As we alluded to in last week’s post, we have been stateside before! Our first holiday abroad, and second holiday together, was to Orlando Florida for two weeks in March 2012.
We booked the trip 11 months in advance through Thomas Cook and got a fantastic deal. The advantage of booking so far in advance meant that the flights had only just come online, which meant they were cheap. We also managed to get a fantastic deal on our hotel and booked our park tickets as a package deal to get a cheaper price; made even cheaper still with Ant‘s work discount, oh the perks of the NHS!
We flew out with BA on Monday 12th March; the flight was stressful to say the least. Unfortunately Ant’s TV was not working but he had sound so we had to watch the same films and skilfully try and start both of the TVs at the same time so that we could share a screen without the need of sharing headphones. We also had the spawn of Satan sat in front of us. When he wasn’t throwing things at us over the back of his chair, he was running up and down the aisle screaming. The flight attendants were nonchalant, his parents didn’t give a monkeys, it was not the best experience we’ve had!
On landing we met our transfer and were taken to our hotel. This was all pre-booked via Thomas Cook; we didn’t have any issues finding where we had to go after collecting our luggage or waiting for our transport. Whilst getting a taxi would have been just as easy, it would have been the more costly option.
We stayed at The Castle Hotel on International Drive. The hotel has recently had a little facelift, which in all honesty it needed. The hotel was comfortable and perfect for our needs but the decor was a little tired and in need of some TLC. Our room was at the rear of the hotel and overlooked the pool and restaurants. The hotel is conveniently located with a number of restaurants and stores locally as well as fantastic transport links to the parks. There is a stop outside the hotel for the trolley to be able to get back and forth to Universal, Wet N Wild and the outlet stores and great bus links to Sea World and the Disney parks. The hotel also offered a coach service to Busch Gardens.
The first park we visited was Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. We got the trolley service to the park for when it opened and made a beeline to the Harry Potter section since this was newly built and we knew it would be a popular area to visit.
As massive Harry Potter fans it didn’t disappoint and we can highly recommend persevering through the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
This park will always hold special memories for us as Ant proposed by the lake as the sun was setting over Hogwarts! He’s such a romantic!
We did also visit the traditional Universal Studios park and whilst it did have some great rides, Revenge of The Mummy and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, a lot of the park was under development when we were there and it just felt a little old and tired. Suffice to say we would like to go back, if only to experience the new Diagon Alley and Kings Cross Station areas!
Make sure you take the time to catch the Blues Brothers show, it is brilliant! We were the only adults that bothered to join in and dance along (we even led the conga line) but who cares, you only live once right?
We booked in to see Jay and Silent Bob at the Hard Rock Live in Universal Skywalk. We’re really glad we seized the opportunity to see the comedic duo so we think if you’re planning a trip, it’s definitely worthwhile checking what’s on if you’re into live music or events.
Moving on from the Universal parks, we also visited Sea World. Whilst the rides are a big feature of this park the main public draw is the animals. We did see the Orca show as well as the dolphin and sea lion shows but we have mixed opinions of what we saw having since watched Blackfish. At the time it was an amazing opportunity to be able to see such beautiful creatures so close up but in future, we would much rather see them in their natural habitats should we be fortunate to do so.
Also owned by Sea World group, is Busch Gardens. We took the bus from our hotel direct to the park. You do question the welfare of the animals they house and how frustrating it must be for them to have large and extremely loud rollercoasters passing over, and in some cases, through their enclosures. The park was, however, really enjoyable and had the most extreme rides of all the parks we visited.
It was nice to be able to take the Serengeti Railway and Skyride and watch the animals.
Although, be warned the Skyride did break down whilst we were on it and we were left for a good 20 minutes dangling over the rhino enclosure. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Ant didn’t suffer from acrophobia! It also meant we very nearly missed the bus back to our hotel but fortunately as quite a few from our party had been delayed for the same reason, they stuck around for us!
This leaves us with the Disney parks and there are quite a few of those! Starting with the obvious, Magic Kingdom, this was probably our least favourite of all the parks.
It was extremely busy and full of families that would take up entire footpaths with a row of pushchairs and buggies. Whilst we do not believe families with young children shouldn’t go to theme parks, it’s extremely selfish to effectively hog entire walkways. The rides definitely catered to a young audience compared to the previous parks and we experienced a number of problems where rides had to be stopped due to children being too scared. We would like to return though just to be able to experience the new Fantasyland rides; the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train looks especially exciting! We stayed to watch the parade and fireworks and whilst it was nice and a good show, it was very crowded, noisy and busy and we left early in order to be able to get the ferry back to the bus depot before it was overrun, ready for our onward journey.
Animal Kingdom was next on our list of places to visit. We actually thoroughly enjoyed this park and did not notice any questionable issues with animal welfare that we’d seen at Busch Gardens. The park has a number of great thrill rides and you also have the opportunity to be taken out into the park to experience their safari. The best part of the park is the Circle of Life tree; it’s a marvel to see!
Disney Hollywood Studios was not really a must see, but we went all the same! The best thing about the park is The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It’s an amazing ride that thrill seekers will definitely want to ride multiple times!
There are a lot of shows at the park and we managed to squeeze in pretty much all of them.
Fantasmic is an amazing show and definitely worth a watch but make sure you get there early to secure a good seat.
Last but no means least we have Epcot. It was the quietest of all the parks we visited and offered a great variety of activities.
Unfortunately we missed the IllumiNations showcase in the evening as we were sat having dinner but if we had been lucky enough to get a window seat we would have had an excellent view!
We did not visit any of the water parks, simply because we ran out of time. We did see an IMAX movie at Regal Pointe Orlando and managed to nip in a quick trip to the Orlando Premium Outlets at the other end of International Drive. If you book a hotel on International Drive and find yourself with a free evening we can also recommend the Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf. It was an inexpensive treat that was great fun.
Another entertainment area worth visiting if you have the time is Downtown Disney.
We had pre-booked tickets to see La Nouba by Cirque Du Soleil show and thoroughly enjoyed it.
We also took in the Disney Quest and enjoyed an afternoon of retro gaming!
If you are able to we whole heartedly recommend the House of Blues Sunday Gospel Brunch. We went to the morning slot and enjoyed a variety of both cold and hot breakfast foods and drinks. The atmosphere was great and the show was fantastic.
We were also fortunate enough to visit the AMC Dine-in Cinema. It was a great experience, although we’re glad we had finished eating our dinner before the film started; The Hunger Games probably wasn’t the best choice of movies to see whilst eating!
If we had the opportunity to return to Orlando at some point, we’d definitely like to take the time to visit the Kennedy Space Center as well as revisit the parks! Maybe if we’re fortunate enough to go when it’s a bit warmer, read boiling hot, we might brave the water parks. Beached whale alert!!