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- My Mini Digital Detox – by Anna Bell
Holiday of a Lifetime
Well it’s been a few busy weeks since we arrived home from our ‘holiday of a lifetime‘ in Orlando, and what a holiday it was!
The memories that we made will last a lifetime; meeting favourite characters, first rollercoaster experiences, being First Family and opening a Disney park, waterpark fun in the sun…amazing family experiences that I certainly will never forget. Here’s just a few of my favourite moments and top tips:
We flew with Virgin Atlantic and had a pretty seamless experience both there and back. The inflight entertainment is known to be one of the best in the business and it certainly kept my five year old twins entertained on what would have otherwise been an extremely long 9.5 hours! Food was good, seats had enough leg room, flight was full.
Top tip – you do have to pay to prebook your flight seats with Virgin Atlantic and this does add a hefty fee to the cost of your holiday. We chose to do this for peace of mind, however if you join their free frequent flyers club you can check in online 72 hours before your flight and chose your flight seats free of charge at this point. Obviously the seat options at this stage may or may not be to your preference…If you are flying Economy with Virgin Atlantic you can prebook your seats in the ‘bubble’, the upstairs area usually reserved for Premium or Upper Class guests. These seats go fast, as many flyers say the service and smaller environment is preferred…you are also one of the first to leave the plane, giving you a head start on the immigration queues!
Immigration at Orlando Airport is not the quickest! Be prepared to wait and be aware that you are not allowed phones/iPads etc – it can be a long wait after an even longer flight! Once finally through you have the choice to either carry your already collected luggage up an escalator or put it back onto a luggage carousel to collect once you have taken the quick two minute train to the terminal.
Top tip – carry your luggage if you can! Otherwise you may again be waiting a while to meet your suitcase for a second time at the terminal!
Next we collected our hire car. Quick, easy check in – say no to any upgrade options as generally the cars in the US are all HUGE! We were told which lane to collect our car from and we were then given the choice of all cars in this lane – so much choice! Needless to say, hubby chose a huge car with all the trimmings!
Top tip – we hired a Sat Nav but you can buy/hire them quite cheaply from Ebay and then sell it on afterwards. Or look into downloading a free mobile map service, there are many available. Also, take a photo of your car and make a note of the area in each car park when parking – they are huge and it is near impossible to find your car otherwise! We also kept a brightly coloured soft toy on the dashboard, anything to help find our car after a busy day in the parks!
Our accommodation was in Kissimmee and only around 30 minutes from the airport using one toll road. Be aware that not all tolls are maned so you will need a few dollars change for your journey. We stayed at the CLC Encantada Resort in a 2 bedroomed townhouse, which was absolutely perfect for our needs; spacious, clean and tidy, with an onsite restaurant and two swimming pools and only 10-15 minutes away from Disney. We will definitely stay there again and highly recommend it!
Top tip – have the kids sleepwear and toothbrushes etc in your hand luggage. By the time we were at the accommodation my two were asleep in the car and absolutely useless, I’m so glad that I had thought to keep their PJ’s handy.
For at least the first 4 or 5 nights we were waking in the early hours of the morning; yes I was wide awake at 2.30am! So even on your ‘trip of a lifetime’ try to schedule a few easy days towards the beginning of your holiday or make the most of being an early riser and head to the theme parks for opening; just be aware that by mid afternoon you will probably be flagging…we didn’t really get into the flow of things properly until our second week.
For this trip we had already decided to take our time and to only visit the Disney parks. I highly recommend considering this, depending on the ages of your children. Our twins are soon turning 6 and we decided that this was Disney-perfect age for us; big enough to handle walking the long distances that the parks cover, tall enough for the rides that they would be interested in, yet young enough to really be thrilled to meet the many Disney characters…
So which was our favourite park?!
Animal Kingdom was the first we visited; both boys love animals and I thought this park would ease us in as there are less rides and more space than some of the others. The safari was a huge hit, as was the bird show and the Lion King and Nemo Musical shows should not be missed.
We didn’t venture near any of the larger main attraction rides such as Everest or the Kali River Rapids – I knew from experience not to push the boys into going on rides that they may not enjoy (this has backfired before!) and so we actually didn’t have to queue for any length of time for any ride. We also took full advantage of Disney’s Fast Pass whenever possible.
Disney Studios was the one that both the boys and my husband were most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint! Being huge Star Wars fans they could not wait to meet Kylo Ren and Chewbacca – the boys faces during these meets alone were worth all of the hard sweat and tears saving for the holiday!
The Studios has a lot of building work ongoing; Pandora, the land of Avatar, is due to open in May this year and Star Wars land is due at some point in 2019…so yes, there is a lot of boarding up around the park but we didn’t feel this effected the attractions that are currently in place. Toy Story Mania was probably my favourite ride of all the parks (a 4D amazing shooting game!), Star Tours is not to be missed whether you are a Star Wars fan or not and again, the Studios is home to a couple of the biggies, Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
Alongside these, the character interaction opportunities at the Studios is great and the shows are of West End quality…We did book a Fast Pass for Fantasmic, an evening pyrotechnic, laser light and dancing water extravaganza but this was a big mistake! Within about 15 minutes both boys were in floods of tears and we had to leave; sometimes you forget how ‘dark’ Disney can be; something to consider if taking younger children. We hurriedly left this and managed to catch the Star Wars fireworks which were amazing!
I have been to Orlando many times in the past, but this was the first time to visit Epcot – and I loved it! I can see why so many people say this is almost a hidden Disney gem; missed from many tourists trips if struggling for time, Epcot is so much more relaxed than the other parks and this alone makes it a wonderful and full day out. Split into two areas, one with rides and attractions, the other the World Showcase where you can visit 11 countries in one day! I thought this park had the most character interaction opportunities (if you are happy to queue!) and the World Showcase made for an amazing afternoon wandering and exploring. Some great, if more traditional, rides to enjoy and then our first family experience of a fast ride, Test Track. Yes, I tricked my more scared son onto this and yes, he may be scarred for life! #badmum
And we saved the best for last, Magic Kingdom.
Home to the iconic castle, home to Mickey, home to the most amazing rides, parades and fireworks that Disney offers!
It’s a ‘must do’ for every Orlando holiday and with this comes the crowds; yes, it is also home to the largest number of tourists in Disney! It certainly felt far busier than any of the other parks and this was regardless of which day we visited (we went twice during our holiday). But don’t let this put you off, with a little advance planning and research you will have the BEST day here!
We managed to get on Minetrain, we Fast Passed Peter Pan, we met talking Mickey, we saw and danced along to the midday show, we had the best view of the parade, the fireworks were AMAZING – yes, Magic Kingdom was an absolute blast!
We were lucky to be able to experience having a tour guide show us around the parks for a few days – click here to read my full review of the services offered by My VIP Tour.
We also found time to visit one of the Disney waterparks, Blizzard Beach, and also Gatorland (one son is the biggest gator/crocodile fan ever!). We enjoyed a day off at Winter Park, a beautiful town that was something out of a chocolate box! We visited two Disney mini-golf parks – really good fun and great theming (also included if you prebook your Disney ticket from the UK). Along with a little shopping along the way!
Yes, it was a busy holiday but we didn’t rush; we were very aware of when the boys were tiring and about to ‘lose it’ and we headed home at the right time for us. We hope that we will be able to go back in a few years time and so this made for no panic if we didn’t get on a certain ride or didn’t have time to see a particular show and I would pass on this as my number one top tip…
Top tip – sit back, take as much of it in as possible, don’t rush and panic, enjoy the moment; this may be a once in a lifetime holiday or you may go back again next year, either way these memories really will last a lifetime so more than anything ENJOY!