Are you planning a trip to Florida (Miami, Orlando, Keywest)? Read on for more info !!

miami

 

Disney parks:  There are four Disney parks in Orlando. Out of these Magic Kingdom is the best and most popular. If you are taking kids with you, I would suggest that Magic Kingdom will be a hit.

Plan to spend at least two days in all Disney parks altogether. I would recommend staying in a hotel outside the park and use hotel shuttle service to reach Disney parks and return. It will work out much cheaper that way. Check park open hours and shuttle timings and plan accordingly. The shuttle does not go directly to the park but rather halts at multiple other hotels to pick up other guests before going to Disney. The only Disney stop of the hotel shuttle was at Epcot park. From there, you might have to take another Disney monorail/bus/ferry to reach the ones we wished to visit. There were Disney staff around the drop off location to help us find out exactly which one to take. For hotel shuttle to and from Disney, we gave the driver $1 per person per ride for the tip. The Disney transportation was free. No tip is needed.

It is very important to leave extra time for you to reach the shuttle location early for pick-up, because something unexpected could happen which could delay your planned arrival. (For example, we took a monorail from Magic Kingdom to Epcot in order to catch our hotel shuttle back to hotel).

Since Magic Kingdom is the largest and best, plan a day when the park opens for the longest hours (9am-11pm), so you could spend more time in this park than on any other day. Some visitors like to watch shows, some visitors like to meet with cartoon characters, however most people are usually keen on the rides. Many rides have minimum 40in height restriction, so make sure you are aware of this if there are toddlers in your trip. (Buy and use FastPass+ (more on this later)  extensively. You might be able to finish most of the rides by evening, including all the most popular and crowded ones. Try to finish the attractions that are close to each other before you move to another part in the park to avoid repetitive walking. If you come with kids, bring your own stroller so kids can rest while adults are walking. There are strollers for rental in the park, but it is made of hard plastic, so will be uncomfortable, and you have to spend time to pick them up and drop them off.

Miami: If you love water activities or nightlife, you are going to have a good time in Miami. There are good beaches (Miami Beach, South beach), night clubs, bars and restaurants in the downtown area. Plan to visit the downtown area during the evening and expect to stand in queues for clubs esp. on weekends. Street parking is mostly limited in the area. Beaches are a few mins drive and day time is the best time to visit them. If you want to swim, bring your swim wear. I would recommend taking a Gatorland tour. They have a swamp buggy ride through the famous Florida swamp and then a live  animal and gator exhibition. The guy actually wrestles with a gator as seen on discovery. Don’t worry it’s a calm and old gator he does that with.

Key WestAbout 150 miles from Miami, it is about a 3.5 hours drive. But it is one of the most beautiful drives you will ever do. As they say, this is one of those routes where the journey is as important as the destination. I would recommend planning to stay at Keywest island overnight to avoid the stress of driving on a single day. In Keywest, you can plan to take water sport adventure package at furycat.com. Do not miss the ‘Southernmost’ point buoy and do take the customary selfie there :).

Everglades National Park:  There are different access roads and many short/long trails. So you can decide to spend anywhere from one hour to a day in the park. You can find alligators (on fresh water) in inner part of the park and crocodiles (on salt water) near the Florida Bay. We took a short 0.8 mile Anhinga Trail in Royal Palm area only, and saw two alligators, two turtles, several anhinga birds, as well as many other birds. There is another private business called Everglades Alligator Farm, which takes you for an airboat ride, lets you see/touch small alligators, etc. If you stay in a hotel in Homestead, ask the receptionist for its coupons.

Orlando Science Center:  There are some really good science shows and brain play areas for kids. Half a day should be enough.

Disney Springs:  Mostly for shopping and food.

Kenney Space CenterGood for kids interested in science, space, and rockets.

Disney Hollywood Studios: It is probably the next kids-friendly Disney World park. There are fewer attractions in this park, and highlights are shows.

Disney tickets, FastPass, PhotoPass, Disney World mobile app, and miscMost ticket discount are available if you buy 3-day or more day tickets only. You can buy some (non-refundable) tickets from Disney World websites (non-refundable) or (refundable if unopened) from www.undercovertourist.com (a legitimate outsourcer of Disney tickets). You can add all tickets to a single Disney account, and access FastPass/PhotoPass/current wait time from Disney mobile app. If you happen to lose a ticket during your visit, you can visit the park ticketing/will call booth to get a replacement ticket after they verify it with any linked ticket.

You can schedule up to 3 attractions for FastPass from the Disney website either 60 days (if you stay in Disney hotel) or 30 days (if you don’t stay in Disney hotel) before your visit. Note that “best option” that the system provides to you may not be the optimal one for you. So, make sure to check other option tabs on the scheduling page before you click Save. If you don’t get the ones you want in the first place, you can check back in the website or mobile app and change your schedule if a better plan becomes available. Once you have used up all 3 attractions in the park or if they all have expired, you can schedule 1 more FastPass attraction at one of the FastPass physical kiosks in the park. And once that one is used up or expired, you can schedule another 1 more, and so on. Check the park map (available on website or in the park) in advance to familiarize yourself with all the FastPass kiosk locations. For the additional FastPass attractions that you schedule via the kiosk, you can also check new available openings and reschedule them via your mobile app, but they must be first scheduled from the physical kiosk.

My recommendation for FastPass is to try to schedule your initial 3 to happen in the morning, so you can finish them soon and schedule a new one from the kiosk. You may not be lucky enough to use FastPass on the most popular attractions. But you can check the current wait time for the popular one (e.g., 80 minutes),  schedule a different FastPass attraction two hours later, and then wait and finish the popular one, and then go to the FastPass one afterwards. Each ride takes 5-15 minutes. Each show takes 20-45 minutes. So leave enough time in between so that your FastPass attraction does not expire while you are waiting for or taking the popular ride.

You can read other posts online to get recommendations on which attractions to use FastPass and how each attraction experience is like.

There are many Disney staff in the park to take photos for you and you can swipe your ticket to link those photos to your account. Note that taking photos is free and you will be able to view the water-marked photos from your mobile app or online. However, if you want the photos without watermark, you need to purchase them with a flat fee.

You can also drive your own car to reach Disney parks so you have flexibility in time. Parking is $20 per day if I remember correctly.

Airport and Car Rental: When you book a car from Orlando airport, be aware whether you are going to pick up the car from a counter in the airport terminal, or you need to take a courtesy shuttle to reach rental car company’s facility which may be a couple of miles away from the terminal. The ones (e.g, Avis, Enterprise, etc) inside the terminal are more convenient but cost more. The outside ones (e.g., Fox, Economy, etc) are less convenient but much cheaper. The courtesy shuttles are more frequent during the day and evening, and less frequent after mid-night. There are designated pickup areas for different courtesy shuttles on the ground floor. Once you arrive, call the rental company and they will send a shuttle to pick you up. There are two terminals in Orlando airport, make sure to tell the rental company which terminal you are at, so they can send the driver to the correct pick-up stall.

There are two or three different toll systems in Florida and there are frequent and separate toll charges for different sections of a high way. Some toll stations take cash/card, but many don’t. You should take unlimited prepaid toll pass from the rental company for $9+tax per day. I was initially skeptical about this benefit, but later I realized that I was so lucky to have bought the unlimited prepaid toll pass because it saved a lot of time and helped avoid any toll violation. You might be able to use your GPS to avoid toll roads if you just hang around Orlando, but if you plan to travel between multiple cities, I strongly recommend you take the prepaid toll pass to save a lot of hassles.

MiscellaneousThere are bad mosquitoes in all places that you would visit, especially in Everglades National Park. The Florida land is flat, most of the high ways don’t have hills or curves like in most parts of US. So it felt less tiresome to drive long distance in Florida.

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