An Insider's guide to planning a holiday from the U.K. to the Orlando theme parks
Published: February 18, 2013 at 1:30 AM
A bit of planning can help U.K. residents get from here,
to here! And to all the rest of the theme parks in Central Florida.
Over the years I have searched pretty much all travel companies and travel agents for the best deal available to book a holiday as a package, including booking with Universal and Disney direct which can be quite expensive. The one that I have found to be best value for price and holiday options is Travel City Direct. I used them before when they were run by XL but they went into administration three days before our holiday in 2008 and I was lucky enough that my Dad had money and we rebooked through Holiday Genie Florida (another travel site which is OK, but TCD is a few hundred pounds cheaper). We never got the hotel we were going to stay at, but at least we still got our holiday. (I was numb that day when I watched it on the news, I can tell you). It took me about a year to get our money back for the original holiday. The new Travel City Direct, now run by Virgin, uses their own planes and scheduled flights, and is also ATOL protected.
Whether you take a villa, an off-site hotel or a resort hotel will depend on type of vacation you prefer and size/age of group you have. We travel as a couple, and we travel in September, as it is really quiet, the queues are short, and the weather is good. previously I have travelled in May, June, July and August when I was younger with my parents, as they had to fit the vacation around my school holidays. (A note about May and September: Good weather and quiet, but it is also around the time of the year you get the love bugs or double-headed bug, which are harmless but there can be lots of them everywhere mainly in the afternoons.)
Our vacation usually consists of mainly theme parks and a little shopping. We hit the both Universal parks, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and all four of the Disney parks a number of times during the visit and stay off-site at the DoubleTree Universal. We don't take a hire car as we find this cuts down on stress, as it can be quite daunting driving in America for people from the U.K., especially for the first time or if you're not a very confident driver. We get free airport transfers to and from our resort as part of our package traveling economy class. The resort we stay at is the Doubletree Universal by Hilton on Major Blvd (a Universal Partner Hotel) -- it is very clean; the staff are great and it's in a good location for getting to all the parks.
So how to get to the parks from our resort? Our resort does run free shuttles to Universal, SeaWorld and Wet 'n' Wild, but we like to get to parks for opening and some of the shuttles get you there slightly after. For SeaWorld, we take an I-Ride trolley from the stop outside our hotel down International Drive all the way to Sea World. I-Ride Prices are as follows:
- Single fare is $1.50
- Senior citizen (65 and over) fare is $0.25 per ride
- KIDS RIDE FREE (age 12 and under when accompanied by a paying adult)
- Exact change is required
Both Universal Parks we just take a nice 10-minute walk across the road. Busch Gardens we walk to Universal and take the complimentary shuttle. (You need to book your place on this bus 24 hours in advance: 001-800-221-1339.) [Editor's note: Drop the first two zeros if you're calling from within America.]
Now for Disney you have two different options, the cheapest being this: I-ride to the stop before SeaWorld -- this should also be a LYNX bus stop. If you say to the I-Ride driver you are getting the bus to Disney he can help you with which stop. You then get the LYNX 50 bus to the Transport and Ticket Centre at Disney. Now this option takes over an hour of traveling and costs around $8 each adult return. The other way which is great for all hotels, whether you're staying at Disney and are traveling to Universal or SeaWorld, or or staying on International Drive and traveling to Disney, is using Mears Shuttles. They have a attraction "shared shuttle service" which cost us $16 each adult return, which you can get to any of the parks for the opening and book your return from any of the parks, which means if you're park hopping it gives you more freedom. You can book your return journey up to 2 hours before you wish to return and they tell you which lane to wait in.
Now for the ticket options, I usually buy these in the U.K before I travel as it is easier to stick to a budget for the holiday and Disney sells an Ultimate Ticket in the U.K, which runs for the whole 14 days, letting you come and go as you please. And it works out only around £10 more than a five-day park-hopper pass. We also take the Flex-ticket Plus, as this covers the rest of the parks we visit.
- 14-day Ultimate Ticket for hopping all parks and water parks: £249 each
- 14-day Flex-ticket Plus for Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld, Aquatica, Wet 'n' Wild and Busch Gardens: £219 each
If you have any questions or any advice for others please put it in the comments.