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Planning a trip to Florida - all advice much needed

(30 Posts)
2gorgeousboys Mon 31-Aug-15 16:57:09

Dmil has just offered to pay for us to take the boys to Florida next year. DFil died suddenly last year and apparently it is something they talked about doing for us and my wonderful, generous Dmil has just offered.

Our usual holiday is camping and we have been abroad once 8 years ago. I do not have the first clue about planning this trip because it was so far off anything we would ever be able to do I've never even thought about it. So, now that I have stopped crying happy tears, any help/ideas most carefully received. I read the current Florida thread but even that is too confusing for me with acronyms galore. Boys are both at secondary school so I think we'd need to go in the summer holidays.

OllyBJolly Mon 31-Aug-15 17:04:26

Look at www.thedibb.co.uk for lots of good advice - the posters on the forum are incredibly helpful if a bit "fervent". grin

Summer will be very hot with thunderstorms. Is Christmas or Easter a possibility?

HermioneWeasley Mon 31-Aug-15 17:06:27

Agree, Easter or Xmas would be better weather wise

LooseSeal Mon 31-Aug-15 17:21:28

I assume when you say Florida you mean Orlando and visiting the the theme parks.

Easter will be busy, but weather wise if you have to go during school holidays it's the best time to go.

You need to decide if you want to hire a car or not. If you want to tour the areas beyond the theme parks then you will need a car, but otherwise it's not necessary, however a car will give you more freedom.

You need to decide where you stay. Staying "on property" at Disney - that's to say in a Disney owned and run hotel - is the least hassle free way to do it, but the most costly. Disney hotels have excellent free transport links to and from all the the Disney parks and Disney water parks, depending on where you stay some are even walking distance. Universal have hotels too, I don't know much about them but I can't imagine they don't have good links to the universal parks.

Non Disney owned hotels mostly have shuttle buses that run to the theme parks, but they may be less frequent than Disney hotel ones. Once you are at the Disney parks you can use their buses between parks for free if you wish though. There are also always plenty of taxis avalible.

The third option for lodging is a privately owned villa. If you have quite a few people in your party these can work out a fair bit cheaper, but you have to have a car to get around.

These are the basics, feel free to PM with any questions if you want to know more. I'm a it of a Florida theme park geek and probably know more about them than is healthy.

2gorgeousboys Mon 31-Aug-15 17:21:39

Thanks for the responses. We can't do Easter as DS1 will be in full on GCSE revision, I hadn't thought about Christmas but I suppose we could do that. Is it really thunderstormy?

Thanks for the dibb tip, off over there for a look now. I have to say Florida would not be my choice of 'once in a lifetime' destinations but the boys will love it I think (hope!).

LooseSeal Mon 31-Aug-15 17:22:45

That should be most hassle free, not least!

LooseSeal Mon 31-Aug-15 17:24:28

August is quite bad for thunderstorms. Christmas is nice but a bit cold (by Florida standards). You might find you have to skip the water parks.

2gorgeousboys Mon 31-Aug-15 17:24:54

Cross posts Loose, thanks for the post. Wow - its not simple is it! Yes Orlando and theme parks, I'm so much of a fool I don't even know what they are (other than Disney and Universal). I think I need an Idiot's Guide to Orlando!. Lots to think about and I will most definitely PM you. Thank you!

HermioneWeasley Mon 31-Aug-15 17:27:17

The Brit Guide to Orlando is the best guide book IMO. It might be worth purchasing that and walking through it to get a feel for options and decisions

SixtyFootDoll Mon 31-Aug-15 17:28:03

We've just got back, and even though there were storms, they were generally short lived. It was hot though!

We flew with American Airlines as a lot cheaper but meant changing flights in Newark.
We stayed in a house in Kissimmee as I don't really like hotels.

I bought my park tickets here and make sure you do an itinerary to ensure that you for everything in!

Like you not my ideal holiday but my boys are 12 and 15 and they enjoyed it.

swisscheesetony Mon 31-Aug-15 17:36:40

Ask a friend with an automatic how to drive one before you arrive at the car hire place and ask one of their slightly bemused/terrified workers how you might "drive this thing"! grin

2gorgeousboys Mon 31-Aug-15 17:38:10

Thanks Hermione. That's really good to hear Sixty. The boys will be 12 and 16 so I was a little worried they'd be too old for it so reassuring to know they should still enjoy it. I don't want to tell them until it's all booked so it looks like I've got lots of secret research to do. I'd like to include my Dmil in the planning, we've asked her to.come with us buy she's said no, so it will just be the 4 of us. I think this is going to be harder to plan than our Cornwall camping!

2gorgeousboys Mon 31-Aug-15 17:39:40

Ha Swisscheese luckily DH drives an automatic at work so that'll be driving down to him then. grin

AttilaTheMeerkat Mon 31-Aug-15 17:52:16

The more research you do the better and I would decide asap whether you want to stay on Disney property or not. Also would you want to hire a car?.

Easter or Christmas would be better in terms of weather (less chance at those times of there being daily thunderstorms). Summer in Orlando can be very hot and humid; it can be cheaper to travel there then due to the weather.

Given your son's ages as well I think they would prefer the Universal Parks to Disney overall; the Universal parks are far more geared towards teenagers.

If you can book a direct flight to Orlando or even Sanford do so, going indirect both ways may save money but it can add hours to an already long day.

You will each need to purchase an ESTA electronic visa once you have paid for and booked your flights and accommodation. All the adults in your part will be fingerprinted and photographed upon arrival into the US (that will also include your 16 year old); this is one of their legal requirements.

SixtyFootDoll Mon 31-Aug-15 18:09:30

Agree that your boys will prefer universal. The Disney parks are lovely but expensive.

I bought a flex pass that gave us 2 weeks entry to universal, Busch gardens, sea world, wet n wild and aquatica.

That cost £292 pp, with Disney parks was nearer £500.

We did Disney when we went 3 years ago,

I wouldn't bother with Magic Kingdom - too girly and too young
MGM studios. - good rides
Epcot - a bit dull
Animal kingdom - lovely and good rides
Typhoon lagoon and blizzard beach - real good water parks, but have to say Aquqtica just as good, wet n wild was not so great.
I'd book flights ASAP as they are just being added now and will go up in price as time goes on.

As above DM if you want any further advice

SixtyFootDoll Mon 31-Aug-15 18:12:31

Agree with Attila if you can afford direct flights I'd do them.
We changed both times at Newark. First time around was fine.
This time we missed our connection at Newark ongoing, so had an unexpected evening in New York.
Coming home we had a 4 hr wait between flights which made our journey home about 20 hrs in total.

2gorgeousboys Mon 31-Aug-15 18:17:46

Thanks everyone. Looks like DH and I have lots of thinking and research to do. I'm sure I will be back with more questions over the coming weeks and months. At the moment my head is spinning so it's time for a glass of wine and a look around dibb.

BabyGanoush Mon 31-Aug-15 18:19:41

Automatic driving is simple: like driving a big dodgem grin

crumbleofblackberries Mon 31-Aug-15 18:32:10

We were in Orlando from 5th to 12th August this year, and although the BBC weather app said it would be pouring with rain, thunder and lightning every day, we only had one short downpour one day, and a couple of days of light showers in the evening, so don't be completely put off going in the summer. It was very humid though.

We stayed in a 4 bed villa with pool about 25 mins drive from the universal parks. Found it on ownersdirect.com, it only cost £425 for the week!

Definitely recommend a drive to the Kennedy Space Center. It was about 90 mins drive from where we were, but really worth it. Got to see the Atlantis Space Shuttle etc.

crumbleofblackberries Mon 31-Aug-15 18:33:52

Also, we were told that Wet'n'Wild was closing for refurbishment after this season.

crumbleofblackberries Mon 31-Aug-15 18:37:59

You can actually apply for your ESTA visa before you book your flights (we did). They are valid for 2 years multi entry and only expire before then if you get a new passport.

mummymeister Tue 01-Sep-15 15:01:46

We have always gone at Christmas time and the weather has been perfect for us low to mid 20's so not scorching for queueing. we combined one visit with a week in florida keys which was lovely. would also suggest you buy the two books WDW with kids and beyond WDW with kids. really really helpful for first timers.

NaughtiestGirlAgain Tue 01-Sep-15 15:54:24

How lovely! We went at Easter a few years ago and had a brilliant time. But Easter might not be great if your boys have important exams in the summer. If you get to the parks very early you can avoid the worst queues. We have 2 teenage boys. We stayed in a villa just off HWY 27 (estate called Highland Reserve) and hired a car. A villa is great for teenagers if it comes with pool, snooker table and darts, my boys loved it. And they are so huge, these villas. With huge TVs everywhere. I loved the washing machine and tumble drier even more, sad eh.

Foodwise there are loads of good value restaurants around there - hardly gourmet dining but all you can eat buffets which suit teenage appetites very well. E.g. Sizzler

We also did an indirect flight via Newark and this was loads cheaper.

We booked with this travel agent which was only very slightly more expensive than DIY (£120 more IIRC) and they are so knowledgeable and helpful and make it all very easy for you. Also you get all the financial protection.

We agonised for a long time over the 'which parks' question. We were advised that doing them all in 2 weeks is too much, so we settled on unlimited Disney and a day each at Seaworld and the Kennedy Space Centre. This worked very well. I would have to disagree about Magic kingdowm being too young and girly - there are still some amazing rides and the processions, fireworks and general clever theming are all fantastic for all ages. It was actually vey funny watching two strapping lads get all misty eyed when meeting Minnie Mouse and Sleeping Beauty! Also with unlimited Disney you get the 2 water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, both fabulous. We also felt that Disney parks were more iconic somehow.

Admittedly we haven't been to Universal Florida but we have since been to Universal Hollywood and still feel we made the right decision (but no Harry Potter at Hollywood).

I guess the answer is to go for 3 weeks and do them all!

shock at Epcot being dull! Test track is awesome! And all the fantastic restaurants.

I'm sure you will have an amazing time whatever you decide smile I agree with the various recommendations for books to read.

CiderwithBuda Tue 01-Sep-15 16:16:30

We are going next July - have been in July before and yes it was hot but not too bad. We tend to do the parks early - get there for opening time (they call it 'rope drop') - and then head out of the park around lunchtime.

Last time we stayed at Buena Vista Palace which was great for evenings as we could walk over to Downtown Disney which has lots of restaurants.

For teen boys universal is a must. And if you stay at a Universal hotel you get in earlier and can get express passes depending on which hotel you stay at.

Next year we are going with my sis, BIL and 7 year old niece (my DS is 14).

Our plan is for three weeks - one week in Orlando in a villa, a few days driving around seeing other bits of Florida, a week at a beach and final couple of nights at Universal.

The shopping is good too! Lots of Outlet stores - great for trainers and sports stuff. We always end up buying an extra suitcase to come home!

And I agree Epcot is not dull! The Soaring ride is fab!

BaconAndAvocado Tue 01-Sep-15 18:00:21

We've just got back with our 17, 7 and 8 year olds.

We all LOVED it and want to return!

It was hit but you acclimatise after a day or two. Like someone else said, we got to the parks early so it was cooler and less crowded.

It's all fabulous, you will have a ball smile

Def use the Dibb and MN for top tips.

Top tip I can give is to stay in a Universal hotel for the Express passes, so brilliant not having to queue!

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