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Possible Florida Vacation- Summer 2014

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Hello! My family recently decided that we may take a vacation this summer. Originally the idea was to go to Myrtle Beach or something of that sort, but have decided on Florida if we go. Current thinking is August :/ I'm personally wanting to go to SeaWorld, one of the Universal parks, probably Disney for a day or two, possibly Busch Gardens, and the beach. There would be four or five adults, a 17 year old, and a 4 year old. We will be driving down, and it'd be a six or seven day trip.

Where would you recommend staying? Rent a house? Or an onsite hotel? Just a random hotel? I've been to Florida once (six or seven years ago) and we stayed in one of the value hotels on Disney property. Any useful information about places to stay, cheaper ticket buying/package options, things to do, trip planning, etc would be greatly appreciated!

Edit: Have any of you been to Discovery Cove? How was that experience? Also, would anyone recommend a Myrtle Beach sort of vacation over Florida?

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This is pure bias, but I highly recommend staying at the Hilton Bonnet Creek. It is by far my favorite (and my family's) hotel we've stayed at. It has a GIANT pool with a lazy river and a water side, along with a nice poolside bar and restaurant. It has a ton of fun activities during the summer. Plus, it's on location in Disney, with Hollywood Studios and EPCOT in view; if you get a fireworks room, you can see the fireworks perfectly from your window. It also offers shuttle service to all Disney parks and I believe Sea World.

Seriously, it's amazing!

http://www.hiltonbonnetcreek.com/

We weren't planning on another trip in 2012, but we ended up going in 2013 as well. 10/10.

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Edit: Have any of you been to Discovery Cove? How was that experience?

Yes! Discovery Cove is a very cool experience that is well worth the money. The dolphin interaction is amazing, but it's only part of the experience. From the moment you arrive, you truly feel as if you are on a tropical island; there is no sign of any kind that you are in Orlando, Florida. The lazy river varies from three to eight feet deep and requires you to swim through it (life jackets are available for those who cannot swim), and has some cool underwater photo ops. You can also experience swimming in a saltwater pool with stingrays and ocean fish (for which I HIGHLY recommend bringing a good waterproof camera), or just relax on one of several beaches. All food and beverages are included in the price of admission, even alcohol if the adults in your party are interested in that. I cannot recommend Discovery Cove enough. Do it; you'll be glad you did.

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Also, on your way down, be sure to stop and "See Rock City" (as numerous barn roofs and billboards will tell you). It's a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the visit.

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Wow that sounds like a great trip. I actually went down to Orlando (all Disney and both Universal parks) and then Daytona Beach for Spring Break this year. We spent 2 days and hit all of Disney and one day to hit both Universal parks. We stayed at the Ramada Kissimmee Gateway in Orlando. Definitely not the Ritz, but it wasn't gross or anything and was cheap and within 10 minutes to Disney. Not much further to Universal. We were pretty strict about staying at each park from open to close so we made good time. Universal was easy to hit within one day but it was slightly rainy so you might run into a situation where you need 2 days there. I'd suggest the park hopper ticket option for all parks as it lets you easily do whatever you want when you want.

While in Orlando be sure to check out International Drive. Pretty much a tourist hotspot with a bunch of restaurants, a comedy club and more. It's huge.

Have a great time though, I was with my college-age friends and we still had a blast. (Epcot has beer in each country set up, we did a "tour" :))

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DISCOVERY COVE

Discovery Cove is fantastic. If you're on a budget, I'd even recommend doing it without the "dolphin interaction" portion. It adds about $100 per person onto the ticket price, and while it's a really unique experience, it lasts only about 10 minutes and certainly isn't the frolicking in the water with dolphins you'd imagine it as. It's fantastic to interact with them, but if you'd rather save the hundreds, you'll still have a great day.

The good news is that a day at Discovery Cove also comes with two weeks of access to SeaWorld OR Busch Gardens, including the free shuttle to Busch Gardens from SeaWorld's parking lot. For a slight up-charge, your Discovery Cove pass is good for two weeks at SeaWorld AND Busch Gardens.

HOTELS / TRANSPORTATION

As for where to stay, base that on the focus of your trip. Consider this: the International Drive area (along which SeaWorld, the Busch Gardens shuttle, Discovery Cove, and Universal Orlando are located) has countless familiar hotels that are all reasonably priced. The entire area is also connected by the I-Ride Trolley. So if you select a hotel along International Drive, you'll have quick access to the parks, restaurants, and attractions there, and 95% of those hotels offer a free shuttle to Epcot (from which you can obviously reach the rest of Disney's parks). You will, though, need to book a Super Shuttle or other shuttle service to get you from Orlando International Airport to your hotel.

Recognize that the opposite is not true - Disney does not offer any kind of shuttle to the International Drive area, Universal, SeaWorld, or Busch Gardens. You will need to get a taxi if you plan to stay on Disney property and visit Universal. Disney's whole schtick is to get their visitors to stay at long as possible. So, Disney DOES have free transportation provided via the Disney Express from Orlando Airport to your resort if you're staying on-property.

EDIT: I forgot in this section that you're driving down. Still may be worth noting, though, since parking is nearing $20 at those theme parks, so saving $20 a day for a week will add up if your hotel provides a shuttle... Something to think about!

WHAT TO SEE

It's so hard to narrow a trip to central Florida to a few key attractions. Obviously Disney World has four parks. All have tremendous strengths and each park has at least two "must-see" attractions, so it's incredibly difficult to eliminate one or more. If you want to see Test Track, you can't skip Epcot; you can't skip Animal Kingdom if you want to ride Everest; you can't skip Disney's Hollywood Studios if you want to ride Tower of Terror. Unless you want to pack the trip to the gills and be at one park each day, you'll need to eliminate some or Park Hop, which is obviously not ideal for first-timers or if you haven't been in a long time. It's just a trade off.

I cannot recommend Universal Orlando enough. Its two theme parks are incredible, aggressively expanding, perpetually updated with the most recent technology, and just a whole lot of fun. I'd say that easily, those two parks contain as many "E-tickets" as Disney World's four added together. Particularly Islands of Adventure is every bit as detailed and incredible as Disney's best, and includes thrilling coasters to boot. Each of those parks deserves a day and a half at least, but if you can only commit to one day at Universal, at least do the Park-to-Park ticket option, and do yourself the favor of buying Universal Express Pass Plus. Hop right to the front of Dueling Dragons, Poseidon's Fury, Spider-Man, Hulk, Jurassic Park, Revenge of the Mummy, Men In Black: Alien Attack, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Transformers... There's just so much to see and do.

As of now, even their front-of-the-line pass does not work on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Doubtlessly, it won't work on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts when that opens this summer. However, they're BOTH can't miss, and they're in two separate parks. You probably know that the easiest way to travel between them is the Hogwarts Express which connects the two parks, can only be accessed with a Park-to-Park ticket, and is said to be an E-ticket itself.

Something worth considering: Universal Orlando has four on-site hotels. One is "moderately" priced. The other three would fall between Disney's categories of "moderate" and "deluxe" in terms of pricing. They can be expensive. However, your room key acts as unlimited front-of-the-line pass (the paid-for version open to everyone else allows only one skip on each attraction) AND visitors to the hotel get in to the Wizarding World an hour before everyone else. It's pricey, but if Universal is a focus of your trip, it may be worth it. Even for a night or two...

NOTE: When I go to Central Florida, it's for Universal Orlando. I might take a day or two at Disney World, but Universal, to me, is exceptional.

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Great advice, GYK. However, I need to make a couple of corrections to this paragraph:

Something worth considering: Universal Orlando has four on-site hotels. One is "moderately" priced. The other three would fall between Disney's categories of "moderate" and "deluxe" in terms of pricing. They can be expensive. However, your room key acts as unlimited front-of-the-line pass (the paid-for version open to everyone else allows only one skip on each attraction) AND visitors to the hotel get in to the Wizarding World an hour before everyone else. It's pricey, but if Universal is a focus of your trip, it may be worth it. Even for a night or two...

First, the cheapest of the on-site hotels (the one you called "moderately priced") does NOT include any front-of-the-line pass. Only the three expensive ones include that.

Second, the unlimited pass IS available for purchase by the public at the parks, or at least it was when I was there at the end of August 2012. I know this because I inquired at Guest Services about upgrading the one-time-per-attraction pass that I purchased online to the unlimited version (I ended up not needing it because both parks were dead both days). However, at my last check, the unlimited pass was not available online, so you may have to purchase it in person at the park.

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Ah, yes, true! Silly of me for forgetting to mention - that's why I made the distinction to begin with, just forgot to follow through! Thanks!

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Edit: Have any of you been to Discovery Cove? How was that experience?

Yes! Discovery Cove is a very cool experience that is well worth the money. The dolphin interaction is amazing, but it's only part of the experience. From the moment you arrive, you truly feel as if you are on a tropical island; there is no sign of any kind that you are in Orlando, Florida. The lazy river varies from three to eight feet deep and requires you to swim through it (life jackets are available for those who cannot swim), and has some cool underwater photo ops. You can also experience swimming in a saltwater pool with stingrays and ocean fish (for which I HIGHLY recommend bringing a good waterproof camera), or just relax on one of several beaches. All food and beverages are included in the price of admission, even alcohol if the adults in your party are interested in that. I cannot recommend Discovery Cove enough. Do it; you'll be glad you did.

I have to agree with jcgoble3 100%! The single best day I've spent in any park (and I've spent a LOT of days in parks over the years) was at Discovery Cove! (Even though hand feeding the rays creeped me out a little :-))

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Anyone in your family current/former Military?

For our trip next week (Orlando) our resort stay is 8 days for $370 thanks to Veteran's Holiday.

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^^No, we don't have anyone in my family that is/was a part of the military. My grandpa is a vet but passed away a couple years ago.

Thanks for the info everyone, especially GYK. Y'all are really fantastic and knowledgable and helpful!! :)

Now...does anyone have any suggestions for a beach to visit/coastal area to visit stay at? There's still the possibility that this will end up being a vacation to the beach, with a park or two thrown in. I've always heard the Gulf Coast is the side of the state to visit. True? Suggestions for other things to see/do while in Florida but outside of Orlando?

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The gulf coast does have the best beaches, but you should check out Melbourne Beach. That's where my grandparents live, and I can tell you firsthand it's beautiful - and only an hour away. Plus you could possibly check out Kennedy Space Center which is right there as well.

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Tampa Bay! And Busch Gardens Tampa!

The BEST park in Florida, in my humble opinion...and the best Busch Gardens. Sanibel is pretty special, too.

Then there's the Space Center at Cape Kennedy.

And at least one member here adores Miami.

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We are spending a week in Orlando. We are making a trip to Busch Gardens and Legoland as well as a day at the beach. Rest of the time will be spent relaxing in Orlando.

Only thing is that park hours are rather short this time of year.

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I'd loveeee to visit Busch Gardens Tampa!

Last time we were in Florida (the only time, actually, in spring 2008) a space shuttle was coming back from space and we were at Cocoa Beach. Unfortunately the weather in Florida was pretty bad and the shuttle had to land elsewhere :(

If we don't end up doing a ton in Orlando, the next best thing would be to stay in a beach house and wake up and see dolphins in the ocean <3 B) I'm so fascinated by those animals.

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Busch Gardens tickets are $65 a piece right now. If the wife would have waited we could have saved $119.

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All great advice. Only one thought to add. Focus your place of stay closest to your main area of visitation. i.e. Universal / I-Drive, Disney World Area or the Gulf Coast. Orlando traffic can be a nightmare and if you are spending a lot of time in the car chances are you will hit traffic at some point. After many trips to the Orlando area, most of which I have driven down I hate spending every day in the car. This is the main reason we pick a resort that offers transportation to the parks we want to hit and honestly at this point we like to at a resort property either Disney or Universal.

Non resort properties I would recommend that I have stayed at:

Marriott's Grande Vista - Awesome Vacation Club and themed pools, great location also

Bonnet Creek - Great resort and location

All Star Vacation Homes - Numerous homes with private pools to rent - great for large families or multiple families

I am not a fan of I-Drive standard chain hotels. From my experience they are typically a bit run down, worn out and nothing to write home about. This is to be expected seeing as I-Drive gets a lot of the tourists that flock to the area and the room turn over is outrageous. Just a warning from my experience. I would rather stay at one of the places above or even better a resort property like Disney's Coronado Springs or Universals Royal Pacific.

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If you're looking for a Marriott, I would also highly recommend the Marriott Orlando World Center..it is a HUGE property, but very nice, with great pools for the kids, located on World Drive (SR 536) and a very short 5-10 drive to all the Disney parks.

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Huge thank you to everyone who has provided great information! I really do appreciate it.

Now my sister has changed up our plans. Instead of Florida, we wants to head to Virginia Beach around August 4th. I like the change...kinda. I didn't want to go to Florida in August. Too hot for me to really enjoy myself. But at the same time, I still won't get to go to Florida :(

Does anyone here have any helpful info about the Virginia Beach area like where to stay, what to do or see, what to eat, or what's within a reasonable drive?

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I spent 4 years in Va Beach in the mid 90's. I have been wanting to move back ever since. I have been told that the area has changed quite a lot since then.

One nice thing in Va Beach is of course the Beach. Be sure and check out the old lighthouse on Ft. Story.

You won't be too far from Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens.

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I would rather go to Florida than VA Beach in August. Both are incredibly Hot! Also may I recommend staying in Williamsburg rather than VA Beach. Marriott Vacation Club Fords Colony is amazing as is Williamsburg.

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I Recommend Country Inn and Sweets nice rooms at great prices and is only about 12-15 mins away from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Sent from my iPhone using... You get the point

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Crown Plaza near Busch Gardens Williamsburg is practically in the parking lot of the park. You can often get fantastic deals on Hotels.com for better motels. It just depends on if you are including weekends and weekend rates (usually higher rates at that time).

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Hi guys, again, thank you to everyone who had some input! :)

I will be working at a camp in Virginia until the end of July, and when my assignment is up, I figured I'd make the 3-4 hour drive to the Baltimore and/or DC area. For those who have been...if you had an afternoon/evening and the next day in those areas (for the first time), what would spend your time doing? Other option is to head to Busch Gardens Williamsburg

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There's so much to see and do here. Much depends on your interests.

The question is so open-ended, it's almost like asking if there's much to do in Ohio. . .

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Honestly, if it's your first time go to Jamestown. Skip colonial Williamsburg (tourist trap). You will always have an opportunity to ride rides but how often will you get the chance to see one of the first settlements? Or the place where Pocahontas was maried? The Yorktown site is pretty cool as well. The siege of Yorktown was the last (?) battle of the Revolution.

If you make a trip down to Virginia Beach, visit Fort Monroe. Over 100 years old and you can see the prison cell of Jefferson Davis. If you can get on a tour boat that will take you near the naval base for colors, where all the ships will lower their flags at the same time ( I had a retiree escort so I got to stand on a dock on base).

But I have never been to Baltimore or DC but I'm guessing they have as much if not more.

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In DC, most museums are free and I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to see the Air and Space Museum, which is terrific. They have one of the retired shuttles on display, though I believe it's an upcharge. Terpy lives out that way so he could say for certain. If you want to go to a pay museum, the spy museum downtown is a lot of fun and packs a good punch for the money. A side trip to Monticello or Mt. Vernon is worth it as well, since the grounds are gorgeous as are the homes.

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