So you are planning to go to Walt Disney World (WDW)? Or Universal Florida (UF)?
Then you better be prepared with more than a wallet stuffed full of money!
I have so much information to share that this might take more than one blog to do it in. In the past, I've shared a few 'must do' secrets, but if you have to go to these parks smack dab in the busy season, then you really need to follow my tips and tricks.
If you have never been to these parks, the first thing you need to do is go out and buy the UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO WALT DISNEY WORLD. No, I am not associated with this book, nor I do not get any financial recompense for recommending this book. It's just a good book that CRAMS loads of information on every page. And I highly recommend you start reading this book 6-8 months PRIOR to your vacation. Yes, there is that much information to be had. The last version that I bought--2007--is about 2-inches thick with tiny font, plus it had added information about Universal Studios. I don't know if the newer books provide that information.
I'll tell you up front--the book is overwhelming--true, there's tons of information, but you have to sift through the words to find what's important for you and your family.
AND this will change as your family becomes older and your preferences change. For example: going to these parks with little kids is totally different than going to them with pre-teens.
Before you even contemplate going to either one of these parks, see if you can pull your kid from school to hit the parks during 'shoulder season'. Shoulder season is off season, usually when the kiddos are in school, but the windows of time are narrowing. The key thing to remember is that the crowds are lighter, the lines aren't as long, the temperature cooler, and it might be just a little bit cheaper.
Getting there--this last year, we drove. It was it's own adventure reminiscent of the road trip I took in my youth. Kids have it so easy now with electronic gadgets and gizmos, while I had to play I SPY or read while I was that age.
Driving was fun, but time-consuming and boring. I don't know if hubby crunched the numbers, but with the added gasoline/hotel/meals I don't know if we saved any money driving vs. flying, or not. Part of the reason we drove was so the kidlet could go to the beach. We went to two different beaches, so that part was worth it.
In the past when we flew, we would board a plane at 5-6 AM, arrive in Atlanta at 2.5 hours, board another flight to Orlando, rent a car and be eating Wendy's no later than 1 PM. Many times we would be in our hotel and on a ride three hours later. The added expense of a rental car is slightly offset by the convenience of having a car and not having to rely on the park transportation to get you to the individual parks.
Hotels--I'm spoiled here. We have always stayed at an on-site hotel. We stay at the Portofino when at Universal, and this last time at WDW we stayed at the Beach Club, which is walking distance from Epcot, instead of the Wilderness Lodge (still my favorite hotel!). I don't care where you stay because during the crowded season, you can expect most of your hotel costs to DOUBLE! BUT there are a few advantages to staying on-site.
- If you're simply comparing room sizes to outside hotels then you are doing yourself a disfavor because you need to factor in the experience and convenience of being onsite. For example: if you stay at the Wilderness Lodge, you will feel like you are visiting Yellowstone National Park. And when you travel to the Magic Kingdom, you go by boat, which is a fun experience! When at the Beach Club, you can walk to the back entrance of Epcot. Staying at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, or Contemporary, then you can ride the Monorail to the Magic Kingdom. And WDW has a fleet of buses that travel from all hotels to the various parks.
- If stay on site and you do drive your car to the parks, you don't have to pay a parking fee at those parks, which can save you $16/day/park (2014).
Staying onsite at the Universal hotels will provide you with an Express Pass voucher for the days you are in the park. Of course, for those people who don't stay at one of their hotels, UF offers a variety of options for the Express pass--the cost depends on the estimated crowd levels and time of year. The more crowded it is, the more an Express pass will cost. Click on their site to find out what a daily pass is for X amount of people in your family--and then decide if it's more beneficial to stay at an on-site hotel or not!
- Again, trust me, the extra cost of an onsite hotel is totally worth the advantage of Express Passing the long lines, plus getting into the park an hour early to the Harry Potter experience and Transformers.
- You can walk to the parks (NOT recommended if you're at the Portofino as you will get plenty of walking at the parks!), or take a bike taxi, or wait for the boat.
. . . and will probably remember a few that I forgot about when I wrote this blog!