Thursday, February 7, 2013

How to make the best of Orlando.

Many books have been written on how to plan a trip to Orlando and how to make the best of your visit.
We went there 2yrs ago when our now 5yr old was 3 and she had a blast.
I took a book with me (borrowed from a colleague) which was really helpful. Its excessive though to carry a book, so if you want to avoid that, you could just print this page with a summary of key learnings from Disney guide books and travel experience.

1 - The number one tip to keep in mind, get to the parks early. Hard to do but totally worth it if you can manage! There will be lines everywhere. From parking to entrance to the rides. So if you can get in early it will save you a lot of waiting later on in the day.
2 - take print outs of the park maps beforehand and decide which rides you want to do beforehand. Some rides are very popular and will get crowded if you delay. So attack those rides first. 
3 - there are several smartphone apps that will tell you how much the current wait time at each ride in each park is. Download them and use them. Very helpful
4 - if you can, pack some food. Muffins, bagels etc so you dont have to worry about breakfast since you will be going early (I hope). Also, food inside the parks is pathetic and expensive. So its best to have some of your own supply, especially if you have picky eaters with you.
5 - Divide and conquer - you and your spouse can wait in lines for separate rides so that your little one has to wait in one lesser line. Some people will give you the eye roll when you are joined by the rest of the family but hey, its not your fault if you are smart enough to devise a time saving strategy and they are not. It may seem like a tacky thing to do but the parks are huge and so are the lines and its impossible to get a little kid wait in an hour long line.
6 - all Disney parks have the concept of Fast Pass. Meaning at certain times they will issue Fast Pass tickets for some of the shows/rides. Don't miss these. These are free and a must have. I don't remember the exact details of this so read up on this beforehand.
7 - Child swap - there are several rides which kids cannot go on. If you want to go on them you can do a child swap here. Meaning that you and your husband can stand in line with the kid and go till then end. One of you can go on the ride and one waits with the kid. They give you an express ticket to the person waiting and when your spouse is back give an express entry onto the ride, no waiting in the line again.

Now, on which parks to go to. I highly recommend Universal Studios. If you get there early you can do the Harry Potter rides within 15mts or at most half hour, and later in the day the wait for these is easily 1.5 hours. Universal also has the Dr Seuss section which kids will love. Universal does not have a free Fast Pass but you can pay and buy an Express Entry ticket, which I would recommend getting if you can.
Among the Disney parks, for kids of this age the Magic Kingdom is great. Animal Kingdom is good. You can try Disney MGM also inrs interesting. Epcot was a little boring for a 3yr old but a 5yr old might like it, I am not sure, check their reviews beforehand. 
You can checkout Sea World if your kid is into dolphins and sea animals.
Also check out Disney Downtown, nice for an evening walk, and free.

Booking and cost wise, your best bet is to book directly from The more days you buy passes for the cheaper it gets and you get authentic tickets. There are several fraud sites and sellers out there.
Accomodation - if you stay at a Disney resort you get special privileges like extra park hours, discounted parking etc. We didnt stay at Disney but next time we might. We stayed across the street from Disney downtown.
Also check out They have good deals and good tips on saving.

If you are going in May, watch out for Gay Days. There is one week in May where gays from all over the world get together in Orlando and visit each park on different days. Not an issue with gays but its just that the parks and hotels get crowded. Also the hotels may sometimes block access to amenities like pools because they would be having gay convention events. We didn't know and were there during gay days and could not use the pool or kids play area etc since that entire area was blocked for other events! Not to mention that the hotel was so crowded with skimpily clad hot men. (A little uncomfortable but no harm done.)
Here is another link that will help determine which are the most crowded seasons for Disney world, and you can plan accordingly -

Food - If you are particular about eating at Indian restaurants, you will not be disappointed. There are several to choose from. I just used urbanspoon on my phone to find the restaurants in the area and most of them were decent. Here is the list from urbanspoon. I think we went to Passage to India and Clay Oven and both were decent.

As I mentioned before, food options in Disney parks are quite hopeless. (Universal is better that way). However, when was the last time you heard someone say - oh my vacation was a disaster cos the food sucked? :)
Exactly, you will get by and have fun. During the day when you are stuck in the park it might be an issue but you can always make up for it by having a nice dinner.

So get set, do some homework to figure out what suits you, and enjoy the warm weather, sunny skies and hassle free parks of Orlando. Meanwhile it continues to rain and snow in dreary grey New York!