(scroll down to see):
Insider Tips - Lessons Learned From Visiting Theme Parks
What Orlando Is & Isn't
About Each Park
"Must See" Attractions
Sample Itinerary - How To See
It All In A Limited Amount Of Time
Discount Theme Park Tickets
Florida Resident Discounts
Orlando Advice Links
As someone raising a family in Florida I’m often asked for my "insider"
advice on vacationing at Walt Disney World and the other Orlando
theme parks. Friends and family want straight talk and the
scoop. They want a list of what to see and what to avoid.
Here's a web summary of that advice:
WHY YOU SHOULD READ THIS PAGE
Every year lots of people spend thousands of dollars (and use
their precious vacation time) to vacation at Disney World and
Orlando. They come with high expectations… and
sometimes leave disappointed.Advance knowledge will
help visitors have a good time.
Our family has been visiting Orlando “from up north” for a
decade. In recent years we've relocated to Florida. We've
had annual passes at all the
major theme parks. I've spent so much time/money learning by
trial and error, I wanted to pass along the things we've learned.
This is one family's perspective and straight-forward advice. This
is the stuff you won't see in vacation brochures and on official web
sites. For the record, my family has no connections to the theme
park or travel industry. The opinions expressed here are purely
my own, based on our Orlando experiences.
INSIDER TIPS FOR VACATIONING IN ORLANDO Lessons Learned While Visiting
Logistics are the enemy. It's amazing how quickly the
little things will eat up your vacation day. The more time you
spend waiting for buses, being lost, buying forgotten items or finding
information the less time you have enjoying yourself.
Know exactly where you are going and what you're bringing each
day. Vacation enjoyment is
directly proportionate to time spent on rides and in shows.
Vacation frustration is directly proportionate to time spent
Purchase a set of FRS walkie-talkies. These allow your
group to split up and easily find each other. The FRS (Family
Radio Service) walkie-talkies cost less than $100/pair. You can
find them at places like Wal-Mart, Circuit City and Radio Shack.
Bring extra batteries.
Note: Be sure to buy the models with “privacy codes."
Program all of your walkie-talkies with the same code-then only you
will only be able to hear each other. Without the codes, you will
hear everyone else
(a real problem because everyone in Orlando has these radios.)
The “code” models cost $20-40 more than basic models, but are worth
every penny. Click here for
more on FRS walkie-talkies.
If you travel by car, buy one of
those 12 volt/120 volt TV/VCR combinations or portable DVD players.
kids LOVE watching movies. You can even hook up you video
game system if you by a 12 volt-120 volt power inverter (available
at any major discount store or radio shack.) Having your video
game system in the hotel room can be a wonderful distraction for the
Have food for meals/snack in your hotel room. This
eliminates the pressure of always having to find somewhere to
eat. There are many easy-to-find Publix and Winn-Dixie grocery
stores in the area.
Take a backpack of snacks and water bottles into the parks.
All the parks allow you to bring them in. An occasional drink and
snack can keep children's' spirits high.
If you're tired, your kids are tired. Monitor that family
attitude each hour. Take a break before any “melt down” has a
chance to occur.
Plan an hour or two in the afternoon to return to your room for a
little quiet time or a nap. Leaving and returning to the
parks isn't difficult. Everyone has more fun when they have an
opportunity to recharge.
Stay hydrated. Airplanes, sealed hotel rooms and the
relentless Florida sun will can dehydrate you in a couple of hours.
Drink lots of water or juice. Avoid diuretics like coffee
Little Known Fact--Disney water parks sometimes allow coolers
packed with drinks (no booze
or glass.) This policy varies with security levels (so
call ahead.) Disney also sells a unique bar-coded "unlimited
refill" soda fountain drink cup. This can be a very good deal!
Bring your own stroller. Renting daily is expensive and a
logistics hassle. If you don't want to bring your big stroller,
purchase an inexpensive "umbrella" stroller.
Do not waste time at any of the roadside tourist traps or
come-ons. Coupon offers, discount books, reduced-rate tickets
stands, time-share offers, goofy golf, arcades and cheap souvenirs are
never a good deal. These things waste your valuable vacation
it's all about visiting the parks. You can do “touristy” things
closer to home.
Bring a small first aid kit that includes bandages,
cold/allergy medicine and Aspirin. Someone always gets a headache
or a cold. Expect blisters on kids’ feet. Your sinuses will
suffer from air travel, dry hotel air and swimming pools.
Bring hats and sunscreen for the
parks/pool. Bring flip-flops and small pool toys
(kids love to play with foam footballs and diving rings at
If you're visiting in the summer, bring one of those spray water
bottles with a built-in
fan. They work! These water bottles are cheap to buy
at discount stores, but may cost $20 at the parks.
If you travel in winter, bring layered warm clothes--it can get
very cold in Central Florida!
Bring rain ponchos or trash bags for everyone. In summer
it rains every day… but only for a short time each day.
Have a good Orlando road map. Get a map from AAA in your
hometown and use the ones provided in book "The
Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World." Get the AAA tour book
On maps, highlight routes to the parks and hotel prior
to arriving in Orlando. In advance you may even want to do Mapquest Driving Directions
for each car trip you plan to make.
Start each day with a definite plan. Make sure everyone
knows the vacation schedule and the contingencies. Realize that
your sightseeing will likely go either much faster than you
think or much slower. Make up for lost time by skipping
those non-unique “filler” attractions.
Expect to walk 3-5 miles each day on hot/hard pavement.
Comfortable shoes are an absolute must. Have bandages handy in
case of blisters.
You will be tired (and maybe
stressed out) at the end of an Orlando vacation. Know
this going in. You will see and do a lot, but it may leave
you feeling that need a "vacation from your vacation."
Learn the rules for each company's fast pass ticket system.
Manage your route so you can get as many fast passes as possible
Double check every time you use a fast pass machine… it's
unbelievable how many people forget their park tickets at these
Offer any unused fast passes
to other people on the way out.
A little Orlando goes a long way. It's not uncommon to
have had your fill after a few days. If you're frustrated with
the theme parks, head to a water park, the beach (information below),
Kennedy Space Center (90 minutes to the east) or the Florida Keys (5
hours to the south.)
Head to the beach if Orlando is too much. Florida's great
beaches are an easy drive (about 90 minutes away) if you want a change
of pace. Check out Clearwater
St. Petersburg Beach (west of
Tampa) or Hutchinson
Island (north of West Palm Beach.)
Little Known Fact--Disney even operates it's own Florida
beach resort at Vero
Beach (north of West Palm Beach.)
Attitude is everything: At least one or two major problems are
going to happen on every single day of your expensive vacation.
Roll with the
punches and don't let problems make you mad. Orlando is filled
with bad drivers, confusing roads, hot/humid/rainy weather, cold
weather, numb service employees, dumb rules and moneygrubbers
everywhere you look. Expect it and don't let it bother you.
Not Widely Publicized Fact--Orlando Gay Days: Each year
on the first weekend in June Orlando hosts 125,000 gays and lesbians
for the Gay Days celebration. People participating in the event
wear red clothing. Participants are very visible at the theme
parks, water parks, resorts, pools and nighttime hot spots.
Gay Days are not well publicized outside the gay and lesbian
community. As such, some unsuspecting families don't learn of the
event until they arrive. Click here for
Orlando Gay Days dates, locations and events.
Open alcohol containers at Disney's Epcot: Some
families may be surprised to see visitors walking around Disney's Epcot
with booze. Disney sells alcohol at this park.
In the fall, Epcot features a Wine and Food Festival. It
sells alcohol and ethnic food
from small stands on the walkway around the World Showcase.
During our visit during the Wine and Food Festival we saw a
considerable amount of conspicuous alcohol consumption and inebriated
Little Known--Disney Pin Trading: Most Disney employees
wear a sash displaying Disney pins. The employees are required to
trade any pin with visitors.
To my surprise, my kids really enjoyed pin trading at the Disney
parks. It allowed them to interact with Disney employees and
learn to place different value on differing pins. When it was all
over they had
a great keepsake.
A good way to start is at the hometown Disney Store. Buy a
set that includes a sash and several pins. You can then start
trading as soon as you arrive at the parks. Of course sashes and
pins are available at Disney park gifts shops. Click here
more on Disney pin trading.
Character Autographs: Young kids enjoy meeting the
various costumed characters, especially at Walt Disney World.
Here's a nice way to remember your vacation experience:
Bring index cards and a Sharpie pen. Have each character
sign an individual card and pose with your child for a picture.
Once you have the film developed, place the photo and autograph
card next to each other in a small photo album.
Character Dining: Families with younger kids should
consider having a meal with the Disney characters. It's a great
way to give them access and interaction with the famous characters.
Disney offers several character dining options. The meals
change from time to time, so you always have to check with Disney to
see which meals are currently being offered.
We have been to the character lunch at the Crystal Place
Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom (it's located on the Main
Street near the castle.) This lunch featured most of the standard
Disney characters (Pooh, Cinderella, etc.) The food was served
We have also been to the Princess Storybook Breakfast in Norway
at Epcot. As the name suggests, the characters are all
princesses. The food was served family style, with one large dish
of food placed at teach table for the family to share. Of the
two, I enjoyed the Magic Kingdom character dining better... but I'm not
into the princess thing. However, my daughter LOVED it.
It can be very difficult to get reservations. The best
thing to do is call Disney several weeks in advance to get
reservations. Demand always exceeds supply, so getting
reservations early is important.
Beware that character dining can be a little pricey.
However, given how difficult it can be to see characters inside
the park, it's definitely worth doing a character meal at least once.
here for more information on character dining.
Slow Times Of The Year: Once there were predictably slow
times of the year for Orlando theme parks. The parks have
combating "slow" times by offering large-scale special events. If
you are planning your trip for a "slow" time in the hopes of avoiding
long lines, check with the parks. They may have scheduled events
(marathons, concerts, food festivals, golf tournaments, etc.) that will
attract large crowds.
The first two weeks of December are traditionally Orlando's
slowest. The last week of December is typically Orlando's busiest.
The Memorial Day Monday and the days immediately following also
tend to be very light on attendance.
Park attendance can be gauged somewhat by operating hours.
If the parks close early (say 7pm), generally that means owners
anticipate light crowds. If the parks are open late (11pm or
midnight), large crowds can be expected.
Little Known: Baby Swap: Most theme parks will allow
you to do a "baby swap" on rides. This is a real benefit to
adults traveling with young children. The entire family can
wait in line for a "grown up" ride. Once you are at the boarding
station, you can ask the attendant for a "baby swap." One adult
will remain in the
station with the young child while the other adult rides. When
riding adult returns, he/she waits in the station with the child while
other adult rides. This saves the family from having to wait in
WHAT ORLANDO IS, AND ISN'T
Many people feel that an Orlando vacation is something every
family “has” to do at some point. It's an American
obligation. There's pressure to visit at least once. It's tough to enjoy any vacation you regard as an expensive
obligation. To insure a good time, it helps to know just what
you're getting yourself
ORLANDO IS: Orlando is only about theme parks (not the Florida beach, the
Keys, air boats, alligators
or NASA.) This city offers an unequaled demonstration of the art
amusement park “theme-ing.” The parks here are more lavish, more
detailed, better maintained and more creative
than anywhere in the world. The parks are open all year.
Visitors are captives on vacation. Crowds are still likely
to show up when it rains. The parks have much better cash flow
than those up north. More cash coming in means more cash being
spent on rides, shows, maintenance and landscaping.
Orlando attractions tend to be about stories, animals and
characters (“themes”). The competition is to determine which
park has the most colorful, creative and fanciful rides.
It's not about having the tallest, fastest and most head-pounding
thrill rides (that's left for the folks at Cedar Point, Kings
Dominion and Magic Mountain.)
Orlando is Central Florida: It is land-locked. It
is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It does not have a
beach or afternoon sea breezes. It can be 20 degrees colder than
South Florida in the winter. Some northerners don't prepare for
the chill and find it down right cold in the winter!
Orlando is a tourist city: Come ready to see every
possible tacky tourist trap known to humankind. Everyone here is
from somewhere else. Locals are used to having a hundred thousand
tourists invade each week… trash their town… and leave.
Orlando will “Nickel and Dime” you: Be ready to pay for
everything and then some. Expect lots of taxes, “resort fees” and
other add-ons at your hotel. Expect all manner of add-on charges
for your airline ticket and
rental car. Expect tolls on the roads. Expect to pay
for parking. Expect to pay for some theme park attractions even
though you bought a ticket that’s supposedly good on all rides.
It can seem as though everywhere you turn, someone has a hand
ORLANDO IS NOT: Orlando is not relaxing. Crowds, heat, overabundance of
attractions and travel logistics will keep you occupied every waking
hour. This is an active (working?) vacation that requires a lot
of planning and keeping to schedule.
Orlando is not something you can see in one trip. It is simply
not possible to enjoy all of the area’s attractions in a
week. You will leave without having seen it all. Define
what interests you and leave enough time to enjoy it. Don’t get
caught in the trap of trying to see it all. You may not be able
to see it all, but you can see what's important (check
out the sample itinerary below.)
Orlando is not user friendly.
Competing business interests make it very difficult for
visitors to enjoy various parks around the city. Companies
try hard to get you to stay at their hotels, use their transportation
and visit their parks exclusively. They will make it difficult
for you to go to the competition. It's like the Las Vegas
casinos that offer you a moving walkway on the way in (but none on
the way out)… then once inside you can’t find an exit.
More so than other vacations, a trip to Orlando must be
planned extensively. It's not uncommon for visitors to plan a
week-long trip hour-by-hour! I know this sounds crazy.
However if you're spending the better part of a thousand dollars
a day to bring your family here, planning is the only way to insure
you’ll accomplish everything you want.
Three months ahead of time
buy this book: The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney
here to see more.) It contains good information about all the
Orlando parks, not just Disney. No, I don’t
have any connections to the author or publisher. However,
I have purchased the book twice in the last 10 years. It's
an unbiased guide. It gives you all the information you need
to create an effectiveplan for your theme park
visits. It even suggests theme park routes and times that
allow you to see the most attractions in the least amount of
Over the years this book has grown to be quite expansive (so has
Orlando!) It will take you several weeks to read, digest and plan
your trip using this book. It costs about $20 at the local
bookstore. This is a small fraction of the cost of your
trip. Information is power. This book will give you details
not available in any travel brochure or web site. When I show our
copy to traveling friends and family, they always comment on how they
wished they had
seen it before their trip. After reading the book, layout a detailed plan highlighting
what you want to do each day. Write out your plan and keep it
with you at all times. By
way of example, I have provided a sample plan below.
HOTELS HOTEL OPTION ONE: You can stay on property at
Disney or Universal Studios and rely on their transportation.
HOTEL OPTION TWO: Stay “off property” at one of
the many Orlando area hotels (Irlo
Bronson Highway for Disney, International
Drive for Universal Studios and Sea World.) Some hotels offer
limited bus service to the major parks (though most of these shuttles
run frequently enough.) You may really want a car.
I have found it best to pay the extra money to stay at a
suite hotel. This
allows the kids to have their space and the adults to have
theirs. When battling travel and theme park fatigue, the extra
space and flexibility is a Godsend. Suites also provide
a small kitchen. This allows you to eat meals and snacks in your
room. This cuts down on the planning and frustration of always
having to eat out. Besides, the money you save on
food can help make up for the higher cost of the suite.
Your trip to Orlando is to see theme parks, not to
always be looking for a place
to eat. We have stayed at several suite hotels in
Orlando and liked them all. The kids especially like the Holiday Inn Suites because
of pools and special kid-themed rooms.
ORLANDO TIME SHARES
We have also stayed at Orlando time share properties operated by
These big hotel companies are now in the time share business.
They will offer a several night stay in exchange for you
listening to a two hour sales pitch. The Marriott and
Hilton pitches were not the sleazy, high-pressure pitches made
by traditional time share companies. They were respectable and
low key. The accommodations were very nice. We
accepted these accommodations prior to making our Orlando trip
plans. We figured the sales pitch would waste half a day and
planned accordingly. WARNING: Do not waste precious vacation hours on time
share pitches you learn about once your are already vacationing in
Orlando. These pitches can be a huge waste of time.
Accept offers to visit only in advance and only from reputable major
exactly how long the time share company wants to pitch you, then hold
them to it. Never accept an invitation from a company you've
never heard of. Never buy a time share based on one visit to any
property. You can sample several and always return to your
favorite place to buy. Check out time share resales as a way to
DO NOT BUY A TIME SHARE WITHOUT EXTENSIVE COMPARISON SHOPPING
AND REALISTIC FINANCIAL EVALUATION OF OWNERSHIP COSTS/OBLIGATIONS
I'm not "anti-time share." They can make sense for people
in certain life situations. Time share accommodations can be a
lot larger and nicer than hotel rooms. It's just that after
running the numbers, I've never been able to make a time share make
GETTING AROUND GETTING AROUND BY TOUR OPERATOR-“Easy but locked-in”:
The easiest way to get around Orlando is to sign-up for a vacation
package. This way you rely on the tour operator or the resort to
get you around. This
generally means that you will spend all of your time exclusively at
Disney or Universal Studios. You will be at the mercy of buses
and tour planners. This can be attractive for its apparent
ease. However, I know people who have become very angry at slow
bus service and undelivered transportation promises. If you're
paying $200 a day for park passes and miss a quarter of a day due to a
transportation problem, you're not going to be happy.
GETTING AROUND BY CAR-“Flexible but responsible”:
Having a car gives you a lot of flexibility to travel when and
where you want. However, you have the responsibility to
navigate the bizarre maze of Orlando roads. It also means every
day you are paying to park and forced to take trams to the Park's front
Our family prefers having a car because it better allows us to
control the itinerary.
ORLANDO ROADS: You would think that as a tourist town
Orlando roads would be simple, well designed, well marked and big
enough to handle crowds. My experience is that Orlando roads are
none of these things.
Many area roads charge a toll. While annoying, it
is better to use the toll roads because the main highway (I-4) is way
too small to accommodate demand. I-4 is bumper-to-bumper during
rush hour and can be slow even on weekends. I-4 officially is an east-west freeway. However, I-4
runs north-south through Orlando. Warning-Orlando lane markings are unusual. Several
I-4 interchanges have right-hand lanes that suddenly disappear.
The lanes may then reappear a quarter mile later. It's
surprising, frustrating and dangerous.
Orlando drivers are a toxic mix of tourists, retirees and
devil-may-care locals. Drivers regularly cut you off, change
lanes erratically, drive too slow and don’t pay attention. It's
important that you drive defensively!
Orlando roads change names and are not always clearly
marked. This is
especially true where city roadways meet Disney area roads. “Markers”: In an
effort to make Orlando more user-friendly, the city has erected several
large numbered markers. They’re placed along the roadways
in hotel/restaurant tourist areas. For instance your hotel might
be near “Marker 16.” I do not find the markers useful in finding
destinations. The markers' greatest benefit appears to be in
differentiating the sprawl. Mile after mile of Shoney’s,
McDonalds, tee-shirt shops, motels and ticket stands all start to look
alike. You know you're making progress
when the marker numbers are changing.
ABOUT EACH PARK
Here's an overview of each major park and the time necessary to see
each one (assuming you move moderately quickly from ride to ride):
Half day =
.75 day =
Full day =
Disney Magic Kingdom: A larger, newer duplicate of Disneyland in
California. This park has traditionally set the highest standards
for creativity, landscaping and cleanliness. Walt Disney’s stated
goal was to create a park that both children and adults can enjoy
together. The Magic Kingdom still does this better than any other
Leave 1.5 days: One day
is ample to see the major attractions. However, returning for
part of a second day may better allow you to see some of the
smaller-yet-still-enjoyable attractions. Click
here for a Virtual Tour Of The Magic Kingdom created by the author
of this site!
Disney-MGM Studios: An appealing mix of movie-themed rides and
shows. Older kids and adults will enjoy MGM more than little
kids. It does not
appear as though a significant amount of movies actually get shot at
Leave .5-1.0 day: If you stick to the plan in The
Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World, it's possible that you will
be able to see all of the
major attractions in about half a day. Generally speaking you
will feel satisfied with your visit after three-quarters of a
day. If you stay a whole day (opening through closing) you will
feel like you have run out of things to see.
At Christmas time, Disney MGM offers The Osbornes' Christmas
Lights. You may remember the Osbornes were a family that set
up so many holiday lights at their house the town shut them down.
The lights are the most incredible anywhere and now appear
annually at Disney-MGM. Click here for a
Virtual Tour Of Disney-MGM Studios created by the author of this
Disney Epcot: Disney’s second
Florida park is an eclectic mix of non-traditional attractions.
It's half World's Fair and half cultural showcase. There are few
School age kids and adults may best appreciate all of the
educational and cultural exhibits. The park may be too advanced
for young kids and too unusual for teens.
The best theme park food in Orlando is found at Epcot's World
Showcase. Many times the
ethnic cuisine is prepared by native chefs!
Leave .5-1.0 day: You can easily hit the limited number of
major attractions here in half a day. However, the fun of EPCOT
is exploring and
poking around. It is not a thrill ride park. If you
take it easy, there’s no problem spending a wonderful low-key day
exploring the abundant “little attractions.” EPCOT is by far the
most unusual and mellow of all the Orlando parks. It's in
a class by itself. As such, it requires a different mindset, timetable
Disney’s Animal Kingdom: This
park is not really a Zoo. The National Zoo in
Washington, DC or the San Diego Zoo are much better traditional
zoos. Rather, Animal Kingdom is a mix of a cage-less
zoo (think San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park or Busch
Gardens Tampa) and a theme park… all done with the appropriate
amount of Disney themeing.
Kids of all ages and adults will enjoy
this park. Disney's Animal Kingdom is only open during
the day. We have typically found this to be the most crowded
of all the Disney parks due to it's limited operating hours and
Leave .5-.75 day: If you stick to the plan in The
Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World book, it's possible that you
will be able to see all
of the major attractions in about half a day. Generally speaking
you will feel satisfied with your visit after three-quarters of a
day. If you stay a whole day (opening through closing) you may
feel like you have run out of things to see. Don't forget to take
the two walking trails--these are where you see the most animals.
Universal Studios: Orlando’s version of the original California
movie theme park. It's a little more edgy than Disney’s
MGM. Teens and adults will enjoy.
Leave .5-1 day: You can
hit all the major attractions in half a day. Three
quarters of a day is very satisfying.
Universal Studios Islands Of Adventure: At the risk of
overstating--this park sets a new standard. Many consider
it a "must see." Teens and thrill seeking adults will especially
enjoy the wild rides and excellent use of the latest entertainment
technology. Young kids will like Seuss Landing. Islands Of
Adventure combines Disney-like quality, high technology and raw theme
park thrills. There is no other park like it. As you can
tell, it's a personal favorite.
Leave .75-1 day: This park is loaded with major
attractions. It's tough to do in half a day. It's possible
to see the big stuff in three quarters of a day. However, leaving
a full day is most satisfying. You might even want to consider a
second full day just to come back and do it all over again. For
some reason, rides at this park are more enjoyable to ride several
times… while other parks
quickly have a “seen it, been there” feel.
Sea World: This is the “Marineland on steroids”
park. The killer whale, dolphin and water skiing shows are
excellent. This Sea World location (there are four around the
country) has added a large steel roller coaster as a traditional
amusement park attraction.
Sea World has fared well since being purchased by Busch (the
beer and Busch Gardens folks.) Busch has raised the bar on
showmanship, landscaping, investment and cleanliness.
Leave .5-1 day: Sea World is fairly leisurely paced.
Time in the park is largely driven by the shows. You can see all
of the major shows and attractions in about three quarters of a
day. Half a day won’t allow you to hit all the shows.
Water Parks: People of all ages will find something they
like at each Orlando water park. Disney operates three water nice
parks which cater to families. Water Country USA is not affilated
with any theme park. It's more appealing to teens.
Leave 1 full day at any water
park: Water parks are a different animal. You
go, explore, and lay around. It's easy to get several rides on
all the major slides in a day. Leave a full day
in the middle of your week for a water park visit. It will
be a welcome change from all the hot and crowded theme park craziness.
Busch Gardens Tampa: Busch Gardens is a very well
maintained park. It's a cross between a zoo, a garden and a "big
ride" park. Kids love the more traditional amusement park
rides. Adults love the animals, landscaping and general layout of
the park. People who don’t like the
“exploration/educational” style of EPCOT might consider substituting
the day with a trip to Busch Gardens.
Leave .75-1 day: Busch Gardens is only about 90 minutes away
from Disney. It's an easy highway drive (though it's suburban
location can make it a
little difficult to find.) Busch also owns Sea World in
Orlando, so a discounted combination ticket is easy to get.
KEY ATTRACTIONS - THE "MUST SEE" LIST
Frequently people will ask me
what the “must see” rides and show are. All the parks
are loaded with “filler” attractions. Don’t feel bad
if you miss filler. Concentrate on seeing the major
Here is a list of the “must see” rides and shows… the ones
people will ask you about:
"Must See" Rides (Teens & Adults) The
Amazing Adventures Of Spiderman(Universal Islands Of
high-tech multi-media ride is
creative, unique and very memorable. Truly groundbreaking.
The best ride in Orlando.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (Disney MGM Studios): Short indoor
roller coaster ride made fun
with a great storyline and theme-ing. Disney “Imagineering” at
its creative best.
Test Track (Disney-EPCOT): Big ad for General Motors made fun
through excellent use of technology and concept. You might even
Dinosaur (The Ride) (Disney-Animal Kingdom): Traditional
ride technology, but excellent animated dinosaurs. Creative, dark
and scary with fabulous attention to detail. Don’t try
taking the little ones on this ride.
Dueling Dragons (Universal Islands Of Adventure):
Wonderful dueling suspended steel roller coaster. Sit in the
front… you will never forget when
the when the two coaster trains travel head-on (and a loop that
just barely saves you from colliding.) Best design of a
traditional steel coaster in Orlando.
"Should See" Rides (Teens & Adults) Incredible Hulk (Universal Islands Of Adventure): This is
a signature ride that has been somewhat over-hyped. It's still a
great suspended steel coaster ride with an excellent "launch" up the
Park River Adventure
(Universal Islands Of Adventure): Steven Spielberg-designed
boat ride on steroids. Outstanding mechanical dinosaurs
and storyline. Universal spent major dollars on this one.
Ripsaw Falls Log Ride (Universal Islands Of Adventure):
Long, creative roller coaster/log flume hybrid. Whimsical and
fun. You will get wet.
Popeye’s Barges Raft Ride (Universal Islands Of
Adventure): Long, traditional whitewater raft ride. Crazy
graphics and story also make this wonderfully whimsical and fun.
After the ride, don't forget to find the nearby tugboat.
There you can shoot the "water canons" that get soak the people
on the raft ride.
Kilimanjaro Safaris (Disney-Animal Kingdom): Another
signature ride that is somewhat over-hyped. The 20-minute tour
has a strong setting. The story and animal views are okay.
Tower Of Terror (Disney-MGM Studios): Short ride. Great
story and presentation. May be too scary for the little ones who
later can't distinguish real elevators from theTower Of Terror.
Splash Mountain (Disney Magic
Kingdom): Long, traditional water flume ride. Good
story and outstanding craftsmanship.
Riding" (Teens & Adults) Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
(Disney Magic Kingdom): Now a veteran ride, it's
still excellent for its concept attention to detail.
Space Mountain (Disney Magic Kingdom): An oldie but a
Poseidon’s Fury (Universal Islands Of Adventure): Unique
walk-through special effects attraction.
Star Tours (Disney MGM Studios): Older movie/motion ride
that’s still a lot of fun.
Movie Buff Note: Look for George Lucas’ cameo at the
end. He’s in the last shot… appearing as the control room
Body Wars (Disney EPCOT): Star Tours as created by your
Living With The Land (Disney EPCOT): Interesting boat-ride
through the Disney greenhouses. After the ride, take the walking
tour if it is being offered.
"Must Visit" Attractions (Young Kids) Various Rides In Fantasy Land
(Disney Magic Kingdom): As you know, simply the world’s
best attractions for young kids and their parents. Arrive
at park opening time and do everything in Fantasy Land immediately
(otherwise the lines can become very long.) The newer Pooh
ride is every bit as good as the traditional favorites.
Various Rides In Seuss Landing (Universal Islands Of
Adventure): Extremely creative adaptation of Dr. Seuss’
stories. Don’t miss The Cat In The Hat, One-Fish or the
carousel. Parents will enjoy this area at least as much as the
Note that much of the architecture has been created out of
styrofoam. Just like Seuss books, there isn't a straight line
anywhere. Even the palm trees are crooked (they were transplanted
from the site of a hurricane.)
Pteranodon Flyers (Universal Islands Of Adventure): Low
capacity ride for a young child and a parent with a long wait.
However, flying those big
birds around Jurassic Park is memorable!
Visiting" (Young Kids) The Flying Unicorn (Universal
Islands Of Adventure): Cute and fun kid-size steel
Dinosaur Excavation Play Area
(Disney Animal Kingdom): Large dinosaur bones buried in
pebbles. Kids love to “dig.”
Honey I Shrunk The Kids Play Area (Disney MGM Studios):
Kids love climbing in this
imaginative playground. Adults will find it crowded with
no place to sit down.
Play Area (Sea World): Sea World offers a great
traditional play area with climbing towers and tunnels.
“The Olive” Tugboat Play Area
(Universal Islands Of Adventure): Easy to miss area
near the log and raft rides. Three stories of running, climbing
and shooting water at the raft riders.
Character Dining: Disney offers a variety of sit-down
meals with Disney characters. The characters mover from table to
table, giving young kids a
better chance to interact with them than at the parks. A
family of four can expect to pay $60-$75 for one of these meals.
ORLANDO’S BEST SHOWS
"Must See" Shows (Everyone) Fantasmic! (Disney MGM Studios): Extraordinary use of
pyrotechnics, lighting and lasers. Fun story. Great
showcasing of Disney characters. “Disney magic” at it's
best. A great way to end the day on an upbeat note.
IllumiNations (Disney EPCOT): A moderate fireworks display
made great with music and a
unique video globe made out of a stadium “jumbotron” technology.
Great exhibition of showmanship and timing. It runs about 15
minutes. A “feel good” highlight of an Orlando
vacation. Watch out for the exiting crowds when the show
"Should See" Shows (Everyone) Shamu Show (Sea World):
The signature animal show of all time. If possible, see
both the day show and the “House of Dowse” evening show. The
evening show is very upbeat-Busch showmanship at its best.
The Eighth Voyage Of Sinbad (Universal Islands Of
Adventure): Remarkable special effects. A personal
Indiana Jones Stunt Show (Disney MGM Studios): A veteran
stunt/special effects show with an educational component. Still
the best of its type.
Movie buff note: Compare how Disney has modified the
German swastika props used in the show versus the movie.
Lion King (Disney Animal Kingdom): Wonderful song, dance and
gymnastics show. Both adults and kids will enjoy.
Cranium Command (Disney Epcot): Outstanding mixed-media
presentation. Information blended with humor. Story line:
You go inside the mind of a teenager. Very creative. Fun
Tarzan (Disney Animal Kingdom): Songs and X-games inspired
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (Disney MGM Studios): Exact
duplicate setting of the real TV show. Fun with great audience
Barney Show (Universal Studios): Well done stage show
featuring the purple dinosaur. It's long enough to be satisfying
for young kids, but not too long for adults.
(Attractions that won’t blow your mind... just simple
Buzz Lightyear (Disney Magic Kingdom): Whimsical shooting
gallery. Good mindless fun… just like the Toy Story movies.
The Diamond Horseshoe Saloon Review (Disney Magic Kingdom): Grab
lunch in the air conditions
while watching a silly wild west review.
Innoventions (Disney EPCOT): Kids love to play with the
interactive computer technology.
Coke Ice House (Disney EPCOT) Short walk through a deep
freeze, followed by free samples of Coke products from around the
world. The fun is in tasting some of these strange sodas.
Dancing Fountain (Disney EPCOT): It's the central
fountain in the Future World plaza… but the show is easy to
miss. The fountain will occasionally put on a wonderful
display of dancing water, music and light.
Walt Disney's Life Story (Disney MGM Studios): Exhibit and short
movie on Walt’s life. It's as sugarcoated as you would expect,
but still magical and inspiring.
World Of Energy (Disney EPCOT): Moving movie theater &
The Living Seas (Disney Epcot): Largest aquarium in the
China-The Movie (Disney Epcot): This is the best of the
three "360-degree movies" at Epcot.
The exotic locations and scenery make this an interesting experience.
While you're there... the sit-down restaurant in Epcot's China
section is said to have some of the best Chinese food anywhere.
Even the "fast food" style Chinese food restaurant is good (my
favorite quick eats at Epcot.)
SAMPLE ITINERARY - SEE IT ALL
IN A WEEK
Here is one way to hit all of Orlando’s major attractions in a week.
Saturday—Travel day. Upon arrival, swim at the hotel pool,
organize all of your clothes and make a trip to the closest
Publix/Winn-Dixie to buy a week’s worth of food, drinks and
snacks. Review your plans for
the next day and for the week. Get everyone to bed early.
Sunday—Leisurely full day at Sea World. Get home early.
Monday—All day at Disney MGM Studios (end the evening with
Early morning through mid-day: Universal Studios plus
Nap & Mid-afternoon through late-night Disney at MGM
Studios (with Fantasmic)
Tuesday—Leisurely day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Get home
Wednesday—Full day at Disney Blizzard Beach Water Park.
Play, relax and don’t keep to a
schedule. Be sure to try the huge monster slide… just
so you can tell everyone you’ve been on the world’s greatest water
slide. If you don’t like water parks, try a day at Busch
Gardens Tampa, Cypress Gardens, the hotel pool or the beach.
Thursday—Full day at Universal Islands Of Adventure
Friday—Full day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, including nighttime
Saturday—Leisurely full day at Disney’s EPCOT. Future
World in the morning. Take
a nap in the afternoon. Return to explore the World
Showcase. Plan for a nice last dinner somewhere in the World
Showcase. End the final night with the Illuminations fireworks
Sunday—Return travel day.
question I get from readers of this site is "Where can I buy
discount theme park passes?" Unfortunately, there is no good
source of discounted tickets. The parks generally do not offer
discounts to visitors from outside the State Of Florida. They
know you're going to come regardless of admission price, so there is no
reason for them to give you a break. Besides, since the park
ultimately issues every admission ticket (regardless of
where it's sold), there is no competitive structure to bring prices
The City of Orlando is littered with tourist trap stores and
ticket kiosks that supposedly sell discount tickets.
Beware of people who sell "a four day pass with one day
remaining on it" for a discount. The theme parks are wise to this
game and may reject your ticket even if it is still good. Please
do not trust the fly-by-night stores and kiosks in Orlando! Do not buy tickets from unknown internet sites
that promise discount tickets. The few dollars you save simply
isn't worth the risk.
That being said, there are a few things you can do:
> Buy your tickets in advance through your
hometown AAA (American Automobile Association) office. AAA
generally offers tickets that are a few dollars cheaper. At
the very least, AAA will save you enough money to cover the AAA
membership cost (then you have access to their great travel planning
services.) Besides the park front gate or official park web site,
the only reputable source of tickets that I can recommend to you.
AAA also offers great hotel discounts. Click here
> You can talk with your hotel.
Many hotels sell admission tickets at a slight discount. If
there's a problem, at least you know who you can talk with.
> Check with the official park web sites for
package deals that include discounted hotels and theme park tickets.
> Check the official park web sites for deals on
individual tickets. The parks will generally
offer a slight single-ticket discount to you online versus buying
at the front gate. Tickets purchased this way can be sent
to your home or picked up at the park's "will call" window.
> Check the discount travel links (at the bottom
of this web page) for package deals.
The discounts offered on tickets are generally small.
However you can use other
techniques to save your vacation dollars. The best way to save
money is on your flight, rental car and hotel. A lot of money can
be saved on food if your hotel room has a kitchenette and you stock up
on food at one of Orlando's Publix or Winn Dixie
supermarkets. Check with your hotel's front desk
for directions to the nearest supermarket.
MILITARY DISCOUNTS: TICKETS, HOTELS,
Theme parks regularly offer discounted tickets to those in the
military. The discount offers change all the time. Check
these web sites for more information on military discounts
FLORIDA RESIDENT DISCOUNTS
The parks occasionally offer discounts to Florida
residents. Of course they require proof of residency
(such as a Florida driver’s license or a utility bill.) Offers
aren’t always available. Special offers vary by season
and general park attendance. The discounts are offered when times
are slow (most of the offers seem to be available in the winter and
spring.) The best Florida resident discounts are offered through AAA-the
American Automobile Association. In January and February Florida
residents can buy a year pass for the price of a one-day ticket. Busch
Gardens & Sea World will make this offer to the general
Universal Studios/Islands Of Adventure may make this offer
available only through AAA. This offer isn’t repeated at any
other time of year. Disney has not made this offer.
Throughout the year AAA also sells regular theme park and water park
at a slight discount. Click here to
see updated AAA discounts for both residents and non-residents. Disney offers Florida residents a few options.
First is an annual pass.
This is best if you go a lot of expect friends/family to visit
during the summer, Christmas or spring break. The second
option is an “off peak” annual pass, which is generally only
valid in the months when school is in session. The “off peak”
pass makes it tough to join out-of-state friends when they come down
for summer vacation. The last option is a “Play 4” pass
which allows you to visit for four non-consecutive days. The
Offers such as “Play 4” are only offered occasionally.
For our family of four, a discounted pass to Busch Gardens, Sea
World, Universal Studios or Islands Of Adventure would cost about $225.
An “off peak” Disney pass would run about $800 and our regular
annual pass cost about $1200. “Play 4” type
cost about $100.
As tempting as it might be, non-Florida residents shouldn’t
try to cheat the system. Disney uses electronic fingerprint
technology at their gates. Universal and Busch provide photo-ID
Generally Florida resident discount passes do not allow
admission to the parks during special theme nights at Halloween or
ORLANDO AIRBOATS, MANATEES, ALLIGATORS, KAYAKING
Florida is rich in wildlife and natural attractions. It
may be nice to get away from the commercialism for a day and explore
"The Real Florida." Click
here for more information on Florida air boat rides, kayaking,
parasailing, fishing, alligators, manatees and eco-tours.
CRUISE LINE: CRUISE VACATION TIPS
If your Orlando vacation includes a trip on the Disney Cruise Line or
another cruise line,
check out our virtual cruise ship tour
and cruise vacation tips at Cruise
101: A Beginner's Guide
If you love Florida and are considering moving here, click
here. This link takes you to Moving To Florida:
which is my advice page for those considering a
move to the Sunshine State. It provides information on where to
the Florida lifestyle and some of the "surprises" you may encounter
moving to Florida.
I assembled Moving To
Florida: Relocation TIps after hearing from many readers of this
site who were considering relocating to Florida.
The "theme" park was invented
by Walt Disney. His idea for Disneyland came after
a simple father/daughter outing. He wanted to create
a place that adults and kids could enjoy together.
While Orlando may represent the state of the art in theme parks,
it hasn't been our family's best overall amusement park
experience. Our best "family together"
experiences actually came at a regional amusement park near
where we used to live. Having a season pass to a nearby park allows you to visit
frequently and for just a few hours at a time. You can go on
rainy days when the weather has chased the crowds away. Short
lines mean you can ride again and again. You can wander without
an itinerary. The kids can go where they what when they
want. Who cares
how the time is spent so long as you're having fun?
Isn't it strange? In some ways the local amusement
park may be closer Walt's original vision than current day Orlando.
If you come to Orlando your and family enjoys theme parks
together, don't forget about that nearby hometown amusement
park. A season pass there may allow for some affordable and
relaxed family experiences that you simply can't get in Orlando.
Our family lives in Florida and has made trips to Orlando on a
monthly basis. We're a working family with no ties to the theme
park or tourism industries. We have seen every single ride, show
and attraction at each of the Disney parks. We've visited all of
the parks listed on this page many times. Every year we buy
multi-park annual passes to various properties (we alternate between
Disney, Universal-IOA and Sea World-Busch Gardens.) It wouldn't be
accurate to classify us as Disney fanatics, coaster enthusiasts or
theme park nuts. We visit because amusement parks are something
everyone in the family can enjoy together.
As you can tell from reading this page, we try to enjoy
Orlando's magic but aren't blind to its many failings. I really
appreciate the business risk, hard work and creativity it takes to
build such interesting and technically sophisticated parks. The parks
are colorful, clean and safe. At the same time I'm concerned
about the extraordinary costs associated with bringing a family to
Orlando. Families make major sacrifices to fund their Orlando
pilgrimages. They arrive with sky-high expectations based on
Orlando's image marketing. If all visitors find are overcrowded
theme parks and inflated prices, they're
going to be unhappy. I was disappointed by my first trip to
Orlando and I've left disappointed several times since. The
only reason I come back is for the family. I manage Orlando
because of the information presented above. I put the
information on the Internet because I hope it will have the same
benefit for you.
Best of luck with your Orlando adventure!
feel free to be in touch with any comments, questions or to share your
Orlando theme park tips. Click here for
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT THIS SITE
thousands of people visit this site each month. We're pleased to
have the opportunity to share the advice learned from
our family's Orlando experiences. Here are some of the comments
readers have sent:
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have possibly gotten any more informative? Love your site and
will definitely come in handy when we visit. I have bookmarked it
so we can start our planning the right way." --Tracy T.
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to Orlando. Thanks for your web site. Excellent!" --Gigi S.
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guide to DisneyWorld. My family and I have
been researching and you are the first we have found who talked about
the 'other attractions' like Universal and Sea World. I have
bookmarked and intend on printing your web page for our use.
you again!!!" --Carol Y.
have just finished reading your site and it has prepared my for my
vacation there this weekend." --Munoda M.
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