A Fantastic Family Trip to Florida

It was with great excitement that we landed at Orlando Airport… Freya had been so looking forward to visiting Florida, and especially Disneyworld, since we had booked the trip just over a year before! We had decided to take her whilst she was still young enough to believe the magic, even though Matt had been before and I was not really that interested in going…

The drive to Disney’s Port Orleans Resort was uneventful and we were soon settling into our large, air-conditioned room.  We had chosen to stay in a Disney Hotel due to the perks they offer: free transport to and from all the parks; free car parking at the parks; and most importantly, Disney Magic Hours (extra time in the park when it is only open to those staying at Disney Hotels).  We also liked the idea of being surrounded by the magic of Disney even when we were not at the parks!  The hotel and grounds of Disney’s Port Orleans Resort were immaculate and the staff were absolutely fantastic – we loved it and will definitely stay there again!

Another element of our accommodation we adored was the short boat trip to Downtown Disney – it is such a relaxing way to travel and we learnt so much about the area from the knowledgeable pilots!

So on to the Parks… I don’t even know where to begin!  We loved them all but I guess if I had to pick a favourite it would be Magic Kingdom – it is absolutely spectacular.   Whilst it does not have any thrill rides, the theming and the fabulous atmosphere are unparalleled. I could have spent two weeks in this park alone! At least once, get there before it opens and watch the opening spectacle with the characters, music, singing and dancing – it’s a great start to the day!

If you love animals (and even if you don’t), Animal Kingdom is amazing. The safari ride is so convincing and well worth queuing for – you could almost be on a safari in Africa it’s so realistic!  And don’t forget to ride Expedition Everest – it’s a great coaster through the Himalayas to the base of Mount Everest and is not too scary, even for a wimp like me!

Epcot was an enjoyable park for the grown-ups but for Freya, who was only 7 at the time, this was her least favourite Disney Park. Although she did love the Soarin’ ride, she whined most of the way around the lake, which was a shame as it somewhat spoiled our enjoyment of a beautifully designed park! The IllumiNations firework and light show over the lake was amazing if rather busy – but well worth staying late for.

My top tips for making the most of your time at the parks: get there as soon as they open and head for the popular rides first before the queues have time to build up; make the most of the Disney Extra Magic Hours if you are staying at a Disney Hotel – the park is nowhere near as busy if you arrive before normal opening hours; alternatively, make use of the FastPass system where you take a ticket which gives you a time slot in which to return and go on the ride – then head off and do something else until your allocated time when you return and get straight on without queuing.  FastPass is a lifesaver when you have young kids who refuse to stand in long queues!

One of the highlights of any trip to Disneyland has got to be the parades… Even as a somewhat jaded adult I felt they were truly magical!  The floats, the characters, the lightshows and fireworks were amazing and an experience I will never forget!

All the parks also offer shows – one of the best we saw was the stunt show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  It was a fast-moving and exciting show full of car chases.

But there are so many others to choose from… Just make sure you arrive early enough as at peak periods seats fill up very quickly.  The good thing is that the arenas are designed so that wherever you end up sitting you get a good view of the action.

If all that walking round the parks gets too much, you can always head to one of the water parks to cool off! Both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach have a variety of water slides to suit all ages and are lots of fun for everyone… They do get very busy though so if you have small children you will have to keep a close eye on them so as not to lose them in the crowds.

And if you are travelling with young girls, remember to book your princess makeovers at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique – Freya loved being transformed into a princess for the day! The staff were brilliant and the makeover was done with so much care and attention to detail – it was worth every penny!

We did the makeover on the same day as we had booked the Cinderella’s Royal Table dining experience, which was equally fantastic.  The food was great, the Grand Hall was suitably opulent and the Princesses were amazing! This is a VERY popular dining experience which needs to be booked months before your arrival so don’t forget to diary it for 6 months before (the earliest you can book) – it is well worth it and I guarantee it will be one of your favourite memories from your visit.

Another highlight of the holiday, and one of the few days we spent away from the Disney Parks, was our trip to Kennedy Space Centre.  It was an incredible experience and one which I would highly recommend.  Seeing the rockets, reading the stories and seeing where it all happens was mind-blowing.  We particularly enjoyed the Meet an Astronaut experience – it was enlightening to hear first-hand about going into space.

The day after our visit a supply rocket was due to be launched so after speaking to a helpful member of staff we decided to head back and watch it the following day – after all, how often do you get to watch a rocket blast off into space!  So we set off early the next day and headed for the seating just outside the entrance to Cape Canaveral Air Force Base (which is where we had been told we would be able to get a good view) and joined both locals and tourists on the benches.  What I had not realised was that we would hear the countdown over a loudspeaker which just added to the excitement.  Seeing the rocket rise up with flames shooting out behind and hearing the massive boom shortly afterwards was one of the most exciting events I have ever witnessed.   We were so lucky to have visited at this time!

Not far from Disney is Gatorland – a park dedicated to all things alligator! It is worth a visit to see these ancient creatures at close quarters – the babies are actually pretty cute! You can also get up close and personal with one if you are feeling brave… I didn’t personally (my excuse was that I wanted to take some photos!) but Matt and Freya did and enjoyed the experience.

But if you want so see alligators in their natural environment, check out Boggy Creek Airboat Rides and enjoy whizzing through the Everglades at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour.

One of our highlights, as well as seeing alligators, was spotting a pair of Bald Eagles.  Our guide was very quick to point out interesting wildlife and provide lots of information during the trip.  This was a great experience and one all the family will enjoy.

As for eating and drinking, there are plenty of options inside and outside the parks.  We got a Disney Dining Plan with our package and this was plenty of food even for us (and we love our food!).  By the end of two weeks I was starting to get slightly bored of what was available but we could always find something we liked wherever we were.  Waffles and maple syrup was a big hit with all of us for breakfast at our hotel!  My only slight gripe, as a vegetarian, would be that I could not find a salad that did not have meat in (they were pre-packed so your only option if you wanted salad was to pick the meat out).  In fact, fresh vegetables and salad did not feature much in any of the meals on offer…  Without doubt, the best meal we had on our holiday was the Cinderella’s Royal Table meal which was delicious and beautifully presented (and I do like my food nicely presented!).

So, did we enjoy Florida… Yes, it was one of our best holidays so far and for someone who wasn’t that bothered about going to Disneyland before we arrived, I can honestly say that I was completely won over!  It is so magical that it is impossible not to love it!   If you haven’t already, go and see it for yourself.  There is nowhere else like it on the planet!

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