For Florida first timers there are many things to think about and a mountain of information to work through. We focus here on the central Florida area around Orlando as this is where the vast majority of UK visitors choose – it includes Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort along with SeaWorld Orlando and many more amazing attractions.
Also, see our guide for planning your first trip to Walt Disney World.
Of course Florida is also famous for its incredible beaches, and many other amazing locations from the trendy nightlife in Miami to the world-class shopping in palm beach, but we need to draw the line somewhere or this guide will stretch from here to Orlando!
A quick word of warning – this guide has been put together by people who believe that Florida is the best holiday destination in the world, so if you are looking for an unbiased review this may not be the best place to start!.
If you are thinking about becoming a Florida first timer, one of the best pieces of advice we can give is to chat with other UK visitors to Florida to pick their brains and help to make sure you have everything covered – our forums are a great place for UK visitors to Florida to share tips and advice to help with planning your holiday.
This guide is constantly being amended and updated to include tips and advice that we receive from DoingFlorida members. If you have any feedback or suggestions please get in touch, we would love to hear from you.
Why go to Florida
For most people around here the simple answer to this is ‘Why Not?!’ but for someone planning their very first visit, this is the starting point. Faced with other options such as a staycation in the UK, or a visit to a Mediterranean resort, what is it that Florida has to offer?
People often comment that the sheer range and diversity of activities is the big draw, but this is difficult to appreciate until you have made your first visit.
The theme parks tend to be at the heart of most people’s plans, and Walt Disney World in particular. In fact it’s perfectly possible to spend a two-week holiday within Walt Disney World without ever stepping ‘off-property’ and never getting close to running out of things to do – in fact many people do this every year – but in reality there are many more attractions to be enjoyed. Universal Orlando Resort has two major theme parks and includes the incredibly well-themed Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and both SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa offer a unique mix of roller coasters, rides and attractions catering for both thrill-seekers and animal lovers.
It’s undeniable that there is a strange and mysterious ‘pull’ that many people experience when they visit Walt Disney World – just check out YouTube to see how many people are ‘hooked’ – and this means that many people tend to return to the same parks and attractions to re-live previous experiences time and time again. Add to that the constant developments and improvements and there is no shortage of reasons to want to keep going back.
Returning to Walt Disney World is described by many as ‘coming home’ and Disney uses this terminology too – when checking in at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel (even if it’s your first time in Florida), don’t be surprised when the cast member says ‘Welcome Home’ – that’s how you will be greeted.
The theme parks offer a wide range of different attractions, and so-called ‘thrill rides’ actually form a fairly small part of this. The Florida theme parks are on a different scale to the biggest UK parks such as Thorpe Park and Alton Towers, and the theming is nothing short of amazing.
Many (if not all!) of our members believe that a Florida holiday is a magical experience and is on a different scale to other types of holiday. It can be difficult to describe the Florida experience without sampling it for yourself, but the fact that more than 1.5 million UK visitors travel to Florida each year probably speaks for itself.
So it looks like the best way to answer the question ‘why go to Florida’ is to go. Then you’ll know.
When to visit Florida
Most people are restricted by work and/or school commitments, and this can obviously be the biggest factor when scheduling a holiday, but aside from this there are three key points to consider when selecting a date for travelling to Florida:
- the weather
- the crowds
- special events
The weather in central Florida is famously good, but there is some variation across the year in terms of the heat levels, the humidity and the rainfall. Most UK visitors travel in July and August to fit with school holidays, but the temperatures at this time of year often top 90°F (32°C) which may be uncomfortable for some people. Of course the fabulous air-conditioning in the US means that in the theme parks you are never usually more than a few seconds away from a refreshing cool-down, but it’s worth considering for some.
Rain showers are a frequent feature during the summer months – they can be very heavy and can be an almost daily occurrence. However the showers usually pass quickly and because of the heat, all signs of rain can then disappear very quickly.
During the periods March-May and October/November the weather is cooler but still generally sunny and warm. Our summary of Florida weather across the year shows the overall position.
Crowd levels in the theme parks vary considerably across the year, with peaks around the major holiday periods as you would expect. The periods with the lowest crowd levels tend to be:
- after Christmas but before Easter
- after Easter until the end of June
- from mid-September to mid-November
Our summary of crowd levels by month shows the position across the year.
There are several special events each year which you may wish to coincide with your visit – some of the major ones are Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, the International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando.
The dates for these events vary slightly each year but they are usually during the same period – see our Walt Disney World Events Calendar and Universal Orlando Events Calendar for more details.
So when you have found the perfect balance between your work/school commitments, the weather, the crowd levels, and the special events, then you will have arrived at the perfect time for your visit. It’s that simple!
Where to Stay in the Orlando Area
When considering where to stay during your Florida holiday, the three main options which most people consider are:
- A resort hotel (either Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando)
- A non-resort hotel
- A villa/condo
Of course ‘different strokes for different folks’ applies here, but here are some of the points to consider when making your choice.
Resort hotels tend to be more expensive but usually include theme-park admission and sometimes include dining options which can be very cost effective. For example the Disney Dining Plan is sometimes offered free when booking a Walt Disney World Resort hotel and this can represent a huge saving on your holiday spending money.
Staying at a resort hotel brings other benefits such as Disney’s Extra Magic Hours which allow resort guests on selected dates to visit the theme parks earlier than ‘normal’ visitors, and also enjoy the theme park attractions later in the evening.
Of course, fans of the Walt Disney World experience would say that staying ‘on property’ is the best way to have a truly magical holiday, but there are reasons such as cost why you may wish to consider the other options available.
Universal Orlando Resort hotels offer additional benefits such as early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – one hour before the theme park opens.
Resorts hotels may also offer complimentary transportation to and from the theme parks and other central areas.
There is of course a vast array of non-resort hotels and some offering excellent value for money. Transportation is then a consideration and you may wish to look at hiring a car to get around during your holiday.
Villas and condos offer the most freedom and UK visitors can be pleasantly surprised at the size and standard of properties available, often at a very reasonable cost when compared to a hotel. Most villa areas around the main theme park areas will involve a drive of at least 20-minutes so car hire is worth considering for many people.
What is Walt Disney World Resort?
The name is the first thing we need to clear up – many people refer to ‘DisneyLand Florida’ but in fact there is no such thing – DisneyLand is in California, whereas Walt Disney World Resort (or DisneyWorld) is in Florida.
Walt Disney World is not a theme park – it is an area the size of San Francisco (over 40 square miles!) located around 20 miles from the city of Orlando, made up of theme parks, water parks, hotels, restaurants and many other attractions.
What is Universal Orlando Resort?
Universal Orlando Resort is also not a theme park, it is an area made up of two major theme parks, with hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues, and also includes the amazingly-themed Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Whilst Universal Orlando is smaller than Walt Disney World Resort, it is still vast by UK standards and offers a huge range of attractions.
About This Guide
This Florida first timers guide is constantly being reviewed and extended – if there are any areas you would like us to include, or if you have any tips that you can share on our forums, please get in touch we would love to hear from you.