Just when you think you've got Orlando all figured out, it goes and sheds its skin again. Restaurants, attractions, and hotels open and close in what seems like the blink of an eye. While I've included tons of helpful information in the Walt Disney World & Orlando annual guidebook regarding each and every one of these subjects, additional information pours in throughout the year as this most popular vacation destination continues to evolve. The following updates highlight the latest changes and additions that have not only occurred since the latest Walt Disney World and Orlando guide went to print but since the last online update was entered as well.
Planning Your Orlando Trip
The Orlando Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau has recently created the Orlando Magical Getaway Travel Club for Florida residents. Residents who book vacation packages through the club can take advantage of significant savings at over 80 area hotels, resorts, restaurants, and attractions, receiving discounts on hotel stays, spa services, meals, attraction tickets, and more. Additional benefits include e-mail updates, news, and special offers specifically tailored to each individual member. For more information including how to sign up, go to www.orlandoinfo.com/floridaresidents or call tel. 407/363-5872.
Need a ride to your resort or possibly the theme parks? Quicksilver Tours & Transportation offers not only transportation but also plenty of perks you won't find anywhere else. There's no waiting out on the curb -- you'll be greeted inside the airport near the luggage claim, and the driver will happily assist you with your luggage. A sampling of the special services that set them apart includes a 30-minute grocery stop (with round trip service) and a free 10-minute long distance phone call among others. If you're traveling with small children, boosters and car seats are provided for your ride at no extra charge. Quicksilver is also extremely flexible; a credit card deposit is not required, and there are no cancellation fees and no fees for an early or late pick up. Rates start at just $49.90 and go up from there. For additional information, head to www.quicksilver-tours.com or you can call tel. 888/GO-TO-WDW or 407/299-1434.
A tidbit from my travels regarding transportation:
If you find yourself taking a taxi to the Walt Disney World theme parks, make an effort to take a taxi operated by Mears Transportation Group ( tel. 407/839-1570; www.mearstransportation.com). If you find yourself using any other taxi service, you will end up having to pay the $8 parking fee on top of your taxi fare simply to enter the lot and be dropped off. However, traveling via a Mears taxi, you will not be charged the parking fee.
Where To Stay
There's certainly no shortage of hotels and resorts in and around the Orlando area. But plenty more keep popping up, ensuring vacationers an unending array of choices when it comes to accommodations. From bargains to budget busters, there's a hotel or resort for just about every taste and pocketbook.
The Omni, Reunion Resort & Club of Orlando is the latest and greatest addition to the already staggering number of resorts dotting Orlando's landscape. The newly remodeled Nickelodeon Family Suites is yet another, although it is more of a complete makeover than an actual addition. Acadia Estates, a 32-home vacation community almost entirely managed by All-Star Vacation Homes (tel. 407/997-0773; www.allstarvacationhomes.com), has also recently been completed. The homes are within a gated area and feature enclosed pools and luxurious appointments throughout. Another, the Shingle Creek Resort, is scheduled to open in 2006 and is located near the Orange County Convention Center; however, this resort will cater more to conventioneers.
To keep up and compete with all of the new additions, plenty of existing hotels and resorts are renovating, redecorating, and some even expanding.
The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress announced that it plans to add self-service kiosks to help those wishing to check in and out more quickly. Guests will be able to swipe their credit card to check in, check out, print out their receipts, and get their room keys. For additional information you can go to www.hyatt.com or call tel. 888/591-1234.
Guests at the J.W. Marriott (tel. 407/206-2300; www.grandlakes.com) and the Orlando World Center Marriott (tel. 888/99-WORLD; www.worldsbestvacation.com or www.marriottworldcenter.com;) will be treated to a more luxurious night's sleep as both properties are replacing their bedding with all new sheets, mattresses, and pillows specifically designed to allow a more comfortable experience.
The Reunion Resort & Club of Orlando recently opened its onsite water pavilion. Guests can cool off by splashing around in the wave pool, lagoon, and water slide, all surrounded by rocky landscaping and waterfalls. Shops and restaurants, along with a bike and sports rental, are located nearby as well. For additional information, head to www.reunionresort.com or call tel. 877/738-6466.
Disney's Polynesian and Contemporary are undergoing facelifts, replacing furniture, fixtures, and furnishings, and redecorating rooms. Renovations are taking place over the next year to year and a half.
Disney's Old Key West has finished the renovations on their main pool. A tremendous sandcastle slide now offers guests a chance to slip and slide their way into the waters below as jets of water shoot down the slide right along with them.
More general renovations throughout Walt Disney World resort include the installation of high-speed Internet access in all of its resorts. While some resorts do currently offer this service, the remaining resorts are scheduled to be up and running by the spring of 2006. Select resorts will also begin offering Wi-Fi service. Access fees for high speed cost approximately $10 for a continuous 24-hour period.
As of July 25, 2005, The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin will no longer be charging a daily resort fee, saving guests a fair amount of money in the end.
Steals And Deals
Many of the area resorts and hotels offer package deals, discounted rates, and special offers throughout the year. The best places to find such bargains are online at the Orlando and Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.orlandoinfo.com), the individual hotel sites themselves, and www.eleisurelink.com. The best sites for deals on Disney include www.disneyworld.com (though official Disney deals are few and far between at times), www.mousesavers.com and www.allearsnet.com. Universal Orlando offers are most often found through www.universalorlando.com or www.loews.com. Of course Hotels.com, Expedia, Travelocity, and many of the airline websites also feature discounted rates and package deals as well. If you prefer the information to come to you, sign up for the many e-mail or even snail-mail newsletters and reward programs offered by the various hotels, airlines, and online discount travel sites. Oftentimes, exclusive offers that feature additional savings are extended to those who receive such mailings.
The Orlando World Center Marriott (;tel. 407/239-4200; www.worldsbestvacation.com) is just one of the many area resorts that offer a slew of special packages and discounted deals throughout the year. Some feature weekend getaways; others celebrate a particular holiday such as Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, with still others featuring special rates for a variety of other reasons. A special rate that includes a second room with the first is currently running through early September. This is an amazing deal for those traveling with extended family or those who simply have a larger-than-average-size family to begin with. Most notable, however, is the resort's relationship with SeaWorld. Now available are packages that include a 2-night stay at the resort, a delicious breakfast buffet and a 2-day admission ticket to SeaWorld. Another, available only for a limited time, is a length-of-stay package that includes length of stay tickets to SeaWorld, upgraded parking, and a stuffed Shamu for the kids. The latest and most unique is the Discovery Cove package. At Discovery Cove, guests can swim right alongside dolphins, and enjoy a relaxing and tranquil day lounging on the beaches. Included in the package are 2-night accommodations at the World Center, a daily buffet breakfast, and a 1-day admission to Discovery Cove, which, by the way, also includes a 7-consecutive-day pass to SeaWorld or Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
At times the rates can be downright cheap, especially considering that it's a rather upscale resort -- a very pleasant surprise to those who may never have thought to check out this exceptional property.
Often mistakenly overlooked by families, the World Center Marriott offers not only beautifully appointed and spacious rooms, but also an array of fun and unique recreational activities for kids of all ages (see the full review in the hotel section for more details). Surprisingly and somewhat unexpectedly, this resort is one of a very few that cater to the business traveler or conventioneer as well as families -- and actually does it all rather impressively.
Three other resorts that come to mind when perusing some of the more interesting package deals, most revolving around the holidays, seasonal specials, sporting and special events, are the Gaylord Palms (tel. 407/586-0000; www.gaylordpalms.com), the Grandlakes Resort, which includes both the Ritz Carlton and the J.W. Marriott, (tel. 407/206-2400 and 407/206-2300 respectively; www.grandlakes.com;), and the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress (tel. 407/239-1234; www.hyattgrandcypress.com). All of these resorts offer exceptional service and spectacular surroundings. All feature e-mail notifications or newsletters for those who sign up to receive the information.
Where To Dine
Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Show, a very comedic whodunit dinner show, has moved to its new location at 8267 International Drive. Its three theaters can now accommodate many more guests and includes a full-service bar and an outdoor patio area. For additional information, go to www.sleuthsl.com or call tel. 407/363-1985.
Exploring Walt Disney World
Disney's new preschool map of the Magic Kingdom offers an easier way for parents to make their way through the park. Highlighting the attractions by age appropriateness and including tips for those with toddlers in tow, this new map is being praised by parents who have been lucky enough to get hold of one. At this point it's only a test, so it's unknown just how long the maps will be available; however, it's definitely a step in the right direction. You can pick up a copy at City Hall, Guest Relations, near the Tip Board, or the Stroller Rental.
Prices are once again on the rise, from park tickets to stroller rentals. While plenty of package deals and special savings are around these days, it seems that almost everywhere you turn, prices are skyrocketing. Stroller rentals have increased to $10 a day for a single stroller and $18 a day for a double. Wheelchairs have increased to $10 as well. The new length-of-stay rentals can save you a few dollars -- the reduced prices are $8 per day for a single stroller or $16 per day for a wheelchair. The only catch is that you have to pay all at once for the entire length of stay.
Tickets for the Epcot International Food and Wine Tasting Festival are now on sale. The event runs from September 30 to November 13 and features wine tasting, special meals, and parties all celebrating food and wine. In addition to the many events included with regular Epcot admission, special-events tickets range from $35 to $185 per person. Call tel. 407/939-3378 for reservations.
Mickey's Not-So Scary Halloween Party dates for 2005 have been announced and include September 30, October 2, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28, 30, and 31. A separate admission ticket, running around $35 for adults and $28 for children ages 3 to 9, is required to enjoy this family friendly event. The festivities begin at 7 pm and run until midnight. Guests will be treated to plenty of tricks and treats including fireworks, live shows, and Halloween decorations a la Disney.
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party dates have also been announced and include November 27 and 29, December 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18, and 20. As with the Halloween event, a separate admission is required running around $39 for an adult and $30 for children ages 3 to 9. Holiday treats will be offered throughout the park, and guests will be treated to a special holiday parade, storytelling, live music and shows, as well as a fireworks display. Every family will receive a complimentary photo as well.
A new gift card is now available offering guests a more convenient way to shop and dine throughout Walt Disney World. The cards are available in increments anywhere from $5 to $1,500 and can be used for food and merchandise at select locations throughout the resort. They are available as of August 1.
Disney is dishing out substantial savings to Florida residents these days. Residents receive a 30% savings when they purchase the Stay, Play, and Dine package. Included are 3 nights at a select value resort, park tickets (with some restrictions), the Disney Dining Plan, Magical Express Service (if you arrive by way of the Orlando International Airport), and all the benefits of staying with the Magical Mouse. The offer is only available for a short time. Packages can be booked for stays between August 21 and October 4 though select dates may be unavailable. The cost is approximately $255 per adult (those age 10 and over) and $129 per junior (ages 10 to 12), and $103 per child (ages 3 to 9).
Other offers for residents of the Sunshine State include the ability to purchase a 1-day park ticket at a 10% discount. Park hopper privileges can be added for no additional charge to a 1-day ticket if purchased at full fare, saving residents $35, or a third day free with the purchase of a 2-day ticket. The big bonus here is that the 3 days can be used any time within 6 months from the date of purchase.
Exploring Universal Orlando & Seaworld
Universal Studio's all new Fear Factor Live show has begun wowing audiences with all-new extreme stunts performed by actual audience members. It's slightly tamer than the TV original, but participants still face some rather unusual and offbeat challenges testing their mental and physical limits and all in front of thousands of other audience members anxiously watching -- a challenge unto itself.
SeaWorld has announced plans to open yet another park and practically just across the street. While the official go-ahead for the project has yet to be given, few see this as an issue. More information is to be released in early fall; however, at this time, word has it that a water park is in the works. The ecological and educational experiences found throughout SeaWorld are expected to find their way to the new water park, making the experience entirely different from that at any other area water parks.