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7.13.2015

Holiday Post Part 1 and a for what it's worth, a few Orlando tips

Cor blimey I'm in a foul mood today. I'm back from my holidays and everyone else is still talking about theirs. The downside to going away early. That and the fact I've just put in my 9th load of washing and spent 5 hours ironing today.

We did a triple location trip again this year. I don't think I could spend a full fortnight in a hotel anymore. I need a lounge and a kitchen and washing facilities. Oh and I do miss my stairs. To put a whole floor between me and the family. That's something I never take for granted at home. 

Our first stop was Orlando which we've done to death over the last 20 odd years. I've been asked to share my tips for what they're worth so here goes.

Choose Your Accommodation Wisely

A villa is lush but remember you'll probably be living on a Floridian residential estate for the duration. It doesn't feel very holiday-like and can be pretty soulless unless you're in a large party. A Resort hotel such as the ones in Disney are fabulous but sometimes it's nice to get away from it all. For the past 3 visits, we've used a Hilton Grand Vacation Resort and actually stayed twice at the one near Sea World. We rent a 2 bed, 2 bathroom apartment which is spacious, has a full kitchen (lol because we use that - not) and a washer and dryer tucked away in a cupboard. Why I find U.S. washing machines so fascinating is beyond me but I'm always very excited to use them. You honestly won't find anywhere more chilled than this place, with turtles swimming in the lake, a 3/4 mile jogging trail (whoops, I forgot my trainers) and movie nights in the pool. There's nothing better than coming back from a day at the parks to laze around the pool until 11pm.



Have A Good Idea Which Parks You Want To Visit Before You Travel

We only had 4 full days so all chose one park:

Hubby - Sea World
Daughter - Busch Gardens (in Tampa)
Son - Aquatica water park
Me - Universal, Islands of Adventure

The first 3 parks are owned by the same company so we were able to purchase a 3 park ticket which gives unlimited access to the 3 parks for 14 consecutive days. Disney do similar packages as do Universal so in effect you'll end up with far more entry days than you have actual vacation days. It gives you lots of flexibility and you can work with the weather. There's little point in going to a water park if it's lousy - the attraction may well have to close if there's a prolonged thunderstorm but Universal Studios for example has lots of indoor attractions so this would be a wise option. It also means that you could go early morning to say Sea World, come away in the afternoon and then return in the evening for the firework display (you only have to pay once a day for car parking in EACH park).

These days, I don't think there's any advantage to pre-purchasing your tickets before your travel.

A Little Bit Of Pre-Holiday Reading

The Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World is a really useful book if it's your first visit.




Being slightly anal, I read it from cover to cover years ago, ripped out the map routes, hi-lighted the top tips section and basically armed with all the information marched into Magic Kingdom like a woman possessed. Of course, it doesn't quite work out like that with toddlers in tow. How can you explain to a 5 year old that she can't go on the Flying Dumbo ride because we need to get in pole position to see the parade. I still remembered some of the useful tips though. It's well worth a read!

It's called The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World but you'll find tips about the other parks too.


Car or No Car? 

You need a car. Ignore everyone who tells you otherwise. Even if you stay at a Disney resort hotel with free shuttle buses to all of it's parks, you'll end up being fed up to the back teeth with queuing. There's enough of that to be done in the parks believe me. And what about if you want to go shopping or visit another park? If I tell you that Disney has it's own motorway network, you'll get the idea. It covers a whopping 43 square miles. Driving is a doddle and the parks are easy to navigate.

The motorway network in Disney....



Alamo have really streamlined their service at the airport so much so that we didn't even get any keys to our hire car when we checked in at the hire desk. When we asked, we were told to choose any car that had keys in the ignition. Five minutes of hilarity ensued as we tried to choose the very best one we could. "We're not having a truck" I shouted to the son as he headed over to a row of pick ups. "No trucks". One guy kept his options open by placing a child in each car (he had 4) until his wife made the final decision. Talk about supermarket sweep. We humans aren't great when faced with choice are we? Eventually a nice employee called Louis found us a brand spanking new Chrysler 300 not dissimilar to a top end 7 series BMW. 20 miles on the clock and the leather interior still covered in it's plastic wrapping. 

Park tips

Car parking costs approximately $17 a day but you can come and go as many times as you wish for that. Disney also operate a park hopper if you have a multi ticket. So you could park in Epcot and take transport over to Magic Kingdom, returning later in the day without the need to move the car. But, but but....take a photo of your car parking name and number. The car parks are huge and the whole operation is very slick. Lose your car and you're in big trouble. They're divided into characters eg. at Universal, you could be in Spiderman 14. Take a quick photo on your phone and you won't have to think about it again until you return later in the day. We were King Kong 410. Not sure why I think you need to know that.





An aerial view of Magic Kingdom parking lot. Yes this is just one of the parks in WDW - see what I mean and this is on a quiet day.



Before you go, download the park apps that you intend to visit. This is singularly the best tip I can give you. You can set yourself alerts for wait times, eg. let me know when the Harry Potter ride is less than 30 minutes wait. It also gives you the times of the shows, interactive maps, eating places etc etc. They are brilliant. Just Google each park app and download on to your phone.




Do the big rides later in the afternoon/early evening. Generally, the wait time is far less. 

We've never bothered with Fast Passes and to be quite honest, you don't actually get the full experience. I'll use Harry Potter again as an example. Your experience commences as soon as you queue for The Forbidden Journey. From talking portraits to a Harry hologram with his invisible cloak. Fast Passerers (that's a made up word) are ushered through this area straight on to the ride. 

Forget fancy footwear. Wear the comfiest shoes that you own. Honestly you don't need to make a fashion statement here. Thankfully I packed my old Nike flip-flops and they didn't leave my feet for 4 days. You could easily walk 5 miles plus in one day. If you're planning on experiencing the water rides, don't wear denim shorts. It's hot but also humid in Florida so denim won't dry. I mainly wore loose cotton dresses and separates. The family didn't and had to stand in the big hair dryer. More fool them.



Sodden wet through and walking like cowboys to stop the chafing between the legs! Or you could sport something like this, my new accessory.



Cross the body or bum bags are the best - anything that you don't physically have to carry in your hands.

Food is pretty standard in the parks. Burgers, hot dogs, salads, chicken and pizza. We bought an all day dining deal in Busch Gardens for $30 each. This turned out to be fantastic value. You can eat in most of the restaurants as many times as you wish. The food is actually really delicious, far superior to other parks. We ate lunch and dinner there. Build in the numerous drinks stops and that $30 is money well spent. The bread pudding is drool worthy. Oh golly, I picked one up to share with the hubby and ate it all myself. Sorry, not sorry. Universal and Disney do dining plans but they're not as good. Think McDonalds and you won't be far wrong.

Do not whatever you do go on It's A Small World Ride in Magic Kingdom. You'll be humming the irritating theme tune for years to come. It gets right into your head. You have been warned!

Your Holiday Wardrobe

Pack everything that you think you'll need. Then half it. Trust me, your days roll into evenings with no chance to change. It's a pretty casual affair EVERYWHERE. You can spot the Brits (me) a mile off in restaurants as they're the over-dressed ones. I find the air conditioning in many shops and restaurants really cold so I normally take a couple of long sleeved shirts or buy them when I'm there.

Some of my outfits (links added where items are still in stock)

A trip to Aquatica water park (it's ok, I removed the denim before the rides). Sporting the good ol' Nike flip-flops and a cute little pom-pom top from a local boutique.


A light cotton chambray play suit for a day at Sea World. The penguins were ace.


A precious couple of hours by the pool so I broke out the M&S kaftan (similar here)


We were rained off when we visited Sea World so left early to do some shopping - shame :-) I wore my black jumpsuit (and now reduced to £59) which I also wore on the journey home. Fabulously comfortable except when I needed a wee on the plane. Small cubicles are not meant for stripping off.

Black Rosewell Jumpsuit - Baukjen (now £59)
Straw Panama Hat - Laura Ashley (now £14)
Leopard Glamour Jelly Flats - Holster (now £18)
Embroiled Ethnic Clutch - Hero (out of stock)

And an evening out on the town where we bothered to change. The navy playsuit from River Island is on it's third summer - not a bad little investment. Yellow clutch was from Next Clearance and sandals  are also Next (last year).



Shopping

The US is cheap. There's always a bargain to be had. And you can't visit Orlando without popping over to the Premium Outlets at the end of International Drive (told you, you'd need a car). Ralph Lauren, J Crew, Banana Republic, Coach, Michael Kors to name but a few retailers. It's huge and several many visits may be needed. I have no shame and will happily shop there after a stinking hot day in the parks. Think Worzel Gummidge and you'll get the general idea. Not that I care when faced with the potential of picking up proper bargains.

I managed to snaffle;

3 tops from The Loft
a jacket and knit from J Crew
2 bags from Coach

Take the jacket from J Crew. It was marked up at $139 reduced to $40. Bargainous. Except when I got to the counter, it was actually $20. I'll say that again. $20. For a jacket from J Crew. Ok, it's not lined and I don't love it enough to have paid full price but $20!!!!

We were handed a 50% off voucher as we entered Coach. It would have been rude not to wouldn't it? So I had to buy two.

We'd normally take a trip to The Florida Mall but given we were only there for 4 days, there was no time. Very similar to our malls with every American brand you can think of.

Eating Out

I can't say that I have any favourite-favourite restaurants in Orlando. There's little time to explore the fine dining options so we tend to stick to the usual tourist eateries. I'm guessing Downtown Orlando caters for foodies. But as a tourist...Bahama Breeze on International Drive is nice. My cousin recommends Mannys Chophouse. We also have a fondness for Wild Jacks which we visited 20 years ago. It's a little beaten up down that side of International Drive these days so we gave it a miss.

And that's it in a nutshell. My guide to visiting Orlando. I was kind of hoping that we've been there, done that and got several tee-shirts, well at least until the grandchildren come along but no, sounds like a trip might be on the cards again next year. Hey-ho. I get to choose the second week then.

I'll leave you with some photos.

I still love the WonderWorks building, something we have yet to visit.


Sea World aquarium which I visited on my own as the others wanted to ride one of the roller coasters.







Busch Gardens transportation from the car park.



On safari!





Harry Potter land at Universal. Apparently J K Rowling oversaw every single detail of it's creation.



I won't bore you with anymore holiday pics. They really are very boring.

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know where our second destination is already and I had a little mission to carry out when there. I'll tell you all about it next time.

But please please do share your tips on visiting Orlando as I've had quite a few requests.

See you soon.






20 comments on "Holiday Post Part 1 and a for what it's worth, a few Orlando tips"
  1. Looks like you had an amazing time! Doing the theme parks is exhausting though, we did Disney etc in April and although fun we were knackered by the end! Love seeing your holiday outfits, especially the black jumpsuit it looks great. Jane x

    http://arthursmum.com

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    1. I remember you going Jane - didn't you buy some nice bags?? My heels were so painful for days afterwards. The jumpsuit was just brilliant on holiday and I really enjoyed wearing it x

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  2. Despite having no desire to go to Disney again, this post has really made me long for another trip to the US. Looks like fabulous trip! And only you could manage to stay looking so stylish in that humidity!

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    1. Me neither but I got in to the groove for the sake of the family. And no, I looked a wreck but obviously I'm not going to put those pictures up for fear of frightening the general public lol x

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  3. WOW WOW WOW - on all levels WOW. Firstly what an epic post! Secondly wow to you looking like a teen - how do you do it?
    I am really not into the whole Disney thing, I don't know why but I'm not. The whole thing makes me shudder and yet I know if I went I'd have a ball!

    Can't wait for the next installment :-)

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    1. Nope, not my idea of a perfect day out although I do quite (read as really really) enjoy the Harry Potter 4D ride at Universal and I'm no wizard fan. We didn't even touch Disney this year. When I suggested Epcot, they all groaned. Just because it's ever so slightly educational!!!

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  4. This is SO HELPFUL - I've never been to the parks and we plan to go next year - googling it is a minefield and all the 'experts' on Tripadvisor get so arsy when you ask them a question where the answer is obvious to them! Can't wait for part 2 - we are doing a 3 location holiday too and I know the next parts of your blog will be just as helpful. Thank you!! X

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    1. Oh I'm full of useless information Liz. Tap in, tap in. Email me if you have any questions, happy to help. It appears we might have to go back next year (oh my poor feet). But it means I get to choose our 2nd week away. Next instalment on the blog tomorrow x

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  5. Thanks for this Donna - back next year - not such a bad thing surely - just think J crew bargains.... X

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  6. Oh it just looks incredible & I can't wait to take my younglings! You look perfectly dressed everyday Donna! Andrea x

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  7. What a fantastic post! We go at the end of August for the first time with my boys aged 7,11 and14. We stay in a villa for 2 weeks- and have bought all park tickets in advance- any idea how much spends we will need? Just for food/drink really? Thanks

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    1. Ooooh that's a hard one Alex. You've already paid for your entertainment which is a big chunk. Universal do diner meals for $29.99 which gives you a main meal, dessert and a couple of drinks. I don't think there's much saving to be had so work on $30-$40 per person per day for lunch and drinks. As I said in the post Busch Gardens meal plan is amazing and the food is really good. Aquatica and Sea World also have similar (haven't done SW but Aquatica is fairly basic, salad, pizza, pasta but there's little other option there anyway). It depends what you like to eat for dinner but it's not really expensive. You can get a great steak for about $16 and beer and sodas are very cheap. If you're staying in a villa, you'll probably be using supermarkets. Publixs is comparable to Tesco and is good value. The small supermarkets that you'll see dotted along the main streets are really expensive and are full of carbs. I wouldn't touch those with a barge pole if I'm honest. Cabs are cheap but you may not need them if you're hiring a car. Shopping is as expensive as you want it to be (stay away from the outlets if you don't want a big credit card bill lol) x

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    2. Great advice, thanks. I like the idea of the meal plans. Don't think I will be able to stay away from the outlets. I love to get a bargain so which would you recommend? Thanks

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  8. P.S. Love the idea of a play suit and you look fab in yours. Definately going to have a look at a few. Can you recommend where I could start looking? Thanks again. X

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  9. Try ASOS, they had quite a few earlier in the season. Also New Look. They can look a bit dodgy styled on the models. I'd order a few to try on x

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  10. Thanks so much for your replies. I will have a look at ASOS and New look. May even bag a sale bargain!

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  11. It was very useful for me. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. This was actually what I was looking for, and I am glad to came here! Thanks for sharing the such information with us.

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