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Duncan Henny

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

I have loved Orlando ever since my parents first took me in July 1990. I've visited about 10 times more since -- the most recent being 2012 -- and already have started thinking about my next visit in 2014. This is my guide to planning a two-week holiday to Orlando, from the U.K.

Kings Cross station in London
A bit of planning can help U.K. residents get from here,

Hogwarts Castle
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.

Replies (7)

David Brown

Published: February 18, 2013 at 1:42 AM

Great to see a UK perspective on visiting Orlando here.

I'd like to put in a word for car hire however as we have always hired a car and never regretted it - in fact the additional freedom it provides is well worth it. The cost is actually not that different from taking public transport - we paid less than £300 for two weeks in a mid sized car, (small cars available cheaper), and we find driving in the US actually very easy. especially out of season. yes you have to pay for car parking but that journey of an hour to the Disney parks by public transport takes about 20 minutes in a car and that frees up a lot of time, plus it's great for shopping, eating out or just park-hopping...

Sure you pay for car parking but even factoring that into the equation I'd not want to be without a car in orlando

Zena Sharpe

Published: February 18, 2013 at 5:58 AM

I agree, its great to see report about travelling from the UK. I will always use TCD and have never had a single problem with them. I understand your comment about when XL went under - although not on the same level, just a couple of weeks before we were due to fly over the pond, I had over £1,000 in with Crowne Currency Exchange and they was going to send my dollars out just before we were due to fly. As you may know, they went under and that was in October/November 2010 and I am still trying to claim my money back!

All that aside, great article. Thank you for this.

212.183.128.254

Published: February 18, 2013 at 8:03 AM

We booked our Florida holiday in October 2011, we have a three year old so it was quite daunting. Our whole holiday was absolutely fab, we booked through virgin and stayed at the Enclave suites on International Drive. Because we hired a car, we had early access to Harry Potter Wizarding World at 7am in the morning, and we were 3 of about 30 there and got parking free on top!! I thought this was a really nice touch for Virgin as it included breakfast as well!!
77.86.70.171

Published: February 18, 2013 at 10:15 AM

I'd agree with David. Driving was fine and does beat that hour spent on the bus. The best thing we did was to stop off at walmart, on the way from the airport to the hotel, and stock up with essentials. These being drinks/snacks etc to take into the parks, thus saving loads of money. We saved up as well a pot of money, separate to souvenir/spending money, just for food/lockers and parking. Parking is prob roughly $15 a day and lockers $8. Dump all the money on a travellers cheque card, they accept them in most places and you can use the atms - Sally
86.148.60.159

Published: February 19, 2013 at 1:31 AM

We have been to Orlando 4 times in the past 13yrs and every time the car was a real winner. Last year only my wife, 2 kids and I went, normaly we go in larger family group of 10-12. The car gave us real freedom to go to the parks when we liked and park hop as we did several times. For 1st time visitors it is worth trying to do all the parks, Disney, Universal, Seaworld & Busch. Never did Lego so can't comment. The main piece of advice I give to my friends when talking about it is be ready to try anything and everything but don't be disappointed if you don't, can't or won't. Time, the weather, tiredness and money can all catch up or run out on you so enjoy whatever it is you are doing at the time! Also take the time to do the little things the best part of our holiday was the 30mins we were stuck on Jungle River Cruise with the funiest guide. He described himself as a "fat Drew Carrey" he made what could have beena stressful half hour a real laugh.
Just remember when it comes to Orlando holidays, if you don't do it you won't miss it but once you have you always will.
62.249.223.233

Published: February 19, 2013 at 2:43 AM

Now when I went to Florida I found it cheaper to book everything seperately, compared to booking through a travel agent.

September 2010, I went for 7 nights and booked Virgin flights, double tree hotel near Seaworld and hire car all seperately and it worked out around £300 cheaper for both of us compared to booking with a travel agent in town. It was even cheaper booking flight and hotel seperate through Virgins website than booking together for some reason. Admittedly I didn't try an online package provider. Cost was about £530 each for flight, £40 a night hotel and £130 for a small car.

I would also add my support for hire car - its easy driving in America. We tried public transport 1 day trying to avoid the high parking costs and ended up stranded outside the Studios park after Fantasmic because they didnt have a bus that went back to the transport centre, only hotel ones. Had to get one of them then get an expensive taxi back that was twice the parking cost! A car was also much better for shopping and going to Nasa and Busch gardens.

Steve Page-Smith

Published: February 19, 2013 at 2:38 PM

Hi Everyone

I agree you need to get a car, it gives you the flexibility and freedom to mix up your day between shopping, theme park and back to the condo for a rest.

Something also worth considering is staying at a condo and not at a hotel as this can be much cheaper and you get better value for your money for a family booking.

Looking around using a site like www.holiday-rentals.co.uk you can get a condo for £275 a week which will get you a three bedroom condo accommodating a family of 6. This equates to 2 hotel rooms at around £375 for the week so worth checking this out and booking the flights separately. Over a 2 week holiday you already have a saving of £200.

Another condo benefit is you can wash/dry your cloths before you leave and that way you can come home and recover from the jet lag without the extra effort before going back to work. Also you can buy your breakfast at Wal-Mart and stay in and cook a few nights saving even more money.

Thanks
Steve

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