Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Theme park survival guide to July 4

Not only is it summertime in Orlando, with all the normal hordes of visitors, but it's a long-weekend holiday. Getting through this weekend in one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the world can be tricky, so here are some tips to get you through it with the most fun and the least fuss.

Tip #1: Avoid the parks.
This might sound like a strange tip for an Orlando vacation, but in this case it's very true. If you have other days you can spend in the parks, skipping the 4th of July is a great idea. Everyplace will be PACKED. Lines will be LONG, including lines to get in and get out of the parks -- I remember one Independence Day where leaving The Magic Kingdom by monorail was nearly a three hour wait, and when we finally got out, there were still hundreds waiting. July 4th is a great day to spend at the hotel pool, so give yourself some independence from the crowds if you can.

Tip #2: Pack wisely.
If you are going to brave the parks no matter what, pack wisely for the day. The weather looks like it will be typical for Orlando in July -- hot, humid, and random thunderstorms. Make sure your bag for the day includes water bottles (which you can refill at water fountains throughout the parks), non-perishable snacks (granola bars, apples, etc), PLENTY of sunscreen (especially if it's an overcast day), bandaids in case of blisters, hand sanitizer, umbrellas or ponchos, and ziploc bags (to keep important things like keys, cash, and phones dry). Planning on a lot of water rides? Don't forget your change of clothes. And if you take medications on a schedule, bring extra for your evening dose, just in case you get stuck geting out of the park.

Tip #3: Navigate wisely.
Take advantage of front of line or shorter line access everywhere you can, such as Fastpass at Disney, Express Pass tickets at Universal, and child-swap lines if you qualify. It can save you valiable time. If you can skip parades and fireworks, do it and use the time to get on rides instead; lines will be shorter while everyone else is watching the event. If the park has ride wait times posted, pay attention and plan accordingly. Snack on the go rather than wait in line at restaurants.

Tip #4: Leave early.
This goes for both arrival and departure. In fact, it goes double for departure - the great thing about Orlando is that there are literally dozens, possibly hundreds, of places where you will be able to see the fireworks without trying to cram yourself and your overheated family into space at the parks themselves. Most of the Disney hotels, for example, offer prime viewing from the parking lots, and some have docks (Wilderness Lodge and the Grand Floridian, for example) where lakeside views are lovely. Eat dinner outside on International Drive and you will likely get a view of the fireworks at Sea World or Universal -- maybe even both, depending on where you dine. And if you're lucky enough to be staying at a Grande Lakes hotel, find a balcony (or the Concierge Lounge) for a spectacular view.

Tip #5: Relax.
This is the best tip of all. Lines will be long. It will be hot. People will be cranky and everything will be crowded. Know this going in and be prepared for it. The great thing is you can always come back another day!

Happy Fourth, everyone!


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