What theme park should we go to?
April 22, 2007 7:50 PM   Subscribe

I have the opportunity to take my family on a holiday to the US between Nov and Feb this year. What theme park should we go to?

My family is a wife and two girls (10 and 5 years old). This is primarily a holiday for the girls so at the moment I am (or to be precise they are) thinking of travelling to a theme park. This thread and this one indicate that we should look at Walt Disney World. Any comments on this given the time of year or age of kids?

Should we look at other locations or parks instead? If so, why?

Are there any lesser known parks (in other locations) that the kids will enjoy that have enough at them or near them to occupy our time? Will parks be particularly crowed during anytime over these months? Will the local weather during these months make a difference to what we can do?

We will have 10 days on the ground but will be travelling from Australia so we would not like to do much more travel once “established” in a hotel (or taking advice from previous threads, onsite at WDW). I would prefer not to rent a car will do so if there is no other option.

Price, while important, will likely not dictate where we go or what we do. We are not set on any specific location.
posted by dangerousdan to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That is the one time of the year Orlando isn't ridiculously hot, but I'm not much one on theme parks, so you should find something else to do, IMO.

That said, there's a lot to do in Orlando, and that's why Disney World, Universal, and all that is so popular, but you'll really want a car so you can do something other than the whole theme park schtick. There are a lot of pretty decent restaurants in the area.
posted by wierdo at 7:55 PM on April 22, 2007

DO NOT go November or December, that's the holiday season and one of the busiest times for WDW. You'll have much more success with mid-late January through mid-February.
posted by awesomebrad at 8:01 PM on April 22, 2007

January through February will probably not be terrifically busy, as no common school holidays fall during that period. If you stay at a hotel near the park, there will probably be bus/shuttle service to the park, so you won't need a car if you really want to focus on the park.
posted by MadamM at 8:25 PM on April 22, 2007

If you're going to be in Florida with a car, check out Weeki Wachee Springs for the Mermaid Show. I kid you not, these young women are worth seeing despite the rather hokey sound of it. The theater is built into one side of a natural spring and occasional fish swim through - it's not an aquarium - and the "mermaids" perform beautiful synchronized swim routines with occasional dainty sips from air hoses. They are graceful, lithe and gorgeous, with long flowing hair and mermaid costumes, and it's unusual to find this much talent and beauty in a rather obscure independent (non-franchise) theme park. If you go there, view the mermaids as you would Olympic athletes and admire their skill and training, rather than regarding them as tourist attractions in a cheesy old tourist trap.

I've no idea if any of these women go on to fame and fortune in Hollywood - goodness knows they've got the looks and bodies for it - but there's nobody famous on the "Former Mermaids" page. It reminds me oddly of some shows I've seen in the 3rd World, where amazingly talented people perform in hotels for tourists, and you wonder if they are happy with these gigs ...
posted by Quietgal at 8:56 PM on April 22, 2007

Are you absolutely sure a theme park is the best use of your time and money?
Although it is arguably the epitome of American culture, there are many other ways to enjoy the vast buffet of American entertainment.
A family with young children has many options.
Just saying.
posted by Dizzy at 9:03 PM on April 22, 2007

you know, if you are coming from australia, you might find disneyland (the california branch of the disney empire) quite a bit more convenient--it will cut about 6-7 hours (one way) off your travel time. it's near los angeles, which is also home to universal studios (fun for kids), plus you can tour the movie studios and just have fun in l.a. (which also has some grownup-friendly activities, too). orlando doesn't have much nearby besides theme parks.

you would probably need a car in orlando, unless you stay at one of the disney hotels which i think has a shuttle, and you would absolutely need one in los angeles.

if you don't want to rent a car and want to do stuff the entire family will enjoy, i say go to new york. there are musicals, museums, central park, and plenty of shopping to amuse the ladyfolk. and you won't need a car at all (i lived there for 6 years without one!).
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:14 PM on April 22, 2007

Disney World in February is a great idea. I went in mid February several years back and it was warm, not blisteringly hot, and quite pleasant. There weren't a lot of crowds. This was before the introduction of Fastpass, which is a very convenient way of doing things these days.

If you guys are going all out, this is in my mind, no question, the best theme park destination. The problem with the suggestion of Disneyland is it's small, has only two parks, and is not likely to occupy your family for ten days. Disney World has four parks, two water parks, Wide world of Sports complex, and the Downtown Disney shopping area. The resort is absolutely huge, and there are many attractions and amenities for both your girls and you and your wife to enjoy. They also have babysitting services at several of the hotels if you two want some time alone for a couple of hours as well.

As far as too much traveling: if you stay at a Disney resort hotel, you're entitled to free airport transport both ways. Once on the property, you'll find it is served quite well by bus, monorail, and even ferry in spots.

Might want to look at some independent information sites, such as AllEarsNet, Intercot, or MousePlanet if you want more info.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:39 PM on April 22, 2007

I love New York..it's a lot more adult fun than the Orlando area, but like it or not, Orlando is much more fun for the kids, and it gets really cold in New York in winter, although I suppose it would be worse if it weren't for the heat island! (I'm from the south; I don't mind some cold, but it gets too cold for me in the dead of winter up north)

I had an interesting time up there a few christmases ago, and had a pleasant unexpected lengthening of my stay due to a snowstorm, although getting back to one's hotel with hardly any money save a couple of credit cards was somewhat interesting. The subway isn't very luggage friendly, at least to a novice like myself, but the ticket machines are kind enough to take credit these days.

Even as a cranky twentysomething who hates crowds, a Februrary visit to Magic Kingdom was actually somewhat fun. ;) (my SO used to live in Orlando and absolutely loves the theme parks, so I gave in once)
posted by wierdo at 9:39 PM on April 22, 2007

Seconding the opinion of Southern California over Florida.

Orlando is essentially one giant theme park. There's very little to do in Central Florida besides visiting theme parks. Moreover, the weather in SoCal is significantly more consistent and less prone to extremes than Florida, where it can be blazing hot AND raining in the summer.

Jan/Feb is a great time to visit Disneyland in Anaheim. Significantly less traffic after the holidays.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:42 PM on April 22, 2007

While there are many worthwhile destinations in the USA to visit, theme parks are one aspect of American culture, and for kids of that age a week or so of concentrated theme parking can be heaven. Even adults can get into it.

For a concentrated theme park holiday you really cannot beat the Orlando area. With 10 days to spend you can gorge yourself on Walt Disney World (4 major theme parks plus minor themed water parks and so on), Universal Studios Florida, and Sea World, all of which are top of their class in that genre. If you stretch yourself a bit you might even be able to squeeze in a trip to the Kennedy Space Center on the opposite coast. There are also many minor theme parks in the area, but with just 10 days the big 3 + maybe Kennedy are more than enough in all likelihood.

To get the maximum theme-park-ish, immersive enjoyment out of your experience, stay at a resort (aka hotel) attached to either WDW or Universal. Which one depends on whether you want to be cocooned in the world of Disney or eh, Universal. For the kids one of the Disney resorts would be more fun. Prices range wildly from moderate (All-Star, Pop Century, All-Sports resorts) to very high (Grand Floridian, Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Clubs)

You could possibly get around by relying on the shuttle buses and the many taxi services in the Orlando area. But you will probably have much more freedom and save money by renting a car. Car rental fees are very competitive here (meaning dirt cheap compared to many other places), and the roads are quite easy to navigate. If you decide to go to the Kennedy Space Center you would definitely need a car.

Respectfully disagreeing with awesomebrad, if you choose your weeks carefully the November-December period can be a great time to go to Orlando. Avoid the week before Christmas through to after New Year's unless you enjoy long queues at everything. If you like fake snow and relentlessly cheerful Christmas Celebrations, the period from around Thanksgiving (the third week of November) up to the busy period can be ideal - not too crowded yet all decorations up. The weather is not too bad either. Early November is also not crowded though you won't have the decorations. January can be rather wet. February runs into the President's Day holidays and can get crowded.

As far as whether a theme park holiday can be enjoyable for adults...for one thing, you'll enjoy your kids having an absolute blast. The 10 year old in particular will have the time of her life. Your 5 year old could become overwhelmed at times, but the Disney resorts in particular have a plethora of childcare services to take advantage of if needed, including babysitting. Adults can really enjoy themselves at the theme parks, besides the vicarious enjoyment through the kids, if they are in the right frame of mind. It all depends on you. (FWIW mr. and mrs. derMax have taken regular theme park breaks over the years even though we have no kids, interspersed with properly independent holidays. We find them quite relaxing.)

If you want more information that you could ever handle about WDW, AllEars.net has that. Mousesavers has a lot of ideas besides budget tips and such (not saying you need the budget tips but theme parks can get quite expensive). While both are run by Disney fanatics, Mousesavers tends to be more moderate in its fandom.
posted by derMax at 10:06 PM on April 22, 2007

If you went the west coast route, you could do LA and the Disney parks there, then drive down to San Diego which has Sea World, the Legoland amusement park, and one of the best zoos in the world and its associated free-roam wild animal safari park.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:30 PM on April 22, 2007

The fact that you're on vacation gives you a lot of scheduling leeway that residents don't have. You could go the week *after* a holiday when the crowds have come and gone for crowded visits. I'm sure the weekdays after Thanksgiving is fairly mellow, but you could probably call the park office (or a travel agent) and get the local wisdom here.

That said, WDW has the "all Disney all the time" thing down, and Disneyland LA gives you access to a wider variety of non-Disney activities: Universal Studios, Knotts Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, and so on. Sea World in San Diego is a couplefew hours away.

However, my first impression was to recommend Cedar Point or Kennywood, but those are more roller coaster oriented.
posted by rhizome at 10:35 PM on April 22, 2007

I'd go to Southern California - you've got Seaworld, San Diego Zoo (best zoo evar!), Disney-related stuff, Legoland, Balboa Park (with kid-oriented museums, like the Museum of Man) and beaches for downtime all within reach. November tends to be warm, but not hot at that time of the year. I've been there a few times, and had a blast as a 20 something, so I'm guessing it's awesome for kids.
posted by saturnine at 3:04 AM on April 23, 2007

We went to Orlando in mid-Nov a couple of years ago and in a week at the Disney parks never stood in a line for more than 15 minutes. I highly recommend that time of year if you head to Orlando.
posted by COD at 5:17 AM on April 23, 2007

The best times to go to walt disney world are early november or early feb. The weather will be great and you won't have to wait in long lines for anything. Also the wdw hotels will be less expensive at these off-peak times. I suggest staying at the disney hotels if it is within your budget.
posted by necessitas at 5:21 AM on April 23, 2007

Should we look at other locations or parks instead? If so, why?

I think you've got a lot of good advice above and your best bets are DisneyWorld in Florida with potential side trips to Sea World and Kennedy Space Center (although that might be less than exciting for your kids depending on their fascination with such things) and Southern California. There are other places in the country that we could recommend but not for Nov. - Feb. For the rest of the country its way too cold for theme parks.

To me it comes down to wether you want to stay put in one area (admitedly a gigantic area) or travel around. WDW is a huge self-contained area that could easily consume your whole trip (and wallet). It is easy to get around because they have an extensive free transportation network. Its most likely possible for you to survive without rental car for your whole trip which is unheard of outside of a major US city. Also not to overlook is if you stay at a Disney hotel and you have purchased the flexible ticket options you will be able to come and go from the parks as you please making it easy if you wanted to (or more importantly if the kids wanted to) relax at the pool for a bit before going back out again.

On the Southern California angle, the attractions are all there you just have to travel further distances. DL will be great for the kids as would the San Diego Zoo and the Sea World in San Diego. LegoLand too will probably blow them away. The downside or upside depeding on your perspective is that you have to travel thru Southern California for all of these places.
posted by mmascolino at 6:04 AM on April 23, 2007

First either way you go you absolutely want one of the Disney parks. I absolutely love amusement parks and Disneyland is my favorite.

As far as the time you should absolutely go end of January/early February. Hotel rates are lowest at this time and the crowds are pretty much non existent at both parks. The weather is still nice enough at both to enjoy but in January you should definitely bring some warmer clothes just in case.

Either way you will probably end up wanting a rental car. Personally I would go to southern California, spend about 4-5 days at Disneyland and then spend the rest of the trip in San Diego. The SD Zoo and the Wild Animal Park are fabulous. There are several other great attractions in the Southern Cali area that were mentioned above, that would be perfect for kids.
posted by trishthedish at 7:13 AM on April 23, 2007

I would recommend Walt Disney World. It is definitely the best for a no car trip. Also either your kids or you and your wife will want a nap in the middle of the day (depending on if there's walking or carrying going on) and staying on the resort you can just go back to your hotel and have a siesta--five sounds like a little young for a full day. In the afternoon you can go to MGM and see some of the shows, mixing it up is better for your sanity and still fun for the kids. (The only thing it won't do is get "It's A Small World" out of your head, alas.)

Besides the four parks, you should look in to Cirque du Soleil (tickets in advance) in Downtown Disney (bus service from there to the hotels), it is a fun special event thing to do one evening. While in Downtown/before the show you can check out some of the kid-oriented stores, and afterwards stop by the Ghiradelli chocolate and soda fountain. Saying that you will ONLY be shopping on that one day can also save some money, from what I remember you can get all of the souvenir trinkets in DTD as well as in the parks, and there are non-trinkety items, too. (Exception: Get each of your kids an autograph book and mouse-ear-pen the moment you arrive, this is by far the best souvenir, ever--leave space to paste in photo-with-kid beside each signature.)
posted by anaelith at 9:17 AM on April 23, 2007

I'm going to disagree with most if not all of the above posters. You should not - repeat not - take a 5-year-old to either Disney park. SeaWorld (there's one in Orlando as well as San Diego) would be a much better choice.
posted by megatherium at 2:35 PM on April 23, 2007

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