Maybe some of you, like me, were lucky enough to enjoy Disney World Florida many years back when your kids were small.
Now my kids are grown and eager to return with their own children, my grandkids aged 10 and 7. Fortunately they are happy for Granny and Grandpa to come along for the ride. In fact as Granny is so well versed in all things travel, why don’t we all sit back and let her work it out?
This planning has been such a full on experience that I think it justifies a blog in the hope it may help others.
First time round we travelled in October, in fact the day after The Hurricane! In those days it was OK to take children out of school for a short time and so we added a week onto the half term break. This gave us cheaper fares and a quieter time at the parks.
No so lucky this year as my daughter is a full time teacher, so not the slightest chance of traveling outside school hols. High season it has to be, along with astronomical airfares and apparently heaving theme parks, we shall see!
I started planning over a year ago, as I know the flights get extremely busy. Whilst the airline’s own websites don’t allow booking until 11 months ahead, tour operators can often secure space for you further in advance for just a small deposit.
Having worked in travel for many years, I decided to put our trip together piecemeal myself rather than buy a package. I bought BA flights and car hire through American Sky and after much research added on the Disney passes through them as well. These passes are very expensive and prices don’t vary much. I decided to fly into Tampa with BA for 2 reasons, firstly I know the airport and it tends to be less busy than Orlando, secondly flights are from Gatwick, near to my home. Tampa is just over an hours drive from Orlando.
We paid a bit more for an intermediate size car as from past experience it is worth it with some long drives ahead. To save being hit with lots of ‘extras’ at the car hire desk, I bought excess waiver insurance beforehand, easy to do online, and much cheaper, check out moneysupermarket.com for comparisons.
We are lucky enough to have just over 2 weeks for our trip so I decided the first 3 nights would be a chance to chill out at the beach, and clear any jetlag. I wanted somewhere near to Tampa airport so the children did not have a long drive on arrival. I settled on Treasure Island, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, I have never been there before so will report back. The idea is to have a few lazy days on the beach getting over the journey before hitting the parks of Orlando.
I soon realised we couldn’t afford a themed hotel or resort so plumped for a self catering villa 15 minutes drive from the Magic Kingdom. There are hundreds online but make sure you use a reputable website, Tripadvisor is a good place to start. Better still if you know someone with a recommendation, as we did, it takes the hassle out of trawling through the options. Its certainly good value, we have 4 bedrooms between the 6 of us (4 adults and 2 kids) a pool, BBQ and games room all for about £500 a week in high season.
Now comes the tricky bit – attraction planning. Before you do anything – BUY A BOOK! It’s so much easier than trawling the Internet, you can read and then re read, bookmarking as you go. The best one on the market in my opinion is ‘The Brits Guide to Orlando’ by Simon & Susan Veness. It explains the ins and outs of every attraction, ride and park.
Make sure you buy, and get your hands on, the Disney tickets at least 30 days in advance. That is the time you can go online to register your tickets and start reserving your Fast Pass choices. Fast pass didn’t exist when we travelled in the 1980’s, lines were not so bad then, maybe a half hour wait, possibly an hour. Now it seems the big guns have you queuing for 2 hours plus, so the Fast Pass sounds a great idea and I hope it works! But it does take the spontaneity out of your visits, as you have to book specific time slots for your favourite rides, and know in advance which park you will visit on a particular day. Guests at Disney Resort Hotels have access to the system 60 days in advance so have a big advantage.
We have a week so it will be a challenge to fit it all in, my advice – don’t stress, just do what you can, you can’t possibly see it all, and enjoy.
After all this excitement we will decamp to my favourite place, Sanibel Island, for a week of beach fun, I think we will need it!
Follow my blog updates for more advice and to see how we get on with our big Florida Adventure!