Theme park holidays can be great fun but also very busy, tiring and expensive. However we love these quite brilliant tips to make yours loads of fun without the hassle.
We’ve been on a fair few theme park holidays to Orlando, Florida and wish that we’d seen these tips (collected by DialAFlight we hasten to add) before… oh well.
Beat the crowds
1. Do some research – which attractions are most important to your family? If you can, tick these off first. If you arrive without a plan, head for the furthest point and then work your way backwards rather than joining the procession from the entrance.
2. Avoid Disney’s Magic Kingdom on Sundays and Mondays. These are the first days after guests check in and most head straight there.
3. If you are not staying at a Disney resort, avoid days when a park has Extra Magic Hours (EMH); it will be much busier; go the day before or the day after.
4. During school term, American families visit at weekends, so those days can be especially busy.
5. Stay nearby; go early in the day and then leave the park as the queues build up so the kids can have a swim and a nap before returning in the evening.
6. To beat the crowds, the best time to go is Monday to Thursday during the first three months of the year – but it can be cold, so dress warmly.
Where you stay makes a big difference …
7. Stay in a Disney hotel and each day you’ll get Extra Magic Hours (EMH) – you can get into one of the Disney parks an hour earlier, before the crowds build up, and you can stay beyond closing time in another.
8. If you are staying in Disney’s Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge or Polynesian hotels, you’ll also get to see the Electrical Water Pageant – a show that many people don’t even know exists.
9. Stay at one of the Universal Hotels and use your room key as an Express Pass to skip lines at both Universal Parks (except for Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey).
10. If you stay at a Universal Hotel you also get an hour’s early admission to Islands of Adventure, meaning you avoid the crowds and get straight on to Forbidden Journey. Early Park Admission is available the day you check in and the day you check out so, even if you stay only one night, you could get in early twice.
11. Top tip: If you’re not staying in a theme park hotel, get to Universal Studios early in the morning. Customers report getting in as much as 15 minutes before the doors officially open.
When you book makes a difference, too
12. Normally Disney raises its ticket prices in August; DialAFlight always suggests buying before then to lock in the lower rate. This year, however, they surprised everyone by hiking the rate in February, citing the cost of their new Magic Bands. There may be an additional price hike in August.
Top tips from some of DialAFlight’s customers, who’ve all been there and done it haven’t we?
13. Don’t try and do more than one theme park in a day. It’s at least 45 minutes from one Disney Park to another, and exhaustion will hit you all.
14. Do sit down to eat – but try to avoid the busiest time, from 11am to 2pm. Sitting down will allow the kids – and you – to relax, and there are several places serving non-junk food. Pre-book by phone or email as these can be busy. In Disney’s Magic Kingdom there is French cuisine at the Be Our Guest restaurant. There is also excellent seafood at Columbia Harbor House in Liberty Square and Italian at Tony’s, with its Lady and the Tramp theme. At Universal, choose from Lombard’s Seafood Grille or pub grub at Finnegan’s Bar and Grill. Harry Potter fans will love eating at the Three Broomsticks and Mythos Restaurant has won numerous awards as best theme park restaurant. There are also some good options at Universal City Walk like The Hard Rock Café and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.
Top tips from theme park regulars, who’ve worked out the best ways to do it
15. Busch Gardens – If you want to do the Skyride, avoid the England queue; it’s always busy. Join the France or Germany line instead.
16. Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Get to the park by 9am and go first to Toy Story Midway Mania. If you want to go on Rock ‘n Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, get a Fast Pass for one before queuing for the other.
17. Epcot – As soon as the park opens, head to Soarin’ for a Fast Pass. Then go to either Mission:Space or Test Track and ride one followed by the other before heading back to Soarin’. Go round the park anti- clockwise and go to Spaceship Earth in the afternoon, when queues are short.
18. Islands of Adventure – When you enter Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey, stay to the left if you don’t have anything to leave in a locker (that’s everything you can’t fit in your pocket). It will save several minutes. On Men in Black, aim for the red light in your own vehicle. Hold down the trigger, don’t keep pressing it. You’ll hit it every time and get major points.
19. Animal Kingdom – This park opens earlier than the others so get up early and head straight to Kilimanjaro Safaris for a Fast Pass then get a coffee or go on Expedition Everest before heading back to Kilimanjaro.
20. Seaworld – A good first stop is the Dolphin Nursery and, when it gets hot, head for Dolphin Cove where the viewing area is nice and cool. Save the star attraction, Shamu, until last.
21. Discovery Cove – Get there early. If you’ve booked a swim, it’s first come, first served.
22. Don’t get Fast Passes for live shows. Just get there 30 minutes in advance.
Keeping the kids safe
23. With older kids, agree a place to meet in advance in case someone gets lost. Suggest they stand against a wall as it cuts down the search area.
24. Write your mobile number on a luggage tag which can be attached to your child’s belt loop or similar and explain to the child what it is for. Show them what a park employee’s uniform looks like.
25. Wear sensible shoes. There’s a lot more walking than you think. And bring water bottles (which can be refilled from drinking fountains) and sunscreen, which are both expensive to buy in the park.
And lastly …
26. Take a photo of where you park your car! You won’t believe how many rental cars of the same model and colour as yours there are when you get back to the car park, very, very tired.
Nope, this isn’t a paid-for piece but we think these tips are so good we thought it was only fair to say that you can get information on DialAFlight’s range of holidays and cruises, including Florida and its theme parks at www.dialaflight.com or by calling 0844 556 6060.