Are you planning your next family adventure? Then look no further than sunny Florida. Orlando branded as the theme park capital of the world features a wealthy selection of theme parks for endless days of fun. The parks are ideal for all ages, and each one has its own focus point. The 1 week in Orlando itinerary below, is aimed at families with teenagers or young adults who are luring into thrill rides.
This itinerary is based on my visit to Orlando in July 2018. It was hot and crowded, but totally worth it. If you want to see some personal insights on the parks I visited to check out this post.
1 Week in Orlando Itinerary Overview
Where to stay and how to move around?
The whole area is filled with hotels and most of them have free shuttles to the nearby parks. However, these shuttles are usually infrequent and have limited capacity as they serve a number of hotels in a first come first served basis. Uber and Lyft and are very popular and usually a cheaper option than paying for parking inside the theme parks. Of course, most hotels have parking available, but not all of them offer it for free. Staying along the International Drive (i-drive) is usually a good decision as there are many amenities along the road.
When I visited, we stayed the first three nights in Avanti Palms Resort & Conference Center [AD] which is close to Universal Orlando Resort and then we changed to Best Western Convention Center [AD] which is next to Seaworld (long walk away) and closer to Disney World than the previous hotel. We usually used the shuttle buses for our journey to the parks and for the return trip we used Uber. Another way to move around is by using the I-RIDE trolley which stops at many of the area’s attractions.
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1 Week in Orlando Itinerary Route Overview
Will I have to wait in long lines and how to avoid them?
Of course, especially if you visit during peak times. If you want to avoid long lines you may want to purchase a separate ticket (usually called express ticket or fast pass) which gives you access to a separate queue which is usually much shorter. However, bear in mind that these add-ons are usually expensive and unless there is an online discount, you may want to wait until you get to the park to see how crowded it is. You can then easily buy it from one of the many kiosks in the park.
When I visited, we bought an express pass (in advance because it was cheaper) for both Universal Studios and World of Adventure and although this doubled the price of our ticket we could get into the rides in a fraction of the normal waiting times. This meant, that we could be in and out in 20 minutes, while the normal queue was more than 1 hour. In this way, we could get to all the attractions that we wanted in one day. In contrast, an express ticket was not necessary for Seaworld as it was less crowded.
On the other side, if you are a solo rider, you may want to reconsider purchasing an express ticket. This is because most rides have a separate line for solo rides. This line usually moves quicker than the normal queue, but this also depends on the ride and how large are the parties waiting in the normal queue. For example, a party of three waiting to get a cart that fits four people will usually be joined by another person from the solo queue.
What about Disney World parks?
Disney parks do not offer this kind of add on ticket, but they offer something different instead. While I was familiar with fast pass entrances from my first visit in Disneyland in Paris about 10 years ago, I was late to realise that in Orlando the system is a bit different and so I missed out most of the advantages.
To begin with, like in the other parks fast pass allows you to enter the express line with the only difference is that here it is free. The trick is that you only have three free fast passes available per day. The other trick is that you need to know which attractions you want to use them before you get to the park. Unless you visited Disneyland before, then you probably won’t know which rides have a long queue and hence require a fast pass. This can be easily overcome by checking out the park map with live waiting times.
The last thing that you need to have in mind is that there is only a limited number of fast passes per ride. So if you really want to make the most of those passes you need to book your slot as early as possible. If you wait a couple of days before going to the park (like I did) chances are that only the not so popular rides will be available which normally have short queues, so there is not much to gain from the pass.
Any money saving tips?
I agree that following this itinerary can be a little harsh on your wallet as it visits each park complex for two days. This means that daily entry tickets will be more expensive than buying them for more days (e.g. a week). However, if you are an international traveller and you want to see as much as possible (like me), then this is the only way to do so. If it is easy for you to return to the area, then spending longer in the same park complex will allow you to have a potentially cheaper and more relaxed holiday.
TIP: If you want to experience everything that Disney World has to offer I would suggest a two-week (!) stay.
Overall the best way to save money is by staying in a hotel or holiday house outside the parks. This may add to your transportation costs, but the total difference overall will favour your wallet. Another tip, although difficult to resist, is to avoid buying all those cute souvenirs including photos from rides and with park characters. My last tip would be to do some research on picnic facilities within the parks. This means that you can avoid eating in the low quality expensive in-park restaurants and bring your own lunch instead.
What to book in advance?
Most parks have discounted tickets if you buy them online. Also, accommodation during peak seasons is highly recommended, especially if you want to stay in theme-park hotels. If you want meals with theme parks characters or other similar add-ons you may need to book them in advance to ensure availability.
Note: Below there are six theme parks, one per day. If you want to visit more parks you can still do in the same amount of time, by purchasing a ticket which allows you to visit multiple parks (of the same company) in a single day. However, keep in mind that this will be more expensive overall and you probably won’t have time to go to all the rides.
Buy your Lonely Planet Orlando and Disney World Resort pocket guidebook here. [AD]
Day 1 – I-Drive Attractions
The first day is dedicated to arriving in Orlando and settling into your accommodation. Spend this day to get to know the international drive (filled with souvenir shops and restaurants). Attraction-wise there are many tourist attractions around the area you can spend some time on. We chose to spend our first evening in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, as we hadn’t been to one before. Other options include WonderWorks, which includes hands-on exhibits; iFly Orlando, to try some indoor skydiving; and the attractions at the ICON Park such as the Wheel, Madame Tussauds and SEA LIFE.
As you can see all of them can be found in other locations around the world as well, so you may prefer to skip everything and just relax at your hotel. Alternatively, you can check out one of the Premium shopping outlets in the area. Note, that there are many discounts for the above attractions hidden in the tourist brochures given at hotels.
Find out more about Ripleys Believe It Or Not Orlando here.
Buy your Ripleys Believe It Or Not Orlando tickets from 365Tickets. [AD]
Find out more about WanderWorks Orlando here.
Find out more about iFly Orlando here.
Buy your iFly Orlando tickets from AttractionTix. [AD]
Find out more about the ICON Park here.
Buy your the Wheel at ICON Park Orlando tickets from AttractionTix or 365Tickets; buy your Madame Tussauds Orlando tickets from AttractionTix or 365Tickets or buy your SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium tickets from AttractionTix or 365Tickets. [AD]
Day 2 – Universal Studios
Universal Studios is perhaps most known for their movies, but what about theme park rides? Inspired by their all-time classical movies, more than 20 rides entertain visitors of all ages, spanning in eight thematic areas. Their newest addition is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter land, which features two train rides. One is a roller coaster train and the other is a real train which links the two Universal theme parks. Overall the park’s highlights are the 3D/4D simulation rides.
Find out more about Universal Studios here.
Buy your Universal Orlando tickets from AttractionTix. [AD]
Day 3 – Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Universal’s Islands of Adventure is the second theme park of the same company. The rides follow the same theme, but here you can find more of the traditional roller coaster rides than simulations. Besides the rides, you can find movie characters walking around both parks ready to take a photo with you. Of course, you will have to queue and potentially pay to get your photo home with you. Paid photography at theme parks is a whole different topic to discuss, but in general, if you tend to buy your photos then purchase a photo pass (it will be cheaper in the end), otherwise just ignore all the photo stops (quite hard).
Find out more about Universal’s Islands of Adventure here.
Universal’s CityWalk is the entertainment district of all three Universal parks. There you can find shops, restaurants, cafes and even a cinema. It is the ideal place to go to after you finish exploring the parks as it stays open until late, although shops usually close earlier. There you can also find one of the largest Hard Rock Cafes in the world with a capacity of 3000 people!
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Day 4 – Discovery Cove
Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive resort set up in a tropical environment and featuring animal encounters. The all-inclusive nature of the place means that complimentary food and drink are provided throughout the day, from breakfast to lunch to snacks. Unfortunately, this is not true for the park’s attractions as only the basic ones are included. This means that you can lounge for as long as you want in the Grand Reef, the Aviary, the Wind-Away River and a few more places, but not swim with dolphins or feed animals. In case you want any of the additional activities, then it is recommended to book them in advance because although they are expensive they are at the same time very popular.
Another thing to note is that the opening hours of this park usually differ from the rest, i.e. they open very early in the morning around 7:30 am and close at around 5 pm.
What about the controversies about this park?
There are various opinions regarding the keeping of animals in the park and the close encounters that they get to have with humans. But as with any zoo and aquarium, there are both benefits and concerns regarding their operation. I am not going to get into more details, as I’m no expert. It is up to each one of us to decide how to react. Informed research is important as is getting some first-hand experience. No one forces you to visit a place you feel is unethical, so feel free to choose another attraction to spend this day (and the next one as they are the same company).
Find out more about Discovery Cove here.
Day 5 – SeaWorld Orlando
SeaWorld Orlando is another park complex featuring animal experiences. It combines features of a zoo, an aquarium and a theme park. Like its sister property Discover Cove, some optional animal experiences can be purchased on top of the entrance ticket. The main difference is that here you can find roller coaster rides as well as shows and presentations regarding animal life. The park feels like a normal theme park and it is generally quieter than the other parks in this itinerary.
Find more about SeaWorld Orlando here.
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Day 6 – Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Moving to the world of magic and dreams, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is on the list for today. Another theme park featuring animals with a blend of Disney Magic. Overall, the rides are mostly family rides but the whole Disney experience is definitely worth it no matter the age. Don’t forget to check out some of the shows around the park; my favourite is the River of Light. Make sure to have a look at the rides before visiting so that you can reserve you Fast Passes. Hint: A usually popular attraction is the Avatar Flight of Passage.
Find out more about Disney’s Animal Kingdom here.
Buy your Disney World tickets from AttractionTix. [AD]
Day 7 – Epcot
Last theme park of the trip is Disney’s Epcot. The park resembles a World Exposition where different countries have their own space to present their culture. Each country-land features important sights from each country (such as a mini Eiffel Tower for France), usually some kind of ride, thematic restaurants and souvenir shops. Expect to find something from Norway, China, Japan, the USA, Italy, France, Canada and Mexico. Every night, there is a fireworks display around the lagoon at the park’s closing time.
Find out more about Epcot here.
Disney Springs is the entertainment complex of Disney World with many shops and restaurants. The place is big enough that it needs a day on its own to be explored (you can even get a balloon ride). There are frequent shuttle pass connections from all Disney Parks during their opening times. Disney Springs is an ideal place to go for dinner after a full day at either park. There are many dining options to suit different tastes and budgets and most of them stay open until late and after all the parks have closed.
Day 8 – Orlando
This is the last day and depending on your departure time you may want to check out another i-drive attraction. If you have the whole day, you may want to check out NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Other popular activities include going on a day trip to Clearwater Beach or Crystal River. Lastly, you may want to visit the city of Orlando and do a short sightseeing tour.
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Have a nice trip!
P.S. Let me know in the comments below which park you most want to visit or which is your favourite!
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