it used to be in that you can only book three rides per day but it is worth doing as you get to skip the main line – it is much quicker. Oh and it is free.
Universal has a similar system which, I think, was $99 per person. However, I really don’t think that it is worth it given that the lines were so slight compared to Disney.
Last time we went our Disney tickets also included Memory Maker. This allows you to have your photo taken by any official Disney photographer in the park and then you can download the images later on and also view them on the app. It was brilliant. The photos were always great and ensured that everyone was in the picture.
Other things to do
Unsurprisingly, there are a whole load of others things that have sprung up around the parks for you to do. Here are a few that we have enjoyed over the years and are worth doing:
Outa Control Magic Show (http://www.wonderworksonline.com/orlando/the-experience/the-outta-control-magic-comedy-dinner-show/)
– food (well pizza), magic and comedy. Kid friendly, great fun. Held in an upside down building.
Boggy Creek (http://bcairboats.com/)
– airboat rides. See birds and crocs (or not depending on your luck).
Outlet shopping (http://www.lbvfs.com/)
– loads of outlets. There are also the Premium Outlets that you see on the I4 but LBV is my personal favourite as it has a shop serving decent tea.
Old town car show (https://myoldtownusa.com/category/events/car-cruises/)
– went a couple of times until Helen and the boys screamed enough! Lots of old and souped up cars that you can see drive through the old town and then walk through as they are parked up.
Kennedy Space Centre (https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/)
– check to see if you are going to be there during a launch and do that, otherwise it is a long drive and I wasn’t overly impressed.
Character dining (https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/)
– worth doing once if you think the kids will be wowed by having dinner with Mickey and Baloo et al.
Medieval Times (http://www.medievaltimes.com/)
– slickly done jousting etc. with meal in a castle.
Cirque de Soleil (https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/fr/la-nouba)
– this is currently shut while it is refurbished.
Downtown Springs (https://www.disneysprings.com/)
– Really nice place to go for a Disney oriented shopping trip. Has a great Lego shop there and you have to have a strawberry shake in Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. There is a Planet Hollywood and a loads of other top name brand shops and restaurants there too.
Fireworks and shows at Disney parks (get there early). All are good but latterly we have been going to Epcot’s because they are more adult in theme.
There is so much to do in all the parks and plenty for kids of all ages but here is a list of my favourites:
- Test track (Epcot)
- Safari (Animal Kingdom)
- Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom)
- Midway Madness (Disney Hollywood Studios)
- Star Tours (DisneyHollywood Studios)
- Indiana Jones (Disney Hollywood Studios)
- Simpsons (Universal)
- MiB (Universal)
- Transformers (Universal)
- and, of course, … Harry Potter (universal)
We loved the following:
- Perkins – great breakfasts – check out my favourites the Tremendous Twelve and the Magnificent Seven.
- The Cheesecake Factory – the enormous portions for the mains sadly prevent you from getting to the cheesecakes, which is a shame. Buy to take away and eat at home.
- Cracker Barrel – a good value family restaurant serving traditional style food
- Bahama Breeze – another good, more upmarket, restaurant, probably my favourite with a wonderful Shrimp Creole and Key Lime Pie
- Red Lobster – great for fish, obviously!
- Disney Springs – this has changed enormously since we were last there and there are many more options to suit all tastes and wallets. We particularly like House of Blues.
- Olive Garden – a new one for us this year as it wasn’t built the last time we were here. It is “Italian”ish!
- Ruth’s Chris Steak House – for a top end and tasty steak.
The following post has even more hints & tips about getting the best out of your US holiday:
If you are on Three you can use your phones in the US at no extra costs.
It’s a fantastic place, you’re going to have a great holiday!