Family Fun in Florida

Melanie Cahill 25 August 2016
In May 2015, we (my daughter, friend and her daughter) landed in Orlando in the late afternoon having travelled with Virgin airlines from Dublin via Manchester. We hired a car and carried on to the hotel. The excitement now far outweighed the tiredness and jet lag. We couldn't wait to get there. Our hotel was the in Lake Buena Vista opposite Downtown Disney. We checked in with ease and headed straight for the pool for a delicious cocktail before we succumbed to some fine hotel dining before bed.

We availed of the flexitime tickets meaning we had unlimited access to all the Disney parks and Universal Studios. It was decided that we had to go to Magic Kingdom first. All excited, we found our way to the happiest place on earth. We were prepared with our bottles of water, sun cream and hats to battle the midday sun and long queues. However, it was all worth it. I would say be prepared, our kids were that bit older, but for families with small children definitely have snacks and bottles of water.

Beforehand we downloaded an app to our smart phones which would tell us how long the queues were and how to book our fast track tickets to skip the queues which helped us organise our day. Just be prepared, as meals could be a bit pricey and sometimes waiting for a table could take a while. We tried to have lunch later in the afternoon when the rush was over. The whole atmosphere was just incredible, the rides, the parades and the shops made us all feel like children again. We didn't have a care in the world.

The next day we went to Universal Studios. Quite frankly, my 22 year old daughter was like a 2 year old and quite adamant on this being our next destination. The main attraction here for us was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Having grown up with the books and films it was everything we expected and more. The rides were a bit faster and just that bit scarier, which definitely suited us bigger kids. The parks were split up and as you would leave one exit you would walk into a different world completely. From Diagon alley, to Jurassic park and the Simpsons, it was just so surreal. Again, the atmosphere was just thrilling, the excitement in the air was so palpable. The queues again, were quite long but worth the wait. You could get fast track tickets which you could skip the queues but these were $50 each per person, per park, per day - which we felt wasn't worth it. I have to say Universal studios was probably my favourite of all the theme parks and was just that bit more grown up than Disney.

We also visited both water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. The trick with these was to get there early so you could get sun beds in a good position, we preferred being near the wave pools. The water parks were great as the adults could sun bathe and relax whilst the big pool would cater for all ages and all abilities. We had tags on our sun beds, so we just brought our bags at lunchtime and chilled out with some food in the shade. We bought a cup, which worked in both parks, that kids were more than entertained. The slides and rafts in both parks was refillable. At certain points, you could use the cup and just refill it whenever you wanted instead of buying drinks non stop. When we went to the park the next day, we just replaced the microchip for a small fee and got unlimited refills. Definitely a good place to relax, enjoy the sun and keep everyone entertained.

We went to Animal Kingdom one of the days where you could enjoy more thrilling rides and also a safari. I would definitely recommend this, it was fun and we learned a lot and got to see all kinds of incredible animals. I think one day was plenty here, but definitely one to visit.

Our adventures carried on right into the evening time. The Florida malls were great if you love shopping. They were open late and we definitely got some great deals.

Our hotel was just across the road from Downtown Disney. This was a long street filled with excitement, entertainment, shopping and some great restaurants. There we great activities for kids, buskers and lots of street performers. We visited the Rainforest Cafe which was definitely a treat. We had to reserve a table a couple of nights in advance as it was so busy, but well worth it. It was a bit on the pricier side but for one night, the atmosphere, service and food was definitely worth it. Planet Hollywood was also one of the busier restaurants which would definitely need a reservation.

One of my favourite experiences was visiting Magic Kingdom after dark. The main light parade and fireworks were just mesmerising. Cinderella's castle also lit up to tell the story of Disney over the years. It was simply breathtaking.

Overall, it was a truly incredible experience. Whatever age you are I would really recommend it. We had such an amazing time, it would definitely be a place that I would visit again and again. Remember if you do go, plan your trip so you can experience as much of Orlando as possible. Hiring a car was great if you are comfortable with driving but if not the buses to all the theme parks are available and run regularly. Plenty of sun cream and water in a necessity wherever you go. And finally, be prepared to act like a complete child because all the excitement and magic really does bring out your inner child.