I am not sure I can really say I went to Florida. I spent most of the time at Disney and Universal studios. Both are, of course, absolutely awesome. But as Disney himself said, “When at Disney he wanted people to feel like they were in a different world”. Disney is like living in a bubble, however it is a brilliant bubble. We went to all 4 parks and one of the water parks (the second water park – Blizzard Beach was closed). They have plans to build a Star Wars park, which I am sure will be amazing. We started off trying to allocate one day to each park and not jump around too much, but by the end we were getting across 2 parks in a day to make sure we got to do all our favourite stuff one last time. If you are planning a Disney trip, good planning is everything. The meal plans are well worth it considering the cost of food bought outside the plan, and there is nowhere nearby outside the parks to go. It is also worth planning and booking any character meals in advance. You may feel ridiculous knowing that in 6 months’ time you will be sitting down at 4.30pm for a meal with a Disney princess, but these book up really quick, so your kids will thank you for it. Finally learn how to use the Fastpass and get the App and take you phone with you to the park. If you get on a ride you’ve booked for Fastpass because the queue is short, you can make changes and you get a live view of which rides are busy and which ones aren’t.
Having blasted round Disney we did hire a car and get to see real Florida for a couple of days. A 2 hour drive gets you across to the West coast, and Crystal River. Once there we stayed in the Hampton Inn and got ourselves some river safaris. The idea was to try an airboat and swim with the Manatees. The airboat ride didn’t happen due to technical difficulties, but we did spend an unforgettable morning floating in the clear waters with the huge and gentle Manatees that live there. We also dropped in at the Crystal River National Wildlife Reserve. This was a last minute decision and meant we got back to Orlando really late, but was well worth it and makes for a great afternoon. It also contains the only Hippo in the world who is an honorary US citizen!
Having gone back East to Orlando again and checked in at Universals resort, we kept the car for one day to go out to Kennedy Space Centre. This is another place I wouldn’t miss, but like Disney you need to plan the day as it is an hours drive each way and you can barely fit all the stuff into one day. We started with the Destination Mars. This is a virtual reality suite where images of Mars from the Curiosity Rover are projected onto a headset that you wear. This is being developed to help NASA scientists feel like they are on the planet itself, but Kennedy have turned it into an attraction to help develop it. Literally science fiction, made fact.
The bus tour round the site goes on a bit long, and is the only part I would change, but you need to do this to get out where the Saturn V rocket exhibit is based. This is another not to be missed opportunity. The guide presenting this was great, but again probably dragged on too long for the kids. Finally, we went to the Atlantis shuttle exhibit. This kicks off with a film about the story of the development picking up where the moon landings left off. At first this seemed a bit long winded as well, but it finished with a shot of one of the initial model designs gliding towards the audience. This then freezes, the screen goes translucent and there is Atlantis in exactly the same orientation. As presentations go it was sensational, and then you get to wander round this real live space craft. I got a real lump in my throat about what was achieved here and I’m not even an American! At this point I decided not to go into the memorial area, as I really would have started blubbing!
All in all, another great day out.
To finish off we had a few days round Universal studios. For me this doesn’t have quite the same magic as Disney and more of the rides are virtual reality rather than good old fashioned high energy roller coasters., however it is still a great place. The Harry Potter area is amazingly authentic, and there are plenty of Marvel characters knocking about to have fun with as well.
Both Disney and the Universal hotels we stayed in were also fantastic. Again the Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge probably edged it over Universals Cabana Bay. However the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a premier hotel whereas Cabana Bay is more on Universals economy side. The bottom line is they both had great facilities that we probably didn’t make the most of because we spend so much time in the parks, but that is as it should be!
If you want to know what the kids thought of Florida, click here!