Orlando at Christmas

In 2016, my husband (Sean) and I wanted to go on holiday to Orlando but because Sean worked at a school, we could only go on holiday when the kids were on school holidays. We went to Thomson Holidays (now Tui) for some inspiration and get some quotes but instead came away with a Christmas holiday to Orlando.

Neither of us had been away for Christmas before, we’d always spent it with either my family or Sean’s family so we knew it was going to be strange. We both like Christmas but we aren’t over the top or super excited, we just like getting to spend time with family and seeing the kids open their presents.

We flew out 6 days before Christmas day and came home on New Years day so we were technically away for the main week of Christmas.

Although there were decorations and festive music playing, it didn’t feel like Christmas. I honestly thought it was going to be over the top like you see in the movies but even people that lived and worked in Orlando didn’t seem too bothered by it being Christmas. I think that the fact that I’m used to Christmas being cold and being in Orlando where is was very hot made it feel even more strange. It didn’t help that all the shops, restaurants, theme parks and transport are still open and working as normal.

Christmas day we opened the presents that we had taken with us from family, we went down to breakfast and used Facebook messenger to make videos calls to our families while sat by the pool in the blistering heat. There was another family from the UK staying at the hotel and the parents were setting out piles of presents around the pool for the children to open when they came down. I wish I’d thought of it when we were opening ours in the room but I think it would have made it even more weird than it already was. Once we’d spoken to everyone, we got on the iTrolley and went shopping. We did a bit of souvenir shopping, had Burger King for our lunch, looked in more shops and then got the iTrolley back to the hotel. If that didn’t feel strange enough for Christmas Day, we got dresses up and went to an Italian all-you-can-eat restaurant for dinner. We both said it didn’t feel like Christmas day in any way. We should have been tucking into turkey, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy. Instead we were tucking into pizza, pasta and chips. When we got back to the hotel, we stayed up to watch the Christmas Day Doctor Who special which was on BBC American, that was the only part that was normal to us lol.

Boxing Day was another day that didn’t feel like it normally would. We went to have lunch in an English themed pub called The Pub and then went to the water park Wet N Wild. It was our second visit to Wet N Wild on our holiday, they were closing on New Year and we had a 2 week unlimited visits pass so wanted to make the most of it. If we were in the UK we would be round Sean’s mum’s house listening to music and eating the lovely big buffet she’d prepared for us all.

Most of the shops took their Christmas decorations down on or the day after Boxing Day so any feeling of Christmas soon disappeared.

On New Years Eve, we went to Universal during the day and went round Islands Of Adventure. We were in the front of the queue for one of the rides and got talking to the lady running it. We said to her that we found it strange that everything is open all the time over here and that in England, nothing would have been open on Christmas day. She said she didn’t like having to work over Christmas and that they should all have the day off. I do agree, everyone should be allowed to be with their families at Christmas Day but Orlando’s biggest income comes from tourists which is why everything is open. If they aren’t open, they aren’t making money. I’m thinking that it’s not a secret to potental employees that they are open all year round so it should be expected.

We spent the rest of the day going on rides before going to Hard Rock Cafe for a few cocktails and then going back to the hotel.

New Years Eve night was brilliant, we hadn’t gone out for New Year in years. We normally stay at home, watch the fireworks at midnight and then go to bed or had some friends round to play video games on one of the consoles. This night, we headed over to the Wirly Dome that was opposite our hotel for a few drinks to get us started and then move on to somewhere else but ended up staying there the whole night. There wasn’t many people there so we got talking to the bar man who was called Sam and had a great time. We did get rather drunk which is why it’s a good thing we were only staying over the road.

We didn’t take part in a game of Whirly Ball but did watch a few as we were quite intrigued by it. For those who don’t know what Wirly Ball is, it’s a mash up of dodgems, le cross and basketball. Here’s a link.

I still don’t feel like we had a Christmas that year, it feels like we slept through it or it didn’t really happen. Orlando was amazing though and I can’t wait to go again, I’m going going to make sure it’s at a different time of the year.

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Posted on Categories Florida

Money saving tips when going on holiday in Orlando

Going to Orlando is an amazing holiday, but it can also be very expensive, here are a few tips to help especially if you are staying on International Drive.

Vouchers

Everywhere you go on International Drive, you will be given leaflets and books of vouchers with money off deals for restaurants, attractions and activities. They are in hotel receptions, on the iTrolly, there are people walking around giving them out. You will soon find out that a lot of the voucher books have the same offers in them but differs by one or two deals. The restaurant deals could be children eating for free, free drinks, 2 eating for the price of 1, one of your courses is free, money off the whole bill or money off.

All-you-can-eat restuarants

You will find these dotted around and are brilliant to make sure everyone eats their fill. There is a great one that we went to for breakfast called Black Angus Steakhouse. They do an all-you-eat breakfast for $4.99 if you pick up a leaflet and there is loads of food to choose from so we would fill up on breakfast and not worry too much about eating again until the evening. We went to a great one called Ichiban Buffet that had so much food to offer that it would take us 10 minutes just to walk around to see what we fancied eating.

Book online and in advance

I love doing this as it means that I don’t have to worry about paying for attractions while I’m on holiday as it is all done in advance. You can get some really great deals on the attraction websites for booking in advance like early bird tickets and group tickets. A brilliant website that we used for our trip to Miami was Orlando Ticket Deals, I honestly can not recommend them enough. For £341 we got transportation which was a minibus that had WiFi, air-con and comfy seat. Overnight stay in hotel a block away from the beach and everglade fan boat ride for both of us. This also included swimming with dolphins but I did that on my own, my husband was with me but stood at the side. We were picked up early Wednesday morning, on the way to Miami we had our everglade boat ride which also included a zoo were we got to hold baby alligators. When we got to Miami, we were dropped off at the Bayside Marketplace for a few hours to do some shopping before being picked up again to be taken to the hotel and we could do what we wanted for the evening. Early on Thursday morning we got picked up to go to Key Largo for the dolphin swim, which was AMAZING!! Something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child. We then went back to Miami for a few hours before being picked up again and taken back to Orlando. We definitely got a good deal.

Supermarkets

We went to Walmart and Walgreens during our stay and saved a fortune as we were lucky enough to have a hotel room with a fridge, microwave and kettle. We bulk bought bottles of water, snacks, microwave meals, noodle pots and sandwich bits. We got a pack of 24 bottles of water for $4 from Walmart which was more than enough for the both of us, we saw the same bottles in a shop being sold indevidually for $1.50 so technically we saved $32 just on bottles of water. You can get packs of cereal bars very cheap which is great if you have kids. We got boxes of cereal for $1 and $2, big cartons of milk are quite cheap as well so breakfast was sorted. The noodle pots ranged from 50 cents to $1 depending on the size of the noodle pot as some of them could be quite big. To get a few loafs of bread, ham, cheese and some mayo only came to about $6 so we could make our own sandwiches for lunches to take out with us for a few days to save some more money.

Hotel Supermarkets

Although they are great for convenience, they can also be quite expensive. This is why it’s best to go to a proper supermarket to buy food and only go into the hotel supermarket for anything that is desperately needed.

You don’t have to eat out every night

If you are out all day at a theme park and don’t get back to your hotel until late, you aren’t always going to feel like going out for something to eat so microwave meals and noodle pots will be a god send.

Souvenir shops

Before buying any souvenirs at the theme parks, go to one of the many souvenir shops that you will find along International Drive. We got a lot of souvenirs for a fraction of the price in one of the shops compared to what we would have paid in the theme park. I got an official Disney 2016 baseball for $4 compared to $15 in the park. I also got a lot of Harry Potter key-rings and toys for a few dollars compared to $10 and upwards if I had got them at the park. They also do a lot of official t-shirts so everything is covered.

Outlet centers

Unlike malls, the outlet centers are where the big shops send their out of season or over ordered stock to be sold in sales. You will find a store for all the big shops like Nike, Reebok, Calvin Klein and loads more but everything is at a discount. I went to the Conserve shop and for any pair on Converses I brought, I could get a second pair with 45% off. If you sign up to their mailing list on their website, you can also get money off vouchers.

I hope my little tips help you, keep an eye out for more blog posts

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A day in Miami

As part of our holiday to Orlando, we booked an overnight trip to Miami with Florida Dolphin Tour through Orlando Tickets Deals. For £301 we got transport from Rosen Inn International Hotel on International Drive for the 2 days, entrance to the everglade park where we got to look around the zoo seeing all the animals and then have a fan boat ride around the everglade’s. We were taken to a Florida mall where we could walk around and do some shopping for a few hours. We got an overnight stay in a hotel that was a block away from the beach and got left to our own devices for the rest of the day. The next morning, we got up early to be taken to Key Largo so that I could swim with dolphins. We then got driven back to Miami to have some time walking around and then got driven back to Orlando.

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The stop in the everglades was brilliant, I love animals so seeing alligators up close was an experience. We also got to hold baby alligators after a talk, the mouths were tapped up so there was no chance of getting nipped. There was other animals like snakes, owls, lizards, etc so it was fun seeing those. The boat ride was for about half an hour and the driver was loads of fun telling us about the everglades. He didn’t tell us until we were out on the everglades that the sound of the fan was almost the same sound that a male alligator makes when they are defending their territory. He didn’t tell us this until we had stopped right out in the everglades and saw an alligator checking us out. It came right up my side of the boat, I had decided to sit right on the edge so I could see and I definitely got an eyeful haha.

The Florida Mall was great, loads of shops, bars and restaurants. We had great fun drinking cocktails in different bars, we had dinner and I got my favourite perfume, Paco Rabanne Black Excess for a bargain price even for Miami.

The hotel we stayed in was more like a night club but it was still comfortable and the bar was giving out free drinks for an hour in the evening. It was great how close to the beach the hotel was, it was just a block away from South Beach. We were lucky enough to see the sunset there and it was beautiful.

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The dolphin swim was out of this world. My husband could go with me but he wasn’t doing the dolphin swim so he got to stand at the side and take lots of pictures on my phone for me. There was lots of us there but we were separated into small

groups so we got lots of time on our own with the dolphins. The dolphins did lots of little tricks like jumping over a pole, pushing me across the pool by my feet, dancing and more. I absolutely loved it.

We had a tour guide called Madeline who was amazing, she knew so much, even when we pestered her with questions. She was a complete delight to talk to as well, she as so friendly and chatty. She was also the minibus driver so she was with us the whole time. She was also good at giving us recommendations for restaurants.

The minibus we were in was great, it had comfy seats, aircon, free wifi and a DVD player so they put films on for us to watch. It’s a lot of driving so you will need to make sure that you take a book, download some

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films or just take things to keep you entertained in case you don’t like the films that are shown.

So to recap, that’s transport, everglades stop, Florida mall stop and overnights stay with both of us and a dolphin swim for me, my husband didn’t want to do it. I think that was the most amazing bargain of our whole holiday. £301 for all of that.

 

I would recommend them to anyone and would gladly use them again and again.

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Tips for Universal Studios in Orlando

If you are from the UK, book tickets before you go on your holiday. If you are going through a travel agent then they may be able to help you. We went to Orlando through Thomson and could get our tickets straight from them. We got a 3 park ticket which covered Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Wet n Wild. Wet n Wild closed on New Years Eve 2016 so we got to have a few days where before it closed. the tickets were £157 each so it was a total bargain. There are plenty of sites that offer park tickets so make sure that you shop around before booking any tickets. If you book through a travel agent, they may let you add at the price of attractions or tickets onto the price of your holiday so you don’t have to pay out a lot of money in one go.

It can be very expensive buying food and drinks around the park so take snacks with you, especially if you have kids. There are plenty of places to eat on the way round but they are all on the pricy side.

You have get a litre cup for soft drinks about $14 and you can then fill it up unlimited times throughout the day at the fill up points

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around the parks. There is a chip in the bottom of the cup so you can’t stand at the fill up station filling up empty bottles as the station will only give you enough to fill up the cup which has to be in the machine. You can also keep it if you are going to go back another day as it will be $7 to reactivate it. You take it to any of the restaurants to reactive it and then start using the filling up stations straight away. This will at least save you from taking drinks with you or having to buy lots and lots of bottles of drinks as you walk around. It is a thick plastic cup with a lid and a big straw, I wouldn’t throw it around or hold it upside down though, it does leak.

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To get your moneys worth, get to the park at least an hour before your ticket allows so that you can go through the ticket booth or the gates just before or on time. The park doesn’t close until late most days so if you can brave it, stay there as long as possible. Some of the rides can have waiting times of an hour or more so you will the time to get in the queues.

There are 3 queues for rides, general admission, fast track and single person. If you want to go on a ride but it has a long waiting time and you don’t mind that you may not be sat in the same row as your friends, go into the single person queue as this queue is used for filling up seats on the ride. This queue is usually a lot shorter so not as much waiting time.

If you are the sort of person that likes getting the pictures from the rides, ask at the ticket booth about their picture packages. The best we were offered was £100 for the pictures on all the rides. All you have to do is create an account at My Universal Photos and pick the package that you want. they when you get off the rides, you can show your barcode to the person on the till so that your pictures are saved to your account.

The souvenirs in the parks can be quite expensive, if you want plenty of souvenirs, go to the gift shops on International Drive as they have the same things as the Universal shops but a lot cheaper. I got official Universal t-shirts for $5 to $10 instead of $25 and upwards in the park. I also got a lot of Harry Potter key rings for $4 to $6 each instead of upwards of $10 in the park. Shows how much you can save by shopping around.

I hope these little tips help you on your trip to Universal

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Cocktails At The Hard Rock Cafe In Orlando

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This is my favourite Hard Rock Café that I have been to so far and not just because it’s in Universal Studios haha.

It is very centrally located between the entrances of Universal Studios and Islands Of Adventure so you can’t miss it after you have gone through the main entrance and past all the shops.

You don’t have to eat when you go in, you can sit up at the bar like we did and just have drinks but the food that we saw brought out did look and smell lovely. The bar is

 

in a huge circle near the front doors and has a pink Cadillac rotating above it.

My favourite bartender is Birdie, I absolutely love her, I hope she is still there. There are so many cocktails to choose from that I was finding it hard to pick what to have, a 2 minute conversation with Birdie and she picked out some amazing cocktails for me. She definitely knows what she is doing. All of the staff are great, we spoke to a few and got great tips for getting round the park and things to do.

If you like to get souvenirs, you can get a cocktail and a souvenir glass you can get a really good deal, my glass was only about $10 more with the cocktail. Plus you don’t get the glass you are drinking out of, you get a brand new one in a box from the shop when you leave as you are given a receipt to show the staff.

The cocktails aren’t as expensive as I thought they would be either and they have a lot of alcohol in them so definitely worth the money. My favourite was the Hurricane, it has orange, mango and pineapple juice with Bacardi superior rum, Bacardi black rum, Armaretto and Call Grenadine. I love rum and fruit which is why Birdie picked this one for me and she got it so right, absolutely delicious. Bahama Mama is a really good one too, it has Bacardi superior rum, Malibu coconut, DeKuyper Crème de banana, pineapple and orange juice.

There is some really amazing music memorabilia, I could walk around it all day just looking at the walls.

There’s no time limit to stay there as long as you are still buying drinks and or food, we were in there for about 3 hours drinking cocktails. Could of stayed longer but I was a little bit tipsy from the cocktails and we had plans for the evening.

 

We went to the Universal Studios 3 times over our holiday and we just had to pop in here on each visit. It’s nice just to chill out for a little while, talk to people and have a few drinks.

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Swimming With Dolphins at Dolphin Plus in Key Largo

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There are no words to describe what an amazing morning I had at Dolphins Plus getting to finally swim with dolphins.

Like a lot of people, this was something that I had wanted to do since I was a little kid and was completely over the moon when my husband found the trip with this experience included.

The staff were all amazing, they were completely professional but made sure that everyone was having a great time.

I especially loved the fact that when I looked up Dolphin Plus, it wasn’t like other centres who offered swimming with dolphins. Their dolphins aren’t kept in a tank, they live in a beautiful big natural seawater lagoon that is connected to the ocean. They are involved in lots of marine research, all the staff are highly trained and they really care about their dolphins. They look after their dolphins so well that there is one called Samantha who is 34 years old!! How amazing is that! Check out their website.

We booked this through a tour operator called Orlando Ticket Deals as they provided a hotel, transport and a Everglade fan bat ride in our 2 day trip.

We arrived and went straight through the shop to the back porch where our tour guide went inside to get our wristbands. My husband wasn’t doing the dolphin swim so he got a red wristband while I got a blue one. He was allowed to sit at the side of the lagoon

 

We had a quick talk from the staff explaining what was going to happen during our visit and then we all got changed into our swim gear. We had to have life jackets on, you need to make sure that it is tight on you so that it doesn’t keep popping up like it did for me. I wish I had forced myself into the size smaller now so I didn’t have to keep pulling it back down.

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Then we went down to the very back where there is a pool and the dolphins waiting for you. You are put into little groups and you take it in turns with the dolphins. I was grouped with a little girl and her dad so I went first having 5 minutes, then we swapped so they had a go and then swapped again a few more times. That way we all had lots of time with the dolphins but no one was standing around for a long time.

The dolphins were brilliant, the trainers tell you how to get them to do tricks. I loved superman as I was on the other side of the pool on my front, the dolphins then pushed me by my feet across the pool and looked like superman haha. You also get a kiss from a dolphin, dance with them, they let you rub their bellies and so much more.

They have professional photographers for each little group who take pictures of you throughout your experience. They have lots of different packages starting off from 5 prints for about $20 to all of the pictures on a memory stick for $80.

As I am very big on having photos, I went with the memory stick as there was about 70 pictures and I just couldn’t pick 5 as my favourites. The pictures were absolutely amazing, I love them all.

There are showers and changing rooms so make sure you have towels with you but if you do forget one, they sell them in the shop.

I would highly recommend this place to anyone as I had such a brilliant time.

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My Stay At The Rosen Inn on International Drive

We had such a great stay here, we stayed here for 2 weeks over Christmas and New Year and had no problems at all as the staff were all brilliant, the facilities were all in working order, absolutely nothing to complaint about.

We arrived late in the evening but we were checked in and up to our room in no time.We were the only ones checking in so I think they were waiting for us to make sure that everything was done quickly for us.

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RI pool side

As we are from the UK, the time different was 5 hours behind what we are used to so tried to stay up as late as possible so we were lucky as the bar was still open and doing food. It was nice to have somewhere to eat and chill out for a little while before heading up to bed.

There are 2 parts of the hotel, you have the main building which is the hotel side and then the West Wing that looks like a motel. We were in the main building on the 6th floor with our window facing down International Drive so we were quite high up and had a brilliant view. We saw Volcano Bay being built just across the high way as well.

The room is huge, we didn’t realise it was going to be as big as it was. There was a massive bed, it was so big that I had to do 3 full rolls to get across the bed haha. The bedside tables on both sides of the bed had laps, one had an alarm clock which also had USB points in the top and the other had the safe. There was a round table with 2 chairs, a wardrobe that also kept the ironing board and iron in it and a big side unit that had the TV on top, a microwave, a coffee machine, some drawers and the fridge in it. There is aircon in the room but don’t leave it on too much as it can really dry out the air in the room and there is no way of getting fresh air other than opening the main door as the windows don’t open in the room.

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The bathroom was a nice big size as well with a lovely big bath/shower, toilet, a mirror with a sink under it and a bin

The room and bathroom was cleaned everyday in the early afternoon unless we put the “do not disturb” sign on the door. We put it up every other day as we were hardly in the room so didn’t make a lot of mess and it would of just wasted the house keeping staffs time.

There is a little shop where you can get food, drinks, snacks, merchandise, etc but to be honest, it is a bit on the pricey side. We would only go in there if we couldn’t be bothered to go to the Walgreens that is a 5 minute walk from the hotel.

The swimming pool is great, it’s not very big but to he fair, when we were using in the afternoons, there wasn’t many people in or around the pool so a lot of the time we had it to ourselves. We had one day of the holiday which everyone was saying was a cold day but being from the UK, we were still really hot haha. We were the only ones in the pool for about 2 hours and got some funny looks from people who were walking round in fleece jumpers haha. They even turned on the heating in the pool which basically turned it into a lovely huge warm bath. There is a fence all around the pool and you will need your room key to open the gate to get in. Towels are provided in a storage container next to the fence by the pool so that you don’t bring down your room towels. You don’t need to pay a deposit for the towels either.

There is a little gym but we didn’t use it during our stay, the equipment looked well looked after and clean.

There is a small arcade with a few games in it if you need a little bit of time to waste or just something to do while waiting to go out.

The hotel has a breakfast room which serves all-you-can-eat breakfast of sausages, bacon, eggs, grits, pancakes that you make yourself, cereal, fruit, etc. It’s meant to be about $7 dollars but there was an offer on with a little vouchers so it was only $4 or $5 each. The food was great, plenty to choose from to start you on your way each morning. There are staff that walk around topping up your coffee, we loved them as they would always have a chat and give us good tips on what to do and where to go.

The wifi is free throughout the hotel and no matter where we were, we had great service, even by the pool. You are given a little slip of paper with the password when you check in so that you can connect to the wifi.

They have a launderettes on the 3rd, 5th and 7th floor in the main building and the 2nd floor in the West Wing. You need tokens to use the machines which you can get from the machine in the launderettes or from reception if the machine isn’t working. Make sure you have lots of $1 coins as it works out as $3 for a wash, $3 for drying and £1 for the soup. We used the launderette about half way through our stay one evening when we weren’t planning on going out and didn’t see anyone but the other machines were being used. It takes about 30 minutes for the clothes to be washed and then another about an hour for them to dry in the tumble dryer so we just set an alarm on our phones to go down every 30 minutes to swap the clothes from the washing machine to the tumble dryer and then an hour alarm to go take them out and back to our room

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3 of the pictures on this page are from the Rosen Inn Facebook page, they are not my own

There is a counter in the lobby where you can book days out, get park tickets and transport to attractions or taxis. We spoke to a few people on the counter over our stay and they gave us so much great advice on places to go and things to do. They have a free shuttle to Universal, Sea World and Aquatica from 7am to 11:45am every day. There is a return journey at times in the afternoon so make sure you check with the driver of the times. It’s first come first serviced so make sure you book transport the day before or get up early to see if you can get on one of the shuttles for that day, you can’t book a few days in advance. 

The shuttle only takes about 20-30 minutes to get to Universal as it stops at a few other hotels. Or you can walk to Universal, it’s less than a mile away and it’s a very straightforward route. It took my husband and I about half an hour to walk it. If you are going to Disney, you can book a taxi from the counter, a return journey is $20. We also booked a taxi to the local Walmart which was $35 for a return journey.

If you get a pass for the iTrolly, there is a stop directly outside the hotel so getting around isn’t a problem.

There is a restaurant called Shogun Japanese Restaurant, we didn’t eat there as we thought it was a bit pricey but other guests that we spoke to about it said it was lots of fun and the food was really nice

I would gladly stay here again and again

Please check out their website to book your stay

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I love the iTrolly in Orlando

itrolly

If you are staying on International Drive, the best way for you to get around will be the iTrolly.

The passes that you can get are 1 day, 3 day, 5 day, 7 day or 14 day.

The prices are:-

1 day  $5

3 day  $7 (saving $8)

5 day  $9 (saving $16)

7 day  $12 (saving $23)

14 day  $18 (saving $52)

You must book online through the website and then print off the confirmation that was sent to you as the bus driver needs that and will keep it. The bus drivers do not sell passes on the buses so make sure you get it all booked in advance.

The first time you get on the bus, you just give the driver your printed confirmation and he will give you the pass(es) that you have purchased. After your first ride, all you have to do is swipe your pass through the little machine next to the driver as you get on the bus and that is it.

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There are 3 lines that you can go on and they are green, red and transfers.

The red line has 38 stops and goes from the Orlando International Premium Outlet at the top of International Drive to the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlet at the bottom of International Drive. This means that it has stops at Sea World, Aquatica, Pointe Orlando, iDrive 360, Wonderworks and so much more, please see the picture that I have included from the iTrolly website.

The green line starts off a bit further north of the Orlando International Premium Outlet and ends at the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlet but goes a slightly different route. There are 16 stops but then it joins the red line to finish the route.

When we used the iTrolly, we were staying in a hotel on International Drive and thought it was absolutely amazing because we didn’t have to worry about getting taxis or getting stranded after going out for a meal. I would highly recommend it as it saves you money on travel because it goes to so many places that you will want to go.

The buses start at 8am and run until 10:30pm so you have nothing to worry about when it comes to getting to and from somewhere.

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