So, here we are again! Giving the Florida low down but as promised, were going in deep!
I think its a good idea for us to follow the pattern of the last one as it was an easy read, but we’re defo gonna need to put the kettle on for this one ☕ (there really should be a kettle emoji).. so without further adieu… Lets talk FLORIDA!!!!!
When is the best time ago? This is still the same answer for me, May or October is a great time to go. I’ve been twice over the October mid term break (its my favourite time to be there). Reason I pick those months is parks aren’t busy, weather is really warm but not unbearable and its price friendly. Whats also great about October is if you stay into at least the 1st week of November you get both the Halloween extras and the Christmas extras, decorations, after hours park party’s etc. I HATE Halloween at home, I like to pretend it doesn’t even exist cause who likes bangers milled under their car going the shop for bread and milk… But Halloween Florida, I love Halloween Florida, it’s so family orientated. Then when you get the switch into the Christmas dates, its great for getting into the festive spirit.
Now, you can get there relatively cheap in January, February and September, obvs summer months are more expensive – but for Christmas and New Year I have actually seen some really great deals floating about.. I have shown a few deals below (the usual no ads here, I don’t get paid for this 😊) but please bare in mind these may well be gone now, I can’t guarantee these deals!
Discount Travel – Facebook
Considering this is Direct flights, Christmas, New Year and includes Park Tickets this is a great deal.
American Holidays Halloween Deal – Facebook
American Holidays Summer Deal
Cassidy Travel September Deal
Please take note if you do opt for a package with a travel agent try get your park tickets included, if they aren’t in the offer, ask them to add them on. A cheap deal can look great but the minimum tickets you will need be at least the 3 park universal and they are €325 an adult, €315 a child (Age 3 and up). This is where the cost of going to Florida kicks in.
Aswell as looking at packages, you can also DIY, which we have also done! We will get into all these details now, I did tell ya to get the kettle on 😉
Getting there… This is total personal preference. I myself prefer to fly direct, mainly because I’m an anxious flyer so I just want to reach my destination asap!! With both Travel agents and DIY you will have the direct or connecting options. Going direct will nearly always push your price up so if a connecting flight doesn’t bother you, off ya go, more money for shopping!
Going DIY Flights direct come in around 5/600€ pp, operated by Aer Lingus, but can get up to nearly €800 depending on your travel dates, and demand, sometimes even more.
Doing a stop over they can come in just over €300 which is really good, I mean there’s dates ya wouldn’t get to Spain for that 😂
The bonus of flying out of Dublin to America of course is that you get to do pre clearance. This means when you arrive in America you are the equivalent of a “domestic” passenger, you don’t have to queue for customs clearance, a quick flash of the passport and straight on through to your bags.
This is your USA travel tip to have your ESTA completed at least 72 hours before your due to travel. Only do it through the official website here https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/ these are $14 per person and you can also do a group entry for families travelling together. Once completed and approved they are valid for 2 years.
Next on the Orlando agenda… accommodation.
I personally, opt for the hotel, on I-drive! I don’t do villas because I couldn’t bare cooking and cleaning on holidays and I like the pool area mixing with people, kids making friends etc. I mean your on holidays, its chill and relax time!
I have stayed in the Rosen Plaza, Hyatt Regency (that’s the fancy one) and had 2 stays at the Avanti International. This is where I have a lot of mixed reviews. Rosen Plaza was more business like, not very family orientated. The Hyatt Regency was lovely, great rooms, pool area etc however it was expensive for food and drinks and was quite the upmarket hotel. We loved the Avanti esp the 1st time round, standards had slipped a little on our second visit in terms of cleanliness. The Avanti have also recently taken over and renovated the International Palms Resort up the road and their recent reviews do not make for nice reading, esp for a newly renovated hotel, the cleanliness again. In fairness our room was good, we had building 2 which is the newer rooms but some of our party were in other buildings and they were not impressed with their rooms and had to request extra cleans, to be fair Id of done the same. However it wouldn’t put me off returning as the I genuinely do like the Avanti including its excellent price, location, they have a great pool area, great atmosphere, cafe, bar, staff are really friendly but it is their house keeping letting their score down.
All Rosens are really popular on I-Drive (Pointe Orlando & International especially) They are basic hotels but so money friendly, clean, convenient etc.
Another good option for I-Drive if your after a self catering without the villa, the Sonesta es Suites, they have rave reviews and come highly recommended, they have 1 & 2 bed apartments that cater for up to 8 people. 2 bathrooms, fully fitted kitchen and living area, great location. You would be surprised at the amount of “hotel/apartment” style options there are so definitely look into this if it’s what your after.
Villa: I can’t give a low down as I’ve never stayed in one but there are lots of options for villas in Orlando. I do know to be weary of hidden costs like heating the pool etc so defo get a second opinion on this from someone who has been there, done that. Also transport is essential for a villa so if you aren’t doing a car hire (which I 100% recommend any way) bare in mind you will be relying on uber to get around.
Staying on site: I havent done this because as much as I love Florida, and I do love it, I only like Disney 😂 Sorry Walt! So you have a few options here with stay on-site:
Universal: They have a few hotel options, their latest offering being the Aventura which has really took off on the right foot and is getting rave reviews. Aswell as that, opening July 2019 is the Surfside Inn and Suites, right next door in May 2020 is the Dockside Inn and Suites. These have gone into where Wet N Wild used to reside and both resorts have options of 1 and 2 bed suites sleeping up to 6 people. These can be booked as accommodation or with a park ticket package and prices are out on their website. This link pretty much is a run down of each on site hotel and compares each. It doesn’t get any more simplified than this for all the info you need.
Staying on site you can get dining plans, and rather than me write an essay, this is not me being lazy, but these dining plans are not easy to explain. There are very mixed reviews as to whether you even save anything. So it really is just personal preference.
Staying on site at Disney is pretty much the same idea. They have 25 Resort Hotel on site options. They range in price/standards some offer more than others. The more expensive, the more extras. From my research, yes it would require a trip to the credit union but Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge would defo be my top choice. This is the hotel where you wake up, walk out onto your balcony and the animals are right there grazing away. The whole idea is to give you the feeling of being in the African Savanah. But surely with 25 options something will suit your budget.
Disney tip: The hotel standard will deter the food quality. Do your research around as many reviews as you can before you book. You can dine at any on-site resort, but you won’t get “table service” at the lower end accommodation.
Another perk (or hindrance to those unorganised kinda people) is from 60 days in advance of your arrival you can pre book dining options and fast passes – we will cover fast passes below, character dining and experiences and to be fair Disney has a lot of this to offer. All Disney transportation is complimentary too so it makes it so handy to go from resort to park or even park to park.
A big perk to staying on-site at either is the extra park hours. This is when on-site guests get to enter the park an hour before they open to the public or you can stay behind for up to 2 hours after closing.
It really is personal preference, budget and the time of year you visit. I would love to stay on-site at Universal as they have really upped their game with light shows, fireworks and displays which is something I always felt Disney had over Universal, Disney fireworks are amaze by the way, a defo must see if you visit the parks.
Off site tip: Almost every hotel has free shuttle services to all the parks. You can still travel to them for free even if you’re not staying in their hotels.
While wer on booking tips, I 100% recommend hiring a car. It is so worth it. Just be sure to shop around to get the best price. Pre book because they will take advantage of you booking it while your there. You don’t have to use it everyday but you will be glad you have it.
As good as the public transport and shuttles are, esp with the pram and packed food (and shopping) for us it was so handy to have the boot, the freedom to come and go and not be on a bus timetable. Some park passes will have free parking for the day or you can add it onto your tickets, just make sure you snap where you left that car, these car parks are BIG, and I’m bad enough playing hide and go seek at home with the car parks as it is. The cars aren’t any oul bangers and you can rent online in advance for as little as €219 a week and get yourselves around in comfort.
We also used P&K Family Rentals for the car seat hire. They met us at the car in the car park. Unwrapped a spotless clean seat from packaging, fitted it in and off they went. It was like new, like it smelt clean, wasn’t a stain on it as the car rentals ones can be quite grubby. On return they again met us at the car park in the airport and took the seat back. We didnt have to do a thing. They were great to deal with.
The i-ride, think of the City Imp that stopped outside Clerys for all those years but with the face front of Henry from Thomas the Tank Engine and that’s the i-ride, it’s basically a bus that services International Drive all day til 11pm, and it can take you anywhere on the drive, to the Outlets either end of the drive (yes there’s two), and it even goes to Seaworld, where you can also jump the connecting shuttle to Aquatica. Its $1.50 a pop, but most hotels give you complimentary passes for the duration of your stay, they’re sound like that.
The bus routes all mainly run the drive too, they can take you to the Florida and Millenia Mall, you really are spoilt for shopping choice and while I found the outlets good no matter what the exchange rate, the malls can seem the same as home, but sure your on holidays and you have an extra few bob in your pocket anyway, ring in them tills girls and boys!
If you don’t want to use the bus, the hotels are more than obliging to call you a car so none of this going out to pull a taxi job, they are so friendly and all their cars are immaculate.
So you got on your flight, arrived at your accommodation and cause of my recommendations ya love it 😂 where do you go next.. Parks? Food? Shopping? Something else? Lets go…
Orlando has 3 main park “groups”.
1. Disney – There are 6 Disney parks Magic Kingdom the “Main Park” features rides, the castle, princesses, parades, firework shows. Hollywood Studios features Toy Story land and where the new Star Wars land is due to open. Epcot famous for its food and drinks festival. Animal Kingdom is Disney’s answer to the Zoo, this also features the 2 Avatar rides I am yet to tick off my bucket list. Then the two water parks Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
2. Universal: This is made up of Universal Studios, if you visit near Halloween you have to do Halloween Horror Nights, Islands of Adventure which plays host to Jurassic World and together they both make up a LOT of Harry Potter Land and their new water park Volcano Bay which is a whole new park set up, and has some fantastic rides.
3. Seaworld Group: Another 3 park group, this one is famous for Seaworld, I know, dividing of opinions will happen here. Aquatica/Discovery Cove which is a full on and brilliant water park with once a lifetime experiences to be had at Discovery Cove. Then Busch Gardens which I will say I am NOT a fan of. More on that as we get to it!
So which to choose and why?
I can only answer this on a personal opinion basis.. As we established I don’t love Disney I only like it. My ticket package consists of the 3 park Universal & Seaworld group (I dont use Busch Gardens ticket but its cheaper to buy the package then the 2 parks separate) and then we pay at the gate for Disney as we only do one or two parks max. I have used a few ticket agents for tickets and to be honest Holiday shows normally do the best deals i.e. Adults for the price of kids, free Legoland ticket with particular purchases. Going through your travel agent, attraction tickets direct and Florida Tix are the sellers I recommend, but there are loads out there.
All tickets come on a 7 or 14 day basis, certain times of the year Disney put on 3 parks for the price of 2 but they are 1 day entry tickets, you can only visit once. On the full packages you can come and go as you please in and out of any park what ever days suit you within your dates.
All Universal and Seaworld work the same minus Volcano Bay. Volcano Bay have the tapu system where you get a wrist watch thing – a tapu- on entry. If there’s a queue on a ride, you tap and it will give you a time to come back and ride the attraction – no queuing! All the rides in any park tell you the wait times, regular and express queues, you just jump on and wait your turn 😂 you can invest in a fast pass they vary in price each park but are not cheap, this is why the quiet park times are a bonus. Try avoid parks on weekends or holiday days, they will be quieter. However sometimes Disney is just busy no matter what the day.
If you prebook Disney, they operate on a fast pass basis. You choose to book 3 rides at a time, but they have to be in different lands. For example you can’t book all 3 toy story rides on your pass, u could book your 1 toy story, then say the tower or terror then a frozen, that’s your 3 passes used, after all 3 have been completed you book another 3, and so on. So you go to your park, ride your 3 rides then book another 3.. do ya get me? 🙈 I personally feel this leaves you running round the parks back and forth in and out and just an absolute headache. If you pay at the gate you can swipe your ticket on the kiosks and book 3 rides when you get there the carry on as above. It all sounds like too much brain time doesn’t it!
LegoLand: This is seperate to any park group, it is a fair drive out but my god it is so worth it. Its a great park for the kids. We done this on Halloween so we got to do our trick or treating here and they had so much fun. The rides are great, the shows (Although we didnt get to see one, are apparently so much fun) It has the driving and flying school, the whole world landmark and places all built in Lego, meet the Ninjago, plenty of places to play with the lego itself and the Lego Friends land. There are a few playground type sets throughout the park also. This, I defo recommend a visit to..
So that covers visits, tickets, passes, queues etc! The extras.
What we will do here is look at what you can do beyond the rides at the parks.
1st up, Discovery Cove @ Aquatica! So this is thee ultimate experience. Dolphin swim, animal encounter, snorkelling with fish and sting ray, handfeed tropical birds… AND it is an all-inclusive day.. you get your food, drinks, towels, sunscreen, wetsuits, snorkelling equipment.. like you literally just need to bring your body. Prices start from €170 pp and although I’ve not done it, anyone who has said it was worth every penny. If you have a child under 6 they can not do the dolphin swim and all 6-12 yr olds must be accompanied by an adult.
Halloween Horror Nights @ Universal: Obvs this is subjected to certain times of the year it runs from Sept into the 1st week of Nov. It comes in at roughly €80 pp but it is so much fun. Haunted houses, people dressed up terrorising you through the park, literally, right down to the decorations. Don’t miss this if you get the chance to go. Note: Only selected rides are open at the HHN, but the Mummy is and frankly that’s one of the best rides there! Its my must do, I actually love it!
Disney Special Parades: These happen at a few times throughout the year “Mickey’s not so scary Halloween Party” and “Mickeys very merry christmas party”. Now, another reason I only like Disney, these are still $100 pp on top of their gate prices. They still do a firework show at the end of the parade. It’s great for the kids but pretty sure a regular parade and fireworks would suffice without the price tag.. however if it’s what your into… enjoy the party. I have attached all the Disney show and firework times and dates for 2019 here, you’re welcome https://www.wdwinfo.com/wdwinfo/hours.htm
A lot of things go on throughout the day in all the parks, shows, character meet and greets, parades so be sure to get your map on the way in or look online beforehand. Make sure you tick off all you want to do in each park.
Park tip: EVERY park has the refillable cups. Buy a cup on your way in and there are vending like machines around the parks where you can keep filling with a great selection of juices, waters, lemonades.. aswell as that you refill the popcorn buckets for like $3. I genuinely don’t find the parks expensive for food and drink. Even Disney wasnt too bad.
Outside of Park Life:
There are so many things outside of the parks to do on the daily. I-Drive alone has loads, Ripleys Believe it or Not, Sea Life Aquarium, Titanic Experience, Indoor karting, Indoor Skydiving, Dave and Busters Arcade, Fun Spot Amusements, Pirates Cove mini golf, Orlando Eye, Starlight Ride.. I could go on, but check your receipts anywhere you buy anything, there are always discounts for these activities. Groupon is good for the discounts too. But they are all accessible on idrive, you can walk to each and every one of them.
Away from idrive, you can do a beach day at Clearwater or Tampa, Airboat Everglade rides, Kennedy Space Centre, Florida Wildlife, Gatorland, Daytona day trip, sports games, the Crayola Experience at the Florida Mall for the young uns…
There is so much beyond the parks to do and the best tip to give here is the facebook page “It’s Orlando time” This is a great group for tips especially for these kind of things. People have done all these excursions so its honest opinions and recommendations. Go to the page and join, when you are accepted, go onto the page and enter into the search box “things to do instead of parks” and all the posts will show up with all recommendations.
I would never finish this piece if I went into all the details of everywhere and to be honest, if you’re doing all the parks you might struggle to find the time to do these anyway!
Food & Drink….
So this is me in me element, talking about food. There are options in abundance for food especially on idrive and to be fair the food in the parks isn’t half bad either, especially at Universal City Walk its great for night time as is Disney Springs. So I never really found anything over priced, the standard of food was always good and sometimes too good.. yes im talking about The Melting Pot again, more on that in a minute!
So I-drive have the best options for you and to be honest for as many times as we ate out, we also done a Dominos pizza in the room wrecked from a park day, or grabbed a drive thru on the way back to the hotel.. but here’s a lil rundown…
Millers – Sports bar famous for its chicken zingers, also featuring ribs, burgers, steaks, fajita, salads you name it. They also do good deals on drinks like buckets of beer etc.
Olive Garden – Italian, known for its free soup or salads and breadsticks. Full selection of Italian food, very price friendly, wouldn’t be my favourite but is highly recommended by many.
Longhorns – Steakhouse, and a fine steakhouse at that. I love this restaurant. Great selection on the menu, kind to your wallet/purse. Always has really good service too.
Applebees – Another selection of burgers, ribs, steak, chicken etc. Cheap and cheerful I haven’t had this one in a while but again it is highly recommended by many.
Bahama breeze – This is a Caribbean style atmosphere, live music, great food, cocktails, good selections on the menu a lot of dishes Jamaican inspired – steaks, fish, burgers the usual suspects..
In the Pointe Orlando you can also dine in the likes of Maggianos Italian, Copper Canyon Steakhouse, Hooters, Johnnie Rockets, and the Capital Grille. This is facing the Rosen Pointe Orlando, not too far from the Avanti, it’s beside Walgreens Supermarket/Millers. Its even nice for a little evening walk around as there are a few shops there too.
TIP: Speaking of Supermarkets, especially if you have a car, get to a Publix or Walmart. Publix esp, reminds me of SuperValu, they have fresh food counters, ideal for packing up lunches, making up rolls, and like that, we brought the likes of Porridge, Weetabix etc for brekkie (the 3 year old would be fussy on the grub) we got cheap bowls, plastic spoons, stayed topped up on the milk, brought my lyons teabags, bought the cups (bare in mind we were there for 3 weeks) so the oul trips to the supermarket are defo a must. We did do brekkie out but like that it was nice to be able to just do our own some mornings. We also got drinks, snacks, even a toaster for like $8 I was able to make jam on toast for the youngfella, ham and cheese for myself, the husband refused to eat from the toaster cause he told me it was pointless getting it so he took a stand 😂😂
Up a lil further at Orlando Eye 360 there are plenty more options. My favourite being the YardHouse. They have great food options, it is that little bit more fancy food but don’t be put off by me saying fancy, its defo one everyone should visit at some stage. Aswell as restaurants here, there are great cafes, crepe counters, bars and shops. It’s a good spot to spend a nice day. The Sealife Aquarium is here too and a kids train ride if you have the little ones too.
The Sugar Factory – book in advance – this place is on another level, but level of fun more so than food. The food is ok, nice but not amazing, it’s no melting pot (we are getting to that) but if you have any sort of celebration i.e. Anniversay, Birthday, a Tuesday, while your there this is the place to go even just for a desert. Every 5 mins it breaks out into song (guests select from a playlist) the place erupts, the waiting staff are dancing on the chairs, your joining them, the whole restaurant is singing, rapping and its just great fun. It’s not cheap, and the drinks (alcohol) are $40, but there the equivalent of 4 drinks so its kinda like buying 4 drinks at once. There was 6 of us shared platters, all got a large cocktail (1 non alcohol) and our total was ⬇️ but watch the video to see the fun you can have.
But the piece de resistance.. The Melting Pot, oh my god the melting pot. If I had one night left on earth this would be my final meal. It’s a little off the beaten track, you wouldn’t walk to it, but only because you’d be walking a large, very busy 6 lane road its like the m50 on a good day 😂 but its like $6 in a taxi. Its ranked no.2 of 2,779 places to eat on Tripadvisor so I’m not making it up. This is like nothing, and I mean nothing, like we have at home. This is Fondue in all its greatness. Fondue; Melt that baby up and get dippin.. It would be wrong of me to tell you this is anything less than an experience. Cheese Fondue, followed up with a Salad, onto a mains, finished with a Chocolate Foudue , Im weak just writing this section! DO NOT knock it till you’ve dipped your Granny Smith into your cheese fiesta, cooked your own filet mignon in the seasoned court bouillon or dipped a giant strawberry or marshmallow into your melted milk chocolate, and wash it all down with a Strawberry Basil Vodka Lemonade. This has to be seen to be believed! I can not write this section without leaving out the decor, atmosphere and most important standard of service. Its the most modern chic restaurant around, newly renovated and extended boasting not only a family fun photo booth for all to enjoy but they thought of everything right down to USB ports under your table for your convenience, I know, where would you get it, snap the food pics right up! I could go on and on here but please don’t ever come to me when you’ve had your holiday and tell me you didn’t get to eat here. Just go.
In terms of having a drink, I mean ya are on your holidays. We just got our own and sat at the pool most nights taking it easy. The kids loved the late night swims, they were allowed in the pool til 10pm, 11pm on the weekends, if you could keep them awake that is 😂 but unless you’re in a restaurant or the likes of Millers Sports bars its genuinely not a big drinking holiday one of the things I love about it to be honest.
Theres are many shopping options here. Outlets, Malls, retail along idrive etc. The outlet shopping is so good. So much choice and on the right day great discounts to be had. The outlets are both ends of idrive, one by Seaworld, the other by Universal. Heres my outlet tips:
*Go to customer services and get your discount passport you will save more like extra 10/15/20% off in certain stores, on top of what your already saving.
*Dont dive on full price items with no discount, I held off a set in Puma as it was full price went back up a few days later, 30% off.
*Always give your email address, even set up one for shopping purposes because your receipt on email will nearly always get you an extra 20% off your next purchase. And trust me, you won’t only be going shopping once. Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren are great for this.
*The higher end designers like Micheal Kors will nearly always run a 50% with extra 25% say once a month, always try suss that out if it’s coming up while your there. They had it on for a whole week when I was there, we were there for Veterans weekend and some of the discounts were brill.
*The factory stores. Just outside the outlet stores is the factory stores. Its kind of like an overflow of outlet stock but the likes of the sports shops, Nike and Under Armour just have say 50% off the whole store, no exceptions. And you will go hell for leather. It’s also a great place to get coats and jackets esp in Hilfiger and CK but im sure their stock varies throughout the year.
*Another little tip is always ask for extra.. if you’re at the till paying esp if your spending a right few bob, just ask is there anything extra off the total. We done this in north face and saved an extra $50. Better in your pocket what!!!
I don’t find the malls that great. I done more eating than shopping 😂 they have a great food hall at the Millenia Mall, Burger 21, The Cheesecake Factory.. but the shopping is not great. It still features Forever 21, Bloomingdales, Gucci, Adidas.. a real mix of stores then the Florida Mall has the Macys, Zara, H&M.. defo choose the outlets over the malls if your stuck for shopping time.
This more a less concludes all the info I have for you. If this post makes you want to book a trip, then my work here is done! If it doesn’t, Florida is not for you. I’m kidding there’s something for everyone, adventure, exploring, thrill seeking, chill out, travelling around… you name it Florida has it!
I hope you enjoyed the read, I did pre warn you it was long!
Any questions, phone your travel agent… haha, I’m kidding, Im always happy to help,