Maybe you went as a child, or maybe you’ve been longing to go ever since you can remember. Orlando—home of Walt Disney World. And yet, when you start to discover all that Orlando has to offer, you quickly find out that it’s also home to stunning landscapes, fun adventures for the whole family, wonderful food, as well as some other equally mind-blowing theme parks. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (not that you’ll be seeing any of those in Orlando).
Here are the 10 things you need to know before you go:
1. Family-friendly accommodations that won’t break the bank and über-luxe resorts are both available.
Orlando welcomes just about every budget. There are camp grounds, motels and hotels galore. For the full kid-centric resort experience, the Nickelodeon Suites Resort is tough to beat. Considering how easy-on-the-wallet it is, this all-suite hotel features two water parks (with heated pools), character dining with Ninja Turtles and SpongeBob, a fantastic pizza joint and heaps of activities, including a daily mass sliming! There are oodles of kids there for yours to meet, and lifeguards watching closely at all times.
If you care to spend a bit more, there are two options within the Bonnet Creek Resort complex, which is as close as you can get to staying in the Disney hotels without staying in a Disney hotel. Here you’ll find the mid-range Hilton and luxurious Waldorf Astoria. As sister hotels, you can stay in one but play in both. That means you’ve got a lazy river and zero-depth-entry pool on one side but private cabanas on the other along with myriad restaurant options between the two properties. To really amp up your stay, you can book a suite at the Waldorf overlooking Epcot where you can watch the nightly fireworks from your balcony. The suite also has the added bonus of giving you and your partner some alone time after the kids are tucked in on the (remarkably comfortable) pull-out couch.
2. Buy Kids Eat Free Orlando cards to get a cheaper rental car.
Sounds strange, but it’s true. You can find a great rental deal through Undercover Tourist, plus score discount cards for meals all over Orlando in the process. Not sure whether you need a rental? If you plan to do more than visit attractions to which many of the hotels provide shuttles, you’re going to need a vehicle. It can easily take half an hour to go from one part of Orlando to another, and if you have little kids, you’ll want consistent car seats anyway. Just be sure you have lots of US$1 bills and quarters handy for tolls, though—because they’re everywhere.
3. Rent kid gear.
Speaking of car seats, you can rent those, too. In fact, if you rent with a company like PK Family Rentals, they’ll even meet you at the airport and install the car seats properly while you wait. This is great peace of mind if you’re not accustomed to putting car seats in yourself, and it means you don’t have to lug them with you from home to plane to rental. Car seats aren’t the only thing you can rent in Orlando—think strollers (for those unpredictable boo-boos), cribs and toddler beds. All of which will meet you at the airport or your hotel for the utmost in convenience.
4. There are restaurants everywhere—for every budget.
You don’t have to eat at all of those familiar chain restaurants we have here at home. When in Orlando, try something new! There’s character dining like Cinderella’s Royal Table and SpongeBob’s Bikini Bottom Breakfast. There’s cuisine in the most popular locations where you’d expect a fine meal (consider Bongo’s Cuban Café in Downtown Disney, Liberty Tree Tavern at Magic Kingdom and Vivo Italian Kitchen along Universal Orlando Resort’s vibrant CityWalk). But there are also hidden gems; go in search of the perfect pancake at Keke’s, or share a fresh-fruit smoothie alongside a pancake sandwich one morning at 903 Mills Market Café. If you’re up for a bit of a drive off the beaten path, there are so many gastronomic delights throughout the city begging to be discovered.