Two weeks ago, Flea and I were boarding a plane at Manchester airport ready for the 10-hour trip to Orlando, Florida.
We were invited to experience the highlights of Orlando as guests of Visit Orlando, which has recently launched a new holiday planning tool designed for UK families to plan their holiday in Orlando before they leave home. You can see photos of our trip over on the Who’s the Mummy Facebook page.
Having visited Orlando for myself, I can see the value of advance planning – I had no idea there were so many theme parks in Florida, not to mention the water parks, the animal parks, the many leisure attractions and the other non-themed attractions of Florida, like the everglades.
The Theme Parks
We had just five days in Orlando and there were so many things we didn’t get to see – but we were able to squeeze in visits to Seaworld, Legoland Florida, Disneyworld (The Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios) and Universal Orlando (Island of Adventure and Universal Studios).
Of all the parks, our favourite was Universal, but we had a wonderful time at all of the attractions we visited. You can read our detailed reviews of each park by clicking the links below:
The Nickelodeon Suites Resort
We stayed at the Nickelodeon Suites family hotel, a holiday resort in its own right, with 777 rooms in buildings that are gathered around not one, but two swimming pool complexes. There is a massive dining complex, a cinema that shows Nickelodeon shows, a theatre for live shows and more shops than you can shake a stick at.
The hotel is possibly not what I’d have chosen for myself but on arrival I can see it’s perfect for kids – spacious, colourful and relaxed in the way you want a hotel to be when you have jet-lagged small people, noisy toddlers or easily-bored teenagers. The complex is large, not especially well lit at night, and the signs are confusing. We got lost – a lot.
We had a few small niggles – the deadlock on our room door didn’t seem to work, requested wake-up calls never came, and the staff at guest services didn’t seem to handle any of the services I wanted – including trying to book an in-room movie, which was a ridiculously complicated process.
More importantly the hotel failed the number 1 blogger test – Internet access. Looking at the hotel website before we travelled, I read that wireless Internet is available in bedrooms, but actually it’s only available in public areas. Having travelled with just a phone and iPad, this meant I had to get up early (ugh) to do a couple of hours work in the breakfast hall, since I couldn’t do work in my room in the evening, after Flea had gone to bed.
But, but, but… niggles aside, Flea loved it.
The staff in the dining room couldn’t have been friendlier and nothing was too much trouble. The entertainment is entirely geared towards children, and if some of the characters went a little over Flea’s head, the joy of dancing with Spongebob Squarepants at breakfast more than made up for it.
The breakfasts were hot and fresh, and there was a great choice from the buffet. We ate dinner at the hotel twice and found the food was great – especially the a la carte menu and the desserts, which were incredible!
And then there was the pool. A giant, safe complex with slides and climbing nets and fountains and everything your average 7-year-old dreams off. But that’s not all. This pool also has slime. Oh yes.
Every day at around 4.30pm a huge crowd of people gather under the water playground, standing knee-deep in water, chanting, “We want slime”. After a few minutes build-up, a massive bucket on top of the playground tips over, depositing 400 gallons of slime over the hotel guests standing underneath. When you’re seven, life doesn’t get much more fun than THAT.
Nickelodeon Suites is great value – the 2 bedroom suites can sleep up to 6 people in one double room, one twin room, and a lounge with a pull-out double sofa bed. There are kitchens so you can make simple snacks and drinks in your room, and rates for premium rooms start at around $200 a night, although big discounts are available for advance bookings.
On our second evening in Orlando, we were invited to Wonderworks, a brilliant attraction that looks exactly like an upside down building (you’ve got to see it to believe it). There’s a dinner show and then you can go through to an interactive science museum where kids can try out all sorts of exhibits, including a simulator where they can design and ride their own rollercoaster.
This was the night my food poisoning kicked off and the mere sight of unlimited pizza was too much for me, so sadly I spent the night back at the hotel, making close friends with the bathroom floor, but I’m reliably informed by Flea that she had great fun with Jen and the rest of the group.
Dave & Busters
If you’re looking for a fun family night out in Orlando, then we loved Dave & Busters. This is a US chain of restaurants that combine great food with arcade games.
We had a fabulous meal there – well everyone else did, I was recovering from food poisoning but I loved that the staff immediately offered to make me plain. dry toast – so many restaurants act as though that sort of thing is just TOO much trouble.
After dinner, the kids were set loose with little game cards that were loaded with around $25 of credits, and which let them play a range of video games, including giant Connect 4, giant Fruit Ninja, giant Doodle Jump and air hockey – Flea and I adore air hockey.
iFly indoor skydiving
One of the unexpected highlights of our trip, we loved indoor skydiving. You can see our review (and a video) of the experience over here.
Top Tips for Visits to Orlando
- It’s hot. The day we arrived in Orlando people were wearing coats and apologising for the cold. It was 21 degrees. Later in the week, the temperature was in the mid 30s. So pack light, take lots of sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. And don’t trust Floridians when they tell you it’s cold – they don’t know what they’re on about.
- Book ahead. Almost every attraction we visited was cheaper for visitors who book online before they go to Florida. There are loads of special offers, some exclusive to UK visitors – so do spend some time researching before you go.
- Plan your “must-see” activities – even with VIP tours of all the attractions we visited, we only saw a fraction of what the parks had to offer – so if you only have 1 or 2 days at an attraction, plan ahead the things you REALLY want to see (for us it was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal) and if they’re popular attractions, be sure to visit them early in the day, or at the end of the day, when the crowds are thinner.
- Consider ways to cut the queues. A trip to Florida is a big expense and something lots of us will only ever do once – all the theme parks offer a variety of packages designed to help you spend less time queuing – from FastPass and Express tickets that let you skip long lines to VIP packages that can eliminate queues altogether. It’s easy to think VIP tours are just for celebrities, but they’re not as expensive as I had imagined.
- If you go to Seaworld and Dine with Shamu, and you’re allergic to Seafood, don’t deny yourself the carrot cake and stick to a salad. Because you’ll be allergic to the dressing, and spend the next 12 hours trying to turn your stomach inside out, then another two days unable to laugh because your ribs ache so badly. Basically? God wants us to eat more cake, and less salad. At least, that’s the lesson I’m choosing to take away from this experience.