We love the USA and you will too!
We visit the USA several times every year so use our experience with our list of the best tips and tricks for a family holiday in Florida.
The parks are full of burger and chips type outlets and fried this and fried that eateries but you don’t have to use them. Some parks are better – Epcot in particular has excellent varied restaurants – but if you look carefully at the park maps you don’t have to eat burgers every day. Check the maps before you go and make time for a nice sit-down at a restaurant, it will give your tired feet a much needed rest too. Surprisingly we find the waiter served restaurants aren’t much – if any – more expensive than the fast food outlets.
Sadly you can’t bring your own food into the parks any more. We used to go to a Subway sandwich shop before hitting one of the parks – no longer. A good tip is to freeze a bottle of still water or juice the night before to give you a cool drink during the day. Note that alcohol and glass bottles aren’t allowed into the parks, though you can buy a beer in some of the parks if you’re desperate. You will need to show ID to buy one, no matter how old you are.
Eating out at a restaurant on the evening is a must-do and you’re spoiled for choice. Use the coupon books you can pick up for free at any tourist trap, attraction or WalMart to save some money off the bill. It’s perfectly normal to ask for a doggie bag if you can’t finish your food and with the portion sizes being on the large side, don’t be afraid of taking it home. You don’t have to order a starter, main, pudding – feel free to ask for whatever you like. Two starters instead of a main course? No problem!
Souvenirs, especially in Disney parks can be relatively expensive. Try and hold off until you visit one of the many gift shops or the official Disney outlet store, or even WalMart. You’ll find the same gifts *much* cheaper outside of the Mouse’s park.
Wet rides are very popular – our favourite is Bluto’s Bilge Rat Rapids – and you will get soaking wet. You can try wearing a poncho and taking them into the park is a good idea. Buy them at the supermarket for a couple of dollars, not in the parks. Same for those water bottles with the little fans on top, much cheaper at WalMart or Dollar Tree.
Plan your day – queues for some rides can be hours long, avoid them by using the park’s free fastpass system. Make sure you have quarters available for lockers as in some parks you have to pay to store bags in lockers while you’re on the roller coasters. You can get two backpacks into one locker easily enough.
You’ll have your hire car of course and driving in the USA is easy with wide roads and generous sized parking bays. Don’t speed and you’ll be fine. There are a couple of toll booths on the way from the airport to the villa so make sure you’ve got some change or dollar bills ready. Unless you’re driving to Nasa it’s unlikely you’ll need any toll money going to and from the parks.
If you don’t want to drive then book a taxi. They’re much cheaper than back in the UK and you’ll find telephone numbers for local, reliable firms in the villa. We’ve never had a problem with any taxi firm and we use them a lot, especially for going out to a restaurant in the evening.
Money, tipping and coupons
Make sure you’ve got some cash dollars before you go, we usually keep about $100 cash in the wallet, handy for tipping and paying for little things. UK credit and debit cards are pertty much universally accepted though you may have to show your passport as ID. Check with your bank or card issuer and tell them the dates when you will be away or they might block your card.
Travellers cheques still exist but I wouldn’t bother with them these days, just take pre-paid credit cards if you’re not comfortable with cash.
Tipping is normal and makes up an important part of the wage for the server. So, how much to tip?
Restaurant – tip your server between 10% for a mediocre service and 20% for an excellent service. If something is wrong with your food, immediately tell the server, they will fall over themselves to put it right – don’t be embarrassed, you’re not in the UK …
Taxi – about 10 to 15% of the fare
Fast food delivery to the villa – between 10 and 20 dollars, depending on the order value
Bag packers at the supermarket – Nothing! You’ll see notices stating NOT to tip them, it’s part of the supermarket service.
Tour guides – If the guide is informative and entertaining (usually they are) between 5 and 10 dollars each. That’s for tours outside of the parks, e.g. Airboat rides, Segways etc. Don’t tip if you’re inside a theme park.
Bag handlers at the airport – couple of dollars per case or just wheel them yourselves with a polite “we’re fine, thanks”. Beware, if an airport worker offers to help with cases to or from your car they will expect a tip!
Coupons – we love coupons! Everywhere you go you will see books of coupons offering discounts on every attraction and restaurant imagineable. Use them! The advertisers have paid to put the coupons in your hands and they love it when they get used. Only in America will you see a coupon for a free Entree at a restaurant next to one offering $20 off machine gun rental…
The villa has free Wi-Fi so do your uploading when you get back. Contact your mobile provider and check to see what your call costs and data costs will be in America, you’ll be very surprised at how expensive data can be. To avoid being stung, turn off data roaming and don’t make calls unless you have to. There’s a telephone in the villa which is free for calls inside the USA so use it if you’re ordering a taxi or pizza!