3-day Itinerary in Orlando-Walt Disney World
Explore the best things to do in Paris in 3 days based on recommendations from local experts.
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Excessive, exhausting and expensive, Walt Disney World Resort is above all else enchanting. Composed of four theme parks (the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom), two water parks (Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and Disney's Blizzard Beach), more than two dozen hotels and the Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment complex, this sprawling property features iconic sights and rides like Cinderella Castle, "it's a small world," Spaceship Earth, Toy Story Land and Pandora – The World of Avatar. Even Anaheim's Disneyland can't compete, according to some.
Of course, there is one major drawback. Walt Disney World park tickets are expensive, regardless of whether you're visiting for just a day (single-day tickets for kids and adults ages 10 and older start at $109). Meanwhile, one-day water park tickets start at $64 for adults 10 and older. Most suggest you visit this expansive property over the course of several days to justify the high entrance fees. If you have limited time, consider skipping the parks in favor of exploring Disney Springs, which is free to visit.
Another disappointment to some: the abundance of people. During school recesses, all of the parks are packed with tourists and locals, meaning pathways can feel congested and ride lines may be hours long. To avoid these issues, try visiting on a weekday when school is in session. Or, stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, where all guests have access to Extended Magic Hours (or extra attraction hours for one or two parks). Utilizing the park's FastPass+ service can also help you make the most of your time in Disney World. What's more, select Disney resorts also include dining plans in vacation packages. See more money-saving tips and tricks here.
Walt Disney World Resort is located in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, Florida, about 17 miles southwest of downtown Orlando. Each theme park has different hours, but all open by 9 a.m. and close between 7 and 11 p.m. Water park hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. If you're staying at one of Disney's accommodations, you'll have access to complimentary bus, ferry or monorail transfers. Parking lots and stops for LYNX's Nos. 50 and 56 routes are also available, but extra charges apply. Disney Springs and all parks offer shops, restaurants, restrooms, sitting areas and live entertainment like parades and fireworks shows. Check out Walt Disney World Resort's website for further details.10-15 minutes by car
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The International Drive Resort Area is one of Orlando's most diverse regions to visit. Situated less than 10 miles southwest of downtown Orlando, this area features a variety of shopping, dining and entertainment venues, including WonderWorks, two outlet malls, Ripley's Believe It or Not! and Pirate's Cove Adventure miniature golf course. Eateries here offer all sorts of cuisines, or travelers can enjoy a meal while watching a themed show. For night owls, I-Drive boasts a B.B. King-affiliated blues club, a Howl at the Moon dueling pianos venue, a Señor Frog's restaurant and bar, the world's largest permanent ice bar and more.
Though several former visitors caution that I-Drive tends to get clogged with cars, many said everything one could need is located along this road. Plus, prices here aren't as high as those found in the adjacent theme parks.
The International Drive Resort Area stretches between Orlando International Premium Outlets and the Central Florida GreeneWay, offering visitors convenient access to top sights like SeaWorld Orlando, Fun Spot America and Universal Orlando Resort. Travelers can drive or hail a taxi to any of the thoroughfare's shops, restaurants and attractions (most of which offer complimentary parking), but the city's I-RIDE Trolley and LYNX bus service (route Nos. 8, 24, 37, 38, 42, 50, 58 and 111) also make several stops along I-Drive. The area is free to visit 24 hours a day, but restricted hours and entrance fees may apply for select I-Drive venues. To learn more, visit International Drive Resort Area's official website.
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Whether you're traveling with little ones, teenagers, friends or your significant other, odds are you'll find something to enjoy at Universal Orlando Resort. This sprawling entertainment area features two theme parks, as well as Universal CityWalk, a pedestrian thoroughfare with shops, restaurants, a movie theater and nightclubs. The original park – Universal Studios Florida – is home to the 3-D Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride and The Simpsons Ride, while Universal's Islands of Adventure has several rollercoasters and "Jurassic Park"-themed rides and experiences, among other highlights. A water park – Universal's Volcano Bay – is also available.
But the main draw of Universal Orlando's parks is its Harry Potter sections. In Universal Studios Florida, you'll find The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, where you can escape from Gringotts, eat at the Leaky Cauldron or get chosen by a wand at Ollivanders wand shop. And at Universal's Islands of Adventure, there's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, which houses the Three Broomsticks, Hogwarts and Hagrid's hut.
Although travelers caution that crowds are the norm here (especially in the Harry Potter areas), many say visiting Universal Orlando Resort was the highlight of their trip to Orlando. To minimize your ride wait times, visit on a rainy day or when school is in session. Or, pay additional daily fees for an express pass (if it's not already included in your entrance fee). Available for one or both parks, these passes let you skip the lines at participating rides once or an unlimited number of times.
Universal Orlando Resort sits one block away from International Drive near Orlando International Premium Outlets and Fun Spot America's Orlando park. To get to the resort grounds, you can drive (additional fees apply for on-site parking), hail a taxi or ride the No. 21, 37 or 40 LYNX bus to the Universal Boulevard and Hollywood Way stop. If you stay at a Universal hotel, you can take one of the property's free shuttle buses or water taxis to Universal CityWalk or any of the theme parks. Restaurants and grab-and-go food stalls, gift shops and restrooms are available in both parks.
Single-day tickets for one Universal Orlando park start at $115 for adults and $110 for children ages 3 to 9 when purchased on Universal Orlando Resort's website. Prices do increase at peak times. For one-day access to both parks, an additional charge of $55 applies. Extra savings are available when multiday tickets are purchased. Each theme park is typically open every day between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m., but extended hours are offered on select days. Hours for Universal CityWalk's amenities vary.10-15 minutes by car
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Popular brands like Apple and H&M rub elbows with high-end boutiques like Prada and Versace at the The Mall at Millenia. Providing a nice change of pace from the overpriced souvenirs you'd purchase inside one of Orlando's parks, this mall houses approximately 150 stores to browse. It also offers a great way to pass the time on a rainy day.
Several prior travelers appreciated The Mall at Millenia's assortment of stores, which appeal to an array of budgets. Another plus: the variety of dining options. Everything from grab-and-go eateries in the food court to chain restaurants like P.F. Chang's and The Cheesecake Factory can be found here. There's even a Capital Grille to satisfy shoppers looking to treat themselves to a formal meal.
The Mall at Millenia can be found on Conroy Road in southwest Orlando, about 2 miles from Orlando International Premium Outlets. You can get to the mall via the Nos. 24 and 40 LYNX buses or by driving. Complimentary self-parking is provided; the property also offers valet parking services for a fee. Other amenities include a currency exchange kiosk, a post office, a cellphone charging station, restrooms and a Visit Orlando visitor services booth. The mall is free to visit between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. For a mall directory, department store hours and more information about available services, visit The Mall at Millenia's website.10-20 minutes by car
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If you're not coming to Orlando to explore its theme parks, chances are you've come to visit its links. More than 170 golf courses – many of which have ties to area resorts – can be found throughout Orlando and its suburbs. Walt Disney World Resort offers four courses, while guests who stay at accommodations located on Universal Orlando Resort grounds receive golf privileges at select area fairways.
According to prior visitors, some of Orlando's best greens are part of the Villas of Grand Cypress Orlando, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes and the Waldorf Astoria Orlando properties, thanks in part to their beautiful surroundings and friendly staff. Another favorite: Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge's Champion, Challenger and Charger links. This course was rated among the best public golf courses in Florida by Golf Magazine and is popular with locals and tourists alike. However, a few previous visitors felt that the Disney courses were a bit overpriced, especially after factoring in the average link conditions, and just like its park, crowded.
The bulk of Orlando's top golf courses reside southwest of downtown in or near Kissimmee, Windermere, Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake, Florida. Most cannot be reached by public transportation, but all of Disney's courses are accessible via Walt Disney World Resort's buses, monorails or ferries. Green fees vary by course, but expect to pay $10 to $135 per person. Most links are open daily and provide free valet or self-parking, as well as access to restrooms, pro shops and restaurants or food and beverage carts. More information about Orlando's courses can be found on OrlandoGolf.com's website.10-15 minutes by car
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There are animal encounters and then there's Discovery Cove – a companion site to SeaWorld Orlando that receives rave reviews from past travelers. Here, you can get up close and personal with dolphins, stingrays, marmosets and otters, plus exotic birds. And since it's a reservation-only park (capacity is capped at 1,300 guests per day), you'll get to interact with the animals and trainers more intimately. When you're not swimming with the dolphins, try snorkeling with tropical fish and rays in the park's coral reef or floating throughout the park's lush landscape on the Wind-Away River. If you need a break from the water, dry off on one of the beaches or feed some of the birds in Discovery Cove's Explorer's Aviary.
According to recent visitors, it's this plethora of diverse attractions that make Discovery Cove such a memorable Orlando experience and many also comment on how relaxing the park is to visit. While a trip here will cost you (packages start at $149 per person without the dolphin swim experience), past visitors offer a few cost-saving tips: Avoid buying the pricey photo package offered by Discovery Cove. And if you're not set on swimming with dolphins, opt for the standard Day Resort Package instead of the more expensive all-inclusive Dolphin Swim Package (which starts at $199 per person). If you're planning to visit SeaWorld and Aquatica, it may be worthwhile to purchase one of the park's package deals, which offers one-day admission to Discovery Cove, as well as unlimited admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica. Packages start at $170 per person.
Discovery Cove is adjacent to SeaWorld Orlando near International Drive; it's open every day from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with breakfast provided at 7:15 a.m. The city's LYNX buses (Nos. 8, 38, 50 and 111) stop near the property, and free self-parking is available on-site. All day packages include use of snorkeling gear, wet suits and lockers; unlimited access to attraction's Grand Reef, Serenity Bay, Explorer's Aviary and Wind-Away River; and two meals, snacks and drinks (including alcoholic libations). Age restrictions apply for the dolphin swim. Visit Discovery Cove's website for more information.2 minutes by car; 10 minutes by bus
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While Mickey's house and Harry's wizarding world are certainly magical, many vacationers find Shamu's lair equally enchanting. And if you're short on time, you might want to make this central Orlando spot a priority. Larger resorts like Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are best enjoyed over a few days, anyway. Take your pick of rides (including Orlando's tallest, fastest and longest rollercoaster, Mako) and an array of shows and exhibits.
Travelers love SeaWorld's animal experiences, heart-pounding rides and relaxed atmosphere, but some caution that food and merchandise are pricey and lines can be long. Meanwhile, others warned that the park is better suited to older kids as most of the rides do not allow young children.
SeaWorld Orlando is open daily, with hours varying throughout the week. Generally, it welcomes visitors as early as 9 a.m. and as late as 9 p.m. One-day passes start at $104.99 per person when purchased at the park, but if you buy your ticket on the property's website, you'll save $20. Multivisit tickets offer additional savings. In addition to rides, shows and interactive animal experiences, the park has gift shops, restrooms and quick service and sit-down food options. On-site parking is also available but costs $23.47 per vehicle. Additionally, you can take LYNX buses (Nos. 8, 38, 50 and 111) or I-RIDE Trolley's Red Line (stop No. 28) to the property. You'll find SeaWorld Orlando across the street from Discovery Cove near the International Drive Resort Area.
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