Universal Studios Islands of Adventure (Photo: Kamira/Shutterstock.com)
Orlando is a kid’s paradise. In what other city can your family hang out with Mickey, explore the wizardry of Harry Potter and engage in minion mayhem with Despicable Me? With more than a dozen Orlando theme parks, there are attractions for everyone. If your goal is an amazing vacation that will create lasting memories — and keep your stir-crazy kids from melting down — this is the place to do it. But before you pack your bags, here’s everything you need to know to travel like a pro.
Hack Your Transportation
Depending on your vacation style, you may not need a rental car. If your family will stay by the main tourist attractions, you can easily get to and from the airport and major theme parks without the hassle of wrangling car seats and finding parking spaces. Disney’s Magical Express provides complimentary transportation between Orlando International Airport and select Disney resorts. Many hotels offer free airport shuttles and transportation to Disney and Universal Studios.
If you’re staying at a resort near International Drive, the I-Ride Trolley offers affordable transportation to SeaWorld, Orlando Premium Outlets and attractions like Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf. Single fare is $2 ($1 for kids) and unlimited one-day passes are $5 a person.
Be Savvy About Money
A magical theme park vacation doesn’t come cheap. Tickets to Disney and Universal are around $100 a person for a one-day ticket, but you can save more by purchasing multi-day tickets. At Disney, a 4-day ticket will cost between $48-52 a day. Universal offers a $20 discount on all multi-day tickets purchased online. VisitOrlando.com also has discount tickets for most of the city’s major attractions. For Disney discounts check out MouseSavers.com, a site that aggregates deals you won’t find elsewhere.
With sky-high food prices at theme parks, you’ll want to save money on the rest of your meals. Several Orlando restaurants offer kids eat free deals with the purchase of an adult meal (some hotels have them, too). Want to save even more? Get a free Orlando Magicard for more dining discounts.
Make a Theme Park Game Plan
The right game plan can help you avoid a jam-packed schedule that makes your vacation more exhausting than exhilarating.
First, wear comfortable shoes and make sure to bring a backpack or bag with all the essentials, including sunglasses, sunscreen and hat (it is Florida, after all). It can get chilly indoors with the air conditioning, so a sweater or sweatshirt is a must. Cameras, bottled water, small snacks and any food required for dietary or medical needs also are allowed.
To avoid crowded lines, consider paying extra for special passes. Universal’s express passes start at $59.99 (that’s on top of regular admission). In 2014, Disney introduced the MagicBand to make everyone’s vacation experience seamless. The all-in-one device ($12.95, plus tax) lets you enter Disney’s theme parks, buy food and souvenirs and gives you fast pass access to every attraction and dining experience pre-selected online via the My Disney Experience app.
If this isn’t in your vacation budget, there are free ways to pass the time and give the kids a break. Walk around Universal CityWalk. If you’re at Disney, take the Epcot monorail or visit an interactive exhibit like the Hall of Presidents to sit for awhile. But don’t stay too long — there’s still plenty of theme park left to experience.