January 2016: Some people organize everything before an Orlando vacation – usually the same people who organize everything. Others “wing it” and just show up.
This advice is for those who wing it: Don’t.
The upside to showing up without a plan is a true vacation feel – a one-week existence without constant worries about the time of day or being somewhere in 20 minutes. The downside is waiting and disappointment, from long theme park lines to preferred hotels that have no room at the inn.
With that in mind, these are the mandatory items for planning. A few minutes now will minimize frustration once you arrive:
1. Hotel: Start with the broad questions: Stay on Disney or Universal property? Save money by staying offsite but then driving to the parks? Once done, narrow your choice by location, resort style and price. Most people already do this one.
2. Parks: List every want-to-see park, noting that Disney has four, Universal has two, Sea World has one, Legoland has one, and a smattering of smaller attractions can be found everywhere. If in Orlando for a full six days, consider a maximum of five theme park days and one day for other stuff. Then pick your top parks with a nod to the fact that Disney and Universal make it cheaper to spend all your time at one by discounting tickets for extra days.
3. Fast Passes: At Disney, guests can book a Fast Past+ admission to three rides ahead of time. Choose either top-desired rides by family members or ones known to have long wait times once inside the parks. In either case, book all three early in the day. Once completed, you can then book another Fast Pass inside the parks.
4. Restaurants: Disorganized people can’t be expected to know three months ahead of time if they’ll want Chinese food on Wednesday. However, the big meals – one at Epcot, for example – should be reserved ahead of time. A handful of really popular restaurants, such as Cinderella or Belle’s castle at the Magic Kingdom, must be booked 180 days ahead of time. (And you still might miss out.) At the least, book a reservation for nights when you think you’ll have a big meal.
For non-planners, this process can be painful, but many also find it has advantages beyond saving time once they arrive. With resorts, rides and restaurants prearranged, it cuts down on some of those sometimes awkward family discussions that start with an oft-repeated Orlando question: “So what should we do next?”