Getting there: Air Canada on points, car rentals from hotwire (Florida car rentals are expensive, but hotwire had the best deals by far)
Where the 2ds and family stayed: After a lot of research, dpr booked a house rental online – see here for the website – it was perfect for the 5 adults and 1 teen who were on the trip – 3 bedrooms, big, well equipped kitchen (plus bbq on the deck), 3 full bathrooms, laundry room, tv’s in all bedrooms and living room, fast and reliable wifi throughout, pool, and a 20 minute drive to DisneyWorld. The owners are lovely people, very responsive, and super helpful. The house was spacious enough that we weren’t all tripping over each other and could have enough privacy if we wanted. The price was right, too, and much more economical than staying in a hotel.
Fun & tips: This trip’s sole purpose was to take d2’s niece to DisneyWorld and Universal Studios, and quite frankly, the 2d’s returned needing a few more days off – it was a go go go sort of vacation. But everyone had a really good time at the parks, especially since the 2d’s stomachs held up on all of those rides!! We learned lots of things along the way from a few people and sites about how to make the most of this sort of vacation, especially during the high season of July at the parks, so here we go with some tips and info on where we went:
1. The hosts of the rental house recommended Kissimmee Guest Services for park tickets (and they also got us a discount code – if you use this site, you can simply call for a discount code and then book your tickets online), which we bought in advance (the last thing you want is to be in line at the park for tickets when you could be waiting in line for a ride instead!!), and ended up saving around 3% overall. This might not seem like much, but when a week’s worth of park entries will cost around $500/person, it’s worth it. Plus the people at this authorized ticket seller had a tips sheet and were friendly and knowledgeable. Tickets and options are confusing – we ended up with the 4 day Disney passes including park hopper (i.e. 2 parks/day) and water park passes (otherwise the 2 Disney waterparks are extra), along with a 1 day Universal Studios pass (there are 2 parks there, but the tickets are park-agnostic).
2. We used Undercover Tourist’s crowd calendar to plan which parks on which days – sounds and is totally nerdy, but we were keen to do our homework and hit all the rides we wanted in the parks. We also got tipped visit any other park but the Magic Kingdom on Mondays, and also that once you pay for parking at Disney ($15/day), just drive from park to park rather than taking the shuttle bus. You can also leave the parks altogether and come back in the evening for one of the fireworks shows.
3. We did the 4 major Disney parks: Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, a waterpark (Typhoon Lagoon) and Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. And yes, this was exhausting, even though it rained nearly every afternoon, which sent us back to our house.
4. We had a plan for the parks – in the Disney parks there is free wifi and there are also free apps that give you wait times for each of the rides. We got there for park opening everyday when things were least busy, grabbed a Fastpass for a ride (at Disney this is free – you can have one Fastpass at a time for a ride, which effectively lets you bypass the standby line, so you grab a Fastpass which is for a set time, and then go to another ride, do it, and return for your Fastpass, and once your Fastpass is used up, you can then grab another one for a different ride), went on another ride, and planned our day around this. The night before we hit the park, we decided which rides we would target first. There are some rides that will have >1 hour line ups if you don’t take advantage of the Fastpass option or use the single rider lane (this means you might not ride with your party, but you generally get on rides faster, so if everyone’s old enough/ok to hit a ride on their own, this is a good option). Universal Studios has a Fastpass-like option, but you pay for it – price is day/park busy-ness dependent, so in our case, the Fastpass option was an additional 75% of the ticket price, but well worth it (but it is also cheesy that some of the rides don’t allow you to use this, even though you paid for it).
5. You can bring bags/coolers/pretty much whatever you want in to the park. This meant that we brought our own food and water (sometimes including lunch), and for Typhoon Lagoon, we brought our own towels (they also rent them) and just had to rent a locker. Food at the parks was surprisingly reasonably-priced and there were some pseudo-healthy options.
6. Rides! OK, we hit a lot of rides and shows, and for the most part they were all FUN:
Hollywood Studios: Tower of Terror (this was worse the 2nd time around because you knew what to expect), Rock n’ Rollercoaster (hello! Aerosmith tunes blasting in my ears throughout this ride – what’s not fun?), Star Tours (Star Wars nerd rejoice!), the car stunt show, and the Indiana Jones show
Epcot: Test Track (which many in our party said was the best ride of the trip), Mission to Mars, Spaceship Earth, Soarin’, Maelstrom, plus the nightime laser/fireworks show, and of course a visit to the Canadian pavillion
Magic Kingdom: Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Adventures Under the Sea (Little Mermaid), Jungle Cruise, nighttime fireworks show. Most of these rides are pretty tame, but they were also fun.
Animal Kingdom: Dino, Expedition Everest (super fun rollercoaster that goes backwards for part of the time), Kali River Rapids (warning: potential to get soaked here), Kilamanjaro Safari (basically a big truck ride through a Disney-created wildlife preserve), Primeval Whirl, plus some walks through animal parks.
Typhoon Lagoon: We got rained out here – after a few rides the thunder, lightning and rain rolled in, and the rides closed indefinitely. We did manage to do: Crush n’ Gusher, Gang Plank Falls, MayDay Falls, and the wavepool.
Universal Studios Islands of Adventure: You need to put ALL bags in lockers here including small purses, but the locker system is free and effective. We went straight to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (which your paid for Fastpass option doesn’t work for, so we did the single rider line up to cut out time by 2/3 – i.e. from 1 hour to 20 min), Dragon Challenge (rollercoaster where your seat is suspended from an above-head track, there are 2 here that are simply the inverse of each other), Jurassic Park River Adventure (potential to get very wet), Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls (note: you will be completely soaked by the end of this ride), Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges (you will also be totally soaked from this ride), the Amazing Spiderman Adventure, and we missed the Incredible Hulk rollercoaster due to a storm, but dpr’s done this one before and it’s by far the scariest and most fun coaster ever! Universal has some rides that are much more teen-adult targeted.
7. Last but not least, shopping – there are 2 outlet malls in Orlando with some really good stores, so we did some quick shops along the way.