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12 tips for planning a totally awesome Orlando holiday

A theme park holiday in Orlando is one of the all-time top family holiday destinations for good reason. Here, we share some ultimate tips on tailoring an Orlando holiday to make it exactly right for you and your family.

All the wonderful things you've heard are true. Orlando is a magical place where kids' best-loved characters and favourite films come to life in a whirlwind of immersive experiences, and family memories are orchestrated to perfection beneath sunny skies.

If you’re starting to think about a holiday to Orlando, remember this: there's not one perfect way to do it. To make it right for you and your family, or whoever you're holidaying with, take a little time to work out precisely what will make it your dream holiday. Of course, help is at hand from your very own genie of the lamp (aka a Florida travel expert at Kuoni) to make your Orlando fantasies come true. 

Factor in enough time at Walt Disney World 


You can comfortably spend two weeks at Walt Disney World alone, particularly if it’s your first visit. This gives you enough time to visit the four theme parks (Magic Kingdom Park, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's EPCOT) at a good pace and try out the two water parks -- Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. You’ll also have ample time to explore Disney Springs, a manicured complex of shops, restaurants, entertainment and the restaurants and attractions around Disney’s BoardWalk.

The parks open around 8 or 9 am, and if you’re a guest of a Disney resort hotel, you can access them even earlier. Opening times can vary, so check before you visit, as Animal Kingdom often opens as early as 7 am. As Florida is five hours ahead of the UK, you’ll find you’ll be awake early on your first few days, which is ideal for taking advantage of early opening times while you adjust to your new time zone. The parks open late, too, and if you’re staying in selected Disney hotels, you can stay after the parks close, sometimes as late as midnight. 

Even if you have the benefit of extended hours, many families comfortably fill two weeks at Walt Disney World, especially if they want a few days of downtime between the parks. With some great planning, you can fit many of the highlights in a week to ten days.

Buy your Disney tickets before you go


Buying your theme park tickets before you go has two main benefits. First, it helps you budget upfront, as it’s a significant part of the cost of an Orlando holiday. Second, once you’ve got your tickets, you can download the My Disney Experience app and start to plan your time in the parks.

The Magic Ticket you can add to a Kuoni Orlando holiday comes with some nice-to-have extras, too, such as the freedom to hop between different parks on the same day (which not every type of ticket offers), so you can spend the morning in one, have lunch in another, and enjoy the evening somewhere else.

The Magic Ticket also includes a Memory Maker, one of the best features. It means you get to keep all the family group shots taken by the professional Disney photographers dotted strategically throughout the theme parks, all the images from attractions when everyone's pulling hilarious faces on rides (such as Twilight Zone Tower of Terror when it drops!), and frame-worthy photos of your kids meeting their favourite Disney characters.

Plan your days at Walt Disney World ahead


The fun of a Walt Disney World holiday starts long before you arrive, and a holiday to Walt Disney World will likely go much more smoothly if you’ve planned it carefully ahead of time. Once you’ve booked your holiday, download the My Disney Experience app. You can plan which days you want to visit, which parks, and what you want to see when you're there, from the rides you don’t want to miss, which Disney characters will be out and about, and the timings or the parades and spectacular night shows. 

In addition to planning the attractions and shows you don’t want to miss, you can book restaurants on the app up to 60 days before you arrive. Booking in plenty of time is highly recommended if you want to enjoy the sit-down restaurants. You’ll also find other bookable experiences like dessert parties that give you an incredible view of the fireworks while you feast on sweet treats, build-your-own Lightsaber workshops, and Disney’s Key to the Kingdom Tour that takes you beneath the parks. 

Reduce your queuing time at Disney


Inevitably, you will spend time queuing at Walt Disney World.  But there are ways you can reduce the waiting time at many of the most popular attractions. 

A Lighting Lane is a separate, shorter queue that allows you to access some of the most popular rides and experiences faster. You can buy these as a one-off through the My Disney Experience app on the day of your visit. Numbers are limited every day, so you'll need to be quick. If you’re staying in a Disney resort hotel, you can buy Lighting Lane access at 7 am on the day of your park visit and it opens to other guests when the parks open. 

On the day of your park visit, you can also buy the Disney Genie+ service to use the Lightning Lane entrances at some attractions and experiences. Typically, if your first selection is made early in the day, you can enter two or three attractions or experiences per day using the Lightning Lane entrance. But not all experiences are included in Disney Genie+, so check the up-to-date list before you upgrade.

If you don’t want to pay to skip the queues, there are other ways to reduce your waiting time. If you’re staying at a Disney resort, make the most of the extended hours, as the parks are quieter during these times. If not, use the My Disney Experience app to check the live waiting times for rides. You’ll often find rides are quieter when there’s a big parade or show on or over lunchtime. And if there’s an attraction you simply can’t miss – make it your first ride of the day.  

If you’re travelling with neurodiverse people who find it tricky to tolerate queues, help is at hand. The Disney Access Service allows you to ‘virtually’ queue for rides. Check Disney’s guide for guests with cognitive disabilities, including autism, which has some helpful pointers about how to prepare. If you need to use the Disney Access Service, you’ll need to get in touch with Disney before your arrival to make sure everything is in place before your visit. 

Budget upfront by adding a Disney Dining Plan


A perk of staying in a Disney hotel is you’ll have the chance to add a Disney Dining Plan to your holiday, allowing you to budget for your food and drink up front. There are two options. The full plan allows you to use your credits to sit down and enjoy reservation-only dining and character dining experiences. Or if you're happy with counter-service and on-the-go meals throughout your stay, the Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan might be right for you. 

Before choosing a Plan, take a look at some of the best restaurants in Walt Disney World and consider whether you’ll want to experience fine dining, signature restaurants, or character dining. This might help you decide which Plan is best for you.  Some families add the Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan to cover breakfast, lunch, and snacks, then go ‘off-plan’ for dinner. Remember that meals and snacks can be redeemed anytime during your stay – there isn’t a daily allocation. Once they’re gone, they’re gone! It also means you can have indulgent days followed by more sensible ones. 

Keep things easy with Disney Magicbands 

You can’t buy them in the UK, but once you arrive at Walt Disney World, buying MagicBands and linking them to your My Disney Experience account, tickets, and Disney Dining Plan is easy.

They come in a wide choice of styles you can keep as a souvenir, and you wear them on your wrist, making scanning into the parks simple. If you’re using a Lighting Lane, you can scan into the ride. If you choose a Disney Dining Plan, it’s stored on your MagicBand so restaurant staff can scan it to redeem credits. 

MagicBands can be used to make purchases in the parks and as room keys in Disney Resort hotels. They also make the MemoryMaker feature on your Magic Ticket even more straightforward: ask the photographer to scan your MagicBand, and your photos magically appear on your app. MagicBands are also completely waterproof, so you can wear them at the waterparks, too. 

MagicBands cost around $35 each, and if you don’t decide to buy them, you can use the free MagicMobile. This service allows you to access many of the benefits of the MagicBand on your mobile phone. Some families decide to get MagicBands for kids and use MagicMobile for adults. Alternatively, you can pick up free cards from Guest Services, which store your tickets, Lighting Lane passes and Dining Plan. 

Universal Orlando Resort needs at least a few days


Universal Orlando Resort is constantly nipping at Walt Disney World's heels, particularly with a whole new theme park, Universal Epic Universe, opening in 2025. 

There's plenty here to entertain you, with two huge theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure, a waterpark and an entertainment district, Universal CityWalk.  It's also where you'll find The Wizarding World of Harry PotterTM with rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden JourneyTM and the HogwartsTM Express and famous attractions and immersive experiences like OllivandersTM Wand Shop, where wannabe wizards are matched to their perfect wands. 

Many families allow at least a few days to experience Universal Orlando Resort to the fullest, even though the most popular Universal tickets give you access to the parks over 14 days. Tickets that allow you to move freely between Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure (known as Explorer tickets) allow you to ride the fantastic Hogwarts Express between the two parks—an unmissable experience for Harry Potter fans. 

To reduce how much time you need to spend here, consider adding a Universal Express Pass with your theme park admission to skip the regular queues at Universal Studios Florida's popular rides and attractions. The Universal Express pass will give you one-time priority access to select rides and attractions, and the Universal Express Unlimited Pass means you can join an Express queue as many times as you like. 

Download the Universal Orlando Resort App to make the most of your time in the parks. You can order food and drinks to pick up without waiting, get the latest waiting time for rides, and set reminders for attractions you don’t want to miss. 

Think about moving hotels mid-way through

Staying in resort hotels within Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort comes with some tempting perks. If you want to visit both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort in a single holiday, you could switch hotels mid-trip to maximise the benefits of both, allowing you to immerse yourself fully in both experiences. Ten days at Walt Disney World and four at Universal Orlando Resort is a tried-and-tested combo. 


At Walt Disney World, staying in the Resort hotels means you get early access to the parks, and you’re conveniently close to your hotel at the end of a busy day. It’s easy to flit between parks and your hotel, too. Plus, you’ll only get access to Disney Dining Plans if you’re a guest at a Disney Resort hotel. 


The perks vary slightly depending on which Universal hotel you choose. At a minimum, you'll get Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter up to one hour before the parks open and the advantage of being closer to the Universal Parks. You can quickly return to your hotel if you've been enjoying the entertainment options at Universal CityWalk, too. If you stay in one of the more premium Universal hotels, such as Portofino Bay, Royal Pacific Resort, or Hard Rock Hotel, you get Universal Express Unlimited Passes included in your stay, which is a perk worth serious consideration.

Check the height of your kids


It's a hotly debated topic, but the reality is that there's no perfect age to take children on Orlando holidays. While you could weigh up when the ideal childhood moment is for them, asking yourself if they'll remember it or if they're tall enough for every ride, remember that Orlando theme parks do an incredible job of providing a fantastic experience for all ages.

There's so much for pre-schoolers and primary-aged children that height limits shouldn't be a reason not to go on or delay an Orlando holiday. After all, if you wait until they're tall enough for every single ride (or convince yourself they’ll remember it!), they'll have probably outgrown many of the magical rides the Disney parks are known for. That said, it can be frustrating if your children are just a centimetre or two off rides they really want to go on, so it's worth checking individual rides if there's something you know they'll be desperate to try. 

It’s also worth remembering that the nighttime shows start pretty late—typically around 9 pm in the Disney parks—and once you factor in a five-hour time difference, that can be too late for the littlest ones. 

Savour the build-up


The countdown to your ultimate family holiday is part of the excitement. Once you’ve booked and are ready to tell the kids, use Mickey Mail to tell them. It’s a free service from Disney that lets you personalise a letter from the mouse himself. 

Watch the movies that inspire some of the best rides at the parks in the lead-up to your holiday. While you don’t need to have seen Ratatouille, Star Wars, Princess and the Frog, or Avatar, being more familiar with the characters and plotlines can help you better appreciate the incredible storytelling built into the Disney ride experiences. If you’re planning to visit Universal Orlando Resort, some of the best rides are Harry Potter-themed, but you might want to catch up on other franchises like Minions, Jurassic Park, Marvel movies, and old favourites like Shrek

Remember, there’s more to Orlando than theme parks


Orlando may be the world's theme park capital, but that's not all you can expect if you visit the city. If you want to shop, you've got malls and outlets, and any golfer will tell you there are incredible courses here, not least the ones you'll find within Walt Disney World itself. 

You could explore International Drive on the trolly, take an airboat adventure on the Florida Everglades, or try one of many fantastic, family-friendly adventure golf courses. There are other water parks outside the two main resorts, including H20 Island, within walking distance of Margaritaville Orlando and Embassy Suites by Hilton Sunset Walk. 

If you find yourself wanting to escape the bubbles of the theme parks for a day or just an evening, it’s handy to have a few ideas up your sleeve, whether that’s shopping in the Premium Outlets or spending some time wandering around Orlando neighbourhoods like Celebration or Winter Garden. 

Relax – you won’t do it all


If you know anyone who's been to Orlando, they'll likely be brimming with tips on unmissable rides, the best places to eat, whether you should stay in a resort hotel or a villa, and how much time to allow for all the different experiences. 

Take the pressure off yourself and concede early in your planning that you won't do every ride, meet every character, try every waterpark, or even visit all of Florida’s theme parks on one trip. You'll enjoy your holiday more if you spend time picking and choosing the bits you most want to do. A little research is needed to find out what’s available that suits your children's ages, their favourite movies and characters, and the experiences you want to have as a family. It’ll all help you figure out the best place to stay in Orlando and how best to plan your time. 

Remember to factor in some proper downtime, too, whether enjoying a day around the swimming pool or maxing out your theme park holiday by pairing it with other experiences, such as Florida road trips to sandy shores or decompressing on Caribbean beaches.


Inspired?


Our Orlando experts are on hand to help you create the perfect theme park adventure.

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This feature was created on 22nd April 2024. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge. 

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