Orlando Vacation Planning Tips

Magic Kingdom

Who says Orlando is for kids? Certainly not me. My friends don’t think so either which is why I’ve written a series of posts about my recent trip to Orlando to help them prepare for their upcoming trips. Below is a helpful guide to plan your visit.


Planning Tips:

  • Purchase tickets through Undercover Tourist. They are a certified discount reseller of Disney World / Universal Studio tickets.
  • Plan what you want to do ahead of time. Hopper tickets or no hopper tickets? It completely depends on what you want to do and how much time you want to spend in each park. K and I got hopper tickets.
  • Check for Extra Magic Hour days at each Disney park. We actually avoided parks on the days with Extra Magic Hours because they’re known to be more crowded.
  • Mobile Apps – Download Undercover Tourist or Disney World app for wait times

Travel Accommodations:

  • Hotel – K and I booked a room at the Embassy Suites because they offer free parking, complimentary breakfast and a shuttle to and from the Disney parks. While it seemed appealing, the hotel was extremely old and outdated and the shuttles didn’t come as often as we liked. We ended up renting a car and paying to park in the Disney lots. ES also did not have a shuttle to Universal Studios, so we drove and parked in their lot for $15.
  • Flight – We found a pretty good deal on Virgin. We used Hipmunk to track ticket prices and purchased when prices were low.
  • Car – I booked through Costco Travel. I checked Hotwire, Priceline, and all other deal sites, but nothing could beat the prices at Costco. The Disney resort also houses a few car rental shops in case you wanted to rent a car for the day (i.e. go to Universal for Harry Potter World!).
  • Transportation between Disney World parks – Travelling from park to park is extremely convenient in Disney World. So efficient that K and I were able to do 3 parks in a single days. Here’s Disney’s transportation map.
    • Monorail – The Disney monorail travels to and from the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Contemporary Resort, Grand Floridian and Polynesian Resort.
    • Complimentary Shuttle Busses – For all other parks, you can take Disney’s free shuttle busses which come every 5-15 minutes to each park and Disney resort.
    • Ferry – K and I didn’t get a chance to ride on the ferry, but this will take you to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios
    • Parking – Daily parking is $14 (as of Dec 2012) and each pass comes with in and out privileges, meaning that you could technically drive to each park if you wanted.  The only park you can’t exactly drive to is the Magic Kingdom. To go to MK, you’ll need to park at the TTC and take the monorail over.

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Orlando Trip – Downtown Disney

Epcot Food and Wine Kiosks

On our first night in Orlando, K and I headed for Downtown Disney to try out the Food and Wine Festival Kiosks–Amuse Bouche and Cheese and Sweets. Disney World took the 2 most popular stands from the 2012 Epcot Food and Wine Festival and made them regulars in Downtown Disney. Of all the food we consumed during our trip, Amuse Bouche was by far the best. I only wished Downtown Disney was more convenient so we could eat here more often!

Amuse Bouche

The food was so tasty and affordable! K and I ordered one of each for $13. The favorite of the bunch was the grilled beef skewer–flavorful, tender and light.

  • Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree ($5)
  • Shrimp Ceviche, Fried Plantains and Cilantro ($4.25)
  • Pork Slider with Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise ($3.25)

Amuse Bouche

Cheese and Sweets

We only ordered the cheese fondue at this stand. It was delish, but there wasn’t enough bread. K and I ended up having to drink the leftover cheese, but hey, we’re not complaining.

  • Cheese Fondue with Sourdough Bread ($3.25)

Cheese and Sweets

On my next trip to Orlando, I’m definitely planning around this festival because this was just a taste and I want more!

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Orlando Trip – Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

Harry Potter World

If you’re planning a trip out to Orlando, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure is a must. I am a huge Disney fan, but I will admit that Harry Potter world is the most impressive theme park I’ve ever seen. The detail put into this park is exactly how it’s described in the book–from the food to Moaning Myrtle’s voice in the bathroom to Hogwarts itself.

The town is based off of Hogsmead which is a town described in book 3, Prisoner of Azkaban. The town houses familiar shops such as the Three Broomsticks, Honeydukes, Olivander’s and Zonko’s Joke Shop. The facade of the town looks unreal, like someone pulled you out of Orlando, Florida and into a Harry Potter movie. In the distance, you can see Hogwarts almost like a backdrop, but really, it contains the most innovative ride I’ve ever been on.

Hogwarts Express

Few tips about the Universal Studios:

  • Universal Studios has 2 parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida (If you’re an adult, you only want to go to Islands of Adventure)
  • Wizarding World of Harry Potter is in Islands of Adventure
  • K and I only bought passes to Islands of Adventure (which can be done is less than a day)
  • If you’re planning to read Harry Potter before your visit, you only need to get through half of book 3
  • You don’t even need to be familiar with Harry Potter to enjoy this park
  • Unfortunately, there are no free fastpasses at Universal so be prepared to wait in lines. The Express passes are $30+ and may actually be worth the extra cost to cut lines.
  • Quick tip: Harry Potter World is busiest in the morning. If you want to avoid lines and crowds, come back in the evening when most families made their way to Universal’s other park.


Pretty much, the whole Wizarding World of Harry Potter is an attraction. Though small, K and I spent almost the whole day here perusing the shops and window displays. Few things to look out for:

  • Honeydukes – I easily spent $40 here buying chocolate frogs, Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, chocolate wands and candy floss.
  • Zonko’s Joke Shop – This is a fun place for souvenirs like a Sneakoscope or Extendible Ears.
  • Olivander’s – K and I found a line outside Olivander’s and decided to hop in without knowing what it was for. After about 30 minutes, we were taken into Olivander’s wand shop for an experience. Olivander chose 1 lucky person from the group (me) and had me test out 3 wands similar to what Harry did in book 1. I killed a pot of tulips and rattled a bunch of shelves before I finally found my match. For a price of $30, I could have purchased that wand as a keepsake, but decided to pass.
  • Hogwarts – The school not only houses the most amazing ride ever, it’s also a tour. While waiting in a ridiculously long line, you’re able to meet your favorite characters–Harry, Ron and Hermione–in the library, see the sorting hat and walk through a corridor of talking portraits.
  • Filtch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods – Come here to purchase your favorite Harry Potter scarf or cape.



  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – I’ll admit that I was extremely nervous waiting in line through Hogwarts for this ride. I had no clue what to expect. Fast speed? Big drops? The answer is neither. To my surprise, it easily became the best ride I’ve ever been on. I don’t want to give all the secrets away, but I’ll describe it as a mixture of a Disney Fantasyland ride and Soarin’ Over California. I loved it so much, K and I found ourselves on this ride 5 times! In order to enjoy the experience, you have to store your things in one of their free lockers. This part of the wait is pretty disorganized, so store your things quickly and continue on throughout the mansion.
  • Dragon Challenge – This light-weight roller coaster offers 2 different experiences which are weaved together. When waiting in line, you get to choose which dragon you want to ride.
  • Flight of the Hippogriff – K and I skipped this family-friendly roller coaster.
  • The Amazing Adventure of Spiderman – There are other things to do/see outside of Harry Potter World within Islands of Adventure. This award-winning ride is also a must. It’s similar to the Forbidden Journey ride without the twists and turns.
  • The Incredible Hulk – This is by far the scariest-looking ride I’ve seen at a theme park. Luckily, K didn’t force me to join him.


On to my favorite part about this park, the food! Pasties, butterbeer, pumpkin fizz. It’s all here.

  • Three Broomsticks – They don’t have the Hogwarts dining hall in the park, but this is the 2nd best thing to it. This restaurant serves meat pasties, shepherds pie, fish n’ chips and giant roasted turkey legs. K and I actually had lunch AND dinner here since it’s the only real restaurant in Harry Potter world. We tried the pasties, shepherds pie, BBQ plate and fish n’ chips. My favorite of all 4 was the shepherds pie, flavorful ground beef topped with whipped mashed potatoes and a bechamel sauce. Here is also where you can order a cup of FROZEN BUTTERBEER! This drink is the most amazing invention, frozen cream soda with a hint of butterscotch. Don’t get the cold butterbeer, get the frozen version. We also tried the pumpkin fizz, but butterbeer is a thousand times better.
    Quick tip: Keep your eyes out for the shadows of elves working in the restaurant.

Three Broomsticks

Hope you enjoyed my very thorough recap of Universal’s Islands of Adventure!

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Orlando Trip – Animal Kingdom

Tree of Life

K and I spent the least amount of time at Animal Kingdom mainly because we didn’t know if we had time to make it to the largest of the 4 parks. On day 3 of our 4-day hopper pass, we managed to find a few hours and hopped on the free Disney shuttle to check it out. Here are the highlights:


  • Kilimanjaro Safaris – This is a rather impressive safari built on acres of land filled with tons of animals. You almost forget that you’re in Orlando when riding through this African landscape.
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug

Kilimanjaro Safaris


  • Expedition Everest – This is Orlando’s version of the Matterhorn, but it’s so much more fun!
  • Dinosaur – Dinosaur is Orlando’s version of Indiana Jones. It’s a shame they haven’t moved Indiana over to Orlando. The dinosaur ride seems a bit generic, but the experience is the same.


  • Sadly, K and I didn’t get a chance to eat at this park. We ended up taking the shuttle back to the Magic Kingdom for another roasted pork shank at Gaston’s Tavern. Though I did read that Yak and Yeti is good.

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Orlando Trip – Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios

Studios celebrates the Golden Age of film making. The movie references at this park are dated and most likely unrecognizable to most children, but the main attractions here are the thrill rides. Quick tip: this is a park you won’t need a full day for. Come here in the morning and finish the day at another park.


  • Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage
  • Fantasmic
  • Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights – This was my absolute most favorite thing to see in all the Disney World parks. Disney decorated all of the Avenue of the Americas in thousands of lights. Every 10-15 minutes, the lights would “dance” to a Christmas song. Unfortunately, this is only around during the holidays, but it’s definitely a must see.

Beauty and the Beast



  • Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster – This is similar to California Screamin’ without the big drops.
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
  • The Great Movie Ride – The movies in this ride are a bit out-dated, but the act the castmember plays is pretty fun.
  • Toy Story Mania
  • Star Tours


  • Pretzel Garden – This is the only kiosk I recommend at Hollywood Studios. They have the cheese and jalapano filled pretzels here!

Pretzel Garden

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