Disney World and Orlando – 10 things to do and know before you go (from the UK)

Ok, it’s been a while since we returned from our Orlando holiday now but I have so wanted to share some of our experience with you all and we picked up so many useful tips and hints that I wished we had known before we went, I thought it was worthwhile posting about them. So, I’ll probably post a few times about various aspects of the trip. I do apologise to those of you to whom this is of no interest whatsoever!! I’ll try to intersperse these posts with other topics!

Before I begin, I will just say that I did A LOT of research before we went on our holiday. We were spending more than we had ever spent on any holiday and the chances of us ever being able to afford to go back were so slim, I really wanted us to be able to make the most of every minute and I have to say, it was so worth it!

So, here are my top ten tips of things to do and know BEFORE you go on a Disney World holiday. Some of these may seem so patronising and obvious so I’m really sorry if that’s the case but while we were out there, we spoke to a lot of people who wished they had planned their trip better so I thought this was all worth sharing…

1. Buy comfortable footwear and break it in – I can’t stress enough the importance of comfortable footwear!! (That’s why this point is number 1!) I was really worried about this in the build up to our holiday as I always struggle to find shoes that really ‘fit’ and I finished up spending a fair amount of money on various footwear to ensure I had ‘options’. I was so glad I had, although, even with all my efforts, I still had issues purely down to the sheer amount of walking. My fitbit clocked up between 18 and 25KMS PER DAY! And although I had tried not to over-schedule, when we got there, we found there was just so much we wanted to see and do that we used most of our ‘rest days’ running around trying to squeeze it all in! Needless to say, if you are in pain, it’s hard to really enjoy yourself so it’s best to make sure you have something super-comfortable on your feet! Just a little add-on here as well. If you are going in the summer, as we did (we had no choice as we wanted to have a 3-week break and weren’t comfortable taking the children out of school), you will be HOT. Florida in August is very hot and very humid. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat as much in my life!! (TMI?) Anyway, if you imagine that you will not want to be wearing ANYTHING at all and work up from there to cover the parts of your body you want covered with the minimum amount of fabric necessary, you should be on the right track!!2.Plan your itinerary and do it well in advance – It seems so strange months before you go on your holiday to be planning such tiny details as which park you will visit on what day, which specific restaurants you will eat at and even which rides you will go on at which times but you will be so glad you planned in such great detail. I will talk about fast passes in a minute but you will need to know which day you are going to be at which park in order to make the most of that system. Plus, you will want to throw in a couple of ‘easier’ days here and there so you are not all so exhausted you can’t make it through everything you want to do!

3.Book your fast passes as far ahead as you are allowed – It felt so strange to be booking time-slots for rides at the Disney parks months in advance! As Disney hotel guests, we were able to book our fast passes up to 60 days in advance of our trip and we really didn’t take advantage of that. I assumed there would be plenty of choice and I just wasn’t really in the head-space to be thinking about such minute details that far ahead but I wish I had. Fast passes are opened to non-hotel guests 30 days in advance and we left our bookings until after this benchmark had passed. I was amazed to find that some of the rides only had a few slots left for the two weeks we would be in Orlando and the availability impacted our itinerary. Fortunately, we were able to work around it but had we left it later, we may have missed out on getting any useful fast pass slots. People really are on their A-game when it comes to booking fast passes so you need to do the same and get your bookings in as early as you possibly can. Check out my next Orlando holiday post for additional fast pass tips!

4.Book dinner reservations months ahead – Again, it felt very surreal to be booking dinner reservations months ahead of our trip but as with the fast passes, those in the know are doing this way ahead of their trips and if you want specific restaurant reservations, you need to book a long way ahead. Our daughter was really keen to have a meal in the ‘Be Our Guest’ restaurant in the Magic Kingdom and even though I tried to book online around 5 months (yes, FIVE months!) prior to our trip, believe it or not, I couldn’t get an evening table for dinner on ANY of the 14 nights we were staying in Orlando! Fortunately, we managed to book a late lunch at 2.05pm so we all got to experience the place but I think this goes to demonstrate that there are other people out there booking months and months in advance so you need to be aware and get yourself organised if you don’t want to miss out. I have recently read that bookings open 180 days ahead. Remember, you can always cancel your bookings if you decide you don’t need them but be warned, if you want to cancel less than 24 hours before, you may be charged a cancellation fee. Another tip for something we did that worked out really well was to book a table for dinner in our hotel on the night of our arrival. It made that evening so much easier after a very long trip. We just arrived, ate dinner and went to bed. No fuss, no stressing about where to eat or queuing for ages to get food into our very ‘hangry’ children!5.Take more luggage than you need – I like to think of myself as a pretty efficient packer! We bought new suitcases to go on this holiday (our old ones were falling apart) and we bought 3 medium suitcases and one small carry-on size suitcase (bear in mind we were a family of 4 travelling for 3 weeks). We never buy the biggest size case because we have always found that if you fill one up with clothes, it is always heavier than the maximum luggage allowance and you finish up paying for excess baggage. However, I wanted to buy four of the medium cases, and leave one only half full. I wish we had done this because there were so many things we would have loved to buy on our holiday but couldn’t because we didn’t have room to bring it home. I’m sure this was a secret plan by my husband to ensure we didn’t spend too much!! (Still managed to squeeze in a fair few essential purchases tho ;-))

6.If you’re going during peak season, expect to be delayed going through customs and plan accordingly – when we arrived in Orlando, we were feeling pretty tired and ready to be done with travelling. However, the journey was far from over! First, we were kept on the plane for an hour due to the fact that there were so many arrivals at the same time and customs were overwhelmed. When we were finally released into the airport building, there was an enormous queue and a very long, frustrating wait to get through customs. This part of the building was not air conditioned (though there were some large fans) and there was nowhere to sit down, we just had to wait in a huge queue. It was hot, people were tired and uncomfortable and patience was wearing thin! I feel like, if we had been prepared for this, it would have been much more bearable. To start with, I would have made sure to save some of the water we had bought in the airport before getting on the plane for this time. Secondly, I would have made sure the children had something to keep them busy in the queue and thirdly, I would have made sure I had a fan in my bag! From the time the plane landed, it took us over three hours to get out of the airport and by the time we got into our hire car, we were all feeling hot, tired and a little bit fractious!! It may be that this was a one-off but I’d rather be safe than sorry!

7.Budget for an upgrade on your hire car – Have you ever hired a car and not had to upgrade?!! From experience, I think in the future, I would book an SUV from the outset and have done with it! We had booked a large sedan-type car (having had to upgrade to one of these on our last trip to the U.S.) but were assured on arrival that our cases would most definitely not fit and had to pay over $400 extra to upgrade. It did not go down well! Avoid the nasty surprise and allow for that cost within your holiday budget.

8.Get a sat nav that works – We have now been caught out twice by not having a working sat nav. The first time, we got directions and didn’t think we needed to pay the $100 for a sat nav. I can tell you that after several hours of driving around completely lost in the dark, $100 seemed like an absolute bargain!! (You can read about that debacle here.) This time, we happily paid the extra for the sat nav and lo and behold, it conked out half way back to our hotel and we had no map and no idea where we were going. Again, a stressful journey to our destination! Admittedly, we could not have known this would happen but I think in the future we may consider buying or borrowing a sat nav that we have tried and tested before we go.

9.Know the approximate location of your hotel – see my last point – have a road map to hand, you never know when you may need it! (You can buy them for around a fiver on amazon.)

10.Have change ready for tolls – When we arrived in Orlando, we hadn’t bought anything in order to break down our notes and get change. It is possible to drive through the tolls and pay your car hire provider but be warned, it’s much more expensive to do it that way (and they won’t tell you that at the car hire desk!) Buy something small at the airport and make sure you have some change and smaller notes as there are lots of toll roads in the area.

So, that’s it for this post. Check back soon for my top tips to make the most of your Orlando holiday once you arrive! Again, sorry if you have no interest at all in a holiday to Orlando and this was all piffle but I’ll be back soon with a non-holiday-related post!!

In the meantime, if you have any top tips to add, please let me know in the comments and I will be sure to share in a future post.

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