Getting to Walt Disney World for first-timers, Orlando, Florida, United States of America
Updated: Mar 14, 2019
Disney is always a good idea no matter where we go. We've been to the one in Hong Kong, Japan, Paris, and definitely can't miss the biggest one in Orlando. As theme park lovers, we have always wanted to head to the largest Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida! Then came the chance where there were cheaper flight tickets on Cathay Pacific to New York and we literally jumped at the opportunity!
1. Tours or Self-travel?
Initially, covering the large and seemingly dangerous United States was a challenge to us. We looked at tours by various tour agencies and considered heading over to Orlando with a group tour. However, most tours were only about 10 days, and we were looking at a three-week long adventure! Also, heading to Orlando with a tour group seems unnecessary as you were mostly on your own in the theme parks.
These tours often also put you up somewhere further from Disney World and you'll take a shuttle bus to the theme park daily. We wanted to get the entire experience and decided to put in the effort to plan our East Coast Trip!
2. How to get to Florida Disneyland or Walt Disney World Orlando?
The best way to get to Orlando is via the Orlando International Airport. For Singaporean travellers, there isn't a direct flight yet to Orlando so you would have to fly into New York, before transferring to a domestic flight.
Instead of flying on international flights from Singapore to New York and then to Orlando, we found that taking USA's budget airlines, such as JetBlue, were more cost-efficient. However, that would mean that you'll have to exit immigration, collect your bags and lug them to another terminal to get on the flight.
Should you not want to trouble yourself with all that fuss, then we would suggest purchasing an international flight that flies to Orlando with a transit in New York.
From the Airport at Orlando, you can either get on Disney Magical Express (if you are staying in a Disney resort), take a taxi, or drive to your resort!
3. How many days are required at Walt Disney World Orlando?
This is a huge park, and really, as many days as you could spare. We wanted to fully experience each park and decided to stay 5 days in Disney. 1 day for each park, plus an extra day for transits and travels.
However, when we were there, we found ourselves being able to complete most of the parks within 3 days so those who have fewer days to spare, 3 days would a good timeframe. In this 3 days, one should also plan carefully which parks to go as each park has different opening timings.
As a guide, purchase the Walt Disney World Multi Day Ticket with park hopper option that allows you to park-hop to the different parks in a day. The other multi-day pass only allows you to enter each park once per day and that isn't that useful if you are short on time! Read on and we will cover how you can possibly plan to maximise your time using the park hopper option!
4. Should you stay in a Walt Disney World Resort or in a hotel close to the resort?
We answered this previously when we were writing about Hong Kong Disneyland, but in Orlando, there are many more perks! :)
Definitely, a mid-range hotel outside Disney World like Comfort Inn Orlando Lake Buena Vista for $75 USD per night is much cheaper as compared to Disney's Value Hotels that goes from $99 USD per night. But, if you are looking for luxury travel, a suite outside Disney World like Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Kissimmee Gateway also costs about $99 USD a night.
For a night, 20 USD may not be that much, but when you multiply that by the number of days that you're staying, it could add up. Also, we've taken a mid-range hotel as reference, there are definitely much cheaper hotels in the Disney World Orlando region. If costs are your number one concern, then a hotel close to the resort is your best bet.
P.S: They aren't that bad too, most hotels offer free shuttle to all four Disney World Parks and the nearby Orlando attractions like Universal Studios, the outlet malls, etc. Although, these buses tend to be shared shuttles with various hotels in the region and can get quite packed! So take note of that!
b) Distance and Convenience to Parks
Resorts within Walt Disney World is definitely more convenient and much nearer to the park! There are many shuttle services that bring you from your resort to the park. On top of that, for some of the more premium resorts, you'll get to take either the monorail, or even a ferry to the park.
These various ways that lead to the park greatly reduces the wait time for shuttle buses and get you there without breaking a sweat! We stayed at Disney's All-Star Music Resort and never had a problem with the wait-time nor the crowd on the bus!
We also utilised the shuttle, ferry, and monorail to visit other resorts so that was quite an experience too!
When staying at the Disney Resorts, you'll be able to gain additional MAGIC HOURS! Every day, there will be one theme park that will grant early access for resort guests into the park. This is really important because that extra hour may mean you taking two rides before the rest of the crowd streams in! (Yes, it is that MAGICAL!)
You'll also be able to reserve your fastpass before (up to 60 days) you even get to the park! Though we didn't quite make use of this, during the summer months, this could really be a quick hack for travellers who are short on time!
What we really like being guests of Disney Resorts were these cool, personalised MagicBands that were given to us upon check-in. Aside from it being an amazing souvenir, it is also used as a key and "credit card" that you use to access rooms, enter theme parks, and credit your food purchases, et cetera in the park. This was really convenient as there really wasn't a need to bring along your cash or credit card. We charged everything to the band and paid for everything on check-out!
Since it isn't really a perk when the other hotels also offer a free shuttle service, let's focus on their complimentary airport shuttle! Not all hotels provide this so it was extremely helpful (especially on late flights) to get on the Disney Magical Express from Orlando International Airport straight to your resort! For those who drive, you'll also enjoy complimentary parking at the resort (this could add up should your hotel not provide complimentary parking!)
Finally, one last extra perk is the ability to purchase a dining plan when booking your vacation. We didn't get this when we were there because on some days, we were absolutely too busy to eat! We just did a grab-and-go, and sometimes given America's huge portions, we shared one meal! So this is only advisable for big-eaters and perhaps families? We did it ale-carte and surprisingly it didn't cost too much.
d) The full Disney Experience!
Finally, whether or not you wish to stay at Disney it is all about the full Disney Experience. Especially if you have young children, won't they want to retire to a Mickey Mouse themed room?
5. When is the best time to travel to Walt Disney World Orlando?
If you are trying to figure out when is the best or even perfect time to visit Orlando, our suggestion is right before or right after the winter months! September to November or January. This is a period where the weather is mild (with fewer people), and perfect for theme park adventures.
As Florida is famous for its sunshine, many American domestic travellers head to Orlando and Miami Beach during winter to keep out of the cold! December will be quite a busy month as Winter holidays begin, with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's all around the corner. However, since Singapore's School Holidays also coincide with these events, a good bet will be to fly off right when the holidays begin (say end November).
We also visited Disneyland Orlando during the end November, early December date and found that it wasn't overly crowded with lots of space and waiting times didn't go past 40 minutes for most rides.
During the Trip, Disney Hacks!
Now that you're all set, here's some of our Disney Hacks to get the most out of your Disney Adventure during the trip! This guide is written assuming that you'll be staying at a Disney Resort. However, if you aren't ignore the portion about the Extra Magic Hours!
1. Purchase the Walt Disney World Ticket with Park Hopper Option
Purchase the Walt Disney World Multi Day Ticket with park hopper option that allows you to park-hop to the different parks in a day. This is important as the other tickets do not allow you to park-hop.
2. Plan your day - Utilise the Extra Magic Hours!
Planning is important and the first thing you'll need is to check the opening times of each of the park! The table is quite confusing but all you'll need to check is where and what time is the Extra Magic Hours are.
I've taken the timings off Disney to illustrate an example:
Assuming that you are heading to Disney for 4 days from July 22 to July 25. On the first day, it could be your travelling to day, so we will KIV that day and start planning from July 23.
On July 23, you should visit Disney Animal Kingdom first and make use of the Extra Magic Hours. Even though there's also extra magic hours at Hollywood Studios, there isn't any more Magic Hours for Animal Kingdom during the time you are there. When you've gotten the most of your experience in Animal Kingdom, you then may want to head to Magic Kingdom in the evening to have dinner, or catch some rides since it opens till 11pm. That would mean you would have covered part of Magic Kingdom on the first day.
On July 24, you can then head to Hollywood Studios first, and continue part 2 with Epcot since it will be opened till 11pm.
Doing so would mean that you'll have successfully caught a glimpse of all four parks in 2 days. Now, you can then choose to head to any park that you'll want to spend more time in on your third day. :)
We did exactly something like this and managed to complete all four parks, taking all the rides we wanted to in just about 3 full days, with 1 extra day to pop into an extra park and another day to spare which we spent them at the premium outlet stores.
Besides the four parks, don't forget to also visit Disney Boardwalk, which is an area full of entertainment, restaurants and souvenir stores. It is so large that you can even take a ferry from one end to the other! The Disney Boardwalk opens till about 2am so you'll definitely not feel bored when you are at the resort!
We particularly loved the dining options there and had our "supper cum dessert" on several occasions. You also do not have to fret about getting back as the shuttle buses will bring you back safely to your resort! :)
3. Finally, enjoy it at your own pace!
In the end, whatever we suggest is but a guide, definitely for some travellers who head to Disney World with their children would likely take it slow and may just want to allocate one park for each day. That is possible too and look out for our guide on each of the parks, coming right up!
This post is part of our Walt Disney World Orlando Experience and you can read the other articles here: