Orlando - More than just the Parks

Jeni Ringland 04 September 2017
Three generations of my family got the chance to head to sunny Florida last October. With seven adults and a three-year-old in tow, we were sure we would like to see more than just the parks, but we got tickets to Universal all the same. No matter your age, an American theme park should be on everyone’s bucket list, it’s just uncompromised fun!!! Every second day of our trip we spent between Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure, both right beside each other. We experienced what it’s like to actually be in a tornado! We got turned into minions in a virtual reality universe, a magic wand chose me in Harry Potter World, I rode the scariest indoor Rollercoaster EVER and watched a live open-air concert by the Blues Brothers! Even the queues are entertaining, with interactive shows happening as you wait.

Staying in a house rental really helped us feel almost like locals. We were like excited kids when we opened the door of the house and found a huge American style open kitchen, filter coffee maker, gigantic microwave, even bigger TV’s everywhere! We knew we were in the States alright. The garage with pool table and table football and a fridge for beer really confirmed that for us. It was the perfect base for a family trip, and best of all, sliding doors from the ‘den’ led to our very own swimming pool! There was even an alarm on the doors so you would know if a child went out unsupervised. Most of the houses on our street were owned by regular families, as we discovered on Halloween night. It was so much fun to see literally hundreds of kids in fancy dress going door to door trick-or-treating. It was like being on the set of E.T. We could walk to the local Walmart, of course we were the only ones who ever did!! That is a fun experience in itself, you can buy everything from blow-up beds to Hunting rifles to ten litre tubs of ice-cream. There was even a sports bar ten minutes’ walk away from the house. The waitresses all had cowboy hats and each beer came with a big bowl of peanuts, and the locals just threw the shells on the ground in big piles! Everyone is so open and friendly in Orlando, you feel welcome everywhere you go.

We went orange picking at ‘Showcase of Citrus’, a really fun place to go with kids too. It’s a real working farm where you get wheelbarrows and pick your own grapefruits, oranges, whatever is in season from Autumn through to Spring. They have a gorgeous market shop and playground, and it is off the highway and in the countryside, yet easy to find. A $30 Walmart juicer and we were good to go for the whole trip. We went to Gatorland on our last day to kill a few hours and ended up having the most fun! Literally hundreds of alligators and crocodiles of all shapes and sizes, along with parrots, giant turtles, and lots of other animals. Our toddler loved it and the feeding time was scary but impressive to watch!

We took a trip to Celebration, the Disney town. That was a strange but fascinating place. It is a real working town with churches and schools and normal working people, but all designed by Disney, so it is pretty to within an inch of its life. The kind of place where happiness is compulsory. Truly not like any town I’ve ever seen anywhere, well worth a look and only 15 minutes’ drive from downtown Orlando.

I’d recommend a breakfast in Cracker Barrell just one of the mornings, for authentic country style pancakes and coffee, and a movie night is really fun as everything is supersized; from the seats and screen and sound to the popcorn!

Broaden your horizons on a trip to Orlando, and you’ll be rewarded.