Top Tips on Theme Parks
So you’ve taken the plunge and made the decision to head to Florida to turn your children’s dreams into reality (and maybe yours too!) with a real-life Disney encounter and a trip to Hogwarts. What now? It can all feel a little overwhelming, with so many considerations to weigh up, especially if you have children with a large age gap, or maybe you want to blend Disney with fast rides and some Florida sight-seeing? So many questions! We get it – we really do! Fortunately, our team of intrepid mums have tried and tested the parks for you and come up with a list of helpful pointers. Of course, it goes without saying that if you do decide to book with us, you’ll receive further invaluable advice about how to make best use of your days in Florida. In the meantime:
Depart Early …
Florida is around 5 hours ahead and immigration in to the USA can take hours, especially during peak holiday periods. Take a morning flight and tackle the queues when your body clock says it is 8pm rather than midnight!
Linger a Little Longer…
Florida is so much more than Disney! Our favourite locations are in fact Busch Gardens and Sea World for the best roller-coasters and some great animal interactions. Kennedy Space Centre is a big hit with our families too. Ideally, allow 3 days to make the most of Universal Studios. It’s really important to build in some rest afternoons or days too. Two weeks will easily be filled (and often Disney tickets are the same cost for 7 or 14 nights) – go for a week or less and you’ll need to return!
Add on some beach-time …
For beaches within easy reach, head down the coast to Boca Raton for example, or you can drive further down to the Keys or head to the more ‘wild’ west coast and fly home from Miami. Frustratingly, connections to the Caribbean are not direct; you’ll need to fly via Miami and connections are not ideal, but if you are seeking more of an away-from-it-all experience, we think it’s worth the journey.
Think about Park access …
Do you need to book a hire car? Probably not if you are staying at a Disney or Universal hotel and that enables you to avoid not only car rental costs but also airport queues for car collection/ drop off and parking (generally USD 20 – 40 per day unless you are staying at a Disney hotel where parking should be included free). Use Uber or taxis for additional journeys to keep things simple.
Disney: Disney resorts have a network of buses to take you between the hotels and park as distances can be surprisingly far.
Universal: You can access the Parks by boat from the Universal hotels or by walking the paths along the waterways. All the resort hotels are close to the two parks, which in turn are next door to each other.
Sea World / Busch Gardens: Buses depart from various locations to take you to the Parks. Busch Gardens is a 90 minute journey (but well worth it, in our view) and the coach should be booked in advance by your concierge as places are limited.
Get Organised with Fast Passes …
Disney: With most ticket types, Fast Pass Plus will be included with your ticket which can be booked on the MyDisneyExperience website. If you are staying at a Disney hotel, you can usually then book 3 fast pass rides per day from 60 days prior to arrival. If you’re not staying at a Disney Resort, this is available from 30 days before arrival. We can’t stress enough that these are not things you can leave until the last minute – to get the most out of your visit, you do need to plan everything and book as soon as you are able to. When staying at a Disney Hotel, you’ll also have access to ‘Magic Hours’ when only these guests can access the Parks.
Universal Studios: If you stay at a Universal hotel, you will be given entrance to the Park an hour early so you can head to the (very popular) Harry Potter rides. There are two; one in Universal Studios Park and a second in Islands of Adventures Park and these are linked by the Hogwarts Express!. For most hotels, you will also, very importantly, be given a COMPLIMENTARY FAST PASS worth up to USD 89 per person (the exception is Sapphire Falls) which can be used as often as you like.
Sea World / Busch Gardens: These can be purchased on the day if queue times look long.
Food for Thought …
Disney: The food is not as child-friendly as you might imagine, unless you are happy on a diet of pretzels or Mickey ice-cream sandwiches, and queues can be looooong! If you would like to eat whilst you are in the Park, we highly recommend booking in advance. Bookings usually open up 180 days prior to arrival (yes 6 months!) via the MyDisneyExperience website and generally require a credit card to guarantee, sometimes full payment. Disney Springs offers a great variety of off-Park dining for the evenings, again bookable via the website. If you book a Disney hotel and ticket package well in advance (usually by July the prior year) you may even be able to benefit from a Free Dining Pass (outside of the Easter holidays). You can also consider booking a Club level room which will include a buffet breakfast.
Universal / Busch Gardens / SeaWorld: There are many outlets within the Parks where you can turn up and eat – they certainly feel more plentiful and less crowded than at Disney. City Walk, just outside, offers a variety of dining experiences such as Bubba Gump and NBC. Again we recommend booking in advance, but a few days is usually fine, so this needn’t be planned before you leave the UK!
To wrap things up nicely, we would suggest an itinerary along the following lines (with variations depending on the age of your children):
6 nights at Universal – we think the hotels are nicer than at Disney – Loews Portofino Bay, with its dolce vita feel, gets consistently good feedback, but we really like Loews Royal Pacific too (expect a Hawaiian theme) and if budget is really key, a good value option is Loews Sapphire Falls with a Caribbean twist, but note no fast pass!. Six nights should allow you a couple of days to see the Parks, a day at Volcano Bay, a day at SeaWorld and a further couple of days at Busch Gardens.
4 nights at Disney* – to give you time to see Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and one of the Waterparks and perhaps Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of the better options, or, if being close to Epcot and Magic Kingdom are important to you, consider Disney’s Beach Club Resort.
4 nights on the beach at Boca Raton – drive down via the Kennedy Space Centre and then you could do no better than bed down at the lovely Boca Beach Club, where the order of the day is to relax and re-charge those batteries!
*teens are likely to prefer less time at Disney and more time at Universal – some of the best big rides are at Busch Gardens and SeaWorld (as tested by Will, aged 14 and Arthur, aged 12!)
So there you have it – our top tips and suggested itinerary! Do speak to us if you’d like to book and we can make further suggestions!
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