Orlando, FL: Theme Park Heaven

Repost of trip to Orlando, FL:

Several months ago, my girlfriend and I spent the weekend in Orlando, FL. Thanks to a great online vacation package deal, I was able to find round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations for a very low price (less than $160).Our flight arrived late Friday night, so we went straight to bed in an effort to wake up early the next day.We stayed at the Howard Johnson Maingate East Hotel in Kissimmee which was very basic and didn’t include breakfast. But it was only 15 minutes from Disney and 25 minutes from Universal. Unfortunately, the free shuttle to Disney, which should have taken about 15 minutes door-to-door, took an hour as the the driver made several stops. The only shuttle to Universal was not free via Caesar’s Transportation, but it was much more efficient and only $18 round-trip for a 25-minute ride. It’s also a great option for the airport at about $7 less than a cab.

Saturday, we took a shuttle to Universal and went to both theme parks there. Because the parks were swamped, we decided to get Express Passes which are about $60 each for the two-park passes. If you don’t want to wait in line, I highly recommend these passes because you can make your way through any line in 15 minutes or less versus 60 – 90 minutes for some of the more popular rides. A few times, we practically walked right on to the rides! Gotta love Orlando.

Sunday, we took the shuttle to Epcot where we spent most of the day drinking and sampling different cuisine from the World Showcase which is a collection of mock, international cities. It was enjoyable to see France, Japan, England, etc., but there really aren’t too many other attractions. Besides Mission Space, every ride had an hour wait with no Express Passes available for them. Instead, Disney uses free, Fast Passes which basically allow you to come back to do a ride at a specific time, but they were completely gone by the time we arrived at the park. The moral here is get to the park early if you can.

Overall, the trip was lots of fun in Orlando, even if we were exhausted afterward, but in retrospect I would have done things differently. If I were booking this trip today, I would have picked a set of theme parks (probably Universal over Disney) and stayed at one of the hotels at that park. That way we wouldn’t need to take 15 – 45 minute shuttle rides to the parks and if you stay at a Universal hotel it entitles you to free Express Passes. The only caveat is that this option is more expensive. But some deal sleuthing on travel sites may yield deals.