Disney World / Orlando Studios / Quiet-ish Beach vacation advice
November 7, 2014 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm super bad at planning travel stuff and I'm trying to take a vacation with my girlfriend at the end of December. We'd like to do 3 nights at a quiet-ish beach within reasonable driving distance of Disney World and Universal Studios (because Harry Potter) in Orlando, and 4 nights doing both of those theme parks. First time Disney planner here, and I don't know anything about Florida beaches really.

I'm specifically asking for recommendations of quiet-ish beaches near Orlando, as well as info on that whole Disney thing. This is my first time planning a Disney trip as an adult, and it's pretty daunting. Is it better to fly somewhere not Orlando for airfare cost and beach access, then rent a car and drive to a Disney resort? We'll be down there from 12/26 to 1/2 so we're looking to do New Years Eve at either the beach of Disney if it's cool there.
posted by lazaruslong to Travel & Transportation around Orlando, FL (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's better if you stay at a Disney resort, I think. The week you are going is literally the busiest week of the year there, and the parks are going to be INSANE levels of crowded. If you can stay at a Disney resort, you're going to have early or late access. It's really your only shot at doing anything.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:50 PM on November 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

This is my neck of the woods.
What do you consider "reasonable driving distance"?

Orlando is landlocked in the middle of the state.
I live in the Tampa Bay area, home of some amazing beaches (a few have been voted best in the US), and Orlando is about 90 minutes away as the rental car drives.

St. Pete Beach is GORGEOUS, but chilly that time of year.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 2:08 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did this very trip three years ago. We flew into Melbourne, FL, drove to Orlando and spent two nights there, then returned to Melbourne for beach time. It was good except that there was an unprecedented cold snap that had us trying to enjoy the beach at 40 degrees F. The week between Christmas and New Years is insanely crowded at the theme parks, but we still had a decent experience. Use touringplans.com for Disney if you want to reduce time spent in lines. Also be flexible with restaurant times, because a lot of restaurants will be already booked up. (DO NOT expect to eat in a sit-down restaurant in Disney without an advance reservation.)
posted by Daily Alice at 2:24 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up down there and go back for Christmas time every other year. When we hit the beach that week, even us Minnesotans think that it's marginally beach weather. Most beaches will be plenty quiet. I grew up in Vero Beach, 90 minutes southeast of Orlando.

In the twenty years I've been flying back that week Orlando has had the cheapest flights.

When you hit up Hogwarts, go through the single rider line. It's way shorter. You can't really see any of the other people on the ride when you are on it anyways. When you are through, you can ask the attendant to go through for the castle tour and see the rooms you skipped because you were in the much shorter line.
posted by advicepig at 2:53 PM on November 7, 2014

It will be pretty cold to do things like lay on the beach and swim but awesome for strolls on the beach etc.

Orlando is very reasonable to fly into from most places. You are going at the busiest time of the year. Keep that in mind.

We use a crowd calendar to figure out best times and an app to check lines. (Undercover tourist has been our favorite). Keep an eye on what parks have extra hours on which days and avoid them on those days.

I totally hated staying at Disney compared to outside the park. One year we stayed at both Disney AND outside the park during the same stay. It really was interesting to compare while it was all so fresh. The food is pretty terrible inside the park. The restaurants are crowded and far away. When you are outside the park you can have 10 restaurants with in walking distance. Staying there? The hotels are spread apart and the public transport was slow with long lines. It was honestly less time to get to the park driving in from a separate hotel and the service, rooms, everything was so superior.

Our room at Disney was incredibly expensive and small. When we moved to a mid level hotel in Orlando (immediately after leaving from our Disney hotel stay) we were pleased with everything. The beds were nicer, the service was nicer, the restaurants was WONDERFUL for the same price but with actual waitstaff.

I literally booked my dinner reservations for the one day we ate at Magic Kingdom about 3 months before and I had a choice of ONE restaurant.

Orlando has LOTS of terrific food and hotel and they KNOW how to give good service. I would stick to Disney for the park but do the rest else where. Especially as a couple.

Out of the 15 or so hotels in the Orlando area this might be the one I would pick as a couple: Caribe Royale. 200 bucks a night for your dates. It's not the closest to the parks that I've stayed but I didnt mind the 10-15 minute drive.
posted by beccaj at 2:53 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just came back from Orlando - we stayed in Kissimmee and had a great time.
We went to Daytona Bach for one of the days - it was a 90 minute drive.
There's also Cocoa Beach (also a 90 minute drive)....

Feel free to memail me if you have any specific questions at all - Harry Potter was AWESOME but October is a really quiet time and we literally walked on every ride. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it if we had had to queue up for hours to get on everything, especially because The Forbidden Journey ride can be nausea inducing for some people and the Gringotts ride is great, but it's very short!
posted by JenThePro at 2:59 PM on November 7, 2014

Fly into Orlando and head over to Cocoa Beach/Daytona. It's about an hour away but it's a good chance to see the Kennedy Space Center. Nice enough beach, but it's probably not going to be warm enough to actually lay out or get in the water.

I've stayed at Coronado Springs and done Disney the week between Christmas and New Years. Crowded doesn't begin to cover it. Mobbed, packed, etc. That doesn't mean it wasn't fun. But I'm not a huge fan of throngs of people like that. Read up on strategies for navigating the park and download apps. They help and are useful.

Wear good, structured athletic shoes. I'm not kidding. If you wear flip-flops you will be a sad mouseketeer.

I do recommend staying on property, they have great places at all price ranges. Act now, they do sell out at the lower levels. I also recommend the Dining Program. Good value for money with that. They have a whole package, where they fetch you at the airport, deal with your suitcases and provide transportation within the parks. I still drive because I don't have the patience to wait on transportation, but that's me.

I'd skip staying at the beach, if I'm honest. Just hang out in Orlando. Rent a car for the day you want to drive to Universal, or check and see if there's a shuttle (it seems like there should be.)

All Disney resorts have pools, or check out one of the three water parks at Disney World. Florida beaches are okay, but if the water's warm, there are jellyfish. Lots and lots of jellyfish.

If you can't deal with staying on property, I can also recommend the Holiday Inn Orange Lake Resort. It's in Kissimmee. You can rent it like a hotel room, but it's a very nice time-share place. We loved our room, it was right by the lazy river. I love cooking my own breakfast, and having lots of space to spread out.

We Disney-ites all have opinions about the best way to do Orlando. Here's my input. Unless you know a good local restaurant, stick with names you know. There are tons of come-ons for all sorts of places, but most are a rip-off. There are dozens of joints on Irlo Bronson and International, putt-putt, restaurants, Arabian Night, Medieval Times, some weird Asian show. Keep driving. Expensive and pretty sub-par.

Disney really is the bomb. It's just so wonderful in all its Disneyness.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:10 PM on November 7, 2014

Edit: I wrote "Out of the 15 or so hotels in the Orlando area" - I meant to say "Out of the 15 or so hotels in the Orlando area I've stayed in". There aren't only 15 or so hotels there. There's about a zillion.
posted by beccaj at 4:22 PM on November 7, 2014

I love staying on property at Disney, but then I plan our trips 180 days out. At this point, (and if i was going with only adults) I'd probably stay at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek. There are two- one is a time share that you can rent like a regular room and the other is a standard hotel. Either one is good.

Don't bother with a Disney Dining Plan because you're not going to find reservations at the table service places this late for that week. It really is the busiest week.

Get your Disney tickets now and sign up for a "My Disney Experience" account. Link your tickets to the account and you should be allowed to make your FastPass+ choices. I hold an annual pass so I'm not entirely sure how that works for single ticket holders. What I DO know is that the good FastPasses are usually all gone by the time the gates open for the day. It kinda sucks. Download the Disney app for your phone so that you can change your Fastpasses on the fly.

I love Disney, but I won't lie- I think you're CRAZY for going that week. Crazy. Do a beach trip to the Keys instead and save Disney for the last week of February or something. Look at the crowd calendars and really decide if you want to wade through walls of people.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:48 PM on November 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Definitely stay on-site. It gets you into the parks early, and getting around is a lot easier. Don't buy the meal plan, though - just plan on spending a fortune for anything you want to eat. The meal plans are 'way more food than most people can eat, and you can eat when you get hungry and/or see a vendor that appeals to you.

I was disappointed in the beaches, actually. I'd be more up for a car tour of the area. You'll want to spend most of your time in the park - and the Disney folks take great care of you. Enjoy!
posted by summerstorm at 8:05 PM on November 7, 2014

The beach you reach will depend on what you mean by reasonable driving distance. I would target the gulf coast and the above mentioned St. Pete is a good choice. If you're willing to drive 3-4 hours to and from the beach portion of your trip, you can make Sanibel/Captiva which is pretty close to heaven.
posted by dzot at 9:46 AM on November 8, 2014

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