Seaworld – Penguins Up Close Tour – Review

Seaworld do some unbelievable behind the scenes animal encounters that you may not know about.

My husband loves Penguins and looking at doing some sort of up close thing here in the UK is really blimmin expensive so for Christmas a few years back I booked him a Penguins Up Close tour for when we visited Seaworld.  It’s something you book directly through Seaworld and was around £35 each! Peanuts really.

But was it any good?

Yes ,yes it was!

You check in near the Sealions and are taken into the Penguin house where you meet your tour guide and are given a little information on what Penguins they have at Seaworld and all about the conservation efforts they have in place.

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Here you also learn all about how to approach the Penguins and the health and safety side of it all – remember these are animals with really big pointy beaks in some cases and can do a lot of damage if you don’t handle them carefully.

We were told we would meet a few different types of Penguin and we’d get to pet them. Sadly this didn’t happen due to other members of our group not really paying attention to the rules which did cut our experience down a little.

You’re then taken through to the penguin enclosure – top tip it is absolutely FREEZING, you can see from our pictures that we were not prepared for that and spent the next part of the experience – around 30 minutes shivering!!

You are not able to go into the actual enclosure you are stood behind a small gate and the penguins do come over – they’re quite curious animals.

It was amazing being that close to them and seeing how different all the types of penguins are.  The guide was brilliant at asking any questions you may have and telling you what the different noises they make actually mean.

Your guide will then find a willing Penguin (or penguins if you’re lucky) and bring it out to meet you. We met a rather large emperor penguin.

You get to pet it which was awesome although every-time we did it let out this incredibly loud screeching noise – perfectly normal behavior apparently but it did make us jump – hence the laughing and the slightly wary faces we have.

Apart from the experience being a little short – it’s only a 45 minute one. It was so good. It was interesting and anything that allows me to pet an animal I wouldn’t normally see is a win for me.

It’s small groups of around 6/8 and does need to be pre-booked. You can also do the Penguin encounter as part of the behind the scenes tour which will also show you manatees and sea turtles and allow you to touch a shark too. You can book this one through most of the ticket resellers here and that will work out less than purchasing through Seaworld directly, it’s around £23.

If you want to do something a little different at Seaworld then I highly recommend this tour. They do have a few others as well, same sort of idea and price but with different animals. Currently Sharks, Dolphins and Sealions (which may have to be my next one).

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Orlando – When’s the best time to visit? What’s on this year?

This is probably one of the most asked questions from people who are planning a trip to Florida. The answer is a really hard one! Orlando is a great place to visit whatever time of the year and there’s plenty to do whatever season you’re there.

Many of you are tied to the school holidays when you visit and obviously during these times it will be a bit busier than term time but with fast passes available for all the parks you can somewhat avoid some of the queues.

Crowding aside what are the other deciding factors in choosing when you visit?  For me I like to go when some of the seasonal events are on. Some of these you will be well aware of and some you might not be. So, here’s a little guide to what annual events are on this year. And a little info on what sort of weather you’re likely to have .Hopefully this will help you decide when you visit or give you some other things to experience on your trip.

MARCH : Going this month there is loads to do!! Weather wise March is one of my favourite times to go. It’s hot but not too hot and I’ve never had any issues with storms or bad weather. You might need a light jacket if you’re out in the evenings but you can go to waterparks and the beach and not be cold and get a tan.

HOURS OF SUN IN MARCH – AVERAGE 9 HOURS PER DAY

Disney has the annual Flower and Garden festival which has all sorts of topiaries all over Epcot of many different Disney characters. It’s included in your park admission and this year they also have loads of live music. Called ‘Garden Rocks’ throughout March and into May you can find some well known names in music playing free shows in the America Gardens Theatre. This month you can see Pointer Sisters, Simple Plan (my favourite band I’m so upset I’m not going), Plain White T’s, Night Ranger and The Little River Band. A full list of times can be found here.

Universal also has some live music as part of their annual Mardi Gras event in Citywalk. Again this is included with park admission and this runs through March. Acts playing this month are UB40, Toby Keith, Jason Derulo, Earth, Wind and Fire and the All American Rejects.

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Seaworld has a food festival on and you can see live music there as well. All included in your standard park admission. Discover loads of new cuisines from all over the world in the ‘Seven Seas Food Festival’. Live music every weekend until mid May and this month you can see ZZ Top and Phillip Phillips (whoever that is!)

For something a little different. Crayola Experience at Florida Mall is having Cirque month with La Nouba themed crafts. Some of the make up artists will be there to paint your faces like the performers in La Nouba and some of the costumes and props will be on display.

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There’s golf on at the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Club from 13th – 19th, Winter Park Sidewalk Arts Festival is also on this month, and the Lakeridge Winery has a wine and Seafood Festival.

It’s always worth checking out Hard Rock Live, House of Blues and Velvet Sessions. You never know who will be playing when you’re there.

March is a great time to visit if you’re a music fan!!

APRIL – Weather wise April is pretty similar to March, although it can get slightly hotter towards the end of the month.  It is Easter holidays so you’ll find the parks are fairly busy.

HOURS OF SUN IN APRIL – AVERAGE OF 10 PER DAY

Epcot still has the Flower and Garden festival and during ‘Garden Rocks’ this month you can see Blood, Sweat and Tears, Gin Blossoms, The Orchestra (feat members of ELO), Expose and Berlin.

Hollywood Studios has the Star Wars Galactic night from 13-16th as well. These are evening separate ticketed events and will include stars of the films doing talks and a scavenger hunt through the park amoungst other things. Tickets are $129 and need to be booked in advance it’s something that’s likely to sell out.

Seaworld’s Seven Seas food Festival is still on and this month you can see Jack Hanna, Village People, Commadores and more.

There’s a big Star Wars convention on during April the Star Wars Celebration. Conventions in the US are crazy so if you’re a Star Wars fan this would be well worth a visit.

star wars celebration

April is also Wrestlemania month at the Camping World Stadium on 2nd. This is a huge thing in the wrestling calendar and a really fun night out. If you like football then the soccer season starts so you may be able to catch Orlando City Soccer

MAY – Getting into May the weather is starting to get a little hotter. More humid and a lot warmer in the evenings.

HOURS OF SUN IN MAY – AVERAGE OF 10 PER DAY

Epcots Flower and Garden festival finishes this month so it’s your last chance to see the Park with all the awesome Disney themed flowers. Last few shows at America Gardens Theatre are Starship, Hermans Hermits and The Spinners.

Seaworlds food festival also finishes this month so be sure to check it out.

Legoland has Lego Star Wars days throughout May showing some of the most famous scenes from the movies made of Lego and opportunities to build your own as well as a Star Wars themed costume parade. This is included in standard park admission.

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The Orlando International Fringe festival is on this month which is modeled on the famous one in Edinburgh as well as another convention. The MegaCon is a huge comic/movie/gaming convention and has some incredible guests including Stan Lee and Tim Curry.

Football season is in full swing so now is a good time to get to a game.

JUNE/JULY/AUGUST – Orlando starts to get really hot during June, when you’re looking at high temperatures in the 90s. It’s really important to keep yourself hydrated during the summer months but all the inside buildings are air conditioned and are great places to cool off during the hottest times of the day. These are the busiest months to visit due to the summer holidays over here and during August you may experience some storms and heavy rain. The weather forecasts in Orlando are incredibly accurate and they can predict the times of showers pretty much to the minute. They’re usually over as quick as they start and don’t ruin your holiday at all. Standing out in the rain is quite nice, it’s like a hot shower.

AVERAGE HOURS OF SUN – JUNE 11, JULY 10, AUGUST 9

By the summer the 2 BIG new theme park openings should be well ironed out and hopefully should be less busy the further into the summer you get. Obviously I’m talking about Universals Volcano Bay and Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, both of these are scheduled to open towards the end of May and both look AMAZING!

It’s always worth checking out places like the Amway center in Orlando during the summer. There’s usually some really good touring music festivals.

SEPTEMBER – My other favourite time of the year to visit. September in Orlando weather wise is similar to March. Although it is classed as hurricane season so you are likely to get a bit of rain.

HOURS OF SUN IN SEPTEMBER – 9 HOURS PER DAY

September means HALLOWEEN!! I know it’s not strictly until October but they do like to drag it out!! Both Disney and Universal start their Halloween festivities in September.

Disney – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party! One of my favourite things I have ever done and great for adults and children alike. Magic Kingdom is decorated for Halloween and there are themed parades and show, appearances from rare characters (including most of the Villains) and the best bit is the Treat or Treating around the parks. You can get so much candy!!  It’s the only time adults are allowed to dress up in the park as well. It’s not included in your ticket price and is a separate ticketed event but it’s well worth it. Dates for this year haven’t been announced yet but they usually start around the second week of the month. Prices are around $90 and can only be purchased from Disney directly. This is an evening event only.

 

Universal – Halloween Horror Nights, this is a lot more grown up than the Disney one and puts you inside some of the most popular horror movies and TV Shows. They have a series of ‘houses’ all with different themes. Each one has live actors in them transporting you into the film or TV show it’s based on. It’s not for the faint hearted!! Dates for this have been announced and are on selected evenings from 15th September. Past themes have been American Horror Story, Poltergeist, The Walking Dead and Friday the 13th. You can also dine with the scare actors and they have shows and special events as well. Again this isn’t included as part of your ticket price and you do need to purchase separate tickets for it. You can do this in advance from most of the UK resellers, it’s worth getting a Frequent Fear Pass which will allow unlimited access to selected dates during your stay. Prices are around £90 for these. This is also an evening event.

September is also Magical Dining Month. This is a fab event that lots of restaurants in the area participate in with loads of food offers. Nearly 100 places took part last year offering 3 course meals for $33 with money from each one going to charity. A lot of the best and most expensive places in Orlando take part in this so it’s a really good way to get to eat in some of those places for a portion of the price. September is a great month to visit if you’re a foodie!!

Epcot has it’s annual food and wine festival as well running until mid November.  With loads of food carts from all different parts of the world there’s even more choice of things to eat in Epcot during this festival, as well as concerts, celebrity chefs and other food themed events. I for one cannot wait to get to this!

OCTOBER – October starts to get a little cooler – although not by our standards – it’s still in the high 80s during the day.

HOURS OF SUN ON AVERAGE –  8 HOURS PER DAY

Both the Disney and Universal Halloween events run all through October.

Seaworld has it’s ‘Halloween Spooktacular’ which runs on weekends only throughout October and is included in your park admission. It’s aimed at children and there are not so scary live shows and trick or treating for candy throughout the park. It runs during park hours as well.

Busch Gardens has ‘Howl O Scream’ from the tail end of September through October. Running on weekends only.  It looks pretty similar to the Universal Horror Nights with scare actors and haunted houses and shows. It seems as though all the rides are open in the park which isn’t the case with Universal. It’s a separate ticketed event and you’re not allowed to wear costumes.

If you want a ‘real’ Halloween experience and you just so happen to be in Orlando on Halloween itself it’s worth a little trip to Celebration. It’s a Disney owned community and most residents will decorate for Halloween and Christmas so it’s a bit of a spectacle to see.

Halloween is a BIG thing in the US and I’m sure nearer the time most of the attractions will have some kind of event on for it.

NOVEMBER – Temperatures in November are in the 70s so much more bearable than the summer months but still hot enough for water parks and beaches.

HOURS OF SUN – AVERAGE 8 HOURS A DAY

It’s classed as low season for some of the behind the scenes tours at Seaworld and Busch Gardens so now is a good time to do those.

As soon as Halloween is over Christmas begins! Going to Disney end of Oct/start of November is great as you’ll get to experience both Holidays!

Disney Mickeys Very Merry Christmas Party starts early November and like the Halloween one is a separate ticketed event. It follows the same idea as Halloween just all Christmas themed. Different parades, characters in festive costumes and a chance to meet Santa. You also get free milk and cookies and it will snow on main street.

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Orlando has a great theatre that has some of the best touring musicals so if you fancy seeing a bit of Broadway in Florida check out the Dr Phillips Center for Performing Arts and see if there’s anything on that takes your fancy.

DECEMBER – Although it is a lot cooler in December, mid 70s it’s still hot!

HOURS OF SUN – AVERAGE 7 HOURS A DAY

December is a great time to go to Discovery Cove as it’s classed as low season so likely to be a little cheaper.

Disneys Christmas Festivities will still be going and this is also when Universal start theirs. Not only that Epcot is a great place to visit throughout the Christmas season as each country in the world showcase will be decorated as they are at home and you can find out all about different Christmas traditions and food as you walk round the park. Not to mention the famous Candlelight Processional.

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Universal has a really good festive event included in your park admission called ‘Grinchmas’. Housed in Islands of Adventure, You’re able to meet the Grinch and some of the other ‘whos’ in WhoVille. Cindy-Lou reads the story of The Grinch and there is music and festive things to do all day. Universal Studios also has the Macys Day Parade.

Seaworld has its Christmas Celebration. You can meet Rudolph and friends, try some festive food and do some Christmas shopping. Ice Shows and more. All included in park admission. In past years they had the Polar Express Experience so hopefully they’ll have something equally as special this year.

Busch Gardens changes itself into Christmas Town. They have over 2 million Christmas lights and a whole host of Christmas shows and music. As well as a Christmas market and Santa’s House. All included with Park Admission.

christmastown

Legoland has a Christmas ‘Bricktacular’ has a HUGE Lego Christmas tree and other festive friends around the parks as well as fireworks, meet n greet with Lego Santa and themed building events. All with your park admission.

During Christmas Day parks can be unusually busy and Magic Kingdom has been known to hit capacity so plan well and if you want to go to Magic Kingdom get there extra early!!

Again as with Halloween, Celebration is a great place to visit over Christmas to see the decorations and the SNOW!

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JANUARY/FEBRUARY – Weather in Jan/Feb are the coolest months in Orlando and again most things are classed as low season so a good time to do extras like Behind the Scenes tours.

HOURS OF SUN – JANUARY AVERAGE 7 PER DAY – FEBRUARY 8 HOURS

New Years Eve is a really popular time to go to the parks and all will have special events on with fireworks etc. Parks can be really busy though so be prepared for that especially into the evening.

Epcot is a great place to be on New Years with all the different festivities around the world and dance parties from 7pm.

January with the exception of New Years Eve and Day is a pretty quiet time to go to Florida.

February is of course Valentines Day, I couldn’t see any special things in any of the parks for this but being in Orlando for it is romantic enough surely!! There are plenty of romantic things to do though. I’ve found a great list of things within Walt Disney World here

Don’t forget to check out places like Old Town and Celebration who have regular fun family events on that are worth having a look at.

Hopefully this should have given an idea of what sort of things to expect at different times of year.

There’s probably a load more things going on that I don’t know about. Check out the Visit Orlando website for up to date info on what’s going on. There’s loads of sports events as well NFL, Basketball, Ice Hockey, Soccer, Golf… some ticket resellers in the UK sell sporting tickets but it’s worth checking Visit Orlando for dates of when they’re on.

If there’s anything you know about that I haven’t mentioned then please let me know

 

 

 

 

Planning Your Trip – All Day Dining in other parks

Both the Universal and Seaworld parks have their own versions of the Disney Dining – although on a much smaller scale.

Universal offer a package exclusively for those staying on site who can purchase in advance just like you would at Disney, it’s the same as the standard Disney Dining and will give you 1 table service, 1 quick service, 1 snack and a drink per day of your stay. It’s valid in over 100 restaurants over the parks and Citywalk. It works out at roughly £50 per person per day.

You can also purchase 2 other dining options for a day at the park if you’re off site:

Universal Dining Plan Quick Service – 1 Quick Service meal, 1 snack and one non alcoholic drink (approx £20 per person)

Universal Dining Plan Quick Service and Coca Cola Freestyle – 1 Quick Service, 1 Snack and unlimited soft drinks. (approx £25 per person)

It’s easy to spot locations that accept the plan throughout the park as you will see this sign

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You’re given a card that has your credits loaded on and that’s what you use when you want to eat.

Seaworld Parks and Entertainment have their own version which is called ‘All Day Dining’ and it’s gives you just that. Dining all day while you’re in the park. You’re able to eat every hour if you wish.

They vary in prices seasonally and those prices reflect on how many places you can eat within the parks.

Aquatica is roughly £14 per person and has only one restaurant (Banana Beach) which is an all you can eat buffet

Seaworld is roughly £31 per person and that gives you 7 different restaurants.

Busch Gardens is around £30 per person and gives you a choice of 4 different restaurants

Dining experiences like Dine with Shamu and dining with Elmo and Friends are not included as part of the dining package.

For the price you’ll pay for the all day dining, if you eat in the park twice a day you’ll make your money back.

Just like Universal and Disney you’ll see signs that tell you where you can use it

All day dining

The Seaworld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica All Day Dining is via a wristband that you are given. Purchasing before you go will work out a little cheaper and most of the UK ticket agents sell these. If you purchase in advance you’re given an exchangeable voucher that you take to the park to switch for your wristband.

The other thing that both Universal and Seaworld still do that I’m upset Disney don’t anymore is the refillable souvenir cups. These are a great way to save money if you drink a lot of soda.  They’re usually around $10 or less and Seaworld Parks will have a choice of themed designs, you can use these all day and refills are just 99c (plus Tax) prices are roughly the same for Universal.

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:

mde

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.