At least once a year, our family heads to Orlando for some fun and sun. I usually share my own DisneyWorld Tips (and Universal Tips) but today I’m sharing a guest post from a reader, Kim Harrington. Kim is sharing tips and advice to surviving your family’s trip to Orlando.
If you and your family have decided to take a family vacation to Orlando, Florida, then you’re in store for a trip you’re unlikely to forget. There are tons of activities and treats waiting around every turn.
On top of most family’s bucket lists are visits to Disney World and Universal Studios: casting spells in Harry Potter World or making waves on Splash Mountain are experiences not to be missed! But since your family won’t be the only one visiting these epic theme parks, it’s best to have a plan of action in place on how to make your trip as smooth and fun as possible for everyone.
Surviving Family Trips to Orlando: Tips and Advice
Orlando Travel & Lodging
To make sure your vacation is as seamless as possible, the best thing you can do is plan ahead. Preparation is key after all. While it can sometimes be exciting to live spontaneously, this isn’t wise for a family trip to Orlando (save that for Valentine’s Day). It’s a large city, packed with (literally) tons of tourists, who are also looking to have the time of their lives. It’s best to have the lay-of-the-land before you arrive. Several sites have break-downs of the city. This Orlando guide by Suddath gives a good overview of the city as a whole.
So, first things first, transportation. How are you getting to Orlando? If your plan is to travel via road trip, then you need to make extra preparations for hotels and meals if you need to stop overnight. While it may be tempting to just stay at a hotel that you pick on the way, this could prove foolish. It’s best to have your hotel stays booked at least a month in advance if possible. Two if you’ll be traveling over a holiday. If you do get caught with 11th-hour surprises, sites like HotelTonight can give you a list of last-minute hotel deals.
If you do decide to travel by road, do your best to stay away from the large cities on the way to Orlando. For example, for those who are traveling from the North, you’ll likely end up passing through Georgia on I-95. Anyone who has already taken this route is surely grimacing. Driving through Atlanta traffic can easily add 2+ hours to your commute. While it may seem like the direct route is the fastest route, this is not always the case. Instead, take the backroads or other highways that pass around Atlanta. This allows a more enjoyable, scenic drive without sacrificing time.
For those who choose air-travel, then you’ll need to have a backup plan in place in case your flight is canceled or delayed. In the event of a delay, you can prep for this by making sure your connecting flight has enough cushion time to account for the typical 30 to 60-minute delay.
If it’s canceled, first speak with the airline to see what else they can offer you. If there are no available flights to Orlando you risk losing out on everything you had planned for Day 1. And if you’re like most families, heading back home from the airport with the kids crying that the trip is canceled is NOT an option. Look into flights to either Jacksonville or Tampa as a last-ditch effort. Both are less than a 2-hour drive and you can salvage a priceless vacation day by renting a car for a short, one-way drive.
Let’s say you decided to brave it and go to Orlando during the holidays. You and a few thousand other families will be heading to the same place at the same time. Those who planned ahead will have a guaranteed room waiting for them. If you didn’t reserve a room, the hotels with the most perks will be booked up. That means free shuttles, discounted tickets, and included express passes are out the window. If you are planning on going during peak season, the only way to make it out alive will be through preparation and planning.
From personal experience, however, I would recommend off-season trips whenever possible. Hotels, flights, theme park tickets, and wait times are all less expensive and more manageable. Taking a few days off school for the older kids can be a blessing for everyone when you can save up 30%+ on the entire trip and lines are half as long.
Must Read: If you’re heading to Universal with young kids, check out our Complete Guide to Universal (with ride recommendations, too)
Discuss Comfort Levels With Rides
If you’re going to a theme park, you’re likely going to find that not everyone wants to go on the big, scary, rides. You can sit down with your kids and talk about what rides they want to go on and what rides seem scary. There are many videos online about each ride, so you can give your children a good idea of what to expect by watching them beforehand.
Make a list of the rides they absolutely want to ride on and what ones they’re unsure about. When it comes to deciding if they want to ride or not, make sure the decision is done before you stand in line. You can save yourself a lot of time by knowing where you need to go before entering the park.
If you go to Disney you can take advantage of Disney’s Rider Switch Program. This allows your children to always be under a parent’s watchful eye without making one parent sacrifice riding the attraction (hey, we want to have fun too).
Another excellent thing to pre-plan, regardless of what you’re doing in Orlando, are your meals. If you’re going to the theme parks, then you’re going to find that the meals there are a bit pricy. If this is something you budgeted for, then go ahead and eat wherever you like! Just be mindful that restaurants tend to be busy around the common times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
You may want to try eating a little earlier or later than the typical times to avoid the lines. For those who like bundling, you can typically find a meal plan can be included in your ticket.
For those of us who are especially savvy, consider a studio-suite hotel that includes a kitchen. Then you can do a small grocery trip when you arrive and simply pre-make meals and snacks before entering the parks. There are many different techniques when attacking a theme park, so choose the one that best fits your needs.
Thank you so much, Kim, for sharing your tips and advice with us!