Instead of focusing on a particular park or place this month, I thought that I would put together a bit of a guide to planning a holiday to Orlando, Florida from the very beginning. This is only a basic guide but I am more than happy to expand on this in further blog posts or as I always say, via email, Twitter or Instagram. If you have any questions or queries at all, however big or small, just send them my way and I will do my very best to answer them. And again, like quite a few of my Orlando, Florida Travel Tips posts, these hints and tips don't just apply to Florida exclusively but should work just as well for any other US State or trip. So let's get started with the best and most economic ways of getting there.
Over the years I have flown to Orlando with several different airlines, sometimes via different destinations and there really are so many options depending on your budget and when you are flying off. My first visit to Orlando was in 2001 and back then there was no option of flying directly from my nearest airport, Glasgow International to our Floridian airport of choice; Orlando International (MCO). It was all about flying indirect via another country or city back then and we flew both with Icelandair (via Rekjavik) and Continental, who are now United Airlines (via Newark). Flying indirect definitely has it's drawbacks; it's two, or more, flights often with several hours of your holiday being spent waiting at a gate in another airport. Don't get me wrong it's not the worst of flying experiences but when you've been counting down the days to your holiday for months, if not years, you just want to get there as soon as you possibly can to start enjoying your vacation instead of delaying the process. For the past five years or so, it has actually been cheaper to fly directly with Virgin Atlantic than it has been to make several stops so we haven't had to even really consider the indirect route in recent years.
Another option of flying direct if maybe not quite as direct as arriving in MCO, which can be a cheaper alternative, is to fly to Orlando Sanford International Airport. If you're planning on booking with an airline like Thomson, Thomas Cook or Monarch this will most probably be the airport that you will arrive via. Sanford is located about 45-60 minutes away from Orlando, depending on traffic, whereas MCO is right in the heart of Orlando and much closer to Disney and the tourist areas such as I-Drive. It all depends on your budget and your preferences but what's so great is the fact that there are so many options that there should be at least one, if not many, to cater to you and your party.
I am thinking about dedicating an entire blog post to accomodation and the pros and cons of staying either at a hotel, on Disney/Universal property, at a private villa or another alternative so I won't go into an overwhelming amount of detail in today's post regarding this topic but again, there are so many options that really will suit every budget.
If you're travelling in a large party my biggest tip would be to book a villa. Not only do you have a whole lot more privacy and space than at the alternatives but the price can be so much cheaper than you would ever have imagined when you start to break it down. For example, if there are ten of you staying at a 5 bed villa that costs £400 a week this works out at just £40 per person for a week. Now where could you find accomodation for that price per person in Orlando otherwise? Plus most villas come with that added bonus of a private pool, something that really does make your stay that much more special but then you really would have to rent a car so there are definite pros and cons to each choice depending on what you want from your holiday. We've always stayed at villas, most of which have been located about 10 minutes from Disney and I don't think we would ever do it differently to be honest, even though I'd love to experience staying on Disney property at least once in my life.
Staying on site at Disney/Universal has definite perks too (extended theme park hours, complimentary transportation and dining and of course the whole experience of staying at Disney or Universal, complete with characters and theming) and if you only plan on using your accomodation as a place to rest your head/shower then a room at a hotel could possibly be the best for you there but there are drawbacks to each too. I think I definitely need to do a whole post on this now as I just have so much that I want to say on this topic. Hehe.
If you're planning on driving in the US finding a car to hire is obviously of the upmost importance. Again (how many times have I said that word already? hehe), you are spoiled for choice when it comes to car rental options and if you're flying to MCO you don't even have to leave the airport terminal to pick up your car.
Directly across from the main terminal at MCO is the car rental building which houses basically all of the large car rental operators. I'm talking Alamo, National, Thrifty, Budget, Hertz and our personal favourite; Dollar. Several of the car hire companies do have bases outwith the airport, which means taking a taxi or shuttle to said base which is definitely a bit of an added inconvenience, trust me! And this is why we always, without fail, now pick up our car from MCO instead. It means if you have any issues or problems then you can easily head back into the airport, where all of the companies have their desks to seek help/advice. Having an issue at one of the outside bases, which happened to us on two separate occasions is not as easy to deal with in our experience.
I also have a little 'before I leave for the holiday' travel document checklist of sorts which should come in handy as there are a couple of pieces of paperwork/essentials that you do need to have sorted before you even think about leaving for the airport.
Travel Document Checklist
- An ESTA - Quite frankly this is the most important piece of documentation and without it don't even think about turning up to the airport for your international flight. The US Visa Waiver Programme and your ESTA allow you to travel to the US and stay for up to 90 days. It is valid for 2 years and must be applied for at least 72 hours before you travel. We tend to apply for ours a few weeks beforehand just to make sure that everything goes smoothly and to avoid any last minute rushing around too. You will tend to receive a response within seconds but for some it may take up to 72 hours. You can apply for an ESTA with US Homeland Security at a cost of $14 per person before you go.
- Medical Insurance - No matter where you go on holiday you really should secure travel and medical insurance before you jet off but nowhere is it as important than the U S of A. If you have any pre-existing medical issues that could cause you problems on your vacation then be sure to declare these. The last thing you would want to happen is to need to visit the hospital whilst over there and then have to worry about what I would imagine would be pretty staggering medical bills.
- A Travel Money Card or Travel Credit Card - In addition to the next item on my checklist, I now always take one of these for all my shopping sprees as well. On my past few visits I have used the Post Office Travel Money Card but for next year's trip I am looking into travel specific credit cards. There's an added protection in using one of these on your trip and you also know exactly how much you have spent/are spending whilst over there too.
- Dollars - I have a feeling that if you've booked or are in the process of booking your holiday to the US that you will be watching the exchange rates like a hawk and all I can say is always buy your currency before arriving at the airport. There are several comparison sites which make this a real breeze. Oh and if you see the $ climbing make sure to pounce as it normally drops thereafter for a good few weeks.
- Your Passport - And of course it goes without saying, a valid passport is an absolute necessity. Your passport must also be valid for at least six months beyond the period of your intended stay in the USA.
Have you visited Orlando, Florida or the US before? How did your holiday planning go? Would you like more posts like this with some more detail on each of the individual topics? Or what would you like me to discuss next?