We have visited Orlando three times since 2009 and each time we have leaned more and more. Our first trip was with a few family members, we stayed solely in a villa and spent all day in the parks or at different attractions. Since then we have tried to split up our time whilst in Florida, visiting other areas, staying in hotels, villas and on Disney property.
Travel and Accommodations
Flying from Gatwick with BA
We would normally get a connecting flight from Manchester to Heathrow and then an Uber to Gatwick, but this time we drove to Gatwick the night before and stayed at the Premier Inn (Manor Royal) at Gatwick Airport. We booked two rooms at £46 each, they were basic rooms, nice and clean and did what we needed them to. Be aware though, because it is a hotel near an airport there is noise throughout the night with people arriving and departing. We would stay there again, especially because of the price.
The following morning we left the hotel at 6am for our morning flight and checked our car into the airport’s meet and greet parking. I would recommend walking round your car, videoing it and also taking a picture of the mileage. This gives you a record of how you left the car with a date stamp on your phone, in case of any problems (we have not needed to use this but it is peace of mind for us).
For this trip we managed to use our companion vouchers and flew this time in club world seats, which gave us access to the BA lounge with complimentary food and beverages, so we had breakfast at the airport which saved money eating elsewhere. Club world seats also include priority check in and boarding, extra luggage (2 hold suitcases, 1 cabin bag and 1 laptop or handbag per person) and priority departure on landing.
The BA lounge was comfortable and had a good selection of food and drinks, however when it is busy it can be difficult to find a seat downstairs. We decided to sit upstairs and just go down to get refreshments. There is a drinks section upstairs but is wasn’t working the day we were there. We ate light as we knew the food in club world was very good and I don’t tend to eat a lot until I’m on the plane due the medicines I take.
We booked the middle isle four seats so we were sat together, which was very good and the privacy screens gave the middle two seats extra privacy, however the two outer seats do not get this being on the end, you are open to the walkway. This for me is not a problem as I don’t sleep much on planes but it is something to be aware of. On the flight out we did experience disturbance from the travellers who had to step over the end seat foot stool many times and also a confusion over running out of a meal which had been ordered, but this was sorted in the end. The positives for the club seats is the food that is served, the complimentary club kitchen – where you are able to help yourself to refreshments throughout the flight, the amenities bag from the white company, the pillow, bedding and the different seat positions.
Accommodation – Art of Animation
We started this trip with a stay in Naples (see our Naples and Clearwater blog) then headed to Orlando. We chose to stay for one night at Disney’s Art of Animation. We have stayed in Disney properties in Disneyland Paris but it was the first time we have stayed in a Disney property in America. As it was only for a night we went for the value resort of Art of Animation and picked the Little Mermaid room, which had two double beds and the normal amenities. On arrival we had been upgraded to the Cars family suite, which had a queen bed (separate room), double bed that converted from the table and a sofa bed, two bathrooms, kitchenette, lots of storage disguised as tool boxes and a view over the courtyard (part of radiator springs). The suite was large, bright, very clean and fresh and positioned well for the lobby, dining, pool and catching the buses to the parks. The quick service food was nice and there was lots of seating, you can also order to collect or deliver to your room. We recommend the chicken and fries and the pizza. You can also order food using the Uber eats app from external restaurants but you must meet the driver outside reception at the drop off point. It was handy that we had a suite with a table and chairs and kitchenette. We couldn’t have asked for more.
The one thing to note about the value resorts is that they are further away from the parks and so the transfer on the buses to the different parks can take a while. This has been helped by the new skyliner transportation (which stops at Art of Animation), when we visited they were not in use, so extra time was needed to get around. Obviously there are other options, for example the Minnie Van (red car with white spots) this service is not complimentary like the other transport options and is chargeable through the Lyft app, prices depend on the distance you are travelling.
Overall, the Art of Animation resort was very good with excellent theming throughout and great to be able to walk round radiator springs and take photos with different characters, such as Lightening McQueen. We would definately go back again. You also get extra magic hours whilst staying at a Disney property, which means that you are able to enter earlier or stay later at one of the parks (you need to check the parks timetable to see when and which park the magic hours are available for your stay). Magic hours are helpful when aiming to get on the new or popular rides. Also by staying at a Disney property you are able to book fast passes 60 days in advance (30 days if you stay off site). The resort staff at Art of Animation were so helpful and made us feel very welcome.
Villa in Calabay Parc Davenport
For the rest of our stay (14 nights) we rented a Villa in Calabay Parc, Davenport. We booked the villa via the HomeAway website, which we have used before. In previous trips we have stayed mainly in the Kissimmee area, which was great but this time we wanted to try another area, so we opted for Davenport. The villa was situated in Calabay Park and on an end plot, with trees and grassland at the back, so not overlooked. The Villa had five bedrooms with an option for a sixth in the snug. It was huge! We didn’t expect it to be so big. The L shaped pool was nice and big enough for us to have a large turtle pool float and the games room, with basketball, pool and air hockey tables just added to the fun.
The villa was close to the US27, I4 and the US192 so you had different options for getting around. However it is advisable to check on the traffic, as it can get very busy, especially merging onto the I4 at rush hour. It is sometimes best to leave before or after, as you don’t want to be rushing to get to the park and find you spend a lot of time just queuing in traffic.
It is also close to Championsgate. This area had some nice places to eat (see our places to eat in Orlando blog), petrol (gas) stations and a supermarket (Publix) for all your essentials, to name a few.
The owners of the villa were very good at emailing us the information needed and kept in contact, even though they had a management company that dealt with any issues. We did have a few problems, especially with pest control (something that is common in this area) and the management company came to sort this for us. Even though we do follow the rules of leaving no food or dirty dishes out, you can still get pests, so don’t be to alarmed just contact your renter. Most villas will have a folder with emergency contacts, Wifi details, information on bin (trash) collection days and other information about the area.
The upside for having this sort of accommodation, away from the parks or being in a hotel, is that you have more flexibility, space, more options to eat in, your own pool, a base to leave your things if you have a night away (maybe at the coast), parking and privacy. In our afternoon downtime some of us caught up on Tv shows that were being aired in the US but not in the UK and this was possible because the villa had cable included. Of course you will need transport to get you around, so hiring a car or paying for Ubers will add to the cost, whereas you have complimentary transport on site at Disney. However, the cost per night of our villa was cheaper than staying on site. So it all depends on your preferences and of course there is an age limit to driving in America and I think you maybe now have to have a (IDP) International driving permit, which you can get from the post office for a small cost.
Having done different accommodation options on this trip, we would probably do the same again and try out another Disney or universal property then move to a villa for the majority of the stay.
- You don’t have to be together all the time (if possible) – you are not normally with your family every hour of every day, so take time apart. Maybe read a book by the pool, while others watch the tv, go for a walk, FaceTime friends/family or visit a park. Then when you all come back together you’ll have more to talk about.
- Have days off from the theme parks, rest days. These can be days round the pool, shopping or visiting a beach.
- Have a plan, it is not set in stone and things will move round, especially if you swap fast passes to get other rides or have a pool day instead of a park day. Be flexible but with a plan you will find you get more of what you want to do done.
- Plan where you want to eat and reserve a table if possible. If you can’t reserve think about going earlier or later for food. We sometimes go just before lunch time and find it less busy and easier to get a table.
- If you are driving use a navigation system, the roads can get busy and a navigation system will help you if you need to re-route. We have used Navmii. Be wary of other drivers because we have found not everyone signals or follows the rules.
- Visit Walmart for your essentials, it has anything you can think off and they are huge. This time we used publix too, which was nice as it was a little smaller and their fruit is really nice and fresh.
Until our next adventure x TRT