Home to some of the world’s most iconic theme parks, year round sun and proximity to some of North America’s best beaches, it’s easy to understand why 50 million tourists visit Orlando every year. Although the ultimate family holiday to Orlando doesn’t come cheap. According to The Telegraph the average cost of a Disney trip for a family of four is £7,289. It’s therefore understandable that for many families a holiday to Orlando is a once in a lifetime experience, which needs careful planning and consideration. Travel Planners, the leading USA travel specialists with over 30 years experience, have asked me to share my tips for planning a family holiday to Orlando.
So where do I start? I’ll start by saying I absolutely adore Florida, and in particular, Orlando. I was fortunate to visit Orlando a couple of times as a child and so caught the Disney bug from a young age. As part of my uni course I jumped at the chance to work in nearby Kissimmee for a year. I spent my days off work soaking up the magical atmosphere at my favourite attractions and chilling on Daytona or Clearwater beach.
More recently my hubby and I lived in Savannah, Georgia for a few years and made trips back to Orlando when we felt the urge to let our hair down and act like big kids… which was fairly frequently! It’s fair to say that I know the area pretty well and hope my tips for planning a family holiday to Orlando below will be of use to you.
Tips for planning a family holiday to Orlando: Things to consider before booking
Weighing up the pro’s and con’s of when to visit Disney?
If you visit before your child turns three you’ll avoid paying for park entrance (and meal plan fees). Although if you wait until your child is closer to school age you’ll reduce some of the height restriction limitations. Check out this useful post to help make the all important decision – What is the best age for a first trip Disney?
Best time of year to visit Orlando?
My personal favourite time of year to visit Orlando is the autumn when the summer holiday crowds have departed, the weather has cooled down and the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival and Magic Kingdom Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party takes place. I personally wouldn’t take my boys to Orlando in the summer holidays, as I know how unbearable the humidity can be when queueing for rides, plus its Orlando’s rainy season. (And when it rains in Orlando it really rains!) Check out Holiday Weather for more details.
To avoid the peak tourist crowds and find out when annual events take place check out the incredibly useful Undercover Tourist Crowd Calendar.
Where to look for Orlando good holiday deals?
If you do some research you can get some good deals for a family holiday to Orlando. It’s worth keeping an eye on the Virgin Atlantic and British Airways websites for flight sales that take place throughout the year, particularly in December through to January. BA for example are currently offering a 35% off Universal resort stays and free Disney dining plans.
There are also some great offers with Travel Planners for discounted private villas from £479 per person for 14 nights, Florida cruise and stay packages and Orlando based hotels.
For great advice on booking discounted theme park tickets and avoiding sneaky costs whilst in Orlando check out Money Saving Expert.
Disney hotel, Universal resort hotel, private villa, villa within a complex, hotel near International Drive… the choices of accommodation in Orlando are endless!
There are many pro’s to staying in a Disney or Universal resort hotel including the exclusive time hotel guests have to enjoy the parks before they officially open to the public.
Friends who have stayed at Disney properties have said they enjoyed more rides in that time than they did throughout the rest of the day. Other pro’s are the special offers including free meal plans they often throw in as an incentive to book. The con’s of course are the extra cost and a major downside for me is the lack of space in a hotel room/suite.
I would personally enjoy the extra room a private villa with pool can provide for evening BBQ’s and relaxing in the evenings with my husband. (I am rather biased though as I worked for a luxury timeshare villa complex near Orlando and so saw families enjoying the facilities of the villa after days at the theme parks). The con’s of staying in a villa off site of course is having to travel by car to the theme parks and pay for parking.
Tips for planning a family holiday to Orlando: Reviews of family accommodation in Orlando by mums in the know
Review of Lowes Portofino (a Universal hotel) by Australian mum of 3, Debbie.
Off site villa v’s on site resort at Walt Disney World by British mum of 3 Karen.
Why Universal Studios Hotels are a Great Deal by American mum, Madison.
Review – Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa, by Florida based mum, Ali.
Tips for planning a family holiday to Orlando: Things to consider when your holiday is booked
I remember our family holidays in Orlando were always spent visiting a theme park one day, pool or beach the following day and so forth. I have equally as fond memories of the chill out days as the days spent on rides and meeting Disney characters. In my opinion, a fortnight of visiting theme parks every single day with kids, from morning until late at night, is not fun.
I would throughly recommend recuperating with a visit to the quirky Daytona Beach which is great for body boarding and people watching. Clearwater Beach (image above) is absolutely stunning and a great choice for deep-sea fishing and dolphin watching boat trips. (Although I have seen dolphins splashing around in knee-deep water whilst sunbathing at Clearwater Beach so you may want to save your dollars!) Winter Park located in North Orlando is also a charming place to avoid the crowds and enjoy a scenic boat ride. Full review here – Winter Park Orlando: Fun away from the ‘theme’ parks.
Shopaholics will enjoy picking up some designer bargains at the Premium Outlets (this is where I used to spend all of my wages!) For traditional USA fun you have to check out one of my favourite places in nearby Kissimmee, Old Town.
Another option of course is to relax during the day and visit the parks after dark. The Magic Kingdom often doesn’t close till 11pm, (the Universal parks have various closing times but often 9/10pm). The ride queues are much shorter in the evening, the weather is cooler and the night-time parades and fireworks are truly spectacular!
I’ll be honest I’ve never booked restaurants or rides in advance. This is only because I was always in a fortunate position to choose when to visit the theme parks and so avoided the busy periods. We are planning on taking on boys to Orlando in the next year and as with most families we’ll be travelling in the school holidays so we will definitely plan our days.
Nikki, from Yorkshire Wonders, has some great advice in this post – Disney trip planning, tips for first timers. I particularly love this tip – “There are some biggies that you need to plan ahead of your trip, make sure you know the ins and outs of these. I am talking about Advance Dining Reservations (ADR’s) and Fast Passes (FP’s). In a nutshell, sort these before you go. ADRs can be booked at 180 days before your trip and FP’s at 60 days before if you are staying on Disney property or 30 days otherwise. If you have the Disney Dining Plan – do some research on how to get the best value for this.”
Nikki has written an incredibly comprehensive post which shows how to get the best from snack credits broken down according to parks.
Suzy has published a great guide to making the most of your day at Epcot – Epcot for kids, what is there to do?
American blogger Cristin, from Smart Mouse Travel, is always surprised that more people don’t take advantage of FastPass+ at Disney World. She shared this advice – “FastPass+ is included in the price of your ticket to the Disney World theme parks and allows you to pick 3 attractions a day to skip the line. This can be a huge time and frustration saver when visiting Disney World.” Cristin shares more tips in this post – Guide to Disney World Fast Pass+
Tips for planning a family holiday to Orlando: Links to useful articles & Facebook groups
The amount of information available online for planning a family holiday to Orlando is OVERWHELMING! Below I have done a lot of the legwork for you and included links to useful websites which are invaluable sources of information.
10 money-saving tips when visiting Walt Disney World – Extraordinary Chaos
Personalised Disney Itineraries – The Mouse Lady
Our 14 Day Florida Itinerary with Kids – Global Mouse Travels
Orlando ultimate Disneyworld Guide with babies and toddlers – One Tiny Leap
Disney must do tips for first timers – Like Love Do
Disney and Orlando for the Brits and It’s Orlando Time – Two great Facebook groups to pick up tips from other parents who have been to, or are currently planning their family holiday to Orlando.
I hope you have found these tips for planning a family holiday to Orlando useful. If you have more to add please do pop them below in the comments section!
This post is in collaboration with Travel Planners. All words and opinions are, as always, my own.
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