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First-timer needs some guidance for a quick trip to the parks!

Please help me plan a 2.5 day whirlwind first time trip to the parks!

From Kristi Pickeral
Posted April 2, 2010 at 10:47 AM
Hi there - I am new to this board and would appreciate any guidance you all can provide. My husband and I along with another couple will be in Orlando in mid-May for a wedding and decided to extend our trip by an extra couple days to take in some of the parks. We only have about 2.5 days and have agreed on Epcot, Sea World and either (or both??) Universal Studios/IOA. We'll be heading out around noon-1pm on a Sunday, have all day Monday and until about 5pm on Tuesday before we need to head to Orlando Intl for our return flight. My questions are; will we be able to pack all four of the above-mentioned parks in to our timeframe? If not, what should we focus on? What days should we do what based on expected crowds/hours of operation? Our priority is adult thrill rides so we plan to purchase express passes wherever available and we've also heard great things about Epcot's World Showcase. Two of us have never been to the parks before and the other two went 15+ yrs ago. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this and I look forward to any suggestions!


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Pyra Dong
Posted April 2, 2010 at 4:21 PM
Your time frame looks like you'll be doing three theme parks (not four unless you wanna run in the hot sun the entire day)

Personally, I say either USO or IOA is great, but I recommend using your full Monday to visit that pick because there are more attractions that require lines there (even with the Express pass). For more thrill rides, I think USO is the way to go.

I say visit Epcot on Sunday because the park closes late-- and don't forget IllumiNations at night! Grab fast passes for Soarin' and Test Track as soon as you can-- then slowly work your way around the World Showcase while you wait.

Finally, visit SeaWorld on Tuesday and get there early. Because there's only three main thrill rides, try 'em early while there's no crowds. (I don't think the quick pass is worth it here)

From Anthony Murphy
Posted April 2, 2010 at 8:23 PM
I like Pyra's idea, but I think that IOA/USO should be done on the first day and spend the day at EPCOT. YOu can catch the nightlife at both resorts.

Either way sounds great though! I would make reservations for a nice dinner at EPCOT. Canada's steakhouse is a great place!

From James Rao
Posted April 2, 2010 at 10:00 PM
Use Monday for Epcot. You need at least a full day for this park and you must avoid Sunday as it is an Extra Magic Hours (EMH) morning for on property guests. EMH means the park will be absolutely packed by the time you arrive.

For your Epcot tour, arrive at least :30 minutes before the park officially opens and hot foot it to Soarin' when the rope drops. Grab fastpasses but do not ride. Instead, head across the park and ride Test Track. Then hit Mission: Space (spinning version is best if you are up for it). Now head back to the Land pavilion (Soarin') and ride Living With the Land. Your fastpasses for Soarin' should now be ready, so go ahead and ride. If you want, grab another fastpass before you get on, so you can ride again later.

At this point you have completed the headliner attractions. If you are hungry, the Sunshine Seasons Food Fair is your best counter service option. If not, you should head to the Seas Pavilion and see Turtle talk With Crush. From there... explore and have fun.

Make sure to experience Spaceship Earth (the big golf ball in the venter of the park), the Sum of All Thrills (in Innoventions), the American Adventure in the very back of the park, and Illuminations, the park's nighttime spectacular.

If you plan on having a full service meal, try to get reservations ahead of time (you can do it online). Going to Epcot without a reservation to a World Showcase restaurant is like going to prom without a date (so says the Unofficial Guide to WDW).

As for your other half days... I would just buy a one day pass to SeaWorld, which allows you to visit the park TWO days (within a seven day period) for no extra charge. So, on Sunday afternoon, head to SeaWorld and take in some of the headliner shows, and on Tuesday arrive :30 minutes before park opening and hit the headliner rides (Manta, Kraken, Journey to Atlantis, and Wild Arctic). Use the rest of your time on those two half days to leisurely tour exhibits and shows that interest you.

That's what I would do. Commando touring is just not my thing.

From Anthony Murphy
Posted April 3, 2010 at 9:39 AM
You can get seats without reservations at EPCOT, but its been harder and harder each day. Why not just come prepared!

Here are some of my favorites:

Canada
China
Japan
Germany (good for lunch)
France

From Michael Smith
Posted April 3, 2010 at 11:07 AM
If your focus is adult thrill rides I think you should definately spend your full day at Universal AND IOA. I think Pyra's plan is better.

You can do Mummy, Rip Ride Rock it, Men in Black, The Simpsons, Jaws; and at IOA do Hulk, Spiderman, Dr. Doom, Dragon Challenge, Jurassic Park, Dudley Do-right, and Bluto's Barges(be prepared to get wet on those 2).

EPCOT's World Showcase is more for leisurley spending your time shopping, sight-seeing and dining. The atmosphere is nicer at night, so I would do it Sunday. The calender for May says that extra magic hours for EPCOT are on tuesday morning, so the park shouldn't be busier than what's normal for that week on Sunday. The only bad thing about getting there in the afternoon is that the fastpasses for soaring may be gone when you get there.
SeaWorld is good for your last day because it only has 3 rides. This park is also closer to the airport than Epcot. You might want to pay for preferred parking so you can walk to your car and not have to wait for a tram. I'd go to the Clyde and Seamore show to fill the rest of the time there. Get there early and watch the mime before the show starts. Go see the penguins, sharks, and the Wild Arctic(polar bears). Unless you like bumpy out of date simulators, take the "by foot" line. When they take you into the room with the film, don't sit down. Just walk right to the other side and go through the exit door into the exibit. People may look at you weird, but I do it all the time.

From Tony Duda
Posted April 3, 2010 at 3:38 PM
Pyra's plan is about right. Epcot opens late and closes late so Sunday is best since you will arrive late. Soarin is nice but don't freak out if you don't see it. It's basically a 5 minute IMAX movie. The Illuminations fireworks is a great cap to the day but stand upwind. All day Monday at Universal means getting a 2-park one day pass so you can go from park to park as you want and can leave to eat at City Walk. Maybe eat at Mythos in IOA, the 5 year best restaurant as voted by TPI or eat at Pastamora in City Walk, the best and tastiest value at Universal. You can also stay very late at City Walk after the parks close. Use your getaway day at SeaWorld.

From James Rao
Posted April 3, 2010 at 4:12 PM
I stand corrected on the Magic Hours business. For some reason I got it in my head that you were heading to WDW this upcoming weekend. So, Michael is right, other than the last Sunday in May, all the other Sundays are clear sailing at Epcot.

That said, you are wasting your time and money if you only go to Epcot on the Sunday you arrive. It would be better to skip it altogether than to pay $80 a person to tour this wonderful park for less than half a day (World Showcase closes at 9 PM in May, and Future World usually closes at 7 PM).

As for accomplishing all of Universal in a day - sure it can be done, if you like commando touring and short-changing high quality parks. I prefer a more leisurely tour. The theme parks in Orlando are not the same as your local Six Flags, and there are nuances and themes to explore beyond just running from ride to ride. But it can be done and there have been several discussion threads supplying good touring plans for running through Universal in one day. Just do a search for "Universal in one day" or something like that.

On the other hand, if you really would rather do Universal, then get a two-day park hopper and hit the parks on Sunday and Monday. You'll have a much better time if you slow down and smell the green eggs and ham! Also, remember to book reservations (lunch or dinner) at Mythos restaurant in Islands of Adventure. IMHO, it is the best theme park restaurant in Orlando.

Now, I had presumed you wanted to go to SeaWorld for more than just thrill rides. However, if all you want to accomplish at SeaWorld is Manta and Kraken (Journey to Atlantis is really not worth any sort of wait if you are in a rush), then pay your $75 and you can be done with repeated rides in less than 90 minutes. If that plan suits your needs, then just hit SeaWorld on Tuesday morning before you head out of town.

From Kristi Pickeral
Posted April 4, 2010 at 6:06 AM
Thank you everyone for your very detailed and helpful responses! I'm currently looking in to extending our trip by one day so we can actually stop and smell the roses at the parks rather than just rushing thru to the rides with blinders on. James hit the nail on the head pointing out that these places are not like our local Six Flags where you just run from ride to ride...there's serious atmosphere to be enjoyed at the Orlando parks!

From James Rao
Posted April 4, 2010 at 7:40 PM
Let us know what you decide and we'll see if we can't help you pack a few more days full of Orlando goodness! =)

From Russell Meyer
Posted April 6, 2010 at 5:29 PM
It all depends on the days of the week you will be there and the Magic Hour schedule(as far as the Disney parks go). However, I would suggest not bouncing between Universal and Disney parks in the same to so as to avoid having to pay admission and parking for two different parks in one day.

From luis gonzalez
Posted April 6, 2010 at 7:45 PM
if your really into sea world, go on the sunday, you can get all the good stuff done in a half day. IOA/USO, really need a day each if you've never been there. I would just pick IOA and do it right, it has the better thrill rides, hulk and dueling dragons, dudley do right, jurassic park, doctor doom, and spiderman, compared to rip ride rockit and the mummy. As for epcot, you can get all the thrill rides done on the last day, but that is not really what epcot is all about. To me epcot is all about drinking around the world, and believe me you need all day to do that. I think you need to extend the trip one more full day and eliminate one park. It may seem like your missing out, but you will be missing alot more by trying to squeeze four parks into 2 days. plus dont eat at mythos, its a big let down. Ive been to le celier, brown derby, pastamore, wolfgang pucks, sci fi diner, etc... it aint all dat. i say eat at pastamore, or the pizza place in new york if your at USO, hard rock cafe is pretty good to.

WORD!!!!!!!!!!!!

From James Rao
Posted April 6, 2010 at 8:19 PM
Be interested to know what you had at Mythos that let you down, Luis. I've been on my last two visits and liked everything we ordered both times. Not to mention the prices were about half as much as Le Cellier or Brown Derby.

Each to his own, I guess.

BTW, I really like that NBA City restaurant as well. Huge portions, reasonable prices, and great desserts!

From Tyler Bell
Posted April 7, 2010 at 4:50 AM
If you go to Universal and spend about four hours at each park,it will be enought time to get to all the main attractions.

From James Rao
Posted April 7, 2010 at 7:43 PM
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

If you are just looking for a few thrills then your best bet is to stick with your local Six Flags or Cedar Fair park. For the money and the thrills, they are a great way to have few hours of fun on the cheap.

However, if you want to experience a true theme park, then head to Orlando and take your time. Savor the nuances and subtleties of story and theme that are so much a part of what Disney and Universal offer. Don't short-change the event just because you only have a few days. Remember, the parks aren't going anywhere, so you can always visit some other time and experience a different park. No reason to try to fit everything into one very short, very tiring, whirlwind trip.

From Tony Duda
Posted April 7, 2010 at 9:09 PM
It seems like your short 2.5 day quick taste of Orlando parks is getting mutated into a huge expensive endeavor. I actually did a trip like you originally proposed back in 1997. Three of us drove down from NJ, found a cheap motel and visited 4 different parks in 4 days - Magic Kingdom, Disney-MGM (pre-hat), EPCOT and Universal Studios (pre-IOA). We spent one long day at each park, had lots of fun and really didn't mind if we missed something or another. My advise is to not worry about seeing everything you heard was a must see. I moved to Florida in 2002 and have been to parks about 200 days since then and still haven't seen everything.

From Kristi Pickeral
Posted April 9, 2010 at 5:39 AM
We extended our trip by a day! Now we have Sunday starting around 1pm thru Wed. around 5ish before we have to head to the airport. Here's what I'm thinking based on all of your responses: Epcot on Sun 1pm-Mon COB; eating/drinking @ World Showcase and then Illuminations on Sunday, rides, main attractions and general atmosphere enjoyment on Monday. Is there a two-day pass available for Epcot? Universal/IOA on Tues-Wed 5pm, using the park-hopper pass that they offer. While we've heard great things about Sea World and know it would be fun, we don't want to feel rushed and worn out trying to pack all 4 parks in, plus eliminating Sea World means one less separate admission to pay. Thoughts? Thanks again!!

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