Planning Your Orlando Florida Holiday

 

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Orlando Florida Holidays Insiders Guide and Holiday Budgets

 

To turn that dream of an Orlando Florida Holiday into reality will take a little bit of planning, whether its a Orlando Package holiday, a British Airways Flydrive or a Disney Hotel there are still lots of things to think about and get into place before you go.

When to go

The climate in Florida, school holidays and busy periods in the theme parks may all have a bearing on when you go to Orlando, but so will the age of your family and when feels right for you.

The heat of a Florida summer, waiting in line for rides or for a parade to start, may not be the best thing for little ones, but other than that any age is a good age to visit Florida's theme parks. What you get from the parks could be split three ways, which you fit into may be decided by your age or maybe by just how big a kid you are at heart. I am firmly in stage 2!

  1. Wow that really is a Princess / Mickey / Darth Vader over there, can I give them a hug? (although not sure Darth Vader does hugs!)
  2. Ok so that Princess / Mickey / Darth Vader isn't actually real but they look great, can I get a photo, and wow there are so many rides for me to go on, which one next.
  3. Wow that ride had me in free fall whilst spinning round upside down, awesome!

Disney has some rides designed for the little ones where smaller children can ride accompanied, after this height restrictions apply depending on the safety requirements of the ride. For younger visitors the thrill of seeing the Princesses and other characters along with the general atmosphere is enough, and the bigger white knuckle rides are not the thing.

In Disney most rides are suitable for all ages, Universal has some rides for teens and adults only.

What to take

Money

Credit / Debit cards, travelers cheques and of course cash are widely accepted in shops and restaurants through-out the US. However when it comes to using cash machines, things are not so easy.

America is still on swipe and sign, not chip and pin for credit / debit card payments and this seems to lead to some confusion with cash machines. They seem to struggle with the chip and pin part of our cards. Debit cards seem more affected than credit cards. Some machines will work just fine, others don't.

It is worth taking enough cash with you for your first few days, perhaps spread this amongst all adults whilst travelling and store in the hotel room / villa safe once you arrive. Try various machines and once you find a good one keep enough cash on hand for the a days ahead.

Medicine

Medical care in America is very good but very expensive, a good travel or medical insurance covering the whole family is essential. If you take regular medication ensure you take sufficient with you, maybe talk nicely to your doctors before you go, get two lots, carry one in your hand luggage and the other in your hold luggage.

America is a hypochondriac's dream, the average supermarket pharmacy has more tablets for things you didn't know you could get, than the UK version has tablets. You will have no problem finding potions and lotions for every possible complaint.

Sun ScreenSplash Fountain in Celebration

You will need sun screen, the summer sun is un-relenting and will burn you much quicker than in the UK. Sun screens are widely available in the Theme Parks and Supermarkets at similar prices to those in the UK. It is though advisable to take some with you for your first days.

P20 Once A Day sun screen and other similar products have worked very well for us, with kids popping in and out of swimming pools, water parks or splash fountains it is nice not to have to keep reapplying. We have not managed to find these types of sun screen for sale in the US and instead bring plenty with us.



Clothes

If yours is a summer holiday then its summer dresses, shorts and light tops for the daytime and then light but longer clothes for the evening. Light colors are best, black just attracts the heat.

Eating out or trips to the shopping malls can be as formal or informal as you like, the Americans are as likely to turn up in jeans as they are in smart casual.

If travelling out of the summer season then pack a mixture of lighter clothes with a few warmer ones just in case. It is worth taking light waterproofs at anytime of year, for those thunder storms.

Shoes

You will walk a good few miles as you make your way around the Theme Parks. Comfortable shoes are the order of the day, and if you are going during the summer light comfortable shoes. Many of the rides involve water and whilst you may only get a little wet, often the bottom of the boat, raft etc. will have water sloshing around from previous rides, so don't wear anything that can get water damaged.

As with clothes, dinners out and shopping trips can be as formal or informal as you like.

Camera

Take a camera and as many media cards as you can lay your hands on as there are no end of photo opportunities. Camera supplies are available in supermarkets and in the theme parks, but keep an eye on the prices, they seem expensive compared to the UK.

Unless one of your party is happy to just spend the day on a relaxing sun lounger then perhaps leave the camera at home on waterpark days. PhotoPass photographers can be found in Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach as well as all the other Disney Parks and are well positioned to capture those special family moments.

Distractions for the kids

Two 9 hour flights, driving to and fro from the theme parks and waiting for food to arrive in restaurants can all get a little boring for little ones. Most airlines will provide coloring books and the better will have seat back TV's, but all this lasts for only so long.

Simple card games, travel games, pens and paper are cheap and easy to pack. Hand held games consoles and DVD players can be used on flights once cruising but be carful if buying DVD's in America, they will be NTSCC format and may not work in a UK player. In the same way DVD's brought from home may not play in machines provided in hotel rooms and villas.

Pins, Badges and Autograph Books

Disney produces Badges (Pins in US speak) for each of the parks, characters and other occasions, which can be bought at various locations around the parks. Disney cast members will wear their badges and if you wish you can trade yours with theirs. Downtown Disney has a large badge store and trading area.

Disney Princesses, Mickey, Minnie and all the stars of Disney and Pixar films can be found around the parks, they will gladly pose for photos with kids big and little and will sign autograph books. You can buy Disney themed books in park stores but these can be pricy, why not take one with you and be ready from the word go.

Phone, Laptops and Tablets

With many things the specifications in American are different to Europe and mobiles are no exception. The US needs a tri-band phone, the majority of phones support this but check first.

You will also need to check that your contract allows roaming and what call charges apply. Phone and especially data charges from the US can be eye wateringly high and the monthly data charge caps that now apply in the EU do not apply in the US.

Make sure you turn off roaming, mobile internet etc. when you arrive, you don't want to be stung for a huge bill for Facebook and Twitter updating in the background all the while.

If your hotel or villa have free wi-fi then your smart phone etc. can be great for checking weather forecasts, restaurant reservations etc. You could even check this site!

Electricity

America uses 110V as the household supply rather than our 220V, most power supplies and other such devices can cope with this but check before bringing them away with you. Adaptors will be needed from UK 3 pin plugs to US 2 pin; note the US 2 pin is not the same as the European 2 pin.

When you arrive

The first day

Don't expect to much from your first full day, chances are you have been on the go for many hours the day before, and whilst jet lag always seems worse on the way home you will still be affected by the time difference.

If you are staying in a villa then perhaps spend the morning checking out the area and getting in some supplies from the local shops before a laze by the pool. If you are in a hotel then perhaps its just a laze by the pool.

If you do decide to venture into a park on the first day then maybe leave it until mid to late afternoon, let the crowds and sun subside a little. Perhaps spend your first visit wondering around and getting a feel for where things are and which rides you most want to do before trying any out, you have lots of days ahead of you.

The summer sun

The average June, July or August day will be in the low to mid thirties but can be higher, and is unlikely to drop below the mid twenties during the night. Coupled with high humidity it can be very draining on your energy levels. Don't expect to do as much in a day as you think you can, and don't plan too much for the first few days until you have acclimatised.

Take advantage of shade when queuing, take advantage of an air conditioned show or restaurant to give yourself a break, and don't be afraid to join your kids for a splash in a refreshing water fountain here and there.

Keep putting on the sun screen and wear a hat.

Don't dehydrate.

It would be difficult to overstate the need to keep drinking and the ease with which you can come dehydrated. The combination of heat, humidity and moving around the parks will all take their toll very quickly. Take water with you, fill up regularly at the free water fountains and keep an eye on other members of the family to make sure they are drinking enough. Drink more than you think you need too, and then drink some more again.

When it rains it really does rain!

Whilst the summers can be ferociously hot the weather is also the most predictable.

Winters are never winters as we know them, average daytime temperatures will be in the early twenties and at night single figures are a rare thing.

Spring can bring mixed weather with hot days interspersed with longer spells of rain, sometimes extending to a week of unsettled weather.

Autumn brings a welcome relief from the summer highs but can also bring tropical storms.

But the summer months follow the same pattern day after day, hot and dry through the morning and early afternoon with the chance of pop up thunderstorms later in the day. These storms are generally over within a couple of hours, but do bring with them lots of thunder and torrential downpours. They are localized and will not affect all areas each day, chances are in a two week holiday you may only be caught out a couple of times.

During one of these storms the waterparks will close their pools and rides and some theme park rides will also close and parades may be delayed. The theme parks sell disposable plastic macs, or take your own. Take shelter, sit it out and once cleared enjoy a park with far fewer people than before.

Advanced Passenger Information

Prior to travel you will have to complete some basic information for each traveller; date of birth, full names, passport details and so on. This information, required for security checks, has to be provided to your airline or holiday company and is mandatory for travel.

ESTA American Visa Program

To gain entry into America you will have to have applied for an ESTA, the current US version of a VISA. You will have to apply for and receive your visa prior to travel, your airline will not allow you to travel unless you have a valid ESTA for all members of your party.

ESTA applications are completed on the internet, with the resultant VISA being an electronic document that allows airlines and customs staff to see that you are eligible for travel and entry.

Applications can be completed at the address below, you will need your passport, holiday booking details and a credit card for the administration charge.

https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

Immigration Green Card

Having completed your ESTA application you could be forgiven for thinking you were all set for entry into the US, however this is America, where federal government is king and so is the red tape. Green card entry forms were supposed to have been replaced by the ESTA but so far they have not.

As your plane nears landing, cabin crew will pass among you and hand out Green cards. These have to be filled in for presentation to the Border Security people when you arrive. You will need your passport details and you have to answer all the questions you filled out for your ESTA application.

Take care when filling out the forms, mistakes can lead to you being sent to the back of the queue, naughty school boy style, to start over. The staff at Orlando International are nowhere near that officious, however if arriving at Chicago O'Hare.......not that I'm bitter :)