Orlando, Florida, Theme Parks – Travel Review
Orlando, Florida – Theme Parks
by Richard Jones
From our glass bubble high in the Florida sky, we could just make out a giant silver sphere, a raging volcano, a twisting green rollercoaster and a swarm of snaking water slides. My wife Rachel and I, along with our daughters Isla and Evelyn, were riding on The Wheel, a new attraction in the undisputed theme-park capital of the world, Orlando.
For months leading up to our Sunshine State adventure, the kids had been counting down the days. To be honest, so had mum and dad, and each of us had our own ideas of what would make this Florida family time truly magical. Character-driven Evelyn, eight, couldn’t wait to meet some of her heroes and heroines, while her 12-year-old adrenaline junkie sister’s goal was to go on the scariest rides possible.
In the past, my favourite days have been splashing around at the water parks, and Rachel craved peace and tranquillity. Cramming all the above sights and more into one week requires military-style planning, but thanks to TUI’s new route from Doncaster Sheffield to Orlando Sanford, our own Florida fairytale got off to a flier.
Booking through TUI is also handy in that they can arrange your entire holiday, and after stepping off the Dreamliner at Sanford, we were able to choose from a line of hire cars from Alamo. Our Sunshine State home from home was a Two-Bedroom Suite at the perfectly located Sonesta ES Suites on International Drive.
Our Two-Bedroom Suite provided us with the perfect base from which to piece together our Florida jigsaw. There was a hot and cold buffet breakfast every morning and a pool and hot tub to splash around in before or after the parks. Another bonus was the shuttle bus which runs to and from the attractions each day, allowing us to leave the car at the hotel.
And speaking of parks, Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park is surely the place where all Orlando family holidays should start. Both Isla and Evelyn were in their element next to the world-famous Cinderella’s Castle, ticking off characters in their autograph books, as well as riding Space and Splash Mountains.
Later in the week, we squeezed as many Disney delights as we could into one day. Firstly, there was a visit to Animal Kingdom, including Expedition Everest and the amazing new Avatar Flight of Passage ride in the jawdropping Pandora world. Then, after refuelling, we hot-footed it over to Epcot for its fireworks extravaganza IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.
All this theme-park fun was hungry work, and during the week we dined at three amazing, but very different, restaurants at Disney Springs. Bowling-themed diner Splitsville is renowned for serving some of the best Sushi in the Orlando area.
But we kept it American, tucking into cheese and bacon-topped fries, chicken tenders and hand-tossed pizzas, while playing a few games on the lane. Southern-style farm-to-fork cuisine is the order of the day at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’. We munched down on the James Beard Award-winner’s Famous Fried Chicken, melt-in-your-mouth braised ribs and a dessert that had my daughter’s name all over it, Aunt Evelyn’s Chocolate Cake.
Finally, at Paddlefish, we were treated to a seafood masterclass, with fresh lobster guacamole mashed up at our table, as well as crab cakes, shrimp pasta, swordfish and scallops.
While the magical Disney parks were Evelyn’s domain, Isla was all about the adrenaline rush of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. After a dizzying morning in which we coaxed Evelyn into riding on The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey, the four of us had an early tea at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville on the CityWalk.
“Refuel and cool down”
With live music playing, tasty margaritas flowing, and cheese melting on the calorific Volcano Nachos and signature Cheeseburger in Paradise, it was the ideal place to refuel and cool down (or in our case dry off, following an almighty Florida downpour).
Then it was onto Universal Studios for the stomach-churning Hollywood Rip Ride Rock It and Shrek 4D attractions before taking our seats for the Cinematic Celebration light show.
Walking around the theme parks in the sweltering Florida heat can be draining, so a good tip is to split the week up with a water park or two. Universal’s Polynesian-themed Volcano Bay is home to dozens of slides, rapids, waterfalls and beaches, all at the foot of the awe-inspiring 200-foot-tall Krakatau.
Even scaredy cat Evelyn summoned up enough courage to use her Tapu Tapu wristband to ride the Ko’okiri Body Plunge, the tallest body slide in America at 125 feet, and Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides – a pair of high-speed twisting chutes with trap-door starts.
SeaWorld’s Aquatica is the only water park in Florida that rivals Volcano Bay. Here, after chilling out at Cutback Cove, we took the Dolphin Plunge, before heading to Ihu’s Breakaway Falls and the new exciting raft ride KareKare Curl.
On our final day in Florida, the four of us hopped on the I-Trolley for a day in paradise at Discovery Cove. We were spoilt rotten with a cabana for the day and swam with two dolphins – Prim and Thelma – as well as snorkelling among rays, feeding birds and taking part in SeaVenture, an underwater walk wearing glass divers’ helmets.
Before we jetted off back to Doncaster with TUI, there was time for a couple more treats. At Sugar Factory American Brasserie at ICON Park, we had giant goblets of nitrogen-infused cocktails, rainbow-coloured sliders and, of course, those infamous desserts.
Afterwards, we raised glasses of bubbly (and water) on board the aforementioned ferris wheel, which may not be the fastest ride in Florida, but arguably has the best views.
Our trip to Orlando was pure Magic, and one that ‘Wheel’ never forget.
TUI offers seven-night holidays to Orlando, Florida, staying at the Sonesta ES Suites on a bed-and-breakfast basis from £907 per person. Price is based on two adults sharing and includes flights departing from Doncaster Sheffield airport on June 15, 2019, and transfers. To find out more or to book go to TUI.co.uk, visit your local TUI store or download the app.