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Tip, tricks and advice on making the most of an Orlando vacation with a definite focus on Walt Disney World.  

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2013, A Banner Year for Orlando

Posted on January 11, 2013 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (1)

It's been a while since I've posted anything, but the good news is the advice I have written has stood the test of time.  I'm hoping to get backing in the posting swing on things shortly, but here's a quick link to an interesting article from the Sacramento Bee in the meantime.  The net of it is there's a lot of new stuff coming to Orlando this year.  Happy New Year.  

Beat the Disney Price Hike

Posted on May 14, 2012 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

If you are considering a trip to Disney World in the near future, you may want to look into buying your tickets soon.  Historically, Disney has raised their prices once a year in late summer, but last year they made the change in June.  If you know you are going, buy now and you'll save yourself a few bucks.

Orlando Attractions - Beyond the Four Major Disney Parks

Posted on April 25, 2012 at 6:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Today I’m going to write about a few of my family’s favorite things to do in Orlando outside of the big 4 Disney parks. I’m excluding Universal for another day.


Water Parks


Our family really enjoys both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach at Disney. For us, they serve as a nice break between full days at the park. The lines for the slides can get really long, so we try to arrive early and hit the big slides before the crowds arrive. Then we spend the bulk of the day just lounging. Because these parks are much smaller, they also aren’t really full day events, so you can combine them with some down time at your vacation rental or perhaps a nice dinner or show out. When buying tickets, figure out if you plan to go more than once or not. If you are only going to go once (and don’t plan to go to Disney Quest), just buy a single day ticket to the desired park. If you plan to go more than once, it’s cheaper to buy the “Water Park Fun & More” option to your Magic Your Way pass.


If you want to go to a water park outside of Disney, Wet 'n Wild gets a lot of positive reviews. We haven’t tried it, so I can’t personally comment.


DisneyQuest


If your kids are into video games, and one of your vacation goals wasn’t to get them to stop playing, DisneyQuest is a fun side attraction to get a few hours of downtime. Basically DisneyQuest is a five story arcade. With options that span from modern virtual reality games to old school arcade games like Galaga and pinball to non-electronic games like Skee Ball, there’s pretty much something for everyone in the family young and old to enjoy. I’m not sure this is one I’d buy a separate ticket to do, but it’s included in the Water Park Fun & More option. So, if you’ve bought this add-on, I recommend giving it a try. It’s also a good choice on a rainy day, as everything is indoors.


SeaWorld


My kids’ favorite non-Disney park is SeaWorld. It makes a good contrast with the Disney parks because the focus isn’t on rides. While not a small park, you will get to spend a decent amount of time relaxing watching various shows. However, the thing your kids will really want to do is feed the animals. It is pretty cool to do, but recognize that the costs can add up pretty quickly and budget / set expectations accordingly. For getting tickets to the park, I recommend checking both undercovertourist.com and seaworld.com.


Downtown Disney


We typically spend one evening later in the trip walking through Downtown Disney, doing a little shopping and eating dinner. Some of our favorite choices include:


  • The massive Lego store with it’s displays and hands-on exhibits 
  • The world’s largest Disney store. We try to keep the kids from wanting to shop for souvenirs in the park with the promise of spending some time here. This way you don’t have to lug things around the parks and they have pretty much everything you will find at the parks all in one place. 
  • Ghirardelli’s Ice Cream is always a popular choice for a sundae. 
  • Wolfgang Puck’s Express and Café is reasonably priced good food. We alternate depending on whether we are in the mood for more of a sit down meal or not.

Planning an Orlando Vacation

Posted on April 20, 2012 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

It seems a lot of people simply “wing it” when they visit Orlando. It is supposed to be a vacation after all. However, unless you enjoy waiting in lines or listening to your kids melt down, this is a mistake. A little advance planning will go a long way towards ensuring a fun time while you are there. In this post, I will try to cover some of the keys things I consider when planning our family’s trips to Orlando.


How Long Are You Staying in Orlando?


A lot of key decisions will be driven by how long you plan to stay. If you are only staying for a couple of days, then you are probably picking either Universal or Disney and simply going to the parks all day every day. For typical vacations of a week to ten days, you have more options and more choices to make. Finally, if you are staying for several weeks, you are probably mixing in a variety of attractions and non-theme park activities. For this post, I will focus most of my thinking on the middle group of vacationers, although some of the advice will apply to people in all of the categories.


What Do You Want to Do in Orlando?


There is a virtually unlimited set of activities you could do during your Orlando vacation, so I suggest starting by creating a list of the big ticket things you feel you must do and how much time you want to allocate to doing them. For example, let’s say you want to go to Disney and you want to visit all 4 of the major parks. I would not recommend trying to do more than one park in a day and you can easily spend multiple days at any of the parks without getting bored. Magic Kingdom and Epcot in particular are huge parks where we often spend a day and a half or more. Next, decide if you want to do Universal, Seaworld, Legoland or any of the other major local attractions. Unless you are staying 10 days or more, I probably would not recommend trying to do both Universal and Disney in a single trip. Also, figure out if you want to do a water park or two.


Figuring out when to go where?


Once you’ve decided on the major parks you want to visit, figure out which days you want to go. When doing this, I take a couple key things into account. I get the latest information on the operating hours for each park from the website. Here are links to some of the primary calendars: Disney, Universal and Seaworld. You should also be able to see when there are shows, fireworks, parades, etc.. I point this out because not everything runs every day. For example, it would stink to go to Hollywood Studios and discover they aren’t running Fantasmic that day. Next, I look at when each park has extra magic hours. As I mentioned in a previous post, I avoid that park because it will be the most crowded. In addition, I use a site called touringplans.com to see projected crowd levels at each park. You can pay for full access, but they give you predictions for the most crowded parks for the next 30 days for free. Finally, I try to space the major parks out with days to rest a little in-between. If you have little kids, I would not recommend doing more than 2 full days at major parks in a row without some sort of breather. This could mean doing a water park, a half-day at a park, or just a day hanging out at your resort or the pool in your vacation home.


Filling in the “gaps” in your vacation


Now that you’ve laid out the major must have parks on a calendar, go back and slot in some of the other things you’d like to do. This includes things like Downtown Disney, special dinners like Boma (my favorite restaurant at Disney), DisneyQuest, Water Parks, golf, Character Meals, etc.


Putting it all together


At this point you should end up with a schedule that allows you to

 

  • See all of the major parks while minimizing the time you spend in line 
  • Minimizes melt-downs by scheduling “breaks” 
  • Lets you spend your time on vacation having a vacation instead of planning on the fly 

 

To see what it might look like, here’s a sample of what an 8 day, 7 night itinerary might look like.


Day 1


Arrive at the airport at 10AM

Pick up rental car Head to Magic Kingdom for a partial day

Leave park around dinner time

Head to Windsor Hills Vacation Rental

Have one parent settle in and the other head to the grocery store to pick up basic supplies (soda, breakfast food, snacks, etc)


Day 2


Hollywood Studios 9-9 (watch Fantasmic)


Day 3


Epcot 9-9

Leave at dinnertime


Day 4


Blizzard Beach 10-6

Disney Quest and Dinner in Downtown Disney


Day 5


Animal Kingdom 9-7

Dinner at Boma


Day 6


Magic Kingdom 9-11 (watch electric parade and fireworks)

11:00AM Breakfast at Cinderella’s Castle


Day 7


Epcot 9-9 (watch Illuminations)

Take mid-day break and hang out at the Windsor Hills pool


Day 8


Check out of the vacation rental and let the kid’s pick their favorite park

Head to airport at 4 for 6PM flight 

Meeting Disney Characters and Autographs - Agony or Ecstasy

Posted on April 15, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

If you have young children (but not too young), you will quickly learn that meeting characters and getting their autographs is a part of the Disney experience. However, if unprepared, you will also learn how painful this experience can be. You can easily waste several hours a day waiting in lines and baking in the sun to meet the most popular characters. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Here are a couple simple ideas to minimize the pain and maximize the gain.


Character Breakfasts are Your Friend


The 2 most popular sets of characters, Mickey plus his friends and the Disney Princesses, tend to consistently generate the longest lines. A much simpler way for your kids to meet them 1-on-1, take pictures and get autographs is to attend one of the character breakfasts. Specifically, I recommend Cinderella’s Castle to meet the princesses and Chef Mickey’s for Mickey’s crew. The other place to meet the princesses is at the breakfast in Norway, but unless your family has more adventuresome eaters, I suggest sticking with the castle.


If you schedule your breakfast reservation for late, you can combine this tip with several of my earlier tips. You can get to the park at opening, ride some of the major attractions while the lines are short, take a break for a late breakfast with the characters and with the help of an afternoon snack, probably tide yourself over until dinnertime.


Buy the Autograph Book


It’s seven bucks and you’ll make your young ones very happy. Years later, my kids still occasionally look at their old autograph books. At the time, they couldn’t be separated from them.


Beyond the Main Attractions


One other idea for getting Mickey and his crew, if Chef Mickey’s isn’t a possibility, is to arrive early at Epcot and go to the Innoventions area. Later in the day, this pavilion can have huge lines, but early in the morning you can breeze right in and quickly meet all of the characters.


Once you have the 2 main sets of characters out of way, there are still dozens of other characters to potentially meet and greet. My suggestion is to be opportunistic. If the line is long, tell your kids you’ll meet them later. If the line is short, go for it. Disney has so many character meeting places that you are bound to get just about everybody over the course of a week simply by being at the right place at the right time. There’s really no need to stand in a 30 minute+ line to meet a character.


My last suggestion is to set an expectation with your kids that you will only get an autograph once. If you see a character you’ve already met, have your kids waive and yell hello, but don’t wait a second time to see a character. Otherwise, you can get sucked into the vortex of spending your whole day meeting characters.

Orlando Vacation Rentals, Why They're a Smart Choice

Posted on April 13, 2012 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Freshly back from my own vacation and not having posted in a while, I thought I'd try something different.  Instead of simply writing a post, I'm posting this entry to a couple of article distribution sites and then linking to it from my blog.  


When travelling to Orlando / Disney, one of the first decisions you need to make is where to stay.  Orlando has an almost limitless set of choices from hotels to resorts to condos to vacation rentals.  Check out my article, Why Rent a Vacation Home at Disney, to see why I recommend picking an Orlando Vacation Rental over the other options.

Why Pick Windsor Hills for your Orlando Vacation Rental?

Posted on March 28, 2012 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Beyond the obvious reason that you can stay in our fabulous home ☺, let me walk you through why you should consider Windsor Hills Resort when looking at vacation rental homes in Orlando.


First and foremost, don’t take my word for it; simply look at the reviews of other people on the Web. You will quickly discover that Windsor Hills has the best reputation, hands down.


Second, the community facilities at Windsor Hills Orlando are awesome.

  • The community pool is zero entry, has a great water slide as well as a hot tub, and there’s a kid’s pool for toddlers. 
  • The clubhouse has a retail shop, concierge, information desk, games room, movie theater and premium fitness center. 
  • Beyond the clubhouse, there are volleyball and tennis courts as well as several children’s playgrounds. 
  • Finally, the resort is a gated community and security is taken very seriously. 

Third, Windsor Hills Kissimmee is in a great location. Less than 2 miles from Disney and conveniently located near a freeway entrance, it is quick and easy to get to all of the various attractions in Orlando. For shopping and dining, Windsor Hills is about 2 minutes from Highway 192 and its plethora of options.


Fourth are the Windsor Hills rentals themselves. From 2 to 3 bedrooms condos to 3 or 4 bedroom townhomes to 5 or 6 bedroom villas, there are great options regardless of the size of your party. The condos and townhomes have exterior parking and are conveniently located near the clubhouse. The villas can be up to 3,500 sq ft and have there own private pool and spa. All have been built in the last 7 years and are very well appointed.


If you want to see a video of the resort, check out the Windsor Hills page on our site.

Some of My Favorite Disney Special Events

Posted on March 19, 2012 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Beyond the main attractions at the parks, there is an almost infinite variety of additional activities one can do at Disney.  Here are a few of my favorites.

 


  • Cinderella's Castle during the fireworks - Cinderella's Castle offers character meals for breakfast and for dinner.  If you are most interested in meeting the princesses, you need to a) attend the breakfast and b) learn some ridiculous tactics to get a reservation (more on that in a later post).  The dinner limits the princesses to Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother, but if you schedule your reservations appropriately, you are in for a different kind of treat.  At fireworks time, they dim all of the lights and you get a unique and really cool perspective on the nightly display.  Be sure to request a seat by the windows for maximum effect.
  • Chef Mickey's - If you have young children, you will learn that meeting characters and autograph books is a part of the Disney experience.  The waiting in line doesn't have to come with it.  If you schedule a breakfast at Chef Mickey's and a breakfast at Cinderella's Castle, you can knock out the 2 main groups of characters with the longest lines and not have to wait at all.  While the food at Chef Mickey's is overpriced and is standard buffet fare, it is the best of the character breakfast choices.  I recommend getting a reservation in the late morning and hitting the park before going.  You'll save money by being able to skip lunch and you won't waste the most valuable morning hours eating when you could be riding Space Mountain.
  • Hoop de Doo Revue - A Disney Classic.  It's a pain to get to, but if slap stick is your thing, you'll have a great time.
  • Mickey's Backyard BBQ - I actually prefer this one to Hoop de Doo.  I think the food is better and the entertainment, while different, is comparable.  Your kids will probably love the line dancing.  One note, very young children may be too shy to participate and will instead become bored.
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge and Boma - Because Animal Kingdom closes earlier than the other parks, we like to pair it with a trip to the lodge and Boma.  Before Dinner you can explore this really cool hotel and watch the animals out on the savannah at dusk.  Then take them to the best buffet in Disney, Boma.  Afterwards, head back out to the savannah and see if they are offering the night vision goggles.  If so, give them a try.  Very cool.

 

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Best Lunch Choices at the Parks

Posted on March 16, 2012 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I expect a lot of people assume the dining options in the parks are all roughly equal in terms of quality and value.  This is most definitely NOT true.  Today's recommendations will focus on lunch options that I think represent the best combination of a good meal and a decent price.


  • In the Magic Kingdom, there are two options I recommend, Peco Bills and Cosmic Rays.  Depending on which side of the park you are on at lunch-time, pick the closest option.  Both restaurants are reasonably similar in what they offer and both offer a large selection of options.  My personal favorite at both places is the make you own burger bar.  However, the variety of choices makes it easy for everyone in the family to find something they'll enjoy.
  • In Animal Kingdom, the hands-down choice is Flame Tree Barbeque.  While the menu is small, the food is great.  The BBQ Chicken Salad is a winner as are the Onion Rings.  For kids, the baked chicken is a favorite.
  • In Epcot there are a lot of quality selections, but my favorite is Sunshine Seasons in The Land.  If you follow my suggestions for hitting the park early and doing the big rides first, you should exit Soarin' in time for an early lunch with the extra added bonus of beating the crowds at this popular restaurant.  The great thing about Sunshine Seasons is the variety and the freshness of the food.  A lot of the produce used is actually grown at Epcot.
  • The worst place for lunch options is Hollywood Studios.  I can't honestly say I have a favorite here.  If you let your kids pick, you will probably end up at Pizza Planet.  The nicest thing I can say is "it isn't terrible".

My last tip for the day is actually about breakfast, not lunch.  I highly recommend eating breakfast before you go to the parks.  If you are staying in a place with a kitchen, this is simple, but even if you are staying in a hotel, I recommend hitting a grocery store at some point and picking up some simple breakfast food.  You will save a lot of money and you won't waste valuable early morning time getting food instead of riding the big rides.  

 

Saving money on a rental car

Posted on March 10, 2012 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

When visiting Orlando, I highly recommend a rental car.  While you can choose the Disney bus system if staying on property, and a lot of local properties provide shuttles to the major parks, the flexibility and time savings of a car are well worth the extra expense.  With that in mind, here are some tips on rental cars.

 


  • Use an aggregation site like Orbitz, Expedia, etc to get a handle on the state of the market, but book directly through the rental car company's site to get the best price
  • Rent from one of the companies that is located at the airport.  The rental car garage is literally right outside baggage claim, so you will save a lot of time versus a company that requires a shuttle to their facility.
  • In my experience, Dollar Rent a Car has the best pricing or darn close to it every time I've gone.  Compare anything you find against their website.
  • Join the loyalty program for the company you rent from.  It's free and you won't have to stand in line to pick up your car.
  • Rent whatever the best option is on the day you look knowing it is easy to cancel your reservation and replace it with a cheaper one down the road
  • With this last tip in mind, check prices about once a week up until your trip.  Rental pricing in Orlando moves around a lot and unless you are really unlucky, you will eventually find a ridiculously low price if you keep looking.   
  • Bring small bills or coins for the tolls from the airport.  
  • Fill up the gas on your return a couple of exits before hitting the airport.  There are options right next to the airport, but you have to be careful for scams.  If you don't see a posted price, you don't want to stop at that station.  Many of these stations charge double or more the going rate per gallon.  And of course, the rental car companies themselves charge usurious rates if you fail to remember to fill up.

 


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