A trip to Orlando almost always involves a visit to one or more of the area’s famous theme parks, including Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, and Legoland, along with their related parks and waterparks. Experienced visitors already know that these massive and multi-faceted parks can be a huge undertaking and have discovered ways to save money, beat the heat, avoid line-ups, and make the visit smooth and seamless. But first-timers will surely need some help. So here are some pro tips to assist you in making the most of your experience, no matter which park (or parks) you choose.
For starters, location! Orlando’s major theme parks are all located within a 15-mile radius.
➼ Walt Disney World® Resort is in Lake Buena Vista, about 17 miles southwest of downtown Orlando.
➼ Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld® Orlando are in the International Drive resort area, about 13 miles northeast of Lake Buena Vista and 10 miles southwest of downtown.
➼ LEGOLAND® Florida Resort is in Winter Haven, about 35 miles southwest of Lake Buena Vista.
➼ For Disney World and Universal Orlando, consider staying at accommodations on the park grounds. Initially, hotels associated with the parks might be more expensive, but the benefits include quicker and easier access to the park because you don’t have to drive and park (or pay for parking); access to the park a full hour earlier than other guests; and the ability to take a mid-day break by going back to your hotel for a nap or a swim.
➼ Get the best deal on theme park tickets by purchasing them ahead of time. You can buy them all in one place at a discounted rate from Visit Orlando’s official ticket store, CityPASS Orlando, or Undercover Tourist to name a few.
➼ Download the handy park apps onto your smartphone and become familiar with all of their helpful features before you go to the park. They will also help you to plan your day and maximize your time based on what you want to see and do. Features include such things as maps, ride wait times, show times, parade times and routes, dining venue hours and ability to make reservations, washroom and exit locations, reminders for where you parked, and much, much more. Continue to check wait times for dining and rides throughout the day so you can alter your route or change your plans if needed.
➼ Want to dine with Disney Princesses at Walt Disney World, Captain America at Universal Orlando Resort, aquatic marvels at SeaWorld Orlando, and other famous characters? Make reservations as soon as possible. Special dining experiences at Orlando’s theme parks are popular and fill up months in advance. (Please note that character dining might not be available at the time of your visit. Check with your preferred theme parks for details.)
➼ Theme parks offer guided tours and guidebooks in numerous languages. Contact the parks directly for more information.
➼ Theme parks also offer ways to minimize wait times, including FastPass+ at Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Express Pass at Universal Orlando Resort, Quick Queue at SeaWorld Orlando, and Fastrack Unlimited at LEGOLAND Florida. (Please note that ride reservation systems might not be available at the time of your visit. Check with your preferred theme parks for details.)
➼ If you plan to do as much as possible, go early! Arrive in time for the park’s opening.
➼ When planning your route, consider starting at the back. When you arrive, walk to the back of the park and then work your way forward to avoid the long lineups and crowds that will inevitably start at the front. By the end of the day, when you feel most tired and anxious to leave, you will be close to the exit.
➼ If you plan on going with a family or group, designate an easy-to-locate meeting place in case you accidentally separate, or a smaller group wants to strike out on their own and meet up later in the day. Make sure everyone in your group knows the meeting place and how to get there.
➼ If you love rides and they mean the most to you, consider skipping the parades and or any live performances. Ride lineups tend to be shorter during parade times, especially in the evenings.
➼ If you plan to skip some of the rides and attractions, you can beat the heat by attending the park later in the day and staying later into the evening when the sun has gone down. By 3:00/4:00 pm, many people have already had enough for the day and are starting to leave, particularly those with young children. So going later can also help to avoid some of the crowds.
➼ If you are visiting Universal and plan to include the Harry Potter areas, understand that these rides become seriously busy, with wait times up to 3 hours starting soon after the park opens. If you aren’t going with children, leave this section until later in the evening, when younger children are heading home and the lineups thin out a bit.
➼ Wear comfortable shoes. Experiencing everything at a theme park will require you to walk a lot of miles, and good footwear can help you go the distance.
➼ All theme parks have first-aid stations where you can get help with medical issues.
➼ Make sure your phones, cameras, and other battery-powered devices are fully charged before you arrive. If you need a quick charge, some parks offer free battery charging at guest services. And note that selfie sticks are not allowed in the park.
➼ If you’re looking to save money, take a bottle of water and refill it at the various water fountains or ask the servers in restaurants to refill it for you. The parks are hot and you will need to stay hydrated so buying drinks can become expensive. Also, keep in mind that Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, and LEGOLAND Florida will let you bring outside food and drink, so long as the food doesn’t need to be heated and the beverages aren’t alcoholic. SeaWorld Orlando permits baby formula, baby food, and food for guests with special diets.
➼ Try not to over-pack your bag or knapsack. It might be tempting to take everything you think you will need but it will only weigh you down, make you hot, and interfere with rides. Take the essentials — phone, wallet, sunglasses, sunscreen, water bottle, and perhaps a rain jacket or poncho for those pesky late afternoon showers that pop up just long enough to send everyone running, and then stop. You might also want to consider a camera if you don’t have a smartphone or desire better photos than your phone can offer. For additional items, such as bulky food, a sweater or jacket for the evening, and a swimsuit and towel for the waterpark, consider renting a locker at the park’s entrance.
➼ Purchase your souvenirs at the end of the day, as you’re leaving the park, so you won’t have to tote them around with you all day.
➼ The parking lots are massive at Orlando’s theme parks so locating your car at the end of the day will be almost impossible if you forget where you’ve left it. Use the park app for a parking reminder, make a note somewhere, or simply take some pictures on your smartphone that you can refer to, and be sure to include photos of your section and row information.