Sunday, January 15, 2012

Disney World Resort/Universal Studios Tips and Tricks

Taking a theme park vacation to Orlando, FL? I've been on trips to Disney World and Universal Studios 6 times (at ages 8, 12, 13, 15, 22, and just this year, at 25), and now I'll share what I've learned, so you can make the most of your trip and have a magical time. Sure, there are entire guidebooks written about this stuff, but my advice is free. So enjoy, and get ready for fun!

The Disney Queue Line Survival Guidebook

We'll start with some general theme park tips: 

Wear: Comfortable shoes, like tennis shoes or sneakers. Resist the temptation to wear cute flip flops or ballet flats...I've seen some miserable ladies walking around theme parks! You are walking on concrete all day. Wear sunscreen, no matter what time of year you visit. Your out in the sun all day, even if it's January!

Bring: Snacks and water (this tip will save you TONS of money, as you won't have to stop and buy expensive drinks and unhealthy ice cream and junk food every few hours).

Bring: Lip balm, Sunglasses, a hat (cold or hot weather appropriate, depending on when you come), and a light jacket (if you visit in the winter). Don't forget your money and ID (you may want to drink adult beverages or need to identify yourself for other reasons: lost child, lost park ticket, whatever). You will also want to pack a cell phone (in case your party is separated) and a camera.

A small backpack like this one makes for the perfect theme park bag (click picture to order for $10). Many organizations make these bags for free, so you may already have one. I just used my Nike one I take on runs.

When to Visit: I strongly recommend visiting during the off season. I've been at Disney when it's empty and when they close the parks because they are at maximum capacity. I promise the former is a much better experience. Consider taking off work or taking the kiddos out of school in January or February. The weather is perfect (high 70s/low 80s and sunny) and you'll have the run of the parks.

A Note About Lines: Disney uses the FASTPASS system for all guests, whereas universal charges extra for the Express pass. Don't buy the express pass unless you come in peak season (though in peak season, it is TOTALLY worth it). Fastpass is helpful, but you need to know how to use it (see tips for each individual park). I strongly suggest using the single riders line, which all parks employ for many popular rides-in exchange for your party being split up, you will have hardly any line. There is only 1 exception to this rule (keep reading).

Disney: Hollywood Studios 
A good day to visit: Saturday

When you get to the park (come as early as possible) Fastpass Toy Story Mania. This ride is a blast for adults and kids, and the Fastpasses go quick. Then, go back and ride Tower of Terror and Rockin' Roller Coaster (use the single riders line if need be). Those 3 attractions are the big soon as your eligible for another FastPass (2 hours after the first is distributed), you may Fastpass those again, just so you can ride multiple times. Other stuff in the park: Beauty and the Beast and Voyage of the Little Mermaid  are cute shows that kids will enjoy. The Backlot Tour is fun (but doesn't change much over the years). Star Tours has been updated and is cool! The Great Movie Ride is classic MGM and MUST be experienced in all it's cheesy but fun glory. American Idol Experience is pretty entertaining & Muppet 3-D shouldn't be missed. Finally, Fantasmic is the night show. There are typically 2 times. Go to the later show, as there is less of a crowd and you have a run of the park during the early show (which a lot of people leave after). The Hollywood Brown Derby is a really good, but expensive restaurant. Adults who are looking for an escape from traditional theme park food (read: pizza and burgers) will enjoy it. I treated my Mom and Uncle to lunch and they loved it. Tip: After the late Fantasmic, RUN and you'll be able to ride both Rockin' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror at night (Important: the lines close down at park close, not the rides, so as long as you're in line, you're riding).

Disney: Epcot 
A good day to visit: Monday 

When you arrive at the park, Fastpass Soarin', the lines for this are always HORRENDOUS. Then, go back and ride Test Track (use single riders line if possible). Spaceship Earth has a longer line during the morning, wait until later in the day and you'll walk right on. Mission Space has two intensity levels: Green is like 1/10 of the intensity as Orange (which isn't my personal cup of tea). Universe of Energy should also be checked out, it's pretty neat and you get to sit down for 37 minutes (a record for a ride, I think). Spend the afternoon at the world showcase: they have the best food of any theme park ever there. The sit down restaurant in Morocco or the Rose and Crown Pub in United Kingdom are both places I feel good recommending for a tasty lunch. Make sure to visit all the countries (it's fun) and you MUST ride the rides in Norway and Mexico. Now, back to Future land: make sure to ride Living with the Land, the Seas with Nemo is more for kids, but if the line is short, go for it. Spaceship Earth is a must do, and the lines should be down at this point in the day. Do Journey into Imagination, and of course, don't forget to go use those Soarin' Fastpasses at some point, it's a great experience. Finally, Illuminations is the big Epcot fireworks show. People say to go around the lake early, but I say that is silly. I always show up like 2 minutes beforehand and find a great spot (I think the same thing for all Disney night shows by the way--there really is no reason to go early unless the park is maxed out, you're getting in or seeing the fireworks!) One last thing: Coral Reef is a cool restaurant that is built around the aquarium. The food is pretty tasty, if you like seafood, but consider making reservations.

Disney: Magic Kingdom
A good day to visit: Thursday 

Magic Kingdom is my favorite Disney park and also has the most Fastpass attractions. Here is what I recommend: come early, it takes about an hour to get into the park by the time you park the car, ride the tram, and take either the ferry or the monorail into the park (we did the ferry, not sure what is fastest). Once there, Fastpass Space Mountain and then immediately ride Buzz Lightyear. While waiting for space mountain Fastpass, experience all the other fun in tomorrow land: Monsters inc. Laugh lounge, carousel of progress, and  the tomorrow land speedway. My advice: Skip the Snitch attraction, it used to be Aliens and both rides are terribly boring. After you leave tomorrow land, I recommend sending a fast person into your party into frontier land to fastpass splash mountain while the entire party by-passes fantasy land (come back later in the day, it gets less crowded). Go to Liberty and ride haunted mansion and check out the hall of presidents. Eat lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern, I had a fantastic salad there. Then, you should be eligible for another fastpass. Send that fast person back to frontier to fastpass big thunder mountain or splash (whatever they didn't fastpass the first time). Go back to fantasy land and do small world, winnie the pooh, snow white, and philharmagic 3-D show. You'll need to use a Fastpass on Peter Pan or come back at night to avoid the 1 hour line. Here is a great Fastpass tip: As long as it is the same day, they don't really expire. You can't use them early, but you can use them late. After fantasy land, head to frontier land and use those fast passes. Onward to adventure land. Don't miss Pirates of the Caribbean, the tiki room, or the jungle cruise (Brendan also likes the country bears). We watched the fireworks in adventure land and could see everything. Don't miss them! Also, the electric light parade is a MUST do.

Disney: Animal Kingdom

It's been 3 years since my visit, so I'm less confident giving advice about this, but I do know Fastpass the new coaster first. It is one of the best roller coasters ever! Single riders line also works like a charm on this. The safari is really neat. The river rapids is one of those you will get soaked rides. The tree of life houses a cute Bugs Life 3D show, and Dinosaurs is the big thrill ride (again, single riders line).

Universal: Islands of Adventure
A good day to visit: Sunday, Wednesday (note: it is pretty cheap to purchase extra days at Universal, only a $15 difference between 2 and 3 day pass and a $5 difference between 3 and 4 day pass). 

Well, the advice I read all says to go directly to Harry Potter land. I don't think it matters when you go, it seemed more crowded at the beginning of the day than at the end in our experience. That said, kids will probably be more excited about this than anything, so if you can't wait, it's understandable! The big new Harry Potter ride is phenomenal, and if you use the single riders lane, you can ride 3 times in the amount of time you could ride once in the regular line. Though honestly, you need to experience the regular line at least once anyways, Hogwarts Castle is just as neat as the ride! The little roller coaster is fun and cute, you have to do it if you're a big H. P. fan because you can see Hagrid's hut, but let me warn you: it's a really short ride. The bigger Dragon roller coasters have been at Universal for over a decade, they just redecorated the line with Tri-Wizard banners, but those are fun thrill rides. There are also little "shows" around Harry Potter land (and of course, a million shops), and it's all so very neat. You can even eat at the Three Broomsticks (and the food is tasty). Don't miss strawberry/peanut butter ice cream and butter beer (which tastes best frozen by the way). H.P. fans rejoice, Universal gets it right! P.S.-parents prepare, there is a wand buying demonstration with lines over an HOUR (longer than any for the rides that day); beg your kids to skip the demo (where only 1 child per group is chosen to participate anyway) and take them to the Owl Post to buy the 30 dollar wands instead. Or, wait until night for the wand demo, we did and only waited about 5 minutes (the demo is really cheesy, but fun for fans).

Other steller rides: Jurassic Park River adventure, Spiderman (use single riders), Hulk (very scary coaster), Dr. Dooms Death Drop (scarier than Tower of Terror), Storm, Cat in the Hat, Popeyes (but warning, you will be SOAKED, Don't just DON'T go without a swimsuit), Ripleys Ripsaw Falls...I have to be honest, the lost continent is a sort of lame show, but at least the line is cool looking.

Universal Studios: Original 
(PS--I have some new insights in this post from November 2014). 
A good day to visit: Tuesday, Wednesday 

At the front of original universal, you will find the new roller coaster, Hollywood Rip RockIt, a fun and not as scary as it looks thrill ride. This ride is also the ONE exception to the single riders line that I have ever found. The single riders line moves slower than the regular line. Avoid it!

But don't miss: Shrek 4 D, Revenge of the Mummy (single riders line), Disaster, Terminator 2 3D (not in any way appropriate for young children), E.T. , Simpsons, Men in black (single riders line). The one missable attraction: Twister. It's a lame stand up and watch some destruction on a small scale sound stage. The one mystery is why universal closed Jaws and kept Twister. Another universal tip: pay the few extra dollars for park hopping abilities. Islands of Adventure has WAY better food than the original universal, and, as the Garden burger I consumed there taught me: you don't want to be stuck eating in original universal.

And now, some photos from our trip:

Electric Light Parade 

New Coaster: Hollywood Rip Rockit

Tower of Terror, night vision

I hope you enjoyed my tips and tricks!

<3 S (now home with B, L&Z)

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