Insider Tips for Travel to Orlando
For weather, favorite months for travel to Orlando’s theme parks are during October, November, February and March. Humidity is low during these cooler months, but weather is still typically 70s to the mid/high- 80s Fahrenheit during the day. Beach weather is warm enough for swim suits, but only the braver tourist will fully immerse in the water. For most people, the temperature of the ocean water is suitable for wading waist-deep. Although most of the resorts and even vacation homeowners are not heating their pools past about 85 degrees during this time to save cost, we are still heating our pools to about 92 degrees daily during this time, as the cooler evenings after sunset are typically when guests like to swim, and 85 degree pools ARE NOT comfortable if outside weather is in the 60s Fahrenheit!!!
The end of November, December and January can be nice in the mid-60s to -70s or even low 80s Fahrenheit, during the day, although Kissimmee might have a few days here and there, of much colder temperatures (60s or even 50s Fahrenheit during the day). Be prepared with gloves and sweatshirts (possibly even coats) for these few, brief, cold snaps in the days and certainly morning and evenings during December and January. Beach-going is probably limited to making sandcastles on the beach and flying kites. Perhaps the braver will wade in a bit, and maybe get lucky enough to have one swim suit day at the beach in a given week, for the bravest tourist. Our pools will still be warm most of the time, as they are heated to 92-93 degrees in the winter, and hot tubs up to 104 degrees! However, we do get occasional “cold snap” weather, where nights are close to freezing for several nights in a row, and in such a case, our pool heaters (and for that matter, almost all Floridian pool heaters), which work by exchanging hot air from outside into the pool, will not work well if the day temps are below about 55 degrees. It’s very rare for a group staying as long as a week, to be unable to swim for the entire week during these months, but every year we have at least several “snaps” over this 3 months time, and lasting a couple of days in a week, that are too chilly to heat the pool. The following picture was from the Weather channel in December, 2013, but it happens every year that Florida has gorgeously warm winters while the rest of us freeze at home! As homeowners, we love to vacation in Florida in January or February!!!
April and May are warming up significantly (80s to mid-90s Fahrenheit), and ocean water is warming up for immersive play in the ocean water, but the humidity is climbing, albeit much lower than it will be in the summer. Our private pools no longer need heating by mid-April, although we choose to heat the pools to about 87 degrees even in the summer, to take the “agghh!” reaction out of the first few minutes of jumping into a pool.
June, July, August, and September are hot and humid (90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit). This is Florida’s wet season, and it rains nearly every day for about 20-30 minutes in the afternoons between 3 and 6 pm. Usually the humidity clears out with the afternoon rain, and weather is a bit more tolerable around 6 or 7pm. Evenings in the summer are very nice because they are comfortably warm. Ocean water is perfectly comfortable—not too warm, not too cold—really, just gorgeous for play in the water. Even those who think the ocean is typically too cold to immerse, will enjoy the water temperature in the summer!
Southerners and Easterners who are accustomed to humidity combined with summer heat are less affected by the intense warmth of the summers in Florida than our guests from other climates.
Crowds at the Theme Parks (Disney, Universal, Sea World):
Because of fall breaks from school across the nation and gorgeous weather, October is a very popular time to attend theme parks, but the crowds are not prohibitive for the typical tourist.
September, early November, early December, January, and February will see lower numbers at the theme parks (but keep in mind, Disney is never empty). The quietest months of the year at the parks are probably September and January, as families with school-aged children settle back into their school time routines. However, watch for scheduled events like the Disney-sponsored marathon in January, or Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, when Disney successfully brings a more guests to their parks in an otherwise relatively quiet month.
Definitely the most crowded times at the theme parks are Thanksgiving week; Christmas and New Year’s weeks Spring Break/or Easter break (mid-March to mid-April); and Summer from mid-June, to include all of July, and through mid-August. But don’t lost heart if this is the only time you can travel because of school schedules—it’s the same for most of us; that’s why it’s so crowded then. Keep reading for tips of how to enjoy your days at the parks if you are going during one of these peak seasons.
By mid-April through the end of May, parks quiet down a bit again as travelers during these warmer months have either just returned home from Orlando for their Spring Break trip, or are sitting tight–awaiting their summer getaway in the coming months after school is out. This is another good time to travel to Orlando.
School holidays such as Labor Day, Martin Luther, President’s Day, Memorial Day, etc. will always be a bit more crowded at the parks, bringing local Floridians in addition to other travelers, but not crowds enough to justify avoiding the parks on these days.
Recommendations for Avoiding Heat and Crowds:
- Watch the weather, and schedule a beach day for the warmest day forecast during your stay. It’s always nice if the beach day happens to fall in between a couple of long park days. We also recommend spending a day at the villa, and especially during a particularly hot day (cool off in the media room and at our pool!). Beach days and days spent playing at the villa are needed respite, anyway; you’ll enjoy your next day at the theme park more after you’ve had a day away from the parks.
- Buy your Disney passes in advance, and Fastpass as many Disney rides in advance online. It works best if your Fast passes follow the natural curve and flow of the park—nobody wants to race 30 minutes from one side of the park to the other, just for a FastPass! Fast Passing can be scheduled on “My Disney Experience” app, and we recommend scheduling fast passes as early as 30 days in advance (that’s the earliest Disney will let you schedule them, anyway!). Our preference is to fast pass the afternoon rides that are the most crowded anytime of the day, so that afternoons are spent stuck in lines (afternoons are always the most crowded). Any Disney guest can only schedule a maximum of three rides in advance, but once your three rides are used up that day at the parks, you can add more, one at a time, during the rest of the day! Advanced fast passes might include the following rides, which otherwise could have wait times up to several hours:
- Magic Kingdom: Snow White Mine Train, Dumbo, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain
- Hollywood Studios: Any Toy Story ride, Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Star Tours
- Epcot: Frozen, Soarin’ Around the World, Test Track
- Animal Kingdom: Both Avatar rides, Safari, Everest
- All theme parks open around 9am, but crowds at any time of year—even the most crowded of peak days—don’t flood in until around 11-11:30am. Be at the park, walking through the entrance gate with your pass in hand at 9am and ride all the rides that will be the most crowded later in the day, for which you don’t have fast passes, FIRST. [If you have elementary aged kids 5 to 12 years, and you are at Hollywood Studios by 9am, you can race to sign-up (same day only; no advance reservations available) for the Jedi Training by Star Wars: Star Tours. It fills up within the first hour of the park opening.]
- Magic Kingdom and Wizarding World of Harry Potter seem to always be the most crowded parks on any given day, so avoid those parks on weekends and holiday days (ie, if you are in Orlando for Spring Break, be sure to attend those parks on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday which is at least less crowded than it will be on Saturday or Sunday)!!!
- When the forecast shows rain all day, and the day begins with rain, GO TO THE PARKS! Buy your water parka at a dollar store or Wal-Mart in advance and/or bring an umbrella. The rain will scare away the crowds, but you will be enjoying much shorter lines for the rides!!!
- Take a mid-day rest at our villa, especially during hot summer months, and especially from Magic Kingdom. If you arrived at Magic Kingdom at 9am, leave around 2pm and return to the parks around 6:00pm, you will find you are entering the parks passing many other tired parents and children who are leaving; worn out from the heat and lines of the day. Come home, get off your feet and cool off in the pool…Grill a real meal on the BBQ, and head back refreshed for a long night (now the humidity is down, too, since the rain has usually cleaned the air), and stay until closing at the parks. (Note, on certain “peak” busy days at Magic Kingdom, the park will reach its limits for the number of guests it can hold, so you won’t want to come home to the villa mid-day, as you may not be able to gain re-entry later that evening (4th of July for fireworks).) Especially for Magic Kingdom, lines at the rides die down significantly at dark when the parade and fireworks are going (5 minute lines, or walk right on the ride in some cases)!!!
- Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Sea World are great parks to see on a busy weekend or holiday day. More of the entertainment at those parks is shows, so you don’t have to wait in any lines, even with heavier crowds!
- Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the opposite of the other parks—arriving early at park opening, you will not find shorter lines. Harry Potter lines and crowds don’t die off until about 2 hours BEFORE THE PARK closes (ie, if the park closes at 9pm that night, lines by 7 or 7:30 will be minimal). This is true even for heavy traffic times like peak season/holidays. Formerly 90 minute lines will only be 10 or 15 minutes by evening!!!
- The worst crowd to be caught in, is the last crowd after the last fireworks at Magic Kingdom every evening, so it may be worth leaving just before the last fireworks end. Otherwise, you may end up waiting 45 minutes just to get onto the transport (monorail or steamship) back to the parking lot!
- For very large groups, it may be counter-productive to try to stay together in a theme park, especially when it’s more crowded. Sometimes breaking into smaller groups, and then meeting for a common fast-pass ride or lunch/dinner together is worthwhile.
- Character dining is pricey, but so was your pass to get into the parks! If each line for the four princesses your daughter wants to meet is 30 minutes, it may save you time and money to schedule a character dining experience where all four princesses will come meet your daughter as she eats at her table. In 45 minutes at dinner, you both ate and met four princesses. Time is money. The same can be said for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique—book it for a free day at Disney Springs, instead of pulling time from your precious day at Magic Kingdom! Set advance reservations for character dining and the boutique.
- Use the Child Swap option at Universal Studios At the top of the line, one parent waits with the smaller child while the other parent rides.
- Use the shows to break up the monotony of waiting in long lines; ride a ride, then watch a show, then ride a ride again, etc. Shows are always either in shade or air conditioned, so they are a nice spell from the heat, as well.
- If you’re bringing a stroller for your kiddos, pack along some snack foods and drinks to avoid the food kiosk lines (and save some cash) throughout the day. You’ll find insulated bags at the villa—or just bring food in grocery bags for easy disposal at the parks. Snacking while waiting for a show or in a line is a double-use of time, and keeps the kids busy, anyway.
- For parents with younger children, when one goes to the bathroom, we all go!
- Some parks have varying hours, based on crowd levels. For example, Magic Kingdom is sometimes open until midnight or 1 a.m. during busy summer days, but might close by 8 p.m. during some of the less crowded, winter days. Double-check parks hours online with each theme park you plan to attend online.
- ask for a disability pass at the first service desk (upon entry) into Disney parks. Although they will remind you that this will not make your wait in lines shorter, they will computer tab every member in your party/group, with permission to “save your place in line” without waiting the line. For example, if you have someone in a wheelchair who cannot wait in the heat for an hour for the next ride, upon arriving at the given ride, you can each hand your pass to the fast pass attendant, and they will tag your tickets to return in an hour. In an hour, your entire party can return, and then walk through the FAST PASS line to ride. So, you still cannot ride until your “hour” of waiting has passed (or however long the line is expected to take), but you can window shop or eat in shade instead of stand in the heat for an hour.
Ormond (barely north of Daytona; Atlantic 1 hr 10 min): FREE parking with great facilities for families! Shaded picnic tables, kids’ playground & splash pad, large clean bathrooms, snack bar, lifeguard on duty, bigger waves/breakers, firmer sand. This beach is the owners’ favorite!
Daytona (Atlantic- 1 hr 10min): Younger crowd beach scene with great shopping and restaurants, bigger waves/breakers. Head south of Daytona on I-95 to exit 256 toward Port Orange for quieter beaches to the north, and public beaches to the south.
St. Augustine (Atlantic- 2 hrs): Combine with an hour or two at St. Augustine fortress/castle (Now a National Park; built in the 1500’s—this fort saw real Pirate activity, Spanish fighting, etc.) AND some time in old town St. Augustine (eat in a 500 yr old tavern); all within 5 minutes of each other! Tiny seashells instead of sandy beach (Bring water shoes/sandals!). [Avoid travelling to/from St. Augustine during rush hour traffic times.]
Clearwater/Sand Key (Gulf-1 hr 45 min): We skip through Clearwater city, which is more crowded, but has some great restaurants, shopping, and boat tours. Follow the main drag through Clearwater, south to Sand Key. Intense sun (watch for sunburn), warmer water on the gulf side than Atlantic, no waves/breakers—safer for younger children, softer sand, great for gathering seashells. [Avoid travelling to/from during rush hour traffic times.]
Perfect Trip Length/Number of Nights to Reserve:
Some things to consider:
- A longer trip (10-14 nights) might be more cost effective if this is a “once in a lifetime” experience in Orlando (Skip paying extra on ParkHopper passes to the parks, and instead purchase the 10 day pass to Disney for just a few dollars more than the 5 day passes; 2 day passes to Universal and/or Sea World; and schedule a couple of beach days). Also, if airfare was very expensive, and/or weather prohibits longer days at the parks, a longer stay may be more worth your time and money!
- Annual theme park pass-holders might enjoy several shorter trips throughout the year to Orlando, and benefit from our last minute, discounted gap stays at our homes, of just 2-4 nights.
- Family groups celebrating special events or reunions may be disappointed with a stay less than a week or more, especially if most of the 7 days are spent at the parks, and very little time is spent “hanging out”, unscheduled at the villa playing as a family. Those times are the most memorable for our family reunions (see the list of fun things to do at the villa in our “Frequently Asked Questions”
- We’ve never had a guest report that they wished they had planned a shorter trip. Many guests report that the kids are crying as they leave, and even the adults are feeling down about leaving before they felt rejuvenated. Longer is better in this town that is so full of family fun!!!
- If you’re coming for a 7 night stay and don’t have a preference for arrival and departing, Saturday to Saturday stays are a favor to us, as it helps us to fill in our calendar more fully and normally, as that is what a good majority of our guests prefer. However, in almost every case, if you need to arrive and depart on different days, we will honor your advance booking to get the exact dates you want!