Orlando Theme Park advice

Edited: April 27, 2016, 6:32 PM

I'm planning to visit Orlando (from NZ) to go to the theme parks with my wife and 2 boys (10 & 13). At present, we're planning to visit for 4 to 5 days in January 2017 and go to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios.
I'd appreciate any advice on:
1. Where to stay? Both location with Orlando and specific hotels (budget of approx. $200/night)
2. Where to get discounted tickets and what type?
3. Whether the time of year (Jan 17) is good to visit?
4. Whether there is enough time to visit both Disney World, Universal Studios and perhaps one other park?
5. Whether it's possible to purchase a reasonably priced accommodation & park entrance package and from where?
6. Transportation (should I use a rental car or rely on available public transport)
7. Any other useful advice.

It's our first trip to the US. We're planning to visit NYC and Washington DC before driving down to Orlando, stopping at Williamsburg, Raleigh, Charleston & Savannah before spending 5 or so days in Orlando.

Thanks in advance.

Replies (16)

April 28, 2016, 4:46 AM

I probably wouldn't be helpful but there are some very knowlageable people on this site and I would also suggest asking a travel agent.

Edited: April 28, 2016, 6:25 AM

I'm sure there are plenty in here who can give more advice, but here are my thoughts
1/ one day magic kingdom, one day universal studios, one day universal island of adventure then one day at Epcot and/or animal kingdom. The magic kingdom can be a lot to do in one day but in Jan and with older children I think will be enough
2/ be careful where you stay (somewhere between Disney and universal maybe) It is a big sprawling area and some hotels and holiday home rentals say they are near the parks but are actually 30....40...50...mins drive away which can be a drag at the start and end of visiting parks. So check google maps carefully. I think Lake Buena vista is a good area next to Disney springs, only 10-15 mins from Disney parks and 20 mins to universal,
3/ For tickets I can recommend undercovertourist.com or park-tickets.com, for hotels booking.com is ok and for holiday rentals Airbnb.com or Vrbo.com
4/ bear in mind the weather could be very snowy driving down from the north. In Orlando there is a chance some days may be chilly and it will be quite cold at night. Jan is a quiet month, so fewer queues but often some rides are down for maintenance
5/ if you were, say, just visiting Disney then you could stay on or near property and no need for a car but if going universal as well I'd get a car. It's a very big sprawled out area and I'm not sure public transport is that widespread.
6/ if you can extend to a week, do so. Disney has 4 parks and universal 2, plus there are many other things to do and the natural side of Florida is very nice too (some great state parks in the area and beaches an hour from the parks.

Hope that helps, ask if any questions

April 28, 2016, 11:11 AM

I'll offer my input, based on my experiences with the Orlando parks (I've been five times throughout my lifetime, with the most recent being this past summer). I'm sure some other people have more useful information, but here's my input which will hopefully help you.

1. Where to stay? Both location with Orlando and specific hotels (budget of approx. $200/night)
This is a much more complex question than it first appears. A lot of it depends on what you are willing to sacrifice and at what cost. If you can find a deal, staying at one of the Disney moderate or value hotels are usually great deals. They offer you free transportation to and from all the major parks and facilities at WDW, thus saving you on gas and parking fees (which over the course of a couple days will add up quickly if you are moving around a lot). Given your projected travel dates, you should be able to come across a decent deal on rooms/night (Between $90-$200, depending on which resort you stay at). They also offer all-inclusive packages which include meal plans and tickets as well. The same goes for Universal. I haven't stayed at the Universal resorts, but based on your budget, I would recommend Port Orleans, Pop Century, or the All-Star Movies resort for Disney Resorts.

If you like the freedom of having a personal vehicle, staying off-site and driving in to the different resorts is not a bad option at all. This will allow you to get away from the WDW/Universal bubble, meaning you won't be forced to pay high prices for meals (you can hop in the car and go get some fast food or a decent meal for much cheaper than you can when staying on resort property). This will also allow you to explore some more of Orlando if you get the itch (Sea World, Downtown, etc.). The downside is that, unless your hotel offers transportation to and from the resorts, you will be forced to pay parking at each park every day (Typically in the range of $18-$20), plus gas and rental car expenses. Using your projected travel dates, I would estimate that you will probably end up spending anywhere in the range of $250-$400 on rental car, gas, and parking alone. One of the biggest upsides of having a rental car is that you won't be forced to wait for shuttles to get to and from the parks, which can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour depending on where your lodging is and what park your at.

2. Where to get discounted tickets and what type?
Most discounted tickets are marginal at best (you may save $5-$10/ticket). But as stated earlier, undercovertourist is probably your best bet. What's more important is to figure out how many days you are planning to visit each resort, as the more days you purchase for a specific resort, the less the total costs per ticket-per day it will be. In other words, the more days you purchase at either WDW or Universal, the cheaper the overall price of admission will be. I also would steer clear of the park hopper option for WDW, as most of the parks are far away from each other and while getting two parks in in a single day is doable, it's not exactly a painless or fun process (it's much better at DLR, where you can literally walk from one end of Disneyland to the entrance of DCA in about 10 minutes). If you want to experience the Hogwart's Express ride, you will have to purchase a park-hopper at Universal. Otherwise, stick to one-park-per-day admission

3. Whether the time of year (Jan 17) is good to visit?
This is probably one of the best times of year to visit the Orlando parks in regards to crowds and weather. Most of the New Year's crowds will be gone and everyone is back to work/school after the holidays so the parks are very manageable. The downside is that you will probably have a couple of attractions down for refurbishment (though which attractions will be down, I can't say for certain right now).

4. Whether there is enough time to visit both Disney World, Universal Studios and perhaps one other park?
In short, no it's not. At least not if you want to experience all 4 parks at WDW, both parks at Universal, and possibly one more park (SeaWorld?) As a general rule, you should plan to set aside one day per park, with 1 or two extra days to return to a park you didn’t get to see everything at or want to re-ride some of your favorites. Being that crowds during this time of year will be very manageable, you CAN squeeze in some park-hopping days (I’d recommend doing an Animal Kingdom/Disney Hollywood Studios day, with AK in the morning, a break in the afternoon, and DHS in the evening. Also possibly a Islands of Adventure/Universal Studios day, with IoA in the morning followed by Universal at night). Typically this type of park hopping is not doable due to crowds filling up the parks, causing most attractions to have queues between 20-90 mins. on average. With your projected travel dates, most attractions will be in the 10-45 mins. range, with the exception of the super marquee e-tickets such as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Test Track, Space Mountain, and Harry Potter and the escape from Gringott’s (even these attractions shouldn’t hit waits of over 60 mins.) A lot of it also depends on what you and your family are looking to get out of the parks. Do you crave thrills? Then you’re going to want to spend more time at IoA/Universal. Do you like a good variety of attractions and shows? Magic Kingdom and EPCOT will keep you entertained longer. Here’s what I would personally recommend based on my experience as well as the experience of other friends and family (I have two young daughters, so I understand the child aspect).
Magic Kingdom- Two Days
Epcot-One Day
Animal Kingdom-Half-day. Go in the morning then park hop at night.
Disney Hollywood Studios-Half-Day. Go in the afternoon/Evening
Islands of Adventure-Half-Day (normally I would say full-day, but for your projected travel dates you can finish most attractions here in a half-day, even with the addition of the new Kong ride)
Universal Studios Florida-Half-Day. Same logic as IoA.

This is just my personal recommendation. It fits within your available visiting dates. If you can extend your vacation another day or two, you could fit in another park or return to a park you really enjoyed. I think MK is about the only park in Orlando that is worth two full days, especially considering all the construction which will be going on at DHS and AK.

5. Whether it's possible to purchase a reasonably priced accommodation & park entrance package and from where?
See above response. The best deals you’re going to find will be offered by Disney and Universal respectively.

6. Transportation (should I use a rental car or rely on available public transport)

See above response. I hope this was helpful. Like I said, these are tips I picked up on based on my personal experience and taste. Yours will undoubtedly differ.

April 28, 2016, 12:44 PM

Wow. Thanks heaps for all the information. Very useful indeed.

April 29, 2016, 3:33 AM

Just some further points
1/ I mentioned the weather because I got stranded in NY once for 2 days in January due to snow and so this could affect your drive south in January. Not sure about the chances of this happening but something to consider
2/ when doing Disney make sure you familiarise yourself with fastpass + (information is on that under cover tourist website)
3/ I didn't mention Disney Hollywood studios park because there is a lot of things closed and new things in development. That said it has a few if disneys best rides- tower of terror and toy story etc so do it if you can for half day as mentioned by Blake

April 29, 2016, 2:15 PM

Just one more thing. If we only had 3 full days for theme parks in Orlando, which would you spend 2 days at? e.g. Two days at Disney and one at Universal or vice versa?

April 29, 2016, 2:59 PM

In that case I would do two days at Disney (one full day at magic kingdom, a park hopping day of whatever other parks interest you) and one day universal (park hop between both parks)

May 1, 2016, 8:02 AM

1. I would stay at the All Star. Gets you Disney Perks and you can drive to USO. Especially since it sounds that you will be going to Disney more often.

2. Sadly, there really isn't any discounted tickets. I would check with your job because they sometimes have that perk!

3. That is actually a really good time to visit since most kids are back in school. It also won't be the that hot!

4. I would stick with Disney (4 parks) and Universal (two parks)

5. Check with a travel agent (Small World Travel was used by one of my friends and he liked it). There is always disneyworld.com for a good comparision

6. Rent the car

7. Have fun and try to relax!

May 1, 2016, 6:48 PM

Thanks for the response. Is All Star a hotel? The travel agent here suggested a couple of places but when I looked them up on Tripadvisor they look really lousy.

May 2, 2016, 3:40 AM

All Star is a hotel on Disney property. By NZ do you mean New Zealand?

Edited: May 2, 2016, 10:43 AM

It's a bad idea to only have two days at Orlando. You came all the way from New Zealand to do a rush job. Advice wouldn't work. Stay at the cheapest Disney on-site hotel and do whatever you can in the limited available time. Don't bother visiting Universal. Not enough time to see everything. You won't save any money on tickets. People save the least amount of money on one day tickets. The deals are for 3 day and longer tickets.

May 2, 2016, 1:57 PM

@Anon Mouse
Totally agree.

May 3, 2016, 9:54 AM

Last year in April, I went to Orlando for a week, but was only able to do a one-day park hopper at Disney World.

Now, I lived in Orlando for 10 years, so going to WDW wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Still, what I did was start out at Magic Kingdom. I did Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, and Haunted Mansion - the park is actually not too busy in the first 1 hour or so of the day, relatively speaking.

After that, I took the monorail to EPCOT. It was Flower & Garden, so I didn't do any attractions, but I ate some of the kiosk food, had lunch at Teppan Edo, had a Starbucks and some free foreign Coke products at Club Cool, and then walked through the EPCOT resorts area to Hollywood Studios where I did single rider for RNR.

That's about all I could do. I felt it was worth it, though I was a bit rushed the whole time, and became pretty worn out by the end. I didn't have time for a lot of photos, couldn't do things like 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, Toy Story Mania, Soarin, or anything at Animal Kingdom. I didn't see any shows, either.

But I think I did alright. Then again, I know the parks so well that I was never lost, and I always had a plan and idea in my head.

May 3, 2016, 12:37 PM

Yes, by NZ I mean New Zealand. I realise the time in Orlando might seem short considering the distance we're travelling but we're actually spending 4 weeks in the US and stopping in a number of places (NYC, DC, Williamsburg, Charleston, Savannah). We'll be in Orlando for 5 days but only really have 3 whole days set aside for theme parks. My wife wants a days shopping in the outlets at the end of our trip.
I really appreciate all the advice. Feel free to share any gems you might have. We're leaning towards booking a condo somewhere through AirBNB or the like. I saw a few accommodation deals advertised on Ebay, including an outfit called www.justgottago.com and was wondering about their legitimacy.
A few years ago we went to Disneyland in Paris for one day and felt like we saw most of one park. Basically, we left satisfied and the kids had a good time. That said, I think the Paris one is quite a bit smaller and it wasn't very crowded.

May 3, 2016, 12:44 PM

Honestly Orlando doesn't have any good shopping. Probably nothing better than what you have in New Zealand. Theme Parks > Shopping.

May 3, 2016, 7:41 PM

All Star Sports and All Star Movies are the most affordable hotels at Disney, but they tend to be the one that is most bare.

I would possibly consider Caribbean Beach if the price is right. It will be right around $200. It is a slightly nicer resort, but it isn't too crazy in price.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive