Tips and Advice for Anyone Visiting Walt Disney World, Universal or Busch Gardens in Orlando, Florida

Tips and Advice for Anyone Visiting Walt Disney World, Universal or Busch Gardens in Orlando, Florida

We have recently returned from what was an incredible family holiday to Orlando, Florida! I planned it and booked everything mostly myself and I can't tell you how much planning and research went in to it! I spent hours and hours reading up on things and trying to find the most cost-efficient way of booking everything. 

I think it's quite fun planning a DIY trip to Orlando as it adds to the excitement of the whole trip, but there's no doubt it's also at times quite overwhelming when you're trying to get your head around all of it, especially if you're planning and booking a DIY trip to Orlando yourself without the help of a travel agency like I did. 

And so following our trip, which all came together successfully, I thought I would share some of the things that I learned along the way for those that may also be currently planning or thinking about a trip to Orlando, Florida soon. If that's you, I hope you find this helpful! 

What's the best time to visit Orlando?
I think when thinking about the best time to visit Orlando, it's quite personal to everyone and to your own circumstances. For us, I used a mixture of crowd calendars for the parks which I found online, previous weather reports for Orlando for different months and I also looked at our own calendar to see when would work best for us as we have a lot of work events on throughout the year, so some months just wouldn't have worked. 

In the end we decided on February, which is technically Orlando's winter and a time when the parks are more likely to do maintenance to rides and some of the water parks may close. But after some research I decided it would be a good time as the weather can also be quite good without it being too hot (we'd also been before in February and found the weather was lovely). 

For this trip, we ended up having some days which we just needed to take a hoody for, quite a few days which were hot enough for shorts and t-shirts and then towards the end of the holiday we had rain, but we were overall really happy with the weather. 

It also seemed like a relatively quieter time to visit (although obviously there's no real quiet time to visit what is one of the most popular places on the planet and on one occasion we saw Slinky Dog go up to 3 hours wait time!). And also for us it's our quietest time work-wise in the year, which means it's a great time to take the time off. Plus we wrapped the trip around the February half term and took the boys out of school for the other week, meaning they only missed 5 days of school. (I know this isn't everyone's thing, but for us the cost difference between going in vs out of term time is just to much to justify not doing it, plus we would rather not spend all that money and then be limited to the school holidays when the parks would be much busier and if it was during August - much hotter too.) 

Something else to be aware of also is different dates of things happening in Orlando, like cheerleading competitions at Disney World, Comic Cons on in the area, President's weekend, Spring Break and all of their other school holiday and different occasions as these can make a huge difference to how busy the parks feel. It's well worth researching what it on in Orlando during your proposed trip time to further help avoid big crowds, even if you just have to switch certain park days/rest days around.  

What's the best time to visit Orlando?

Which Disney / Orlando planning Facebook groups should I join?
I honestly recommend to anyone who's planning a trip to Orlando to join at least one Disney/Universal/Orlando planning Facebook group. These were utterly invaluable to me and I learnt so much from just searching in the search box of the groups for things that sprung to my mind that I wanted to know for our trip. 

I recommend Disney and Orlando for Brits and Walt Disney World UK Planning Forum, but there's absolutely loads to choose from. Joining these groups is such a great way to get other peoples tips and advice from their own experiences and of course you can ask your own questions too, as well as reading about what other people have asked

Which Disney / Orlando planning Facebook groups should I join?

Best Disney/Orlando planning guide books?
I really liked reading through the Brit Guide to Orlando book by Simon and Susan Veness - they release a new guide book each year and I personally found it so helpful. The book contains LOTS of tips and advice and information on every aspect of a trip to Orlando. Another book I enjoyed was Dream Guide by Adam Hattan, who is known for his Walt Disney World videos on YouTube. 

best Orlando guide book, Brit Guide to Orlando book by Simon and Susan Veness

Should I stay on-site or in a villa?
This is such a personal choice depending on your circumstances I think. Personally, we loved staying in a villa - we would have had a less enjoyable time all cooped up sleeping in one room, as as a family we definitely like to have our space. We also need the ability to cook our own food and make our own lunch and so a villa works perfect for this. I also liked staying in a villa for the fact that you're away from the hustle and bustle of everything when you need a break. Plus we had our own pool too which was amazing, for the boys especially. 

Obviously the downsides to staying off site are things like having to hire a car (in which case you will have to budget for car parking charges at the parks) or pay for taxi's. You may also perhaps miss out on dining plan deals if they are available, although I don't have experience with those so I don't know if a dining plan works out cheaper compared to the cost of getting food if you're staying in a villa. You also have to be prepared for the traffic to and from the parks, which can sometimes make what would seem like a short journey, turn into an hour journey! 

We booked our villa through Debbie's Villas and it totally exceeded our expectations, I would definitely book with them again and I would definitely choose a villa again when staying in Orlando even if we went just the 4 of us, instead of going as a big family like we did for this trip (there were 11 of us total). 

champions gate villa, orlando villa hire, Should I stay on-site or in a villa?

Hiring a car or Uber in Orlando?

We hired 2 cars between the 11 of us and it was so worth it for us as constantly getting Ubers and then paying the tips on top can get pricey. Although it's worth working out the rough costs depending on where you'll be visiting and how many times and also remembering that you will need to pay for car parking at the parks each day too (this isn't as bad if you're sharing the costs with other family members if you're going with others). We hired our cars from Alamo through Andy's Discount Car Hire and they were very helpful and the cars were AMAZING for what we thought was a good and fair price.

Hiring a car or Uber in Orlando?, orlando villa, orlando car hire, andys discount car hire, champions gate villa,

How to make an Orlando itinerary?
Some people make spreadsheets, but personally I just used the notes app on my phone to plan out our days over the 15 days that we were going to be there. Things to think about when making your itinerary are things like how many rest days you want to include. For us, we did 2 park days followed by a rest day and then repeated that. 

We arrived in the evening on our first day so didn't plan anything for this day and for our first full day there we planned just to take some time to be in the villa, go to the supermarket for food and then visit Disney Springs which we just spent a few hours looking around and we also had a dining reservation at the T-Rex cafe there. Something to note is that it's free to park there! 

With having an itinerary, just be happy to accept that sometimes plans change (especially if you've got kids) - sometimes you might run out of energy or the weather might be bad so you can't go to the water park you had planned. (This happened to us with our planned day at Volcano Bay, so we never made it there). 

Here's a look at our Florida itinerary in case you're interested in seeing how we did it. The one thing I would change in the future would be to break up Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom, as two late nights staying up to watch the fireworks was very tiring, especially getting home after sitting in traffic and then making a packed lunch for the four of us for the next day.

3rd Sat - Arrive / supermarket 

4th Sun - Villa, Supermarket trip and Disney Springs

5th Mon - Disney Hollywood studios

6th Tues - Magic Kingdom 

7th Weds - Rest day - villa / mall?

8th Thurs - Animal Kingdom 

9th Fri - Universal

10th Sat - Rest Day 

11th Sun - Hollywood studios 

12th Mon - Busch gardens 

13th Tues - Rest Day

14th Weds - Epcot  

15th Thurs - Islands of Adventure 

16th Fri - Rest Day

17th Sat - Volcano Bay  

18th Sun - Universal then home 

best orlando itinerary, orlando itinerary, orlando 2 week itinerary

The Best YouTube Disney World vlogs/videos? 
This is obviously a matter of personal opinion in terms of who does the best videos on Disney World as of course there are absolutely hundreds of helpful videos/vlogs out there, but I personally found Ear Scouts on YouTube really easy to watch and understand. I also found he came across really happy and positive  n his videos too which just made me feel even more excited for our trip!

How to book the virtual queues for Tron and Guardians of the Galaxy at Disney World?
I was so worried about getting the 2 rides that you have to book virtually (Tron at Magic Kingdom and Guardians of the Galaxy at Epcot), but we found it fine in the end by being prepared. We set an alarm at 6.55am, and then came off of the WiFi (apparently it's meant to help). We brought up a world clock on my husband's phone so that we could count down the seconds until 7am. And then we kept refreshing to get a place in the queue. You do it via the my Disney Experience app under 'Virtual Queues'. Don't try for it at 7.01, make sure it's 7am on the dot and only one person in the party needs to do it, I booked for all 10 of us. 

Your return time doesn't mean instant access to the ride, be prepared for a sometimes long queue even after you've been called for your return time unless you have bought an individual lightning lane or you have DAS. If you have DAS, you just need to approach and tell the cast member at the ride entrance when your return time is called. 

If your return time happens to fall at the same time you have a dining or experience reservation, just let the cast members know, as we found they are generally fine about it. We had our return time for Guardians come up at the same time as our Space 220 dining reservation and they were happy for us to go straight to the ride after we had finished eating even though it was past our return time for the ride. 

How to book the virtual queues for Tron and Guardians of the Galaxy at Disney World?, guardians of the galaxy virtual queue booking,

Do you NEED Magic Bands at Disney World?
When it came to Magic Bands at Disney we didn't actually get them. We just used our phones as you can put your tickets in your Apple wallet if you have an iPhone (I'm not sure about other phones, but I assume it would work the same way) from the app and then we asked for two physical cards at the gate for the boys lanyards so that they had them, just really so that they could scan themselves in to make things easier. 

The ride photos magically picked us up on the rides! I have no idea how it works but it's very cool.
tron ride photo, Do you NEED Magic Bands at Disney World?

Should you hire a stroller for older kids at Disney and Orlando? 

We mostly did park opening until park close except for a few days and of course our rest days in between (we did 2 park days and then 1 rest day then repeat). We made sure to take rests at the parks and then we also hired the park strollers so the boys could rest their legs when they wanted to. I wondered if it would be a bit odd as they're older now but SO many people were doing the same as it's a LOT of walking for even the adults! We couldn't have done it without, especially for Logan who gets so tired walking. 

I definitely recommend a stroller if you think your kid/s will struggle with the amount of walking involved in the parks. 

Top tip: At Disney you can pay for multiple days when hiring a stroller which saves you some money. They don't always seem to tell you that though, so just ask. 

stroller hire for older kids at Disney and Orlando, stroller hire Disney,

Backpacks at Disney World and Universal Orlando?

We found that Disney let us take everything on to every single ride except for Tron where they provide complimentary lockers for you. If you go to the Universal parks they are stricter on more of the rides and ask you to use their lockers to put the bags away on certain rides. They have complimentary lockers available for these, but they're very small (around the size of a handbag size, you could perhaps at a push squeeze a Loungefly backpack in one, just), so you have to hire a locker for normal sized backpacks for 2 dollars per ride usually, but it's only certain rides and only if you've not got anyone staying off of the ride who can watch the bags of course. 

Tips for cutting food costs down in Disney and Orlando? 

Food is NOT cheap in Orlando from anywhere in my opinion. We found that staying in a villa helped a lot as eating at the parks for every meal would have been crazy expensive, unless you had some sort of dining plan. 

I personally took a LOT of snacks for us from home in our suitcase (basically 2 cabin bags worth and I'm so glad I did). 

We had breakfast on the go (things like bananas and crossaints) and then we took a packed lunch to the park each day to keep food costs down. Supermarket wise, we found Publix super expensive. I think Walmart was probably the best cost-wise and choice-wise but even then it did seem a lot more expensive than here in the UK.

Not a money saving tip as such, but if you ever don't fancy going to the supermarket you can use an app called Instacart for ordering and having groceries delivered. 

tips for cutting food costs down at Disney

How to sort out DAS / accessibility passes for Disney, Orlando and Busch Gardens if I or someone in my party requires it?

Two people in our party qualified for accessibility passes for the parks due to their conditions and I did lots of research before hand about how best to sort these passes out before we went. 

For Walt Disney World, you can turn up to Guest services on your first park day and speak to someone about what makes it hard for you to queue and why you need the DAS pass or you can sort it out 30 days prior to your trip via a video call with them. If you are UK based you will need to download a VPN to be able to do this. The benefit of this is that you know it's sorted beforehand and it is one less thing to worry about when there. You also won't have to queue at Guest Services on the day as it will automatically appear on your My Disney Experience app when you are in the park if you are approved for DAS. If arranging the DAS pass beforehand, you also have the opportunity to pre-book 2 additional rides in addition to the ones that you can book in the park. 

The pass is intended for those who struggle with long queues even if they would have access to a wheelchair/mobility scooter. (Pretty much all of the queue lines are wide enough for a scooter / wheelchair, so Disney (and I believe it's the same for Universal) do not give out DAS passes for mobility related issues.). It is also not an instant pass, it's essentially virtually queueing / requesting a return time one ride at a time. You can then go on rides with shorter queue times, go and rest, get food, take a break from the crowds, go and do some shopping or anything else you'd like to whilst you wait. Once your time comes up you then join the lighting lane entrance / express lane entrance at Universal, where there is a much shorter wait time before the ride.

At Universal, guests requesting an attraction queue accommodation have to obtain the IBCCES Individual Accessibility Card (IAC) by registering at www.accessibilitycard.org within 30 days of their visit to the park. The IAC registration consists of an online application which includes uploading necessary documentation (a doctors letter or a diagnosis letter for example). Once all the requirements for an IBCCES Individual Accessibility Card are met, a Universal Orlando Team Member then contacts the cardholder to discuss the request for an attraction queue accommodation.

At Busch Gardens we had to speak to Guest Services on the day and they issued us a card which meant we could request a return time and go back when that time came up. But to be honest, when we were there a lot of the ride times were under 5 minutes.

Das passes at Disney world, accessibility passes Orlando, ride attraction pass Busch gardens, ride accessibility program universal

Do you need to buy Disney Genie+ / Individual Lightning Lanes?
We didn't purchase Genie+ or buy individual lightning lanes because we had DAS and so we found we didn't need them on top of that. It's definitely something we would have looked into if we had not had DAS though. Genie+ can be a little confusing to get your head around I think, but here's a good link to read more about Genie+ and I know that Ear Scouts on YouTube has some great information about it too. 

What are the essentials for the parks in Orlando?

You 100% should pack your most comfy trainers due to the amount of walking. My Vans were my best friend during our trip as they were so comfy! Also a really good power bank is worth the weight of carrying it around especially if you do a lot of filming / taking photos. 

Make sure you have ponchos or a rain mac/jacket with you for sudden downpours of rain and for the water rides. Take water bottles with you (don't buy water there when you run out, refill your bottles from the water fountains outside of the restrooms). 

And take lots of snacks to keep everyone going! If you're going in the summer when it's really hot, make sure to take a small rechargeable fan. You can take a look at some of my Orlando packing essentials from Amazon here.

packing essentials for the parks in Orlando

How much should you tip in Orlando?

I think it's a good idea to research tip amounts for different things so you know what's expected and can factor that into budgets and not worry that you've tipped too little or too much. 

In general, the recommended amount to tip is usually 20% of the bill at cafes, diners and restaurants. For Uber/taxi drivers we tipped around 15-20%. For bartenders and hotel staff who provide a personal service like carrying your bags or cleaning your room, it’s standard to tip $1 – so make sure you always have a few spare coins in your pocket.

How much should you tip in Orlando?

Paying for tolls in Orlando?
When I first started reading about tolls in Orlando I'll be honest, I was a bit confused about the different lanes we could drive through and I was worried we would need a certain amount of cash on us at particular times. But then I read this post from Donna at Whattheredheadsaid.com and discovered the Orlando Visitor Toll Pass that Donna had used on her last trip and recommended.

It turned out to be very simple and straight forward to use - we simply downloaded the Orlando Toll Pass app, signed up and then we picked up our visitor toll pass from the airport in Orlando (though we did have to travel to another terminal to collect it). You then simply hang the card that you get from the airport in the car on your rear view mirror and whenever you drive on a road where this is a toll, you can use the pre-paid lane and it automatically takes it off of your account that you've set up at the cheapest rate. You can check the charges on the app to see what you've been charged. We found it to be super cheap - around 10 dollars or so over the 2 weeks we were there. 

Having the Visitor Toll Pass meant tolls were not something we really had to even think about. Just make sure to deposit the card back at the designated box at the airport at the end of your trip so that you don't get charged any extra. 

How to get the best price tickets for Disney World, Universal and Busch Gardens? And where from?

We found that the most expensive part of our trip was the cost of the park tickets, they're definitely not cheap and never will be. But you can sometimes find some money off deals throughout the year on some websites. The top two websites I checked and would recommend looking at are FloridaTix and Attraction Tickets. We found that by waiting for occasions like the Black Friday sales, we were able to sometimes see 5 to 10% off of ticket prices. We paid just over £900 each for our park tickets, which were Disney and Universal Combo 14 day tickets, which was the best price we could find at the time. We worked out the cost of buying the different park tickets separately, but the combo worked out better for us. 

For Busch Gardens we found buying our tickets directly from them during the Black Friday sales was the cheapest option, we also managed to get Serengeti Safari tickets (which is where you get to hand feed giraffes) for just 20 dollars each when it's usually 40 dollars each. So it's definitely worth waiting for and checking out the sales if you can!

How much does a DIY trip to Orlando cost for a family of four?, giraffe hand feeding Busch gardens,

How much does a DIY trip to Orlando cost for a family of four?

It's very hard to answer accurately how much a trip to Orlando costs as it really does depend what you're going to do there, which parks you're planning on visiting, how much spending money you are going to be happy to take and willing to spend and how much you're going to spend on food and dining. All of those sorts of things cost different amounts for different people depending on your choices. 

We had a rough budget idea of about £10k total for the four of us in our heads from things that we'd read and I would say that was very close to what it ended up being. We did Universal, Disney and Busch Gardens, and we also treated ourselves to souvenirs and paid for things like the Droid Depot for the boys and a lightsaber building experience. We also went to Oga's cantina for a drink, which wasn't super cheap and we booked into two Disney restaurants during our stay which were pricier than a normal restaurant would be. 

The biggest costs for us were the park tickets which were around £3.3k, plus Busch Gardens which was nearly £400. The flights, which we could have got cheaper if we flew in-direct, but we chose not to, which were around £2.3k and our share of the villa which we paid £1.5k for. Other expenses were the car hire, airport parking, travel insurance, tolls, spending money, stroller hire, car parking at the parks, fuel, food, tips and experiences. 

universal simpsons doughnut

Which rides should I prioritise at Walt Disney World? 

I really recommend downloading the My Disney Experience app and keeping an eye on the wait times even before your trip so that you can get familiar with which are the most popular rides with the longest queue times. 

When we visited I found the below rides were always the first ones to get super long queue times:

Hollywood Studios

Rise of the resistance 

Slinky dog dash

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Tower of Terror

Magic Kingdom

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 

Space Mountain

Pirates of the Caribbean

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Jungle cruise

Remember to book Tron via virtual queue at 7am.



Frozen ever after


Test track 

Remember to book Guardians of the Galaxy via virtual queue at 7am.

Animal kingdom 



Expedition Everest

rides with longest queue times at Disney world

There's so much to planning a trip to Orlando and I hope I've covered some of the biggest things, but please do let me know if you've got any questions at all either by commenting below or finding me over on my Instagram, where you can also find individual reels of the different parks that we visited during our trip and a video reel of our villa too. Plus I've saved all of my Orlando Instagram Stories to my highlights on my profile too if you're interested in seeing those. 

Thank you for reading. 
  Alex xo

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