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Planning an Orlando Vacation

Posted on April 20, 2012 at 2:35 PM

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 

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