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August 17, 2013 3:54 PM   Subscribe

We're going to Orlando, FL for 10 days in September. Help us make this theme-park-heavy adventure as good as it gets.

We will be there Sep 20-30. We'll be at Disneyland for 4 full days, staying onsite at the Coronado Springs Resort. Next, we'll be at Universal Studios for 3.5 days (Loews Portofino Bay) and we've booked in Kennedy Space Centre for a day as well. We're a family of four (10 year old and a 7 year old). Looking for any advice on making this trip great. Where to eat? What to do? Things you wish you would have known going in to something like this? Things to avoid? Places offsite to change things up? We wouldn't mind losing a day at Universal to do something else. But what? Really, I'm fishing for any/all good ideas.
posted by mazola to Travel & Transportation around Orlando, FL (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do you mean 4 days at Disney parks? If you meant all 4 at Magic Kingdom (the flagship park), I'd suggest that's at least 2 more than needed.
posted by davebush at 4:11 PM on August 17, 2013

Response by poster: Whoops. 4 days at DisneyWorld (Disney parks).
posted by mazola at 4:13 PM on August 17, 2013

I just got back last night from WDW, actually.

I haven't been to Universal in about a decade, but if you haven't booked your Disney dining already, you're probably out of luck for table service restaurants. Log onto tonight and see what reservations are left. The EPCOT Food and Wine Festival does begin on the 27th, though, and that's a lot of fun. You can line up for lunch at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom as early as 10:30, I think.

We've been a lot of times, but my favorite thing THIS trip, actually, was horseback riding at Fort Wilderness. It was a 45 minute trail ride that was incredibly relaxing and fun.

If you want to get the most out of the Disney Parks, be there for rope drop, when the park opens. Find out if your resort is participating in the new FastPass+ system. I don't THINK Coronado is, but that may change between now and then. If you are participating in FP+, hop onto DisBoards ASAP and do your research. For the main attractions, you will want to get fast passes for sure. It beats 140 minute wait times for Soarin'.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:23 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your scheduling is very fortuitous, bring your fancy clothes and take part in Dapper Day on the 21st at WDW!
posted by jpeacock at 4:25 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's the WDW September calendar - if you want to see the fireworks or Fantasmic, they don't run every evening in September, so pick your days. The later showings of Fantasmic and the Electrical Parade are usually less crowded. If you really like fireworks, Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party has different fireworks, and it's fun to watch them from the beach at the Polynesian resort.

If you want to ride without waits, the best plan is to get there early - take advantage of the resort guest early entry if you can manage it, if you're not going for the early hour then hit a different park instead. For places to eat, I would look at what dining reservations are available - the popular restaurants may be booked up, but the hotels are a little easier to get reservations at. Restaurant choice depends a lot on how much you want to spend and what you like to eat, check out for restaurant menus and price and the Disney Food Blog for reviews.
posted by penguinliz at 5:04 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

When we visited the first time for four days last year, using Disney World Wait Times Free app on my iPhone was a godsend. User-supplied data could give me a realtime wait estimate to help in planning on the fly.

Of course you may not be the kind of family that due to different reasons doesn't plan everything out in advance, our kids are smaller which has something to do with it, as well as a few 'spontaneous' types that don't like to plan things out in great detail.

We also purchased this spiral-bound book Walt Disney World Guide to the Magic for Kids which all our kids enjoyed a lot on the long road-trip out there.

On a trip to Disneyland several years ago, I purchase Ridemax software, if you are the 'we want to plan everything in advance' type, to consider.
posted by scooterdog at 5:36 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go stalk the disboards to really dig into planning this trip-they are the experts. I'd drop universal to 2 days and add 2 to WDW, which still won't be enought but will be much better-a day for each park and an extra day each for MK and Epcot. Study, study, study how to use your fast passes-they make all the difference in the amount of time you wait in lines.
posted by purenitrous at 7:02 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was there in mid-September two years ago and the thing I was most surprised by was how very hot and humid it was. We ended up doing a park early morning, going back to the hotel mid-day for a pool break and then back to the park once the sun set. Since you're there for 10 days, you may want to plan a water park day. Disney has two and the Orlando area has a few others.
posted by FreezBoy at 7:23 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you don't have all your room nights booked I highly recommend the Nick Hotel and water park as a wet day of rest from the lines at the parks. Not sure what your budget is but Seaworld offers signature experiences which are pretty darn cool. I had the opportunity to do a sleepover on the beach with the dolphins but my google foo is failing me tonight. If they still offer that, it's well worth the $, it was the highlight of our family vacation.
posted by HappyHippo at 9:10 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

My parents have a Disney time share, so I've been every other year or so for the last 20 years. I thought I pretty much had the parks down, but on our last trip I went into super-planning mode and ended up using this website: Tour Guide Mike. It was around $20 and super useful. Aside from that, take breaks in the middle of the day. Some people (many people) get a little cranky when they've woken up early and been wandering about all morning. Also, I agree, download wait times apps for the different parks.
posted by loulou718 at 1:44 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Add me to the chorus of people that tell you that you should start early each day and take breaks in the middle of the day. Arrive at the park before it opens and use that first 90-120 minutes on the rides and attractions that are very popular and/or very low capacity. Most people don't like getting up early especially on vacation but if you hate standing in line, this is the way to go in order to avoid that soul crushing experience.

Since you are up early be sure to take breaks during the day by either going back to your hotel for some pool time or perhaps sitting for a long, leisurely lunch in the air conditioning. After that spend your time viewing the attractions that don't have waits and re-riding favorites using Fastpasses or their equivalents.
posted by mmascolino at 8:21 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since you are staying onsite, you need to check out the extended park hours.

I am going to go against the grain here and suggest you start as late in the day as possible. You will need to check each park for the closing time as it varies day to day. The crowds are much thinner in the evening hours (after 6:00 pm). Going to the parks later in the day will allow you to eat your meals during off times (no long lines for food). For example, we (friends, two 5 y/o's) would sleep in late with the kids. We would have breakfast around 10:00 am and hit the parks at noon. We would eat lunch around 3:00, dinner around 7:00 and stay until the park closed for the night. Sometimes this would be as late as midnight.

Bring your own pocket rain ponchos purchased at the dollar store. The parks don't close when it rains and if you buy rain ponchos onsite, they will run about $10.00 each. Also have a small backpack to carry snacks such as trail mix, sun screen, and hats and cameras when on the rides. It also doesn't hurt to have several zip lock bags to store items sensitive to water. Some of the water rides can be really splashy, your phone will thank you.

The last time we went, (kids are about 16 and 7) each child was allowed a certain amount of spending money. We were there for 9 days, the amount we allotted each kid was $100.00. This money was kept in a zip lock bag with their name on it in the above mentioned backpack. I, the parent purchased all food and drinks, tee shirts, and Micky Mouse ears hat for the youngest. Anything else they wanted came out of their spending money. This cut out ALL of the "I wants," whenever they saw something and the words "I want" were spoken, I pulled out their bag and said, "Here is your money." I was amazed at how often the 7 y/o would change his mind after looking at his money and asking how much was left. He bought mostly pins, but he did have $20 left when the trip was over; which was his to keep.
posted by JujuB at 11:17 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did an Orlando week for my honeymoon last year (and then followed up with a 4-day Disney Cruise, which was awesome). We had 5 days in the parks, 1 day in Universal, and one day off (just lounging around the pool, much needed after high-energy park time).

3.5 days at Universal is a lot and I would not hesitate to cut it down and replace that time with a breather day in the middle of your trip (at a pool if possible or just a low-key environment) or more time at Disney (either Epcot or Magic Kingdom can easily fill more days since there is so much to do). The breather time is great when you are traveling with kids since at some point, either you or one of the kids WILL have a meltdown and need some downtime. Get the park hopper option, leave for an afternoon nap, then go back to the parks. No one can have fun when someone in the group is cranky and overtired.

If you are doing Islands of Adventure AND Universal Studios, then I can see spending two days if all the rides really appeal to you. I thought the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was amazing and also loved some of the other rides especially in Islands of Adventure (the Hulk is great) but once we had done our first day in Universal, we quickly re-budgeted our planned two days at Universal down to one day and didn't have any regrets.

As others have pointed out, it's a little late in the game for dining reservations in Disney but it can't hurt to try. If you know which parks you'll be in for specific days, it is amazing to know that you have a guaranteed dinner at such and such a time. Nothing like waiting for a table when you are hungry, thirsty, and starving. The Cinderella's Royal Table prix fixe dinner in the castle is a very, very experience for meeting the princesses and the food is truly fantastic, but that books out very early.

I also recommend perusing the Disboards since they are the Real Deal (tm) and folks there are very helpful and friendly.
posted by fantine at 12:54 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

...if you haven't booked your Disney dining already, you're probably out of luck for table service restaurants.

So what does that mean, in practical terms? Would you now be limited to eating at fast-food-type places? Or do you camp out at a table service restaurant and hope for a seat? Or...?
posted by wenestvedt at 11:07 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

We went last October - 10 adults and 11 kids. My best advice would be these two things:

1) Wear shoes that are comfortable and broken-in. And if you have a tendency to develop blisters, bring some moleskin (found in drug stores in the first aid section).

2) Beware of sickness. My youngest daughter got sick and before we knew it, we had two rooms of puking family members. My immediate family missed out on Animal Kingdom because we were in bed all day. Take vitamins or whatever else you think might help before and during your trip.
posted by tacodave at 5:20 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I appreciate all answers so far!

We are on a dining plan and, yes, we have been able to book restaurants (including 'Ohana; that wasn't likely!). The Disney side of it is pretty well planned (there is no shortage of information there, the challenge is to make sense of it all!). 'Best tips' still very much appreciated.

We have one day to fill doing something in and around Orlando. All suggestions on how to fill that day would be most welcome, as well as any tips for Universal.
posted by mazola at 8:39 PM on August 19, 2013

If you're on the dining plan, I recommend the Tangierine Cafe quick-service restaurant, you can get one of their huge shawarma platters and a baklava, and it's usually pretty quiet. Another good spot is Wolfgang Puck Express at Downtown Disney. If you like ridiculously large portions of sugary food, you're also in luck - some of the items you can buy for a snack credit are amazing, like the ice cream sandwiches, cinnamon rolls the size of your head, or try Starring Rolls for one of their huge cupcakes.
posted by penguinliz at 2:09 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks. Quick Service restaurant recommendations deeply appreciated. Bonus points for tasty/healthy-ish fare. We are a family that typically eats flavourful and healthy and, frankly, the idea of theme-park food is freaking me out!
posted by mazola at 6:11 AM on August 20, 2013

Great restaurant in Epcot: Restaurant Marrakesh (Morocco). If you like falafel/tabbouleh/gyros and things of that nature, you'll enjoy that quick-service restaurant.

"Theme park" food doesn't really apply to Disney, in my opinion. Yes, you can get pizza and burgers and all manner of fun ice creams, but you'll also find plenty of healthy sandwiches and fruit and healthy fare.

Pro-tip! I see you are doing the dining plan. It depends on what version y'all purchased, but my husband and I found that it was a TON of food. Not a problem since usually walking and adventuring will make you quite hungry, but we did feel silly getting dessert with every meal. Toward the end of our trip we got the bright idea to ask for a bottle of water to go instead of dessert and that was totally fine everywhere we asked. Wish we'd done that earlier in the week!
posted by fantine at 6:34 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, for Universal, if you want to go to Harry Potter land, the one tip I read was to wait until the very end of the day to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I went over Christmas and waited maybe 35-40 minutes, but earlier in the day, the line was at least an hour and a half long.
posted by loulou718 at 11:42 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

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