Orlando theme parks are among the largest in the world, with themed rides, quirky characters, and live performances taking place all day. With so many things to see and do, planning your way around these theme parks can be rather daunting. By doing some quick research, you can concentrate on having a great time, while others are stuck wondering where to go next and how to fit everything in.

    Save time and energy with our guide to Orland theme park secrets only locals know. With so much to see and only a short space of time to fit it all in, our guide is intended to help make your Orlando trip as enjoyable as it can possibly be.


    Visit on overcast days

    Many people choose to skip out on theme park outings during rainy days, making wait times much shorter than they might be on a typical day. Cloud coverage also means a more comfortable day running around the parks since the weather isn’t as hot and humid. Bring a rain jacket as Florida weather is infamous for its 10- to 20-minute downpours. It’s important to keep in mind that all outside attractions shut down when lightning is within 15 km of the theme park. All indoor attractions remain open if it’s just a little rain, meaning you can fit in more rides per day.


    Make use of the single rider line

    These under-utilized queues aren’t always marked, so many people don’t know to use them. The single rider line is a special queue designated for people travelling solo or willing to be temporarily separated from their party. These are a big time-saver, as the wait time is usually a fraction of the time compared to the regular queue. The parks benefit from this queue because it allows them to fill single spots left empty in their rides. In rare occurrences, parties of 2 or 3 can end up being placed together.


    Download theme park apps

    Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando have smartphone applications that allow you to make ticket reservations, look up attraction wait times, and review restaurant menus. Disney’s app also allows you to instantly locate yourself on their interactive and GPS-enabled map. You can also find ‘Character Greeting’ locations and times. With Universal’s app, you can look up showtimes, locate near-by restrooms, and make dining reservations.


    Visit popular rides during non-peak hours

    The most popular attractions such as Disney’s Frozen Ever After or Universal’s Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey often have wait times of 1 hour or more during the early afternoon. Avoid the large crowds by visiting early in the day or during parades and fireworks shows. These are the times when attraction wait times are at their lowest – often between 5 and 10 minutes. It is also a good idea to plan for an early or late lunch. This not only allows you to benefit from smaller crowds at the attractions but also avoid the lunch rush at the theme park’s many restaurants. If you stay at an onsite resort, you’ll have the advantage of entering both theme parks 1 hour before opening time, giving you extra time to check out the more prominent attractions first.


    Universal stays open later than Islands of Adventure

    If you have a park-to-park pass, don’t head straight home when Universal's Islands of Adventure closes without checking the theme park's closing time. On several days a month, the closing times are staggered by up to 2 hours… that's 2 hours you could spend on exploring Diagon Alley or getting up to mischief at Minion Mayhem!


    Use credit card perks

    Many credit card companies offer perks throughout the parks, with Chase and American Express at the top of the list. A Disney Visa Card gives cardholder guests the unique opportunity to meet Disney Characters in a private location, away from the large crowds. It also offers a 10% discount on all merchandise as well at select dining locations. There’s also special financing for guests purchasing Disney tickets with this card. American Express cardholders, on the other hand, can take advantage of various perks at Universal Orlando. This includes dining and merchandise discounts, as well as specially priced photo packages. Universal Studios also has a designated American Express Lounge, providing cardholders with complimentary snacks, drinks, concierge-service and more.


    Pack a lunch

    Theme park dining can be very expensive – especially if you are visiting on consecutive days. Bringing food and drinks can save you a lot of money throughout the week, given that a bottle of water can cost up to $5 in certain parks. The theme parks are fairly lenient with the amount of food you can bring in, but it’s important to note that outside coolers and alcohol are not allowed. Another alternative is to make use of the various theme park dining plans. These are prepaid food plans that allow 2 meals per day and unlimited drinks. For a large family, this is often a great money-stretching option.


    Look out for the finer details

    Theme parks go to great lengths to include minor touches which will be missed by the less astute, such as Disney’s Hidden Mickeys and Universal’s Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter restrooms. With a little bit of attention, these finer details can be found all throughout the parks. In Disney’s Tomorrowland, the futuristic metal palm trees subtly fold their leaves at night. In Frontierland, there is a winding brown sidewalk in the middle of the path – few know that this represents the raw sewage the US dealt with during colonial times. 

    Magical details can be found throughout The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando. Certain wand movements, made with a special wand purchasable throughout the park, make curtains flutter, lanterns light up and flowers bloom. You will also find understated details throughout Diagon Alley, such as billboards that were only briefly mentioned in the Harry Potter novels.


    Plan in advance for water rides

    Ziploc bags and rain ponchos are 2 great options for keeping you and your handphone from getting soaked. Swimsuits are allowed at most water rides as well, but you must wear shoes at all times. Both Disney and Universal provide paid lockers for guests wanting to bring towels or an extra set of clothes. Plastic ponchos are sold throughout the parks and cost up to $12 each.


    Remember where you parked!

    Many tend to forget to make a note of where they left the car, and theme park parking lots are usually just as big as the park themselves. Theme parks have various ways to help their guests remember this, such as coloured posts, character pictures or quirky names. The Universal app even has a parking-reminder feature, where you can set the level and row where you left your car. Remembering this small detail is a big part of ending the night on a good note, as no one likes to end the day by searching through infinite levels of parked vehicles!

    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

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