Orlando or Bust
Recently my husband and I had the opportunity to chaperone our daughter’s senior trip. The destination? Orlando, Florida. The goal: watch over my daughter and her best friend as they ride death-defying apparatuses designed to create vertigo, hysteria, and an empty stomach. Thankfully, as chaperones, it was our duty (and relief) to hold all their stuff while they were on the rides. My husband and I delighted in several of the less severe rides. The days of corkscrews and going upside down are over for me. But I found entertainment in watching the bold and the brave scream like little girls.
If you have never been to any of the parks and are planning a trip, I’ve put together some tips to help your visit be more comfortable. For the record, we went to Island of Adventure, Universal, and Volcano Bay.
A long time ago in a galaxy far away when I was a child, I visited Sea World, Epcot Center, and Disney World. But a lot has changed, including my age. As an adult, my worries were more about logistics such as parking, shuttles, and avoiding dehydration.
First, here are some logistics you don’t need to spend your energy worrying about:
There’s plenty, and it’s organized well. You won’t get lost until you leave the parking area and hit Route 4. Even then, the roads and exits are well marked, and even our sometimes-snarky GPS couldn’t mess it up.
Let’s be honest, for some of us, knowing where bathrooms are located is a game-changer. When our children were small and we went out, the first thing I wanted to know was where are the bathrooms. At the parks, there were plenty of facilities. There were only a couple of times I had to wait in line. I usually found the more out-of-the-way bathrooms that had no lines and seemed to be cleaner.
I was pleased to see there were large fans hanging from poles wherever a queue was likely to form. For example, the ticket line had fans set up to blow down on waiting customers. Even though we were outside, it provided a breeze that felt refreshing under the awnings. They also had fans in many of the ride lines. The message was clear: no fainting until you got on the ride.
4. One ticket
We didn’t realize at first that our tickets were reusable for all four days in our package. We assumed we had to print up new tickets for each park. Come to find out, using the one ticket, we could skip the ticket line and get right into the park, even if it wasn’t the same one we visited the day before. That was a huge time saver!
There are water fountains at every bathroom station. Beverages are sold in countless stores and concessions as well. One trick with the water is to reuse your own water bottle by filling it at a fountain. That’s an official tip from our travel agent. My husband did this the entire trip. I don’t trust water fountains, so I had a different strategy, which is listed below.
It is inevitable that at some point you are going to have some questions. For us, it was mainly asking for directions to a certain attraction we were trying to hunt down. There are park employees everywhere you turn. They are helpful and friendly and soon had us on the right course.
Now for the tips:
There were two choices for parking. The first was to park at the top of the garage, in the sun. The second was to pay more than twice the regular fee to park inside the garage. We chose to park at the top, and for us, it worked out perfectly. The view from the top is amazing. You can see all the tall, crazy rides and much of Orlando. We were at the parks in March, so the temperatures were much more moderate than they would be in July. Depending on what time of year you visit, and what your budget is, will help you decide where you want to park.
2. Keep hydrated
We had a couple of different strategies for staying hydrated. One, as mentioned above, was to make good use of the water fountains. I also simply carted several water bottles in my backpack for use. We froze water the night before to ensure easy access to ice-cold water. I wrapped the bottles in a plastic bag, then stored them in my backpack. Be aware that you will be thirstier than anticipated. This is due to being out in the warm temperatures and walking, talking, and possibly screaming a lot. Another reason is that any food you buy will likely be salty, thus increasing your need to chug some water.
3. Bring snacks
The reasons for this are clear. But in case you are not thinking clearly because you’ve lost too much oxygen from your brain because of repeated exposure to The Hulk, I’ll fill you in. Bringing your own snacks will not only save you a wheelbarrow full of money, but it will enable you to make healthier choices.
4. Bring a small backpack
This is helpful in hauling snacks, water, and souvenirs. If you can’t take it with you on a ride, there are plenty of lockers provided. They lock, so your personal items are secure.
5. Bring sunscreen
This is especially important if you are a pasty pale Pennsylvanian like me. March is still the dead of winter for us, and our skin likely hasn’t seen the sun since September. While I enjoy a fresh dose of vitamin D as much as the next person, I don’t enjoy blisters caused by sunburns. Even a cloudy day can be risky for us Yankees who aren’t used to the more intense rays of the southern sun.
6. Bring a sense of humor
Not everything will go according to plan. Murphy has a habit of showing up with alarming frequency, especially on a trip. For example, your fingerprint might not work at the entrance gate, or you might be caught in a deluge while waiting in line for a butterbeer. You might also get turned around on the way to Hogsmeade and end up at the wrong end of the park. Many minutes will pass as you maneuver your way back through the throng of people, trying to find the correct location. We were able to take the mishaps and misunderstandings in stride. Not because of our saintly dispositions. Mostly it was because we were giddy to be forgoing our usual sleet and snow and enjoy warm temperatures and sunshine instead.
7. Bring patience
Lots of it. You have to realize, before arrival, that everything is a waiting game. Going through security, getting your tickets, getting on rides, and buying lunch. Some of the rides had a wait time of over 90 minutes. We waited in line for lunch at The Leaky Cauldron for an hour. Waiting is part of the experience, so make whatever emotional adjustments you need to beforehand. Getting cranky while waiting in line won’t make the experience for you, or the other guests, any better.
8. Bring your imagination
This is the time for your imagination to shine. My favorite parts were Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Enjoy the moments you have steeped in a fantasy world. I’ve read the Harry Potter series several times, and it was amazing to get a real-life representation of the places I read about.
9. Bring a bucket list
My daughter and her best friend came up with this brilliant idea. They made a list of all the attractions they wanted to see, shops to visit, restaurants to eat in, and rides to enjoy before we left. While we may not have gotten everything on the list marked off, we accomplished most. This gave us a sense of direction while in the park. When we first got there, we were a little overwhelmed. What to do first? And where is it? That was quickly answered, and we were able to have an amazing experience.
10. Bring earphones/earplugs
This may not be relevant for everyone, but some people have anxiety when they have auditory sensory overload. I observed several people with headsets on. I assume they were to cancel the noise. For a country girl like me, just arriving at the garage had all my senses tingling. By the time we got through security and made our way down the City Walk towards the park, I was exhausted. I was able to adapt fairly quickly. As a writer (and a people watcher) I used a strategy where I focused on one or two details at a time and then tried to take in the big picture. That was extremely useful.
This is what I would consider a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, we may be looking at a repeat trip with one more child to graduate from high school. Having been there once, I know better what to expect and how to prepare. That means that more energy and attention can be spent enjoying the moment instead of figuring out logistics. If you are planning a trip to any of the parks mentioned, I hope you have as an amazing time as we did, and that my tips help ease any of the worries you may have.