A trip to Florida is an exciting prospect but it can also be slightly daunting as there are so many options as to where to stay, which attractions to visit and what to pay extra for. But luckily we’ve gleaned some handy insider tips to help you when you’re booking and planning your Florida holiday.
In the thick of it or within easy reach
When deciding where to make your Florida holiday base you need to ask yourself a few questions. Do you want to pay extra for the convenience of staying in a Disney or Universal theme park hotel? How about having the almost infinite amenities of International Drive on your doorstep and the parks really close-by? Or would you prefer to be by the beach and travel for days out at the parks?
- If you stay in a theme park hotel, you’ll pay a bit more for the privilege but you’ll get the convenience of being as close as it gets to the thrills. Free transfers will take you to and from the airport and into the park, as well as sometimes close-by parks like SeaWorld, that’s if you’re not just walking.
- Walt Disney World Resort has over 20 themed resort hotels ranging from the budget Pop Century Hotel to the still affordable Beach Club Resort. Similarly, if Universal is where you’ll be spending the most time, you could opt for the 3* Universal Cabana Bay Beach Resort or 5* Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, modelled on the Italian Riviera.
- But if you want a villa with your own pool and are happy to stay just outside of the resorts and get transport in each day there are lots of seriously well set up resorts close at hand – after all, Orlando’s major theme parks are all within about a 24-kilometre radius. Lake Buena Vista is closest to Disney World, with Kissimmee a little further being the best place to look for villas. While the bustling hub of International Drive, also known as I-Drive, is closest to Universal and SeaWorld.
- If you stay in the I-Drive area, the I-Ride Trolley offers an easy and economical way to explore the area without a car but for beach-lovers you’d be advised to hire a car to be able to get to the theme parks. The prime beach spots of St Petersburg and Clearwater on the Gulf of Mexico coast to the west are around a two-hour drive away.
The ins and outs of the parks
For many, the main reason for your trip will be to meet Mickey Mouse or immerse yourself in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Here’s what you need to know about the two biggest parks – Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando – from how to buy tickets to how to plan your days.
- What a lot of people don’t realise is that booking a package with park tickets included doesn’t mean you get entry any cheaper. But a sure fire way of getting your entry price cheaper is to book theme park passes ahead and watch out for advertised deals.
- Visiting Florida is, without overstating it, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so an extended stay is the way to make the most of it while you’re there. Walt Disney World alone consists of four parks covering 122 square kilometres. You’ll need at least a day at each of them – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – but you could potentially spend far more time there, and go back to your favourite bits more than once.
- Universal is split into two parts and again you’ll need a day at Universal Studios and another at Islands of Adventure. Both Universal and Disney offer early park admission when staying at one of their resort hotels so you can get there before the crowds and stay after, usually for an extra hour at each end.
- Or with the park hopper option, you can visit one site in the morning and another in the evening. Park-To-Park Access is particularly useful for Harry Potter fans as Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split between the two sites and you can ride the Hogwarts Express connecting the two parks.
- One of the worthwhile extras that can be added on when staying at an in-park hotel is a dining plan. This means you can choose from hundreds of restaurants and snack bars at a discounted rate. And at Walt Disney World Resort character dining experiences are sure to delight the kids, but you’ll need to book early as they can fill-up months in advance, particularly the popular Cinderella dining experience.
Let us know below what your itinerary is for visiting Florida, or any top tips we’ve missed out.