Mardi Gras isn't for everyone. Between the crowds, the noise, and the parking problems, some folks like to pack up the car and get out of Dodge. When it comes to top family vacation spots that are within driving distance, local New Orleanians are out of luck.
By being on the Gulf Coast, we are quite a distance away from the action on the East Coast and even more so, the West Coast. Sure, Houston is five hours away, but is a trip there really a vacation?
Luckily, New Orleans is geographically close to the Sunshine State. And while locals regularly enjoy the sand in Pensacola and Destin, just another six-hour drive from those beaches is the city of Orlando.
Whether you love Mickey Mouse or despise him, Orlando is the best family vacation spot within driving distance. Orlando is known for having the best amusement parks in the country, especially Disney World and Universal Studios.
With all the commotion of running around the parks, staying at a comfortable hotel is extremely important. Luckily, Orlando has many hotel spots to choose from…including plenty of AirBnB options.
In addition to your budget and how many beds you need, choose a location that is convenient to the park where you plan on spending the most time. If that is going to be Disney, then consider a Disney property. Another option is a property that is close to Disney, though not an official Disney-owned property.
The Waldorf Astoria Orlando is a great option with a convenient location just minutes from Disney. A part of the Hilton family, the Waldorf Astoria Orlando has similar amenities to the Waldorf Astoria in New Orleans, the Roosevelt Hotel. Other features at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando include a top-notch golf course, a fantastic spa, and shuttle service to the Disney parks.
Disney World has four main parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Disney's Hollywood Studios. There are also two water parks that are great to visit on a hot summer day. Depending on the age and interest of your family should help you determine which parks to visit.
Magic Kingdom is best for smaller children and those young at heart, as it's the land of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Winnie the Pooh. Epcot has something for everyone, but is especially good for the pre-teen crowd. Lions, tigers, and bears can be found at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Star Wars rules the land of Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Depending on which Disney park is for you, a multi-park pass may be the most affordable option. This will also depend on how long your visit in Orlando will be; each one of Disney's parks needs a full day to be experienced. The Disney "Fast Pass" may be worth the extra money, but an insider's trick is to use the "Singles" line when possible; there's a chance that you may not sit next to those in your party, but it can save you many hours from waiting in line.
Perhaps the most exciting park in Orlando is Universal Studios … mainly for its Harry Potter attractions. Universal Studios is a better fit for teens and grown-ups; it's made up of two parks: Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Universal was smart to put their top Harry Potter rides and shows across each of the two parks, leaving one little choice but to buy admission into each. "Diagon Alley" is in Universal Studios Florida, while "Hogsmeade" is in Universal's Volcano Bay.
A train called "The Hogwarts Express," which offers its own Harry Potter experience, conveniently takes you back and forth from both parks. "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" is the best ride of the Harry Potter collection. Whatever you do, don't miss the delicious non-alcoholic Butter Beer; the frozen version is best.
Orlando is full of other great parks such as Legoland and SeaWorld. There are other attractions including Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum and the Orlando Eye Ferris Wheel. Whichever park or parks you choose, Orlando is a great spot for escaping the Mardi Gras madness.