Orlando, Florida, a popular tourist destination known for its thrilling theme parks and beautiful weather, contains a wide range of entertainment options. Like any other travel hotspot, however, there are certain mistakes that tourists often make when visiting Orlando. To help you make the most of your trip and avoid common pitfalls, we’ve gathered insights from a local resident. In this article, we’ll uncover the 13 mistakes tourists make when visiting Orlando, providing you with valuable tips and advice for an unforgettable experience.
1. Overlooking The Attractions Beyond Theme Parks
One of the biggest mistakes tourists make in Orlando is solely focusing on the renowned theme parks, such as Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Orlando Resort. While these attractions are undoubtedly must-visit destinations, Orlando offers much more than just roller coasters and character meet-and-greets. Take the time to explore other attractions like Gatorland, the Kennedy Space Center, ICON Park, beautiful nature parks, world-class golf courses, and vibrant cultural districts. Embrace the diversity that Orlando has to offer beyond its iconic theme parks.
2. Overpacking For Theme Park Visits
When visiting the theme parks in Orlando, it’s easy to get carried away with packing unnecessary items. Carrying heavy backpacks or oversized bags can be burdensome throughout the day, hindering your mobility and enjoyment. Pack only the essentials, such as sunscreen, a water bottle, snacks, and a small bag for personal items. Most parks have amenities, water bottle refill stations, and shops where you can purchase anything you may have forgotten.
Remember that security screening remains in place for all theme parks and most hotels within the theme park transportation system. Increasing the amount you carry (especially in heavy backpacks) can virtually guarantee additional time at screening checkpoints rather than entering the parks promptly.
Pro Tip: Hold your bag away from you as you cross through the screening devices. This allows security to determine more accurately what’s inside and reduces your risk of being pulled aside.
3. Underestimating The Size Of Orlando
Orlando is a sprawling city, and many tourists underestimate its size and the time required to get around. To avoid unnecessary stress and delays, plan your itinerary accordingly and allow for ample travel time between attractions. Be aware of rush hour traffic if you’re renting a car or consider utilizing public transportation options. Additionally, choosing accommodations strategically, based on proximity to the attractions you plan to visit, can save you valuable time and energy.
4. Underestimating Travel Times Between Attractions
A corollary to mistake #3, many tourists don’t realize it can take an hour to get from the airport to their hotel near the theme parks or just to cross town, underestimating the travel time between attractions. The distance between parks or popular destinations can be significant, especially during peak traffic hours. For example, I live 13 miles south of Universal Studios Florida via Interstate 4 and cannot reach the park in less than half an hour but more typically 45 minutes. If it were a “typical” highway, I’d expect to reach the parks in 15–20 minutes.
Allow for extra time in your itinerary to account for transportation and avoid feeling rushed or missing out on experiences.
Using the toll roads, especially in the most congested areas, remains one of the greatest time savers. The development of roads around swamps and farms make the highway system confusing to many. Some consider the highway system under-developed if not antiquated but there is always construction in progress in attempt to solve this issue.
5. Disregarding Parking Challenges
Tourists often underestimate the time it takes to find parking, or the cost associated with it. Many tourists arrive surprised that the parking charges at Disney and Universal theme parks are approximately $30 a day. Consider utilizing alternative transportation options, such as rideshares or hotel shuttle services, to avoid the hassle of parking. If you do drive, familiarize yourself with parking options and plan accordingly to avoid unnecessary stress.
Pro Tip: Gatorland’s parking is free.
6. Neglecting To Explore Beyond The Main Tourist Areas
While the main tourist areas in Orlando are undoubtedly appealing, many tourists miss out on exploring the city’s unique neighborhoods and local gems. Venture beyond the typical tourist spots and discover charming districts like Lake Nona, Lake Eola, Thornton Park, Baldwin Park, or the Central Business District with its wealth of restaurants and entertainment. Or visit lovely nearby communities like Winter Park, Winter Garden, and Celebration where you’ll find boutique shops, art galleries, and local eateries. Exploring these areas provides a more authentic glimpse into Orlando’s local culture.
7. Neglecting To Plan And Book Ahead
Orlando’s popularity means that many attractions and experiences require advance planning and booking. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you can simply show up and gain immediate access to everything. Plan your itinerary in advance, including dining reservations, express passes for theme parks, and tickets for shows or special events. This preparation will ensure you don’t miss out on the experiences you’re most excited about.
For example, when you plan to visit the Walt Disney World Resort, you’ll want to clarify if theme park reservations are required and book those parks most important to you if they are. Magic Kingdom tends to fill the fastest. There are so many other things to do outside the parks, though, you’ll want to be sure to book (via the Disney App) the Hoop De Doo Revue Dinner Show at Fort Wilderness, horseback riding at Fort Wilderness, Amorette’s Patisserie Cake Decorating Experience at Disney Springs, or the amazing child-friendly show Drawn to Life presented by Cirque du Soleil and Disney at Disney Springs.
8. Overlooking The Off-Peak Seasons
Orlando experiences peak tourism seasons, especially during school breaks and holidays. Tourists often make the mistake of visiting during these periods when the parks are crowded and the lines are longer. Consider visiting during off-peak seasons to enjoy shorter lines and a more relaxed atmosphere. Keep in mind that weather conditions and park schedules may vary during these times, so plan accordingly.
9. Skipping Outdoor Essentials
Orlando’s warm climate is one of its major attractions, but tourists sometimes underestimate the intensity of the Sun and the need for proper protection. Many visitors forget to bring sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses, which can lead to discomfort and sunburn. Be sure to pack these essentials or purchase them at one of the many nearby stores and stay hydrated throughout the day. Protecting yourself from the Sun will ensure you can fully enjoy all the outdoor activities that Orlando has to offer.
10. Missing Out On Local Dining Experiences
While it may be tempting to rely solely on familiar chain restaurants and fast-food options near the attractions, Orlando boasts a diverse culinary scene with unique local eateries. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the city’s dining hotspots, where you can indulge in delicious seafood, international cuisine, and authentic southern flavors. Research local recommendations and ask residents for their favorite spots to experience Orlando’s gastronomic delights. Check out Ole Red or Tapa Toro at ICON Park or Amare at the Walt Disney World Resort Swan Reserve for excellent cuisine. The Michelin-starred restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, Capa, and the downtown Orlando Kres Steakhouse on Church Street vie for most locals’ favorite place to eat steak in Orlando.
11. Ignoring Local Weather Conditions
Orlando’s weather can be unpredictable, even during the seemingly endless sunshine. Tourists often overlook checking the local weather forecast and end up unprepared for sudden rain showers or temperature fluctuations. Always check the weather before heading out and pack a light rain jacket or umbrella to ensure you’re ready for any weather changes.
12. Failing To Take Breaks And Pace Yourself
With so many attractions and activities to experience, tourists often make the mistake of trying to do too much in a short period. It’s important to take breaks, rest, and pace yourself to avoid exhaustion and burnout — especially for the kiddos. Plan leisurely breaks throughout the day to recharge and enjoy the surroundings. This will ensure you have enough energy to fully appreciate each experience.
13. Overlooking Safety And Security Measurements
As a popular tourist destination, Orlando is no exception to the need for basic safety precautions. Tourists sometimes overlook important safety measures such as securing their belongings, staying aware of their surroundings, and following park rules and guidelines. Stay vigilant and keep your valuables secure to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
Orlando offers a myriad of attractions, experiences, and hidden gems beyond its famous theme parks. By avoiding common mistakes made by tourists, such as overlooking alternative attractions, underestimating the city’s size, and neglecting to plan and book ahead, you can make the most of your trip. By following the tips provided by a local, you’ll ensure a memorable and well-rounded experience in the enchanting city of Orlando.