How to Plan your Orlando Theme Park Vacation

Orlando is one of the most popular destinations in the world - and for good reason. If you are heading to the Orlando area to visit the theme parks, a little advance planning will help you save time and money once you arrive. Start planning your trip a few months in advance - you can book your plane tickets, resort room and even secure a table at your favorite restaurant months before you actually arrive. Planning early gives you enough time to shop around and choose the best, most affordable airfare and hotel rates, and allows you lots of time to decide what parks and rides you want to visit.

Find affordable airfares first

If you are flying, not driving, then your airfare will be one of your biggest expenses. Decide about when you want to visit, and search for affordable airfares. Use a window of about 3 weeks to get an idea of what days are the least expensive, and then coordinate the rest of your trip. If you book your room first, you may find you get stuck paying too much for airline tickets, just to arrive on the correct day. There are thousands of resort rooms in Orlando, so you won't have trouble finding a room for the days you want.

Book your resort

Choose a resort based on your budget and your travel plans. If you are planning to spend most of your time at Walt Disney World, consider staying onsite. With free transportation from your hotel to each of the theme parks, special perks like early theme park admission and full-time access to Disney magic, you'll get the most from your trip if you stay on site. If you plan on dividing your trip between the major Orlando theme parks, and want to spend time in Disney, Universal and SeaWorld, consider staying in a centrally -ocated resort that allows you to easily access each theme park without difficulty. Most Orlando resorts offer shuttles to the theme parks and major attractions.

Make dining plans

You can make dining reservations for Disney locations as far as six months in advance. It sounds crazy, but if you want to secure a table at popular locations like Le Cellier or Cinderella's Royal Table, you'll need to make your reservations months in advance. Make dining reservations early and you won't have to scramble for a table when you get to the park. Other popular locations like Universal's Mythos and the T-Rex Cafe in Downtown Disney require advanced reservations as well.

Make recreation plans

Disney's Art of Animation Resort, Mickey Mouse
Walt Disney World media site

Are there any things you consider "must do" items for your vacation? If you plan on visiting a water park, horseback riding or renting a boat or other recreational vehicle, you can research these things in advance. Some things, like water parks, you can just show up for; others, like SeaWorld's exclusive Discovery Cove, or Disney's popular Hoop de Doo Revue show require advanced ticket purchases. You can also determine what if any gear you need to bring with you - if you want to scuba dive in Epcot (at the Living Seas with Nemo and Friends), you'll need to bring proof of your certification to do so.

Research the parks

Get an idea of what rides and attractions each park has to offer before you go. If you know what rides and shows are important to you, you can plan out a basic itinerary in advance. You don't have to micro-manage your trip, but if you know you want to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one day and Disney's Hollywood Studios the next, you'll know what tickets to buy. You should also learn a bit about some of the special features of each park - if you learn about Disney's FASTPASS then you won't have to wait in a 2 hour line to ride Expedition Everest!

Samantha is an Orlando resident and an expert on the area's theme parks. She writes online for a number of publications, including Theme Park Tourist where you can find detailed information about Alton Towers rides and dozens of other parks.

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