Orlando, Florida

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We travelled to Orlando for the last two weeks of August this year (2006). We flew with Virgin and stayed on the northern end of International Drive at the Quality® Inn  for a fortnight. You can find my Ciao  review of the hotel here

Places to Go/Things to Do

Two weeks is not enough time to do everything, and as we have not been a number of times (yet!), I can only tell you what we managed to cram in. We managed to visit all the Disney parks for at least one day each, and also spent a couple of days at Sea World, plus several visits to Universal. We found the Brit's Guide to Orlando and Walt Disney World  invaluable during our trip and it saved us loads of time in the theme parks by highlighting quiet days to visit.   

  • Disney MGM Studios was our favourite Disney park, and although you can do everything in one day, we went back for seconds another day, cherry picking the attractions we liked best. It's all good, but I especially liked the Great Movie Ride, Muppets 3D, Little Mermaid, the Indiana Jones stunt show, magic of animation studios and don't forget the Tower of Terror! As part of the 50 year anniversary, there was also a car stunt show called lights, motors, action brought in from Disneyland Paris which is very entertaining. The backlot tour is also a must if you can catch it during a quiet time. I would avoid the Narnia attraction unless the kids are desperate, as it is really just a glorified trailer for the film with a "real life" snow queen appearing for part of the film.
  • Next on our Disney list is Animal Kingdom. There are several mock boat trips (Dinosaur etc..) and the kilimajaro safari with a mix of real animals and animatronic ones. A short train ride to the conservation station combines something a bit educational with the chance for the kids to pet some fluffies! Also try It's tough to be a bug and the Khali river rapids (a tamer version of Universal's Bluto bilge rat barges!). Make sure you get a photo of the tree of life - it's the only way you can appreciate just how many animals are carved into it.
  • Magic Kingdom is, in reality, a joint second with Animal Kingdom in my ratings, and we did spend two days here. You can't really not go, as it is the big (and original) Disney park with great photo opportunities (in front of Walt & Mickey with cinderella castle in the background is a popular one) and spectacular outdoor shows. The revamped Pirates of the Caribbean is great and, as with most of the animatronic cast at Disney, captain Jack is very lifelike. Mickey's Philarmagic and haunted mansion were favourites with my brood. The youngest also loved space mountain despite it feeling very fast. The enchanted Tiki room will get you out of the sun (or rain) for half an hour and is entertaining for all ages. I also really enjoyed the hall of presidents (including the pre show entertainment in the foyer) and the carousel of progress (my wife and I keep find ourselves singing "It's a great big, beautiful tomorrow…" -go watch it and see if it doesn't have that effect on you!).
  • Epcot was my least favourite Disney Park, but that doesn't mean it is not worth visiting. The world showcase area has lots of appeal and the oriental lady who spins sugar sculptures is a sight worth seeing. The American Adventure is another fabulous animatronic show, even if they do try and portray some Brits as "great Americans". If you have kids with you, the circle of life show featuring characters from The Lion King (a film show), the "Figment" attraction and honey I shrunk the audience (another one of those 3D, water squirting and leg tickling interactive theatre shows) are all good fun to sit through. Adults and those with an environmental conscience will enjoy the "living with the land" tour, which takes you through some experimental botanical areas (look out for the Mickey's head shaped pumpkins) and fisheries. There was enough there of interest for me to go again, but for this holiday, there were far more things attracting me towards the other parks in the fortnight we were there.
  • Sea World is a must, especially seeing as most hotels on I-Drive offer free shuttles. The shows are excellent (I loved the antics of the mischievous mime artist at the sea lion show) and the petting areas were a draw for kids and adults alike - I stood with my arm in cold water for 10 minutes so a dolphin could sense whether it liked me or not! (it did). Because of the kid's ages, we didn't go on Kraken, but journey to atlantis was fun enough to go on a couple of times. The wild arctic "tour" is something a bit different, especially if you choose the "flight" departure option, which takes you on a simulated helicopter ride before the walking part of the tour. There's also all the other stuff that you would expect from a "sea life" theme park, just much bigger, grander and better than anything in the UK.
  • Saving the very best 'til last, lets now talk about Universal! I can honestly say, there was not a ride or attraction I went on at either of the Universal parks which I didn't enjoy. I went thinking that once I had done Jaws, my holiday would be complete, but that was just the tip of the fun iceberg. Men In Black and Back to the Future are great. The Terminator2 3D show is worth a look - there is a really cooky "warm up" act. Jaws is obligatory, and just around the corner is the Beetlejuice show. Another show I enjoyed was the horror make up show. They have the actual metamorphosis heads from American Werewolf in London. The Shrek attraction (and the talking Donkey outside!) are brilliant. At Islands of Adventure, I loved spiderman (same sort of set up as Back to the future), Jurassic Park river adventure (including the lead up to the ride where there is a great photo opportunity with a T-Rex poking it's head out at you) and the discovery centre where the kids can pet a "real" baby triceratops! The Sinbad stunt show is very funny (you will get wet if at the front - and not all the stunt action is confined to the stage!) and Poseidon's Fury is a good time filler - the actual show is nothing special, but all the lead up experiences are something to be wondered at. If you want to get absolutely soaked, go on the Bluto bilge rat barges - they are the same rafts as the Khali river rapids boats at Disney, but a much more seat of the pants ride and you get the added bonus of being shot with water canons by those who have gone before you. I've probably written the equivalent of "War & Peace" already, so all I can say is GO TO UNIVERSAL - it's all good.
  • The Titanic exhibition (within the Mercado shopping centre) and Ripleys are good standbys for a wet afternoon. Titanic is better value and you are treated to two interactive hosts/guides who are more than willing to answer any questions you have, which shows they have genuine knowledge rather than just working from a script. There is also a real iceberg for you to test your stamina against.
  • Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede provides a brilliant evening's entertainment and a jolly good meal to boot. Not only do you see some beautiful animals running around, there is plenty of opportunity for the audience to participate, and "Dolly" sings a song for you at the end, courtesy of the magic of television. If you buy a soft drink during the pre show (they are free all through the main show), you get to keep the souvenir glass too.
  • Shopping is a big attraction in Orlando, but I will leave it to other reviewers to detail it. There are lots of stores and it is all very cheap compared to the UK.
  • The food is cheap, with big portions and, on the whole, excellent quality and service. My favourite food places were Lighthouse Lobster Feast, Salt Island and TGI Friday's, but we did 'do' Denny's, Ponderosa, Sizzler etc… Rather than go to McDonalds, we tended to snack at Wendy's (which used to have outlets in the UK but pulled out some years ago) where the burgers are square.

There is a long list of places we would have liked to go, but time got the better of us. We did, however pack loads in and were lucky enough to go after most of the American schools had gone back, so the parks were relatively quiet (our longest wait time was 45 minutes for Peter Pan). Even if you think Orlando is not for you, GO - you may be pleasantly surprised. If not, there is a lot more to Florida and it is a lovely place to go.

##UPDATE: going back this summer, so will review where we stayed and put up a few pics too!##

This article © Darren Gibson.  A variation of this page is published on  under the user name Alslad36

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