Travelling tips for anyone going to Orlando!
I have travelled to Orlando with my children twice. The first time I travelled when my children were 3 years and 10 months old and the second time, they were 5 and 2 years old. We made fantastic memories in a place that is special to me for many reasons, but I’d be lying if I said it was all eating Mickey shaped cookies and skipping down Main Street. There were times me and my partner looked at each other and internally screamed. Please be aware that I am no travel expert, this is simply me sharing some suggestions which I found helped make my holiday a little less stressful.
Before I start I’ll quickly summarise the details of both trips. Both times we opted to stay in a villa, and flew with Virgin Atlantic. The first time I booked everything separately; the villa through trip advisor – because it was well reviewed and was a relatively good price – and the flights direct through Virgin’s website. The villa was located in Lindfields which was less than a 10 minute drive to Disney. I was also attracted to this villa because Lindfields is somewhere I stayed as a child. I found however, that in the 25 years since staying there the area had aged and had become slightly run down and whilst the villa gave us everything we required, it was very dated with limited facilities (such as a working TV). The second time, however, I booked a package through Virgin Holidays and received an allocated villa located in Davenport. Location wise we were much further out, with Disney being about a 25 minute Drive and Universal roughly the same, though I actually found that this allowed us to see a bit more of Orlando and all that it had to offer. The second villa was far more favourable; located in a secure gated community and brand-new décor, a huge pool and all working facilities. I was really hesitant to book a package because the idea of not seeing the villa beforehand really worried me, but I’m really glad I did and definitely would again. Both of these locations were in Kissimmee.
My first trip was in June 2016 and my second was December- January 2018/9. The weather in June was scorching hot until around 3pm when it would pour with rain until the next day. Some days it would just rain and thunder all day. This was a big shock to me as I thought Orlando would be at its hottest in June, but the humidity the heat can bring in peak summer months can also mean rain and thunderstorms are common. In my experience, the weather was far better in December/January. It was roughly 21-25 degrees each day with just one small rainstorm gracing us within the 2 weeks we were there. The evening would get quite chilly though so we always made sure to carry a light jacket or jumper.
Come Armed with QUARTERS!
I’m putting this point before anything else because it cannot be stressed enough. If you are driving to accommodation you will pass tolls and be required to pay with quarters and if you only have dollar notes this will be a problem as they do not have people working on the tolls so you are expected to have the correct change. If you don’t pay you will be fined. I would suggest using some notes at the airport to buy a drink and ask for some quarters with your change. If you’ve been before then I’m sure you’ll already be aware of this golden rule, but we had been before and the second time around we forgot all over again and ended up having to park up whilst my partner ran to the nearest shop! It was quite frustrating when you’re tired from a long flight and have two tired children in tow!
Flights used to be a relaxing experience; drinks and food at the airport and winding down with a book or film throughout the flight. It doesn’t take a genius to know that travelling with kids will give you the opposite experience. I arrived armed with goodies for my children, but generally you just have to wing it as best you can, it will just be easier if you have a few have supplies to help. I’ve listed some below.
– I took picture cards and we played snap, an easy game that even my 2 year old enjoyed.
– I packed a notebook and some crayons for each so they could draw. I also used them to play noughts and crosses and hangman with my eldest.
– We flew with virgin and their entertainment was fabulous, but children can be very picky, so I downloaded things they like on my iPad beforehand just in case. Also, games on the iPad kept them quiet for a while.
– I tried to keep my children awake for most of the flight and timed any naps to coincide with the time in Orlando. It’s so tempting to allow them to sleep for hours but it will make life more difficult once you’ve arrived.
– Sweets and crisps are good snacks that can be used in an emergency. My little girl had a screaming fit and a couple of jelly tots saved the day (and the ears of other passengers).
– We bought the children their own headphones as the first time around the ones provided by the airline were too big for their heads and stopped them wanting to watch anything.
– Lastly, don’t worry about other passengers getting annoyed too much. Some passengers may take issue with children, but if you’re getting a flight to Orlando you’d have to live under a rock to not know they are filled with families.
Tackling the Time Zones
My best friend is cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic and has said her top tips for jet lag are to go straight into the time zone you are flying into and to stay hydrated. To elaborate, things as simple as having breakfast at breakfast time or having a shower in the evening. Our flight got us to Orlando around mid-afternoon so we got to our villa, dropped our bags off and then headed out for dinner. We left unpacking until later to prevent the children from falling asleep. I found that going straight out kept the children more alert and reduced the chances of them falling asleep! If you are staying at a Disney resort I would suggest popping to a park as it will most definitely keep your children alert. Obviously an early night will be needed but try and make it a reasonable night-time hour in Orlando’s time zone to avoid waking too early. The next day-our first full day – we didn’t visit any of the parks and instead did something a bit lower key. We got up and went out to Walmart and then visited Disney springs and had a drive round and explored, followed by dinner and an early night ready for a day at a park on our second full day. This also helped us gain our bearings a little bit and pick up on things we wanted to do.
Breakfast, Snacks and Dinner
Everyone has different desires when it comes to this, it’s quite a personal choice, but there are things that are at least worth being aware of before you go. I have listed some below.
– The cost of dining in Disney is pricey. We had Breakfast at Chef Mickeys and dinner at The Crystal Palace. Both were buffets and came to around $160 with a tip for a family of four, so budget well, as we were quite surprised when we got our bill! Out of the two I would suggest the breakfast as you meet all of the characters, have great food and the kids get to sing and dance a little bit! The Crystal palace offered the same interaction with fewer characters as it was just those of Winne the Pooh. The food was good quality and variety but it is clear you are paying to meet the characters.
– Even non character dining is pricey. Planet Hollywood in Disney Springs cost us around $200 with a few cocktails and starters, but the food was fantastic. The nachos there are to die for! We mixed a few expensive meals in with a few cheaper ones and it didn’t break the bank!
– The restaurants I enjoyed the most outside of Disney parks were; Chillis, Millers Ale House, Applebees and Cracker Barrel. Our bill in all was no more than around $50 for a family of four, and the food is fantastic, offering a wide variety of different options.
– Fill up on breakfast! The first time we went to Orlando we ate breakfast at home to ‘save money’ but ended up spending significantly more when we were hungry two hours later and saw the Mickey Rice Krispy bites on display! The snacks inside the parks can be costly and can quickly add up if you’re filling a hole until dinner time. So, the second time we decided to eat a big breakfast out every day to fill ourselves up, in the hope of reducing the need for snacking. It worked a charm. We spent about $27 on an all you can eat buffet breakfast for the four of us and then took our own snacks bought from Walmart to eat throughout the day. In comparison to eating a smaller breakfast, then immediately buying snacks and drinks for a family of four at $20 – $25 a time and repeating this up to three times throughout the day, we were saving a significant amount of both money and time. Golden Corrall breakfast buffet is out of this world and by far my favourite. A family of four will cost about $30.
The first bit of shopping we did was at Walmart. We stocked up on essentials like water (the water in Orlando doesn’t taste great), snacks and pool inflatables and games. We went to Publix the first time around only to realise in the last few days that Walmart was actually a lot cheaper and three times the size. Walmart is a lot like a Tesco Extra in that it sells almost anything. This includes a huge clothing section and a large Disney and Universal related souvenir section. I always buy Disney pyjamas from Walmart as they’re about $5 a pair and last ages! Character key rings, cuddly toys and clothing are all really low-priced in Walmart and I would suggest it if you want to buy little gifts for people back home. I actually bought a grumpy T-shirt as a nightie from Walmart four years ago and I still have it! If you’re looking for cheaper souvenirs give some of the gift stores a try as well!
Florida has two shopping malls; The Florida Mall and the Mall at Millenia. Personally, I felt the Mall at Millenia contained slightly more upmarket shops and for me personally with two children, I was on a budget and didn’t buy much. The Florida mall was my favourite of the two as it fitted my budget (this is an unpopular opinion, most people would disagree with me). Generally though, outlets were my favourite shopping experience. The deals you can get on amazing brands and designers is incredible and I ended up buying myself a Kate Spade tote and Michael Kors purse for just $200!
– Disney parks charge $20 a day for parking but this can be used on any car park in one day. For instance, if you want to do two parks in one day you won’t need to pay again.
– Universal studios charges $25 dollars a day for parking so make sure you budget for this as we didn’t realise and ended up with less cash than we planned!
– You are allowed to take snacks and drinks in. Obviously in places like Epcot you will want to try some of the foods (churros in Mexico to be precise) , but on the days we had more pricey meals we tended to eat snacks from home throughout the day to even out the cost.
– The parks offer refillable cups. They are $16 a day and you get a flask which you can refill with any drink whenever you want at any drinks cart or machine (you get to keep the cup too). Don’t do what I did and think you can reuse it every day, they have a chip in which can register which day the drink was purchased for (I was gutted).
– All parks offer free water refills, worth taking a bottle you can refill as the water fountain water tastes a bit dodgy!
– You aren’t allowed selfie sticks in the parks. Ours was confiscated!
– Download the Disney and Universal apps so you can see waiting times for all rides. The Disney app is essential as it allows you to book dining reservations and fast passes up to 30 days in advance, which helps you plan your days. With Disney you get 3 free fastpasses a day. Universal doesn’t offer daily fast passes but instead you can purchase an express pass for the day which is unlimited. Be warned though, they’re pricey! We did single rider on a few rides that the children didn’t want to go on and then did baby swap! Knocked hours off our waiting times!
– All the evening fireworks are amazing, but Happily Ever After at the Magic Kingdom is a must see (spoiler; I cried and I never cry!)
A couple of random tips to end;
– If you’re staying in a villa take your rubbish bin out the morning its due. We put ours out the night before like we do at home and raccoons destroyed it. It was everywhere.
– Visit the Old Town on Saturday night. They have a mini classic car convoy and live music. My children loved it! They also have some really good shopping there and it has an old country feel to it.
– Krispy Kreme’s are $6 for 12 glazed rings in Walmart.
– Wear comfortable shoes around the park as you walk so much. I did 32,000 in one full day in the Magic Kingdom.
– Luggage trolleys at the airport cost money to use.
To finish, I just want to say, if you have a trip to Orlando booked, I’m extremely jealous!