Few destinations on earth charm and enchant visitors of all ages quite like Orlando. Whether a starry-eyed child or a worldly parent, the Disney World resort and surrounding area will inspire, revitalise, excite and offer a holiday like no other.
Here are our 50 top tips for getting the most out of every thrill ride, festive parade and deluxe hotel.
Before You Book
1. Come with a plan: Orlando offers a wealth of incredible attractions ready and waiting for you to jump straight in – fine for the kids, but for you, a bit of pre-holiday organisation will go a long way. Make a list of your ‘must see and do’ activities and use these as a frame to work around. Even the most dedicated holidayer would find it impossible to sample all of Orlando’s attractions – make sure you leave time to relax!
2. Try Tampa: When booking flights, Florida’s Tampa Airport may actually be the savvier destination to aim for. Much less busy and bustling than Orlando Airport, you are sure to whiz through customs and be in a taxi on the short ride to your hotel before you can say ‘passport control’.
3. Go deluxe: If you and your brood are keen to run amok in the Universal Resort theme parks, booking a night at one of its deluxe hotels will earn you an early entrance pass to Harry Potter World, as well as unlimited express passes to queue jump to your heart’s content – a hit with the kids and a bit of hotel luxury for you to enjoy! (Not applicable at the Cabana Bay hotel).
4. Speed up with FastPass+: To ensure you can jump aboard those rides that you’ve been dreaming about, check out Disney World’s FastPass+ system. This allows you to reserve places within any attractions up to 30 days before you arrive through disneyworld.disney.go.com or the My Disney Experience app. Universal also offers a similar system for a small fee.
5. Blast off: For an out-of-this-world experience, have a look at NASA’s website in advance and check their rocket-launch time table. If you do get the chance, a trip to Space View Park in Titusville to witness a launch will leave you dazzled.
At the Parks
6. All the single riders: If one of your family is alone in their desperation to ride that towering rollercoaster or wild log flume, funnel them into the ‘Single Rider’ lanes wherever possible to drastically cut queuing times.
7. Apptastic: Keeping your phone close by is a good idea throughout the parks, as the My Disney Experience app is full of tips, advice, offers and will store all your reservations. All the parks offer free Wi-Fi.
8. Recharge: If your phone or camera battery runs low, top it up using the power points hidden in tree-stumps near Rapunzel’s Tower in Fantasyland.
9. Memories that last: If you want your Orlando holiday well documented, check out the ‘Memory Maker’ package that can be purchased in advance from the Disney World website. This will store any photos taken of you within the park, including ride photos. For an extra touch of sparkle, ask to turn your photos ‘magic’, and Disney characters will be digitally added in.
10. Good timing for good times: Disney World draws crowds of fun-seekers from all corners of the globe day after day, and so it is important to remember you will be one of many trying to navigate your way around the park. They key is to arrive early – there are queues and toll-booths to tackle! Both are quieter the earlier it is, so set your alarms and forget grabbing a lie in!
11. Celebrate Disney style: To make any birthday, anniversary or first park visit extra special, make sure you let Disney know! Guest Services (inside each park’s entrance) will provide you with a free badge – all sorts of magic are sure to come your way.
12. Comfort is key: Although Orlando’s theme parks seem like their own little world, it’s important to remember that the city’s hot, sunny climate still applies. Make sure you stay hydrated – all food counters provide free cups of water to keep you going. As well as this, give your footwear serious consideration. Walking is a huge component of any theme park trip, so sling on a pair of worn-in trainers and ditch the sling-backs.
13. Disney day-care: If you are soaking up the Disney experience with your baby or toddler, look out for the park’s Care Centres. Air-conditioned and spacious, these centres provide everything you need to feed, change and entertain your little one out of the heat and bustle of the park.
14. Little legs: Save the trauma of pushchair assembly and rent one for only $13 a day in any park. Essential for tired little legs, the pushchairs can also be left at stroller parks when necessary.
15. Disabled access: If a member of your family has special needs that may affect their ability to queue or deal with crowds, make sure you pick up an Access Service ID card from the Guest Relations desk in each park. Wheelchair users are very well catered-for throughout the parks and most queues are accessible for wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
16. Disney on a budget: The magic of Disney World can be easily experienced even if you do not have park tickets. All Disney hotel public areas are free to access, including a selection of incredible restaurants. You are also able to go creature spotting at Animal Kingdom Lodge, pony trekking at Fort Wilderness and watch the fireworks at the Polynesian Resort without a Disney Park ticket.
17. Retail therapy: The bustling area of Downtown Disney (soon to be renamed Disney Springs) is a great place to wander around at a relaxed pace. It is simply spilling over with fantastic restaurants and shops, including the world’s largest Disney Store – just think how much Frozen merchandise you could come back with…
18. Ice cream dream: For all those dedicated lovers of sweet-treats, sampling a ‘Kitchen Sink’ Sundae at Beaches and Cream soda shop is a must. Reserving a table is wise!
19. Extra events: As well as the day-to-day Disney fun, the parks play host to a wealth of other events and festivals throughout the year. Some require pre-booking including Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and the Candlelight Processional. Others are open to all within the park, including the Epcot Food and Wine Festival and Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars Weekends.
Meeting Disney Characters
20. Schmoozing with the stars: Spotting your favourite Disney faces is an Orlando holiday highlight. The character Meet and Greets take place throughout the day in all parks, but if you want to meet any in particular, it is worth asking at a Guest Relations desk to find out when and where they can be found. The Mickey Mouse character in the Town Hall occasionally starts a conversation with visitors, so have your questions at the ready!
21. Dinner and Disney: Meeting the stars is often easier and less busy at one of the many Character Dinners. Ask ahead to ensure your favourite will be attending!
22. Sign on the dotted line: It is always a good idea for kids (and maybe adults) to carry an autograph book when meeting the characters. Large and chunky pens are also advisable – those Mickey gloves can make writing a tad tricky!
23. Coupon crazy: It’s no secret that Americans love their coupons. It’s always worth searching and asking for any in local supermarkets, hotels and restaurants, which can provide discounts for shopping and attractions in Orlando itself.
24. Let out in the outlets: If you are ready to shop ’til you drop, research Orlando’s numerous malls beforehand to pinpoint the bargains. If you register on some mall and restaurant websites there are yet more discount coupons to be had!
25. Grab the bargains: Signing up to Orlando’s Groupon site is a savvy move – large discounts on attractions, shopping and eating out are available daily.
26. Nice and spicy: Orlando boasts a huge number of Mexican restaurants, with countless specialities and twists on the Tex-Mex classics.
27. Reserve: Character meals at Disney World are unsurprisingly very popular, so make sure you secure your table online or using the My Disney Experience app, up to 180 days in advance.
28. World cuisine: Take your taste-buds on holiday at the Epcot World Showcase and eat your way around all seven continents!
29. Early eating: To avoid the crowds and busiest restaurant times, try eating a little earlier than you would usually. You’ll be surprised at how much difference half an hour can make!
30. Magical mornings: If you are looking to book Cinderella’s Royal Table or Crystal Palace for breakfast, try and book before the Magical Kingdom Park opens – having the main street all to yourself makes for some fantastic photo opportunities!
31. New frontiers: Rather than heading into Fantasyland straightaway, try out the rides in Frontierland and Tomorrowland in the morning and save the shows for the afternoon to escape the hotter part of the day and the crowds.
32. Magical make-overs: Get the kids Disneyfied with a Princess makeover at the Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique, or be transformed into a salty seadog by the Pirate League. For a bit of adult pampering, head to the Harmony Barbershop for a haircut and style with an added sprinkling of pixie dust.
33. Parade positions: There are two parades a day in Magical Kingdom. Grab a good viewing spot for the Festival of Fantasy Parade at 3pm by, you guessed it, turning up early. There are also some shady spots along the parade route to keep out of the afternoon sun. The Main Street Electrical Parade is one of the most visually impressive, and a FastPass+ will get you prime viewing in front of the castle – perfect for catching the fireworks afterwards!
34. Interact and play: If you fancy a break from the fast-paced rides and bustling crowds, take the kids for an interactive gaming experience. Magical Kingdom has two such games: A Pirate’s Adventure and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. Both are role playing missions perfect for the whole family to take part in.
35. Sparks in the sky: The Magic Kingdom’s Wishes firework display is a must see. The best viewing spot is without a doubt the top of Main Street, but arriving early is essential as this area becomes very crowded.
36. A Sprinkle of fairy dust: Tinkerbell fans old and young should stand on the bridge from the castle during the fireworks, and marvel as she takes flight from the top of the spire across the sky.
37. Jedis in training: Star Wars fans between the ages of four and 12 can live the dream of being a Jedi, at the Training Academy Live Show. Twelve children a show are chosen to learn light-saber skills, and battle Darth Vader up on stage. Sign up at the ABC Studios – first come, first served!
38. Get animated: Budding movie makers can take part in an Animation Master-Class at Hollywood studios, learning all the tips of the trade and how to draw a Disney character. What better souvenir to take home?
39. Toy Story queue jump: The ever-popular Toy Story Midway Mania ride always attracts the crowds, and as a result has very long queues. Make it one of your FastPass+ choices to guarantee a turn.
40. Wander the world: For a relaxed and slow-paced break from all the high-octane fun, take a stroll around the World Showcase, bursting with street-performers and dramatic scenery.
41. Pick a pearl: Head to the fabulously fun Japanese department store and choose a genuine pearl for a beautiful and inexpensive holiday souvenir!
42. Get ahead of the crowds: Two of Epcot’s most popular rides are Soarin and Test Track, but you will only be able to use a FastPass+ on one at a time. To ensure a ride on both, FastPass one and then head over to the other first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
43. Colours of the world: Epcot’s country zones each have a Kidcot stop where your little ones can learn about the country from a native, and take part in a colouring activity – educational and entertaining!
44. Coca culture: Club Cool runs a free sampling session of Coca Cola from around the world – a great way to cool down!
45. Get creative: For budding inventors and mechanics, Innovations East and West offer a number of educational attractions design to test ingenuity and creativity. The Sum of All Thrills even allows you to design and ride your very own rollercoaster.
46. Mission Accepted: Let the kids loose in Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure, an interactive game with missions to complete around the park – it’s a chance for you to take a break!
47. Must-see: If there is one thing that Animal Kingdom does best, it’s live shows. However busy they may be, the animal shows are breath-taking and captivating for adults and children alike.
48. Safari spotting: If possible, ride the Safari more than once throughout the day, as different critters can be spotted every hour.
49. Adventure seekers: If you have a budding Walter Scott, let Wilderness Explorers lead them on a badge-earning quest around Animal Kingdom for free.
50. Tree dwellers: Keep the kids entertained by spotting animals in the Tree of Life!
An experience to remember for adults and children alike, wherever you wander, a holiday in Disney World Orlando will always offer fun, excitement, and just a little dusting of magic…
50 Magical Ways to Make the most out of your Disney World and Orlando Holidays is also available as an online ebooklet: