To date, I’ve never been on a plane with my parents. Fact.
Deprived child? Hardly!
When I was growing up, our focus was on the car. Days out around Scotland, far flung and nearer home alike, we would pack up our little jalopy for the day and drive off for new fun and adventures in places like Loch Katrine, Oban, Callander and the like and we didn’t even think of using other modes of more glamorous transport to venture further afield and even when I hit my teens and my friends were jetting off with parents to the popular late eighties destinations like Lloret De Mar, Estepona & Benalmadena, my folks didn’t bite.
I am an only child and we were pretty content in our little circle of three until my sense of adventure kicked in and I started yearning for more. At 19 I went on my first holiday abroad sans oldies, with my friend Roseanne and had my initiation into European travel on the most colourful Greek holiday I could have imagined! (Perhaps best to leave that one there!)
From then on, I regularly saved my wages and flew off with friends at every available opportunity, clocking up my air miles faster than Instagram likes of a Kardashian gym selfie.
When I look back, I’m quite amazed at the places I’ve been: Maldives, Thailand (twice), Malaysia, America, and most European cities. My children are quite well travelled and we feel very fortunate to be so. I love nothing more than 2 lazy weeks in the sun drinking cocktails, eating around 6 times a day and reading as many books as I can. But sometimes, when we are deciding on the annual family holiday, I have to put my likes aside and think what ticks the whole family’s boxes.
My husband is a caged tiger. 5 days of an all-inclusive in Europe and he has visible itchy feet which then creates the need for day trips and exploring. Me and the boys are pretty much sorted at the pool all day with waterslides and all-inclusive food & drink! However, it’s our precious two weeks of the year where we are completely away from work, school & life stresses as a family so it has to be the right destination for all of us.
Last year, I pushed for a place I had never had any desire to go in my life thus far: Walt Disney World. Florida. I absolutely cannot stand theme parks! However, I have this little list of things in my head that I just feel, if you can, you owe it to your kids to do, like when I forced myself to learn to ride a bike. Theme Parks being the ‘must do’ one here. So, if finances allow, why not take them to the most magical theme park you can find?
It was my first trip to America ever, the reason being, I absolutely HATE flying. Can’t stand it, I despise the dirty, fuelly smell of airports, cant wait to land, every minute up there feels like a lifetime, all that. I just cant get my head around why the whole notion of catapulting a huge lump of metal a zillion feet in the air would ever be thought of as safe and sensible way to travel??? Not to mention the fact I get horribly travel sick… (I’m a laugh a minute, me!) And I’ve got worse as I’ve got older. However, if I don’t get over this, we’d never get out of Britain and I really do feel I owe adventures to my children whenever possible. So, last August, we packed up less belongings than ever before for a 2-week holiday – well, a girl’s gotta shop – and off we went to Orlando, Florida. Yes, Harry even got in to the cockpit, it was my husband’s 50th the day we flew and Harry’s 9th two days later, so they offered us a little birthday treat!
I can honestly say, this was the absolute epitome of a holiday of a lifetime! All four of us had our needs well and truly satisfied. Harry, the thrills and spills of rollercoasters and challenging waterslides (Summit Plummet, Disneyland). John (my hubby) with the variety, the excitement, the food, the general delight of amazing customer care. For Dominic, experiences and thrills incorporating his favourite characters from TV and fun he never even imagined he could have.
And for me…Hmmm. let me count the ways!
Shopping, yep, top of the list. I cannot tell you how ricidulously affordable the shopping is there in comparison to Britain! Ok, you can get caught out as they add tax at the checkout (Like my Americanisms? No till, it’s checkout!) So the price on the tag has a little added on top but it’s still waaay cheaper than British inflated prices!
Food – I love me grub and it’s just a constant delight to choose from so many fabulous restaurants with gorgeously indulgent portions but it’s easy enough to make the healthier choices if that’s your bag. See my 10 top places to eat in Orlando post for a full rundown.
Magic – For a cynical old crone, I got ridiculously caught up in the magic of Disney! I’m not ashamed to admit I cried real tears at the Frozen Parade! It was Harry’s 9th birthday, he wore a mahoosive badge, and Elsa (because we all know she is a true Princess!) spotted it from the heights of her ice castle and uttered the immortal words ‘Happy Birthday Ice Harvester’ and I could not have been prouder! Totally sucked in!
We bought into the whole shebang! Lunch at Chef Mickey’s with Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy was SO much fun, the boys still talk about it regularly. Fireworks in front of the Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle left an impact we will take a long time to forget (except Dominic – he was in a bad mood and went to sleep, missed the entire spectacle!) Lazy river rides in the gorgeous sunshine is a regular topic of reminisce over long family lunches.
So much so in fact, we’ve re-booked this year but gone for everything we can throw in! (Well it can’t be that magical twice, can it? This might be our last visit!)
First time around, we only went for Disneyland tickets. It ran us ragged, so much to see, so many different parks within the parks to experience. We were agog at the futuristic vibes of Epcot, thrilled in the illusion & wonderment that was Magic Kingdom. Thrilled and spilled in Hollywood Studios & amazed by the close encounters we had with nature’s finest in Animal Kingdom.
My little thrill-seekers loved their aqua fix in Typhoon Lagoon & Blizzard Beach, even in the brief but intense tropical thunderstorms which in no way ruined events, but rather enhanced them when we saw people abandon the lazy river in their droves, ditching their latex friends for the briefest of interludes.
The parks are stacked with amenities, you want for nothing – well, other than free-flowing dollars – but it really is everything the children had dreamt of and more. We were very fortunate that our trip coincided with that of our close friends, so that made things all the better.
We ventured as far and wide as my little OCD itinerary would allow and managed to incorporate a trip to the world famous Clearwater beach, a sea jaunt around the Gulf of Mexico dolphin spotting and tried to hit most of the restaurants recommended on the many Facebook forums I consulted pre-trip.
So on to my top 10 list of must-do’s when in the Sunshine State.
I’m all for flying by the seat of my pants, but given the choice of standing in line for 2 hours to see Lilo play hide and seek with Stitch in an interactive scratch ‘n’ sniff theatre experience, I will take advantage of Disney’s free fast-pass system any day!
2. Go to Wallmart
Villa holidays in an expansive home with a fridge freezer the size of most British kitchens demands a massive food shop and there is no better choice than the enormous hypermarket that sells everything! Pretty much every tourist’s first stop on a Stateside sunshine vacay!
3. Venture outside the parks
Although mesmerising and all consuming, there is so much more to the Sunshine State than just magic. try and explore, soak up the sun and shop, eat, explore.
When the sun is just too hot and you need to pick up a few bits, head to the Florida Mall and take the Kids on a fab, air conditioned day out to Crayola world. Crafts, softplay, makes and creates all under one cool roof. All included in the modest gate price.
Possibly my favourite shops in the world other than Rue De Fabourg Saint Honore in Paris, these Premium Outlets have it all going on. Prices are crazy cheap and they have most names you would hope for including Michael Kors, Victoria Secret, Ralph Lauren, Yankee Candle, Nike etc etc.
Hands down, one of the most addictive places to eat in Orlando! The staff are eternally cheery, the turnaround swift and the menu extensive. I-hop once and you will be hooked forever.
These strong, killer creatures are fascinating as well as fearsome and Gatorland gets you up close & personal to them. Ride the screaming Gator zip line or bag a face-to-face meet with your personal snappy, just hope you don’t end up as a tasty snack!
8. Drive – Just hire a car and go.
Not far from Orlando, you can enjoy the cooling release of beautiful, natural springs, Manatees gliding gracefully alongside you! Or venture slightly further and visit the world famous Clearwater Beach. Or, as an affordable alternative to the bigger parks, Fun Spot is a lower cost, high fun alternative.
9. Visit Kennedy Space Centre
Again, a car ride away. Great for a day out and if you are super lucky, there may be a rocket launch and you can hear it live from the control centre via the loudspeakers. Or, for a truly magical experience, book lunch with a REAL astronaut!
10. Discovery Cove
No ‘must-do’ list would be complete without this one. Probably one of the most expensive days out you will ever have, but certainly the experience of a lifetime. Swim with a dolphin in your own private bay with drinks and food supplied all day. this one-to-one experience will be a day you will never forget.
So, only 6 months to plan out our itinerary for this years 3 week Florida fest. I better get my control freak skates on! What’s your favourite Orlando feature?