So, you’ve got a bride to be and she’s gathered up her best girls. Now what?
It’s time for an epic bachelorette party, that’s what.
While the bride is busy perusing dress racks and working with florists and planners, the bridesmaids embark on the truest test of any friendship: narrowing down the field to find a destination that fits the bride’s personality to a T for the girls’ trips of all girls’ trips.
If we’re being completely honest, it’s tougher than the actual wedding planning.
Planning a destination bachelorette weekend is a headache. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone wants to really spoil the bride. Nobody wants to give away the secret — or break the bank. It’s countless discussions and compromises to find a date and a destination that doesn’t just work for the bride — it has to work for the bridesmaids too.
But, for one of your best friends, it’s a challenge worth facing. At least, that’s how myself and several girls I had never met before viewed the opportunity earlier this year.
We did the research. We did the time. Now we want the world to know: Orlando seriously is one of the best places for a bachelorette trip.
The city became a leading contender early in the planning stages for a few reasons. For starters, the size of the airport meant nearly all of us could find direct flights in and out of there. Secondly, it had a cool nightlife scene (our bride loves to dance) and an awesome food scene (a necessity) that we could balance with time lazing at the pool in the sun. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, it had Universal’s the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
You can check out my full guide to Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter here.
Nearly all of us worked in fast paced media environments like news and TV. We knew we wanted a destination that gave us equal parts fun and relaxation, and Orlando allowed us all of that. We also knew — and this may be an unpopular opinion — that we didn’t want to spend all of our time at a theme park or in a club. We wanted to dance and laze in the sun, brunch and get dressed up for a night on the town, eat great food and catch up with one another.
Read on to learn how we balanced it all during our three night, long weekend bachelorette trip in Orlando.
Day 1 – Just a Tease
The first day of any trip has a tendency to be a little chaotic, and that was certainly the case as the five of us boarded our respective flights in different cities all across the country and arrived in Orlando. To compensate for the flurry of activity, we decided to reserve this night as teaser for what was to come.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
To make a long story short, our room at the resort didn’t match the booking. If it weren’t for a firecracker of a bridesmaid whose family vacationed there year after year, it would have been a detail that would have gone unnoticed by the rest of us. When the four of us arrived from the airport to the condo, she was busy packing up the groceries and working with the front desk to get us moved into the correct condo all the way across the resort.
A few hours and several trips to and from the car later (five women plus their luggage and several champagne bottles aren’t easy to move), we were sitting pretty in the correct room and ready to get a taste of the city.
We decided to skip a big dinner, opting instead for small bites in the room as we got ready to head out to Universal’s CityWalk. This ended up being a great decision because it allowed us a “trial run” to time how long it would take us to get to the Universal entrance from our resort and practice going through the motions of calling an Uber to get home.
Universal’s CityWalk is very similar to Disney World’s entertainment districts, Disney Springs and Disney Boardwalk. The biggest difference is there is a distinctly more adult atmosphere at Universal’s CityWalk. Some of our favorite stops from that night include:
- Red Coconut: We started the night off here and had a great time sitting at a table, ordering drinks and watching the live band. It’s a good way to test the waters before the Groove and Rising Star.
- The Groove: This multilevel club features plenty of music — and lots of lights. Each floor has a different theme, so you can quite literally dance the night away here!
- Rising Star Karaoke Bar: I will fully admit karaoke is not one of my favorite activities, but after a few drinks — and with a few great new friends — it’s hard to say no. Per the website, a live band will accompany you Tuesday through Saturday, while Sunday and Monday you can sing along to recordings.
Pro Tip: Purchase the $12 party pass at the beginning of your night out so that you have access to each of the bars and dance clubs without having to pay the entrance fee to each one.
Day 2 – Go Big
Of all the days in Orlando, we knew this was going to be the one that would be the busiest and most tiring. It was also the day we were most excited for. We got up early and into the park shortly after it opened, rode each Harry Potter ride twice (really!) and stuck around until just before closing to watch the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle show.
I’ve written up a whole post detailing how we divided our time between parks, favorite rides and best tips for one, magical, Harry Potter-themed day. You can check out my bachelorette guide to Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter here.
If you’re planning to visit with a bachelorette — or any group larger than three — I heartily recommend you:
- Go against the crowd. Call me a theme park newbie, but I didn’t realize until a few weeks out that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is divided between Universal’s two theme parks. Since our focus of the day was Harry Potter everything, we purchased a park hopper pass that would allow us to tour both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. After a lot of Googling (and talking with Angie of Angie Away!), we determined the best way to see the park was to do Universal Studios’ Diagon Alley first, then ride the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure’s Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle. Fun Fact: Nearly everyone who visits the park beelines it for Hogwarts Castle first thing in the morning. By going against the crowd, we avoided major lines and stayed true to the books. Always.
- Order the Great Feast. I know I’m not the only one who has fantasized about the treacle and roasts and pies and pasties at Hogwarts. That’s why the Three Broomsticks Great Feast is so ideal for families or groups of four or more. For $60, we had roast chicken, ribs, salad, roast vegetables, corn and potatoes, all of which was 10 times better than any theme park food I’d ever had before. Pro tip: Go around 2:30 in the afternoon to avoid the lunch and dinner rush. Winning.
- Save the Islands of Adventure waterpark rides for the end of the day. Two words: no lines. Period. Waiting until just before sundown allowed us to get straight onto every single ride with no wait period whatsoever, and, because we were about to leave for the day and all the big photo opps were over, we didn’t mind getting incredibly soaked! Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, Jurassic Park River Adventure, and Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges made us laugh until we had tears in our eyes, and loading ourselves into the drying machine afterward brought forth another round of giggles. Don’t worry — we sat on ponchos (from Walmart, not the park!) on the way home so we didn’t ruin the Uber.
Day 3 – Send Her Off in Style
After such a busy day in Universal, we were all in need of some serious R&R, and that’s where our condo rental with a full kitchen really came in handy. We all slept in and spent a lazy morning enjoying a DIY brunch, drinking one too many mimosas and watching — what else? — Bridesmaids.
Then we spent the afternoon (a full four hours!) by the pool, soaking up the sun, and floating around the Lazy River. Again, the condo came in clutch.
Fully rested, we were ready for our final night on the town, and this is the night I think I’m most proud of.
I’m awfully fond of the giant Ferris wheels and “Eyes” of the world. Tianjin, London, Vegas — they’re great for photo opps and the views are always impressive. Some might call them touristy, but, for me, they’ve always been a highlight of my trips, especially if you hop on one with great company. Once I saw Orlando had one, I knew the bride-to-be would love it too.
So, our special send-off was a champagne toast on the Icon Orlando 360 just after sunset so we could take in the lights — and even the fireworks — of the city and theme parks below. We purchased the Champagne Experience, which was about $12 more a ticket, and allowed us each one glass of champagne to enjoy on the 25-minute ride. The website indicated you could reserve an entire capsule for your group. However, we might have gotten really lucky going just after sunset like we did — or maybe the Champagne Experience pushed us into a VIP area — because our group got an entire capsule to ourselves, making the night even more special, without having to pay extra for it. Some of the best photos came from atop the Eye, and we loved being able to toast the bride, one another and our special weekend.
Located on International Drive, the Icon Orlando 360 is within walking distance to several restaurants and bars. We opted for tapas at the super cute Cafe Tu Tu Tango, where artists actually paint and draw in the restaurant, but these are some other suggestions that would be equally fun for a bachelorette party send-off:
- Hansons Shoe Repair: Hip speakeasy and handcrafted cocktails
- The Courtesy: Orlando’s first craft cocktail bar with a happy hour T-F from 5pm-8pm
- Lil Indies: Relaxed cocktail bar near Will’s Pub with trivia on Thursday and live music on Saturday
Cocktails + Dinner:
- The Stubborn Mule: Mix of small plates, salads, burgers and entrees with handcrafted cocktails (reservation in advance suggested)
- Hamburger Mary’s: Dinner and a drag show, anyone?
Cocktails + Dessert:
Better Than Sex: A dessert & cocktail bar that’s definitely appropriate for bachelorette parties.
- The Groove: Multilevel dance club located on Universal’s CityWalk (this is listed on practically everyone’s must-do list!)
- Icebar: Drink cocktails…in an igloo…in Florida.
- Howl at the Moon: Dueling piano bar located on International Drive that’s known to be especially friendly to bachelorette groups
- 180 Skytop Lounge: Club with one of the best views of the city skyline
Where to Stay
Sadly, Hagrid didn’t have room in his hut, so we opted for a timeshare resort closer to the airport than to Universal Studios. This allowed us a discount, a full kitchen, plenty of rooms and beds for every single one of us, and access to a huge pool and waterpark. We did have to pay pretty heavily for Uber rides in and out of downtown Orlando, though. If you’re planning to do only one day at the park like we did, I would definitely recommend looking into AirBnbs in the area, especially because they too would probably be located around timeshare resorts. If your time in a theme park extends more than one day, I would consider staying at a resort hotel or finding a chain hotel closer to downtown so you can cut back on the rideshare fees and cut back on travel time overall.
Before You Go
Before the trip even got started, we were teasing the bride-to-be with little tidbits about the destination. Finally, after several months of hiding the secret (something that was especially hard for me to do seeing as I live in the same city as the bride!), she received a letter direct from Hogwarts itself. The letter was a two-parter. For one, it was sent precisely one week before our departure, giving the bride plenty of time to pack but not enough time to begin second guessing her outfits. In sticking with the Hogwarts tradition, it gave the bride a list of supplies, so to speak, by briefly outlining each of the days’ events and hinting at items she absolutely needed to pack plus a few she absolutely didn’t need to bring. This helped rule out any overpacking on the bride’s part and gave the other girls the chance to spoil the bride too.
Did you have a destination bachelorette trip? Was there a special theme? Tell me about it in the comments below!