Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Theme Park Hopping at Orlando

Orlando is a city in Florida, popular for its theme parks – Disney Land, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, etc. It is a nice place to visit all around the year. Highest temperatures in Summer are around 30 degrees (Celsius), and it can get as cold as 15 degrees in the winters. But it goes nowhere close to the other colder cities on east coast, such as New York or Boston.

I happened to visit Orlando for 2 days (only L) in March, 2015. I would say it is a very short time to do justice to all the theme parks in 2 days, and definitely not doing justice to the amount of money spent on the park tickets. If you are traveling on a budget, Orlando Theme Parks are definitely not the way to spend your free days. The tickets do not come cheap! However, I believe these theme parks are one time experiences, and should be visited atleast once.

As I mentioned, I visited with a friend for 2 days only. One of which, we spent at the Magic Kingdom - Disney World and the other at Universal Studios. Were we able to do justice to the money spent? NO. Do I regret spending what I spent for visiting both the parks? A Big definite NO. Having said that, I would have loved it if we had another day to spend at both the parks. But at the time, I wasn’t sure when I would be coming to Orlando again anytime soon, and hence we decided to stretch ourselves and do both.

Total Trip Cost (excluding Airfare)
Total Cost
Cost Per Person
$ 100 per night
$ 200
$ 100
$ 140
$ 70
$ 40
$ 80
$ 40
Attractions (Single day Tickets at both parks)
$ 255

$ 255
$ 465

Day 1 at Disney World
We had landed in Orlando a day before, and hence were able to make an early start to the day. The first thing we did was to stop at Walmart and stock up on some water, snacks and sunscreen (since my sunscreen was captured at the airport the previous day. Yes, I was lazy enough to not transfer into a travel-size bottle). Now since the tickets don’t come cheap, it is important that you reach at 9 AM to the park, to make full use. That is when the park opens.

The Disney Castle in Night Lights

There are 4 theme parks within the Disney World, each with its own attractions.

1.      Magic Kingdom ($ 105 for a day) – This is (atleast according to me) the primary park where the Disney Parade happens. There are also fireworks in the evening at the Disney Castle. There are rides with different thrill levels, and I could find all details from the Magic Kingdom website. If you are spending just a day in Disney World, I would highly recommend going here. This is a dream land for kids, especially with the costumes and the fanfare at the Parade, and the beautiful Disney Castle. It itself is a sight to behold! The ticket for the park is $ 105 for 1 day. If you plan to go for 2 days, there is some economies of scale, but unless you are visiting with Children, I don’t think it is worth spending 2 days there. Frankly, if you are not traveling with kids, or are not a die-hard fan of Disney, I would suggest skipping Disney World altogether and spending 2 days at Universal Studios instead.

2.       Epcot / Holiwood Studios / Animal Kingdom Park ($ 97 for a day) – There is a $ 97 per day ticket to enter any of these 3 parks. Due to want of time, we did not visit these places, but I feel Animal Kingdom has a very innovative concept of experiencing different animal species through walking trails, safaris, etc.

3.       Park Hopper Ticket option ($ 155 for a day) – if you are ambitious enough to do all the 4 parks in a day, you should go for this. But I find it humanly impossible to do so. However, it might be better to take a 2 day Park Hopper ticket worth $ 257, to experience all the parks if you really have to.

What I loved most – The parade was definitely a fanfare, and a lifetime experience. Could not contain my excitement on seeing Noddy! I practically grew up reading reading those Noddy books. Made me go totally nostalgic. I also spent hours taking pictures while standing outside the Castle. Beautiful is an understatement for the work-of-concrete. The rides are mostly for children, but there are a few high-thrill ones as well. If you are there for adventure, checkout the website and go only for these, to utilize your time. We went on a Saturday, so queues were big for almost all the rides, but we noticed, it got bigger towards the evenings. I am guessing that is when all the Disney Resort residents storm in.

There are some merchandise shops in there as well. Extremely cute things – from Disney Mugs, to T-shirts, caps, soft-toys. However, in my experience they were super over-priced. I bought a Disney Mug from there for $ 17! I got it just to keep it as a souvenir, but wisely decided against spending money buying more of the innumerable number of visually tempting stuff.

Food – While there are some food options in there, the queues during meal-hours are really long. To add to it, options are not that varied. We ended up having just a hot-dog. Thank god we were carrying snacks with us, to help us survive the hot damp day.

Tips and Tricks
1.       Wear comfortable clothes and shoes – there is a LOT of walking ahead of you
2.       Carry stuff to protect you from the heat – Cap/hat, shades, sunscreen, and definitely some water
3.       Reach early – better make full use of the money you are spending. Magic kingdom opens at 9 AM.
4.       If you are here for the rides and thrill – Disney World is not the place for you.
5.       Time your rides according to the parade timings, and make sure you stay back till the fireworks in the evening.
6.       Disney Resorts – if you are willing to shed some extra money for the whole experience, go for overnight accommodation at one of the Disney resorts. You get complimentary transportation across different parks and resorts, and also get an extra hour at the parks to enjoy queue-free rides. AND you are staying amongst Disney characters and thematics throughout your stay – the kids will love it!

Day 2 at Universal Studios
Well, does this place need an introduction! It is a Hollywood/cinema based theme park, and the moment I set my foot inside here, I felt as if I am in a different world altogether. The Hollywood vibe of this place is infectious. It was just unfortunate that we had a flight to catch at 8 PM that night, and hence we had to cover the main rides in a rush. This park is HUGE. Even if we were not leaving that night, there was no way we could have covered all the rides on one day, especially given it was a Sunday and the queues were never-ending. However, we did our research well, and had already gone there with a priority list in mind. Hence, we ended up being able to do the rides we really wanted to do.

Ticket – First things first, the ticket prices. There are 2 parks in Universal Studios. Ticket price for entry to one of them for a day is $ 105, and for both in a day it is $ 155. For all Harry Potter fans out there, you will probably want to shell out extra and go for entry to both. The Harry Potter world and its rides is across both the parks, and the best part is the Hogwarts train connects the parks. On our list, the Harry Potter world was number 1, hence obviously we went for the $ 155 ticket. And I would not even know what a spectacle I missed had I not gone for the entry-to-both parks ticket!

What I loved most

Harry Potter World – It is THE best part of the theme park I feel. They make it a wholesome experience and you instantly feel as if you are in Europe in the 1990s. We began our tour with a walk around the Diagon Alley, and then had breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!? After roaming around a bit, we passed through the wall from the muggle world to the wizarding world; took the Hogwarts Express to reach to the other park – Islands of Adventure.
The first thing I noticed as we got off the train, was this huge roller coaster with big drops. Roller coasters are not my thing; so we went for the 3-D ride. And Oh. My. God. You just have to be there to experience how good it is. I will say no more.

Transformers – It was again another 3 D ride, and although I haven’t watched the movie, I had a gala time!
In general, I noticed in the short time I was there, that there were several 3D rides, and Oh so many terrifying roller coasters. There is something for everyone. And when you are tired, just walking down the lanes, watching people shriek on the rides, basically just taking it all in, is a magnificent memory to go home with.

Tips and tricks – If you are not in a big group, I would strongly recommend you go for the single rider line. The queues at the rides can get really long towards the evening, and going in the single rider line will save you practically the entire queue. You might not be doing the ride together in the same cabin as with your company, but will probably be a couple of minutes away from each other. And you would be able to save time and do so many more rides! I remember, for the Transformers ride I stood in the single rider one. My standing time was 2 minutes, while for few of the other fellow riders who were in a group, the queue time was 35 minutes!

To round up - I had the most refreshing weekend at Orlando which took me back to when I was a kid, reading Harry Potter books, and wishing I wasn’t a muggle, and that I had my best friend in Mickey Mouse! While Disney World was a definite one-time experience, my heart still craves for another visit to Universal. Will probably plan for another trip soon, and take lot more pictures to share, than I have right now.

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