Orlando is obviously one of the most popular destinations for groups and for good reason. The theme parks are musts and for performing or competing groups, there aren't many places in the world that offer more of a variety. No trip to Orlando would be complete without a visit to the theme parks but did you know there are plenty of other attractions and sights to see that are off the beaten path? And rather than take away from one of your "theme park days", these attractions can complement and give your group a much needed break from the high octane pace of visiting the parks and waiting in those long lines.
One of the most popular non theme park days for our groups is a day at the beach. This is especially exciting for groups who live far away from the coast. For some, the beach days are often the highlight of the trip and there are even extras to add to the day to make it even more enjoyable. We typically begin with a shopping stop at the world famous Ron Jon Surf Shop. After shopping, we are off to an awesome barbecue on the beach! After lunch, it's all fun and games with volleyball, boogie boards, beach balls and just frolicking in the beautiful Florida surf. A popular upgrade to your beach experience are surf lessons. That's right, you get to spend the afternoon learning how to surf by a real surfing professional! Imagine your group riding the waves of Florida! Setting aside a day for the beach is truly a real Florida experience and one your group will always remember. The beach day can also be combined with a visit to the nearby Kennedy Space Center, which is also a world famous attraction and a nice slower paced visit for the group.
Other real Florida attractions your group may want to explore are airboat rides where your can see alligators in their natural habitat, or zipline through the trees and take a jeep safari in a real Florida nature preserve. You can also enjoy Central Florida from the air in everything from a warbird airplane to a helicopter or on a breathtaking hot air balloon ride. Or how about enriching your groups' experience by volunteering and/or performing at the wonderful and heartwarming Give Kids the World village?
Whereas the Big 3 Theme Parks in the Orlando area offer the most famous and desired attractions, don't forget that there are many other interesting lesser known attractions in the area. Groups can have a blast exploring all of the wonders of Wonderworks, perhaps one of the most photographed buildings in all of Central Florida, and then move on to Ripley's Believe It Or Not. For history buffs, there is Titanic, an outstanding guided tour of the world's most famous ocean liner. Remember 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of her maiden and only voyage and a visit to Titanic is a great way to start off the day before heading to the parks. Then there's all the action at the two Fun Spot parks, loaded with some of the most intense go-karts to be found anywhere. Old Town in Kissimmee offers rides, shopping and fun dining choices. And of course for nighttime fun, Orlando is home to some really amazing dinner shows; Arabian Nights, Medieval Times, Outta Control Dinner Show (at Wonderworks), Pirate's Dinner Adventure, Sleuth's and the new Treasure Tavern.
Orlando also features many of the world's greatest water parks, each unique in their own way. Since many of the theme park multi day tickets include a water park option, a visit should certainly be up for discussion during your visit to Orlando. Water parks are a great way to beat the heat!
So yes, your Orlando trip wouldn't be complete without screaming all the way down Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom or diving head first on Manta at Sea World or becoming a wizard at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure...but save some room and some time for something truly Orlando, truly Florida and make your Orlando trip a truly unforgettable Florida experience.
As I began the daunting adventure of writing this blog, I first thought of what are some of the challenges groups have while planning a trip. It occurred to me that the best way to help is to start at the beginning. No trip can begin without knowing WHERE to go. And more often than not, with multiple personalities involved with the planning and choosing, there are disagreements. If you are the group leader, you are probably being given opinions, whether you want them or not. Now anyone can go online and find the top "things to do" in any given city. So, I think I'd like to offer advice based on our experiences. The number one U.S. destination for group travel is New York City. So let's start there.
NEW YORK CITY
There are alot of things to do in New York City. Visiting the Empire State Building is one such thing. But have you ever seen the line to get to the top? It can be a 2-3 hour wait, even at night. An alternative is to visit Top of the Rock. Although it is slightly more expensive, the views are amazing, and the wait is much shorter. There is more room to walk around and view the different angles of the city. And it saves time the group can use to see other sights.
Keeping your group together during your visit can be a real challenge. There are hundreds of thousands of people on the streets at any time. Breaking the group up into smaller groups, and assigning a leader of each smaller group is wise. Especially if you are a student group. Having a chaperone keep track of a few kids each helps. Having a guide that knows the city is also vital. If you are taking a motorcoach, making sure you have a driver that knows the city will save you alot of wasted time trying to figure out the city streets. I have seen inexperienced drivers get lost and frustrated, making the trip a stressful one.
Staying outside the city, in New Jersey for example, can save you lots of money. It is often $75-100 less per night. If it is worth the 20-30 minute drive in each day, it's a great alternative. Hotel room rates will be increasing in 2011 in New York. So this will be a viable option for alot of groups now.You do want to make sure you are staying in a safe area. The hotels will often tell you it is safe to get your business, even when it's not. This is where a good tour operator comes in handy.
More often than not, you would have an itinerary for the group before you go. We have found that you need alot of flexibility in your plans. Leaving one day open to a loose schedule has been an option alot of groups have enjoyed. This could be someone's first and only visit to the city. There are things they will want to see and do. Using those smaller groups I mentioned before, you can make a meeting place and time (i.e. Time Square Broadway ticket booth at 4pm), and let the groups vote on what they want to do. Let them explore and meet up later, and make sure everyone has a map (given away free at any subway station) and phone numbers. More often than not, it was the favorite day of most of our groups.
With careful planning and a good tour guide, New York can be an amazing experience. There have been dramatic improvements in safety and the city is much cleaner than it was in decades past. For suggestions on things to do while here, view the destinations tab on our website, and click on New York. Next stop.......Orlando!