What we did in Orlando

DisneyUniversal and Volcano BayTop tipsShoppingTop Golf/mini golfAirboat rideDiscovery CoveRest days.

We split up our time in Orlando doing different activities, so that all of us got to do something we wanted to do, including our rest days.

Note – All prices and places may have changed since we were at them, so please check first.

Theme Parks and Water parks

Disney

There are four Disney theme parks; Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios (inc Galaxy’s Edge) and two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.

On this trip we visited all the Disney theme parks, but as we had already experienced the water parks, we decided to try Universal’s Volcano Bay water park (see below for review) to compare them.

Whilst at Disney – We tend to break up our park day; first we try and get into the park early in the morning, use our FastPasses then get on any other rides with a short wait time. Once the heat becomes too hot, normally around lunch time, we head to get lunch outside of the park, then either go to the supermarkets for anything we need, chill at our base (villa or resort) or head back to the park for any additional FastPasses. Our plans can and do change depending on how we feel, what we want to eat and what is available to us.

Generally we only have snacks in the park, we don’t tend to eat meals in the parks often. If we are staying on resort and are not heading out in the car, we will eat at the resort or get a Uber eats delivered. (see our places to eat in Orlando blog)

Some of my favourite rides are; Seven dwarfs mine train, Flight of passage, Dinosaur and Tower of terror. I will be reviewing the rides and attractions in a separate blog.

There are many transportation options available to get to the various parks and parking is available, at a charge. These parks cater for everyone, you have thrill rides, tame rides, characters, shows, refreshments, shopping and immersive theming. What you get from Disney is a safe, happy and fun time.

Universal and Volcano Bay

Universal has lots to offer from rides and attractions to the city walk for food and entertainment. There are three parks, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay water park. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure lead off from either side of city walk. You will need a ticket to get admission into the parks but if you want to get on the rides quicker try out the Universal Express Pass. You will need to check which rides you can use the express pass on and how many times you can use it per ride on that day. We have never used an Express Pass, for the four of us it would have been too much money on top of the admission ticket, plus we tend to make use of the single rider queues.

Some of my favourite rides are; Harry Potter’s escape from Gringotts, Revenge of the Mummy, Hogwart’s Express, Popeye and Bluto’ bilge-rat barge (water ride), Jurassic Park river adventure (water ride) and Transformers (3d ride).

These parks, like Disney, have a variety of rides and attractions for all ages, including immersive 3D and 4D rides and areas specific to The Simpsons and Dr Suess and Harry Potter to name a few.

We normally spend the full day at the two Universal theme parks because they are further away from our accommodation, we get our refreshments mainly in City Walk (see our places to eat in Orlando blog). We have not stayed in a hotel that is linked to Universal in Orlando but we might do the next time, mainly to benefit from the early hours access.

Butter Beer

Volcano Bay Water Park – On admission you get given a tapu tapu wrist band, this allows you to use the virtual lines for the water rides, the band is returnable at the end of your visit. There are many different water rides including raft rides, body and drop slides, winding lazy river and a beach. It was a busy day when we visited, we got there on opening, chose our sun loungers, however once we had ridden the rides we wanted to we left. It did get very busy and hot.

Volcano Bay

It was a fun morning, my eldest daughter and I enjoyed the raft rides and slides – they are not for the faint-hearted. For us more mature ladies, you need to make sure you wear a good costume, as there is a lot of clambering in and out of the rafts in front of many people, and you don’t always get time to adjust yourself, if you need to, before you are launched down the slide. Next time I would wear a costume and shorts over the top or get a knee length lightweight wetsuit (similar to the Discovery Cove outfits). On top of the park ticket you also have to pay for parking, lockers and of course refreshments throughout the day. As we were close to the Premier shopping outlets and Top Golf we finished the day there.

Top Tips

  • Have a plan, it is not set in stone and things will move round, especially if you swap fast passes to get other rides.
  • Make sure you know which rides everyone wants to go on and make a list of the parks and rides and then try and get the 1st choice fast pass for each person, if not try and get the second choice.
  • Be aware there is a tiered system at Disney, so you can’t get all the top rides as fast passes, see our Fastpass blog.
  • Research the price of parking – Disney and Universal charge to park at the parks (when we visited it was $25 Disney and $26 Universal per day), I believe Disney are also charging for parking at the resorts. Once you have paid at a Disney park you can use the same ticket in all of the parks on that same day.
  • If you go a few times a year look at the annual passes, these may work out a cheaper option and you may be able to get free parking at the parks included.
  • Be prepared for rain, take a breathable light weight waterproof jacket or get a cheap poncho from Walmart. Use a ziplock bag to keep spare clothes, meds and phones dry inside you park bag – we get ours in various sizes from Ikea. (Keep an eye out in the Splash Mountain queue as we managed to get some themed ziplock bags for free courtesy of the ride)
  • Use waterproof shoes on wet rides and swap back into other shoes after the ride, saves having to walk round in wet trainers all day.

Shopping

The Premium outlets in Orlando are great for discounted shopping, especially for us UK visitors. They have many designer stores and if you sign up to their email promotions you get some very good deals. Check your bags if you make a purchase because they can give out discount vouchers at the checkout, we have saved a lot doing this over the years. If you like Disney merch then check out the Disney character warehouse store in the outlets before purchasing items in the parks, we found Wednesday to be a good day but this may have changed.

The Mall of Millennia – The Cheesecake Factory we eat at is situated here (see our places to eat in Orlando blog). It’s a large premier shopping mall that is great for shopping, eating and has a nice relaxed atmosphere. You will find a good amount of parking spaces, we generally park near the Cheesecake Factory, so we can easily find our car again. It is well worth a visit.

Top Golf and Mini Golf

You don’t need to like or play golf to go to Top Golf, it’s as a place to eat, drink and hit a golf ball into targets for fun. It’s a bit like mini golf but without the 18 holes and walking. When we visited they had the half price on Tuesdays offer. You can also watch sport on the large screens, play shuffle board (long table covered with sand, three coloured disks are pushed down the table into scoring zones) or chill out by the bar. The refreshments are good too (see our places to eat in Orlando blog). Our tip is to go in the evening if you can because the golfing target zones are lit up and sometimes respond along with the music. Try to reserve the upper floors as this give a better view.

Shuffle Board

Mini Golf – We stayed at Disney’s Art of Animation for a night (see our where we stayed in Orlando blog) and with our reservation we got a free pass for the Winter Summerland mini golf next to Blizzard Beach water park. There are two 18 hole courses to choose from, either the summer or winter course (designed by Santa). We all enjoyed this activity, which did become quite competitive. It was nice to do something different. There was ample parking, toilets, the staff were friendly, the courses were colourful and well maintained, you could also get refreshments by the entrance. Great for all the family!

Air Boat

The company we chose for our air boat ride was Spirit of the Swamp in Kissimmee. Only my husband and I did this activity, we booked it after being recommended it by many others and we’re so glad we did. Debi was helpful and assisted us with the booking process. Captain Ken took us out for a 90min ride over the swamps, his knowledge of the area and wildlife was excellent. He showed us lots of wildlife including gators, birds and a bald eagle. We booked a morning ride, which was good for the heat – even though the boats do have a cover. The boat itself is smooth, you shouldn’t feel sickness if you are prone to being ill on boats, it also felt very safe. The boat seated six passengers but there was only four on our trip, plus the captain. You wear a headset to listen to the commentary and speak to everyone else. They do stop for you to be able to get lots of pictures and have time to see the gators up close. There are toilets near where we boarded the boat, they are basic but ok. Make sure you take drinks with you to keep hydrated too.

Spirit of the Swamp boat

Discovery Cove

To make the most of Discovery Cove you need to get there early (7.00am for admission at 7.30am), this allows you to book an early slot to swim with the dolphins (if you have booked for this activity), get a sun lounger – although there are plenty and make the most of the unlimited complimentary refreshments and beautiful setting. Apart from alcohol, extra activities and the cabanas/daybeds everything is included with your booking and that does include towels and lockers.

As this was the first time we had visited or swam with dolphins, we were surprised at the amount there is to see and do at discovery cove. When you arrive you get an ID pass, you are then shown where to collect a wetsuit/vest and snorkel kit. Once you have put everything in your lockers – jewellery (except wedding bands) and suncream is asked not to be brought with you on your visit, you are advised to use the special animal friendly suncream provided. There are floatation vests and tubes (pool noodles) to use when you are in the different swim areas too.

Try out your snorkel in the lazy river and pool and then enjoy seeing the coral, tropical fish and sharks in the grand reef, the sting rays are so impressive in there and come close to you. Take some time to visit the freshwater oasis and aviary to see the otters swim and play, then head to feed the large variety of birds.

Note: make the most of the complimentary drinks and ice creams to keep you hydrated and keep applying suncream, as it is easy to forget whilst being in the water that you can still burn.

Rest days

You are not normally with your family every hour of every day, so if you don’t have to be together all the time, take some time apart. Maybe read a book by the pool while others watch the tv, go for a walk, FaceTime friends/family or visit a local park, then when you come back together you’ll have more to talk about. Take days off from the theme parks, treat these as your rest/relaxation days. Our rest days are spent around the pool, making use of the games room (if in a villa), visiting a local coffee shop, shopping or visiting a quiet beach. 

To find out what we ate and where we stayed, visit our Places to eat in Orlando and Orlando, Florida blogs.

Until our next adventure x TRT

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