Text and images Paulyne Fermin
Anyone who has ever gone to Orlando will tell you that a week is not enough to visit all the attractions the city has to offer. But if a week is all you have (as we did), then here are some tips you may find useful in planning your trip.
Where to Stay
Choosing a hotel can be tricky. The exclusive Disney hotels can set you back up to more than a thousand dollars each day and you have to pay extra per person for breakfast. But you will visit the parks anyway so you’ll see the characters there and there’s really no need to be surrounded by all things Disney 24/7. On the two times we went to Orlando, I chose Disney partner hotels that offer free breakfast, free shuttle rides to the Disney parks, and more important both (Regal Sun and Marriott Fairfield) cost less than $200 a day. Park tickets can get very expensive so better save your money for that. (TIP: Some hotels will offer you big ticket discounts for a one-hour time sharing tour. We agreed and saved close to $400.)
There are four Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot Center, and Hollywood Studios) and two adjacent water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach) in the whole Disney Resort. We bought park-hopper tickets to all four, which came with free entrance to the pools. It takes about five to six hours to explore one park so we decided to allot one day for each, skip the lagoon and beach experience, and add Sea World to our itinerary. Do check the weather forecast before your trip (I had foldable umbrellas, caps, and light packable ponchos because aside from the sweltering heat, it also rained) and bring your own Mickey/Minnie headbands (unless you’re willing to shell out $25 to $30).
Magic Kingdom (MK) is the city’s version of Disneyland and Hollywood Studios (HS) is much like LA’s California Adventure. For first time visitors with young kids, these two parks are not to be missed because of the kid-friendly rides, family activities, and interactive shows.
Over at Liberty Square, we were amazed at the phenomenal animatronics at The Hall of Presidents where we watched all the US Presidents move and talk on one stage!
Magic Kingdom’s character parades and nightly fireworks are unequalled. Express tickets are not sold. You have to pre-book your rides by downloading the Disney Fast Pass app before your visit to avoid long lines. If you’ve been to other Disneyland destinations, you may want to check out attractions original to MK. Travel in the comfort of your seats through the 20th century to see how technology has improved human life in Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress. Over at Liberty Square, we were amazed at the phenomenal animatronics at The Hall of Presidents where we watched all the US Presidents move and talk on one stage! This 22-minute show, which features all the presidents, from George Washington to Donald Trump, got a standing ovation at the end and deservedly so. We also never miss out on The Haunted Mansion ride, which never fails to spook and delight!
Prepare for a lot of learning and walking (We made over 12,000 steps!) at Epcot Center. Spaceship Earth took us from the Stone Age to the Digital Age and, at the end of the ride, we made and starred in our own futuristic film. Super fun! Under the heat of the blazing sun, we braved the trek to 10 different countries and had a sample of their food and culture. France was my favorite where we ate steaks and pastries. Finally, at Animal Kingdom, which is the largest of the parks, we got to experience everything from character dining with Mickey and his friends to watching a bird show and going on a safari.
Sea World had us touching baby sharks and stingrays, interacting with penguins, gasping at a world class bubble show, and of course watching the entertaining tricks of dolphins and killer whales under a big dome. We could have gone to Legoland, Universal Studios, the Busch Gardens, but we decided it was time for some retail therapy. Premium Outlet Mall was right beside Fairmont and Mall of the Millennia (where luxury shops abound) and Florida Mall were less than 20 minutes away via Uber. My seven-year-old had a great time at the Crayola Factory at Florida Mall where she got to pick and pack colors of her own choice in a box.
With a little planning and plenty of walking, we added many wonderful moments in our family memory bank.