Book your perfect Orlando Vacation – (Step-By-Step Guide)

Main Street walking up to the Princess Castle

Thinking of planning a trip to Orlando, but not sure how? We have created an easy to follow step-by-step guide to help you.

Disney World attracts roughly a million British tourists each year and is generally considered the trip of a lifetime, which can make it an expensive option for a vacation. However, if you are a little savvy and spend some time pre-planning you really can make the most of your Orlando Holiday by saving your cash with a few clever tips and tricks.

This guide will help you plan your trip from start to finish, by cutting out the ‘middle man’ you will be getting the lowest price possible.

Planning your next holiday, or even your first trip to Orlando can seem a scary thing to do, you could be tempted to go online and book it all through Disney or through a travel agent, if you spent the time and did the research you could cut out the middle man and save yourself a good amount of money by doing it all yourself, I am sure you would rather spend the money on the parks and on the kids.

  1. Where to Stay in Orlando?
  2. When is the best time to go to Orlando?
  3. Booking your flight
  4. Before you go
  5. When you arrive
  6. Getting around Orlando
  7. Where to get tickets from and which ticket is right for me?

Where to Stay in Orlando?

The first place to start when looking to book a trip to Orlando is when and where you will be staying. Orlando has lots of great areas with some fabulous villas to choose from, or you could stay on the famous International Drive which is in close proximity to Universal Studios and Sea World, or if you love Disney then there are some great places to stay inside the Disney Resort where you are a bus ride from the Disney parks.

I have personally stayed in hotels on International Drive and also in villas, and I have always found it is worth getting a villa over a hotel room as you can cook your own meals, which will save you on eating out all the time, along with having a place to relax and unwind if you are not hitting the parks that day. A villa may at first look more expensive than the cheaper alternative motel’s found on International Drive and not really seem as though you will be a budget, but by booking a villa you save on eating out every night by ordering a takeaway or buying food from the local supermarket and cooking yourself.

We have lots of villas near to Disney World, which is perfect if you want to go on the rides during the day, then nip back to your villa for a shower/swim, then head back out in the evening ready for the fireworks.

You can tell who has been at the park all day and who has had the benefit of freshening up!

Outside area of a villa showing a pool and some places to sit

When you look for a villa, you will most likely hear places like Kissimmee, Davenport – these are the towns in the area, most homes are located within one of these, but a lot refer to their location as ‘Orlando’, so do make sure to check where the actual location is. You can find a location map on each of our villa pages that pinpoint their location and let you know how many minutes they are from Disney and Universal. This is something to consider so it is easy to get to and from the parks each day.

Renting a Villa in Orlando can be a really great way of saving some money as big families or a group of friends can share the villa rental costs. You can also save money by booking directly with the owners rather than an agency to ensure you get the best deal possible.

Not to confuse you some more, you will find that a lot of the homes are in different communities, like Calabay Parc, Highlands Reserve, Emerald Island to name just a few, these are small communities that have been built that hold a number of villas, some have the added security of being gated, their own pool house with on-site entertainment/facilities and sometimes a restaurant and shops, to help you decide which community is best for you whilst you are visiting Orlando, see our villa community page.

Tip! When looking for a villa, make sure to ask about pool heat, even though Orlando is hot, it is always nice having the extra help from the pool heater.

Best time of year for weather in Florida?

Florida is called the ‘Sunshine State’, there is never a ‘bad’ time to visit Orlando, but some months have the benefits over others. If you are going in the peak season, March through April (spring break) June through August (summer break) and mid-December through early January (winter break) then you can expect longer lines, higher flight prices and villa prices too.

Welcome to Florida Road Sign

Generally, January, February and September are the ideal times to visit Orlando as the cost of flights are a lot less as there are no school holidays and you can get some great deals, with July & August being the most expensive time to visit, followed by October and the Xmas period.

If you check the weather report you may be a bit put off when you see that there is forecast of rain/thunderstorms a lot of the days you had planned to visit, do not let this put you off, we went in May 2018 and it was forecast rain and thunderstorms every day, I think we got wet once when we were there. A lot of the time it will rain for a short time, then it will brighten up, we always make sure to pack a poncho just in case!

Weather chart showing sun and rain

Most people cannot pick and choose when they can come to Orlando, which is perfectly understandable, knowing some tips and tricks to getting around the parks with the least amount of queuing is always a bonus.

  • When you visit a park, get there early, instead of starting at the entrance, where everyone else is, head straight to the other side of the park, you will find whilst people wander around and take their time, the wait times can be minimal compared to if you were to do the rides as you reach them.
  • If the lines are very long, and you do not want to wait, then most have a single rider queue, which is normally a lot shorter, we tend to do this, we can chat in the queue leading up to it, but then get paired with someone else on the ride, you’re hardly going to have a chat when you are upside down on the Hulk, the only downside to this is not being able to get the photos with you and your loved one.
  • Use the Disney Fast Pass service, this is a great way to cut down on the queueing, simply put your ticket in one of the kiosks by the entrance and you will be given a ticket, which will let you know when to come back.
  • Universal Studios have ‘Express Passes’ which are great, they do cost extra but on really busy days being able to walk past everyone in the queue is great.
  • If you cannot get to the park too early, then we have found that visiting the park around 5 pm is a good time too, you will pass thousands of people walking to the exits after a long day and we have found it a lot nicer to walk around, with the benefit of it being a little cooler too. If you are visiting Universal Studios, then if you visit after 6 pm you will save on the parking charges too, which is a bonus.

Booking your flight to Orlando

When you have decided on when you are going and where you will be staying, the next thing you need to look at is flights to Florida. Here are some tips to help you find the best deal possible.

  1. Use different compare websites, such as Skyscanner and Kayak to compare the prices.
  2. Setup alerts on Skyscanner, you will be notified when the price drops or rises
  3. Look around for coupon codes just before you purchase the flights, sometimes you can get money off or a voucher for Amazon, I recently booked some flights with TUI and used vouchercodes.co.uk and received a £150 voucher for Amazon.
  4. Airlines usually do sale’s at different points of the year, so it is always good to sign up to newsletters for various airlines that fly to Orlando, you will be notified of any ‘flash sales’, you may just find a bargain.

A graph showing the best time to book flights

Skyscanner has some great tips on getting a bargain flight which can all help when you’re booking a trip away.

Which airport do I fly too? Orlando or Sanford?

There are 2 main airports in the Orlando area you can fly too, Orlando International Airport (MCO) or Sanford (SFB). Orlando International Airport is the larger of the two airports and also nearer than Sanford, which is a bit more of a drive away but can be quicker in the long run, as the immigration queues tend to be a lot smaller and the area around the airport is a lot quieter.

You can also fly into Tampa (TPA), which is quieter than the other 2 airports but you will not be in Orlando when you arrive, it is a 2-hour drive to get to Orlando, so ideally keep a look out for Sanford or Orlando International.

Did you know? You can also combine your trip to Florida, cruising from Florida is always a great idea if you want to split your holiday up, why not have 1 week in Orlando and 1 week cruising around the Caribbean, or a few days in Vegas and then finish off in Orlando. I did this trip, the year I proposed to my now wife, and our honeymoon was a few days in Orlando and a cruise around the Caribbean, so I can personally highly recommend this.

Before you go

You have booked your flight, found a villa, sorted out your car hire… now what?

  • If you have never been to America before, or have not been since 2009 then you will need to head over to the ESTA website and quickly get your ESTAs for everyone in your party.
  • Make sure to double check the expiration date on your passport, you need at least 6 months remaining on your passport to be allowed to travel. If you do happen to find out last minute that your passport needs renewing then make sure you book in for an emergency appointment to get it renewed.
  • Holiday insurance is a must, as like any holiday, but especially when visiting America, they do not have an NHS service like in the UK, so if you are admitted to hospital or require treatment it can be very costly. There are a lot of great holiday insurance comparison websites that you can use to get the best deal for you. It is important to make sure you get the right cover, not just the cheapest.
  • I always let my bank know I am going abroad so when payments made whilst away are not classed as being fraud and have your card blocked, which can be very annoying when you are away.
  • I normally take some cash and the rest on a MoneyCard, these are great as they are used like a credit card, but you can top them up as you please and log in and see what you have spent. It is always a good idea getting a second card, just in case of emergencies.
  • Take a copy of all your documents and keep them safe, it is always a good idea to have backup documents of all the bookings you have made, just in case your battery on your phone goes and you do not have access to it.
  • If you have disabilities and need assistance when at the airport then you can normally do this when you check in online. If you do not see this option just let a member of staff know when you are checking in and they will point you in the right direction of wheelchair assistance. You can request this the whole way through, so no worries about rushing to the next gate and getting through customs, simply let the air steward know you have booked assistance and wait on the plane until everyone has left, then make your way to the front of the plane and someone will be there to meet you. I always feel the need to tip when I get this, as normally the poor porters more than earn their tip!

Then, pack your bags, get the suncream and let the countdown begin.

Extra Bonus Tip – If you live in the UK, then make sure you take medication like Paracetamol and Ibruprofen, this is really expensive for something similar in the US.

When you arrive at your Florida Villa

If you are lucky enough to fly direct then you will not need to worry about the next bit too much, but this is important information if you are switching planes once over in the US.

If you have a stopover where you need to switch planes, for example in Atlanta/New York, you will need to claim your luggage so you can then pass it on to go to the next destination. Before claiming your luggage you will need to pass through customs, out of experience I would make sure the flight has a layover of at least 2 hours between connections. I have missed a flight in the past due to being stuck in customs for over 2 hours.

When you eventually arrive in Orlando, whether it is direct and indirect, once you have passed security it is time to go and pick your bags up. You will see on various monitors which luggage carousel that you will need to go too, you may find that your luggage has been taken off and waiting on the side, so make sure to check around fully before panicking.

If you think you may have lost a bag, then let someone know, you will need your luggage labels that are most likely stuck on your passport so they can track your lost bag down, 9/10 times you will get the bag within 24 hours, delivered directly to your door.

TOP TIP: We always split our case, we both pack our case and then we put half of our clothes in one and the other half in the other case, so if we do happen to lose a case, we will always have some clothes to wear until it turns up, you do not want to be the one person who is stuck wearing jeans and jumper for a few days!

Arriving at a Villa

Outside of a villa

If you have booked a villa then It is always a good idea to print out the directions to your villa. If you are flying from the UK, the last thing you need after an 8 hour + flight is being unable to find where you are staying, this happened a lot to us before the days of sat nav!

It is a good idea to go on Google maps too and take a look at the area, so you can familiarise yourself with some of the roads of landmarks nearby.

When you arrive at the villa, you will most likely find your key in a box to the side of the door, your owner will have given you a code to use to access this key, this is very handy as you can leave it here when you lock up and go out for the day knowing your key is safe, just don’t forget the code! Again, write it down or put it in your phone in case of emergencies. It is also a good idea to take the owner’s contact details and add these before you go, so if you have any issues you can give them a call or an email to sort any issues out.

Dining table inside a villa

Make sure to turn off the alarm and then explore your new home for 2 weeks. Most have a games room, pool, numerous bedrooms and lots more on offer depending on the home. You may be lucky and you may find some essentials that have been left by previous guests or receive a welcome hamper for new guests from the owner. This is always a nice touch.

It is always a good idea to go shopping the day you arrive to get this out of the way, stock up on drinks, food etc. We always put money aside each month leading up to the holiday so we have a good lump sum to go shopping with, this makes it more manageable. Things like cleaning materials, washing powder, dishwasher tablets, sandwich bags, coffee etc is very expensive in America, and everything is massive, so a good idea is to take your own or if you buy some, bring it back and use it at home.

An added bonus is the dryers that most of the villas have, these are fantastic and will not require any ironing, so do not fret if you cannot see an iron lying around.

Getting around Orlando when you’re on a Budget

You can get around a few ways, but having your own car for your vacation is certainly the easiest and most efficient way to experience all the parks that are on offer.

If you cannot drive, or too scared to drive abroad then there are other ways to enjoy the parks. If you have never driven in America then it is always a good idea to take note of the rules of the road, here are a few pointers for driving in Orlando.

If you are staying close to International Drive, then the popular i-Ride which runs the whole length of the road, ideal if you are wanting to visit Sea World or the mall, a 14 day pass is only $18.00 per person, which is not a bad price to pay as you will certainly get the use of it if you are close by, you can also pay as you ride.

The i-Ride Trolley bus

You cannot ride the i-Ride to Disney or Universal, unfortunately. I have used Mears shuttles in the past, but this can certainly mount up over the course of your holiday, as most of the parks have entertainment at night, so you can either spend all day and wait for this or you can nip back to freshen up. As well as Mears, Uber is available.

If you are looking to rent a car then there are lots of different places you can look for the best deal, price comparison websites are good and also Rentalcars.com is a good option. Make sure to look into the insurance when you book, if you are from the UK, the insurance types available are a bit more confusing than what we are used too. We have just booked and used CarHireExcess.com for the peace of mind, I highly recommend how easy this was to do and the reviews for this company are certainly encouraging.

Where to get tickets from and which ticket is right for me?

Orlando is such a fantastic place for the whole family, but to experience it, you need to get into the parks! You can arrive on the day and just buy a ticket at the park, but you will most likely miss out on some great deals that you can get if you had booked earlier. We have been to Orlando a lot of times, I have personally done both, but getting your tickets beforehand is always the best way. It also eases the financial burden of having to pay for everything in one go.

You can buy your tickets and pay for them just before you go, which is great. You can pick all your tickets, pay a £25 deposit and then pay for the rest 4 weeks before you depart. This is great, as if you are like us and book well in advance, you can put a bit of money aside each month, you will be amazed how easy paying for the tickets can feel doing it this way.

A website screenshot showing where you can buy tickets

There are so many ticket options it can feel a bit overwhelming, especially if it is your first time visiting, how long do you need at the Magic Kingdom? Will I like Epcot? Which waterpark should I choose? All of these questions are ‘problems’ that people may come across when you look at choosing what is the best thing to do on their trip.

You will be amazed how much you can see in a day, if you are keen to spend a full day at each park then a 7 day ultimate ticket or 14 day ultimate ticket is a great option, spend the morning in Disney’s Animal Kingdom then head over to the Magic Kingdom for the parade and finish off the evening watching the fabulous ‘Happily Ever After’ fireworks, which are on every evening, one you cannot miss.

Top Tip! Just as the fireworks are starting to come to a close, start to head back to the monorail, by leaving just a few minutes early you could save a lot of time by not waiting around in the massive queues at the end. Or, watch the fireworks at the start of Main Street, then you can easily get back on the monorail. Also, leaving at this time can be very busy on the roads, so if you can be on one of the first monorails back to the car park, then you will have an easier time making your way back to your villa or hotel.

As well as deciding which parks to visit, you also have to take into account how busy each park may be. You could go in October and get through the park attractions with ease, even allowing a day or 2 relaxing by the pool or a day shopping, but, book in August and you may struggle to see just half of the park. See this great easy to use guide to show which are the best months for crowds, and which to avoid. Of course, you may not be able to go in the quieter months so do not let this put you off, you can manage your time to make sure you see as much as possible.

Here are a few tips that could make visiting the parks a bit easier in the busier months.

1) Download the park maps before you go and look at what you really want to see, plan your day before you arrive. You will be amazed how many people turn up at the park, pick up a map and then do not know where to go, possibly missing out on something really interesting, but due to time and crowds unable to see.

2) Instead of starting at the front of the park, why not bypass all the rides and head straight to the other end of the park, you will see people running to get ahead of the crowds, you can spend a good hour riding some rides and seeing things which would take hours if you followed the crowd and took your time.

3) If you are visiting Universal Studios then you can take advantage of their ‘Universal Express Pass’, this allows you to either use it once at a ride or unlimited, depending on what you spend as there are 2 options for this (Universal Express Unlimited and Universal Express Pass). The Unlimited pass allows you to reuse the ticket more than once, which is ideal if you love the ride and want to go again. Make sure you do not use your Express Pass when it is quiet, as you may regret jumping to the front of a 20-minute queue when a few hours later it is over 2 hours and you want to ride again.. unless of course, you have the unlimited option, then ride away!

Entrance to the Men In Black Ride showing the different entrances

Important Update: Universal Studios has recently changed what rides you could use for this pass and now has included the Wizarding World of Harry Potter rides, including The Forbidden Journey and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

4) Single Rider Lines – these are always a good way to get to the front of the queue without having to spend money on a pass, you get to spend the time together as you normally would in the queue, but will get split up when you board the ride.

5) Disney World does not offer a paid pass, they offer a ‘Fast Pass’, which works in a similar way, but had its differences. You can even now download the app that is linked to your ticket and book your fast passes in advance, or even when you are in another park, for example, if you want to ride on Space Mountain later in the day when you have finished in Epcot, simply use the app to book your slot (which is only valid for an hour) and book yourself in. It is certainly easier now, you use to have to walk to the ride (or run in some cases to get there early and get a fast pass time).!

6) You will need to pay for parking at Disney every time you visit the parks, your ticket will not be valid the next day without purchasing a new one. However, you can re-use the same parking ticket for all Disney parks when you visit more than one park in a day. The cost depends on your vehicle, however, assuming you have a car it will cost you $17.00 for a ticket. Some parks have free entry after a certain time in the evening so you can always return later on.

How to save money on food

Food and drink can be expensive in the parks and can soon add up if you are feeding the whole family. Eating outside the parks will keep costs down by filling up with a large breakfast before you head out and leaving again in the evening to eat out of the resorts where meal prices are generally lower.

The hot weather will more than likely cause you to drink more and it’s important to stay hydrated however having to buy fizzy drinks all day can soon eat into your holiday spends. Take an empty water bottle and fill up from the free water fountains that are dotted around the parks. Souvenir drinks are a nice way to keep a token of your visit, these can be refilled around the park for free and can often work out cheaper than buying separate drinks especially if you share between the family.

How to buy cheaper merchandise and presents

Merchandise can work out expensive and with the vast amount of souvenir shops dotted around the parks it can be hard to keep your little ones from wanting everything they see.

A great tip is to buy a Disney autograph book so not only do they have an official Disney souvenir but it keeps them busy collecting all the character signatures throughout the day and is only just under $7.00. You can even just buy a regular notebook, we guarantee getting Mickey Mouse’s paw print signature will be just as exciting!

Premium Outlets Mall in Orlando, Florida

You can also keep the costs down by visiting the Disney Character Warehouse at the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets Mall which is located near Downtown Disney. You will find they have official Disney merchandise with massive reductions from between 50 to 80%. It is the same stock as within the parks and is often overstock or from previous seasons which means you can save money and keep the kids happy as well.

Conclusion

I hope this guide can help you book your next trip to Orlando and have the confidence to do it yourself. I am sure wherever you stay or whenever you visit you will have a fantastic time, making memories. Above all, enjoy your trip, stay safe, take care of everyone in your group and have a fantastic trip, you cannot get a trip to Orlando wrong, you can just learn on new ways and tricks to save money.

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