For an awesome family vacation to Orlando, I would recommend the following:
1. Springhill Suites at Seaworld a great roomy place for family with outdoor pool and close proximity to theme parks and other local ammenities. This hotel has a shuttle bus that can take you around downtown area as well.
2. Check with AAA if you are a member for park hopper passes which are cheaper than buying tickets at the theme parks, or be sure to take advantage of the Fast Pass at Disney World and Universal Studios. This saves alot of headaches and gets your family through lines alot easier. Whatever you do, make sure to thoroughly examine all options for savings here as each theme park is very expensive and with family could cost you your entire vacation savings.
3. To help offset the high costs of the theme parks, visit Mount Dora or Winter Park, both just north of Orlando for annual craft festivals, locally owned shops, playgrounds, excellent food choices, bike rides, etc...
4. Visit in October or March. These two months are still warm enough for beaches and waterparks but there is much less humidity to deal with
5. City Food Trucks downtown Orlando rotate weekly and have every kind of food imaginable for mostly reasonable prices
Yay Mount Dora! We used to live there before being transferred to DC. There is a great Flea Market there, as well, with various special events throughout the year. You can see a listing here:
I've been to that flea market missgee and it is awesome! A fun time imo looking at someone else's junk instead of mine all the time...
1. Plan your first trip to Orlando when your kids are actually old enough to appreciate/remember it. Taking a 2, 3 or even 4 year old there is nice but they won't remember anything about it except for the photos you took.
2. Renting a car and leaving the Orlando area is a nice break during a week's stay. I highly recommend Legoland in Winter Haven at the former Cypress Gardens facility. It's about a 45 minute ride. There is a lot to do and see, and it's not just for kids!
3. Visit SeaWorld at least once in your life during the Christmas season. The few weeks up to Christmas are most preferable as the crowds are minimal. The decorations/music/shows are first-rate and SO worth it! I recommend staying at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Seaworld; it is a good value and the shuttle bus that runs back and forth to the park is on-time and clean. The pool area is nice and so are the hotel associates! These people have it "down-pat" when it comes to replenishing the busy breakfast area, being nice to children, etc.
4. Disney IS a magical place but if you are going to visit make sure it's at an off-peak time of the season. Peak season is not magical at all and the younger your kids are, the harder it is to wait in line for rides, shuttles between parks, etc.
5. Universal Studios is not a great place for small kids if you are price-conscious because a lot of the rides they cannot go on and you don't get the bang for the buck that you would expect; if you have teens then this is "right up their alley" and very exciting!
Here are the places I would suggest:
Old Town in Kissemmee, Fl: A wonderful, inexpensive place to visit, especially on Friday, (For the Car Show). you can enjoy finding jewels, go-carts, or just shopping at interesting places.
You must also visit :
Then take a 45 minute ride to:
Kennedy Space Center, and,
You will have a wonderful time for your family!
We have been to the Orlando area the last two Christmases.
I agree with Madmax, Springhill Suites Seaworld is a good place to stay. We stayed there last year and thought it was a better deal than the Renaissance at Seaworld. The room was spacious, parking and breakfast were free. you do need to be there early for breakfast as it does get busy. But when you have all those parks on your doorstep, of course you are going to get up early!
As jerrycoin mentioned Kennedy space center is a must visit. I will never forget that, what a great day trip that is from Orlando.
Over the two years we have been to the Disney and Universal parks and Seaworld. At christmas time these parks are really beautiful. The Osborne light show in Hollywood studios is superb.
The shows at Seaworld are very good. It was the park we probably all enjoyed the most.
The Harry Potter ride at Islands of Adventure is excellent.
For the universal and disney parks i have found the undercover tourist website and app a great resource:
The website is good for the crowd calendar and the app is great for the wait time on the rides.
I'd happily revisit these places year after year.
In terms of dining, we found the Universal parks had better quality than Disney.
I thought that Mythos restaurant in Islands of Adventure was very good for a theme park restaurant.
Emerils at Citywalk has a well priced lunch menu which was good.
these restaurants are able to be booked online via open table.
Our most memorable dining experience would have been Sharks underwater grill in sea world.
The setting is excellent and the food is actually pretty good.
Our family tips:
This one's for the Europeans planning a holiday in Walt Disney World...
DIsney treats the Europeans very differently to the Americans, reflecting our different perspective on DisneyWorld. For us with flights during school holidays costing $1500-$2000 per person, that's about $7000 for a family of 4, $8000+ for 5. DisneyWorld is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not merely a destination for a 3/4 night visit that will be repeated a few times during the kids childhood.
As a result Disney does special rates on its international website on 2 and 3 week stays onsite. Book a year in advance staying onsite and they'll offer free dining throughout when staying at deluxe properties, the most interesting to long staying Europeans are the DVC properties, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs, which are effectively home-from-homes. A 2 bed villa for 5 can be had for $500 per night including free Disney Dining Plan (DDP) which for 5 would cost $300 per day. Admittedly that's a lot of money but this makes it a proper holiday for mum, absolutely NO cooking. Staying in the DVC means that you have a full sized kitchen in which to store your Weetabix and milk for breakfast leaving the free DDP to feed the family for the rest of the meals. The DDP consists of one counter service meal per person per day, think typical fast food, McDonalds-a-like but also some great adult options, Katsura Grill, Sunshine seasons, Flame Tree, Be our Guest, and lots more. The DDP also includes one table service meal per person per day, and these are definitively not hamburgers and hotdogs. There's seafood, grills, French, English, Chinese, Japanese, American options galore. In fact the table service restaurants pack in food from the four corners of the planet! But in common with all theme park food it's expensive, which is why bagging the free DDP is so important. It's available to Europeans who book early all-year-round, except Easter and Christmas, but, crucially including the school summer holidays.
After deducting the cost of the DDP the Disney apartment is left costing $100 per night per room and that represents good value. Disney transport, busses, monorail and boats, is excellent and free. You'll not need a car if you're going to DisneyWorld just for DisneyWorld.
Disney's international theme park tickets valid for 9/14/21 days are called ultimates and allow multiple unlimited entry to all DisneyWorld parks from as little as $20/day. This compares to $100/day at the gate.
Now Disney is busy, busy, busy in the summer, and if you want to eat at popular times you'll find it difficult to get where you want. Booking your evening restaurants 6 months in advance is essential. The booking process is called ADR (Advance Dining Reservations), it's free and can be done on the MDE, that's My Disney Experience, the Disney app. Make sure you do!
Make no mistake, DisneyWorld during the school holidays is horribly expensive, economy flights alone for a family of 5 are $8000, a fortnight onsite Disney is another $8000, but it is the holiday-of-a-lifetime they'll never forget for 8-12 year olds (As someone else mentioned above, pre-school and primary school kids simply won't remember it, alas). In fact we did it a few years ago and by popular request are going again this summer, even though all our kids are now teens! 2 months and 1 day till we fly out!!!
So, my tips for Europeans:
(1) stay onsite Disney (sorry Marriott!), the DVC properties are full apartments
(2) book early, spring/summer one year for the next (ie book Spring '14 for summer '15) to bag the free DDP
(3) book those dining reservations (ADR) 6 months before the holiday is due to begin
(4) no need for a car as Disney runs free transport throughout WDW and from MCO to your Disney resort.
Oh, and Americans don't drink tea:
(5) tea is only stocked for tourists and massively expensive, so don't forget to pack those teabags!
Been to Orlando many times. For any theme park you go to, check into online pricing versus at the gate pricing. Look into AAA discounts and also call the concierge desk for the hotel you will be staying at. When you go to Orlando and try to do Disney, SeaWorld and Universal, it gets very expensive. It is cheaper to pick just a few parks and get passes for multiple days. Because we go back every year, we have purchased no expiration Disney passes and then do not feel pressured to go every day and use them up. That way we use a few days each trip and buy more when our days run out.
Also, I agree with the advice I saw from ssindc. Get up and go early. I know you are on vacation, but when you get to a theme park and can go on more rides and see more attractions in the first 2-3 hours of opening than you will the whole rest of the day, you learn to adjust your sleep schedule because it is so worth it. We always look into early park entry passes - talk to the hotel concierge about those - or for Disney you get them when you stay on their property. With Sea World they often run specials that if you buy one day, you can get in the rest of the year for free. Check online for that. The nice thing about Sea World is that getting into the park is easy. Not like Disney where you drive through the complex, park far and take a tram, then a boat or monorail (and 1/2 hour to one hour later you finally get into the park). With your SeaWorld Funcard pass you can easily go for a partial day and still have time to do something else. Universal is quite the hike from the parking garages, but it goes rather quickly. We managed to get early entry passes there one trip and got in the park before 7 am and practically had the whole place to ourselves. Crowds really started coming after opening and by 10 - 11 am, you could hardly walk through and attractions were over an hour wait. Some where closer to 2 hours.
If you have a smart phone, there are apps out there that let you know wait times for attractions. Most of the time they are spot on, but at the very least, they will tell you trends for which attractions are having the longer wait times around the park. They have them for both Disney and Universal. They come in handy in trying to plan your day around the park.
If you have kids interested in dining with the princesses at Epcot, a character breakfast, eat in the Disney castle, have your daughter made up at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, dining with Shamu, or any other "extra" theme park experience - call and book as soon as you know you want to do it. Some of those extras fill up months ahead of time. Especially during busy seasons.
Staying in a resort condo-type setting makes it so much more fun and relaxing. You are less cramped when you want to go back and relax where you are staying. Having a kitchen when you have the whole family is a definite plus. Let's face it, you are on vacation so you won't want to cook. But having the amenities to have some of your simple meals or keeping some snacks and drinks are handy when you have kids with you.
Orlando is just about the top family destination. There are so many tips and great places to visit....
Orlando is where my children (ages 12 and 9) live, so I spend a lot of time in this area.
Here are my local tips
For children 10 and under I recommend Disney, their parks are for younger kids and they will have plenty to do. For older kids and adults I recommend Universal Studios/Islands of Adventures. The new Harry Potter section opens today and now spans both theme parks. Also try Fun Zone. This is more like a year round local carnival that has fun rides for kids.
I don't recommend eating on-site at any of the parks. If you want to experience all Orlando has to offer go to the area of Dr Phillips at Sand Lake Road. This street of just a few miles must have 100 restaurant choices at all price levels. International drive has been adding a lot of restaurants. Most are family chain style but the area called Pointe Orlando has a few nice places.
There are 2 large outlet malls. They are owned by the same company and most of the stores are the same (both are outdoors). I read an article that many of the companies make goods just for the outlet stores. So that Coach purse may be a good price, but not the same quality as a regular store. You can score some great deals though. The Mall at the Millenia is my recommendation to visit. It has basic stores you will find at any mall as well as an entire wing of very high end shops.
In the summer it's hot. Very hot. Bring or get some sunscreen. It will also rain and have very strong thunder storms in the afternoon so go to the parks early and then come back after dinner. Most people don't realize how cold it gets in the winter. Not midwest cold, but 30's - 40's in the winter. Don't get caught buying a $50 sweatshirt at the parks and check the weather before you come.
Sorry if I repeat some of what has been said and I have more than 5 tips. I will also preface this post by saying that we lived just outside of Orlando for several years, had annual passes and my wife has been visiting WDW since the year it opened and has racked up 100's of visits so I am asking her to chime in on this.
Visit in late January or February when possible. It will be sunny & sweater weather, light coat in evenings, and the parks will be a their least crowded. That said, you have to see Magic Kingdom during the holidays at least once in your life.
Avoid March, April (Spring Break and Snowbird crowds) and summer months.
Take the kids to the Orlando Science Museum near downtown Orlando.
Summer Sea World Camp--full and half day camps. Register your kids in early spring for summer programs giving the adults a few hours free to enjoy the shopping and fine dining in Winter Park (just outside of downtown Orlando).
Book a Sea World Discovery Cove experience.
Stay at a WDW resort. The benefits are too numerous to mention here.
Fastpass rules at WDW now. Read up on it ahead of time so you'll understand the ins & outs.
Visit Downtown Disney. The Disney experience without an entrance fee. Check their website for concerts and other happenings as well as dining options.
Check out the WDW website for tours and experiences and book them a year in advance. Some favorites:
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
Pirates League & Pals Fireworks Voyage
Keys to the Kingdom Tour
*Book all of your park meals a year in advance. Take a shuttle and/or monorail to the resorts and dine there during the off hours. Some of our favorites:
Disney Princesses in Cinderella's Castle at the Royal Table.
Character breakfast and/or dinner at Park Fare 1900 located within the Grand Floridian.
Mama Melrose in Hollywood Studios
Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge (dinner was served family style)
Book a late dinner and/or dessert at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom and request a table with a view of the Castle. This will give you an awesome spot to take in the fireworks show. Check the show calendars to plan it out.
Take advantage of Disney's Children's Activity Centers so the adults can enjoy the parks and/or night out at least for a few hours on their own. (Perfect time to take in one of the Behind the Scenes tours)
Get a locker as soon as you arrive at the park and store snacks, a change of clothes, rain gear, etc.
Gifts shops are now located at the end of every major ride and can not be avoided. Be prepared for this and come up with a plan prior to your trip. My wife would purchase our kids a Disney themed toy/stuffed animal prior to our visits at a big chain store (half the cost compared to buying at the resort) and surprise them with it as a reward for their good behavior. (Hide in the locker!!) This prevented melt downs during our visit, because they knew ahead of time that there was something special waiting for them at the end of the day.
If you can't stay at a WDW property, stay at a Marriott hotel off of Dr. Phillips, adjacent to the Bay Hill Country Club neighborhood. It will give you easy access to the parks via back roads and you'll be able to avoid the tourist traps and sleaze element that are found too near the Main Gate. If WDW and the Dr. Phillips area aren't options try Lake Buena Vista.
What to take in a beach while you are there? Siesta Key is two hours away and a former Dr. Beach #1 selection. Book a room at a Marriott and make a day of it.
1.Rent a vehicle so that you can move at your own pace.
2. Driving around town is quite easy.
3. Stay at a hotel that provides free wifi, breakfast, parking,free shuttle to nearby theme parks it really cuts down on expenses!
4. Plan some "me time". There's sooo much to see and do you will need another vacation to recover from this one!
5. Stay at a Marriott property! Clean! Spacious! Well kep!,friendly helpful staff! Clean surroundings, etc.
Ditto the remarks about renting a villa-type room. We've stayed at the Blue Heron Beach Club (a Festiva property) as well as Marriott's Royal Palms and Sabal Palms at the World Center. All are 2 BR 2 BA with full kitchens and washers and dryers and free parking. The Festiva properties are nice, but the Marriott properties are a bit more upscale. Even if you are not a MVC owner, you can rent a villa at the timeshares for a reasonable rate. If you are a MVC member and don't want to use points, the MOD discount really helps, too. I have Sabal Palms booked this January for $158/night with my discount. You can't get a 2BR 2BA on any of the Disney properties for a rate that reasonable (unless you own a Disney timeshare, I suppose!). Then you can buy groceries at the Publix and bring less clothes as you can do laundry. Of course staying on the park properties is good, too, if you want to do the full Disney package with the meal plan, parkhopper, early admission, etc. Lucky for me, after 2 Disney trips, my kids are Disneyed out and now prefer the beach. So we often go to Clearwater, Naples, or Ft. Lauderdale now! When they get older I suspect they will like Universal. As an adult, I prefer those parks to Disney.