It happens to the best of us. We’re happily planning an upcoming vacation – we diligently do our research, read an overwhelming amount of reviews, and maybe even take to social media to ask our family and friends for their advice on what they’d recommend doing while in Orlando.
While these recommendations are always well-intentioned, I worked long enough at Universal Orlando to know that there are definitely times when this guidance is a whole lot of ill-informed, downright awful advice. Let’s explore some of these tips and see if we can’t get you on the right track to Central Florida bliss.
Don’t be bad tourists.
“The best time to visit Orlando is three-and-a-half weeks after Christmas.”
The answer to the “When is the best time to visit Orlando?” question is not necessarily the same for everyone who asks it. Some people may want to brave the holiday crowds so that they can get a glimpse of Cinderella’s Castle lit up in glittery white at Magic Kingdom or meet the Grinch at Islands of Adventure, while there are certainly others who would rather not experience feeling like a sardine in a tin can the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
There are absolutely peak seasons and slower seasons within Orlando. However, if you plan accordingly and know ahead of time what you might be facing with crowds, the answer to this question is really what works best for you and your family.
“You don’t need your own camera – the parks have photographers.”
As a photographer, you’ll never find me without a camera – especially when visiting the theme parks! Naturally, you, too, will want evidence that you met Scooby-Doo or walked through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And, yes, one of the great things about Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World is that they both have photographers around the parks to take photos.
However, I also know folks who do their own vacation photography and wouldn’t change a thing about it. On this one, I say bring your own camera, absolutely, but also take the time to research the options offered by the parks; many agree that Universal’s Photo Connect Star Card Package is one of the best deals in town.
“You don’t have to worry about rules when you’re in a theme park.”
It’s true that you and your family are really safe within the theme parks, but this is because the rules exist. If you follow them, you shouldn’t run into much trouble at all. Instead of risking injury or disappointment, it’s so much easier to do your research, know what rides and activities may or may not be accessible to your family members, and take note of the safety precautions that are in place to protect you.
Another tip: your children should also always be supervised, whether in a park or the hotel. Just because there are employees, lifeguards, and security around doesn’t mean that something can’t happen.
“Never take your child to Orlando before the age of five.”
My parents have been taking my sisters and me to the parks since we were babies. Do I remember those first couple of trips? Absolutely not. But I can also promise you that there’s really nothing like witnessing a child’s eyes light up the first time they see all the magic Orlando has to offer. There really is something for everyone here!
Disney practically caters to the younger crowd, and Universal’s parks also have designated areas for children of all ages, not to mention the incredible sights at SeaWorld, LEGOLAND, and Central Florida’s other amazing destinations. You may even begin to see the “May is made for little ones in Orlando” ads coming soon as Orlando tries to showcase that it’s more than just rollercoasters and thrill rides – there’s a lot for the three-and-under crowd, too.
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“Schedule everything you do!” or “Just wing it!”
Orlando is really all about time management. Unfortunately, you will more than likely not be able to experience it all in just five days. I’ve been coming here since I was two, and I’ve lived here for 20 years – yet I still haven’t seen or done it all. Some people really like jam-packing their trip with non-stop activities, while others want a more relaxing vacation where there are pool days and naps included. My parents always brought us back to the room or pool around 2:00pm, where we’d stay until dinner. This gave us the chance to recharge our batteries (and therefore eliminated most tantrums and breakdowns due to exhaustion).
My advice would be to have priorities that are your personal must-dos – plan around those, and fill in the rest of the time with exciting things that might catch your eye along the way. Or to put it simply: don’t “wing it,” but don’t over-plan your trip, either.
“Just stay on I-Drive and walk to Universal.”
This, I must say, boggles my mind. I-Drive and Universal Orlando are within close proximity to one another, but “close proximity” in Florida is something of a small journey in itself, as most activities here are not within walking distance. I would never suggest anyone walk to Universal from their I-Drive hotel, because the surrounding roads are, for the most part, very congested and not very conducive to walking along with your family – not to mention that this will only extend your day by quite a bit, and require the long walk back to your room with tired kids, bags, and souvenirs from the park.
See what options your hotel might have for you to arrive safely, or consider renting a car to get around. If you’re staying on-site at a Disney or Universal hotel, they each have their own transportation systems. There are also outside bus services that will take you to the other local attractions and parks, as well.
“You can buy tickets for half off.”
This advice also scares me. You really have to do your research on where you’re finding any deals on theme park admission; there are, unfortunately, many scams in which you are sold tickets that might be expired or don’t otherwise work. Once you get to the park entrance with an invalid ticket, there is nothing the parks can do – and they surely will not refund an order you placed with a guy behind Red Lobster. It’s a sad story, but it happens.
So please do your research on this front, too, and recognize that, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That being said, there are many very trustworthy discount ticket distributors, like Undercover Tourist. I know we’re all trying to save a few dollars, so do your due diligence as the “half off” deal could potentially endanger your entire trip.
“There are so many restaurants, you’ll never need reservations.”
I’m just going to come out and say it – you absolutely, without question, need reservations when dining at Disney World or Universal Orlando. This doesn’t mean that, if you don’t have reservations, you’ll go hungry, as there are tons of great places to enjoy a meal here in Orlando. However, if you’re visiting when it’s busy, your chances of dining at Beast’s Castle, Cinderella’s Castle, Mythos, or Emeril’s without reservations are not good.
Some of Orlando’s more popular restaurants – particularly those at Walt Disney World – book up six months in advance, and very few people ever cancel those prized reservations.
So often during my time working at Men in Black: Alien Attack, I heard guests complain that their trip could have been better “if only.” I think many times people have high expectations of doing it all, or go by what worked best for someone else, and then they wind up falling short. Orlando has so much to offer if you pace yourself, have your list of must-dos properly compiled, and you know where to go for expert advice. Do these, and I don’t think there’s a way you can go wrong.
For more information about these topics, check out these pages in the OI Universal Center:
If that’s not enough, you can leave your own tips and tricks in the comments below.
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