When in the sunshine state

Safe to say there’s nothing wrong with a bit of spontaneity but with thousands flocking to the sunshine state every month you might want to plan a little ahead….

 

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Orlando. I’ll be honest with you (as is my nature) it was never high on my travel wish list, yet everyone one kept going on about Disney World and the thrilling Universal theme parks – but my cute inner European was quite content with Disneyland Paris right on my doorstep. That was until Universal opened up Hogsmeade and subsequently Diagon Alley – now I had to visit, no question about it.

Despite studying it at University (as a prime example of Butlers destination development model from exploration to consolidation) my real knowledge of Orlando didn’t extend much further than the stories my friends had told me – ‘its sunny… drink water… the Harry Potter world is incredible…see Epcot… really Ellen –  YOU HAVE to GO!!!’

Fast forward seven years and quite literally as if by magic (and of course a lot of hard work, saving and planning) I was whisked off to Orlando for an unforgettable family trip (I do count myself exceptionally lucky to have such incredible parents).

So aside from my gushing, academic reminiscing and sentimental stories, you are here for the top tips and insights from my trip, right? And I like to give you the insider tips you couldn’t get together all in one place

 

Plan in advance 

My top bit of advice – plan, plan and plan some more (well as many of you know I am super organised). Gosh – I just want to be spontaneous I hear you cry, ok yeah that is great but sadly holidays in Orlando mean you really need to work in advance or you’ll find yourself with nowhere to eat and ride queue times of at least 90 minutes. But don’t fret if you pay a bit extra for the Universal Express pass you can skip the regular lines and ‘My Disney Experience’ is a great free site where you can make day by day plans for up to three Fast Pass + ride selections and unlimited dining reservations. After you’ve experienced the thrilling park attractions you can kick back and take the rest of the holiday as it comes – feel like sitting by the pool but no clue what to do tomorrow? No worries you won’t have crowds to compete with, so you can fill your days however you like.

 

The early bird catches the worm

I hate clichés but when it comes to visiting Universal World and any of the Disney World parks nothing could be closer to the truth than the phrase – the early bird catches the worm. Unless you are staying at one of the parks hotels (and therefore have marvellous access to ‘Extra Magic Hours’) you will want to park up and head over to the entrance at least 30 minutes before the advertised opening hours. Wait – they won’t let me in before, though right? Actually some of the parks including Epcot and Animal Kingdom will on occasion let you in a few minutes before the official opening times just to ease crowds.The distance from the car parks to the actual parks themselves is an adventure (trek) in itself with long walk ways and security checks – so  the earlier you arrive the less time you will need to spend queuing to get in and the more time you can spend on the rides, happy times. 

 

Settle outside the park

The theme parks have some incredible hotels themed around different concepts and with just a short walk from the rides you can make the most of ‘Extra Magic Hours’ and special interactions with characters. But what you might not take into account is that just a short drive away are many stunning villa properties where your family can enjoy privacy and peace together and explore other attractions aside from the theme parks. The self-catering villa we stayed at was 10-30 minute drive away from the main parks with its own hot tub, pool and views overlooking a cute marshland. During our stay we were visited by a family of cranes and there was even a games room hidden in the garage.

 

Protect against the rays

Now I know I’m not your mother so asking you to remember to cover up, wear a sun hat and not forget to put on sun cream seems a tad patronizing. But honestly it never fails to amaze me how many people either forget to lather up on holiday or simply just think they are immune to burning. Standing in queues for rides surrounded by tomato skinned tourists makes me cringe – it’s a shame to think that someone’s enjoyment of a destination has been tainted by the pain of the sun’s rays. So please do bring a hat or even buy one (my inner nerd had me perusing ones in Hogsmeade) slap on that sun lotion – instant holiday smell in a bottle and stay hydrated throughout the day. Ok annoying mother hen rant over I promise.

 

Dining experiences await

I am a total foodie at heart from fine dining to street food and fast food trends – there is nothing I love more than treating my taste buds to some tantalising cuisine. And Orlando believe it or not really didn’t disappoint.. here are my top suggestions for dining experiences at the theme parks…

 

Rainforest Café, Animal Kingdom

If you’ve never experienced a tropical storm at dinner or tucking into a burger whilst a hungry leopard growls overhead – promise me, you need to visit the Rainforest Café. Themed as a tropical rainforest (clues in the name) teaming with wild creatures, grab your safari hat and take a walk on the wild side with an American themed feast.

 

Be our Guest, Magical Kingdom

I couldn’t help but gasp as I was transported into the world of my favourite Disney film Beauty and the Beast. This French restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes themed around the film – the food is stunning from croque monsieur to roasted lamb and the desserts have the most beautiful attention to detail. But really the true magic is within the décor – will you choose to sit in the magnificent ballroom with its high domed ceiling and snow falling outside, this was where the heart-warming dance scene took place (humming Tale as old as time – this room was my personal favourite). Perhaps you want to dine in the Beast’s mysterious West wing study and take a peek at his enchanted rose or you could always eat in Belle’s private library surrounded by larger than life figures of the pair dancing. If you are lucky you’ll spot Belle or the Beast up close. 

 

Mitsukoshi, Epcot

Choosing one place to eat at Epcot is very hard, with its fantastic blend of cuisines and culture you could easily spend the whole day eating and drinking your way around the world showcase (exactly what I did). But as I am a real sushi fan and admirer of Japanese culture my winner is Mitsukoshi with its elegant décor and diverse menu. Tuck into bento boxes full of sushi and sashimi or enjoy a steak, washed down with a hot sake or Kirin beer.

 

The Leaky Cauldron, Universal Orlando

Get transported to London – wait hang on a second, I’ve come on holiday to escape dreary England you cry. I thought I’d want to avoid it like the plague I mean there’s no where some theme park could perfectly re-create a place I’d read about for years and imagined or even avoid totally stereotyping English culture right?Wrong – a visit here is by far the best dining experience you will have at the park, I was transported straight into the magical world of Harry Potter with moving portraits (keep your eyes peeled for Sirius Black wanted posters) and British food served up – oh and please don’t forget to sip a butterbeer before you carry on shopping round Diagon Alley.

 

And most importantly remember… have lots of fun. For more Disney and Universal tips please get in touch – I’d love to hear from you 

 

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