New Stuff at Disney and Universal

By the time I get to Orlando this year it will be 2 years since my last trip. There’s so much new stuff there since then, a lot can change in such a short time it would seem. That’s what I love about it, you can never be bored on a holiday there no matter how often you go, there’s always something new to see.

There’s so much I’m looking forward to!

It seems like ages ago now but Frozen Ever After hadn’t opened last time, I was a big fan of Maelstrom and was upset when they announced it was closing, it’s one of the few things I remembered from my very first trip to Orlando in 1998. It was such a fun little boat ride and knowing that the ride vehicles and track are still the same I’m intrigued to know how it all fits in. There’s obviously new Frozen themed character meets now too with the addition of everyone’s favorite Snowman.

Epcot also houses ‘Soarin’ which has also had an upgrade with more screens and a new journey taking in a worldwide trip rather than just a Californian one.  I was always amazed with Soarin and how they used scents to make the experience more realistic and make you feel like you’re really flying over and orangery. It’s going to  be interesting to see what that has in store now. Queues for that seem to be constantly long so that’s definitely one to book a fastpass for.

There’s loads of new character interactions with Baymax, Joy and Sadness and some of the Star Wars characters.

It looks like the Pandora will be open by September, I’ve heard whispering’s of a labor day opening and with black out dates for Animal Kingdom for certain ticket holders at the end of May it looks like it could be around that time. I could see nothing of the construction on my trip aside from the top of the cranes. Everything was fenced off but images appeared not long after showing the construction making pretty quick progress. I can’t say I was the biggest fan of Avatar, although it was visually stunning, I wasn’t hooked on the story and I have to say I was quite surprised when I heard that Disney were making a whole extra ‘land’ out of the idea of this one film. Having said that and reading about the 2 planned attractions it’s one of the things I’m most excited to see. Knowing that some of it, especially the planned boat ride is using some never before seen technology I just know that these attractions are going to be some of the most immersive and visual that Disney have ever created. Who knows after actually visiting Pandora I may have a new found appreciation for the film.

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Along with Pandora, Animal Kingdoms much blighted new evening show ‘Rivers of Light’  is now running. After a few shows in the middle of last year the show was pulled after Disney themselves were not happy with how it looked and was running. Most reviews I read about it said it was poor and lacking in that Disney magic. Although this show is unable to have any of the fireworks the shows in the other parks has and focuses on using water and light with music to create something, I think it has the potential to be something really unique and bring a different outlet to those evening shows that we’re all so used to. I’ve read a few reviews and seen a few pictures and it reminds me a little of Illuminations but obviously without the fireworks. There are lilypads that are lit up and open and also lots of animal floats.

There’s a new restaurant opened at Animal Kingdom as well. I love food and having booked the dining plan for this trip we plan on eating in as many different places as we can. Tiffins is the new place and is one of Disneys Signature Restaurants. The themeing is around the creation of the park with artwork and concept art all around. That is the best thing about eating in Disney is how much you forget where you are when you’re there, it can take you away and put you into a different world.

Being a bit of a Star Wars fan all the extra stuff around that excites me. New shows and behind the scenes things about all the films, I’m sure by the time I go there will be something else.

But the one thing I’m really excited about? There’s a Coca Cola cafe at Disney Springs with cocktails based around the flavours of the world you can try at Epcot (including the Beverley..) not only that but they’ve added the Coca Cola Polar Bear!! I’ve watched many a video of people meeting him in Las Vegas and I was so excited to see he’s in Orlando. We will be spending our first evening at Disney Springs so I’ll be making a bee-line for him!!

Universal has loads of new things to offer as well, with King Kong already open and the new Jimmy Fallon ride opening in April. The biggest news for Universal is the opening of the new Volcano Bay water park which I am looking forward to the most. I usually struggle with water parks, I find them hard to get around with crutches and standing on the stairs to queue for things and having to struggle with the inflatables just makes me not really want to bother. I think the extent of my enjoyment in them tends to be the lazy river and the wave pool. The idea of not having to queue or carry any inflatables is making it incredibly attractive to me. The family flume ride looks a lot safer than some of the other ones with quite a robust ride vehicle and the fact it’s the size of a theme park with different zones just like Universal I think will make it feel less busy than the others. I’m looking forward to being able to visit a water park late at night and seeing the volcano erupting. I have to say I have never been as excited about a water park as I am about this one!! I might actually be able to do more than just the lazy river on this one!

Food wise (cos we all know I like food) I am dying to try the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium!!  It’s a full service restaurant and although they serve savoury food like Steak and Fish dishes a lot of them have a sweet twist with things like Chocolate Stout Chicken Wings and Chocolate Gnocchi!!

I have 6 months before my trip so no doubt there will be a load more new things announced between now and then as well!! It’s going to be a packed trip!

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Planning Your Trip – Where to Start – Dining Plans

One of my most favourite things about Orlando is the food, I literally dream about it!! Seriously! A lot of the planning for our upcoming trip is choosing what places we want to eat in – the places we loved the most last time (Longhorns) and the places we couldn’t get a reservation in (Be Our Guest).

All the parks have some sort of Dining plan you can purchase, whether it be the Disney dining plan or one of the all day dining packages at some of the other parks.  Whether they are worthwhile for you is all about personal preference and of course how much you eat!!! Today I’ll cover Disney (as there’s loads to cover) and I’ll do the other parks in another post.

There are also some really fun dining experiences in all the parks as well but I’ll cover those and character dining in another blog 🙂 As well as the dining events such as Epcot food and wine and Magical Dining Month.

This trip we booked when the Disney Dining plan was being offered free – which is worth doing I think if you can. I haven’t had the plan before at WDW but I did have it on a recent trip to Disney Paris and from what I can gather the idea of it and the way that it works is pretty similar. Having on that trip was brilliant and it did allow us to eat in some of the fancier resturants without it costing us the earth.  Of course we could have just had quick service meals for a little less but when you like good food it’s well worth having.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking into how the plan works and some of the dining packages available  to those staying off site and in the other parks so hopefully this should give you a little more information on the Disney one and see if it’s worth it for you.

Obviously the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) is something that is much talked about on blogs and the internet and there are some really good sites that explain it all in intricate detail. I’m going to attempt to do it a little more concisely then if you want a bit more info you can head over to Disney Food Blog and fill your heads with loads more info!!

DDP is only available to those staying on site at Disney and are only available when booking your hotel and tickets as a Disney package. There are 3 different ‘plans’ available and give you the following for each NIGHT that you stay in and on site resort.

Quick Service Dining Plan – 2 Quick Service (counter) meals, 2 snacks and a refillable resort mug (roughly £38 per adult per night and £16 per child (3-9))

Dining Plan – 1 Table Service, 1 Quick Service, 2 Snacks and refillable resort mug (roughly £54 per adult and £20 per child)

Deluxe Dining Plan – 3 Table Service or Quick Service meals, 2 snacks and refillable resort mug. (roughly £84 per adult and £30 per child)

To put it into perspective the average quick service meal (entree and drink) costs around $17, average table service $30, Buffet $30 and Character Dining $50.

My Disney Experience (MDE) has all the menus and prices listed, just choose your restaurant and click on view menu. That should give you a really good indication of whether or not you would actually eat enough food to warrant paying for the plan and help you decide on the places you really want to eat in – be careful though it will make you hungry!

This year Disney also trialed a one day dining plan called ‘Dine on the Go’ through Jan-Feb which is Quick Service only and only valid at a few restaurants in Magic Kingdom. There’s no word on if this will be extended but I would imagine it’s something that they will continue to do if it’s popular.

How does it work?

Your dining credits are loaded on to your Magic Band or ticket. When you go to your selected restaurant you tell the server how many of your credits you want to redeem. You will be given a receipt that will show you how many credits you have left. I would think that there would be something in MDE that would show as well but looking online I have found no information as to whether it does or not.  I’ll let you know after my trip.

Where can I use my dining plan?

If you’re looking on the MDE app at restaurants it will say if dining plans are accepted or not.

What is the difference between ‘counter service’ and ‘table service’?

Table service is where you would be sat down at a restaurant and your order taken by a server and bought to your table. Counter Service is what we expect from a fast food restaurant over here. You order your food and then take it yourself to the table.

I don’t want to just eat burgers all the time is there anything else?

It’s a common misconception that ‘quick service’ just means burgers.and hotdogs. There are some surprising things on offer at Disney in Quick Service locations.

Magic Kingdom – Be Our Guest has quick service for Breakfast and Lunch with some french inspired food, Columbia Harbour House has healthy salads and fish, and Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn is mexican inspired with Fajitas and Tacos.

Hollywood Studios – ABC Commissary has club sandwiches and Mediterranean style salads,  Catalina Eddies has pizzas and salad.

Animal Kingdom – has loads of different food in keeping with the african/asian themeing of the park Flame Tree Barbeque – has BBQ meats, salads and ribs,  Harambe Market has curry, flatbreads and skewers.

Epcot unsurprisingly has the most choice with food and there are loads of quick service places in Epcot with some incredible looking menus Katsura Grill is Japanese with sushi and noodles, Kringlan Bakeri Og Cafe is in Norway with fresh sandwiches and meatballs and lots of cakes!, La Cantina De San Angel can be found in Mexico and serves all sorts of tacos, Lotus Blossom in China does a variety of rice and noodles, Sommerfest in Germany has different types of german sausage and strudel, Sunshine Seasons has the most choice and is very much like food courts in the mall with all different variety of  foods all under one (very big) roof. The one for me that is top of my list is Tangierine Cafe in Morrocco with wraps, hummus and taboleh.

Epcot is quite literally foodie heaven!!

What does a quick service credit get me?

It gets you an entree (main as we call it here) and a non alcoholic drink. It does not include dessert. That’s what your snack credits are for.

You can use a quick service credit to get 3 snacks as long as they’re all from the same participating place and purchased at the same time. This would be particularly useful during Epcots food and wine festival as some of the food stands will allow you to do this meaning you can quite literally eat your way around the world.

What does a Table Service credit get me?

An entree, dessert and a  non alcoholic drink at a table service restaurant. Or a buffet and drink at a buffet restaurant.

Can I have a starter (appetizer) instead of dessert?

Strictly speaking no, but it’s always worth an ask as I’ve had differing answers to this question.

What can I use my snack credits for?

Snack credits can be used for bottled water, juice and fountain sodas. Most bakery products and ice creams. Generally most things around $5 are covered by your snack credits at places that accept the dining plans. If in doubt ask a cast member. You can get the Mickey Ice Creams, Mickey Pretzels, Dole Whip, La Fous Brew (but not in a souvenir cup)…

Can I use my Dining Plan for character dining?

If you have the Dining Plan or the Deluxe dining plan you can use your table service credits for Character Dining.  Most character dining will use 1 of your credits with the exception of Cinderellas Royal Table which will take 2 of your credits.

Can I use 2 counter service credits and have table service?

No. You can only use the counter service for counter service food. You are unable to double up on them.

How do I find out how many credits each restaurant/meal costs?

The servers will tell you but I found a really interesting page on WDW Prep school that lists it all for you.

What if I want to use extra credits than my daily allowance?

The credits do not have be used by ‘day’. For example if you have the regular plan you don’t have to have 1 Quick, 1 table and use both your snack credits every single day. You just have however many days you’re there to use them all. Most Brits won’t spend all of their trip at Disney so the days you’re at other parks like Universal or days at the beach you won’t be using your dining credits.

So you could use 2 table service credits in a day if you wanted to. You could even use 3. You’ll still have enough to keep you fed for the rest of your trip.

I’ve got a refillable mug can I use that in the parks?

No. You can only use your refillable mugs to fill up in resort hotels not the parks.

What isn’t included?

Tips are not included with the dining plan and neither is alcohol.

Do I need to book?

Some of the more popular restaurants and character dining would require an advance dining reservation (ADR). These can get booked up really quick. You are able to book these 180 days before the day you wish to dine using your MDE app. Quick Service you do not need to book. These can get quite busy during peak times eat a big breakfast and have a late lunch or an early dinner to avoid the queues if you’re going for quick service.

Can I buy the plan just for a few days of my trip?

No you can’t. It has to be for the duration of your stay on the Disney resort. Also all members of the party have to have the same level of dining plan.

Hopefully that should have answered some of the questions surrounding the dining plan. I’ll be able to go into more detail and tell you all exactly how it works after my trip in September and I’ll no doubt have some restaurant recommendations for you as well.

It’s a personal preference with the dining plan though so it may not be for everybody. I think it’s a great idea but I do like to eat so for me and my family it’s worth it.

 

 

Planning Your Trip – Where to Start – Fastpasses

UPDATE – It would seem that some of the info I have is out of date. Fastpasses at Disney are now unlimited but you can still only book 3 in advance per person per day. These can be booked 30 days before each day of your visit when offsite.

Universal do include some of the Harry Potter rides with the Express Pass, however it doesn’t include Hogwarts Express, Gringotts and Forbidden Journey.

Current lists of what rides are included can be found on the official park websites

There is so much information on the internet about Fastpasses for all the parks and My Disney Experience (MDE) and as I’m told on a daily basis ‘it’s a bit of a minefield’ researching an Orlando holiday I thought I’d try and condense it all a little and give a bit of a guide to how it all works.

DISNEY

My Disney Experience is for want of a better word – amazing! It’s a complete hive of information and will give you pretty much everything you need to be able to plan your days within the Disney parks and resorts.

How much do they cost?

Fastpasses are included free of charge with your Disney tickets.

So how do I start?

You need to either download the MDE app search your app store for ‘My Disney Experience’ it’ll have a Mickey Ears logo or you can do it online

You just set up an account much like you would a social media account with your email address and you’re away. If you’re visiting with a very large group I recommend setting up one account and giving the log in details to the others in the party.

If you have an on site booking you can input your booking number in ‘add reservation’ and all your details will come up.

If you’re off site, once you receive your park tickets you are able to ‘add tickets’ to the account. To do this you can either scan the QR code or type in the number on the back – you need to scratch off the silver panel to do that – it will NOT invalidate your tickets. You are able to assign tickets to certain members of the party. It’s worth either writing names or initials on the back of them so you know who’s is who’s if there is a large group as when it comes to getting in the parks fingerprints are taken so you need to be using the same ticket every day.

This is also where your Memory Maker photos will go (I’ll get into that on another post) so it’s easy to keep them all in one place.

How many fastpasses do I get?

You get 3, per person per day. These can be booked in advance and you’re able to book 1 more on the day.

How do I book?

When you log in you should see this:

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You are then able to choose a date and a park and select the rides you wish to book for, It will then give you the choice of times you can book. If there is more than one ticket connected to your account it will ask you who you want to book the passes for. You can choose all or some.

NB : You are able to book these 30 days before you go if you are staying off site and 60 if you are onsite. If you’re trying too soon – as I was – it will then tell you the date you can start booking them.

If you are able to book once you’ve selected your date/park this is what comes up to show the timings.

mdefastpass

Once you have picked your time you have an hour window from then to ride. All your fastpasses will show in your MDE account so with the free Wi-Fi in the parks you will be able to see day by day what your plans are.

Once you get to the ride at the right time you need to go to the fastpass queue and you scan your ticket (or Magicband) on the mickey and in you go.

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Its that easy!!

How do I choose which rides to fastpass?

The app for MDE has all the current wait times showing for all the ride and some of the character meetings. If it’s something you are able to fastpass it will show you. (Not all rides/experiences have fastpass enabled)

My advice is to download the app once your holiday is booked and dip in and out of it on different days and times. This will then show you which rides tend to continuously have long wait times, these are the ones you would need to fastpass. In some of the parks they catergorise the rides. Epcot is one of those. You are not able to book 3 fastpasses for the premium rides for example. So you wouldn’t be able to book Test Track, Soarin’ and Mission Space. All this information will come up when you go to book.

Some of the more popular character greetings you are able to fastpass – Mickey in Toontown Theatre for example always has a pretty long wait – unless you go straight there as soon as the park opens or during a parade – this is well worth booking a fast pass for! For those of you with Princesses of your own, meeting the likes of Cinderella, Belle and Anna and Elsa is a must whilst at Disney – these always have pretty long queues.

UNIVERSAL

Universal have their own version of fastpasses – called Express Passes. These are only available through Universal directly and allow you to enter the rides via a different queue. You are not able to book these rides in advance.

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How much do they cost?

The prices of these vary and are seasonal. There are also 2 types of them, Express Passes and Unlimited ones.

You can buy passes in advance from the official Universal Bookings UK site. You can buy 1 day 1 park passes or a 1 day-2 park pass which I think are much better value. You can easily do all of the rides in both parks in one day with an Express Pass, you can then visit again another day and not have to worry about getting on everything.

Alternatively you can buy the unlimited ones on the gate or from the UniversalOrlando.com website.  They are more expensive but they do include unlimited rides on all Express Pass enabled rides.

Do the include the Harry Potter rides?

No they don’t express passes do not include any of the rides within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Is there any other way to get Express Passes?

Yes there is. Select Universal hotels will include unlimited Express Passes as part of your room rate. If there is a family of 4 it actually can work out cheaper to do that rather than purchasing the express passes. For a one night stay you would be given 2 days of Express Passes, one for the day you check in and one for the day you check out.

All Universal hotels allow you to enter the park early giving you access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter before the park opens to the public.

TOP TIP: If you don’t mind splitting up your group and going on rides alone most rides have a single rider queue which is another way to get on the rides a little quicker than the regular line.

SEAWORLD PARKS AND ENTERTAINMENT

Seaworld and Busch Gardens have their own versions of these as well called Quik Queue you are able to buy these in advance from any of the ticket resellers.

These work exactly the same way as Express Passes and vary in price according to season and also if you want unlimited or not.

These do work out cheaper to buy in advance before you go, although you can purchase on the gate and you are also able to purchase one time tickets for use on one particular ride.

You can get these free if you stay in any of the Seaworld Resort hotels.

Planning Your Trip – Where to Start -Where to sleep?

There are 3 main types of accommodation when you’re staying in Orlando (although I’m sure someone will mention something else) but these are the main ones us brits tend to use when we go.

On Site Resort Hotels

Off Site Hotels

Self Catering Villas

All have their benefits and it’ll be down to you and your budget and preferences to decide which is the best option for you. But I’ll give you a bit of information on each and the extras you get when staying on site that should hopefully make your decision a little easier.

Self Catering Villas

If there is a large group of you the self catering villas are a great cost effective way to stay in Orlando.

Most of these are in lovely gated communities and all come with their own pools, fully equipped kitchen, cable, spacious bedrooms and are really quite luxurious. I’ve stayed in villas a few times and they are really nice when there’s a family of you going. It’s like a home away from home and means you don’t have to eat out all the time. You can save a bit of money by going to a local Walmart and stocking up on food. They usually come with BBQ’s as well so that’s a really nice thing to be able to do with a whole family around the pool.

You can have the pools heated as well – which is usually at an extra cost. Bear that in mind if you’re going at a slightly cooler time of year – although that being said, none of it is particularly cool to us.

Price wise I’ve looked at some prices for a group of 10 and they’re from £1200 and up – obviously you pay more for more amenities. You can get all sorts of themed villas as well and there are plenty that are Disney themed if you search for them – if you’re not staying IN the magic this is the next best thing.

If you are in a villa you would need a car. Because these are in the gated communities there is less public transport links so you’d rely a lot on taxis. Having your own car is a must I would say if you’re using this type of accommodation.

The communities are really safe and secure with hardly any traffic, you’re usually given a code for the gates or a pass to allow you to enter so it’s not publicly accessible.

Some of these are built around lakes so you have some really lovely views outside and there are a lot of these villas on the golf resorts if there are any golfers in the family.

I remember there being a communal bigger pool on one of the resorts I stayed in and a kids play area as well but all these things will be listed when you choose a villa. Most will also have Wi-Fi now.

Looking at some of the villa locations the large majority seem to be in Kissimmee , which is where I stayed. I LOVE Kissimmee, it’s pretty central to all the parks and is about 20-25 minutes to each of them. There is also a lot to do in Kissimmee itself, loads of places to eat and it’s home of Old Town which is one of my absolute favourite places to visit when I’m in Orlando.

I couldn’t find my photos of my villa but these are a pretty good indication of a standard one. Google will throw up a good lot of great sites if you type in Cheap Orlando Villas.

Perks of a Villa: Privacy. Own Pool. Perfect for families. Secure. Lots of Space. Home Comforts.

Downsides: Lack of public transport links so a car is really a must.

Off Site Hotels

If you’re a small family or a couple or even going on your own then an Off Site Hotel would be the best option for you.

The large majority of hotels in the Orlando area are on International drive and most of those will provide free shuttle buses to all of the theme parks.

There are also quite a few in and around Kissimmee.

International Drive is a great location to stay in, there are public transport links all along it with the I-Ride Trolley and Lynx Buses.

You can get 14 nights in a budget hotel for around £300.

Most if not all hotels will have their own usually heated outdoor pool and free Wi-Fi. Rooms can be basic but if you’re not planning on spending much time in your hotel and it’s basically just a base to sleep then that doesn’t really matter.

There are some preferable locations for staying on I-Drive. If you want to be close to entertainment and things to do in the evening anything that is near Pointe Orlando or I-Drive 360 is a great place to stay. You’re within walking distance from many restaurants, shops, mini golf. Most rooms and hotels are pretty similar with the layout etc but they are much nicer than any budget hotel you would book here in the UK. Rooms are always clean, ice machines on most floors. Generally most rooms will have 2 double beds in them rather than the single ones we have.

I prefer the hotels to Villas myself. I think it feels more like a holiday when you’re not cooking your own food or doing your washing.

If you don’t want to drive or hire a car this is by far the best option.

Perks of an off site hotel: Cheaper. Good public transport links and free shuttles to the parks. Close to shops, restaurants and entertainment.

Downsides: Having to plan days around the public transport times if you’re not driving. Pools can be busy.

Resort Hotels

All 3 of the major theme park brands have either on site or very close hotels that have many unique offerings that you wouldn’t get when staying off site. Of course this is the most expensive way to stay in Orlando but it’s an amazing thing to do – even if you just experience it once (or twice).

Disney Resort Hotels

Of course Disney, being the biggest of all the resorts has the most choice when it comes to hotels and they do cater for every budget, from campsites to deluxe villas.

Campgrounds

Value Resort Hotels

Moderate Resort Hotels

Deluxe Resort Hotels

Deluxe Villas

There are also a few Select Deluxe Hotels that although are NOT owned by Disney they are on property and they also allow guests the Extra Magic Hours.

When staying on Disney Resorts all guests will benefit from Extra Magic Hours (EMH) meaning you can enter the parks an hour early (different parks on different days) or stay after closing. When we went during the summer months EMH for Magic Kingdom were midnight-2am on a weekend.

You also have free parking on resort which is a saving of $20 a day as well as use of all the inter-park transport buses, boats and the monorail.

When staying on Disney you also have the option of booking a Dining Plan which is great as it takes all the stress out of having to budget for the food you eat while you’re there. There are several different options with the Dining Plan and I will go into that on another post. There are certain times of year when it is offered free of charge when you book certain resorts. I love the idea of the free dining but looking at prices of food etc at Disney and having been before I think it’s actually only worth the money if you’re going to eat in some of the nicer restaurants every day. I have it for my upcoming trip so I’ll be able to comment more on that when I get back.

If you’re going with little ones some resorts also offer kids club and in-room babysitting.

All resorts have pools and the type of pool they have will vary dependent on the level of resort you go for.

Room Wise most of them look pretty similar its the recreation and food options that make the difference to the experience but all have that Disney Magic.

I stayed at All Star Music for my last trip and it really showed me what a difference it makes staying within Disney. The pools were great and the rooms were nice and clean, the only thing that let it down was the food court. There wasn’t a lot of choice and I felt like I was in Butlins. It wasn’t that clean at all and there was a bit of a lack of the Disney customer service that you would expect staying there. I was so looking forward to being told to ‘Have a Magical Day’ and ‘Welcome Home’ as you walk in which I’d been told happens when you stay on site but we didn’t get any of that 😦 There was a family of 9 of us and 2 of us had interconnecting rooms which was really useful when you have a tired little one and grandparents in the ajoining room, you can just open the door while she’s sleeping, and Nanny and Grandad can babysit while you have a meal out 🙂 This next trip we’re staying at Caribbean Beach so I’ll be able to tell you if it does actually make much of a difference choosing a more expensive resort.

It’s worth pointing out that you can have packages with and without park tickets but if you want Dining you need to purchase your tickets through Disney.

Prices start from £1500 for a family of 4 for 14 nights – hotel only.

Perks of the on-site at Disney: Extra Magic Hours. Free Parking. Disney Dining.

Downsides: Expensive.

Universal Resort Hotels

Universal are adding more resorts and growing quite a lot with the addition of Volcano Bay this year.

Again they cater for every budget.

Prime Value Hotel

Preferred Hotels

Premier Hotels

Staying on all the Universal hotels you benefit from early entry to Wizarding World of Harry Potter letting you in a whole hour early so you can get most of it done before the park gets busy.

There is also again the free transportation to the parks.

Portofino Bay, Loews Pacific and Hard Rock hotels also include Unlimited Express Passes. Having a 1 night stay in these hotels can work out cheaper than buying the passes on the gate. They will give you one for the day you check in and one for the day you check out.

Rooms in each look pretty similar and general room amenities much like the Disney resorts don’t change much. It’s the recreation that makes the difference.

Again as with Disney you can purchase the rooms with and without the park tickets included. Express Passes are given regardless of if you have booked direct.

Universal hotels are best booked for 1 or 2 nights and the rest of your stay On I-Drive or at Disney a 14 night stay in Loews Royal pacific came in at £2500!

Perks of staying on site at Universal: Early Entry to Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Express Passes at selected hotels.

Downsides: Expensive.

Seaworld Resort Hotels

Although Seaworld don’t have any ‘on-resort’ hotels as such they do have some hotel partners with a few perks.

Partner Hotels near Seaworld.

You get quite a few benefits staying in these and each one will give you free Quik Queue tickets, free Seaworld Rescue tour, Early entry in the summer and complimentary transport to and from the park.

You’d also get discounts on food and merchandise.

I have stayed on one of the Seaworld resort hotels and they are really nice but there’s no difference really to staying in one of the other hotels from that particular chain in another location in Orlando if you’re not wanting the extra Seaworld Perks.

14 night stay is coming in at around £1500.

Perks of staying on site: Seasonal Early Entry, Complimentary Quik Queue, On Site food and merchandise discounts.

Downsides: No Seaworld ‘themeing’ as such and not actually ‘on site’. Expensive.

*ALL PRICES ARE BASED ON FAMILY OF 4, 2 ADULTS 2 CHILDREN TRAVELING BETWEEN 5TH-19TH MAY 2017 IN LOWEST PRICE HOTELS

Planning your Trip – Where to Start! – Buying Park Tickets

I realized that although I’ve given you loads of tips and info on what to do when you get to Orlando what I haven’t really touched on is how to plan from the beginning!! So let me give you some basic info about Orlando and what there is to do, there are still people out there who don’t realize that Walt Disney World is not just ‘the park with the castle’…..

Orlando is a 8/9 hour flight from the UK. My big tip with booking flights is to leave the UK as early as possible to get to Orlando late afternoon – you’re able to have a look about go out for some food and then go to bed at the same time as you would at home. I find this stops any jetlag you may suffer from. Coming home, always get the latest possible evening flight, giving you at least half the day to maybe visit your favourite park or do a bit of shopping..

Orlando has 3 main theme park resorts. Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, Seaworld Parks and Entertainment.

Walt Disney World (the clue is in the name, it is a WORLD) not just one park. Disney is made up of:

Magic Kingdom (the one with the Castle)

Epcot (the one with the Golf Ball)

Animal Kingdom (the one with the tree)

Hollywood Studios (the one that used to have the Hat…)

Blizzard Beach

Typhoon Lagoon

Disney Springs

Disneys Boardwalk

ESPN World Wide of Sports

Disney Resort Hotels

Universal Orlando Resort is made up of:

Universal Studios (including Diagon Alley of Wizarding World of Harry Potter)

Universal’s Islands of Adventure (including Hogsmeade and Hogwarts of Wizarding World of Harry Potter)

Volcano Bay

Citywalk

Universal Resort Hotels

Seaworld Parks and Entertainment is made up of:

Seaworld

Aquatica

Busch Gardens

Discovery Cove

Most of the parks are in Orlando with the exception of Busch Gardens which is just over an hour away on the west coast in Tampa.

All the tickets that we can purchase in the UK are valid for unlimited access for 14 days, and on first trips people always say ‘but I won’t need 14 days’ – you will!! Buying your tickets in the UK before you travel is a lot cheaper than purchasing them on the gate in Orlando. The 14 day tickets are not available once you get there. With these tickets you’re able to ‘hop’ between the parks meaning you can visit more than one in a day if you like and Disney parks tend to stay open late. It gives you the flexibility to be able to see the evening shows at Disney but spend a day somewhere else if you wanted. ‘Hopping’ at Universal will include the use of the Hogwarts Express which transports you between the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter. All 14 day tickets for the Seaworld Parks will include complimentary bus travel to Busch Gardens.

The only park that you cannot visit multiple times is Discovery Cove. This is a one day experience where you can swim with Dolphins if you wish. This is a fully all inclusive day with all your food and drink (including alcohol) included. You have to book a date for this as it gets booked up quickly and prices vary throughout the year. All the Discovery Cove tickets include unlimited access to Seaworld and Aquatica, there is an Ultimate package which will also include Busch Gardens.

Are there any waterparks included?

Yes. Disney has Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, Universal has Volcano Bay when it opens and Aquatica is Seaworlds offering.

What Parks Shall I Visit?

If you’re unsure what parks you want to visit my advice to you is to use YouTube to watch some holiday planning videos that show you what there is at each of the parks.

Think about who there is in your party and what would be of interest to them.

Surely I won’t need 14 day tickets?

You may not think you do and you may think that buying a smaller amount of days will save you money. That all depends on what parks you want to see.

If you want to visit all the parks at Disney including the Water Parks you will need at least 9 days! The 14 day tickets include water parks and park hopping. On the gate you’d pay $60 for each of the water parks and around $120 per day for each of the theme parks, plus an extra $55 to park hop. And don’t forget the 6% sales tax you have to add as well.

If you want to see all of Universal then as of June you’d probably need 4 days. One for each of the theme parks, one to hop between the 2 and see things you might not have on the other days and then a whole extra day (maybe 2 it looks HUGE) for Volcano Bay. Again the 14 day tickets are much more cost effective than buying 3 days on the gate and including the hopping.

Seaworld, Aquatica, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove you could spend a day in each and see everything. One day in each of the parks (with the exception of Discovery Cove) is around $70 (plus the sales tax). If you want to visit one more than once or all of them then again the 14 day tickets work out best.

Ticket Types

In the UK you are able to buy the 14 day tickets that I mentioned. There are many ticket sellers in the UK who provide these at a lesser cost than travel agents and usually the parks directly.

It is really important to check that whoever you buy from is providing you with real gate ready tickets. This means that when you get to the parks you are able to go straight in. Some travel agents will provide you with vouchers which you would need to exchange when you get there, meaning you have to queue for them BEFORE you get in the queue to get in.

You will also need your ticket numbers to be able to book your Disney FastPasses, although these numbers can be given to you by your travel agent 30 days before you travel this isn’t automatic and you may find yourself chasing them for it and missing out on booking some of the rides you want to do.

There are a number of resellers in the UK who send real tickets and will have offers on throughout the year.  There are links to some of those in the useful links page.

Most of these are Orlando experts and will give great advice.

Most will allow you to secure the current prices with a small deposit and will give up to 6 weeks before you leave to pay the balance.

The tickets all have the same names with the sellers:

Disney Ultimate

Universal Explorer

Seaworld 3 park

Discovery Cove Standard ticket and Discovery Cove Ultimate ticket.

All the resellers above do combination ticket packages which works out better than purchasing them individually.  They will all have different names but they will include the same tickets within them. Each of the tickets will have 14 days on it from the first day of activation so if you’re going for longer than 14 days you are able to stagger that so you can visit parks for the whole duration of your trip.

You cannot buy a combination ticket to include Discovery Cove. This is a stand alone ticket and will include your entry to the other parks owned by Seaworld.

Do they offer discounted tickets for Disabled or free carer tickets?

No. And the reason for this is that 90% of the rides and attractions are fully accessible. Universal do a small discount on the gate but this is for day tickets only and it the saving is minimal. There is a system in place for guests with disabilities. I go into  much more detail here – Disney with Disabilities

What’s included in my ticket?

All the tickets above will include unlimited park hopping access to all the parks owned by that company.

Disney tickets also include Disneys Fastpass which allows you to skip the line at some of the key attractions by being able to book your time on the ride 30 days before you go (60 if you’re staying on site). It gives you 3 fast passes per person per day which you can book on your My Disney Experience (MDE) account. The app for this gives you all the current wait times for rides so by looking at it a bit before you go you’re able to figure out what rides you would need to book for. Peter Pans Flight always has a really long line, as does Soarin’, some of the character meets will have a long wait you can book some of them too.

Currently the UK tickets also include Disney Memory Maker (or photopass) free of charge. This is ALL of your professional photos taken around the parks, ride photos (and videos for the ones that have them), character photos and all the ones in the scenic places around the parks. These are all digital photos that are uploaded to your MDE account when the photographer scans your ticket. You can then download them all when you get home and get them printed off when you like. I found when I did mine that if you leave them in your shopping basket with some of these companies they start to send you discount codes so you will buy them. Photobox is what I used for my 2000 odd when I came home. It’s a great thing to have with the tickets it’s worth $170.

Disney tickets also include mini golf free every day (before 4pm) there are 2 mini golf courses on Disney, Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens and they’re so much fun. Nothing like the boring golf we have here.

You can also use the Oak Trail golf course if you want a ‘normal’ round of golf. Tickets include a round and club hire.

Universal tickets include park hopping as well – this means you can use the Hogwarts Express to travel between the 2 Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter.

Seaworld tickets currently include free parking if you’re purchasing a ticket to include all 3 parks and you do get the free transportation to Busch Gardens as well if you don’t fancy the drive.

Can I skip the lines?

Yes you can.

Disney’s Fastpass is free and included in the tickets.

Universal have their own called an Express Pass which you can only buy from them directly. It’s more cost effective to buy a 1-day 2- park Express meaning you can do all the rides in both the parks in one day. With an Express Pass it’s easy to do that. The UK based booking site has them and they vary season to season – these tickets allow you one ride on each of the rides that day. You can get unlimited ones on the gate. Some of the hotels on the Universal Resort include free express passes and early entry to Harry Potter.

Seaworld and Busch Gardens have a ‘QuikQueue’ ticket which is the same sort of thing. All the re-sellers I mentioned sell an unlimited one which gives you as many rides as you like on each of the rides. This varies in price by park and season.

None of the waterparks have fastpasses. Volcano Bay however has a virtual queuing system using a wristband called ‘TapuTapu’ which allows you to select the ride and time you want and will vibrate when you can get on, meaning you can do other things while you’re waiting.

Hopefully that should answer most of the questions you have about tickets. If there’s anything else you want to know or I’ve missed let me know.