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Insider Tips for your Orlando Florida Theme Park Holiday

Extra Park Hours

Both Disney and Universal give residents staying at their on-site hotels the opportunity to start early and stay late in the theme parks. Disney will post times for the 'Extra Mickey Hours' in hotels as well as on flyers in the parks and handed to drivers on car park arrival. Universal have more set times that generally involve an early start and/or a late finish. For beating the queues on popular rides, or for a late night stay both systems offer a great benefit.

If you are a Harry Potter fan and the fantastic Harry Potter world at Universal Islands of Adventure is going to be part of your holiday, then consider very carefully the benefits of staying in a Universal resort hotel. With your stay comes a priority pass that gets you to pretty much the front of the queue on most rides, and gets you into the park one hour before everyone else. Harry Potter world is very popular and gets very crowded, that extra hour makes a huge difference, and the cost for a family to stay at one of the resort hotels is less than the cost of purchasing priority pass tickets on a stand alone basis!

Having a Car

America is the land of the car, the lack of pavements makes walking between shops or attractions difficult and dangerous and it is just not the done thing. Whilst there is some public transport or trolley bus services around International Drive these cannot be relied on for all your transports needs. Unless your holiday is going to be solely based in Disney then you will struggle with out a car.

However if you are staying in a Disney hotel and have limited plans to travel outside of the Disney complex then the excellent Disney transportation system will be all you need. Buses, monorail, boats and airport transfers should all be included in your hotel package and provide comprehensive transport through-out the Disney complex until very late at night.

American Food

Healthy eating and American food are phrases not often heard in the same sentence, of course not all American food is unhealthy, but Burgers, Fries, Pizza and Ribs are hard to avoid and form the staple of most restaurant menus. Eating out whilst looking after the waistline can be a challenge, its not just the type of food but the portion size. In addition the lack of artificial colours, flavorings, MSG and other preservatives that we take for granted in the UK does not apply in the US. Bright blue breakfast cereals may look great but are perhaps not entirely natural.

As delicious and tempting as starters, main course and pud may look on a menu, beware, the starter will be the size of a UK main course and there will be side salads and other extras. Go for one or the other, not all three, although the staff will be quick to offer a doggy bag for those eyes bigger than tummy moments.

The supermarkets offer a similar range of food to the UK, (Walmart = Asda, Publix = Sainsbury) but even here exercise caution. Preservatives and sugar are everywhere, yoghurts that are luminous colours and as sweet as toffee may not be what you are expecting.

That said if you are staying in a villa and want to eat as you do in the UK with a little caution you will have no problem, in fact staying in a villa does have a huge advantage here if you want to avoid wall to wall fast food.

Picnics

Taking a Picnic into a Theme Park can be a great way to save money and avoid all that fast food, however most parks have restrictions on what you can take in.

Disney (EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios) will let you bring in a small picnic, a round or sandwiches, packet of crisps, fruit etc. along with drinks although not big 2 liter bottles. Your picnic will have to be in your regular bag, you will not be allowed to bring in a cool box. If you freeze bottles of water and pack those around your picnic they will keep it cool and be ready to drink by lunchtime. Your bags will be searched on arrival to the park. There are plenty of seats, benches and other places in all these parks to sit and eat your picnic.

Universal Studios and Seaworld are less picnic friendly than Disney, anything more than a few snacks will be turned away. Busch gardens again does not allow picnics but has set up a token picnic area in the car park consisting of two tables next to a wall under a tree.

The water parks (Disney's Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, Wet 'n Wild and Seaworld's Aquatica) are much more picnic friendly with large picnic areas inside the parks and full size cooler boxes allowed. You are not allowed to 'reserve' a table by leaving your box there all day, although all now offer Cabana's, that for a considerable extra charge are yours for the day, complete in some cases with fridge and waiter service. If you struggle to find a table in picnic areas located near the front of the park then head towards the back of the park, often these will be much more empty.

Alcohol

Although its over 80 years since prohibition ended America still seems to have an uneasy relationship with alcohol. Supermarkets sell beer and wine, but for anything stronger you will need to head off to a liquor store. Altogether more foreboding places, where however innocent your purchase, you can't help but feel furtive as you leave the store clutching your brown paper bag.

The beer on sale in supermarkets is mostly big brand larger but the rise of the micro brewery has lead to some ales and wheat beers. Bottled Guinness and Newcastle Brown can sometimes be found as well.

The wine selection is similar to the UK but with a greater focus on Californian and less on Old World. If you like a dry wine then be cautious, white or blush wines especially Californian Zinfandel may well be quite sweet.

Bars and restaurants serve a similar range to the UK, with some great cocktails, Mojito's and Sundowners, although expect the onus to be more on having only one or two drinks. Prices are a little lower than in the UK.

Disney theme parks for the most part do not serve alcohol, the exception being the World Showcase in EPCOT where most countries have their national drinks available. The Rose and Crown in the UK pavilion serves a disappointing selection, far better is the Oktoberfest hall in Germany.

If you are in a villa and fancy some home made cocktails by the pool in an evening then why not make use of the duty free sales at your UK departure point and bring your favorite tipple with you.  

I thought this was meant to be a holiday!

Theme parks are fun, exhilarating, adrenalin fueled places full of wondrous sensations and experiences, they are also packed full of other excited people, they are not the most relaxing of places.

Remember you are on holiday, its not meant to be an endurance test! plan your days to include some time to relax by the pool, plan days away from the theme parks to take in some shopping or a trip to the beach. Give yourself a chance relax, and then return to the theme park ready to go again.

 

When thinking about where to stay make sure it has appropriate facilities to allow all the family some down time. Some hotels offer a crèche or kids clubs, or maybe take a villa and get right away from everybody else each night, separate bedrooms with some adult evening time can be a godsend.

Disney Transportation System

Everything in Disney is done on a grand scale, huge car parks, huge theme parks, 23 hotels, golf courses and Downtown Disney all set in 47sq miles of manicured park land, and joining it alltogether is the Disney Transportation System. Boats, Monorail, Land Trains and Buses seamlessly move tens of thousands of holiday makers around and between the parks.

The Monorail connects EPCOT and Magic Kingdom along with Disney's Contemporary, Grand Floridian and Polynesian Resorts and is free to use. Along with Boats it also serves as one of transportation methods between the Magic Kingdom car park and park entrance.

The buses are free for hotel guests and link all Disney hotels with all Disney Theme Parks and other attractions, they run regularly from early to late and provide a great alternative hiring a car.

Those hotels that are located on waterways are connected to their Theme Park by smaller boats and launches.

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A little about us

We set up this site to help others benefit from the good things we like about holidays, and hopefully miss out on some of the pitfalls and mistakes we have made over the years.

Who are we? Well we are your average UK family, hard working through the year in the hope of a few weeks away in the summer, with the kids in tow.

Before children, with babies, toddlers, kids and now teenage children we have travelled extensively through-out North America and numerous other parts of the world, beaches, mountains, theme parks, walking, site-seeing and all sorts of adventures. We have been very lucky, and most holidays worked out great, although there are always those little challenges and frustrations to deal with. Some holidays, or some parts of holidays didn't go quite to plan, hopefully some of the hints and tips on this site will help you miss those bits.

We have tried to be as objective as possible with our comments, mentioning the positives and negatives as we see them. Of course everybody has different tastes and desires for a holiday and this website is based around ours. We would welcome your feedback and your experiences, so we can build those into the website to give the best possible advice to others.