I’ve been asked by many first-time visitors to Walt Disney World how they should plan to spend their week in Orlando. This is a big question, as it’s a big place with lots to do and planning can be a bit daunting. All I can tell you how WE ensure a great holiday. I realize this is not a formula for everyone – I know there are many different (and likely many cheaper) ways to have an awesome holiday in Orlando, but for us, if we really want to ensure a fun, somewhat relaxing week for all family members in Orlando (yes, it can be done), here’s what we do:
- Stay somewhere fun – for us, that’s pretty much always the Animal Kingdom Lodge. See Disney World – Where Should We Stay? for more on this. There are lots of options here, but we generally prefer highly themed, Deluxe on-property resorts, ideally staying in a 1-bedroom villa with the kids in the living room in a pull-out bed and sleeper chair. Other resorts that seem to fit this bill and that we’ve considered (although we’ve never actually stayed at any of these but have visited) are the Wilderness Lodge and Polynesian Resort.
- Rent a car – even though we stay on property and can enjoy Disney transportation, we always rent a car. I find car rentals fairly economical in Orlando, compared with other destinations, and we like to have a vehicle to go to Universal, outlet shopping, water slides to and from the airport and for dinner at different resorts.
- Plan to spend about 4 days at WDW theme parks, 1-2 days at Universal (no more!), 1 day at a water slide ‘park’ (either Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach – they’re both great in their own ways) and one ‘flex’ day outlet shopping and picking off any additional rides we may have missed.
- Book a VIP guide for 6 hours on one of the last days at Disney World – we don’t do this every time, but when we do it makes a big difference. Guides really will ensure you get to do all the things you absolutely want to do, even when the parks are insanely busy. They even drive you from one park to the next. This is very pricey – around $300 USD an hour for a minimum of six hours (I know!), but they will take up to 10 people on a tour, so if you have a large group, I bet you all agree this is worth every penny. This is particularly valuable if you are short on time. https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/vip-tour-services/
- Pre-book favorite dinners – I can’t believe how fast the good restaurants book up! See Where to Dine at Disney World for details on where we like to go. The Hoop Dee Doo Review, as kitschy as it is, is ALWAYS on our itinerary and needs to be purchased in advance. If you want to go to Be Our Guest, the new (and awesome) Beauty and the Beast restaurant for dinner, I actually suggest you book it before you book your trip…. to say it’s hard to get a reservation there at the time of this writing is a laughable understatement, but it’s worth a try! Book your dining here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/
- Buy Universal park tickets at least a day in advance – at Disney World we often just walk up and buy park tickets at the window, and I don’t find it takes long or is typically any more expensive than other purchase options, like Costco or Disney Stores. I can’t say the same for Universal Studios Orlando, however. We have spent way too many hours of our life standing in the line to buy park tickets at Universal Studios, and that line can be completely avoided by purchasing online at least a day in advance here:https://www.universalorlando.com/Theme-Park-Tickets/General-Admission.aspx. We usually only go for only one day and even then we find that two parks are completely do-able, but if you’re a Harry Potter fan like us and/or if it’s your first time there you may want to go for two, but I’d say plan for no more than two days there – even after two days we’re feeling like we’ve seen it all, but then sometimes spend more time at City Walk restaurants and shops. We also always, always buy the Express pass. It costs more but allows you to take the short line on almost every ride. The one time we didn’t buy it I was miserable…. you will watch everyone walk right past you onto almost every ride. We generally find the ‘regular’ Express pass, which allows you to skip the lines one time per ride only, to be enough, and that we don’t need the ‘Unlimited Express’ pass, which lets you skip lines on one ride more than once per day.
- Outlet shopping! – We love to spend a few hours shopping (but not much more – they’re crowded!). Our favorite is Orlando International Premium Outlets, on International Drive, between Disney World and Universal Studios, but there is also another Premium Outlets on Vineland, closer to Disney World. Go online (http://www.premiumoutlets.com/outlets/outlet.asp?id=96) and print out a directory and plan which stores to visit before you go. While you’re there register as a VIP member to get a coupon book. There are some very valuable coupons in there, and you really will save more.
- Spend at least one evening, likely more, at Downtown Disney. There are so many fun things to do here. See Disney World – Downtown Disney. You may want to plan and purchase tickets for the Cirque du Soleil show in advance; the rest can be planned while you’re there.