With so much happening in and Orlando the area you owe to yourself to discover what is out there beyond the big 3!
Informal polls show most people either hate or love a traditional theme park food: turkey legs. But why settle for those giant legs when you can have a Big Mac and large fries?
If you go to one McDonald’s for your usual meal, there’s also waffles and brick oven pizzas on the menu.
But does anyone really go there for anything but a fast and hopefully cheap meal?
The real attraction here is the video games. At what has sometimes been called the world’s largest McDonald’s.
It’s the world’s largest entertainment McDonald’s. Recently re-opened near the theme parks.
Speaking of which…when you buy your Universal Studios Orlando tickets or Disney World tickets or any other theme park tickets, the food options these days are not what they used to be.
Disney tickets not what they used to be
In fact, it’s almost like going to McDonald’s…because while you go for the rides, and the entertainment (call it atmosphere), there’s also the food.
No longer an afterthought.
So today, let’s take a look at some different food choices for you when you’re either at the theme parks or within a short drive…or a short walk if you could really get there by foot.
By that, we mean what has happened to food at the theme parks. And where you can go for something not always so easily found.
If in the old days when carnival offered food highlights, that meant hot dogs and maybe cotton candy.
But whether it’s to your taste or not, food has become a part of the overall experience of going to the parks.
And actually, if you have given it any thought, the often unusual food offerings add to your enjoyment of the parks.
But we’re looking here at your own growing choices about what to eat…when you don’t want something routine.
Examples of creative food offerings are everywhere.
To cite just one example:
Last year Universal Orlando joined the trend of events built around eating, with a dinner featuring Halloween Horror Nights’ actors.
Food is far from scary
The most famous theme park food today is probably Disney turkey legs.
There's still plenty of basic food such as burgers and pizza to be found. But most would agree with one blogger.
“I love the parks but would hate to miss the food.”
In a way, this is as revolutionary as Donald Trump possibly being President of the United States.
This has had its own implications.
Many of us try to get more for our money by using theme parks' meal plans, the costs of which have regularly increased.
SeaWorld, which recently announced under pressure from animal activists that it was phasing out its killer whale shows, has turned to another attraction for visitors: its food.
It is reportedly placing emphasis on its festivals, many of which feature something to eat.
SeaWorld Orlando has started cooking barbecue in-house, which presumably will make it tastier.
It has also expanded the menu to include down-home delicacies such as a maple-bacon cupcakes and corn-chip chili pie.
"It's really taken it to a whole new level," said Cathy Valeriano, SeaWorld's vice president of culinary operations.
SeaWorld also introduced a New Year's Eve four-course dinner with champagne and dessert reception.
Universal also gets serious about food
At Universal Orlando, the opening of the first Harry Potter land in 2010 unleashed some serious food options.
News reports are that while planning Universal's Wizarding Worlds, senior vice president Ric Florell and his team referred to Potter books with notes on food and drink.
That research produced a clear winner: Butterbeer.
But perhaps you knew or suspected, the books did not really specify the flavor of Butterbeer.
So in typical theme park practice, imagination took over.
It took two years of trials, according to reports.
But they came up with a foamy concoction that tastes like cream soda and butterscotch.
Butterbeer now comes in several forms – even a fudge.
Universal's two Potter lands also feature British pub fare, oddly flavored ice creams, and Wizarding World beverages including Fishy Green Ale, a minty beverage with blueberry-style bubbles.
Grabbing an unusual bite to eat in these lands "completes the experience," Florell said. "It's the exclamation mark on the rest of your day."
When you get your ticket for Walt Disney World Resort, you find a choice of 475 restaurants, kiosks and other food outlets.
Walt Disney World Resort in particular has become known for satisfying your hunger.
Its food-and-wine festival at Epcot has grown to 62 days.
Hours of many Disney eateries have expanded too, with more serving breakfast.
Many events have dessert parties attached.
At or near theme parks, you can find food for anything from bowling to checking out oil paintings.
Which brings us to McDonald’s and why the one closest to Disney is different
Why this McDonald’s is different
There is a huge play area.
Also an open kitchen, where you can watch the cooks…if you want.
It’s open 24 hours a day.
You order by touch-screen kiosks.
If the food here is to your tastes, the video brightly lit video arcade games are even more popular.
There’s Flappy Birds, Candy Crush Sage and others. All inspired by modern smartphone apps.
Many are as new as you can find anywhere.
Did we mention prizes?
Tickets can be redeemed for trinkets.
If you have kids or want to act like them, arcade users can wander over to the multi-play area.
Slides, tunnels, stairs. All for all ages.
But not far away is a bowling alley. Actually, 30 of them.
But not exactly an old-fashioned version.
This is Splitsville at Disney.
You can get cheeseburgers and wings, but there’s also dishes not normally found in bowling alleys such as Fried Calamari, grilled avocado and ahi tuna, Asian shrimp bowls and Mahi Mahi with Voodoo Shrimp.
Even the pizza offerings are more than cheese and sausage.
But you also find some similarities: Bowling balls are nearby, and a server takes drink and food orders.
But this is again not like the old days.
Clock-watchers: pay attention.
Splitsville, unlike old-school bowling alleys, sells blocks of time on the lanes. You don't pay per game.
At night, there is a different atmosphere.
A DJ spins music. Five bars are often packed with people, standing room only (the kids are long gone).
Although some bowling balls have Mickey and Minnie etched into them, the decor isn't Mouse-infested. Disney images are interspersed with local landmarks.
Postcard-inspired murals depict Cinderella Castle but also the Lake Eola fountain in downtown Orlando.
Warning: prices are higher than you might normally expect.
Try $25 for some single gourmet food items. Drinks such as Mojitos are also pricy: $10-15 not uncommon.
But there are also regular “early bird” specials such as $10 for all-you-can bowl games for adults or $5 for kids (shoes included).
Characters found elsewhere
Sorry, but there are no costumed characters here.
Inside the Walt Disney World Resort, you can find those types of food with characters.
Chef Mickey’s Dinner. Includes a VIP limo ride.
Mickey and pals are on hand, of course. Goofy, Minnie, Pluto.
Family-friendly food of beef sirloin, roasted chicken and macaroni and cheese.
A Sundae Bar for dessert.
Not exactly McDonald’s prices: about $158 for two adults.
At Universal, new offerings are always underway. And it should be no surprise that they cater to chocolate lovers.
Toothsome Chocolate Factory is due to open later this year at Universal CityWalk.
Steak, seafood and pasta, and gourmet sandwiches.
Nothing unusual about that.
But specially designed for chocolate fans.
A listing of Toothsome Chocolate Factory's milkshakes includes Chocolate x5, Bacon Brittle, Espresso Buzzzz, Red Velvet and Key Lime Pie.
If it’s more characters you want, everyone knows about the popular meals with them.
But Disney’s Club Villain is another newer and more unusual choice.
It was so popular that reservations were recently extended through May. The reservations are for shows on the most popular day of the week, Saturdays at 5:45pm and 9pm during the months of April and May.
Separate admission to Hollywood Studios is required and not included in the price of the Disney Orlando tickets.
The price is a hefty $129 per person.
But the show at Hollywood Studios is hosted by none other than Dr. Facillier with appearances by the Evil Queen, Cruella De Vil, the Queen of Hearts and Maleficent.
New Orleans style food.
For a seriously good no-frills meal
For serious foodies, a survey by theme park experts for USA Today found at Universal, favorites included the Leaky Cauldron, the Cowfish, and Vivo’s Italian.
Disney’s best also included some that are no surprise: Be Our Guest, California Kitchen and Boma Flavors of Africa.
As for local restaurants outside the park, character-loving diners would certainly like Dicks last Resort at 8201 Vineland Road. It’s described as a “riot.”
And not without reason.
You should be in a good mood before getting here.
Because servers are rude.
Deliberately. Sarcastic as well.
The entire restaurant is like a big, noisy party. Or an alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve party.
Diners are often given hats and bibs.
Waiters might write your name on the hat. They then make observations about your personality.
These might not always please you.
But always done in fun.
A recommended drink to try: a Beergarita.
A large Margarita with beer.
PS: Guaranteed to put you in the right mood.
But get someone to drive you home.
Locals recommend these
For a somewhat more highbrow food experience, the Café Tu Tu Tango in the area of McDonald’s is a favorite discovered long ago by locals.
Party hats are not the gimmick here. But art.
The place looks like an artist’s Studio.
The atmosphere is funky, which might be the best single description.
Plates of small food are meant for sharing.
The food gets high marks.
When we say the atmosphere is “funky,” we mean that you will find more than a pizza parlor.
Belly dancers and fortune tellers are close by.
Not your usual McDonald’s-style place.
And talk about art and video games…try BART in the North Mills area of Orlando.
Artsy bars are nothing new but add vintage video games or classic as well, combined with art. And a huge selection of beer.
In downtown Orlando, for those looking for entertainment, there’s also Side Show.
Like visiting a circus.
Clowns, fun house mirrors and a DJ in a cage are just a few of its quirky elements.
It’s described on the Website:
“It’s place your mother warned you about, where anything can happen. We offer food, drinks, music and unusual nights seven days a week. Here at Sideshow, we celebrate the oddities and the curiosities but always in a welcoming and lively setting.”
Go when prices are lower
Best time to go: when there are $2 tacos and $2 dollar drinks.
If you want a pleasant trip out of Orlando, De Leon Springs State Park on the way to downtown Daytona Beach offers more than scenery.
The Old Spanish Sugar Mill there It has its own griddle house.
Make your own pancakes.
You add blueberries, bananas or peanut butter with customized flapjacks.
Also to keep in mind when leaving Orlando…Norwood’s Restaurant and wine Shop in New Smyrna Beach next to Daytona is a unique tree top restaurant.
Yes, the restaurant is intertwined in trees with scenic views.
But the seafood has long been discovered by locals. With an outstanding craft beer and wine selection.
As for turkey legs, they came to the front of the food line when Disney officials confirmed what others already knew: they were being removed from the jumbo snacks at Animal Kingdom.
There was at least mild outrage.
You can still get them at the other three parks.
Love them or hate them?
One blogger said:
"After my parents wouldn’t let me have one as a kid, I tried one as an adult. Now I know why they wouldn’t let me get one."
Still, no matter what other foods come up…The legs have legs.
Disney World says it sells 1.8 million pounds of them annually. ###
Yes, we all know you hate…absolutely hate… standing in line to ride, say, the Hulk. But just how much do you hate it?
Enough to avoid those lines, certainly.
And enough to pay more for FastPasses and similar ways to avoid those waits…that’s a certainty.
But could there be a time when there will be no lines at all?
Not that far away, either?
And you may not even have to pay more for it…
That possibility arises as Orlando’s No. 1 and No. 2 theme parks square off for a future battle.
When Disney opened in 1971, they they had the theme park world in Orlando all to themselves. But then came Universal, the late comer. New kid on the block.
But not for long.
And a definite overachiever.
In recent years, the two parks have fought fiercely for visitors.
Which has been good for us…the park users who have benefitted from the many additional rides and other visitor perks.
Park battle makes us the winners
Whatever else you think of theme park decisions to keep or remove characters…or to raise Disney World ticket prices…or to offer or not Universal Studios discount tickets…or to extend operating hours…
You should be able to agree on one single item: competition has been good for you.
Which brings us to who was first this time.
Yes, one or the other is almost always first, Disney or Universal. Followed by the competitor.
Disney was first.
In the case we are talking about.
But now there’s news (from Motley Fool) that Universal parent Comcast has been surveying park guest’s about Disney’s MyMagic+ and MagicBand technology.
As you know, those bands are bracelets with embedded RFID chips.
Used to enter the parks, access expedited lines for three rides and attractions reserved ahead of time. Also, as claims for on-ride photos.
The bands are also used by guests staying on-site to charge purchases.
Universal eyes Disney’s $1 billion investment
This was a $1 billion investment in technology for Disney, according to various accounts.
“But that’s just starting to scratch the surface,” the Fool says.
Eventually, once guests get used to the idea (and any privacy fears die down), characters at meet-and-greet can address you by name.
Smartphones can be used to find where there are shorter waiting lines.
But there are a lot of other uses as well.
As Disney ticket prices and Universal Studios Orlando tickets continue to go up (each one’s pricing strategy goes up in tandem, one follows the other). The relative newcomer continues to close the gap between the two.
Universal has been reportedly asking ticket-holders just what they are willing to pay for their very own RFID wristbands.
“The war for theme park supremacy in Central Florida is about to get even more interesting.”
As we said, all to the advantage of us, ticket holders.
But what else can we expect from technology in the future?
The Disney and future Universal technology has many implications in a variety of areas. One is what are known as “flat rides.”
These in the future can cater very specifically to you.
Heart rate monitors, audio input, and individual touch-screens could design your experience in mere seconds.
You would select an intensity level through the heart rate bar in front of your seat.
Through the ride, it measures your body’s response to flips, spins, twirls, etc. Your heart rate would go up (depending on your own setting of intensity).
Also letting you say stop
There would also be a control to say “stop.”
Connect this concept to RFID bracelets and the ride could track your preferences.
So it knows what you prefer the next time.
One of the biggest impacts of technology will obviously be for rides, particularly thrilling ones. One trend expected to continue cruising: interactive roller coasters.
First, a brief history.
Amusement parks have come a long way since Coney Island’s Switchback Railway roller coaster ushered in the “gravity pleasure ride” industry in 1884.
Fast forward to next year, when the world’s tallest skyscraper at 570 feet (that is far more than the length of a football field) opens in Orlando. It will travel to almost 150 miles per hour in just 4.5 seconds.
Let’s cite some quickly developing ways technology will make your theme park visit easier, faster and far more enjoyable.
One example of something opening this year is not from Disney or Universal. But nearby Busch Gardens in Tampa.
It’s Cobra’s Curse.
A spin coaster that is said to be the only one of its kind in the world. It features a vertical lift for a face-to-face encounter with an 80-foot-tall snake.
Following that encounter, riders will find a quick-turning descent around a banked track, with the cars revolving to face forwards and backwards at different points.
The cars will also be spinning on their axes, which park officials say makes it unique in the coaster world.
No surprise: space center uses high-tech
Perhaps not unexpectedly, the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will also have a new attraction high in tech knowhow.
“Heroes and Legends” at the US Astronaut Hall of Fame will use holograms and augmented reality to let visitors experience the thrills (and dangers) of space missions. Various high-tech elements and special effects are promised.
Getting back to Orlando….More than one prediction involves the very nature of simply buying Universal Studios Orlando tickets or Disney tickets. The move is towards kiosks such as airlines are already doing. Self-service combined with online admission sales.
So where does paper and coin currency go in the future?
The way of the dinosaur.
But here’s something else that will have a major impact on those irksome lines.
Advances in tickets will be greatly aided by the proliferation of IT hardware among the general public.
In the next few years, theme parks and others will need little IT hardware.
Instead, you will be able to book rides in advance with your devices. These devices communicate the transaction to the ride. It is similar again to booking airline tickets that are then digitally paid through Google Wallet, Apple Pay, PayPal, etc.
Future of tech is virtual reality
But the real future of where theme parks are going may be viewed in
Utah. Here, a virtual reality entertainment company plans a theme park blending immersive digital experiences with physical feedback.
Which will alter the senses of users.
The Denmark company planning the so-called “Void” park has plans to open theme parks all over the world after the first one in Utah opens later this year.
“The Void is about creating the most immersive technology, so instead of sitting at your desk, you walk around an environment. It is a tangible world that seems like it never ends, people like to feel that they are somewhere else, and feel the mist in a cave or the heat from a fire - or believe that they are going up in an elevator."
Void’s founder Curtis Hickman said that to the BBC television network.
Void Game Pods are reputed to deliver physical sensations including “elevation changes, touch, vibrations, air pressure, cold and heat, moisture, simulated liquids and smell”.
The company has recruited staff from the likes of Pixar, Hasbro, Disney and Electronic Arts.
The BBC News says Void “delivers fantasy gaming scenarios to users, hoping to blend animation, creativity and tech to usurp the wonderment of existing theme parks.
A reporter who tested the “Void” found himself in a small room that felt much larger where the walls crumbled. He said:
“Entering the Void was a very different experience and felt like I had finally fulfilled my childhood dream of stepping inside the TV. Despite believing entirely in the world I entered - and feeling like Indiana Jones - I didn't scream when I met a monster or fall down a pit having failed to solve the problem correctly.”
How it works
One description went this way:
“If you've heard anything about the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset for gaming and other video simulations, the VOID is the next logical step: entire buildings corresponding to a video game world. Players move through an alien landscape while firing guns or slaying dragons.”
But what does this mean for the nearer future? And in Orlando?
Start with drones.
And while you think military when you conjure up drones, there are many peaceful uses for theme parks.
Disney filed for three drone-related patents.
What these do is envision flying robots that envision animating giant puppets. They also could carry projection screens and even act as floating pixels, or "flixels," in virtual fireworks shows.
One safe-to-say and obvious prediction:
Everything (few exceptions) at theme parks in the future will be more interactive and multisensory.
Cynthia Sharpe, an executive with the Thinkwell Group, had some thoughta on this involving Universal, Disney and other parks when she told FunWorld:
“Several of our projects are leveraging novel approaches and technology to guest engagement, really sinking the guest into the story. We’re already seeing the rise of boutique experiences, like small-group escape games, Ollivander’s Wand Shop at Universal, and highly interactive meet-and-greets like ‘Enchanted Tales with Belle’ at Disney."
Rich Hill, the senior designer at Sally Corporation, added this thought about lines:
“In the future, once guests pass through the turnstiles, they should have a nonstop flood of experiences that all relate to one another. Guests will no longer wait in long lines because the attractions will flow into one another seamlessly.”
Darker ideas on the horizon
Themes will also get darker. With more and scarier options (but many will not be external but internal, individual choices).
“There’s nothing as impactful or as terrifying as entering a room with multiple doorways and thus multiple possibilities,” said one game designer.
This option is not just good for designers but also for guests.’
“Multiple ride paths, interactive game engines, and on-demand variable media will allow us to create rides that are constantly changing and morphing, encouraging repeat ridership like never before.”
Some rides such as Hollywood, Rip, Ride, Rockit now allow guests to choose the songs for the trip.
But more choices are coming for the layout that will be experienced.
On-board vote buttons will offer experience choices.
How about cantilevered coasters?
These could “revolutionize the industry by taking the thrill ride to the next level of unpredictability and excitement,” according to some predictions.
Cantilevered coasters (CRC’s) use two tracks, one above the other.
Thrill ride unlike any others
Without going into all the technical details, the lower tracks follow a slightly different course than the upper track. So guests sway in a side-to-side motion.
Riders get pitched front to back, and up and down.
The result is a totally unpredictable ride experience.
Then, there’s what is known as the “dark ride” part (we’ll get to explaining why later).
This widely anticipated ride will use actual sets and 3-D media to immerse riders in a story such as “The Wizard of Oz.” The ride system would be a launched coaster that would be capable of moving through environments at a slower, dark ride-style pace as well as at high-speed, true thrill-ride levels.
But the most ambitious aspect of this ride is that it would involve a tall coaster of 200 feet or so with huge drops and plenty of airtime, simulating a tornado or perhaps flying witches (ala the Wizard).
All this would be housed in an enormous building that is big enough to have a full-size coaster go through it.
Riders would see incredibly large screens up to 300 feet high, but still would be able to understand the action and actually feel a part of the story.
The ride would involve slower, more conventional “dark ride” sequences as well as high-speed coaster parts.
It’s far from a coaster, but you can take Disney’s famous “Pirates of the Caribbean” as an example of how technology might evolve into a very different ride.
More than just a boat ride
This boat ride, as enjoyable as it might be, has evolved very little over the length of its existence. It’s mostly a series of scenes with jerky animatronic characters.
But in the future, it could take guests through a series of scenes depicting a raging battle between the British Navy and a band of pirate outlaws.
Interactive sections could have riders operating a "cannon" on their boat. That would trigger explosions in the scenes in front of them (with the location of the explosion changing depending on the rider’s aim).
But riders in the boats would also tilt during key moments to simulate the impact of enemy fire rocking their vessels.
Outdated animatronics would be replaced by physical sets and 3-D holograms.
Scenarios would vary, depending on riders’ aim and other factors such as return fire.
Not everything in future changes will be obvious or will have major impacts on visitors.
For better or worse, global warming will also have an impact.
LEGOLAND in Winter Haven is already using renewable energy to power part of the park. Other parks are considering cutbacks in landscaping efforts to reduce water consumption.
Since a large portion of a park’s efforts involve energy, that effort is expected to be copied by many others.
It will all be part of the brave new world of theme parks.
Future theme parks, we mean.
And not so far into the future. ###
You probably noticed this recent trend: You find travel advice everywhere these days.
Why that is the case is somewhat of a mystery.
But one fact is also obvious.
A lot of the advice is not good.
Don’t get us wrong here, however.
Sure, there are a lot of useful travel suggestions. And you read about them here (or so we think).
But on the other hand… …A lot of the advice given out is bad.
Or useless when it comes to your own particular situation.
One reason these tips come up is because increasing numbers of Americans are traveling worldwide.
And perhaps the tip they most often heard: don’t drink the water. At least in certain countries (Mexico prominently among them).
Here’s why you (sometimes) don’t drink the water
“Don't waste your money on bottled water! I just drank the tap water and I feel fine," brags one traveler, reported a web site.
He was not seen again for three days but when sighted was 10 pounds lighter.
Your own interest these days is probably not as much in Mexico as it is in Orlando.
But what if we identify the worst, very worst, travel advice…. …And turn it around to make it useful? So that it turns out to be a positive?
Actually, identifying the worst is a tough feat in itself. Looking out for the worst
Because there is so much of it.
For example, in foreign travel, the stereotype is that all French people are rude. The British are always polite. No way.
But at least one stereotype common too many foreign countries should be our No. 1 bit of worse advice. It generally does like this:
Don’t eat the food sold on the street.
The reality: what about Dole Whips and Turkey Legs? Sure, some may have been sick from them but not many…or at least we haven’t heard from them.
And these two are among the most popular at Walt Disney World Resort.
One estimate is that it sells almost two million turkey legs a year.
Turkey legs might go back to the time of Henry VIII, the plump 16th century British King who is often portrayed in paintings as gobbling one down.
Historians tell us turkey legs were around at the time. And generally regarded as feast ingredients (domestic turkeys were kept by kingly courts at the time). Sometime later, they became common as street food (and still are at county fairs everywhere).
They made their first appearance in Orlando at Disney’s Main Street in 1986.
The Dole Whip also has a history here.
It comes from Hawaii’s Dole Company, which has long been a familiar sponsor of various Disney attractions such as the Enchanted Tiki Room.
It was an immediate hit and has continued its high popularity throughout Disney’s history.
When we last checked…because this changes sometimes…you can find the Dole Whip Float, Dole Whip Cup and Dole Whip Twist Cup behind The Magic Carpets of Aladdin attraction.
Safe street food: found here
Other Disney food that can be bought at various places and easily eaten or qualify as street food includes the egg rolls at Adventureland and cheeseburger spring rolls.
And the fried-dough pastries dusted in cinnamon and sugar known as churros from Frontierland.
Or popcorn in a Souvenir Bucket from Fantasyland. Hot dogs from Main Street. Street food found everywhere at Disney.
There’s also the Mickey Ice Cream Bar, high in popularity.
And Zebra Domes found at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge at Boma or The Mara (if you don’t know it, it is Amarula Cream Liquor mousse in white chocolate atop a thin cake base).
And Carrot Cake Cookies found at the Writer’s Stop in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
More Disney street food
Myth No. 2: You have to go to Italy to get the best pizza in the world. More food advice. But this makes sense if you consider that Italy is where pizza generally started. The word pizza was first documented in 997 in Gaeta, Italy.
Foods similar to pizza have been made since the neolithic age.
Records of people adding other ingredients to bread to make it more flavorful can be found throughout ancient history.
In 16th century Naples, a flatbread (another pizza-like product) was referred to as a pizza.
Pizza seems to have first appeared in the US with the arrival of Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. Reality: So there are all kinds of reasons to give Italy credit for discovering the pizza but when you look at the best, has anyone there been to Epcot?
Most diners would rate the pies at Via Napoli in Epcot’s Italy Pavilion as possibly the best found anywhere.
Authentic ingredients right down to the flour, tomatoes and even the water. New York style. Gold standard.
But the vast majority of the pizzas among the 100+ restaurants (not all serve pizza) are generally good.
Even the breakfast pizzas found with ham and eggs at the breakfast buffet at Trail’s End, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Also has healthy vegetables.
The crystal palace and chef mickeys also has breakfast pizzas. So does the Pop Food Court at the Pop Century Resort.
The Myths go on
Be spontaneous about where you spend the night, either at a hotel or elsewhere. You’ve almost certainly heard that one.
Reality: If you chose to do this during particularly busy times at popular tourist places such as here, and particularly during the recent holiday season, you might find there are few if any choices of where to stay. Usually, the lower priced options are generally filled first. So what remains are sometimes not good options or luxury choices.
If you can afford luxury, no problem.
You should be able to find somewhere. But if like most visitors, money is important, you need to look ahead to make an intelligent choice based not just on price but proximity to the attractions and other considerations based on your own visitor needs.
Booking in advance usually means better deals and a more likely good night’s sleep (to properly prepare you for the fun ahead).
A myth about planning
Don’t plan anything. Just show up.
Reality: This is not that unusual but not recommended for anyone, even a single traveler visiting on an overnight whim that suggests a spur-of-the-moment decision.
This is particularly true when it comes to theme parks for a lot of reasons but a major one may be deciding just what you want do to while here.
This is not like a trip to the beach, where the main and often the single best attraction is the sandy shore and the water itself.
Theme parks and other attractions in the Orlando area offer a lot of choices not only on where to stay overnight but about other activities. The very best example of that is to decide what parks and what rides are priorities. Unless you are spending a lot of time here, such as a month or so, there are a lot of choices for what exactly to do.
But most people agree some type of simple plan or priority list is highly recommended.
Planning is always a key to travel success.
This is another myth
Book a last minute flight to get here. It’s cheaper and just as convenient.
Reality: They must be kidding. Statistically speaking, your odds of getting a seat at a reasonable price are far better booked weeks ahead.
For shorter term flights (not overseas), studies show the best times are four to five weeks prior to leaving.
This myth involves reading about destinations: You don’t need a guide book to help. All you need is to look at the internet for information. Facebook and Twitter tell you all you need to know.
Reality: The Internet works well when it comes to travel and carrying a book around can be somewhat of a nuisance.
This assumes you just read visitor comments and other Internet information and stumble your way through Orlando.
But no one can remember everything and having printed copies of things to remember or tips to make your visit more comfortable are welcome additions.
So we suggest you don’t necessarily ditch all those guide books. Add them to your list to provide more information. But don’t neglect the Internet either. Increasingly, it is becoming the primary source of travel information.
Some travel suggestions are silly
Treat yourself. Don’t worry about money. You’re on vacation.
Reality: This is just plain silly. Why should you throw out all semblance of your rational mind to do something you would not consider any other time than a vacation?
If you are using credit cards, as most of us do, you will be reminded later with the cost. And it will not be happy news.
So this is clearly something you don’t need to accept.
This myth gauges attitude (incorrectly)
If you are patient, you can get cheap or reduced price tickets at theme parks during special offerings. Parks regularly make special offers.
Reality: Once upon a time, but not in this galaxy…or any other we know. That did happen in the past in the very early days of theme parks, but but today it’s far-fetched. And rare.
The parks do offer discounts on package deals, however. The myths keep on coming
Travel while you are young when you are still free from more family type obligations. Travel in old age when you have more money.
Reality: Both notions are false for most of us. When you travel, you do leave your comfort zone.
Know that you can break away and travel -- at any age. Sure, you might have more freedom when younger and more money to buy Mickey Mouse t-shirts when older. But travel works well at any age.
If that’s a priority for you, you can make it happen.
Myth of young travelers
Travel before you have kids.
Reality: More silliness when it comes to theme parks. A lot of us probably did more traveling before families, children, etc.
But you can have just as enjoyment seeing the awed look on your children’s faces as you did when you were a ride-goer yourself.
Theme parks are particularly good for families with children because they have activities for all ages.
And the parks are good for people without children because they cater to all ages.
Here’s the avid traveler myth
Try to see as much as possible. Don’t rest until you have seen it all.
Reality: Also bad advice. Don’t exhaust yourself or your family.
Less is more.
Take a more relaxed attitude. You will find this makes you and others with you the hippest and the happiest. Dressing well and other matters
Take a lot of clothes and other stuff. You don’t want to do laundry while there.
Reality: Why not do laundry during a vacation if it is necessary?
You can’t spend all your time at theme parks, after all. There are always washing facilities nearby.
You can never take everything you really need, anyway. That requires heavier bags to lug around, an uncomfortable situation on planes, trains, buses or any other travel situation.
How to save money (not worth it)
A good way to save money is to book a room far from your vacation activities.
This is sometimes a real myth.
Not always, everywhere, however.
Reality: You can get cheaper accommodations by staying far from Orlando’s south area of attractions.
But when you factor in added commuting time on the road, it often is not that much of a bargain.
Wasted vacation time is usually more expensive than you think.
Instead, consider looking at motel options such as vacation homes and/or accommodation sharing sites. Flying cheap
Book the cheapest flights. It’s an easy way to save money.
Reality: That is ok if you don’t mind inconvenience.
If you can find those flights, they often involve difficult times such as red-eye flights.
They also might mean an extra flight stop, perhaps a several-hours-long layover in another city, and possibly arriving at awkward times.
Longer security and other lines may also be part of the trip.
If you really want to save money, you might look at other options.
This myth is another that is sometimes true: Visit during off-peak times when attractions are less crowded. Reality: Wait a minute. How did this get in here? Remember what Yogi Berra said: “It’s too crowded. No one goes there anymore.”
Avoiding lines is actually good advice, if you can do it. Visiting popular attractions in areas such as Orlando during down times is fine for singles and couples without children.
But families with children are or should be reluctant to take the kids out of school during less busy times at areas such as Disney and Universal.
So in a way, this is actually not a good idea, according to most standards.
What most visitors find is that crowds can be coped with during busy times….if you know how to do it.
This is partly the case by seeking advice from sources such as this one.
So keep reading if you want to learn to cope.
And keep looking for good advice. ###
No, it’s not really a nightmare. Not for most of us.
The vast majority who still enjoy it, we mean.
But the holiday season is not quite over yet.
And do you have plans for the New Year?
It’s still a part of the holiday travel season.
An important part.
And if you’re not part of the travel industry, you might not know it…
…But this is tourism’s favorite time of the year.
The crowds. Big crowds.
It may not be your own favorite, however.
And no matter how experienced you are with coming here, it can’t hurt to consider some of what we think is the best advice (particularly at this time of year).
Something to keep in mind
The largest crowds travel between Christmas and New Year’s.
So you perhaps need a strategy.
Even more so than other times of the year.
If you’re here in Orlando at the theme parks, we have some suggestions.
And some more for holiday travel in general. But many of our suggestions apply year-round, of course.
And even if you have not read or heard the statistics: this holiday season, which extends to New Year’s Eve, is a record.
This year was was the busiest year for travel in almost ten years, according to AAA (which regularly reports on subjects like this one).
More than two-thirds of Americans say they traveled either at Thanksgiving, Christmas or plan to go somewhere or travel on New Year’s Eve.
The busiest day of all was Christmas Day.
Perhaps you say to yourself:
“Thank God it’s over.”
But not quite.
People are still traveling, including theme parks (and we will have more to say about them later in this report).
So here is some end-of-year advice on how to cope with the times.
Fear of flying can be real
First, what if you are coming by airplane to Orlando from the frozen north?
Estimates are that five percent of the time your flights will be cancelled (that was the figure last year, and this time should be about the same).
Not bad odds, are they?
Unless you are among those five.
One good way to avoid this -- and one you probably are already doing it -- is by keeping track via social media.
Yes, they often are more likely to announce delays and cancellations first.
Even before the airlines themselves.
But don’t hesitate to sign up for the airlines, either.
They do have an interest in this subject, after all.
So what can you do if your air carrier cancels on you?
If your flight is canceled while you're at the airport, get in line to speak to a representative, but also give the carrier's customer service line a call; travelers who do this often get quicker service.
And is not entirely predictable.
But the past record shows us that chances are better of non-cancelled flights if you book an early morning one.
One statistic explains why:
In one recent year, 91 percent of flights departing between 7 and 8 a.m. took off on time.
If your plane takes off on time, the odds are much better it will also arrive on time.
That’s true even in snow-struck areas such as Chicago and just about anywhere in the state of Minnesota.
In Orlando, of course, the main hazard to flights flying in holding patterns prior to your eagerly awaited arrival is usually lightning strikes.
The area gets a lot of them.
But something to keep in mind at this time of year: While winter snows and howling winds up north are the main culprits of airline delays, airline officials say, that is far from the norm here.
If you’re curious (and it may be too late for your reservation), but Frontier in one study came in last for flight delays. Hawaiian was the first, while Delta was second.
Here’s a suggestion even if you have already booked your flight. And it’s way too late to change an airline.
Coping with overbooked flights
Since as you know, it it’s not weather that is delaying you, it is usually overbooked flights. Airlines regularly overbook flights to help offset no-shows and to ensure that flights are packed with paying customers.
In a recent year, out of 595 million passengers, about 681,100 were denied seats on planes, according to the US Department of Transportation.
So the remedy that helps the most here:
Check in early at the airport for your flight.
Most airlines start at the bottom of the "check-in list" and work their way up when it comes to bumping travelers from oversold flights or for other delays.
After all, you might want to hang around for a while.
Even if for no other reason to enjoy another record: high temperatures here that also have entered the record books.
Wide variety of ways to avoid crowds
Ways to offset crowds have never before offered more choices.
This is mainly due to new technology that gives you more choices than ever.
Old-style is a familiar one: staying in hotels or homes of friends or relatives.
But in the past few years, as you know, more options have turned up.
Staying with strangers, of course. And being driven around in other people’s cars and trucks.
If you have not yet explored these options, this is a great time to consider them.
They can offer huge cost savings.
But they also offer insight into the lives of others.
Alternative booking sites such as Airbnb have become obvious in recent years.
One advantage is that they often don’t have to be booked well ahead of time such as Disney property restaurants or other crowded tourism options.
You get an added bonus this time of year in advice from residents about maximizing your time here (in areas such as great restaurants that don’t have long waiting lists for dinner or for New Year’s Eve reservations, for examples).
Or for attractions you might have missed or don’t know about.
Locals offer valuable insights
Our suggestion is that you regard locals as an important information source. Ask them questions.
They are accustomed to visitors. They will answer.
One such example was launched in 2008.
Airbnb is the largest player in the growing home sharing niche. It’s also in general the most reliable.
If you have not used it yourself, you know others who have.
Couchsurfing you also probably know about.
It is a community of 12 million members. It’s popularity has proven that it works well. And is another good option for you.
Another popular option, and one we recommend in general, is renting a private home or apartment or spare room or even a condo.
From being a rare option a decade ago, that relatively new choice has gotten so common that one in four US travelers took it in 2014, according to Phocuswright.
Uber is the most obvious new car service arriving in recent years but there’s also Lyft or FlightCar, Turo, Getaround and others.
We recommend considering all these options.
Even home cooked meals are an option to consider, particularly in these crowded times for dining reservations.
We remind you of several choices: Online platforms like PurpleDinner Meal Sharing, Bonappetour and EatWith. All viable and proven options for you to at least consider.
Meals are generally good, and the added incentive is getting to know locals.
Any disadvantages to these types of options?
You should investigate any offers, of course. But that is no different than choosing a hotel or renting an individual’s home.
The same principles of “buyer beware” still apply.
But as for the theme parks, here are a dozen practical suggestions during busy times:
The Orlando Eye and I-Drive 360 are adding to Central Florida’s holiday happenings with special events to celebrate the season. From Dec. 1-25, guests on the Orlando Eye can indulge in some holiday spirit at 400 feet by riding in one of four beautifully themed holiday capsules, ranging from The Night Before Christmas, Gingerbread House, Winter Wonderland and Candy Canes. Holiday capsule packages begin at $30, and include priority boarding and holiday music throughout the flight.
During select times throughout the month, younger guests will have the opportunity to enjoy a flight with Santa Claus himself! Santa flight packages begin at $35, and include priority boarding, photo opportunities, a holiday cookie and a holiday story reading.
Throughout the entire season, look to the skies to see the Orlando Eye lit in different colors to celebrate the holidays. In addition to special lighting for Christmas and the New Year, the Eye will feature blue and white lighting on Dec. 14 to celebrate the last day of Hanukkah.
The fun doesn’t end after guests take their flight on the Orlando Eye, as I-Drive 360 has completely decked the center’s courtyard with a 20-feet Christmas tree, purple wreaths, string lighting, as well as an outdoor ice-skating rink and snow machines. Ice-skating rates begin at $10 (with advanced purchase of Orlando Eye admission) or $12 at the door. The cost includes 30 minutes of skate time and skate rentals.