How to have a great Orlando theme park vacation: Lessons learned – Down time and how sweet it is!
Photo above: Our second time at Disney World, 2003.
I realize that what I am about to write here will sound like simple self promotion, but I would tell you the exact same thing before we purchased our home in Florida, because some of what I am going to explain is one of the reasons why we purchased our home in Florida.
Vacationing in Central Florida is not relaxing or restful if one is ‘doing’ the theme parks.
Plan for some ‘down’ time
When we took our second trip to Orlando, we spent two weeks, determined to do things right. A single week five years earlier had simply just not been enough. For the first time ever, we rented a vacation home for part of the trip, and then stayed at a resort for the last few days because my wife had won some accommodations in a contest.
After spending the first six days doing theme parks, we were getting fairly tired. Our kids, who had been eyeing the beautiful pool at our vacation home asked if we couldn’t just take a day to let them stay home and relax and play in the pool! Well, by this time in the trip, they were getting a little crazy from the excitement, so we let them take the day to just lounge around the house and do nothing. Mostly they played in the pool.
Our eldest son had a dream of sipping a drink from a coconut (non-alcoholic of course) so we bought one at a supermarket, and with the help of a neighbor, cut the top off the thing so he could sit in the pool lounger, and sip juice through a straw from it. It fulfilled a desire he had formed as a child, from watching TV. That was the image he had attached to being on vacation in a warm climate.
My wife and I took a trip to Celebration (the planned residential community built on part of the Disney World resort property) to explore the town and actually walk through a farmer’s market being held there. We also visited a number of show homes in the area. (We could do this because our kids were good in the water and the older two were old enough and responsible to safely take care of our youngest.)
How we discovered exactly how good we had it
Later, towards the end of our trip, we moved out of the vacation home and into a better-than-average hotel room at a resort. The minute we walked into the room we knew we were in trouble. What a disappointment it was! After staying in a beautiful home, each of us with our own bedroom, and lots of room to lay out and relax, that cramped hotel room for the five of us was like being stuffed into a sardine can. Then a long walk to the pool (instead of it being just outside our door) only to find out that it was closing in fifteen minutes and we had to leave, only added to our frustration. So did the expensive resort restaurant, and the extra charges mysteriously tacked onto our bill which we had to dispute for an hour when checking out.
That trip sealed our fate. On our next visit to Orlando for two weeks to visit our son who was now working for Disney in Epcot, my wife and I (without any kids in tow) again stayed in a vacation rental (a one bedroom unit), and loved the experience all over again.
With our son as a guide, we explored the entire general area and really got to know our way around. This gave us a chance to realize just how important the location of a vacation home within the Disney area could be. There are many Orlando vacation rental home neighborhoods and locations, and all are not created equally.
Then, in 2009 we bought the vacation home that we had stayed in on our first trip! (Well, not quite. In the interests of full disclosure, we bought the exact same house as the one we stayed in, except two doors down. The big difference? Honestly the location of ours is much better, providing for our amazing yard and privacy, and it has been better decorated, furnished and maintained. In a number of ways, they actually don’t compare. We didn’t have a need to surpass what we had experienced, but that is certainly how it turned out! That original home has since been sold. Many of the former rental homes in the neighborhood are now used as residences.) It has been professionally redecorated and we run it in the most business-like manner we can, hoping to share our love of the area with other families in order to help them experience the same joy we first experienced, and continue to get from it.