Need some help planning our first and only ever trip to Florida…
We’re complete novices and despite trawling old Disney threads I’m completely confused as to what we want… so here’s the basics and I’d be really grateful for any advice/tips/opinions from experienced people!
Family of 5: DS will be 8 nearly 9 and DTD’s who will be 5 Thinking Easter next year (but concerned about crowds?) with a potential total time of just over 2 weeks because of school holidays. I have a disability that means I get fatigued and can’t walk huge distances day after day but I will do my best for the kids but to give an idea a full day at Chessington would mean I needed a rest day the next day.
DS loves Harry Potter, so I think that’s Universal and I already know his favourite thing would be a water park – but think there are 2? Which would be best for our ages? DTD’s are fairly typical little girls, very much Disney Princesses will be their thing. All will just love anything really as they have nothing to compare it to and only ever been as far as France for a week last summer.
We really ideally wanted to include the Everglades and the Keys but maybe this is unrealistic – had anyone done this?
I’m thinking it would be best to stay on site because then we can do some stuff in the morning, chill a bit in afternoon and head back in the evening… I’m concerned if we go for a villa as DH suggests then that’ll involve a lot of walking to/from carparks and a feeling that we need to do full days rather than dipping in and out… but where would be good to stay on site? Do you then move to somewhere on site at Universal? Or do you travel from WDW to Universal on day trips, and if so how?
DT’s would love to meet the princesses, and probably the mouse etc…
And what about eating – how does that work best?
So, erm, help!
And who are good to book with? How do we find best prices?
I haven't been (yet, but have booked for March) but one thing stood out from your post. If you need rest days I'd strongly think about getting a villa. To just have a hotel room, probably with all 5 of you squished into it would be so claustrophobic.
I have just booked a villa at Windsor Hills which is 2 miles from Disney. The resort has a little shop, pool, cinema etc and the villas all look nice.
Lots have private pools. This will be a fraction of the price of a hotel I expect and will give you much more room for off days. You can lie on a chair by your own private pool, totally resting and your kids will be so excited swimming all day and using the on site playground with your DH that they wont even realise it's a rest day
I believe that if you buy the right ticket for Disney you can dip in and out of the parks as you wish. At only 2 miles away you can easily not do full days. America is land of the cheap fast food so I'm sure either self catering or eating out (or phoning a takeaway) would be easy.
I've been lots. Firstly for Harry Potter do try and have a couple of nights at The Universal Hotels. You get Universal Express tickets for everything which is a great advantage, you also get into the park early for the Harry Potter stuff. Walking into the park and seeing Hogwarts on a sunny morning is such a great feeling. I find the disney parks far less user friendly than the universal ones but as you say the girls will want to see the princess stuff. We have two boys so we concentrate on Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure then pay the odd visit to the Disney parks. Even if you're staying off site for the majority of your time do stay for the benefits at a Universal Hotel.
We've done Kennedy Space Centre and the EverGlades, they're a whole day out and Everglades are quite a drive but driving in Florida is such a pleasure. Airboats are brilliant fun.
The Disney fast passes are all about timing. you have to book your times which are often much later in the day but often customer services will switch some times for you. My advice for Disney would be to get there early, do the rides you want and pick up fast passes for later on.
Christmas and Easter are two of the busiest times of year to visit the theme parks.
Re Universal Islands of Adventure and the Harry Potter part of it. When we were last there (Easter) that particular section of the park got closed off due to sheer numbers of people already in there. In order for this situation not to become unsafe people were given a time by staff to return; it worked well which makes me think they have to do this quite a lot. Also many people on park opening time made a beeline straight for it. The Forbidden Journey ride had the longest wait times in all the park (at least 1 hour even on opening time). There is also nowhere to sit down (in terms of seating) when you are in line.
I would also look at staying somewhere on Disney property (that is not though going to be cheap and it will pay you to do your researches carefully). Travel from Disney to Universal would necessitate using a car (it may be an idea to stay at say a Disney hotel and then subsequently a Universal hotel property for a few days).
FL is a large state and I would save the FL Keys for another time. It takes around 3 hours to get to the FL Keys even from Miami on a mainly single lane road.
If you get disney tickets, like the 14 nights for the price of 7 deals, they are normally the best value and you get all 4 parks included in that plus the 2 disney water parks.
There's so much you can do in florida, it really is hard to squeeze it all in without getting shattered!
We normally stay in a villa as we find it easier with the kids (no rushing out for breakie in the mornings!) but the disney hotels are amazing too. They will be more expensive, especially at Easter, it depends what your budget is. If you do a disney dining deal, then you can get your food included in your package. There's so many nice places to eat in orlando though, so we prefer to do the villa and eat out.
Universal is amazing - it's actually 2 parks next door to each other and you need a day for each really. Although you can buy passes just for one if it's only the Harry potter world you want to go to (which is in the islands of adventure park). And I second about spending a night in a universal hotel to get the express passes. Especially if you get tired easily, they are a god send for skipping huge queues, especially at such a peak time. The only ride you can't use them on is the main Harry potter ride unfortunately! (Which usually has huge queues!).
The keys are a long, long way away. Florida is huge - I would concentrate more on orlando and the parks you definitely want to do. We have been 3 times now and we still haven't done the Kennedy center or busch gardens, which we keep meaning to, but get carried away with disney and universal each time and are too exhausted to do more!
Definitely hire a mobility scooter if you think you will struggle. The main disney park, the magic kingdom, is really big and we usually go there on 2 separate days to try and do it all properly without rushing too much.
One little tip for meeting the princesses. The queues for this also get huge but what we always do is book a lunch or dinner at a restaurant that has the princesses there walking around meeting everyone as you eat. And your girls can get photos and autographs cinderellas royal table is the main one to meet them at but you need to book as soon as you can, they literally book up months in advance! If you create an account on the main disney website where you can make dining reservations, you just need to put in card details (in case you don't show up!) but it's free to make the reservations though and you can do it all online from the uk. The other restaurant to meet the princesses at is the akershus royal banquet hall which is at Epcot. So you get to meet lots of princesses with no queuing at least!
I'm not sure if I've actually answered your questions there but hopefully that might help a bit?! It is so fun there, you and the kids will love it
Oh and Epcot is good to meet mickey/Minnie/goofy etc, they have one pat you can queue to meet them all one after the other and it's usually only about a 10 minute wait. Or you could do more character dining if you wanted. We've had lunch at tusker house in the animal kingdom a couple of times and mickey and co all walk round meeting everyone there (dressed in their safari gear!)