A large number of visitors to Disney Parks in the USA are from the UK, many visiting for the first time. With the help of our wonderful Disney forum members we’ve put together some essential tips to help Brits visiting the USA.
BOOKING YOUR TRIP
Don’t be scared of booking a DIY trip! Packages are easy to book but don’t necessarily provide the best value. Airlines often have sales or offers. And Disney are releasing new offers all the time, with room discounts and free dining packages that can save £££.
If you don’t want to book the hotel yourself, consider using a specialist Disney travel agency. They don’t charge anything for their service and will find you the best deals available.
The Walt Disney Travel Company UK has some great offers available, including free dining and discounts of up to 45% on Disney Resorts.
Travel insurance is absolutely essential! Just getting to see a doctor for something minor like a sore throat will cost you upwards of $200. Make sure you get a comprehensive policy with at least £2million medical cover. Check that the cancellation cover and baggage cover meet your needs too.
If you plan on visiting Universal Orlando, consider staying one or two nights in one of their hotels (Hard Rock Hotel, Portofino Bay, Royal Pacific). As a hotel guest you’ll get 2 days of queue jumping at Universal Studios / Islands of Adventure, early entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and can have up to four adults in a room. Plus, you won’t have to get transport there or pay for parking, transport to and from the parks is free.
Alternatively, if you plan on doing several non-Disney parks, split your stay with time at an I-Drive hotel and time at a Disney Resort. This is especially good if you won’t be hiring a car, as transport to non-Disney parks is much easier from I-Drive.
You may think that Disney hotels are expensive and not worth it. But if you’re not hiring a car you may find it difficult to get to and from the Disney Parks. Whilst many off-site hotels provide free shuttle to Disney, they are usually only at limited times and may stop at several other hotels along the way. Staying at a Disney hotel offers many benefits, including free transport to Disney parks, early entry to the parks on select mornings, great recreation options, and aren’t necessarily as expensive as you’d think, especially the value resorts.
If there’s a large group of you, you may find that hiring a villa is the best option.
If you have to get a connecting flight, make sure you ask the airline (if it’s possible) to transfer your luggage to the new flight automatically, without having to collect it yourself.
If you plan to eat at the airport, check out the price of the airport lounge. As well as being a more comfortable place to wait for your flight, they also offer all you can eat / drink, so may save you money.
Depending on work/school considerations, try to gently adjust your body clock a couple of days before travelling by going to bed and getting up later. Even an adjustment of an hour will help you in your first few days.
If flying with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick, use the twilight check-in option to remove some of the hassle of checking in and also to cut down on your time in the airport – especially when travelling with kids.
If available, check-in for your flight online the day before you travel. You’ll be able to print your boarding pass at home and will only have to drop your bags at the airport rather than waiting to check-in there.
Virgin Atlantic offer a check-in service at Downtown Disney West Side every morning. The service is free for Virgin Holidays customers, but passengers who have booked direct with Virgin Atlantic will be charged $10 each (including children who have a seat).
If travelling with kids, make sure you take plenty of activities onboard to keep them occupied. The in-flight entertainment system may not be working properly, or they may get bored of watching TV for 9+ hours. Check out this article for ideas.
Make sure you book a child’s meal if required, as they aren’t necessarily provided automatically. Also take snacks onboard in case your child doesn’t like what’s provided.
Need help with luggage at the main airport terminal building at MCO? Trolleys that you push yourself cost around $4-5 each. “Skycaps” are the men wearing baseball caps with the big trolleys. For a tip of a few dollars they will help with all your luggage and can be worth their weight in gold.
It may sound obvious, but when booking your car hire, make sure that the car will be big enough to fit all passengers and luggage in.Take notice of the recommended passenger and luggage number shown against each car type when booking.
We recommend booking through a company such as Holiday Autos or US Rent A Car, who include all necessary insurances in the total cost.
Most companies charge a premium for drivers under the age of 25, and for second drivers.
Car hire companies also charge extra for baby / child seats, often around $10 a day, which can soon mount up. If your airline allows it, take your own with you. We bought a relatively cheap seat from Asda specially to take with us. It was very cost effective compared to paying to hire one over there, and didn’t matter if it got lost or damaged on the way back.
When picking your car up and Orlando Airport (MCO), either go there before getting your luggage, or split up and leave someone to get the luggage while you get the car hire sorted.
Remember that cars are automatic over there, so put your left foot to one side and let it have a rest while you drive.
Don’t wait until you get to the airport to buy your currency, you’ll get the worst rates available. Shop around before you go to find the best deal. Travelex online consistently offer the best rates.
If driving from the airport you’ll need cash for tolls.
If buying currency from a travel agency they may try to talk you into getting a pre-paid card, saying that traveller’s cheques are to become obsolete. This isn’t true and is just a ruse as they get more commission on cards. I prefer to stick with traveller’s cheques and just take a few out with me at a time, leaving the rest in the hotel safe. That way if I lose some I still have money in the safe. Lose a card and you have nothing until you get it replaced.
Make sure you write down the numbers of all your traveller’s cheques in case they get lost or stolen.
Beware that when you use your credit card or debit card abroad you will get charged fees of up to 3% per transaction.
Try to avoid using your credit card to withdraw cash abroad as there are usually steep charges and you’ll pay interest on whatever amount you withdraw (this can be up to 25%)
Make sure you know the local traffic laws before you set off, and don’t forget the most important – drive on the right! We’ll be covering the various traffic laws in a separate article.
Make sure you know where the nearest petrol (gas) stations are located once there and don’t let the fuel tank get too low. You may find yourself travelling much longer distances than you realise and don’t want to run out of fuel in the middle of the interstate!
When you go to the Gas station to fill up with petrol, you’ll usually be required to pay up front before filling the tank. Once you’ve paid it will only allow you to put in as much as you’ve paid for. Insert the hose nozzle into the tank, then you’ll need to lift the holder to start the petrol flow.
Don’t use your UK mobile phone if you can help it! You will be charged not only to make calls but also to receive calls. Cheap US mobile phones (cell phones) can be purchased at the likes of Walmart, Target, etc. The Virgin phones are recommended and can be set up via telephone or internet. If you’re in a large group, have older kids who go off on their own, or will be splitting up to do different things, having mobile phones to communicate with will be very useful. US mobile phones are also a cheaper way of calling home.
Never (unless it’s an emergency) use your in-room phone to make calls, especially international ones. You will be charged a small fortune for the privilege!
During the week before you travel, go online and join as many restaurant loyalty clubs as you can (or just those you’ll be visiting if you know which ones). By doing this you should receive coupons for free food items or discounts. Many of them tend to only be valid for a short time, so do it as close to your trip as possible.
If you plan on visiting any outlet malls, such as Premium Outlets, join their shopper clubs via the website. You’ll get a voucher to print off to collect a coupon booklet from the outlet mall. Check their websites for any current discounts and coupons too.
The Florida sun is much stronger than we’re used to in the UK. Always wear a high factor sunscreen, even on cloudy days, and make sure kids wear hats when out and about. Read our article on how to survive the summer sun.
Stroller (pushchair) rental can be expensive if you hire at the parks. But there are a few other options. Check with your airline if they’ll allow you to take your own, if so they usually require it to be a simple model that folds up easily. If you have transport over there, visit Walmart or Target when you arrive and pick up a cheap umbrella stroller for around $30. If you want the use of a proper, more comfortable pushchair, check out Magic Strollers, who rent out strollers on a daily or weekly basis.
On the day you arrive, resist the temptation to go to bed at 7pm and try to stay up as late as you can to help your body clock adjust to the new time zone.
It’s likely that you’ll be wide awake at stupid-o’clock on the first morning, so take advantage of this and book an early breakfast, plan to go to the park that has morning Extra Magic Hour (if you’re staying in a Disney hotel), or visit a supermarket.
Speaking of supermarkets, if you have a car it’s well worth visiting Walmart, Target or Publix to stock up on a few groceries. Bottled water in the parks costs $2.50, yet you can buy a case of say 12 bottles of water for something like $5 at the supermarket.
If you’ve got a multi-day pass for the Disney parks, don’t waste one of the days on your arrival day.
Take some tea bags with you! The tea over there isn’t as good as we’re used to, so if you’re a big tea drinker you might be glad to have your own with you.
Many places offer free refills on soda (fizzy drinks).
It’s customary to tip in restaurants (18-20% of the final bill), bar staff, porters / bell services and taxi drivers.
Biggest tip – chill out and realise that you’re on holiday and that it’s going to be impossible to see/do everything on one trip! If there’s stuff you don’t get to do, and there will be lots, it’s a good reason to save up and go back another time!
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