Here’s some of our Orlando tips to take the stress out of organising your holiday in Florida. Have fun planning and enjoy discovering the best of Orlando.
My Disney Experience
The first thing you should do after booking your Walt Disney World holiday is log into My Disney Experience (MDE). Make sure that your friends and family travelling with you are linked. Select your magic bands for collection on arrival. Also, add your card details so that you are ready to book your Disney Dining reservations.
If you are staying onsite at Disney you can book your Fastpasses from 60 days in advance, otherwise it’s 30 days in advance. There are 3 rides available in advance each day, then once you have used them, you can book more, one at a time on the day whilst in the park via the app or a kiosk. In some parks you can choose any three rides, whilst in other parks there is a tiered system where you choose 1 from category A and 2 from category B etc Look online for the lastest version of the Fastpass planner to understand the categories. To book use your My Disney Experience (MDE) log in. For families, if you are struggling to find the correct number of Fastpasses per ride, try this tip.
Go on the app, search for a fast pass for ONE person only, hit refresh button (you might have to do this many times, sometimes one appears straight away, sometimes you might have to refresh for 10 mins). Then once you have it, do the same for the next person in your group, and so on. Remember, the fast pass time for each person don’t have to be the exact same time, so long as there is a small overlap, you will all be able to ride together.
Remember that the Fastpasses are available from 6am USA time, which is 5 hours behind the UK. Here’s the top 3 rides in each park that are good to secure your fastpasses for:
Magic Kingdom Park: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight & Space Mountain
Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Avatar Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey & Expedition Everest
Epcot: Frozen Ever After, Soarin’ Around the World &Test Track
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Slinky Dog Dash, Alien Swirling Saucers & Toy Story Midway Mania!
If you don’t want a daily cleaning service at Disney hotels, you can opt out of mousekeeping, which also saves on the tips! “Service your way” is available at value and moderate Disney hotels, this means you don’t have housekeeping and receive a gift card instead. Your room won’t be cleaned during your stay, and you will have to dispose of your rubbish. You can however still request clean towels. This is arranged at the front desk on arrival. Subsequently a gift card will be emailed to you that can be used in resort. The value is $10 per room, per night less $10, so $60 for a week, $130 for 2 weeks.
Lots of visitors use Uber or Lyft as well as the standard taxis for transport around Orlando, you can download the Apps in advance of travelling. There can be scams with these companies, the worst is charging for a cleaning fee so take photos of the interior at the start and end of your journey to prove otherwise if necessary. Others include not driving a direct route or failing to stop the meter at the end of a journey. To avoid registering your card payment details, you can purchase an Uber gift card from Walmart stores. This said most users travel without incident and like the flexibility of the service.
We’ve already covered why restaurants charge tips, here’s a guideline as to which other services expect tipping:
Bartender $1 to $5 depending on the number of drinks per order.
Taxis & restaurants 15-20% on top of the bill
Tour guides 10% of the tour cost
Hotel staff: Maids $1 to $3 per day depending on occupancy, concierge $5, doorman $1 to $2 for hailing a cab, valet parking $1 to $2 when your car is returned and porter $1 to $5 for luggage depending on the quality of hotel.
Walt Disney World have a Disability Access Service (DAS) pass to help visitors with disabilities who can’t use their conventional queue system, it’s issued by guest services.
Universal Orlando have an Attraction Assistance Pass to help visitors with disabilities whose disability prevents them from waiting in a conventional queue environment. This Pass allows Guests to schedule a return time that is comparable to the current queue wait for the given attraction. Guests can only have one active return valid at the same time.
You can make your Disney Dining reservations from 11am at 180 days prior to the start of your holiday. Make sure that you have already linked your bank card details to your MDE account to guarantee your reservation and linked your friends and family. Have a list of your preferred restaurants and dates handy, with the most important ones at the top and book them in that order. Use the online wish list to help with your reservations: each time you finish a booking, you can navigate to the wish list at the bottom of the page, to find your next one – this saves searching for the restaurant each time. You can book up to 10 days of restaurants from 180 days in advance, then the remainder of your days, one day at a time after that (eg day 179 you can book your 11th day). Search for the specific time that you want, rather than breakfast / lunch / to shortlist the best options. Refresh your page, and keep trying with booking character dining, perseverance is key in securing a table.
Ring on one of these helplines after 12 midday on 0800 028 0778 (Walt Disney World) / 0800 16 90 748 (Disney dining) / 800 2006 0809 (Disney Experts) if you can’t find a particular restaurant availability, they are very helpful.
If you are struggling to find availability for your preferred restaurants, you could try Mouse Dining this is a website that alerts you when places are available. The first 6 alerts are free, then it’s a paid subscription.
Have fun with the family planning your dining, remember others will be trying to secure the same reservations at the same time for your dates, so the quicker you get organised, the better.
You are not expected to pay tips with Quick Service dining establishments, these are generally fast food type places. Gratuities are not included at waiter service meals, except at Dinner Shows and Cinderella’s Royal Table. For parties of 6 or more 18% is automatically charged to your card registered on the account or due to be paid at the end of the meal if a card has not been added. Don’t forget to check your balance of credits through the week on your MDE account, so that you use them all up! More here: Understanding Disney Dining
There are some hotels that charge a resort fee in Orlando. This charge generally ranges from $10-$30 per room, per night is on top of your accommodation reservation rate and paid locally. You can use the resort fee checker website to help understand if your hotel has an additional fee.
The other annoying expense to be covered on check in is the hold on your card for incidentals. This is best covered with a credit card, rather than a debit card so funds are not drawn from your account, it can also be paid in cash. This money is refunded after check out, less any bar / restaurant bills, mini bar drinks, or room damages. This practice can be a shock for anyone travelling on a tight budget without a credit card.
There are several outlets for discounted designer shopping. Register online at the Premium Outlets website as a VIP member before you go, and pick up the discount booklet on arrival. Brands such as Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger, Van Heusen and Calvin Klein will give you discount vouchers for other stores with each purchase, for deals that day.
Use your Disney Dining Plan refillable mugs for free refills of ice water at any quick service place, whilst in the parks. Take a concentrated juice bottle / pouch with you to add flavour if preferred. Much better than the warm water fountains otherwise provided.
Motion Sickness On Rides
If you suffer from motion sickness on the park rides, the following tablets may help:
Kwells Travel Sickness to help with motion sickness.
Stugeron to help the control of vestibular disorders such as vertigo, tinnitus, nausea and vomiting such as is seen in Meniere’s Disease.
If you need to buy something locally Dramamine is available from Walgreens or Walmart. It’s an antihistamine used to prevent and treat nausea, vomiting, and dizziness caused by motion sickness.
Pick up the free booklets from your hotel, supermarkets and outlets to collect coupons of interest. It’s a big thing in Orlando, so don’t be shy you can save $$$$$$ on restaurants & activities.
Universal Orlando Photos
Visit My Universal Photo on Facebook before going to the Universal parks in Orlando. They have special offers that can’t be accessed in the parks. For example a 2 week package in the park is $149, an annual photo pass online was $69 and can be used in the theme parks and Volcano Bay!
Disney Memory Maker
If you have Disney Ultimate tickets, your Memory Maker will activate once you arrive at Disney and start using the photographers. Ask them to link your photos to your magic bands. You have up to 30 days to take images, and a maximum of 45 days to save your images from your first download – so get these saved asap, by adding them to your cart when you get home.
Toll charges & passes
If you are collecting a hire car at the airport, make sure you have some dollars in cash, particularly coins, before you leave the airport, so that you can pay the tolls on route to your accommodation. We stayed in the Davenport area and went through 3 tolls from the airport to the villa management office, they are small charges at $1.75 and the first 2 were manned with staff to give you change if required, however the final one at $1 was exact change only with a basket for coins.
Buy a SunPass from Walgreens, Walmart, CVS Pharmacy, Publix etc. There are 2 options, the first is a disposable one time only SunPass Mini transponder at $4.99 or a multiple pass at $19.99. You have 20 minutes to complete the registration once activated. You need to enter the vehicle details, your accommodation and personal card details. The mini device is set up to work between 2 dates and is invalid once removed from the vehicle, so take care when fixing it to your windscreen. The minimum first credit is $10 and then you can top it up as required during your holiday.
You should expect rain in the summer season. Generally there will be a shower / thunderstorm in the afternoon, these can last anything from 1-4 hours. Take ponchos to keep you dry without getting too hot. Rain ponchos are much cheaper to buy before you travel, look for ones you can fold up into a carrying pouch.
Carry ID For Alcoholic Drinks
Alcoholic drinks will only be served with valid ID even if you are obviously aged over 21 years old. Carry photo ID with you, such as your driving licence or passport if you want to be served when in the USA.
Magical Express Airport Transfers
Disney’s Magical Express is in the Main Terminal Building on Side B, Level 1 in the Ground Transportation area.
Take the train from your aircraft gate and you will arrive on Level 3 of the Main Terminal Building. Once you have cleared immigration and collected your luggage, proceed to Side B and take the elevator or escalator down to Level 1.
You can order a take away or groceries to be delivered to your hotel room online in Orlando. Uber Eats or DoorDash are great for a fast food service. Try Garden Grocer or Instacart for supermarket groceries.
Restaurant Row Sand Lake Road
The restaurants on Sand Lake Road can be overlooked by visitors, this is where the locals dine out, rather than the popular American chain restaurants on I-drive. Here’s some local tips for independently owned restaurants around that area:
Bento (quick casual sushi)
Chatham’s Place (American)
Domu (Opening soon, Ramen)
Dragonfly (Sushi and robata grill)
Hanamizuki (Traditional Japanese)
Kabooki (Sushi and Cont. Japanese)
Pio Pio (Colombian roasted chicken)
Ruth’s Chris (Steakhouse)
Seito (Sushi and Contemporary Japanese)
Seasons 52 (Seasonal menu & 52 wines by the glass)
Tapa Toro (Spanish)
Taverna Opa (Greek)
Vito’s Chophouse (Steak)
Accuweather is considered the most accurate and detailed weather app to use in Orlando. You can drill down into the hourly detail to gauge the weather each day. This can be handy, especially when planning around the summer showers.
Classic Car Cruise
Visit the Old Town in Kissimmee on a Saturday night for the classic car cruise at 20:30. The cars arrive earlier in the day for showing, then they cruise down the brick streets which has some unique shops and eateries. The Fun Spot has classic fairground rides next door.
If you don’t have roaming in USA like at home on your mobile, then keep them on Airplane Mode to avoid expensive charges. Access WiFi where possible to get online free of charge. Use a Skyroam device when travelling, ours allows up to 5 devices to connect, and is brilliant at keeping us online around the world.
Celebration is a town created by Disney in the 1990’s and designed to look like an early 20th century town in Florida. Nice for a walk, segway or bike round. Only 1.5 miles from Kissimmee old town if you want to combine a visit here with the classic car cruise on a Saturday.
Magic Kingdom Parade
If you want a frontline position for the parade, be prepared to guard your space for at least an hour before the start. Make sure you are in an official area (roped) or you may be asked to move.
Winter Park is a good place for a wander around (Park Avenue), their scenic boat tour from Lake Osceola has been running since 1938 and costs $14 each. Visit Rocket Fizz for a fantastic old fashioned sweet store. Plenty of good restaurants in this location too.
Ride the Hogwart’s Express at Universal Orlando. The ride connects the original Wizarding World (set in Hogsmeade and located in Islands of Adventure) with the latest addition – Diagon Alley, over in Universal Studios Florida. Make sure you ride in both directions, for 2 very different experiences!
Download the Universal Orlando App and link your credit card, before going to Volcano Bay. This way you can load money onto your Tapu Tapu, and don’t need to use cash or carry your cards with you.
If you’ve not got Disney tickets for the duration of your holiday and want a Disney fix, then the After Hours tickets are a popular way to visit. For Animal Kingdom the price is $125 each, so it’s still not cheap, however the benefit is the lack of queues for rides. The event starts at 9pm, entry is allowed from 7pm. This meant access to the Safari at 8pm when the animals were active, multiple rides available on Flight of Passage which is very hard to secure fast passes for. Plus snacks of soft drinks, popcorn and ice cream are included in the price.
Once you’ve had your fill of the theme parks in Orlando, it’s bliss to take a day out chilling at the beach. Alternatively you could book a couple of nights as a twin centre holiday to recuperate after all those steps earned. Here’s our advice as to where you can enjoy a beach day from Orlando.
For visitors not staying onsite at a Disney Hotel, it’s worth considering booking a night at one for the benefits. For example, a stay at the All Star Sports an be inexpensive at under $100, this includes free magic bands, free park parking and early magic hours for both the day you check in, and the day you check out. Go early for rope drop and you will have the best chance of completing the popular rides before the park officially opens.
Swimming With Manatees
If you’d like to swim with Manatees, head to Crystal River which is a 2 hour drive from Florida. Manatees are a protected species, the season is from November to March when these marine mammals return to the warm spring waters found in Florida. We went out with River Ventures and had a fabulous experience.
Magic Kingdom Fireworks
If you’ve got too much on your agenda in the Magic Kingdom to secure a prime spot for the firework display in the evening, head towards Tomorrowland. We found the bridge on route was a great spot to enjoy the fireworks, without being crowded, if you don’t mind a side view of the castle.
We’ll continue to keep adding to our Orlando Tips information as we discover more time or money saving advice to share with you.
Do get in touch if you’d like a personal quote for a holiday in Orlando, we can tailor make a package to suit your needs and budget including flights, hotel / villa accommodation, park tickets, car hire, cruises, twin centre destinations, or self guided tours of Florida.
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