How to fit everything in
It’s not going to be easy. Your six-year-old daughter is desperate to meet Cinderella, your 10-year-old son wants to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and your teenager is obsessed with roller coasters. To make the most of a family holiday in Orlando you need to plan each day with military precision.
Once you’ve made a list of everyone’s top five priorities you can start to shortlist which parks and attractions are ‘must-dos’ and which are ‘maybes’. Then look critically at your itinerary and, if it’s wall-to-wall theme parks, try to free up at least one day for a water park, one for Daytona Beach and another for Kennedy Space Center. It’s also useful to have a ‘free’ day where you can return to one of your favourite theme parks to see and do the things you didn’t have time for first time around.
How to pick the right park
There’s something for all ages at every park. Having said that, however, certain parks appeal more to specific age groups, and many rides have height restrictions. If you have young children start by looking at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. With older children set your sights on Epcot and Disney-MGM. If you have children of widely mixed ages, SeaWorld and Universal’s Islands of Adventure have a good range of attractions. Of course, even with teenagers in tow, you might think it inconceivable to visit Orlando and not see the Magic Kingdom – a bit like flying to Cairo and skipping the Pyramids. It’s largely a matter of personal preferences, although special multi-park ticket offers may well be the deciding factor in which parks you end up visiting.
How to save money
Available for pre-purchase in the UK only, Disney’s Ultimate Tickets provide unlimited admission to all Disney attractions for either two- or three-week periods. Better suited for shorter visits, five- or seven-day Premium Tickets allow unlimited entry to all four Disney theme parks and either four or six admissions to water parks and other attractions depending on which version you purchase.
The Orlando Flexticket (orlandoflexticket.co.uk) gives you 14 consecutive days of unlimited admission to five or six theme parks, including Universal Studios, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld, Wet ‘n Wild and Busch Gardens. You can also pre-book one- or two-week Universal Holiday Tickets for unlimited entry to Universal Studios, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal CityWalk venues.
How to save time
A useful and fun planning tool, personalized maps of any of Disney’s four parks can be created online at disneyworld. disney.go.com/maps. Simply select your favourite attractions, dining options and special events, and a customized map is generated which you can print out and take with you. Several of your must-dos are bound to have a FastPass facility. This is essentially a polite way of queue jumping – just insert your entrance ticket into a FastPass machine and you’ll receive a designated time when you can board the ride by a special, often queue-free, entrance. The catch, of course, is that you can only FastPass one ride at a time. Still, it’s worth doing as often as you can – as is Parent Switch, which allows parents with young children to take turns on adult rides, without having to queue a second time.
Magic Kingdom features six lands radiating out from Cinderella Castle. As well as thrill rides like Space Mountain, popular attractions include Mickey’s PhilharMagic (spectacular 3D animation). Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (zap aliens with a laser cannon), Pirates of the Caribbean (action-packed voyage with rowdy pirates). Space Mountain (roller coaster in the dark), Splash Mountain (log flume ride), the Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight, Swiss Family Treehouse,Tom Sawyer Island and Tomorrowland Speedway. Fantasyland is being doubled in size during 2012.
Animal Kingdom‘s centrepiece is a huge, exquisitely carved Tree of Life, from which six themed lands spread out The attention to detail in the African and Asian villages is remarkable. Must-see attractions include Kilimanjaro Safaris (open-air vehicle ride through an African savannah roamed by elephants, rhinos and lions). Maharajah JungleTrek (walkthrough ruined palace inhabited by tigers, tapirs and fruit bats). It’s Tough to be a Bug! (3D animation inspired by A Bug’s Life), Finding Nemo (musical puppet show), Festival of the Lion King (Broadway-style song and dance), Kali River Rapids and the Wildlife Express Train.
Epcot is probably the one park you’ll want to return to more than any other.There is simply so much to see and do. World Showcase transports you to 11 nations, each one depicted by an authentic pavilion. Future World focuses on science and discovery with big rides and interactive exhibits. Don’t miss Soarin’ – a virtual hang-gliding adventure over California’s natural wonders where you can feel the wind in your face and smell the scent of the pine trees. Other attractions include Test Track (95 km/h speedway ride), Turtle Talk with Crush (interactive digital show) and Mission: SPACE (realistic space flight to Mars).
Disney’s Hollywood Studios brings movie-making to life with special effects shows like Lights, Motors, Action! and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. You can also learn about animation and see live performances of Beauty and the Beast.Thrill rides include the StarTours flight simulator, the Rock’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
Blizzard Beach water park boasts one of the world’s tallest, fastest, free-fall speed slides – Summit Plummet. Open year-round, other highlights include the Downhill Double Dipper (inner-tube speed slide on parallel flumes), Teamboat Springs (family raft ride) and Tike’s Peak (‘snow-covered’ play area for tots).
Typhoon Lagoon water park has roaring rapids, relaxing rivers and even a wave pool where you can hone your bodysurfing skills.