I have been skulking on the board the last three months since we decided to book a Whitsun half-term trip to Orlando. Thanks to all posters and reviewers for all the tips/info that I picked up along the way! Hope some of what I write helps someone else with their decision-making, like others' info has helped me.
People: Mum (me), Dad, boy 13, girl 10
Planning: Don’t shoot me, first time to Florida, no Disney! The kids were just not interested, we have been to Disneyland Paris, and they love rollercoasters, so we planned our parks accordingly. Anyway, we only had a week so couldn’t do everything. Am sure I will be back at some stage... I am not good with heat so was very unsure of theme parks in 90 degrees, but chose hotels with benefits to avoid long queues as much as possible. Decided we didn’t want to drive - have done plenty of driving in US, but it was an extra cost/hassle we wanted to do without this time – so hotel choices made to deal with this.
Flights: Air Canada via Toronto way out/Montreal way back. Price for 3 adults one child was a few hundred cheaper than others we found at the time, hence the odd choice of route! However, if you are not desperate for a direct flight, Canada seems quite a good place to change in, because you clear US customs right there, then when you get to Orlando or wherever, you get through the airport quickly. Picked up a taxi at the airport at 12.30am.
Park tickets: Bought from Attractions Tickets Direct, 14 day Seaworld/Aquatica/Busch Gardens combo and 14 day Universal tickets. Did a lot of research and this was the best deal for what we wanted to do.
Stayed: (initially) 4 nights at Fairfield Inn and Suites at Seaworld
Chosen specifically for location (right opposite Seaworld, but with free bus there since the entrance is a little walk away); free front of line tickets to rides at Seaworld; restaurants we were happy to use right next door (Denny’s/TGIs); value; and free breakfast. Location worked brilliantly for what we wanted to do while there, which was Seaworld/Aquatica/Busch Gardens. Hotel is lovely new place, with nice pool which we made use of. Breakfast fine, if a little noisy.
Day 1: Hung out at the pool to recover from the journey and late arrival and ate lunch by the pool, spent the afternoon at Aquatica. Pretty busy since it was Memorial Day Weekend, which we knew, so left the rides with longer queues for a planned visit during the week. Loved Roa’s Rapids. Dinner at Denny’s, a very short walk from the hotel.
Day 2: Took free bus to Seaworld, having already made sure we had our complimentary QuickQue vouchers the day before. These were fantastic as they gave a free ride up the tower, free paddle boats, and unlimited front of line passes for Manta and Kraken (which we did several times as the kids loved them) and the water ride. Had a great day, saw the One Ocean show and the Clyde and Seamore one. Took bus back to hotel when finished. Ate somewhere at the park I don’t remember, since it was open until 10pm, but watched fireworks from our hotel room, after an evening swim in the pool. Great day.
Day 3: Got early shuttle to Seaworld to pick up free Busch Gardens shuttle. Was worried that we wouldn’t get enough time there and had considered renting a car just for that, but decided it wasn’t worth the cost. But it worked fine. The shuttle was due to leave at 9.15 but left early as it was full so we got there at 10.15, and had until 6 (when the park shut anyway). I imagine later in the year if the park was open later you would feel short-changed having to leave early, but we weren’t missing anything. We loved the mix of great coasters and animals, we rode all the coasters and even got on the new ride Cheetah Hunt. It had a 2 and a half hour line earlier in the day (!) since it had only opened a few days before, but around 4.30 was only half an hour – loved it. Ate in TGI’s next door to the hotel on our return. Another awesome day.
Day 4: Husband went to Kennedy Space Center (pre-booked tour, which he loved), me and the kids walked to Aquatica. Turned out to be a rainy, stormy day during which they had to shut the attractions for a while, but we enjoyed ourselves since we managed to do all the rides we missed on the Sunday, with much shorter queues.Didn’t like Dolphin Plunge as it scrapes your back! – loved everything else. We finished around 3pm, walked back, stocked up on a few things at CVS (right next door to the hotel, another great aspect to the location) and got a cab with allour luggage to our second hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal, chosen specifically for the park benefits of early entry to WWoHP and unlimited fast passes. Spent the rest of the afternoon by the gorgeous pool (kids thought they were in heaven) and took the boat into Citywalk for cheap Mexican food upstairs next to the cinema. As you will have noted, we don’t plan where we are going to eat and try to do it fairly cheaply!
Day 5: Grabbed a cup of coffee and walked (a few minutes along a peaceful walkway) to Islands of Adventure: hotel benefits fantastic, as we were in at 7.45, on Forbidden Journey at 8.04 having yomped round there, quick Hippogriff, both Dragon Challenge coasters, and in some shops before it got mental in there! Mmm, frozen butterbeer for breakfast...Stayed in the area until around 10.30 though as the kids couldn’t get enough of the shops. Didn’t do Ollivanders, as we planned to use early entry another day to get in the line for that early. Did the rest of the park happily with our fast passes and finished the day with a leisurely few hours by the pool, ate by the pool too. Bliss!
Day 6: Last full day, Universal Studios. A slightly more leisurely start with a quick coffee and muffin in the hotel’s cafe. Did RipRideRockit first thing since fast passes don’t work for that. It hurt my head but the kids loved it. Again managed to do everything we wanted to easily. Was interesting to do ET as did the one in LA many years ago. Ate early dinner at Pastamore (pretty rubbish TBH but very fussy daughter so Italian good for her) before finishing the evening off at the pool. The hotel shows movies at the pool in the evening which the kids enjoyed too.
Day 7 – Departure: Quick breakfast in the hotel and then straight to Ollivander’s queue with our early entry. Were in the second lot in and my daughter got chosen to do the little show! She loved that and like suckers we bought the wand :). TBH I am not sure why people wait in such long lines for this, I wouldn’t have, but it was good to see since we could do it without queueing. Quick go on Dragon’s Challenge and then back to hotel via boat to check out for our journey home. It felt odd walking out as everyone else walked in!
Overall, a fantastic mix of heady thrills/lazing by the pool/Florida sunshine. And two hotels I would thoroughly recommend and which provided exactly the benefits we wanted for an easy trip. Thanks again for all the info TA posters x