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Plan Your Trip to Orlando

spinner image Portofino hotel, part of Universal Studios theme park
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When to go

Orlando, with more sunny days than not, is a great getaway most any time of the year. With a theme park for every day of the week and plenty of natural beauty, it’s not hard to see why.

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If you’re not a fan of crowds, however, avoid the theme parks from late May through Labor Day, any long holiday weekend, mid-December to early January and late March to April when school kids are off for spring break. July tends to be the hottest month, with temperatures in the 90s (and a wallop of humidity). January is the coldest, with temps typically from the 50s to the 70s (but mosquitoes are on sabbatical). Do keep in mind: June 1 to Nov. 30 is hurricane season. Weather can range from slight drizzles to total downpours.

Ways to save: For lower hotel rates, visit in January, September or November, when most children are in school. January and November also coincide with lovely weather (besides the hurricane risk in November): cooler than the summer’s highs and still very mild compared with the rest of the nation.

Where to stay

In the entertainment mecca that is Orlando, there is no shortage of places to rest your head. The metropolitan area has more than 480 hotels and resorts, 20,000 vacation-home rentals and 25,000 vacation-ownership properties (i.e., time-shares). Drum roll, please: That’s a grand total of more than 130,000 rooms.

The vast majority of those accommodations are near the theme parks and include wallet-friendly options like B Resort & Spa and Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa, which offers discounts of 10 percent off for guests 50 and older. There are also resorts within the theme parks, but they can be pricey. The upside? Hotels within the parks often offer perks like early park admission to get you through the doors before the masses. Universal has five on-site hotels, as well as more budget-oriented hotels within its Endless Summer Resort collection, including properties like Dockside Inn and Suites and Surfside Inn and Suites. And Disney has more than 25 on-site properties that range from classics like Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, where giraffes might amble past your balcony. You can count on these hotels to have wheelchair-accessible rooms with roll-in showers, and chairlifts at the pools.

Rates at the same hotel can vary by several hundred dollars depending on the season.

Affordable options include RV spots (about $80 during low season) at the Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort — so popular, you should book at least six months ahead. 

If you'd rather be based in the downtown area (about 30 minutes from the theme parks), consider the AC Hotel Orlando Downtown, which sits across from the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and has a fabulous rooftop bar; and the DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando Downtown, where guests can cool off in a rooftop pool after a day exploring. 

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How to get there

In 2019, 50.6 million travelers passed through Orlando International Airport (MCO), about 20 miles from Walt Disney World. And in 2022, it was named the seventh-busiest airport in the world. A smaller airport, Sanford International Airport, is about 18 miles outside Orlando city limits. Amtrak also has a station in Orlando and Winter Park, an upscale suburb about 30 to 40 minutes from the theme parks (and 10 minutes from downtown Orlando). Taxis and car-share services, like Uber and Lyft, serve them all.

A standby for years, Disney’s Magical Express bus service no longer transports passengers arriving at Orlando International Airport to the theme park hotels (it stopped operating in January 2022). Mears Connect has filled the gap, and picks up from Terminal B, in the same spot Disney once did, offering standard (group) and express (direct) service to hotels near Disney World. Rides on wheelchair-accessible shuttles cost $16 per adult, one-way, for standard service ($32 round trip) or $250 round-trip for private express service for up to four people. 

Universal runs a SuperStar Shuttle between the airport and on-site hotels for $39 and is also ADA friendly.

Activities to arrange before you go

Let’s start with theme park tickets: You can purchase tickets once you arrive at the parks, but if you buy them in advance, you’ll save money and bypass the ticketing lines at the entrance.

First, be sure to check out Disney’s official special offers page to see what sorts of discounts on hotel rooms and specially priced admission tickets (for example, for U.S. military members) might be available. 

For Walt Disney World Resort, the more days you book, the more you’ll save off the average per day ticket price when booking. The biggest per-day savings go to park goers who book seven days and longer, which can bring the average daily price down to less than $60, compared to roughly $109 for a one-day ticket. 

Disney has done away with its FastPass and FastPass+ in favor of a new system called Disney Genie and Disney Genie+, which guests access from the Disney Experience mobile app. You can check the app throughout your visit for useful information — when wait times are lowest for certain rides, for instance. Another way to escape long lines for popular rides: Purchase Lightning Lane entrance passes through the app. 

Buying tickets online for Universal Orlando Resort saves you $20 off the gate price on all multiday tickets. If you opt for an on-site hotel you will get Universal Express access, meaning you skip regular lines one time on all participating rides and attractions.

Guests at Seaworld Orlando can save over $25 on a single-day visit by buying a ticket online. The All Day Dining Deal, bought in advance, is a huge value for those with large appetites. You can chow down all day at participating restaurants for $49.99.

Book hotels within the theme parks well in advance. Some of the most popular ones at Walt Disney World Resort get booked months ahead and sell out during prime times. The same goes for table-service restaurants at Disney. Dining reservations in Disney World can be made up to 60 days in advance for select table-service restaurants, quick-service dining and snack locations. For some of the most beloved eateries, like Disney’s California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Jiko – The Cooking Place in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, you’ll definitely want to try to snag a table as early as possible before your visit (up to 60 days). If you haven't planned that far ahead, you can sometimes get lucky and snag last-minute, day-of and week-of reservations at popular restaurants, when cancellations come through. 

What to pack

Pack your comfiest footwear, bug spray, sunglasses, hat, water bottle and all the sunscreen you can squeeze into your suitcase. No need to dress to the nines: Casual, breezy outfits are the norm. No one will bat an eyelash if you don a fanny pack or a backpack, and strollers are welcome, too, if you have any children in tow (you might want to bring along a lock for a stroller or wagon, if you'll be parting from it for rides). Flip-flops are always in, year-round, but opt for ones that offer some support since you’re bound to be walking quite a bit. Ditch the ball caps and flops, however, for a night out. If you are visiting during the winter, don’t forget a light jacket; even the Sunshine State gets chilly. And during the rainier hurricane season, two words: umbrellas and ponchos. You’ll pay an upcharge for them if you have to purchase them in the parks last minute. 

Safety

The Orlando Metro area is generally considered safe to visit. Do keep in mind, however: If you are in a crowd, including at the theme parks, always keep your valuables secure. And don’t store valuables in your car. 

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