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.

 

 

 

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To Plan or Not to Plan…..

I’m now at my 37 day mark and to say I’m organised is a bit of an understatement. As you are well aware I’ve booked all my FastPasses, checked in to my hotel and booked an ADR (advanced dining reservation) for those who don’t know.  All my reservations/stuff we’re doing have now been put in a spreadsheet – yes I am that organised with it all – and the whole 14 days is pretty much planned out for us.

Is this planning a little TOO much, well for me I don’t think so. Having been to Orlando before I know how much there is to do and it’s impossible to do everything in 14 days, besides the theme parks there’s over 100 other attractions in Orlando and if you wanted to do everything it has to offer you’d need at least 67 full days there! It’s not all about the themeparks you know!!

I am well aware that I have probably planned FAR too much but I know some of the things that are really unmissable so you have to make sure you cater for that sort of thing. Disney, Magic Kingdom especially has some ridiculous wait times for rides so if you don’t want to spend most of your day queuing for rides – or to meet Frozen characters if you have girls – then it is wise to book some fastpasses and plan a little for those days. The rest of the day leave to chance.  Planning and booking those rides that your kids just HAVE to do is also a great way to avoid disappointment and tantrums!!

You can do Disney without planning but be prepared for LONG queues and stress.

Universal Studios as well needs a bit of planning. We all know that the busiest part of those parks are the Harry Potter parts so unless you want to be queuing for ages for those it’s good to plan to do them first or last thing. Universal offer an express pass that will allow you front of line access to each ride once during the day which is a really good way to avoid planning. However it doesn’t include the Harry Potter rides. You can buy express passes before you leave the UK for a much cheaper price than on the gate, £50 for 1 park and £57 for both for one day. You can get them from the UK Universal Bookings Site Universal UK Bookings

If you want to go to Discovery Cove, particularly over the Summer months then that again needs some planning. Discovery Cove gets booked up from 6 months in advance.  Working for a travel company and having calls over the last few weeks from customers who are wanting to book every day I’m experiencing first hand the disappointment from people who just cannot get a booking after leaving it so late.

There is no real need to book every day down to the minute but it is an idea to pre book a few things that you really want to do and then do the rest when you get there. Orlando is a place that you really need to research before you go there are so many amazing forums and websites with info and people who will give you honest opinions on what to do and not to do. A good one for planning advice is the Facebook group‘It’s Orlando Time’ loads of people who love Orlando helping you make your trip as magical as it can be.  A little bit of research will really help your trip run smoothly.

 

7 WEEKS!!! – HHN, getting fit and a bit more about My Disney Experience

7 weeks to go now, thats only 49 days and being as we’re in the middle of a mini heatwave making it feel a bit like I am in Orlando anyway I am even more excited about it if that’s at all possible!!

The fitness regime has started. Lets see if I can tone myself up and lose a few pounds in 7 weeks. I’ve joined a really lovely gym at the Solent Hotel, who more than cater for us people with disabilities. The majority of the classes are accessible and it’s a really comfortable place to be. They have a lot of Personal Trainers and fitness experts who are able to discuss your needs and come up with a programme that is not only helping you achieve your goal, whether it be just general fitness or like me trying to shed a bit of a cake shelf before a holiday but also catered to what you can do. I’m starting aquafit next week. I’ve always wanted to have a go at that I will no doubt look a bit mental but it’s all in an effort to get in that bikini!! Everyone there is really welcoming from the staff to the other members so it’s a really lovely place to be. Decent sized pool and jacuzzi and it’s not too busy either.  They actually have a really cool offer on at the moment for a 4 week trial for £55 well worth it if you’re looking for somewhere to go over the summer and a good taster to what it’s like. Solent Hotel and Spa

Also yesterday we were lucky enough at Voice FM to have the opportunity to have a chat with Universal Studios Creative & Entertainment Director Michael Aiello about Halloween Horror Nights and what’s coming up at Universal Studios, including King Kong and Volcano Bay. If you want to find out what he had to say tune in to the Breakfast Show next Wednesday 8th July 7-10am on Southamptons Voice FM. We tried to get some exclusives out of him but did we succeed….

I’m now in charge of the whole families bookings of Fast Passes and checking us into our hotel. I had a few issues with the booking numbers being wrong, best thing to do is call Disney if you have any issues they connected all mine up to my Disney account while I was on the phone. You need 2 references for MDE, your hotel booking ref and your ticket numbers. If you have booked a package with both it will know and you only need the one. I was really impressed with the Disney call centre they did exactly what I needed and really really quickly. If you have any questions they are happy to help – and I love that they always say ‘have a magical day’ set me up for the day that did 🙂

 

Fastpasses and My Magic +

Up at 4:50am on Sunday to book my Fastpasses being as I was at my 60 day mark, I’d actually set my alarm for 5am for the next 2 weeks so I can book them all up. I was under the impression that when you can book 60 (or 30) days in advance you could only book the day that the 60 (or 30) mark applys to. Have I explained that right? Apparently my sources were wrong and I’ve in fact booked all my passes for the time I’m away – no super early morning for me now!!

Getting them booked was really easy and a lot more self explanatory than I thought it would be.

Basically you open your My Disney Experience App, pick the park you”re booking for and choose your ride. It’ll then open a window giving you the date options.  Pick your date and then it will give you a list of rides. They put the rides into category’s, I think it’s by popularity, and you’re given the option of picking one from the most popular lot and then 2 from the other ones – or all 3 from the other ones depends on your preferences.

It then gives you your fast pass selections with times next to them, it generally gives you 3 or 4 combinations to choose from, either with the same rides and different times or sometimes with some of your options substituted for something similar. For example I’ve booked the Anna and Elsa meet (I really didn’t fancy spending 6 hours of my day waiting for them with 3 impatient children) and the time selections were quite late in the day, it gave me the option of meeting Rapunzel and Cinderella if I wanted to do it at an earlier time. However I believe if you’re doing this on a computer and not using the App it gives you a choice of times.

If the times are not what you want though book it anyway and log on on a PC later on where you can modify your fastpasses and choose from a list of times (I’ve just changed my Anna and Elsa from 9:30pm to 2:30pm which is much more suitable, and my Space Mountain from 7pm to 9:30am). So all is not lost if you don’t get the times you want. I’m now deciding whether to change my Mission:Space ones from early afternoon to first thing although I’m not sure as going on that after a massive breakfast at Golden Corral is a wise idea……

I’ve also done an online check in today for my resort which gives you the ability to request a floor and what part of the hotel you want which is fab 🙂 Also means less queuing when you check in and we all know that’s always a good thing.

I’m not having much luck with my Be Our Guest booking,  I spoke to a lovely lady on the phone today who looked at all the days I’m there and found NO availability 😦 She did tell me though that they generally have some 2 weeks before people go, something to do with cancellations and she also said asking on the day is always worthwhile. So if you’re like me and struggling then there is hope 🙂