Orlando And Central Florida Savings - My Family Travels

FTF helps you find great deals on hotels and theme parks in the Orlando and central Florida regions.

Orlando, America’s #1 Theme Park Capital, must reinvent itself constantly to keep families coming back for more –and different — attractions. Fortunately, the city provides a great resource both online and off to help you get all the info you need to make your way around. The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau and its public face (as seen at the Official Visitor Center located at 6700 Forum Drive, Suite 100, Orlando, FL 32821; 800/972-3304; open daily 8am-7pm) does a great job staying on top of what’s new and different.

Before you plan your next outing to America’s #1 Family Destination, follw them on Twitter and you can get a continuous feed of new offers and current discounts. Alternatively, get in touch with the C&VB for a free Orlando vacation planning kit, including the Orlando Magicard and the Orlando Official Visitors Guide.  Unless you’ve already planned to stay on-site at Walt Disney World (worth the big bucks, if you have them, for early admission to the theme park, great character breakfasts, and discounted admissions passes), you’ll want to review these guides for the terrific discounts and sightseeing ideas offered by local establishments. Also, talk to your travel agent about industry specials (package tours only they can offer), and check online at www.orlandoinfo.com for the most up-to-date values. 

The state’s Visit Florida site at www.visitflorida.com is great for current events, local sights and special programs. To plan a special interest itinerary, visit the site or call 888/7-FLAUSA to request the “2008 Visit Florida Guide” the state’s official source for travel planning.  In general, the state of Florida is super when it comes to providing terrifically useful, free information to travelers. 

Hotel Discounts

The Orlando Magicard offers some attractions (visit their office for discounted admission tickets), dining, shopping and transportation discounts, as well as steep hotel discounts.  You can save 35-50% at several locations.

Examples of some of the better-for-families properties include any of the Comfort Suites Orlando, Homewood Suites, several of the local Holiday Inns (including some of the KidSuites with special family rooms), Wingate Inn Universal, and the Star Island Resort and Club.  Prices in Kississimee tend to be lower, though many properties are just as close to some of the Disney World entrances.

Theme Park Pass Discounts

Several theme parks have teamed up to save families money with multi-day entry passes.  The Orlando Flexticket gets you unlimited admission and reduced parking fees to both of the Universal Studios parks, Wet n’Wild water park,  Busch Gardens in Tampa (pictured at left), Sea World, and the Aquatica water park, valid over any 14-day period.

Each of these parks has also created special vacation packages including hotel, admission passes and other extras (such as early admission or special meals); check each park’s website or contact your travel agent for more information.

At Walt Disney World, for example, guests of any of the official on-site hotels are now entitled to complimentary transportation to and from Orlando International Airport, via the new Disney Magical Express program. Disney is also offering unlimited admission to all their theme parks, including transportation between them, with special Park Hopper passes. Visit Disney World.com or your travel agent for specific rates and information.

In addition, families can purchase discounted tickets to most of the parks from their local AAA office.

The Universal Express Pass system is not free; only guests who pay an additional day fee can use the Universal Express Plus service to get “first-in-line” access to all rides and shows. At Disney World, however, the FastPass system is still in effect, allowing families to reserve an entry time at one ride at a time, so when they return at their designated hour, the waiting line is supposed to be under 15 minutes.

Theme Park Must-Sees

Disney World has kept up its fireworks celebrations with Disney’s Wishes Nighttime Spectacular show.  The Magic Kingdom offers all of the classic Disney themed rides, like the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the “Haunted Mansion,” and various fairy tale rides.  Disney’s Hollywood Studios offers a “High School Musical” show and “Toy Story Mania,” a 3-D adventure. Little ones will love the Live Playhouse Disney Stage Show. 

Over at EPCOT, check out the high-speed “Test Track,” a fun simulation racecar ride. In the news for tragic reasons is the “Mission Space” ride developed with NASA that uses motion control technology and G-force simulation to wow park-goers with an engaging Mission-to-Mars storyline. Despite myriad warnings to those who should not try this immersive ride, two park guests — a 4-year-old boy with previously undiagnosed heart problems, and a 49-year-old woman with hypertension — lost their lives after riding. Disney has announced that a “gentler” version of the ride has been developed, but if common sense, caution, and heeding posted warning signs are not part of your theme park plan, they certainly should be.

At Animal Kingdom, the youngest of the Disney parks, make time for “The Lion King” show, a half-hour musical review with costumed singers, giraffe-like stilt-walkers, and monkeying-around acrobats. “Expedition Everest” is a themed coaster that hurls a climbing team on a steep mountain railway into the path of an angry Yeti. Besides the main attraction, “Kilimanjaro Safari,” an animal adventure set in the Sahara themed Animal park, there are several other shows like “Finding Nemo,” a terrific sounding musical stage show set for Animal Kingdom.

At Universal Orlando, they’re putting on a high-tech nighttime show, in additoin to the action at Universal CityWalk. If you’ve haven’t been there recently, you must experience “Shrek 4-D,” “The Simpsons,” and “Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast” for your chance to be an action hero.  Ready for more excitement?  Try “Revenge of the Mummy,” with the most advanced animatronics ever engineered.  This indoor thrill ride, which was in research and development for 10 years, fuses rollercoaster technology, space age robotics and special effects. Make sure everyone in the family has a chance to ride and compare it with Disney World’s Expedition Everest! 

At Universal’s Islands of Adventure, there’s a Seuss-themed ride. As always, visitors can have a photo op with Spider-Man at Marvel Super Hero Island and, if they are old enough, tall enough, and brave enough, take a spin on “The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” ride. The three on-site Loews Hotels have also implemented many innovations, such as supervised programs for young children that make a stay in the parks a real treat. 

At SeaWorld Orlando, ride enthusiasts will have to check out “Kraken,” named for a legendary sea monster, was the first floorless roller coaster in Orlando. The “Shark Encounter” exhibit gives families a chance to rest their feet while admiring a 660,000-gallon-tank filled with man-made saltwater, home to more than 50 sharks. Guests age 13 and up may enjoy the thrill of working with an animal trainer and one of the park’s enormous whales, in a “Beluga Interaction” experience.  Be sure to check out the newest water park, Aquatica.

Busch Gardens in nearby Tampa features the wild “Sheikra” coaster that is sure to interest teens. “Gwazi,” the double wooden roller coaster is another thrilling floorless ride.  A new 4-D “Pirate Show” combines 4-D special effects technology with multi-sensory theatre effects, expect to get wet.  “Ka Tonga” is a fun, 35-minute musical celebration of animal folklore suitable for all ages. The show features simple tales of Africa told with traditional music, dance, puppets, and lavish stage performances.  The production runs several times a day at the park’s Moroccan Palace Theater.

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