Orlando Family Secrets

Making the Most of a Trip to America’s
No.1 Family Travel Destination

For families traveling with children, a trip to Orlando is a dream. Ask just about any child where she would like to go on the vacation of a lifetime, and she will inevitably reply “Walt Disney World!” In fact, Orlando, home of Universal Studios theme parks and Sea World and its neighbor, Lake Buena Vista — home to Walt Disney World Resort — are the destination of 43.3 million visitors per year.

Not just for kids
No longer simply child’s play, this legendary theme park resort town is revered by travelers of all ages and cultures, who travel from near and far to experience the Magic that is at the epicenter of the phenomenon known as Disney.

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With Walt Disney World Resort leading the pack as the Imagineer of family fun, other Orlando hospitality providers quickly followed suit. Realizing the value of their most frequent visitors — families with children, Orlando hosts don’t just accommodate children — they consider them special guests! From kid-friendly lodging, to meals and amenities, the folks in O-Town have thought of everything to help families make the most of their vacation experience.

In the past 10 years, Orlando has morphed from a two-horse theme park town to a sprawling maze of attractions. The dizzying array of accommodations and entertainment options can be daunting to the first-time traveler. For the repeat visitor, an ever-changing list of new hotel properties and theme parks provides an additional challenge.

This easy three-part guide — Orlando Family Secrets — will take you through the necessary steps in planning your vacation to remember. Along the way, you will learn tips and tricks to save money and maximize enjoyment. Local moms, theme park employees, resort chefs and Orlando’s NBA athletes have all given their input on the latest and greatest in America’s No. 1 family vacation destination.

Part I in the series, Planning a Vacation to Orlando, will carry you through the necessary steps in preparing your family for a great trip. You’ll tackle the tasks one by one, along the way learning how to stretch your money to find the accommodations and arrangements that best suit your family. You’ll discover which tourist trap areas to avoid and which accommodations offer the best value!

Later, in Part II: Living it Up in O-Town, you will learn about some of Orlando’s latest and greatest family-friendly attractions. Included will be the best of the bunch in character meals, entertainment and family-friendly dining picks. Where do WNBA coach Carolyn Peck and Orlando Magic Point Guard Darryl Armstrong take their kids to eat? Where can a family spend the day away from the theme parks without depleting their 401K? What single outing is worth the splurge? Tune in and find out!

In Part III: Orlando Tips and Tricks, local residents will offer advice on the best in their hometown. You’ll learn of quality destinations, such as the Old Florida-style swimming hole that until now is a best-kept secret. Resort employees will give their two cents on where to hang out after a hard day’s play, where to find the best character meal and how to celebrate your child’s birthday in style without spending extra cash. Finally, we’ll give you the lowdown on where to stock up on discounted souvenirs, the best in local nanny services and baby equipment rental companies and where to find the best view for space shuttle launches.

Part I: Planning a Vacation to Orlando
We have broken the vacation planning assignment into five easy steps. The entire planning process can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of years. As with any important project, the more information you have, the better prepared you will be!

Step I: Determine your purpose
Step II: Set a budget
Step III: Do the research
Step IV: Make arrangements
Step V: Enjoy!

Step I: Determine your purpose
What do you hope to gain from your Orlando vacation experience? Are you seeking fun, frolic and family time? Or are you in need of a quiet respite? Each family has a different reason to visit Orlando, and every member of the family has varying expectations about the vacation experience.

The first step in planning your vacation should be surveying each member of the traveling party for goals and expectations. Will this be your first trip to Walt Disney World? Do visions of mouse ears/princesses dance in the heads of your little ones? If so, you many wish to put Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom first on your list of places to visit. (Official Walt Disney World Theme Parks are The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM Studios and the Animal Kingdom).

Does someone in your family have an unquenched desire to swim with the dolphins? Are you planning a return trip, or do you have teenagers seeking lots of roller coaster action? If so, you might include Sea World and Universal Studios theme parks in your itinerary. Will this be a whirlwind vacation or a relaxing getaway? Each of these factors surrounding your family’s desires will be crucial to your making your itinerary and selecting appropriate accommodations, transportation, and ticket packages.

If noise, hubbub and maximum convenience are what your family seeks, then a package combining theme park tickets with on-site accommodations is the way to go. If, after a day of frolic in the parks, you seek a quiet respite, you may be happy to find a home-away-from-home lodging option. If you are on a tight budget, a careful comparison of your options will invaluable in maximizing your family’s experience.

Step II: Set a budget
At this point, you should be sure of three things: 1) You wish to embark upon a vacation to O-Town. 2) You have a reasonable understanding about your family’s vacation expectations. 3) You have X amount of dollars to spend on your trip.

After determining your length of stay, make a preliminary budget of what you expect to spend for transportation, accommodations, theme park tickets, and dining. Be sure to factor in incidentals such as tips, souvenirs and money for Mickey Mouse ice cream treats! Perhaps, after mapping out your finances, you will decide to postpone your trip until you have saved a bit more. So be it! Do it right the first time — you will be glad you did.

Step III: Do the research
With a bit of careful research, travelers can make an informed choice regarding their vacation itinerary and accommodations. Researching in itself is a vacation pleasure, and can sometimes be nearly as fun as the trip itself. Enlist the entire family in the process.

The best research combines opinions from a variety of sources. Guidebooks are a great source of information on theme park rides, attractions and characters. In general, those from well-known publishers such as Frommer’s and Fodor’s are updated annually and provide detailed information on theme park attractions. Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World 2003 is a resort employee favorite. Passporter Walt Disney World is a unique combination travel guide/organizer that has nifty pockets to store tickets, receipts and memorabilia for each day of your trip. A great feature of this guide is detailed information on Walt Disney World accommodations, including square footage, room layout and maps.

Even the latest edition guidebook can be six months to one year out-of-date, so it is a good idea to supplement printed information with that from a web site. The official Walt Disney World web site (http://disneyworld.com) provides all of the basic information you need to plan a Walt Disney World Resort vacation.

You can request a vacation planning kit here, which includes a video that will be a fun primer for your family planning session, or by calling (407) 934-7639. The Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (www.orlandoinfo.com; (800) 646-2087) and Visit Florida USA (www.FLAUSA.com;(888) 7FLA-USA) are additional sources of official vacation guides to the Sunshine State.

With one-day theme park passes priced at $53 for adults and $42 for children, it makes sense to compare multi-day packages to find the best value. Mousesavers (www.mousesavers.com) is a portal of Orlando discount information. Deb’s Unofficial Walt Disney World Information Guide (www.wdwig.com ) provides package comparisons as well as input from numerous experts on attractions, dining and resorts.

Don’t overlook friends and acquaintances as sources of information. Poll your friends who have been to Orlando recently about their experience. Check out travel message boards popular with parents, such as the one at the travel board here at GeoParent, and the companion site to the Passporter Walt Disney World guidebook at www.Passporter.com.

When you are satisfied that you have researched your options thoroughly, use the data from your research to arrange transportation, select accommodations, make an itinerary and plan meals and excursions. See Parts II and III in this series for tips on selecting accommodations and attractions not to miss.

Step IV: Make arrangements
Prior to your arrival, you will want to have all your Donald Ducks in a row. You will need to determine mode of transportation, select accommodations, and make an itinerary. Your itinerary will largely depend upon what attractions/theme parks you wish to visit. Your other arrangements will revolve around this decision.

Money saving secret No. 1
Play the seasons. If you are able to travel during the “low season,” or non-peak times, you can take advantage of discounted room rates and fewer crowds at the attractions. Check the official Walt Disney World Resort web site (http://disneyworld.com) under “FAQ” for a list of low and peak attendance periods.

Our favorite time to travel is after Thanksgiving but before Christmas, when we can enjoy the holiday-themed parades and special events while crowds are thin and temperatures are comfortable. A close second is early September (after Labor Day), when the kids are back in school and hotels are trying to fill rooms. Finally, the beginning of March is warm enough to dispel the northern winter chill, yet slow enough to allow enjoyment of the attractions.

Money saving secret No. 2
Buy a copy of the Entertainment Book (Orlando edition) for up to 50 percent discounts on dining, lodging and attractions. Orlando lodgings listed in this book of particular value are: Walt Disney World’s Swan & Dolphin, Summerfield Suites-Lake Buena Vista and Universal Studios’ Portofino Bay Hotel and Hard Rock Hotel. Last summer, my daughter and I tagged along for free on Dad’s business trip to Orlando by using two-for-one deals from this book. Order your 2003 copy online for $35 at www.entertainment.com, or purchase a book in Orlando at Skull Kingdom, located at 5933 American Way, off International Drive.

Money saving secret No. 3
Consider renting a car if you are arriving in Orlando via air. Although complementary transportation throughout all Walt Disney World Resort theme parks and attractions is provided to on-site guests, a family of four will pay approximately $120 for round-trip shuttle service from Orlando International Airport. The expense of a weekly car rental might be a wise splurge for your family. The added convenience of personal transportation will allow you to explore the surrounding area freely. Check with your employer, travel agent, local AAA Office, frequent user programs and the Entertainment Book for discounts and coupons. Finally, if you don’t mind driving an extra hour, consider flying into Tampa or Melbourne, where rental rates tend to be cheaper.

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