Another week is coming to a close and I feel like I blinked and missed it! Sorry I missed you last week. I was busy typing up this post and I was planning to put a few paragraphs at the end to share some snippets of our holiday (which a few have been interested to hear about) but I decided I needed to split it into two posts (It was SOOOO long!) In order not to have two weeks of holiday stuff (let’s face it, every other blogger in the world is posting about Christmas now and I’m still rattling on about our summer holiday), I decided to post both over the weekend so there has been a little delay while I get both posts finished.
Anyway, we seem to be steam rolling into the end of the year and I can’t quite get my head around the fact that the summer is over, let alone that Christmas is just around the corner. So, while it feels completely ridiculous to be sharing another post about our summer holiday, I am conscious of the fact that we booked this holiday a year ago almost to the day and there will surely be people out there considering a break in Orlando next summer so I’m going to go ahead and share my top tips for making the most of your Orlando holiday as well as a separate bonus post sharing our holiday itinerary and favourite bits!
So, without further a-do, here are my top tips for making the most of your Orlando holiday:
1. Decide which rides are your top priority before you leave home:
This sounds so silly but, to make the best of your time, you really need to have an idea of which rides and attractions are top of your list. (I hate to break it, but chances are, you won’t have the time or energy to get to them all!) As first time visitors, we tried to get an idea by talking to friends and family who had been, searching the internet for information and by watching videos of the rides on youtube to get a sneak peak of what we thought would be most enjoyable. In our family, we are a fairly even split of serious thrill-seekers and those who are not so keen on being upside down! (I’m naming no names ;-)) As such, we wanted to know which rides would be suitable for everyone but also, whether there would be times when we would need to split and go for two separate attractions at the same time. Watching the videos really helped us make these decisions but we tried to make our decision quite early in the video so as not to spoil the surprises! We didn’t want to feel like we had been on everything already before we even arrived! Once you have your list of top rides, you can use it to plan your day and book your fastpasses to best effect. For non-Disney parks, this was still worth doing so that you could hot-foot it to the first ride on your list as soon as you arrived.
2. Find out which are the busiest rides:
With this one, you are learning from our mistakes! We didn’t research which rides would have the longest lines and I’ve since discovered that this information is out there! By far the most popular ride while we were there was the ‘Avatar Flight of Passage’ ride at Animal Kingdom. I don’t know if fast passes were available at all for this ride but they were certainly gone by the time we started booking ours and so we decided to just head straight there in the morning. While we were in Orlando, we overheard several other people talking about how busy this ride was so we headed out extra early to get to the park for 8 (an hour before it opened) and as soon as we were through security we basically ran straight for this attraction. We had picked up a map the night before and we knew where we were going but unfortunately for us, the whole rest of the world seemed to have made the same plan and we found ourselves, before the place even opened, in a queue that ran around half of the park! We were eventually told we were looking at a FOUR HOUR WAIT!! There was no way we were wasting half our day in a queue so we abandoned it and went for a different ride. For the rest of our holiday, we kept checking on the app for this ride to see if the queue had reduced and we never saw it dip below the 2.5 hour mark. So, for your information, the busiest rides we encountered were:
- ‘Avatar Flight of Passage’ at Animal Kingdom
- ‘The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train’ at Magic Kingdom
- ‘Test Track’ at Epcot
- ‘Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts’ at Universal Studios
- ‘Transformers: the Ride 3D’ at Universal Studios
- The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman at Universal Islands of Adventure
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Islands of Adventure
- Skull Island: Regin of Kong at Universal Islands of Adventure
but the first two on this list had by far the longest queues. We walked straight on to the next 3 by arriving early and had a short wait for the last two by making them our second ride of the day but later on, the queues were insane. Please note however that I’m sure this is changing all the time so it’s worth looking into before you start booking fast passes.
3. Download the My Disney Experience app and use it:
The app was a God-send. We used it constantly to check ride wait-times, book fast-passes (you have two extra fast-passes which can be booked after you’ve used your first three), to find quick-service restaurants, book dining reservations, to view our pictures on Disney photo pass, to view show and event times and to check park opening hours. You could even use it to order food if you weren’t on a dining plan.
4. Plan to get to the parks early and know which rides you want to head for first:
Getting to the parks early really does enable you to get the most from your time. I was amazed how many people didn’t do this. We found if we arrived early (well before the published opening times), we were able to get into the parks and make our way to our first ride in time for opening. Then, you could ride a few rides (2-3) before the queues started to build up.
5. Book your fast-passes ahead of time and make sure you don’t book any for first thing:
So, to clarify, fast passes are available to everyone who books a ticket to a Disney Park. They enable you to book a ride for a certain time in order to reduce queue times and enable you to walk (pretty much) straight to the front of the queue. You don’t have to pay extra for them and you get three per day which can be booked in advance using the ‘My Disney Experience’ app or website. Once you have used all three, you can book one additional fast pass using the app and then one last one using the machines in the parks (making a total of five per day). As I mentioned above, we didn’t pick up on this straight away, but it’s so useful to know that if you book your fast passes early, you won’t benefit from them at all. If you arrive early, most rides will have little to no wait time. We found that we could get in 2-3 rides before we had to start queuing. So, you don’t want to be wasting your fast-passes at this point in the day. However, you do want to get them in reasonably early so that you can still make the most of the final two that you can only book once you’ve used the first three. (Does that make any sense?!) We tried to book ours between 10.30 and 3, then you still have plenty of time to book your final two before the day is out.
6. Don’t restrict yourself to staying at the same park all day and evening:
We made this mistake twice during our holiday and paid for it both times. We wanted to do and see everything and we thought we could only do this by ‘keeping at it’ and only stopping when we dropped. At the end of these days we were, not just exhausted but actually in physical pain and our feet were suffering! My fit bit clocked up between 18 and 25kms per day! It didn’t take us long to come to the decision that the best way to see everything was to split our day in two. We would get up at 6.30 and arrive at the parks early, then see and do as much as we could during the morning before the heat reached its peak at around 2.30-3.30. We generally had lunch at the park, then did one or two more things before heading back to our hotel to cool off and rest. From around 3.30-5.30 we swam, lounged and read before showering and heading back out for the evening. Most days, we didn’t head back to the same park but went for a change of scenery and planned out a new itinerary which allowed us to see all the different parks fireworks, get some shopping in or return to use our final two fast passes for the day if we were at a Disney park. Doing this also meant we could make the most of our fast passes even on days we weren’t spending the majority of the day at a Disney park – for example, if we had spent the majority of the day at a universal park or at Seaworld, we could book our three Disney fast passes for the evening session and still use them to ride some of the attractions we didn’t have time for on another day.
7. Get park maps from your hotel at check in and look at them the night before:
If you are staying at a Disney hotel, you can get maps for all the parks at your hotel reception and they are so useful to have in advance, even if only so that you know which direction you’re heading in for your first planned ride. If not, you can view the park maps online and on the My Disney Experience app.
8. Know that Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are very close together and you can move between the parks if you have the correct tickets:
I haven’t talked that much about the Universal parks. We did go to them and we loved them. I was imagining that the Universal Studios and the Universal Islands of Adventure Parks were completely separate (in the same way that Epcot is separate from the Magic Kingdom) but this wasn’t really the case. The parks are right next to each other and it’s quite easy to switch between the two as long as you have the correct ticket. At one end, you can ride the Hogwarts Express to travel between parks and at the other, you have to exit one park and then walk around to the other but it is quite easy. We were considering buying the express passes but we held off on our decision (we had already bought them for the Seaworld Parks and at over $340 PER DAY for the four of us at Universal, we were finding it hard to justify) and I’m quite glad we didn’t. We finished up spending one full day and two additional mornings at the Universal Parks and we found that arriving early enough enabled us to ride everything we wanted to over the three days without having to queue too long. (In fact, by ensuring we arrived early, used our fast passes wisely and going for several mornings rather than one full day, we didn’t actually queue for anything for longer than around an hour the whole time we were in Orlando.)
9. Think about what you will want to have with you:
This is a tricky one to get right. You are heading out for an action-packed day and you will want to make sure you have everything you need but….you are going to have to carry it all around….all day. I tried to make sure we had the smallest possible quantity of everything we would need so that we had it, but we didn’t have too much. We quickly decided to just take one backpack for all four of us so that we could all take turns to carry it as well.
10. Have water with you at all times:
The one thing you may want to bring plenty of, is water. Some people had said to me before our holiday that you couldn’t take food and drinks into the parks but we took plenty of water and a few snacks with us every day and we never encountered a problem. Even if you are on a dining plan, you won’t want to have to stop and queue every time one of you gets thirsty and if you go in the summer like we did, the heat will cause you to become dehydrated very quickly so it’s essential to stay hydrated wherever possible. We bought a huge pack of bottled water and kept them in our hotel room ready to grab a couple each morning. One last thing to note on this – water is VERY expensive to buy at the parks, it’s so worth buying it elsewhere and bringing it with you.
And there we have it. My top ten tips. I could probably come up with ten more fairly easily but we would be here forever!! If you have any tips to add, please let me know in the comments. I would love to hear them.
We are heading into a busy period now which doesn’t really let up until Christmas so I’m looking forward to sharing some of that with you in the next few weeks. Be sure to check back in tomorrow to read about our Disney adventure!
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