Information wanted

We will be heading to Florida in a couple of months for a week long vacation. I’m gathering information about how to approach the whole Orlando experience. Do you have any advice or opinions about the following topics?

  1. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
  2. Disney World’s MGM Studios
  3. Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Park
  4. Disney World’s Epcot
  5. Stay at a Disney resort versus staying at regular hotels near the Disney parks
  6. Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure
  7. Universal Studio’s Florida
  8. Touring the Kennedy Space Center
  9. Visiting St. Augustine, the oldest City in the US

Our first goal is to figure figure out how we should allocate our time. Are some theme parks not worth while? Are some worth more than one day? Are Disney park hopper tickets worth the extra price to preserve flexibility? Things like that. The answers to those questions will, of course, affect our decisions about how many nights to book hotels, but doesn’t answer whether to go Disney or not for the hotels themselves. Some additional useful info: Our kids our in 3rd and 5th grade, and they like wild rides — but I don’t; and the kids and I love Disneyland, while my poor husband tolerates it for our sakes.

UPDATE:  Thank you so much, everyone, for the useful information.

12 Responses

  1. If your trip coincides with a launch at Kennedy it’s worth it. It’s truly inspirational for adults and kids to watch the shuttle go. The next launches are Dec 6th and February 14th. It really does make you wonder about how special the men and women who are riding it.

  2. Generally, I’ve heard that it’s better to stay at a Disney resort. They treat you well, and there are handy shuttles to take you to the parks, although other hotels probably provide that service also.

    I stayed at Disney’s Coronado Springs a few years ago, and it was very nice. However, geographically, it is sprawling, and we had rooms a good 20 minute walk from the main building, which was inconvenient. Otherwise my opinions aren’t worth much, as I was there chaperoning a bunch of middle school students at a conference, and my experience was not typical.

  3. Just got back from 2 days spent at Disneyworld; we drove. Have never devoted more than two days to the place, so can’t help you with a long-term visit there. But I can tell you after three trips, we have down pat what we love:

    We stay at the moderately-priced Quality Suites Maingate East on Irlo Bronson Mem. Parkway in Kissimmee, which is just a couple of miles from Disney. (Check your AAA Florida book.) We get in our “suite” a comfy room with two beds & no tv for the kids, a room w/ 2 beds for the adults (w/tv), a central sitting room w/tv and kitchenette, two bathrooms, heated pool outside, w/hot tub, very nice. We bring our first night’s dinner in a cooler with us, but you can walk to the 7/11 or drive to Chick-Fil-A, McDonald’s, Subway, etc. for takeout, or visit nearby sitdown restaurants. Don’t order the pizza from the flyers pushed under the door; they are bogus ripoffs. Continental breakfast is included and saves time in the morning; served 6:30-10 a.m.. The place is nothing special, but just our style, relaxed, safe, convenient, probably cheaper than Disney. And EASY.

    We drive the couple of miles to Disney and park, because the motel shuttle service takes forever to wend its route to bring us home at the end of the day (and you have to find the bus and catch its schedule). Better to pay $11 parking each day, drive a few minutes, have flexibility. But the shuttle does work if you want to save the dough.

    Epcot: great, lowkey, entertaining, relaxed. Go there first and just be prepared to saunter around behind the kids, doing whatever they/you like for a day. Arrive early, just when it opens, and you will avoid crowds till noon. We all love the World Showcase. The film in “France” is great; the store in “Japan” is awesome. We spend the day there without tiring, go home when we’re done, and hit the pool and gameroom at the motel.

    Magic Kingdom: replica of Anaheim’s Disneyland, but somehow shinier, newer, a little bit different, maybe slightly expanded. Again, plan to arrive just before or when it opens. Use the Fastpass system to bypass the longest lines (Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Peter Pan, Small World). Just being there makes you feel happy, until you get tired. Then have a smoothie and ride the Tomorrowland Transportation System over and over (they let you stay on) until you’re revived. My kids like to run around on Tom Sawyer Island, and love the new updated Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Carribean. All (including me and my 80-year-old mother) love Splash Mountain. And Space Mountain is brief but thrilling! Try it! We also love the extremely corny Carousel of Progress and the Hall of Presidents is impressive.

    Be forewarned: food inside Disney boundaries is hellish expensive. Accept the fact before you go and you won’t resent it so much. The classic core rides (teacups, Peter Pan, carousel, Dumbo) get extremely crowded as the day wears on. We try to get in and out of there and saunter around other areas.

    We buy our tickets ahead of time at AAA, saves standing in line at the parks.

    Have a wonderful time!

  4. I agree that staying in Kissimmee isn’t just cheaper, but there are a lot of fun things to do in Kissimmee, especially for kids. It’s very close to Disney World.

    I believe that they have a “Medieval Times” there, airboat rides and alligator wrestling.

    Check for launches at Cape Canaveral – they send up military rockets in addition to the shuttle and launches are way awesome for kids and adults.

    St. Augustine really is for adults. The kids would be bored to tears.

    I recommend Universal Studios for kids – it’s also educational, if they haven’t been to the one in LA. They can see how movies are put together. Also, Sea World, if you haven’t been to the one in San Diego.

  5. Comfy shoes for Disney – lots of walking and standing in lines. Food’s good at Epcot and Magic Kingdom. Haven’t been to the other parks, but I’ve heard negatives about the Animal Kingdom Park.

    Epcot is the place for the adults to enjoy, but the kids may enjoy it, too. Magic Kingdom is strictly for the kids.

    If it were me, and I had the money, I would stay at Disney – no traffic horrors, and they’re legendary – but failing that, find a nice motel/hotel in Kissimee, not Orlando. Get to the Disnay parks early!

    Everything inside the park costs – except the water fountains – so bring money.

    If you have the time and want a nice drive, head down I-4 and go to the Busch Gardens park in Tampa. Stick the kids on the world famous roller coasters, and stroll around seeing the animals. It’s really a nice place for a day.

    Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure
    Universal Studio’s Florida – both of these have good reps, and if the Studio tour is anything like the one in California it’ll be a blast.

    As for the rest … I dunno.

    By the way, 45 minutes west of Busch Gardens brings you to Clearwater Beach. Dip yer toes in the Gulf of Mexico! Eat at Frenchy’s Salt Water Cafe. Get some sun-burn. LOL

    LAst bit of advice: take sun block! You will need it, even if the weather feels cool. Take it!

  6. Kissimmee’s a good place to stay, but with regard to anything connected with Disney, remember to bring comfortable shoes, and a fortune.

    St Augustine is a lot of history in a small place, and the kids would enjoy the Castillo, the old jail, the Fountain of Youth, Potters Wax Museum, and of course the alligator farm on the other side of the Bridge of Lions. (All of which will actually kill a full day for you, come to think of it. Maybe it is a kid place, on a one day basis…) About an hour drive away south on A1A is Marineland, too. (The more I think about this, the more kid-oriented it becomes… I better quit now!)

    It’s a lot easier to live with fiscally than Disney, too. Much of St. Augustine is also real, which may or may not resonate with your brood. They could also jump in the ocean there, which you cannot do at Disney – that way they would have dunked in the oceans on both coasts, which is somehow a big deal to the under-11 set.

  7. Danny already suggested this – they do have http://www.medievaltimes.com/flhomepage.htm there, in Kissimmee, but I want to expand a bit… As much fun as we had at Disney / Epcot / Universal Studios, etc., one of the best times we had was dinner at Medieval Times! Myself – my husband – and then eight year-old son. Definitely worth the price, in my opinion. I was hoarse the next day after having perhaps a little too much fun [okay – yeah – no such thing!] cheering and yelling for our knight to win – he did!!! Nothing like sitting down to dinner and not having to worry about which fork to pick up. There are no forks. The kids will luv it!!! Have a great time – oh – and don’t forget your laptop. You’ll want to continue posting for us during your vacation, won’t you? [Reservations at Medieval Times are a must!]

  8. I agree with regards to St Augistine as a side trip. It is an interesting area. This sets up nicely with a visit to Kennedy Center, which is worth while even if there is no launch scheduled. The museum is good. (Kids like it and for adults it is nice to see where your tax dollars go)

    I am a Gulf Coast native (although generally out of area for a long time) and think the Gulf beaches are unique. Of course they are the opposite direction to Kennedy Center from Orlando. Also, my favorite period in that area was in the 1940s, so it has changed a bit. Like every other place in Florida the gulf coast is grotesquely over-crowded and exploited.

    If you are there in February, the Gasparilla festival in Tampa used to be a really fun event.

    My favorite features of Florida are the spring fed rivers. Silver Springs an hour or so north of Orlando is the most famous. There are others, but I am not current on which are still viable. Rampant population and drought have sucked up much of the wonderful fresh water aquifer that used to underly most of the state and adversely affected many of them.

    You will definitely want to see some alligators. There are lots of them around Kennedy. Another good viewing area in the wild is the state park on the Hillsoborough River near Tampa. You can walk along a board walk and see all you want, and about as close as you want to get to them.

    Then, of course, you will go fly-fishing for red fish in the Mosquito Lagoon area near Kennedy. Then I would try for some Snook on the gulf coast. :>)

    Sun screen, sun screen, sun screen. You will see some startling shades of red skin in Florida.

  9. Coppertone Sport in the blue tube is really good – it won’t make you break out. Sun block and hats. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than a nasty sunburn the first day.

    I’ve gotten the impression that the Gasparilla festival in Tampa has turned into a drunken rout, trying hard to be Mardi Gras so check the St. Pete Times or Tampa Tribune archives.

    Personally, I can’t stand Disney but I grew up in Florida. I guess you have to do that for the kids, but I would think days at the beach would be more fun. If you are going to be anywhere near the Everglades, take an airboat ride – that would thrill the kids.

    The Gulf beaches were nicer than the Atlantic coast way back when.

    There’s a lot more to the state than “Team Rodent” as Carl Hiaasen dubbed it, but above all, wear sunblock and sun hats and reapply the block frequently. That stuff did not exist when I was a kid and oh how I suffered.

  10. Hi BW,
    Glad you’re planning some vacation time. Jo and I spent our honeymoon at Disney World, and we took the kids back for our Tenth Anniversary. Had a ball both times. For packing a multitude of experiences into a short time and space, Disney is unmatched. A 2-3 day trip to Kennedy and the Atlantic beaches would also be worth it.
    As far as staying in the park verses out of the park, there is the eternal question of cost verses time. Staying in the park, especially in a resort on the monorail line, is a great time saver. We did that the second time, and there was no way we could see what we did if we had stayed out of the park. Cost is the issue. However, Jo any I have been living in the economic plateau of the Greater New York area, and we did not appreciate any obvious gouging. There is no question eating in the park is more pricey than out. Another consideration is that there is a baby sitting service provided in the park if you and Mr. BW wanted to have a dinner for two some night. Yes it costs, but the sitters all bring games to entertain the kids. Now, if you feel really guilty about leaving the younger generation at the hotel, there is something called the “Neverland Club” (if it’s still there, should be). This is a facility where you can leave the kids and have them fully cared for. And, yes, it’s pricey too. But, there are free (ie, included in the price) unlimited Disney movies, meals at appropriate times, every possible video game, and at selected times, Disney handlers bring in various wild animals for the kids to stroke, pet, and learn about. As I recall, Al and Di got up close and personal with a cheeta, a perigreen falcon, and a python.
    Hope you have a great time.
    Al

  11. The last two times we went to Orlando, we stayed at Universal Studios for two nights and Disney World for four.

    Universal Studios’ “Islands of Adventure” is the BEST park I’ve ever been to, and staying at Universal comes with the invaluable perk of being able to skip the long lines. (All you have to do is show your room key and you’re whisked to a seperate entry for guests. No waiting = being able to do both parks in two days and doing the Really Fun rides multiple times!)

    Then, too, the Spiderman ride at Islands of Adventures is simply incredible. And while each park at Disney might have 2-3 good rides, there are very few BAD rides at Islands. .

    I’ve stayed in and out of the park at Disney and the No. 1 place, by far, is the Wilderness Lodge. They have rooms and condos and while the rooms are nice, the condos are very homey — and have a kitchen.
    (The Wilderness Lodge also boasts the best restaurant for kids, hands down.)

    To me, the best parks at Disney are Epcot and MGM, though the Magic Kingdom is the main attraction. Animal Kingdom was a disappointment, but it features “a Bug’s Life” and safari, which were both pretty cool.

    The water parks are fun, but crowded.

    Hope this helps!

  12. Oh. One more thing: The Park Hopper Passes at Disney are 100% worth it – especially if you stay in the park.

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