When my husband and I decided to take the kids to visit Central Florida’s theme parks, I started doing some online research to find out the basics of planning our visit, getting the most for our money and making sure we didn’t skip anything crucial. After all, the last time I visited the Orlando area, I was 16 and Disney only had two parks, SeaWorld was on its own and Universal didn’t even exist yet. What I discovered was much had changed, yet the basics were still the same.
When we purchased our tickets to Walt Disney World and SeaWorld those many years ago, we didn’t have to worry about “park hopper” or “fast pass” tickets, too. You wanted to go to SeaWorld? Buy a ticket to SeaWorld. Today, though, you can do that, but it can be costly. Therefore, I began reviewing those “save big on your next Disney trip” and “how to cut costs at Universal” stories that are a dime a dozen online. In fact, I read so many I started to get overwhelmed with the amount of information, tips and tricks that were swimming in my head. Hotel deals, ticket savings, free dining plans – there was just so much to review and digest.
Finally, I had to take a step back and breathe. When I did, I discovered that, no matter how much you research, you will still have to pay for your trip, so it’s important to create a budget for your trip and work within those parameters. When you do look for deals, start with the parks’ own websites to see what specials are offered for the time period you want to visit. You may find that you can score free meal plans or free hotel nights.
Also, check with the local official visitors center to see what savings they can offer you. For instance, at the Visit Central Florida Visitor Information center you can buy discounted theme park tickets, including those with “park hopper” and “fast pass” options. The key here is multi-day tickets. The more you plan to stay and play, the more you will save. I found that one-day tickets are the most expensive ticket you will purchase. In addition, many of the parks will allow you to upgrade your tickets if you decide you want to do so.
All About Time
Because there were far fewer theme parks to visit when I originally visited Central Florida’s theme parks, we had more time to visit each park. Therefore, we never felt rushed to “see and do it all” during our time there. Today, though, there is much more competing for your attention, and it can be daunting. Unless you plan to spend a couple of weeks in the area, make a plan before you go regarding which parks you want to visit and for how long. And, perhaps more importantly, be ready to make adjustments to that plan as needed.
For example, we planned to spend one day at LEGOLAND, one day at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and one day at Universal Studios (although we didn’t know which park yet). LEGOLAND went off without a hitch (the benefits of being a single park at the time), but we quickly encountered a problem at the Magic Kingdom. It turns out that most of the characters our children wanted to see were at Disney Hollywood Studios. Thus, we spent quite a bit of time waiting for the shuttle between the Magic Kingdom to Disney Hollywood Studios.
Yes, if seeing characters for pictures and autographs are important to your children, find out ahead of time where they are scheduled to appear so you are in the right place at the right time. One way to do this is with the park’s app; for example, the My Disney Experience mobile app lists the times and locations for character appearances. This same principle holds true for any special ride or attraction your kids want to see. For instance, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure, so be sure to buy tickets for this park instead of the original Universal Studios.
Plan for Your Kids
Again, when I first visited Central Florida’s theme parks, I had my ticket and we walked in. That’s it. Today, according to the planning articles online, you have to bring strollers and backpacks filled with snacks and water and sunscreen and extra clothes and so on. While I agree with the snacks, water and sunscreen, I leave the others up to each individual family.
For instance, everyone said I needed to bring a stroller for my then 4-year-old; I balked because he’s big enough to walk by himself; he’d been doing just that for almost three years. “He’ll get tired,” they said. Perhaps, I thought, but until then he can walk. And walk he did. In fact, he never paused until it was time for bed. So don’t be overwhelmed by the suggested packing lists you’ll find online. Instead, pack according to your individual family’s needs. After all, you know each member of your family better than anyone else.
Yes, a lot has changed at Central Florida’s theme parks, but their true essence remained. My family had an awesome time, and we created wonderful family memories we’ll cherish forever. And that’s exactly what I wanted.
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