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  • Maria Moyles

Orlando - keeping it simple

Not the usual content from us but for those of you planning a trip to Disney World or putting off going because of price or not knowing where to start this is how we did it. I must say there is a lot of information and packages out there that, in my opinion, can over complicate the holiday and make it seem like a lot of effort and an awful lot of money, which it absolutely can be. Now I’ve been to Orlando before a fair few times, as a child, but this would be the first trip that I’d taken as an adult with my own children (aged 9 and 6) so here’s my rundown if you’re interested, if you’re not, please do move on from this blog!

What did we do?

-14 nights

-Return flights from Manchester direct to MCO

Actions BEFORE arriving in Orlando:

We booked flights with AerLingus from Manchester to MCO as soon as they came about (about 10 months ahead of flying).

We booked the villa soon after booking the flights (15 mins drive from Disney).

Closer to the time we booked a car with Costco and a 14 day Disney ticket direct with Disney.

To roughly manage all the parks we wanted to do, I did a draft, flexible plan of which parks we would do on which days and included free days, mop up days but also kept this completely flexible for how we were feeling, what the weather was doing and how much of each of the parks we had got done on the first visit.

ONCE we had arrived:

Food 🥘

People had warned me that food was expensive, not always great (think lots of fried foods) and you would need to book way in advance. So, we decided to keep plans open; we had kitchen facilities at our villa so we weren’t restricted to having to eat out so I didn’t book anything ahead of arriving and it was absolutely fine.

We ate breakfast in our villa so stocked up the fridge which was nice to have fresh fruits, cereal and pastries to start the day from the local supermarkets.

Judging by how we were feeling I booked a few reservations for restaurants for evening / late lunch meals (each no more than a couple of days in advance) and we managed to enjoy dinner at:

The California Grill (based at Disney’s Contemporary Hotel) - here you can see the whole of Magic Kingdom and view the fireworks display from the balcony viewing area which is an amazing place to watch the fireworks from.

The Wine Bar George at Disney Springs where we had some really nice small plates (to be fair they were substantial portions) and ate tapas style. Food was lovely and the wine / atmosphere really good.

Formosa Winery - fabulous bottomless mimosa brunch and lunch menu. We ate here twice it was that good.

Hard Rock Cafe (we walked straight in here, no reservation). Food was as expected.

Texas Roadhouse Diner (again walked straight in) and the food was good.

Other than that, we had a few takeaways, BBQs at the villa, food on the go in and around the parks (Disney and Universal) and cooked some simple meals in the villa also. A few of the days we squeezed wraps into our bags for lunch to avoid queuing for food as well in the parks - the food queues could be as long as the rides in some cases.

Our accommodation was absolutely excellent; so spacious (7 beds, 5 bathrooms!) with a fabulous kitchen and dining area, a lovely private pool and pool lounge/dining area and a games room with pool, air hockey and PacMan so it was actually really great to crash there after a busy park day and enjoy the villa rather than head out for a restaurant reservation.

The Theme Parks

We wanted to do Universal Studios which we hadn’t previously booked so we booked a 2 day pass here once we arrived directly with Universal Studios and our Disney pass was active from day 1 for the entire trip.

Ahead of arriving I had quickly stepped away from reading and researching online as quite frankly I found it overwhelming and intense. My opinion was that thousands of people visit these parks every day - it cannot be that complicated and I was right. It wasn’t complicated at all.

We were prepared for the extra $30 to park each day which we were aware of - otherwise that can be a shock. The car gave us lots of flexibility with when and how long we wanted to spend at the parks and enabled us to also to be able to go to other dining areas, shops etc.

Time spent in parks:

1.5 days at Epcot

1.5 days at Hollywood Studios

2 days and a bit extra at Magic Kingdom (when we ate at the California Grill you get parked up for free with the dinner reservation so we popped in for another hour or so before dinner)

1 day at Animal Kingdom

1 day at Typhoon Lagoon

1.5 days at Universal / Islands of Adventure

In between this we had pool days, rest days, crazy golf, tennis.

We rode every ride we wanted to and were able to (my youngest wasn’t tall enough for all the rides) including lots of the big rides. To name just a few of the big ones we rode at Disney between the 4 of us:

Space Mountain


Guardians of the Galaxy

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Tower of Terror

Slinky Dog

Micky and Minnie’s Railway

Toy Story and Buzz (Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios)

Frozen Ever After

Ratatouille Adventure

Soarin’ around the world


Avatar Flight of Passage

Na'vi River Journey

Test Track

Mission: SPACE

Pirates of the Caribbean

It’s a small world

The Barnstormer


… plus lots more.

At Universal, we rode all the Harry Potter rides, Trolls, Spider Man, Dr Strange, Hulk, both Minions rides, Jimmy Fallon’s Race Across New York, Fast and Furious, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit plus a few others.

In both parks we met LOADS of characters, watched fab shows, fireworks and parades as well.

We used the app to keep an eye on waiting times to dart on any showing as low wait times, otherwise, we had the mindset that on each day we were expecting to have one, maybe two long waits for rides, plus shorter wait times for the rest of the rides. There are options for skipping queues but we refused to spend any more money on any of the fast pass / express options and I was so glad we didn’t. This could have racked upto $80 per ride extra on top of the already expensive park tickets and given we rode every ride we wanted to (some twice) it clearly was not necessary at all. At most, we waited an hour for the odd ride but most were 30 mins or under and, in many cases, the queues (especially at Universal) were actually really entertaining and interesting that they whizz by and are an experience in themselves. For Harry Potter, the queues take you through Gringotts and the Castle with many really wow features that keep you amused, these are also areas you would not see if you were not riding the rides.

A few rides were closed or delayed on the days and times we were there: Splash Mountain (permanently closed), Jaws, Jurassic Park, Aerosmith and, although there were really short wait times for three of the mega water rides at Universal, seeing how soaked people were coming off, we gave them a swerve by choice.

We saw lots of people carrying bags and pushing buggies with lots of personal items for the day, we simply carried a small shoulder bag with our phones, autograph books and lip balm, we also had some camping drinks flasks that folded down and clipped on to the bags that we could fill up at the water fountains. This reduced faff on the rides with bags and we had space to stash our sunglasses for faster rides in the bag and the bag was small enough that it could be worn on most rides. It also saved lots of time arriving as security search bags and scan everyone on the way in. That and carting around a heavy bag in 36 degree heat can’t be fun. One day my daughter felt unwell, the nurse at Disney First Aid gave her the Calpol equivalent and all was fine after that (they didn’t charge for this either). We really didn’t feel the need to carry in more for every eventuality - it’s a theme park in the USA with many amenities, not the Outback - if you find you need something, chances are you’ll be able to get sorted in the parks.

Had I been caught up in some of the pre-travel reading, I think I could have been convinced that I would need to  spend $$$ on fast passes and spend hours and hours researching, planning and buying stuff, believing it’s the only way to ensure you can enjoy the experience and it was absolutely not the case at all.

All in all, the trip came to approximately £7800 for 4 return flights, villa for 14 nights, car for 14 nights, 14 day Disney pass and 2 day Universal pass, I calculated that this worked out approximately £4000-£8000+ less than booking a Disney Hotel package or resort (resort pending). Then we had food and spends on top.

With no extra money spent on lightening lanes etc. or any huge investment in time planning or scheduling the trip before we arrived or once we were there, we rode and saw everything we wanted to, I don’t think we could have or would have wanted to cram any more in. We had a blast, there was flexibility because we had not committed to buying experiences at specific times which meant we could move around and between the parks more freely, be spontaneous when a character suddenly appeared for autographs and photos, eat when we were hungry and we were not beheld to any schedule and it felt like a holiday, not a meticulously planned operation, which is what we wanted. I like to go with the flow on holiday and this was no different.

At the end of the day it’s each to their own and you can absolutely approach this type of holiday with a different plan; everyone will have differing budgets and ways they want to experience their holiday. For us, this was how we did it and when we return, we will do the same again.

Stay tuned for our next posts which will most definitely be teaching related!

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