In 10 days time, I will be onboard a Virgin Atlantic plane bound for the sunny sights of Orlando, Florida! That bit sounds fantastic, but what makes it (slightly) stressful is that I will be having two children in tow – 7 years and 10 years old. I have been to Disney and Universal before when I had just graduated, but back then I was footloose and fancy free. Despite this, I can remember the crowds and the heat and although I did have a marvellous time, I can imagine a repeat is unlikely without copious amounts of planning.
Enter scrapbook, Facebook Orlando groups, Amazon for Orlando guidebooks, youtube for Orlando suitcase packing, package holiday websites, Orlando theme park ticket agents, and a multitude of other resources I have never laid eyes on before. It’s quite mind boggling how much information there can be on this type of holiday! Having read as much as I can in the last two weeks I do now feel better equipped for the trip and I think I can actually offer some words of advice to those travelling to Disney, Universal, Kennedy Space Centre etc.. with pre teen kids in tow.
Ok so words of advice, thus far:
- The most important thing to do is to book your holiday as soon as you possible can because flights to Orlando are expensive during the school holiday and only go one way after that.
- Where to Stay – there are advantages of staying in a Disney hotel, like the extra magic hours where you are allowed to enter one of the parks an hour early (schedules are released closer to the day) and also the Disney dining plan. However, it’s also quite relaxing to rent a villa with a pool so you can really relax when not at Disney. Or you could just book into another non Disney hotel too – that’s what I am doing as I’m not sure if I will feel like I’ve over-dosed on Disney otherwise! Plus this is a often a cheaper option too.
- Bags – many rides will not allow you to take your bags on, but there are lockers available. Personally I am going to take a bum bag (and give my two boys one too), so that I am hands free, but backpacks or cross body bags would work well too. Smaller bags will be easier to store when on rides, so bear this in mind. Also remember there will be bag searches, so allow time for this.
- Money – I have recently acquired a Revolut card. It’s an app based service, and all I do is load on some money from my UK bank account – Revolut does the rest. By this, I mean it will convert the British Pounds to dollars (or whichever currency you require) at the current exchange rate, without taking a commission – genius! I’m going to try it out in Europe next week before the US trip, but I’m quietly confident about this, and over the two weeks it should save me quite a bit!
- Camera – I know the most convenient way to take photos these days is with our phones, and I have mostly done this myself over the past few years. However, night time photos are often pretty poor and so I’m going with a compact camera for this trip. My choice – the Canon Ixus 285 HS. Will report back after the trip with photos, so you can tell the difference!
- If you are going during school holiday, then planning your trip is KEY! If you are staying at a Disney hotel, you can book rides up to 60 days in advance, otherwise it’s 30 days. Dining reservations open up 120 days in advance I think. So far, I have booked up rides 30 days in advance and have managed to secure all the rides on Fastpass+ except Pandora (in the Animal Kingdom). I tried every morning but all Fastpasses had been taken. I’ll have to see what the queues are like on the day and chance my luck on that one. However, all other rides have been booked, so it’s possible!
- Have a Break! – as you know, Disneyworld is a pretty large place. You will be tired out from walking after a couple of days, so it’s best to schedule in afternoons by the pool, or at one of the water parks, or even whole days depending on how many days you are going for. Your feet will thank you and the kids will love the water parks!
- Don’t forget there are other places to see apart from Disney! Universal Studios springs to mind, but also Kennedy Space Centre (day trips are bookable in advance from London and it’s best to book before you get out there – try Attraction tickets direct), Gatorland, Busch Gardens and many more.
- Shopping – last time I was in Florida, many moons ago, I went to a few of the discount shopping outlets and the prices were pretty good and the choice amazing. From what I’ve read, this is still the case so if you are looking for retail therapy, then Orlando will be heaven! I’m not sure if I can cart my two boys around the shopping malls with me, so I’ve not planned to do this – but I have noted that there is one retail park very close to Universal studios so I may just pop down there for a quick hour one evening!
- Back up Batteries for phone/camera etc…- this is crucial! Days in the parks can be long and you can be using your phone for checking fastpass and reservations, booking taxis, taking photos and a whole host of other bits and pieces. You really don’t need your phone dying half way through lunch with Cinderella! Power packs can be bought through Amazon and other places – there are three sizes. I have bought the small and medium, plus a battery for my camera.
- Packing cubes plus ziplock bags – packing for children can be tough. I find that packing each outfit in a ziplock bag works quite well. That way, they can sort themselves out every morning! Packing cubes are also a great find for me – they can be colour coded for different family members plus are much easier to put into your suitcase. When at your destination, you can also put the dirty clothes into one cube, so that on your return you know what to wash!
- Suncream, sun hats, sunglasses – the three S’s – essential kit for Florida. It’s going to be sunny – hurrah! So just pack them
There are clearly countless bits and pieces I will have forgotten to mention so I will be adding to this post as and when. I will also write a post Orlando blog of what I should have packed!!