As one of the world’s most popular family holiday destinations, Florida is an unbeatable blend of sun, sea and rollercoasters.
But, if you know where to look, the theme park capital also has a luxurious side. Here’s how to have a dream family holiday without just pleasing the kids.
How to get there
Virgin Atlantic offers direct flights to Orlando from London Gatwick and Manchester all year round and Glasgow and Belfast during the summer months. Virgin long-haul flights have lots of seating options ranging from economy light all the way up to upper class so there is a cabin and a seat for everyone. There are various options to upgrade your seat using air miles but, even in economy, you get delicious meals, some complimentary drinks and a full entertainment package. It’s the perfect choice to travel in comfort.
Where to Stay
It’s no secret that Orlando is the proud home of the big guy himself – Mickey Mouse. If you have a family, Walt Disney World can be unavoidable and with so much to offer and Disney World itself being larger than Manhattan, it might be worth while staying on site. Disney has an impressive range of hotels, ranging from budget to luxury all within close proximity of the four theme parks, two water parks and shopping district, Disney Springs. However, if you want to stay on site but not go all out Disney, we would highly recommend the Swan and Dolphin Hotels. The Swan and Dolphin are two luxury hotels with a very distinct look and within walking distance of both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios as well as Disney’s Boardwalk. The beauty of these hotels is that they are not owned by Disney so you can stay on site without feeling that you’re sleeping in a theme park. The sister hotels offer everything you would expect from a deluxe hotel and more. They have 17 restaurant and lounges including two celebrity owned restaurants, Shula’s Steak House and Todd English’s Bluezoo. They also have five swimming pools, two health clubs, a spa, games room and supervised children’s activities that children over four can enjoy while the adults try out some restaurants.
If having more space and a private pool is important, a wide range of villas are available. Companies such as Select Vacation Villas can find the perfect property for you, from two-bedroom condos to six-bedroom pool houses.
What to do
If you are hitting the theme parks, there are ways to avoid the crowds and queues. One of the most spectacular events in Walt Disney World is the Happily Ever After fireworks display at Magic Kingdom – home of the famous Cinderella’s Castle. As well as fireworks, the castle comes alive through a series of stunning projections accompanied by familiar Disney songs. The show is on nightly and it can be difficult to get a good viewing spot without wasting a good part of your day staking it out. However, you can pre-book one of Disney’s dessert parties where, as well as enjoying an exclusive buffet featuring cakes, ice cream and various other treats, you are then escorted to a private area to enjoy the show. And if your children – or you – are desperate to meet Mickey, Goofy and Co without having to queue up in the heat, character meals can be booked at restaurants in all parks and some Disney hotels. Don’t forget your autograph book.
If you’re heading to Universal Studios, often considered the more ‘grown-up’ choice among theme park enthusiasts, make sure you pick up the Express Pass to bypass queues – these are offered free of charge of you stay in selected Universal hotels and can be purchased in the park.. You don’t want to miss some of the most immersive rides including Kong, The Mummy and Harry Potter. SeaWorld offers a similar service with Quick Queue. Water parks including the new Volcano Bay, Aquatica, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon offer private beds and cabanas to rent so you can have a private area to rest in between rides.
It’s always nice to check out the local sports when you’re on holiday and for football – or soccer – fans, Florida is home to Orlando City. Founded only five years ago, the club play in the MLS, with World Cup winner Kaka among the stars to have recently graced the Orlando City Stadium.
An absolute must is the Kennedy Space Center, where you can view historic Apollo launch sites, get up close to a giant Saturn V rocket and enjoy the stunning new home of the space shuttle Atlantis. If that’s not enough, you can even book lunch with an astronaut and touch a piece of the moon.
Where to Eat
Walt Disney World has a wide range of restaurants to suit all tastes in the resorts, shopping areas and theme parks. There is a whole blog and social media following dedicated to the amazing treats on offer. However, Universal Studios Hotels can rival them in terms of restaurants. Universal’s Lowes Portofino Bay Hotel is home to Mama Della’s Ristorante and offers authentic Italian dishes from Tuscany, Naples and Piemonte. What’s amazing about this restaurant is that, as well as the delicious food, you can be serenaded by outstanding Italian singers while you eat – not to be missed.
A Day in Paradise
If you want to experience a true taste of paradise on your holiday, a trip to Discovery Cove is a must. For wildlife fans there is the chance to swim with dolphins, tropical fish and sharks, feed stingray and go on an animal trek. Your day includes unlimited food and drink and you can upgrade and rent a private, sandy cabana complete hammock, fridge, sand toys for children and even a personal host. Discovery Cove also offers massages – and this time the sound of birds singing and dolphins splashing isn’t courtesy of a CD.
Parks, attractions and tickets can easily be organised by VisitOrlando.com, the official tourism association for Orlando and holiday planning resource.
Authored by Jenna Maxwell