Well, as promised, here is a bonus post, which shares a little bit (o.k, I already know that it won’t be a ‘little’ bit, I am incapable of being concise!) about our holiday and what we got up to. You’d better get a coffee and settle in for the long-haul 😉 I’m sharing this, partly because a few people have said they’d love to read about our trip but also because I personally love to look back on these posts. (My New York and Hilton Head posts are two of my favourites to look back on). I thought I would share our itinerary with a few pics as well as a bit of information about the parks, our favourite moments and anything else worth sharing. I have to say, this sort of post is the one when I find my decision not to share pictures of the kids on here the most difficult. I have so many lovely photos but I’m just sharing ‘scenery’ – it seems like a shame but I feel more and more, as the children are getting older, that the decision of what is shared of them online needs to be theirs, not mine.
Our planned itinerary is shown first and then our actual itinerary (or additions to our plan) is in brackets. We quickly realised that we could see the most by resting a bit each day and doing something different in the late afternoon/evening. So, we switched and swapped around to make the most of our fast passes and to allow for a little bit of a break here and there. As you can see, our ‘rest days’ didn’t really happen!!
Day 1: Magic Kingdom
We LOVED the Magic Kingdom. We are all Disney fans and I know it’s not for everyone but we felt there was a really great mix here of things that appealed to the whole family and we all enjoyed all of the rides (ie. we didn’t have to split up at all). We went back time and time again because there was just so much to do.
Day 2: Hollywood Studios
We had a great (very hot!) day at Hollywood Studios. It was very much ‘all about the movies.’ There weren’t as many big rides in this park but plenty to do and keep you entertained. We watched the Indiana Jones stunt show and our son loved the star wars area and the Toy Story ride while my husband and daughter kept going back time and time again for the ‘Tower of Terror.’
Day 3: Typhoon Lagoon (and back to Magic Kingdom for fireworks)
I didn’t take a single photo at Typhoon Lagoon! I can’t believe it didn’t even enter my head! To be fair, when you are in and out of the water all day, photographs aren’t really practical. My husband and children really enjoyed the water slides at this park and I was very happy to ‘stay with the bags’ and rest on the sunbed while they enjoyed the thrills! I did brave the wave pool which is awesome and like no other wave pool I’ve ever encountered (there seriously is no way you are ever keeping your hair dry in that one!) and also the lazy river – much more my scene!! The fireworks were everything we expected and much more. I am 100% sure I will never forget standing in front of the Cinderella castle and looking across to see my children’s faces lit up by the spectacle in every way possible. It was an emotional moment.
Day 4: Seaworld (and Disney Springs)
Seaworld was another amazing day but so tiring! We did a LOT of walking (we did every day, but on this day, we took a couple of very lengthy wrong turns!) and we were so glad to get to the auditoriums to watch the shows.
We saw the dolphin show, the killer whales and finally, the sealion show. They were all so amazing but you couldn’t help but have mixed feelings about seeing these incredible creatures in such close quarters. I appreciate so much that we had the opportunity to see them but I did feel a sense of reassurance knowing that Seaworld has stopped its breeding programme and you could feel that the park was working hard to move forward in a new direction. I have to say, the rides were incredible and were worth a visit on their own. They were for serious thrill-seekers though so not for the faint of heart!
Day 5: Rest Day (Morning by Pool and back to Magic Kingdom again)
I have to confess, a morning by the pool was extremely needed at this point! My feet were in seriously bad shape and even a morning of rest was enough to make a difference. Once we were all feeling refreshed, we headed back to the Magic Kingdom again to make use of our fast passes.
Day 6: Animal Kingdom (and back to Animal Kingdom for dinner at Rainforest Cafe)
Animal Kingdom was not quite what I expected (I was thinking it would be more like a safari park but it was very definitely a theme park with a safari ride as one of the attractions). We really enjoyed it and some of our favourite rides were here. We loved ‘Expedition Everest’ and a favourite for all four of us was ‘Dinosaur’ which we went back for a couple more times over the course of the holiday. The whole place was a pleasant surprise. Not what we were expecting, but in a good way! The ‘Rainforest Cafe’ was great fun and the food was so good. We had been to the one in London before and it is virtually identical but a fab way to spend an evening nonetheless.
Day 7: Universal Studios (and Universal Islands of Adventure)
Our first experience of Universal felt quite late in proceedings but we still had plenty of opportunity to enjoy it. Our son is a big Harry Potter fan and we found ourselves heading almost straight for the far end of the park (where Diagon Alley is situated). I have to say, we were so impressed with the rides. We went on ‘Escape from Gringott’s’ first and it was a different kind of ride than anything we had encountered so far where you are both riding a ‘roller coaster’ and being thrown into a ‘virtual world’ at the same time. Amazing. Many of the rides at Universal were like this (Spiderman, Transformers, Kong) and they were fantastic. One thing we did note was that there was a distinct lack of shade at Universal (where we found plenty at other parks) and I don’t know if this was more noticeable because the day we had chosen to go was so clear and scorching! I would say that Universal is aimed at a slightly older crowd than the Disney parks (understandable) and there was a great (and huge) mix of rides. It’s so hard to choose favourites but across the two parks, I would say our top ones were the two Harry Potter rides (Escape from Gringotts and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey), the Transformers and Spiderman rides, the Jurassic Park River Adventure and Skull Island: Reign of Kong.
Day 8: Discovery Cove (and back to Seaworld)
(Again, a day spent largely without my camera, this was the only scenic shot I got!) This was a day we will never forget. Our daughter has always wanted to swim with a dolphin and it’s been pretty close to the top of my bucket list too so this was an amazing experience. Our guide for the session was so lovely and the dolphins were wonderful. We each got to touch and ‘kiss’ the dolphin and then we took turns to swim out and be pulled back to shore. They were so clever and well behaved. Such incredible creatures. It wasn’t just about the dolphin encounter though. The whole day was so enjoyable. There was a saltwater ‘lagoon’ where you could snorkel with fishes and Rays which was amazing as well as a lovely lazy river which took you around the cove and there were other animal encounters on the way including an avery full of beautiful birds that you could feed and a meet and greet with a Sloth! Discovery Cove was a real highlight of the holiday for all of us.
Day 9: Rest Day (Universal Islands of Adventure and back to Hollywood Studios for fireworks)
Our second visit to Universal and we had lined up the rides we were going to tackle first to avoid the queues later. It was another scorching day so we did what we could up until lunch time and then headed back for some rest and a swim before making our way back to Hollywood Studios where we used our fast passes and watched the ‘Star Wars’ themed light and firework show.
Day 10: Epcot (and Disney Springs)
I have to say, I didn’t have terribly high expectations of Epcot, probably because I wasn’t really sure what to expect (despite having visited as a teenager) but it definitely didn’t disappoint. There were some great rides – our favourites were “Test Track” and “Soarin'” but we also really enjoyed “Mission: Space” and the slower-paced ride through the ‘golf ball’ which was called “Spaceship Earth”. Apart from the rides, there was so much to see and do throughout the park – far more than we could cover in a day.
Day 11: Universal Islands of Adventure (Kennedy Space Center – we switched days when we found out a rocket was launching in the early morning of this day. We also stopped to shop on the way home and took a horse and carriage ride in the evening around our hotel and the neighbouring hotel)
The back story to this is that as a teenager, I was fascinated by all things ‘space’ – I know, no judging please! – and so, while on holiday in Florida with my family, my Parents drove us over to Cape Canaveral to watch a shuttle launch. I was more excited about it than anything else on that trip and we stood on top of a random building somewhere (I can’t quite remember how this came about – I think it was a gift shop or something!) and listened to the countdown on the radio. It got to T-3 seconds and stopped due to a complication. I was so disappointed! I always hoped I would get to see a launch some day but when Nasa cancelled their shuttle programme in 2011, I was a bit sad thinking it would never happen. When we were planning this trip, I had in my mind that there were fairly regular rocket launches from Cape Canaveral and I kept checking in on the schedule to see if there were any planned during our visit. There were none. The closest was a few days before we arrived. However, while we were out there, I checked in again, just in case and there was a re-scheduled launch for the day before our planned visit to Kennedy Space Center – what are the chances?! So, we made a quick switch of our plans and all got up at 5am to go and watch – it was a-mazing! We watched from the Space Center where they had set up bleachers and a large screen with a guy doing a commentary. The atmosphere was so exciting and we waited and waited while the launch was pushed back and pushed back again. It was a familiar tale and I thought I was destined never to see it. The window for launch closed at 8.40am and the rocket finally launched at 8.36. It was so exciting. Everyone cheered and then we all waited silently for the sound to reach us. When it did, the ground shook! Definitely another experience we won’t forget in a hurry!
The space center itself is a fantastic day out. There were several ‘goose bump’ moments for me, particularly when they took us into a dark room and showed us a film about the space shuttle programme, then rolled back the screen to reveal the space shuttle itself, it was amazing! And the shuttle experience ride was pretty awesome too!
Day 12: Kennedy Space Center (Universal Studios and boat ride to Disney Springs followed by Epcot for fireworks in the evening)
So we switched back to Universal again to get in those last few rides we hadn’t got to. We had made the decision not to buy express passes for Universal because they were SO expensive and by going on 3 separate mornings, we were able to do everything we wanted to without having to queue too long. We split up after the first hour and the thrill seekers among us rode ‘Hulk,’ ‘Revenge of the Mummy’ and the ‘Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit’ while the others rode the ET ride, the Simpsons and the Dr Seuss ride.
Day 13: TBD – We left this day free so we could decide what we wanted to do after giving most things a try! (Airboat ride in the Everglades followed by more shopping and back to Animal Kingdom for the Rivers of Light evening show)
We finished up deciding to take an air-boat tour of the everglades. It’s something we wanted to do and while it was tempting to head back to a theme park, I’m so glad we made the decision to phone and see if we could get an air-boat tour. It was an hour drive and when we arrived, it was just starting to rain. Our guide, Wade, was so sweet and insisted we all cover up with the rain jackets he provided, even though we told him we were used to getting wet (coming from the UK!) We were so glad he insisted because when we got out there and he really got the boat speeding across the swamps, we would have been drowned!! He took us to two alligator nests and we got to see an alligator soooo close up, it was actually very unnerving! He stopped the boat right next to her and encouraged us all to go and stand at the front and take a good look – we were so close but he assured us she (probably) wouldn’t bother with us!! He obviously knew the area like the back of his hand (I can’t think how!) and told us lots about the local area, the plant life and wildlife. It was a really interesting experience and the kids loved it too!
In the evening, we went back to Animal Kingdom for a few more rides and then watched the ‘Rivers of Light’ show which was incredible! I hadn’t seen anything like it before – there were beautiful vessels floating on the water, all lit up and then they used jets to spray water and project images onto the water. It was beautiful.
Day 14: Travel to Gulf Coast (Final morning at Magic Kingdom before we headed off for a road trip to the coast)
We spent our final week over on the Gulf coast near Sarasota and, after feeling more than a little emotional (I was a bit teary in the car!) about leaving Orlando, it was like arriving in Heaven!! We had such a magical time there, it definitely took the edge off having to leave the parks behind.
We saw some incredible storms while we were in the Sarasota area which added to the excitement! We also took some time during this week to drive up to Clearwater and visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where the film ‘Dolphin Tale’ was set. We got to see ‘Winter’ dolphin in the flesh and spent a day there learning all about the animals and how the film came about and was made.
All in all, it really was a holiday of a lifetime. We made memories we will treasure forever. And now, I promise to stop boring you all with it and get back to my usual content 😉
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