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Orlando Theme Park Itineraries

The baseline is a day for every theme park you visit, plus two travel days. To have a rich, full experience in all six of the Disney and Universal theme parks, you'd need eight days. To include SeaWorld or one of the water parks or a non-theme-park attraction, add another day—for a total of nine days. Some find trying to see too many theme parks in a short time rather like eating too many sweets at a buffet. This is a vacation, not a marathon, so be sure to schedule free time.

If you're selective, though, you can have a great five- to seven-day trip, including two travel days. Families with young kids might spend full days at only a few theme parks. Those with tweens or teens might do two parks in a day but take in only the highlights. Singles, couples, or groups might take the full-day park-tour approach or mix the half-day park-highlights approach—perhaps with half days of downtime (rather than at other parks).

How long you stay might also affect your hotel choice. The longer and more varied the trip, the farther from the theme parks you can stay. The shorter the trip or the more time you plan to spend in the parks, the better off you are staying on or very near Disney or Universal property.

Sample Itineraries

You should add two travel days to the following three- and five-day itineraries. These are our dream trips, but for best results, you really should create your own!

FAMILIES WITH YOUNG KIDS—3 Days

Day 1 —Magic Kingdom early, with a nap or pool break back at the hotel, returning for the evening fireworks show or parade. Day 2 —the whole family by the hotel pool or the kids busy in the hotel's children's program while Mom and Dad head to Downtown Disney or the BoardWalk. Day 3 —Hollywood Studios through to the afternoon parade; back to the hotel for a nap and a swim before enjoying the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue dinner show.

Other Recommendations: Use Magical Express airport-transfer service; stay on Disney property; get the basic Disney meal plan; buy two-day Magic Your Way parks tickets (which you don't need to use on consecutive days). Work in a character meal on arrival or departure day. Take time to let the little ones rest and recharge.

FAMILIES WITH TWEENS—5 Days

Day 1 —Magic Kingdom highlights in the morning; Epcot later in the day with dinner at World Showcase, followed by IllumiNations. Day 2 —a day at Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, or DisneyQuest. Day 3 —Kids head to the hotel's kids' program; Mom and Dad rent a car and head to Winter Park or Downtown Orlando. Day 4 —Islands of Adventure, with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter first thing. Day 5 —SeaWorld or Kennedy Space Center.

Other Recommendations: Stay at a Disney or Lake Buena Vista property; skip the Disney or Universal meal plans. Add the Park Hopper option to the one-day Disney ticket, but skip the Water Parks and More option. Consider Universal’s Express Pass.

FAMILIES WITH TEENS—3 Days

Day 1 —a full day at Universal Studios. Day 2 —teens spend time by the pool while Mom and Dad play golf or hit a spa; dinner together followed by an evening—together or apart—at CityWalk. Day 3 —a full day at Islands of Adventure.

Other Recommendations: Take a shuttle or cab to and from the airport, and stay at a Universal property; do the Universal Meal Deal on theme-park days. Consider taking in Blue Man Group on the night out at CityWalk. Buy multiday Universal tickets online in advance to save; invest in Universal’s Express Pass (note, though, that this is free if you stay at a Universal hotel except the new Cabana Bay).

SINGLES, COUPLES, OR GROUPS OF FRIENDS—3 Days

Day 1 —morning at hotel pool or spa, lunch at the hotel, late-afternoon Magic Kingdom highlights and dinner at California Grill with a view of Castle fireworks. Day 2 —take a balloon ride, golf a championship course, swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove or Epcot, or drive NASCAR-style at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Day 3 —full day at Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Universal Studios, or Islands of Adventure with dinner in Orlando or Winter Park.

Other Recommendations: If it's a special occasion, book a car service to and from the airport. Use shuttles or cabs the rest of the time.

Don't bother with park meal plans, but do splurge on a luxury hotel with lots of amenities (on or off theme-park property): Disney's Grand Floridian; Universal's Portofino Bay; Orlando's Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf Astoria, or Gaylord Palms.

Consider buying two-day Magic Your Way Disney tickets and getting Universal’s Express Pass (free if staying at most on-site Universal hotels).

LARGE, MIXED GROUPS—2 to 5 Days

Large, mixed groups have the most flexibility. On any given day, there are bound to be some members heading to a theme park, some going out shopping or to play golf, and some relaxing by the pool or in a spa. Those who want to take in a theme park every day can do so (and will always have someone to go with), and those who don't will always have someone with whom to share the alternatives.

Just be sure to plan get-togethers: a meal or two, an evening (perhaps for a show), an afternoon—if not a full day—maybe at SeaWorld, a water park, or Kennedy Space Center.

Other Recommendations: Use the Magical Express service, opt for some version of the Disney meal plan, and stay on-site. Otherwise choose an all-suites hotel in a location that's convenient, regardless of who's doing what—perhaps a central I-Drive spot.

If group plans involve more than one day of sightseeing—say, one day in Winter Park and another at Kennedy Space Center, or a spring-training baseball game in the Tampa area—rent a van or charter a bus. Otherwise rely on in-park transportation, hotel shuttles, or cabs.

Updated: 2014-08-13

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