Travel Tip Tuesday: Orlando, Disney, & Universal Studios

I know I said this week’s Travel Tip was going to be on finding crazy cheap flights, instead we’re talking Orlando. The crazy cheap flights will be a little later for two reasons:

1.) This just makes more sense since this week is all things Florida

2.) The holidays mess up cheap flying anyways

If you are insanely disappointed, let me know. We’ll find you a flight together. Promise!

Instead, I’m going to tell you all about how I:

  • Did all the parks on a budget (without media passes)
  • Picked the dates to make sure there was virtually NO waits for rides
  • What’s worth the money & what isn’t
  • Avoided the crowds in the park
  • Ended up with unexpected expenses
  • and all kinds of other good tidbits!

So let’s get started!

As much as I am trying to embrace going with the flow, there are just some things that you need to plan for in advance especially when you’re trying to save or get it all in.

Preparing for the crowds of the theme parks, I am sure you have come across the crowd calendars. Undercover Tourist probably has the most popular one. It can be helpful, however, it is definitely not worth it to purchase one over the freebies out there. I did study them and did factor that into my date selection. In reality, it was common sense in planning that made the days at the parks a breeze (okay, and a little bit of dumb luck as well).

Going on a weekend was an obvious avoidance, luckily I had the freedom of going during the week. Here’s where the brains came in…the weekend before my visit was Veteran’s Day (a 3 day weekend and active military were admitted for free), the week after was Thanksgiving which is a very high volume time. With all that time off school or work, the crowds were going to be large. Going smack dab in the middle of those two dates insured a drop in crowd attendance. Again, going right before a holiday is a luxury of my schedule. It isn’t an option for everyone. People say to go in February. It’s risky. You never know what schools in which area are going to have a random winter break. Now my dumb luck is something you can factor in on purpose.

Each park at Disney World has one day a week they close early, that happened to be the day I went to Magic Kingdom. If you plan on doing a whole park in a day, you need to take that into consideration. Even though I had a hopper pass for Walt Disney World, I really only planned on visiting the Magic Kingdom. If I had planned on hitting another park after that, it would have been disastrous on the crowd meter. As soon as Magic Kingdom, closed everyone flocked to another park.

Here’s why it was a phenomenal happen chance: the crowds avoided Magic Kingdom that day due to the early closing time. Double bonus, the next day was Mickey Mouse’s birthday and a big Christmas extravaganza. People skipped Magic Kingdom in order to come for the large crowd activities the next day.

All the Disney Bound blogs suggest doing the park first thing that morning then heading back to the hotel for the afternoon for pool time to avoid the heat of the day and return for the fireworks in the evening. Now if you’re an adult, you can swing a 12 hour day at the park. If you have small children, not going to happen without a major meltdown.

My advice, push aside that little voice in your head that says you’re not getting your money’s worth and hit the park on a day it closes early when everyone else is listening to that little voice. The lack of wait time is well worth it. Our fast passes had us wait at most 7 minutes for rides. Really, you’re getting more park in less time.

Those same big events and crowd planning paid off at Universal Studios as well since everyone wanted to be in attendance for Mickey’s birthday. Maybe there was a lot of cake or something, I don’t know.

img_4651

One of the cast members advised me when inside the parks, take the side paths to bypass the herds. It’s usually the designated smoking area, but if you can ignore that you’ll miss a majority of the people meandering along. You know the ones. It took all I had in me not to tell them to walk with purpose! Otherwise, get the move on.

 

If going to Disney, get Disney’s app My Disney Experience beforehand. That’s probably a given for all you die hard Disney fans. For those of you not familiar, the app lets you track your reservations, book Fast Passes in advance, find characters, wait times; basically anything you could imagine at Disney. 151612_pc_site_900x360-cIf you know what you want to do, book those Fast Passes before you head to the park. You can even do it months in advance. This is going to be a big help for the popular rides that will book up early making you get on a wait list for them. Pretty much as soon as you know your dates for Disney, book your adventures that minute.

Bill & Brenda from Dayton, Ohio have been coming to Disney every year for the past 9 years with their granddaughters. Not being the Disney pro they are, I asked them what they found worth it and not worth it. Of course, being grandparents what isn’t worth every penny for their granddaughters?

We finally narrowed it down. They decided as neat as the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is, it was not worth it. Not only does it take several hours, it is expensive. The outfit comes with shoes and they are just not practical, day in the park, walking around shoes. Instead of spending the cash, come in your own outfit and have a fairy godmother sprinkle you with fairy dust for free. img_4456

What has been a super magical memorable experience from their 10 visits in the last 9 years? During one trip, one of the granddaughters dressed as Merida from Brave. Apparently, no one ever comes as Merida. Cast members all remarked on her outfit. No one comes as Merida and they all told her how awesome it was to see her. Personal not: it makes me kind of sad that little girls aren’t all over the princess who saves herself. Save yourself little ones!

What do Bill & Brenda say really is worth it (and not just for seeing the kiddo’s eyes light up in wonder)? Dining with the characters. Make the most of the expense and book a later dinner that way when you get out of dinner you get to enjoy the Magic Hour. Being in the park after it closes with hardly anyone there truly is a magical experience.

Disney starts Christmas at the beginning of November, which I could have done without. Bill & Brenda said that if you are there for the holidays the stories of Santas from each culture and centuries is a fascinating. More of a Halloween fan? Don’t miss the Halloween Dance Party at Downtown Disney.

My other big planning tip also falls under my unexpected expenses: those flipping toll roads. img_4139On my drive from Georgia to Miami I spent $25 on tolls. If I had planned ahead, I would have been able to route around them.

 
Florida touts the turnpike as the “Stress Free Way” and I am calling bologna. Not only did I feel like I was being held hostage on the toll roads, traffic was unbearable. Everyone was hopping on the Stress Free bandwagon.

Granted, they have amazing food courts for when you need to stretch your legs. Just make sure you stretch those limbs real good because anything inside of there is going to cost you an arm and a leg. Gas at the designated service stations was also .25 cents more.

Last week’s Travel Tip Tuesday I discussed stopping at the “Official” Florida Visitor’s Center for my Universal Studios tickets. The signage along the interstate had offers of $69 for Universal Studio tickets. That was tempting. The next sign for “buy one pair of boots, get two pairs free” peaked my interests. It was the sign for the 14 foot alligator that made me pull in. Heads up, the alligator is 14 feet long. It is not alive. I was informed that due to insurance reasons they couldn’t have a living one. The next stop a couple of exits up does have baby gators though! Live ones!

Now I did go all el cheapo and sign up for a “presentation” in order to get my hopper pass for both Universal parks for $64 after tax plus a free breakfast. While I found the timeshare presentation fascinating, I probably would have bailed much earlier on if I was anyone else. Poor Antonio probably thought he had me hook, line, and sinker with all my questions and note taking. That’s an experience to share for another day. The “Official” visitor center, aka Westgate Resort’s official visitor centers aka how we lure you into timeshares, did have largely discounted tickets. There are discounted tickets available ALL over the place. Buying tickets in advance of the trip is NOT something I recommend. Sorry to all my travel agent buddies on that one.

My super discounted hotel turned out to be one of the best deals of the week. Great location, clean, free parking, and free park shuttles, Friday AND Saturday for less than $70 after tax for both nights. All about that, Harry Potter World, and the rest of the week in Florida in tomorrow’s Where Have I Been Wednesday!