Taking a Large Group to Orlando on a Budget

My family loves to visit Orlando. During the year one or more of us visit at different times. Once a year I take on the task of planning a trip for the entire family to enjoy together. Four generations head to Orlando early each June for 8 days of family fun and togetherness. There is no doubt that Orlando can be an expensive destination. Over the years I have found ways to save on our yearly trips so that everyone can have the experience they want.

Large Group Trip Orlando Budget
Orlando-Train-Station Photo Credit: WBEEM via Flickr

Orlando is best known for Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, but there’s so much more to the area. Vacationing in Orlando with 8, 10 or 12 people on a budget can be pretty easy with the right mind-set. As soon as I realized that hotels just won’t work, especially a Walt Disney World or Universal resort, my planning became so much easier. Having space for a large group can get expensive when you think about needing 2, 3 or 4 rooms to accommodate everyone in a hotel or resort.

Vacation Home Rental

Once I realized that renting at least 3 or 4 hotel rooms could easily explode my budget, I began looking at vacation home rentals in Orlando. Fortunately I found one that my family loves and we have now used many times.

The positive side of renting a vacation home is cost. Even the cheapest hotel room times four rooms can easily cost $500 or more per night. Times 7 nights, well, that’s lots of money. We can rent an entire home that sleeps up to 16 for much less. Each member of the family also has their own space with private areas so there is never a feeling of crowding each other. The home my family really loves, and has used many times, is Characters Corner Vacation Home. I will admit I was a little concerned going into our trip this year since we have added a new baby. Bringing a 5 month old along was definitely something I haven’t done in a long time. My mom, at 85, is also having a much harder time getting around. The home is set up so well and provides everything a family needs (2 cribs, high chair, ground floor bedrooms with bathrooms) that I was worried for nothing! Six bedrooms and two convertible sofa beds, 4 bathrooms, a movie theater and a pool/kiddie pool/hot tub! What more can a family want! Everything you need is in the home to make your family feel comfortable, relaxed and ready to have a great vacation. All dishes, linens, washer/dryer, Wi-Fi, pool towels, etc., are provided and the home is wheel chair accessible.

My new grandson was also able to experience his first pool time without worry that he would get splashed or afraid in a large resort pool with many other people around.

Cleanliness and customer satisfaction are the top priorities for the owners and there is a property manager nearby, just a phone call away in case of a problem. 

Location – Location – Location!

Location is an important factor for us. Characters Corner Vacation Home is ideal. The home is a short 10 minute drive onto Walt Disney World property (2.5 miles away) and a 15 minute drive to Universal Orlando, Sea World and all the restaurants, shopping and attractions on the heart of International Drive (I-Drive).  Multiple large name grocery stores are within a few minutes drive, as well as many restaurants, shops and attractions.

The home is located in a private, gated community so is a very safe and secure spot for a family.

Dining Out vs. Eating In

No one really wants to go on vacation and cook. When a large group also means a large cost to eat out, cooking easy meals is necessary for the budget. When we first arrive at the rental home, one of the first things I do is head to the grocery store. Not only do I buy a few easy fix meals for the week, I buy breakfast for each day as well as bottled water and snacks to take with us on our trips to local attractions. You’ll be surprised how much you can save by eating breakfast at the house and taking along your own snacks and water! Some evenings we may return to the house before dinner. There is a gas grill provided for easy meals like hamburgers and hot dogs. There are also several local restaurants that will deliver to the community. Pizza and a movie in the theater are a great way to spend a relaxing evening together!

Discount Attraction Tickets

Each member of my family likes to do something different. My granddaughter only wants to go to Walt Disney World. My daughter-in-law and son love Universal. I like Sea World. My daughter likes it all! Even though we travel together I am a firm believer in everyone getting to do what they like. Sometimes it’s necessary to split up and go our separate ways. We have a family meeting each year and everyone gets to say what they want to do and where they want to go. I then use discount sites to purchase the tickets and passes based on the list of things each family member wants to do. If only 2 want to visit Universal, I purchase tickets for those 2 only for one day. If all want to go to Walt Disney World, I purchase park passes for everyone making sure to not purchase tickets for every day of our trip. I try to build in days to see other things or to relax around the pool. My favorite site for saving on park and attraction passes is Undercover Tourist.

Free is Always Good on the Budget

There is so much more to Orlando than theme parks! There are many free and super cheap things to do in the area.

Disney Springs  is a great way to get a Disney experience without the cost of the theme parks. With shopping, dining, and diverse entertainment, you’ll be able to spend an entire day here. You can even pack a lunch, find a shady spot and enjoy a family picnic!

 Clearwater Beach Morse Museum of American Art offers free admission for children under 12, as well as free admission for everyone on Fridays from 4PM til 8PM (November through April). Morse Museum is technically in Winter Park but is less than 20 minutes from downtown Orlando.

Also located in Winter Park, the Albin Polask Museum and Sculpture Garden is home to exquisite art and serene sculpture gardens. Admission for children under 12 is free, admission for adults is $5.

A one-of-a-kind Holocaust Memorial has both permanent and traveling exhibits to communicate the history of the Holocaust. Admission is free.

For the adults in the group, Orlando Brewing Company offers free tours. Call ahead to find out hours and other information.

Several companies offer air boat rides, alligator tours, and more. While the prices aren’t too high, it could get expensive with a large family so be sure everyone wants to go before purchasing tickets.

What are your best tips when visiting Orlando with a group?




Volcano Bay and TapuTapu Coming to Universal Orlando this May

Volcano Bay Universal TapuTapuTapuTapu™ Puts The Wonders of Volcano Bay™ Right At Your Wrist.

 All images via Universal Orlando.

Due to open at the end of May, Volcano Bay is Universal Orlando’s nearest park. When you visit Volcano Bay™ you will be granted the powers of the TapuTapu™, a waterproof wearable bracelet specifically designed for the park. With just a touch of your wrist you’ll be able to hold your place in a Virtual Line™ at the rides and discover wondrous surprises.

Unlike Walt Disney World Resort’s MagicBands, the TapuTapu will be given out when you arrive at the park and must be returned before you leave. It looks as if it will be used for a system similar to Disney’s FastPass+.

Arrive – Enter Universal’s Volcano Bay™ where you’ll be welcomed as a part of the Waturi family.

Receive Your TapuTapu – Pick up your TapuTapu wearable as you enter the park. It’s yours for the day.

Look for the Symbol – Look for this symbol throughout the park and use your TapuTapu to get a return time, play and more.
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Hold Your Place in the Virtual Line™ – Touch your TapuTapu on the symbol at a ride entry totem. That checks you in to the Virtual Line™ and gives you a return time.

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Relax and Play until your TapuTapu Alerts You – Your TapuTapu will tell you when it’s time to head back to the ride.

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Touch to Ride – Touch the symbol on the totem again and proceed through the ride entrance.
Discover Interactive Surprises – You can also use the TapuTapu where you see the symbol to play with interactive surprises around the park.

Return Your TapuTapu – Don’t forget to return your TapuTapu wearable when you exit Volcano Bay.

Designed specifically and exclusively for use in Universal’s water theme park, TapuTapu™ will make your experience throughout the entire park as hassle-free and fun-filled as possible. It will allow you to virtually wait in line for Volcano Bay’s dozens of unique attractions and discover various TapTu Play™ experiences throughout the park with just a simple touch.

Here’s what we can all expect to see when Volcano Bay opens:

The Volcano

At the heart of the island stands Krakatau™, the mighty Fire and Water Volcano. Towering 200 feet above the tropical landscape, Krakatau streams waterfalls during the day and fiery lava effects at night. Inside the cavernous volcano the Waturi people dare you to brave a variety of heart-pounding water slides.

Krakatau™ Aqua Coaster

Honorary Waturi can experience the power of Krakatau™ on this amazing ride. Four-person canoes slide upward through the mists and into the dark twists and turns within the volcano before emerging with a plunge through a shimmering waterfall.

Ko’okiri Body Plunge™

Join in the centuries-old tradition of honoring the volcano god, Vol, by braving the incredible Ko’okiri Body Plunge. Featuring a 70-degree fall through a drop door and 125 feet of screaming, white-knuckle fun, this dizzying descent ends with a watery tribute from Vol himself.

Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides™

Join Kala and Tai Nui where sea and sky meet and take a leap of faith from high atop the volcano. Twin trap doors simultaneously drop two guests down clear, intertwining tubes before sending them joyfully splashing into the turquoise waters below.

Punga Racers™

A favorite among Waturi children of all ages, Punga Racers send single riders on their manta ray mats sliding down four lanes through underwater sea caves.

Wave Village

This peaceful escape overlooks the sparkling waters of Waturi Beach at the base of the volcano.

Waturi Beach

Locals know — the surf’s always up at Waturi Beach. Swim, splash and relax right along with them in the sparkling waters and warm waves of this sparkling lagoon at the foot of mighty Krakatau.

River Village

 The scenic River Village has fun for people of all ages, including the very youngest Waturi.

Honu ika Moana™

Just like the ancient Waturi people who rode the ocean waves on friendly sea turtles and whales, guests can enjoy these two twisting, turning, multi-person slides. Honu sweeps up two massive walls, while ika Moana sprays water on riders from the center of the raft.

Tot Tiki Reef™ & Runamukka Reef™

The little ones can frolic among the splashy slides and fountains of the Tot Tiki Reef toddler play area, while Runamukka Reef delights older children with its bubbling geysers, water guns, slides and dump cups.

Kopiko Wai Winding River™

Take a slow ride on the Kopiko Wai Winding River. Sprays of water surprise along the way, and beneath the lava rocks, Stargazer’s Cavern reveals the magical night sky above.

Rainforest Village

 Rainforest Village stretches along the shores of an action-packed river and features the perfect mix of relaxation and exhilaration.

Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides™

Test your mettle and get into the Waturi spirit. Ascend cliff side and plummet down the twisting waters of Ohyah before dropping out four feet above the pool below. To achieve even greater bragging rights, brave the rope bridge and plunge down Ohno, a serpentine adventure that ends six feet above the pool below. Be sure to yell your battle cry on the way down.

Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides™

Ready for the high adventure of the Maku Puihi lava tubes? This six-person rafting adventure is a favorite of Waturi families, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Choose one of two paths or try them both—just be ready for a thrilling ride. Puihi careens through a dark, winding tunnel before the stomach-flipping thrill of zero gravity hang time. Maku slides you through a deep volcanic gorge before spinning wildly around bowl-like formations.

TeAwa The Fearless River™

Up for an adventure? Take a thrilling whitewater ride along TeAwa The Fearless River. Race along a roaring, watery onslaught of churning rapids and choppy waves hanging tight to your inner tube.

Taniwha Tubes™

There’s a place where the puka trees grow abnormally tall. Inspired by their twisting roots, the Waturi built four twisting water slides called the Taniwha Tubes. Riders can try all four twisting tracks, but beware — mischievous tiki statues spray jets of water when you least expect it.
I know I’m looking forward to this newest addition to the Orlando area – what do you think?



The 5 Best Thrill Rides at Universal Orlando

Are you a thrill ride lover? I tend to be a bit of a sissy when it comes to some, but my family LOVES all thrill rides so I end up riding and screaming anyway. If you are looking to experience some great thrill rides on your next trip, Universal Orlando Resort is the place to go. You will have plenty of chances to scream at both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

Thrill Rides Universal Orlando
Photo Credit: Universal Orlando Resort

1. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts at Universal Studios Florida: This is the ultimate thrill ride for any Harry Potter fan! You will head down below Gringotts bank on this multi-dimensional 3-D attraction that puts you right in the middle of the action with Harry, Ron, Hermione, Voldemort, and Bellatrix.

2. Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida: You will surely feel the wrath of the awakened mummy on this indoor dark ride when you come face to face with him after racing past fireballs, beetles, and warrior mummies on this thrilling adventure.

3. Dragon Challenge at Universal’s Islands of Adventure: This unique roller coaster is two different roller coasters, each with a unique experience! You can ride an aggressive Chinese Fireball dragon or a ferocious Hungarian Horntail dragon as you twist and loop across the sky.

4. Hollywood Rip Ride RockIt at Universal Studios Florida: You can rock and roll to your favorite song on this one of a kind ride and even take home your music video as a souvenir. This attraction is not only Orlando’s tallest roller coaster but also features the world’s first non-inverting loop.

Thrill Rides Universal Orlando
Photo Credit: Universal Orlando Resort

5.  The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal’s Islands of Adventure: This is one of the best roller coasters in the country. You will be transformed into the Incredible Hulk as you go from 0 to 40 miles per hour in just two seconds. You will experience thrilling speeds and seven upside down turns on this incredible ride. The Hulk is currently being reborn and will open in summer of 2016 even better than before.

Which one is your favorite?




Hidden Treasures of The Lost Continent at Universal’s Islands of Adventure

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Photo Credit: Universal Orlando CloseUp

Nestled within Universal’s Islands of Adventure is an ancient and timeless hidden realm, The Lost Continent. Here are the top five hidden treasures recommended by Anthony Armenia, a Universal Orlando Intern and huge theme park fan:

1. The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show

Sinbad didn’t stop after his seventh voyage; his eighth was the biggest one yet. Join Sinbad in a stunt show of EPIC proportions cheering on the heroes and booing the villains in this live stunt spectacular. This is one stunt show that you don’t want to miss from the breathtaking feats to death defying stunts, guests of all ages will be engulfed in the adventure.

Sinbad-Show-Lost-Continent
Photo Credit: Universal Orlando CloseUp

2. Poseidon’s Fury

Go on an undersea adventure and no this one doesn’t involve mermaids. Join Taylor from the Global Discovery Group on a journey only built for the most curious explorer through the mysterious temple. But keep an eye out for ancient titans: Poseidon and the evil Lord Darkenon, as they are lurking under the surface battling for power.

Poseidens-Fury-Lost-Continent
Photo Credit: Universal Orlando CloseUp

3. The Mystic Fountain

What looks like an ordinary fountain is anything but! Carved from ancient stone, the mischievous Mystic Fountain not only lives and breathes but speaks; telling riddles and jokes as well as occasionally squirting guests for a refreshing surprise. This is undeniably my personal favorite hidden treasure of The Lost Continent!

Mystic-Fountain-Lost-Continent
Photo Credit: Universal Orlando CloseUp

4. Doc Sugrue’s Desert Kebab House

Just next to the Mystic Fountain, you can escape the typical theme park fare with some exotic cuisine. Chow down like a sultan or king on beef, chicken or vegetarian kebabs and Greek salads. There are also some more Greek inspired snacks including hummus, Greek yogurt and fruit cups along with the more traditional pretzels and churros.

Kabobs-Lost-Continent
Photo Credit: Universal Orlando CloseUp

5. Star Souls – Psychic Reading

Ever wanted to see what your future holds? Take a seat for a psychic reading and discover what the fates foretell. I don’t know about you but I’m holding out for some delicious kebabs in my future.

Psychic-Reading-Lost-Continent
Photo Credit: Universal Orlando CloseUp

Of course there are further adventures to be had in The Lost Continent including dining like titans in the award-winning Mythos Restaurant and some truly unique shopping experiences featuring a variety of unusual items from across the ages.




Pete’s Dragon Opens Today! Check Out These Activity Sheets and Dragon Cupcakes

Pete's Dragon Activity Sheets Dragon Cupcakes

The most magical movie of the year, PETE’S DRAGON is finally opening in theaters everywhere TODAY! August 12th! This is one of the best family movies of the year and equally perfect for kids and adults alike!

 

Check out these Pete’s Dragon Activity Sheets and Dragon Cupcakes!

“Bryce Dallas How-To” with Bryce Dallas Howard – Dragon Cupcakes!

Pete's Dragon Activity Sheets Dragon Cupcakes

 

 

“Bryce Dallas How-To” with Bryce Dallas Howard – Dragon Cat Costume!

 

Like PETE’S DRAGON on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DisneyPetesDragon

Follow PETE’S DRAGON on Twitter: https://twitter.com/disneypetes

Follow PETE’S DRAGON on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/disneypetesdragon/  

Visit Disney Animation on Tumblr: http://disneyanimation.tumblr.com/

Visit the official PETE’S DRAGON website here: http://movies.disney.com/petes-dragon-2016

And don’t forget your Disneybound outfit when you hit the theaters this weekend!

Petes Dragon Activity Sheets Dragon Cupcakes