Traveller's Review: Planning a Family Holiday to US With Group ESTAs

As a family, we wanted to go away to celebrate my parents’ retirement, with a large group of us all going away to mark the occasion. This included three generations of family aged from seven years old through to 65. The kids had dreamt about going to Florida and the theme parks for years and with some keen golfers in the party, Orlando was the perfect destination to keep all of the family happy.

Choosing the Best Location in Orlando

The first decision was to work out where would be the best location to enable us to be close enough to all of the theme parks in Orlando. After doing a bit of research, it became obvious that the best option for a group of 10 people was to hire a villa that would accommodate the whole group. This worked out much cheaper than booking separate hotel rooms and the villa came with a pool and a fully equipped kitchen, so we were able to cater for ourselves when we wanted to.

We found a villa with everything we needed in a place called Hunters Creek, which was around a 30-minute drive from the majority of the main theme parks like Universal and Disney World. There were also a number of high quality golf courses in the area, for the golfers to visit during a two week stay.

Hiring cars was relatively cheap compared to other times we had hired cars abroad, so we could drive to the theme parks easily each time we visited. We had several drivers aged over 25 that the hire companies were happy to hire vehicles to.

Planning the Itinerary

The key priority of the holiday was to take the children to as many theme parks as possible during the two weeks and we were pleased to discover that there were packages that we could buy that gave entry to multiple theme parks. This made it much cheaper than to pay the day rate each time we were going to a theme park. There were lots of different ticket package options and we picked the one that included Disney Parks and Universal Orlando Resort as these suited the age of the children the best.

During the trip, four of us wanted to take a trip to Miami and have an overnight stay there. With it being a three-hour drive, this seemed like a great way to see more of Florida. So, we booked a hotel room for the four of us before we flew to the US.

Arranging Flights

We were able to book a direct flight for the whole family from London to Orlando, which would take around 9 hours. There were a lot of inflight entertainment options on the plane, which would make it much easier to keep the kids occupied for the long flight! We had to book the flights in school holidays, so they were more expensive than if you were to book outside of school holidays.

Travel Documents

Once we had agreed on the dates and location of the holiday, the next step was to ensure that we had all of the necessary travel documentation in place. One of the children now required their own passport, so this was organised well in advance. Everyone else had more than six months of validity left on their passports, which would be adequate for entering the US.

The other requirement for travelling to the US was to have an ESTA for every family member that was travelling to the US. We looked into the process for applying for a family group of ESTAs and realised that every individual required a separate ESTA that would be linked to their own passport.

One person took responsibility for submitting all of the applications on behalf of the rest of the family, including all of the relevant details that were required. Even the children were required to have their own individual ESTA.

Filling in each application took around 15 minutes, as once one had been submitted it was easy to then move onto the next one, knowing exactly which questions would need to be answered. Once the applicationsvwere paid for and submitted, confirmation emails were sent to each supplied email address.

They were all submitted on the same day and responses came back separately to confirm each one had been approved. A few took less than an hour to process, whilst one was around 24 hours. So, we had ESTAs approved within 24 hours of applying for them all. This meant that we were free to enter the US with the required travel authorisation granted by the Department of Homeland Security.

What Happened on the Holiday?

Everything went really smoothly, from flights departing and arriving on time, to being able to quickly pick up the hire cars. Driving in the US was a bit different to in the UK, it is worth checking out the differences before you decide to hire a car to check that you will feel comfortable driving over there.

When we arrived at the airport and went through the Customs and Border Protection, we each showed our passports and the agents checked that we all had valid ESTAs linked to each passport. They asked us what the purpose of our trip was and we explained we were going to the theme parks as a vacation.

The villa was great value and was perfect for the size of the group. There were several local restaurants to choose from that were child friendly and could accommodate a large group. We did discover that when we ate at a buffet, we were expected to leave a tip, which was different to eating at most buffet style restaurants in the UK.

The kids loved the theme parks and enjoyed Universal so much that we visited it twice during the stay. As well as having entertainment in the day, there were also shows in the evening and restaurants we could eat at rather than driving back to the area we were staying in.

All in all, it was an amazing family holiday and using the ESTA was really easy for the group to get travel authorisation.



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