My husband and I spent our honeymoon (and got married) in Orlando, Florida in September/ October this year. However, we weren't planning on this being a wedding and honeymoon at the time we booked it. The holiday was supposed to be a celebration for his 30th birthday and for me graduating from university. Although our reasons for being there changed, we had a fabulous time and thoroughly loved our time there.
For me, Orlando is the perfect destination for families who have members of all ages. One of the main draws to Orlando is quite obviously Disney for the younger children. However, this was something I desperately wanted to do as I had wanted to go since I was a child. I was slightly worried that Disney would be too aimed at young children but I was pleasantly surprised. Disney offers a whole range of things to do such as the main park (Magic Kingdom), Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and more. Each park seemed to have something for everyone. There are rides and attractions for the younger kids and bigger ones for the adults. My husband and I found plenty to do and enjoy at each of the Disney parks we visited. The drawback to Disney is that it can take up the whole two weeks of your holiday if you let it. There is so much to do and see. I think we were lucky because we didn't go with children so we were able to miss out a lot of the things aimed at a young audience.
If you're wanting a more grown up theme park though, Universal Studios is the place to be. Both Universal and Islands of Adventure have bigger, more exciting rides but each also has a section for the younger children which I thought was a nice touch. Out of the theme parks, Universal was easily my favourite but I think that might have been more because it is based around more current films such as Harry Potter and Marvel films. My husband is a massive Harry Potter fan so this was a big draw for us as he was desperate to see The Wizarding World and to go on the rides there. While you can spend a whole day in each Universal park, it is also possible to do both in a day if you're willing to miss out some things while you're there.
Theme parks in Orlando are expensive though and you can easily spend a small fortune here, especially if you have children begging for Micky or Minnie mouse ears etc. T-shirts will cost you $20 plus while your basic hotdog and fries can easily set you back around $8 a person. Both Disney and Universal have a souvenir for everyone and yes, we did buy a fair bit while we were there although we didn't go too mad. For those with more money, Disney and Universal artwork is available to buy in a couple of places and this type of thing could be a real treat to bring back with you.
We stayed in the Lake Buena Vista area of Orlando and here we found at least 4 discount souvenir shops. These all sold Disney and Universal items at much lower prices than in the actual parks. However, you must be careful as some of the merchandise is not authentic but you can find some real bargains if you look hard enough. These shops might be the kinds of places to take the kids if you want to get them something that's cheap if you know they won't appreciate the value of items from the official park shops.
International Drive (I-Drive) is the other must go to place in Orlando. Here you will find a street miles long with, again, something for everyone. I-Drive is home to a lot of the dinner shows and I can easily recommend the Pirate's Dinner Adventure after going there myself. This is such an exciting and entertaining show with the chance for audience participation. It was certainly a night to remember for us. Also on I-Drive is a whole range of museums such as Ripley's and experience attractions such as Titanic and CSI. If you've had enough of this kind of thing though, you can easily head over to Wet N Wild for a day in the water park to escape the heat!
Orlando is also a shopper's paradise. At either end of I-Drive are two outlet malls. They are both by the same company although each has some shops that the other doesn't which means they're both worth visiting. At these malls, you can find so many branded shops such as Ted Baker, Ralph Lauren, Nike and Gap. The items available are at a much lower price than you'll find anywhere in the UK and I know some people go to Orlando just for the shopping. In fact, the people staying in the hotel room next to us only went over to do their Christmas shopping. My husband and I did quite a lot of ours while we were there too. I managed to get myself a Ted Baker bag for roughly £60 whereas it would have cost £130 over here.
Maybe this is an American thing rather than an Orlando thing, but we found the locals to be so nice. We don't get customer service like they have there in the UK and it was something I missed as soon as we came home. No matter where we were, people were more than happy to help us with directions or to tell us how to use the bus system etc. We originally thought that people working in restaurants etc. were overly nice because we knew they relied on the tips but it did seem that they were actually being genuine. It was wonderful to feel so special everywhere we went.
Orlando is such an exhausting place to visit and I have no idea how families with a couple of children do it for a week, let alone two. The theme parks get annoying after a couple of days so it would be wise to break up your visits if you can and do something in between. However, I would not have changed our honeymoon for the world. John and I had a magical time and I think that is what Orlando is... a magical place where dreams are made.
Orlando is comfortably the world's most boring city, non-descript and could be anywhere in America, as Martin Amiss once said. I can't compare it to the thousands of cities I have never been to around the world but I just know it is the clear winner, so much money spent on so little, a soulless place that could have been made from a kit. Somewhat bizarrely it's nicknamed 'The City Beautiful' from the Greek word Orlando. Another nickname associated with the city is the 'Winter park sinkhole', when a big hole appeared in the Winter Park district of the city to swallow some houses and shops. The city was built on swamplands. I prefer the latter nickname to describe Orlando.
Its sole purpose seems to be to stable, water and feed British and German holidaymakers heading to Disney so suitably tacky and practical in its look and feel. It's like an inland Benidorm with its arteries running rich with pure fat from the ubiquitous fast food outlets and convenience stores that attach themselves to the highways like those fatty acid cells do in those arteries in those obese Americans. It's the one city in America were the tourist are as fat as the locals! It's very hot too, unbearably so in the summer, the big people sweating up under those $20 T-shirts that are piled up high in the gift shops like freshly pressed towels in a hospital laundry. It is a very sterile place.
The city centre is a dead zone, embarrassingly small skyscrapers by American standards on their tip toes to appear above the trees, the only evidence this is the city centre, 750,000 a relatively small populous for a US city. The centre is mostly full of poor black men shuffling around pushing shopping carts full of tin cans and bottles to sell for cents to buy yet more alcolohol whilst taxis linger for a stray tourist fare, the plan to get them out of there as quick as possible and back to where they belong as they have clearly wandered off the well beaten Disney Track.
The punters should be heading to International Drive, the Orlando Strip, the Kissimmee district where all the main hotels glisten in the hard midday sun as the daily violent thunderstorms begin to rev up, hundreds of buses and coaches ferrying the tourists out to the parks all day long like refuges heading out of Somalia. And those amusement and theme parks don't come cheap, this, a captive audience, $40 day passes when I was there. And if you know this stuff is just for the kids like the Magic Kingdom then why should parents have to pay so much for stuff they won't enjoy? Make the kids pay for mum and dad from their paper-round or at least get them to carry your bag on one of the many golf courses there. The best show in town is the basketball team, the Orlando Magic, but tickets are tough to get hold of. The fact that many pro golfers chose to live in Orlando is all you need to know about the place as far as excitement goes. The nightlife is non existent and I'm stunned Tiger Woods could find so much action there.
Church Street is the tacky tourist street in Orlando (second only to Bourbon Street in New Orleans), a Wild West themed with a train station and authentic steam train. Here its rows and rows of fast food outlets with a 'Hooters' for mum & dads, the obligatory Ripley's Believe it or Not tacked on the end. Rather surprisingly this dull and sad metropolis is the ninth gayest city in America with 7.7% of the population classed as gay or transgender.
My best memory of Orlando was a somewhat surreal one. I was staying at the backpacker's hostel that lips the pathetic Lake Orla (another flooded sink hole?) that lips the town centre in Orlando, and was desperate to not only get out of Dodge but go and see the space shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. But I couldn't get a ride or care hire because my credit card had maxed out and so got up in the morning because the locals say you can glimpse the shuttle launch from the city, some 40 miles away. So I flicked the TV on at 6am to watch it go up and get my bearings on where to look in the Orlando sky. Then, somewhat bizarrely, the real thing appeared in the distance above the same TV, as if being launched from it, the brilliant white vapour trail ripping open the clear blue sky. I ran outside to see it and there was no one to be seen, the city silent, space launches run of the mill for Americans.
To get there you can get cheap package holidays from the UK or fly direct for about $500 bucks return. Some people prefer to do Disney via Miami and Tampa to take in the beaches and that's the way I would go and you can also get a hire car deal in the package as there are lost of things to do in Florida. It was a good idea to plan your holiday around a shuttle launch but now that's no more then maybe not, although I would definitely take in the Space Centre, a great day out. The beaches are simply fabulous, not a penny arcade to be seen for a 1000 miles.
ORLANDO A PLACE OF DREAMS
Its over 15 years ago since i visited Orlando in America, but i always remember it so well, nobody can really imagine what its like till they have visited, but it is definately a holiday of a life time that you will always remember.
Hire a car through a fly drive it will be cheaper than paying for a car when you get there, the place is vast and there is so much you will want to see and do.
Take money for tips, you have tolls along the highway to pay, a kind of tax every few miles and they expect a tip in all restaurants of £3 approx.
Dont go topless in the hotel pool areas, the americans dont like this or allow it.
When i arrived in Orlando, i found the range of food restaurants were extensive and that a lot of the restaurants have free buffets as well, people who wait on in some of the restaurants are quite extrovert and dress up in all sorts of different clothes.
I visited a couple of shopping malls for clothes, they are huge and you can pick up some beautiful clothes and shoes very cheap priced, you will more than definately have to drive to find these places though, but whilst doing this you can also visit miami beach and florida keys, with lots of attractions and parks along the highways.
Of course you couldnt visit Orlando without going to Disney World and Universal Studios, the car parks are the size of a football pitch and it takes a full day to walk around these theme parks. Make sure you cover up and wear a very high factor of sun cream, or you will end up with a prickly heat rash.
What can i say about Orlando that hasnt already been said.
I absolutely love the place. From that minute getting on the plane i start to feel like a big kid, and thats the key - people think its only for kids etc well they couldnt be further from the truth.
On our first year going we had taken the option of a hire car though beware, when we got to the airport it wasnt free as the insurance was quite high for it, thought we accepted this and thought we will get good use out of it anyway. Except when we arrived to the hotel we realised there were shuttle buses everywhere which meant we didnt have to use the car at all, so we brought it back got money back on it.
The shuttle buses are fantastic and so handy to get to all the parks on. They are air conditioned and let you sit and relax and take in the atmospheric fun on your way to the parks. I would defnitely recommend you try to get hotel/ apartments with free shuttle buses.
We stayed just off international drive and this was a fantastic location to stay. We felt like we were right in the heart of everything. Shops , restaurants you name it. We had such fun taking walks up international drive in the evenings and trying out new restaurants and checkin out all the shops. Our fave eating place had to be ponderosa - unreal. I also loved the kfc opposite wet and wild. International drive is almost like a little holiday resort on its own.
The parks in orlando were out of this world. I loved all the disney parks and i would defnitely recommend the fast pass as some of the busier rides had really long queues. I also loved the parade in magic kingdom it was fantastic.
The universal parks and seaworld were also fantastic. Something for everyone although i would try not to eat in the parks as it can be very expensive.
The shopping on international drive was great, the belz outlet was fantastic as was Florida Mall.
The i ride trolleys i have to recommend also for getting about on International Drive, we hopped on and off when we pleased and got to see everything we wanted to.
Also what i would recommend anyone to do is take a trip down the coast from orlando. Our hotel did a range of day trips and we took one which took us to clearwater beach and out to see dolphins and another one to kennedy space centre which was absolutely unreal.
To sum up there is so so much to do in orlando, i have been 7 years to it and still feel like there is things i havnt seen or done. The fun never goes out of it and it really is magic. I actually cant put into words properly how much i adore the place.
There is so much more than the mouses house in Orlando, so much more!
Having first sampled Mickeys swamp back in 1987, I returned in 90 and then every year since 98 (twice in one year.) why, I hear you ask. What is the appeal of the plastic palace that Walt built?
Well to be honest, we dont really do Disney now, we outgrew the mouse about 5 years ago and tend to enjoy the real Orlando and Kissimmee attractions. Her lakes, parks and nature. The golf and the shops.
So what's to do in Disney Town when you are fed up of the mouse?
Okay, I will add a bit about Disney here as its only fair if you have come looking for some Disney info.
Disney World can be broken down into the 4 main parks of the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, MGM Studios and Epcot. There are other places such as Downtown Disney, The world of sports place they have and of course the water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and blizzard beach.
Magic Kingdom is my favourite park as it is Disney at its best. Rides that entertain and a feel of dreamality, a cross between reality and dreaming. Such favourites as Pirates of the Caribbean and the jungle cruise are a must, even after a half dozen visits. Plenty to do and more than one days entertainment.
MGM has a fascinating tour and the Tower of terror is another favourite of mine. Her Aerosmith rollercoaster is a rocket start which has you pinned to the back of your seat and I recommend that you get a fast track ticket for this as soon as you get in.
Epcot is dull and too much scientific for me. The countries of the world that surround the lake are really a selection of shops that sell cheap gimmicky souvenirs and I have to say I was thoroughly disappointed with it.
Animal Kingdom can be relaxing and enjoyable but I have been told the queues are pretty bad now. I have been twice and both times I never had to queue much and had blistering sunshine. Stroked a giraffe that came up to the safari truck and had a few beers here listening to African music. Nice place but may be a bit boring for teenagers.
Typhoon lagoon is great. It has a stream that flows around the whole park so you can sit in your rubber ring and just go with the flow. You get a cold soak as it goes through a waterfall though, so be careful. The snorkelling pool is a must, as you get to watch tropical fish close up and stroke rays. Also has a cocktail bar on its man made beach so you can let the kids run wild while supping a tequila sunrise.
Blizzard beach is supposed to equal typhoon lagoon for fun, but I have never been there so can not comment.
Downtown Disney is a collection of shops and restaurants along a boardwalk stretching a good mile. Food outlets like hard rock café, Rainforest café and Macdonalds fight for your custom and are always full, so get there early to eat. The shops are worth visiting just for the amusement factor they provide. Every single Disney item you can think of is available here. The Disney shop itself is about 800 yards long. Other shops worth mentioning are Poohs corner and the Christmas Shop.
Pleasure Island is Disneys nightlife place which includes a few nightclubs and a comedy show. I have never taken to this place due to the fact we once went and I think paid about £15 to get in and then had to queue for the comedy club for almost two hours before giving up and leaving. The nightclubs had two people in at 11pm, me and Sherry and the drinks were expensive.
Universal Studios are a collection of entertainment shows where you get to live the shows from movies like Shrek and Jaws. Bit repetitive and boring for my tastes but am glad I went once. One of our party was ill that day so it put a downer on it as she spent a couple of hours in the first aid station but they looked after her very well to be fair.
Island of Adventures seems quite good, lots of thrill rides and so on, but lacked a family feel like the one you got at Disney. Once I did the roller coasters such as the Hulk, we sat and watched the turtles swimming around the Olde English style bar, although the visit was a bit tainted by the fact that each member of the party had to go to the bar and order their own drinks to prove their age. Sherry was asked for ID and she was 31. She never had any but did not care as she was chuffed to bits to be questioned about being over 21.
Sea World is just a bit of the same old same old as far as I am concerned, once you had seen Shamu, the pirate sketch and the other show which I forget the name of you were looking at, well fish! It was very boring but glad I went the once.
Right, thats theme parks out the way, down to the real Kissimmee and Orlando.
Located just south of Disney you have the H192, a long road that separates Orland from Kissimmee. Here you will find 100s of restaurants and 1000s of shops. If you are driving, free parking is available at Old Town, easy to find by the Ferris wheel just outside or the twin towers that they use for slingshots in the adrenalin junkie age we are in.
Old Town is a selection of speciality shops, about 100 of them in total ranging from Christmas decorations to Coke cola products. There are bars and eateries, and entertainment on a lower scale, such as the haunted house, a mini funfair and amusements where you spend a fortune to get a cheap plastic fan.
This place is fabulous to spend a few hours browsing and us men when we get fed up can grab a pint of some unusual dark beer or a gallon of Budweiser for a fiver, to share of course. Sherry loves to take in the 3 hour massage special where you get a facial, full body massage, foot massage etc for $100 or about £60. I like to sit in the bar and wait for her. I also enjoy the crazy golf nearby that is built into a plastic mountain, great fun.
Massive sports outlets and designer clothes shops can be found here, with NIKE, Sports Denominator, Reebok, LEVI, etc all within walking distance and some good tacky gift shops, although I find that with the years, they have improved their stock and are starting to realise that selling cheap quality items, people will buy rather than plastic crocodile heads.
Restaurants are a plenty here, Pacinos is an upmarket steak house where the fish and steak are chargrilled to perfection and at prices you would expect to pay in England for the quality (£17 for a 24 oz steak, New York Strip.) Low budget restaurants such as ponderosa, Sizzlers and Pizza Hut and fast food joints KFC, Burger King and McDonalds are all located here as well, and mid budget restaurants such as Angels seafood, Dennys and Damens grill, the place for the best ribs you will ever taste. All of these are on the doorstep.
Accommodation is plenty here, opposite Old Town is the Travelodge (Main gate), my favourite budget hotel in this area, built on 7 floors, this hotel has good rooms with great amenities available in the hotel. Couple of pools, whirlpool, small games room, sports bar, restaurant, free shuttle bus to Disney, guest relations (Time share sales) and laundry facilities. You should not pay any more than £200 for a room here, per week, which can sleep up to 4 people fairly comfortably. If we stay longer than a week at our timeshare, we normally stay here or the Days Inn at Lakeside, just off International Drive.
Further down the 192 you have a Wal-Mart which we find suitable for all our weeks supplies. Wine is about £2.50 for a 2 litre bottle of white or red wine and it is the same make that you would pay £5 a 75cl bottle back home. We tend to stock up with wine and beer as well as breakfast foods and snacky things, as I prefer to cook my own breakfast before setting out each day. There are also drugstores and flea markets along the 192 so you really only need to take the essentials with you when you leave home.
Attractions along here are unlimited. You can take an airboat ride along one of the lakes and get to see the wildlife close up, gators, eagles and plenty of birds to take your fancy. We went horse riding at a place about 20 minutes drive from Old Town and they were very professional, courteous and relaxed as was the staff.
This year we hired a small airboat just past the Wal-Mart and had a ride up an unspoilt creek full of turtles and birds. My colleague Brian grounded the boat and had to wade into the swamp to push us back out. How funny was that?
Gator Land is 5 minutes further on from Wal-Mart and is a good days entertainment at a fraction of Disneys cost. Here you get to see the gators being fed, their natural breeding ground and various shows. A small train takes you around the place and there are various shows throughout the day.
Medieval Knights is an evening shows, as well as Capones and Arabian nights. All of these can be found on the 192 and all are reasonable if you are in to group entertainment nights.
Further up into Orlando, you have International Drive which also has an array of shops and entertainment, but the main difference is that I. Drive was purpose built for tourists and tends to cater that way. Spread out over a 4 mile stretch, but well covered by the jump on, jump off tram system, it is easy to cater for any kind of day you wish to have. The belz factory outlets are located at the Northern end of the Drive. These are so tacky and are just aimed at tourists. None of the locals shop there so that tells a story. Avoid these at all costs as the stuff you will buy is not that cheap nor the quality (in my opinion) that good.
I found the cheapest place to shop is Buena Vista shops, which is between the I. Drive and the 192. Here the goods are slightly cheaper and you mingle with a few locals, so a good sign.
On the I. Drive you will find every fast food joint imaginable and very few classy restaurants. Ideal if you are a family on the move and not looking to spend an evening of romance or fine dining. There are quite a few English pubs serving the usual Guinness and Strongbow beverages, offering fish fingers and Heinz beans etc, which again are great if that is what you are after. There are numerous half day attractions such as Ripleys believe it or not, Titanic and a few other over priced attractions, not really my cup of tea, but then neither is I Drive.
The Days Inn on Lake Road has to be the cheapest motel I have ever stayed at. It cost about £19 a night and to be fair, was a lovely place if the rooms were somewhat basic. We had TV bathroom and aircon and two large beds though, so we found it more than acceptable and pound for pound, a bargain. The pool was raised above the car park and 20 yards from the Tikki Bar and lake itself. In the evening we sat by the lake with its soft lighting and watched the fish swim under us. It was very relaxing and quite romantic, with my margherita and tropical music playing.
There are many hotels on the I. Drive and most do free shuttles to Disney and Universal, so if you have no car, this is probably the best place to stay but the 192 if you are opposite Old Town will more than match I. Drive for entertainment and value for money. Giving a choice, it would be Travelodge at maingate, opposite Old Town for me.
Anyway, I could waffle on all day about Orlando and Kissimmee as I love the place, but I will stop there.
Hope this helps.
Just got back from 14 fantastic days, in the theme park heaven of Orlando - here's my tips on what's hot and what's not - fortunately not too much on the latter. Although Orlando is famed for Disney, IMO Universal gives it a run for it's money - and in many instances. Found that although you can buy your tickets in advance, it can be cheaper if you shop around and get them in florida - checkout the numerous tourist information places - many have some excellent packages. Ok so how did I rate them -? UNIVERSAL STUDIOS 4 out of 5 - not too many 'white knuckle rides' but loads of indoor attractions (Terminator 2 -3D / Back to the future / Twister and Earthquake) found the new ' Men in black ' ride a bit tame and a tad disappointing. Jaws was extremely short lived.\ ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE 5 out of 5 My top park - and right next door to US - The hulk - is absolutely awesome and deserves a few repeat rides - suggest getting a fastpath ticket, as most head straight for this ride. Spiderman is an absolute must! - my fav non-coaster ride - tip - join the single riders queue for a speedier ride. The popeye water shute is great fun (lost my Oakleys on it tho') - be warned if you do the ripshaw water ride- you will get extremely wet! The dualling dragon rides is a must - my preference was for fire - try Ice first for the comparison. In Jurassic park, the water ride is brilliant - well worth the queue. EPCOT 3 out of 5 The 'experimental concept park' left me a bit cold - very different from US - but the Disney theme was evident from the onset. The park was the 'prettiest' and the firework show at the end of the day the best the was. ANIMAL KINGDOM 2 out of 5 My biggest disappointment. The tree of life looks impressive -and the bugs life 3d was the only saving point for me - Safari ride was far too short - and not that impressive. DISNEY MGM STUDIOS 4 out of
5 This park appeared smaller than some of the above - but was packed with excellent shows -was awestruck with the Little Mermaid - the Studio tour. On the ride front, found Terror tower a bit limp - after all the build up. The rock n roller coaster was good however - again recommend getting a fastpath as the queues peak at over 70 minutes. On the dining fron try ' Prime time ' for a different experience - you will not be disappointed. BUSCH GARDENS 4.5 out of 5 Another favourite of mine - shame it takes an hour or so to get there - would have given it a 5 if it stayed open longer. Great rides- some of the best rollercoasters you'll do (Montu comes highly recommended)and the animals are more visible than at AK. Didn't do MK - as my kids are a bit to old. Hints and tips Arrive early to beat the crowds - use fastpass whenever possible - and do book a table for later - ask at Guest relations when you arrive -a finally do bring enough money!
I have written a few ops about our holiday to Orlando, Florida already, but these were mainly about Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Holidays and our apartments we stayed at. I thought it would be nice just to write about what I thought about Orlando itself, as it wasn?t what I expected. I had never been to the US before and didn?t know what to expect. I heard different stories from around America, some nice and some very off putting. People had said how nice it was; other said how dangerous it was. So I went very open minded. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was how clean everything was, and I don?t just mean generally, I mean everything was clean. Pavements, toilets even the bins. I found the locals to be very nice and friendly, but later I realised that not all Americans are like this. Most out of towners were very arrogant and would be happy to slam a door in your face, I?m not being stereotypical, its just what I found. The public transport in Orlando is excellent. They have this service called the ?I ride?, which travels up and down International Drive, stopping near most hotels and apartment complexes. You can purchase daily, 3 days, 5 days and 7 day tickets (maybe longer I?m not sure), costing 75c or about 50p a day for unlimited usage ? bargain I must say. These are bought from shops or your hotel, and not on the bus, beware the bus drivers don?t take your money, its all done by a machine on the bus. They come every 15 minutes, can take about 1 hour to get from one end of International Drive to the other if your going that far, and are a little uncomfortable, but compared to the UK public transport, its brilliant. The ?I ride? also links to the transport route that takes you to Disney, and costs about £1. Its more like a coach this time and more comfortable. The ?I Ride? also stops earshot of Universal Studios and outside Wet n Wild. Most of the drivers are very friendly and will help you with almost anyt
hing, except for change, so be aware if you decide not to purchase passes for the ?I Ride?. I found shopping in Orlando very disappointing. Don?t expect bargains, it?s almost the same price in Orlando as back in the UK, if not more expensive. Buy in duty free. Even the discount shopping centres are expensive, that depend on the unexpecting tourist to think they have a bargain. We got a taxi to Wal-Mart. This was one of the most interesting shopping experiences I have had. They are cheap and have loads of bargains and sell everything from food to diamond jewellery to shotguns to spare tyres. Don?t expect a big selection of food though; you can buy steaks, big steaks and bigger steaks. The biggest shock to me was Indian food. I love Indian food and can?t live without it, but Americans don?t know what it is. I asked a helper in Wal-Mart and she looked blank, who asked several colleagues who also didn?t know what a curry was. The local Indian restaurant in Orlando was expensive; we didn?t even eat there when we saw a prawn vindaloo and rice came to over 18GBP. Road crossings were hard to deal with, you would get half way across and then they would change. We saw a lot of English people panic when this happened and would run to the other side. You have to realise before you go that it is a completely different way of life, and the car rules the way. When it comes to crime, I can?t really say too much, I just didn?t see any. The streets were well light at night and there was plenty of police around. I was disappointed to find that Orlando was over tourist dominated, of course I expected it to be with Disney there, but I didn?t expect the prices to be that high. I was glad I took my credit card as we ran out of traveller?s cheques half way through the holiday. Restaurants were quite expensive and were a very similar price to the UK, but I was shocked to find the cheapest and nicest restaurants were in U
niversal Studios, especially Hard Rock Café.
Florida On the Cheap Got kids? Still a big kid yourself? You want to go to Florida mate, that's what you want to do. Trouble is, it costs loads doesn't it? Well, not necessarily, some ways are cheaper than others; so here is Jeff's Rough Guide...... First things first, when is best to go? Most of the guide books will advise you to go early (springtime) or late (autumn) when the weather is more conducive to the English temperament. However, this tends to coincide with the times when the Americans themselves visit in large numbers and you can spend a long time queuing for everything. If you don't mind a bit of heat and high humidity, then I would suggest that you consider visiting end of july/beginning of August. This is precisely the time when the Americans stay away so everything is just a little less crowded. If you really can't stand the heat then try to go in the autumn, since the busiest times are Christmas and Easter. The cheapest way to visit Florida is to book a fly-drive and rent a biggish house with a pool for a coupke of weeks. In order to keep costs to a minimum you will probably need to make a few friends. The more of you go (up to about ten) then the cheaper it gets, Most of the four bed houses sleep up to around 10 people. However make sure that the co-vacationers you choose ar people who you get on well with. We go every year with my wife's sister and her family and, while I love them all very dearly, by the end of the fortnight I have usually just about had anough of living cheek by jowell with them and I am sure that they feel the same way about me. You can find houses for rent all over the Disney area (Kissimmee). Most of the UK National daily newspapers carry loads of adds or you can go onto the Internet or simply ask people you know who have been. You will be surprised at how many folk own property out there who are only too willing to rent it out. Expect to pay
anything up to 600 Sterling per week for a four bed house with a pool and all mod-cons within easy driving distance of the theme parks. However, if there are ten of you then this is remarkably cheap at sixty quid per head per week. We have just returned home after staying at a beautiful house which a friend of a friend rented to us for 450 pounds a week. Among the seven of us who went this worked out at arounf 65 pounds per head per week. The houses are all very similar in aspect. Usually large bungalows (but sometimes two level), they have a large lounge cum kitchen area (and I mean LARGE, by British standards), a separate laundry room and a large integral double garage. Sleeping accomodation usually consists of a master bedroom complete with full en suite facilties, a second large double bedroom, a twin-bed room and a smaller double room together with a 'sleeper settee' in the lounge thus accomodating 10 in all. At the back of the house is the screened pool. Because there are so many bugs in Florida, the pool area is covered with a high porch-like screen of fine mesh hung over an aluminium frame. This means that you can bathe without being bothered by the local fauna. Next you are going to need a cheap fly/drive. For years we have used a company called Travel City Direct (www.travelcity.co.uk). They started as a little outfit based in Blackpool however, over the years they have grown to the point where they now run (or, more correctly, charter) a couple of Jumbo's of their own. Every year we attempt to find a cheaper deal elsewhere and every year we end up traveling with them again. Give them a look. This year, the flights (with car rental) cost us just over three hundred dabs a piece. So, per capita, the two-week holiday, for transport, accomodation and rental car cost just under 450 quid. I've paid more than that for room-only in Tenerife! Not bad huh? The rental car which came with th
e deal was a Chrysler Voyager and it was more than big enough to cart us all around in grand old style. One word of warning, sort out your car insurance before you go if you can. Fly/Drive holidays are usually quoted net of any insurance charges and these can be quite expensive in the U.S.A. In fact, if you take all of the insurances from the car rental company it will probably cost as much as the car rental itself. Shop around in the UK first. I get my insurance from American Express but there are all sorts of offers out there so have a look at what's best for you. The other thing that will happen when you go to pick up your vehicle is that the agent (who is on commission) will attempt to sell you an upgrade to a bigger or flashier model. Now, this is absolutely fine if that's what you want, however, you can't compare prices at the counter and, again, if you want a bigger motor than the one included in the package then why not upgrade it here in the UK before you go? Twenty dollars a day, a typical upgrade-at-the-counter price, doesn't sound like a lot of money but it is getting on for two hundred quid over the two week holiday. Be careful what you ask for - in America you will usually get it! Buy most of your food and booze from the supermarket. It's cheap and of extremely high quality. One word of warning; American Supermarkets are full to the brim with masses and masses of cheap, unhealthy, sweet and fatty foods. If you don't believe me then just take a look at the Americans themselves. The number of overweight Americans is truly remarkable and you will often see clinical obesity, something which is realtivcely rare here in the UK. It seems that blue-collar America is on a mission to eat itself into oblivion and Publix (a big supermarket chain) is hell-bent on helping it happen. Paradoxically, eating healthily in the US can be quite expensive so it tends to be only the middle classes who do it..
. Whether their cars are a reflection of their girth or not is a moot point however, you will see very few small cars in the US. The SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle - 4X4 to you and me) is king, the bigger the better. Some of the big Dodge RAMs and FORD FF's are truly awesome, belching out an earth trembling roar from their massive V8 petrol motors. Petrol, by the way is a buck-twenty a gallon, Even allowing for the fact that their gallon is smaller than ours it is still around one third the price that we pay. To fill the Voyager from empty cost nineteen dollars, or about thirteen quid (makes you wanna cry dosen't it?). Eating out is, contrary to popular opinion, NOT particularly cheap, unless you are prepared to shop-around and look for offers. All over Florida you can pick up free coupon books which are chock-full of offers and incentives to eat at various places, visit various stores and so on. It is the American way, - they just love a deal. By using the enclosed coupons you can usually save yourself a fair bit of wonga, provided you don't mind too much where you eat (most places in Kissimee are pretty good). Another idea is to visit an 'all-you-can-eat' place where, for a fixed fee, you can go bananas and pig yourself into oblivion. In particular, the 'Ponderosa' chain of restaurants do an all-you-can-eat breakfast for $3.99 and an all-you-can-eat dinner for around twelve bucks, depending upon what you have. It is high quality and very good value for money. The 'Orlando' area, where the theme parks are is not actually in Orlando at all but some fifteen miles south around an area called Kissimmee. The 'action' centres on five main places which you will get to know well during your stay. They are DisneyWorld itself, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, International Drive and Highway 192. The first three cost money to visit so I will deal with them in a minute. Inter
national Drive and Highway 192 are 'touristy' type areas, you can think of them as being a bit like the sea-front at Blackpool but without the sea, if you see what I mean... They are just chock full of eating places, bars, amusement areas of one kind or another and loads of Florida's famous low-cost 'designer' outlets. The whole area is absolutely full to the brim with these so-called outlets. They sell famous label clothes at a fraction of the price you would pay anywhere else. So what's the catch? Well, actually there isn't one. What they are selling, in the main, are the remnants of last year's fashions and the 'odd sizes' which they have overmanufactured and can't sell at normal prices through the main stores, together with all sorts of 'slight seconds' which may or may not have obvious faults in them. However you look at it, it is a bargain hunter's paradise. The biggest of these discount Malls is called Belz Factory Outlet and it is situated at the northern end of International Drive. There are over 100 stores there all acting as outlets for famous name brands. Nike, Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger, Liz Claibourne, Gant, Burberry, Cristian Dior and Levi, to name but a few, all have stores that you can browse around looking for that bargain. It helps if you are an odd size, for example, 30 inch waist and 36 inch inside leg, but there are bargains for everyone and the prices are often incredibly low. Last time out, I bought a pair of Levi 501's for nineteen dollars (yep - about fifteen quid mate). You just can't go wrong. It is very tempting to take a couple of empty suitcases and fill 'em up. Do bear in mind that customs will 'av yer for takin' the piss, if you bring back more than two hundred dabs worth.... The only amusements I will mention are Wet 'n Wild on International Drive , WaterMania on the 192 and 'Old Town', also on the 192.
The first two are big water parks with loads of massive slides and so on. They seem to be very popular but our family was not impressed with either of them. Disney have three water parks of their own (Typhoon Lagoon, River Country and Blizzard Beach) which, to my mind, are far better executed. Old Town is a smashing little development off the 192. It is a collection of old curiosity stores and odd little eating houses culminating in a small fairground. You can visit anytime, but in the summer, each Saturday evening they have a classic American car parade. On a fine night there will be anything up to a couple of hundred cars there, most of them big stormers from the 'muscle car' era and it is fantastic to watch these old monsters cruise slowly by, their big V8 motors rumbling and spitting their displeasure as they burble past. You can't miss Old Town because it has two of the biggest landmark attractions in the area - a massive (200 feet high) swing and a backwards 'bungey' jump type thingy which is also a couple of hundred feet high. By 'backwards' what I mean is that instead of you jumping from a great height like a normal bungey, this one works the other way, they tension the bungey rope downwards and when they let it go it shoots the unfortunate passenger into the night sky at a tremendous rate of knots. It's eery to watch because ir all happens in complete silence, apart from the death screams coming from the riders of course.... I'm not gonna go heavily into Disney, Universal or SeaWorld because you can get loads of books on the subject. However, here is a straw pole of favourite rides from our family together with a few tips that we have picked up over the years that work for us; 1.DisneyWorld - Epcot EPCOT used to be our favourite but the only really good ride in there at the moment is the GM Test Track. Don't miss it. EPCOT's fireworks at the close of the day
are by far the best in any Park (although, not as good as they used to be it must be said). 2.DisneyWorld - Magic Kingdom Pirates of the Caribbean - an old original boat ride in the dark - not at all white knuckle but incredibly charming you must not miss it. Yo ho! Yo ho! A pirate's life for me! (he he). The Haunted Mansion - Incredibly clever visuals even though they are actually quite low tech and dated now. See if you can work out how they do the "Haunted Dining Room". Fantastic fun. Thunder Mountain Railroad - Smashing little rollercoaster which even quite small children will enjoy. Splash Mountain - Superbly executed water log ride with a BIG flume at the end. Weeeee! Space Mountain - Indoor roller coaster ride in the dark. Scary at first, because of the dark, but you soon realise that it is actually quite a tame ride. 3.DisneyWorld - MGM Studios Rockin Roller Coaster - This has to be one of the best rollercoaster rides in the World at the moment - just shaded by The Incredible Hulk at Universal but still superb. Like Hulk, it is not a traditional 'gravity' ride. Instead, you are accelerated from rest by a linear motor which rockets your sled from 0 to 60 in under three seconds - and then straight into a loop - WOT A BUZZ!!!! Tower of Terror - a fantastically original ride which puts you in an elevator and drops you thirteen floors. Absolutely mindblowing the first time you do it. Sheer fun thereafter. 4.Universal Studios - Islands of Adventure When Universal built the Islands of Adventure park it had one goal and one goal only, to blow the doors off anything that Disney had. While they have probably achieved it you may conclude that it has been done at the expense of some of the charm of Disney - I will leave it to you to decide. Here are our favourites; The Incredible Hulk - best rollercoaster that we've
ever been on. Shoots you up almost vertically from rest, using a linear motor. Unbeliveable. Bilge Rat Barge - Family water flume based around Popeye and characters - you get absolutely soaked so take a spare T-shirt - fantastic fun. Don't put the spare t-shirt on just yet though ...... RipSaw Falls - Big violent log flume based on the rocky and bullwinkle cartoons. Basically a more scary version of Disney's Splash Mountain. You will get wet. Dueling Dragons - fantastic twin rollercoaster where you hang under the track. The kids love it but I must admit that it is just a bit too violent for me... 5.Tips and Tricks Plan to arrive at the Park for the 'drop'. This is the actual opening of the facility. You can arrive up to half an hour before and wait for them to actually drop the rope to open the park. Proceed around the park in an anti-clockwise direction going on the big 'must not miss' rides first. Most people go around clockwise so you should get on all of the big rides without having to queue for too long. Do the big rides and plan to finish by about eleven A.M. - this is when the parks start to get really busy. Go home and have a swim in your pool and a relaxing lunch. Head back to the park for about 4:00 - 5:00 PM. You can now do all of the more leisurely rides and attractions up until firework time at close of play. When visiting EPCOT for the fireworks, park up at the Disney 'Boardwalk" carpark and take the waterbus from the Boardwalk one stop to EPCOT. EPCOT has a back door here that most people don't know about. It leads into the World Showcase between France and England. You can then proceed to have a quiet beer in the English Pub or a glass of wine in the French restaurant while waiting for the fireworks to begin right in front of you on the lake. Afterwards it is a short trip back to your car and you don't have to fight with the main crowd maki
ng its way out to the EPCOT parking lot! Leaving the Magic Kingdom at closing time is an absolute pain. You have to queue for either the monorail or the riverboat to take you to the Transportation centre and then you have to queue again for a roadtrain to take you out to the parking lot. Here is trick which we came across quite by accident which will save you all of that waiting.... The monorails run on circular tracks. This is to save on shunting, which they are particularly bad at, since a point change involves moving a 30 tonne concrete slab - take a look - you'll see what I mean. But, I digress. There are two monorail tracks running between the Transportation Centre and The Magic Kingdom. They run in a circle around the Disney Seven Seas Lagoon. Now, one of the tracks (The outer - anticlockwise one) is the express track from the Centre to the Kingdom. The other track, the inner, which runs in the opposite direction serves the Disney Resort Hotels which border the lagoon. There are three, the Polynesian, the Grande Floridian and the Contemporary. The inner track is their exclusive transport monorail to the Magic Kingdom and the Transportation Centre (and thence on to EPCOT and MGM). At the end of the evening when you leave the park, ignore the football crowds (for that is what they are like) queuing for the express monorail and the river boat and take the (usually empty) walkway up to the other track which says 'Resort Hotels'. Get on the first monorail - it will be almost empty, and proceed the OTHER way around the lake, stopping at the Contemporary hotel before dropping you off at the Transportation Centre well ahead of the main crowd which in turn means that you will have an easier time getting a road-train out to the car-park! Don't tell anyone we told you. Er, that's all we know - but give it a go - it's great fun!!
Orlando is probably the most visited part of Florida by British tourists and I understand why. Everything is larger than life. It is like the entire city is a theme park! Magic Kingdom is amazing. However if you visit in-season then you should be prepared for very long queues. There is a queue jump system where you can get tickets for a certain time and when you get there you can enter a different queue line which is inevitably much shorter. Before you arrive, have a game plan. Ensure that you know which ride you are heading to first and make sure that you arrive at the entrance gates before opening time. I advise that the first ride you visit should be Space Mountain as it is one of the most popular rides. As a ride Space Mountain is good, however I thought it would be much more exciting. The most important thing is that you see at least one parade, you will be absolutely amazed at it. It is the best part of the park, good for children and adults alike. Epcot is very good, but a bit too science orientated for me. I think that the best ride here was the test track, but it is the most popular sp getting a queue jumping pass for this ride, like for Disney is advisable. The World Showcase was my favourite part of it, although I felt the American exhibition and show glossed over the less appealing events in US history, such as the Vietnam War. Sea World is fantastic too, for rides there is the main rollercaoster Dracken and the Log Flume Ride. The animal exhibits are so much more interesting than normal zoos. Feeding Dolphins was so much fun. You can swim with Dolphins, however it is criminally expensive. Universal Studio is also a must see, however I do feel that the Jaws ride is not as scary as the hype says it is. In all the parks customer service is fantastic and there are so many people who are willing to help you. Like in any theme park, food, drinks and souvenirs are overpriced, but that is to be expected. For Shopp
ing, you must go to the Belz Outlet Mall, not only is it THE biggest outlet mall in the US there are so many cheap shops. For the best bargains visit Nike and Calvin Klein as they are so much cheaper than in England. Plenty of car parking spaces too! One thing to be aware of when driving in Orlando is the road system. There are many toll booths and if your route consists of one, ensure that you have the correct change as not all of them are manned. Another point for consideration is that unlike in England there is very little warning before an exit off a highway, literally the sign appears and the slip road is immediately afterwards As for accommodation staying in a Disney Hotel is very appealable, however I would recommend that you don’t stay, because it is very expensive. Also to see all of Orlando it is best you rent a car. Therefore you might as well stay off sight and drive to the parks. As for eating in Orlando, Ponderosas is brilliant. For $7 or $8, about £4-6 you can get a huge steak meal, but that isn’t the real treat. The real treat is the huge buffet starter that is FREE. The buffet contains a huge range of things so even if you do not like steak – style food, or are a health food person, there is something for everyone. You can also have as many helpings as you like. The problem is, by the time that your main course arrives you are already full! Also another benefit of ponderosas is Bottomless Cups, which means you only pay for one drink, but actually get as many as you like. Ponderosa’s also does a wicked breakfast which covers all needs. There is the essential fry up, continental breakfast, cereals, sweet things. Again it is served in buffet style with a plate you can fill as many times as you want. If you are going to Orlando, I wont say I’ll hope you have a good time, because I know you will.
If you've ever gone to bed at night hoping for the best dream ever with a view to being whisked away to your own version of Nirvana then going to Florida may be the closest you ever get whilst awake. October 2001 saw myself and the family journey to Orlando for 2 weeks in Disney and what a time we had! Before I start I have to warn you that this is a lengthy op. There is simply so much to say that it's hard to find things to leave out. Unless you are definitely thinking of going to Disney, Orlando then you may want to move onto to the next op and thanks for the 3p. If you are interested then by all means print this one off and read it at your leisure. If you do then please don't forget to come back and rate it! Otherwise, thanks for reading in advance and on with the story... ***Getting There*** We travelled with Airtours who did a competant job. Airtours are a well known travel group that has recently changed it's name to MyTravel Group PLC. A little background so that you know who you are dealing with: The company was founded in 1972 by it's current company executive - David Crossland. He purchased Pendle Travel Services, a travel agency business comprising two stores in Lancashire. A second travel agency business was acquired shortly after from Albert and Ivy Roberts who had registered it using their initials, A.I.R. Tours giving birth to the Airtours name. The business expanded and, in 1980, David Crossland started to develop package holidays. A tour operating division was established shortly after. Initially trading as Pendle Air Tours, it is known today as Airtours Holidays (before name change, that is). In 1982, the company took around 26,000 customers on holiday and by 1986, through organic growth, it had 290,000 customers. Airtours floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1987. The Airbus we flew on was nice enough with TVs in the back of the headrest in th
e seats in front and reasonable flight meals. The service was polite and attentive from the cabin crew. The flight takes about 9 hours so the cycle of entertaintment on the TVs can become tedious. There was a rather interesting facility to tune your TV into either straight ahead or straight down views of the surroundings whilst in flight. This meant that you could see where the plane was going and a lot of folks found it more interesting than the movies. Also, there was a computerised map facility, which plotted your progress throughout the flight and gave you the stats about miles flown so far, estimated time left to destination etc. Notwithstanding that, there were some good movies shown including Bridget Jones and Shrek. Some good features of the flight was the ability to pre-book your meal although this plus the opportunity to choose our seats cost £20 each along with the kids (i.e. 4 x £20 = £80). We didn't go for the Gold Premiere deal, which would have added an extra £500 to the cost of the holiday. This would have given us extra legroom on the seats, more movies to choose from, complimentary alcohol during the flight and a separate waiting area whilst waiting for the flight. This didn't seem worth the cost to me but if you want to go in style then this is for you. The local airport is Sanford which is relatively small but reasonably equipped for it's size. ***Tiperoonies*** You'll have to sign a Visa waiver form as standard on the plane before you go through customs. Try and get it absolutely spot on. A rather acerbic American who spotted some minor omissions sent us to the back of a huge queue not once but twice. Also, you can purchase tickets for the major theme parks on the plane on the way over. A good idea that may save you some time when you get there. The flight seems to go on forever for the kids. The TV will keep 'em occupied for only so long and you do
n't get too much space to move around in (hell on Earth for the little 'uns). Take some reading & writing materials in an attempt to partially pacify 'em but stay patient as it can be an ordeal for your children. The September 11th thing has left the US pretty jumpy and security is so much tighter. Do not take anything resembling a gun, knife etc. We got pulled up on the way back for having a plastic toy gun in our case, which we'd won in the arcade! Food and fruit aren't allowed into the US. Their laws regarding immigration of both people & perishables are tight so try to ensure that you aren't carrying a plum or something on your way through customs otherwise you'll be in the double-mirror fronted office and strip searched quicker than you can say Minnie Mouse! ***Accommodation*** We decided to stay in Disney itself and chose All Star Movies as my son is a huge Toy Story fan. The hotel is made up of different themes and has a huge Buzz Light Year as well as a similar sized Woody. The hotel is excellent with it's own food court (the food is quite pricey, though); 2 themed swimming pools; Disney store and so on. The food was a pretty basic affair with a self-serve canteen service. There is a bar serving alcohol and cocktails, which we sampled later in the holiday. Drinks were a bit on the pricey side with 330ml bottle of lager costing $4. The hotel itself was spotless at all times although my only criticism would be that the wait for guest enquiries seemed overlong with staff waiting to attend to new arrivals with nobody in front of them and the inevitably lengthy service enquiries manned by only 1 or 2 folks. One day I waited for 20 minutes to make an enquiry. My other gripe would be that the tour rep was rarely on time meaning a half-hour wait for him was common. The rooms were comfy enough with a maid making the beds each day, a TV with loads of choice of channels, a wall sa
fe, shower and sink and a table and chairs. It had a budget feel to it but then the hotel is classed as a budget option with other Disney hotels offering more up market facilities at a correspondingly higher price. One of the main reasons for staying here is that we wouldn't have to worry about driving and the Disney hotels are great in that you can queue up outside at the appropriate busstop for the park of your choice. If you want a non-Disney park then transport was possible through a company called Mears. This is quite an expensive affair so you may want to see the tip below. Alternatively you can catch a cab but, again, you pay tourist prices and a friend of mine paid around $40 for a return trip to Sea World. A lot of folks save on the costs of a formal hotel and stay in apartments. There is so much choice in Orlando that it's hard to know where to turn. It depends on your budget, taste etc but the decision to hire a car will influence your decision, as public transport is rather cumbersome in the States. You'll need a car to get to a lot of venues and you may want to see my tip below about associated costs. Of course, staying outside Disney means that you can get food a lot cheaper. There are "as much as you can eat" deals which a lot of folks fill up on for breakfast meaning that they'll probably only eat once more during the day. ***Further tiperoonies*** You can save yourself quite a few dollars by getting to the Transportation Centre at Magic Kingdom (via the appropriate Disney bus) and getting a local bus (only $1 charge and 10 cents if a transfer to a 2nd bus is needed. If you decide to drive then car hire is easy. It's usually assumed as part of the package so you'll need to tell the tour operator that you don't want it. The cost of transfers to and from the airport stuck another £100 on the cost of the holiday but this was more than offset by the pricey in
surance that has to be arranged in the US. There is a whole tranche of national & local insurances that are compulsory and add up to a deceptively large amount. I would strongly advise breaking this cost down before you agree your package so that at least you know what you are getting in to. You can offset the cost of drinks by buying a re-fillable mug, which can be topped up throughout your stay at drink stations. It cost about $9 each but was worth it because you didn't have to pay for non-alcoholic drinks after that (although you get fed up with carrying it every where!). There are lots of opportunities to get a caricature drawing of you or the family. The standard is generally high of the artist's offering the service and we had one done of both the kids. They have pride of place in their bedrooms and a wonderful momento of the holiday (cost varies but I think ours cost something like $15) ***Attractions*** This year is a great time to go. Disney are in the middle of their 100 Years of Disney celebrations in homage to the fact that it is 100 years since Walt Disney was born. All sorts of additional events are laid on which we experienced because the celebration started last year. These include special firework displays, shows etc. The Disney parks are simply breathtaking. We took in all 6 including Epcot; Magic Kingdom; Animal Kingdom; Disney MGM; Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Epcot stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow and is full of innovative rides and shows. It's meant to reflect the future of mankind and appeals to the older visitor without losing site of the younger ones. The Test Track is the most popular ride just now which takes you on a mile test circuit at speeds of up to 60mph. For those wanting a slower pace then you can try the World Showcase being a series of recreated lands including Italy, China, Norway etc. There is a mini England equipped with
a fully functional Rose & Crown pub along with a Harry Ramsden's chip shop. Watch out for the Italy section as the mime show caught me out where characters dressed up in Harlequin like outfits put on a show but include the audience. There I am taking video of the family one minute then this strange character appears in my viewfinder the next much to the mirth of the group. Magic Kingdom is the main attraction and the original park. Split into a series of lands it is a non-stop series of rides and fun. There are loads of food stops to assuage the kiddies but you'll pay for the privilege. Ice creams were $2.50 each meaning a round of 4 could cost you the equivalent of around £8. If you can get there early it helps with the popular rides. We signed up for the Unlimited Magic Pass, which allowed us special early entrances to the parks on certain days. Ironically, we never had to use it because of the huge drop off in numbers due to the tragic circumstances surrounding that time. There are other advantages with the pass, the main one being that you have paid for a fortnight's access to all of the parks and don't have to worry about it when you get there. Most popular rides included the new Buzz Lightyear ride and the Extraterrorestrial Alien amongst others. You can check out the rides and their details on the Disney website www. Disney.com. Animal Kingdom is one of the recent additions and is a safari combined with the obligatory Disney rides. Due to the climate, it's a good idea to get there in the morning while the animals are still alert. Main attractions include a mock jeep safari; a 3-D It's a Bug Life show that will literally make you jump and the stage shows. There was a rendition of The Lion King on stage, which we really enjoyed and the whole park is themed on a continent basis i.e. one section was devoted to Asia, another Africa and so on. There is a Dinosaur section including a rather dark thrill ride, which
seemed to be over before we knew it! Disney MGM is the film studio-themed park that maybe appeals to the slightly more mature taste (say your 5-year-old as opposed to 4 years old). There are some great rides here including the Tower of Terror (my 6-year-old boy and me went on this. I was more scared than he was), the Aerosmith rollercoster, Muppet 3-D show and many more. Again, see the Disney website for more details. We particularly liked the character stops where you could get to meet Disney characters (yeh, I know they're only folks dressed up but the kids don't know that..what's that son? You do know..oh, well) and get their autographs. One of my fondest memories is having the opportunity for my lad to meet Woody and Buzz from Toy Story and having his piccie taken with 'em (posted on my personal website if your interested). There are studio tours including stops to take in sets arranged to demonstrate special effects and features on how movies are put together giving you a behind the scenes look at what goes into making a movie. We found this extremely interesting and the memorabilia on show is awesome. ***Even more tiperoonies*** It is a FULL day at these venues so try not to make the mistake we did by going to a different one each day without a break - it's hard on the kids as you may be there for up to 12 hours! The parades are awesome and well worth claiming your spot for viewing say, up to 30 minutes beforehand. Make sure that you stay for the firework display at each park - you will not have seen anything like it before. All of the parks had their own version and it's hard to pick a winner. You can relax a bit more at the waterparks - Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard beach. The kids loved it here and special mention to the inflatable rings you can just chill in and float slowly around in a circuit of the park. Blizzard Beach has the largest freefall water ride in the wo
rld which I fearfully steered clear of. The water parks are sort of recreations of a typical US vacation spot like Hawaii with faithfully recreated beaches and wave pools. There is palm tree setting for sunbeds and so on with a suitable background tape blaring out a constant diet of Beach Boy songs and the like (this got a bit warring after a while as the tape was on a loop). Disney now operates a FastPass service allowing you to take a ticket and return to the ride at a certain time without having to queue up. It's only available on selected major rides so you will have to queue up for some. We were lucky in that there was hardly anyone there when we went due to the nervous reaction after September 11th. Normal queuing times without a pass may be up to and over an hour in peak times. Those with young children then the parks offer a stroller (US for pushchair/pram) service so you don't have to worry about taking one along. Better still is that you can leave them in stroller stops and take the kids into the show without worrying about where to leave it. Eating in the parks is expensive. I did see a few folks with packed lunches, which I'm not sure whether they are strictly speaking allowed but this seemed a good idea if you want to keep cost down. ***Even more attractions*** Maybe Elvis Costello should have written this (you know, with his attractions...oh well) but there are so many other attractions to take in that a fortnight ain?t nowhere near enough time really. Everyone MUST go to SeaWorld - it is truly wonderful. The best bit is definitely being able to feed the dolphins at a special pool where the park charge you $4 for some small fish but it's worth every cent. The Shamu show is outstanding and we went to both the daytime show and the late afternoon one. A family ticket cost approx £110 for the day (2 adults, 2 kids). Check out the Seaworld website for more details bu
t an absolute must see. We didn't get a chance to take in The Islands of Adventure and Universal studios but they are generally highly recommended. ***Overall*** The overall cost including spending money and food came to about £5000 for the 4 of us. I mentioned before about the Unlimited Magic Pass and this included a free gift, which we took as a Character Breakfast at Chef Mickey's at Contemporary Hotel, Magic Kingdom. Otherwise, this would have cost around $90 for a family of 4. My son was 6 years old on the morning we booked for and the 2 hours we were there raced past. The breakfast buffet is brilliant and there is a constant flow of Disney characters including Mickey and Minny Mouse, Pluto, Chip and Dale (...so many more...can't remember 'em all..). As soon as your kids are old enough to understand what's going on (say 5 years old and upward) I exhort you to go to Disney for 2 weeks (or longer). We didn't scratch the surface as far as Florida goes but Disney itself is enough to set any child's imagination ablaze (and adults for that matter). There are some images of our holiday on my own website which you are welcome to visit otherwise more info is available at the Disney site mentioned above and at http://www.Airtours.com. Would I go again? You betcha!!! We took my mother and father-in-law with us and my erstwhile ma-in-law took about 3 months to come back down to Earth again after we'd come back. Go, go, go if you get the chance. You absolutely won't regret it (and don't forget to send me your piccies!). Thanks for reading. Marandina Points to Note *Generally £1 = $1.50 as a rule of thumb but check the exchange rate closer to the time. **The climate in Florida is sub-tropical so be prepared with sunscreen etc. Especially the kiddies who will fry quickly if you don't protect them.
I can only be referring to Orlando, Florida, home of magical theme parks, wild attractions and so much more. I have now been to Orlando 3 times, once at the tender age of 8, again at 11 and then again (minus parents) at 20…and the last time it was more exciting than ever. Ok, Ok, so it sounds a little ridiculous for a grown girl like me to return to the heady excitement of my childhood at the thought of seeing Cinderella’s castle all lit up at night, but there is something about atmosphere in this particular part of the US that makes you smile. Obviously, the theme parks in Orlando had changed and developed at an alarming rate since I had visited 9 years earlier. Myself, my partner and 5 of our friends (including my twin brother, who had been with me the previous two times we had been) had rented a beautiful villa in Kissimmee for 2 weeks. I think the best bit was the fact that my brothers girlfriend and my partner had never been before and this was going to be a fantastic experience for them… but in the end, it exceeded all of our expectations. First stop was Disney World: Magic Kingdom. I mean, if your going to go to Florida, you HAVE to go to Disney. It’s the law. With the parades, the shows and all those children, it still retained all its magic. My partner, who I would say is as fashion conscious as the next man these days, bought a fantastic Stetson Cowboy hat from the ‘Wild West’ land and proceeded to wear it for the rest of the holiday even though most days he was wearing Basketball trainers and vests! We decided to space out our visits to all the attractions, giving ourselves days in between to relax and shop etc. You have to try mini golf while your over there because it is a great laugh and they do the courses so well. In fact, everything is completely over the top which is what makes it so Fab. We went to a huge toy shop called F.A.O Schwartz and the building itself was surrou
nded by a giant teddy, rag doll, bouncy ball and spinning top and the Seafood Restaurant opposite had a huge animated crab crawling out of the roof….its was excellent. That’s another thing. Food. Your will never be stuck for food, no matter how large or small your budget. As you can imagine, we had all scraped together what we could but rather than McDonalds or Burger King (which you can eat over here) we went to Red Lobster (seafood), Ponderosa, Pancake houses and themed restaurants to add some spice to the evenings. I would advise, however, to eat as little as possible in the actual parks if you want to save some money, and also, its an idea to take drinks in with you if you can, coz with all that sunshine you tend to drink a lot. We generally use to buy a big bottle of Fanta/Sprite for the supermarket and freeze it over night – makes heavy carrying but by the end of the day it IS still cold (believe it or not!) Universal Studios was the next big stop – but to our surprise a new sister park had opened just a few months earlier called Islands of Adventure. Universal is very much based on movie memorabilia and experiences. Rides include ‘Earthquake’, ‘King Kong’, ‘Men in Black’, ‘Twister’, ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Jaws’, ‘Terminator 3D’ amongst others and the whole park is crammed with original costumes, props and vehicles from some of the most famous movies. They also have Nickledeon studios where they make the top American kids shows. Their sister park is WHOLE different kettle of fish! Island of Adventure is made up of 5 Islands: Marvel Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, the Lost Continent and Dr Seuss’s landing, and there is one word that describes it: exhillartaing. Marvel Super Hero Island: for those of you aren’t aware, Marvel is the comic book company that brought us the likes of Spiderman, The Hulk,
X-Men, The Avengers and the Fantastic Four amongst many others. This part of the park looks like you have just walked into a comic book; the buildings are bright and colourful and it features rides such as The Spiderman Ride, the Hulk Coaster (definitely one for you if you want to try a seriously mental rollercaoster) and Dr Dooms Fearfall. The characters are walking round to greet you and there is a mass of comic books and paraphernalia available. Toon Lagoon: This is great fun….with Popeye, Bluto, Olive, Betty Boop and Dudley Do-right the American comic strip and classic cartoon characters are brought to life with shops, shows and rides such as the ‘Popeye and Blutos Bilge Rat Barges’ and ‘Dudley Do-rights Ripsaw Falls’ (both water rides). Jurassic Park: Now THIS is impressive. This ‘Island’ is done exactly as you saw it in the first film, right down to the Restaurant and Museum-type building. Heavy Foliage give you the feeling of really being on unchartered land and cleverly placed speakers and machinery make the leaves rustle and create dinosaur-like noises all around the grounds. Not only does this feature a fantastic array of shops and arcades, as well as, or course, promoting the educational side of Dinosaurs, but it also has one of the best water rides in the park – an absolute must! The Lost Continent: Now, this is where you can tell the creative minds really went to work. A mixture of the fantasy world of dragons and enchanted forests to the mysterious legends of Atlantis and Ancient Greek mythology. Experience rollercoasters at their best with the ‘Duelling Dragons’, two separate rollercoasters (the Fire Dragon and the Ice Dragon) intertwined with each other…literally battling while you ride! And ‘Posideons Adventure’ taking you through the Ancient times in a spectacular five-senses show. Dr Seuss’s Landing: last but definitely not lea
st, walk into the wonderfully weird world of Dr Seuss (author of childrens books). Fairly unheard of over here in the UK but very big in the US, Dr Seuss’s moral tales have their own unique rhyme and with it a very unusal image. Great for kids, have a go on the ‘Cat in the Hat’ ride and eat at the ‘Green eggs and Ham café’ to finish a truly brilliant day. Another massive park, which I dare not leave out coz it was definitely one of my faves is Seaworld. Spend a day in the delightful company of Penguins, Sea Lions, Dolphins and, not forgetting, the beautiful, elegant and very funny Killer Whales from the world-famous Shamu family. Shows not to be missed is the ‘Clyde and Semour show’ featuring two very clever Sea Lions and the main event in the evening ‘Shamu rocks America’. But in the meantime go down to the Key West pools and stroke the Dolphins and Stngrays or visit the incredible Antartica spectacle where you can see Walrus’s, Polar Bears and Penguins amongst many more living in their very own Icy world in the middle of sunny Florida. So’s not to eliminate themselves from the attractions of other parks they have also got two fantastic rides ‘Journey to Atlantis’ and the daring rollercoaster ‘The Kraken’. Your holiday would not be complete without a visit here. In case all that walking and screaming has tired you out, Florida does have more to offer than white-knuckle rides! A small trip can take you to beautiful Cocoa Beach or alternatively you could pay a visit to the Florida Mall or one of the many massive retail outlets situated all over Florida. You could go on a airboat to speed across the Everglades and swamps or maybe even pay a visit to ‘Gatorland’!! Prices: Theme parks are the most expensive thing on this trip so you may have to pick and choose between them, however, look out for special ticket deals, especially in t
he summer months. See below for an idea on prices (all correct as at 27/03/02) Disney -Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM, Animal Kingdom (single day – one park only) Adult $48.00 Child $38.00 Disney water parks – Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon (single day) Adult $29.95 Child $24.00 Disney Park Hopper (4-Day entry to all parks) Adult $192.00 Child $152.00 Disney Park Hopper (5-Day entry to all parks) Adult $217.00 Child $172.00 Universal Studios (single day) Adult $49.95 Child $40.95 Islands of Adventure (single day) Adult $49.95 Child $40.95 Multi ticket (entry to both for 5 consecutive days) Adult $99.95 Child $86.95 Seaworld (single day – get a 2nd visit free if taken within 7 days) Adult $44.95 Child $35.95 4 Park Orlando Flexi Ticket (entry to Seaworld, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Wet’N’Wild for 14 consecutive days) Adult $169.95 Child $134.95 5 Park Orlando Flexi Ticket (entry to Seaworld, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Busch Gardens and Wet’N’Wild for 14 consecutive days) Adult $202.95 Child $164.95 Also, for those of you who may be a little stumped as to what you do after your evening meal (IF your still awake that is) Disney have Pleasure Island, a hub-bub for night owls with bars, shops and shows and Universal studios have Citywalk, a strip crammed with bars, shops and night cafes for those who want to experience 24hour-Florida. You could also do what we did, hire a villa with its own private heated pool and sit around outside, playing games and chatting in the water until the early hours – highly recommended and VERY relaxing! To remember though – the drinking limit out there is 21 and be sure to carry ID at all times – you WILL be asked. All that’s left for me to say is I could have gone on and on because I have really only touche
d on what is a truly fantastic place. If you going, hope you enjoy it as much as I did and if you haven’t been, you seriously don’t know what your missing!!
If there were one state in America where you had to take and entertain a family for two weeks then I would expect Florida to be at the top of your list. Florida, in the southeast of the United States, only a short drive from the Mexican coasts it has a fantastic climate all year round. With such a range of places to go and sights to see Florida then I suggest an itinerary to make the most out of your holiday. With so much to do in only two weeks planning can make all the difference between a great holiday and a fantastic holiday. Begin your holiday by settling in to one of the many luxury hotels or exotic villas Florida has to offer. The majority of villas having there own personal heated swimming pools, and offering a minimum of three bedrooms it is ideal for families not wanting to stay in a hotel. After familiarising yourself with your surroundings venture into Orlando, home of Disney Land and Florida’s biggest commercial city. Orlando has much to offer including the holidaymakers dream, International Drive. Here you will find anything and everything you ever dreamed of seeing in Florida. From go-karts to zoo’s and all in between International Drive has some of Orlando’s main features within just a few minutes walk of each other. If shopping was ever a must then International Drive is the right place. With amazing outlet stores such as Calvin Klein and Nike there’s a bargain for everyone. And when a pair of designer jeans will set you back a mere £25 its heaven for shopaholics. Also home to the America’s largest McDonald’s your whole holiday could be spent on International Drive if the kids get their way. Three floors of burgers, fries and shakes and even a bowling alley it won’t be just the children who love this landmark restaurant. Take a short drive into North Orlando and find yourself in movie Mecca, Universal Studios is a must see for all film fans. With spectacular themed rides with am
azing interactive effects it offers everything from a ride through Jurassic Park or saving the world with The Terminator. After all is seen and done here you’ll be the one finding yourself saying, “I’ll be back.” When you find the kids by your bed at six o’clock in the morning you can be safe to assume Disney Land is on their minds. Now celebrating their 26th anniversary and still managing to attract more and more guests every year. With live parades taking the streets and out-of-this-world roller coasters taking to the skies Disney Land is place nobody will want to leave. While in the Disney complex be sure to take the time to check out Blizzard Beach, the ultimate adventure in aqua parks. Playing home to the world’s tallest water slide Blizzard Beach will be loved by all. After Orlando has be discovered and there’s still time left venture into South Florida, taking an hour drive into Tampa Bay and be ready for the theme park every enthusiast will want to experience. Busch Gardens. With its array of looping, swooping, thrill educing roller coasters for little more than £55 for a family ticket is amazing value. After everything has been explored and all to do done, the magic of Florida will be with you and the family for years to come. “Come again soon, y’all.”
I've lost count how many times I have been to Orlando. The last time I had a very sarcastic US customs official who commented that I spend more time there than some of the residents. True, this was the third visit in 6 months, and the last Visa was still current! Whenever I go to the US I try and blend in with the locals, and see a bit of the real US. Many people I meet even when I tell them I'm English they ask how long I've lived there. Don't I wish! So this is my guide to planning your dream vacation in the sun, while not getting ripped off etc etc. I'll try and entertain you with some of my experiences as we go along, too. Enjoy. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO GET THERE? Well I've been various ways - in luxury with Virgin, with my knees cramped up on a tiny charter flight, you name it. You're likely to have a budget which will determine the best way for you to go. If money's no object, go first class and I'll come along as your personal guide! :oP But seriously, this is a major consideration. If it's your "first time" you may want to go with a package deal rather than going it alone and booking your own thing. If something goes wrong, you can always fall back on tour reps at the resort to sort out your problems (not always a guarantee, though!). If you are a more experienced traveller you'll probably find a much better deal booking separately (the cheapest flight I ever booked, without car hire was £69 - the problem was I had to fly out the following morning!). Lunn Poly, Thomson et al will always try and sell you holidays from their own companies first. If you're not careful they can talk you into booking a completely different package from the one you had your heart set on. One company I have had consistent good service from is Travelcity Direct. They are a tour operator themselves, so will put together a package to suit you. Yes, you can sometimes book hotels and cars your
selves but tour operators can sometimes get better discounts on your behalf, so it's worth a phone call. Travelcity Direct also have a centre based in Orlando, about 5 minutes away from Disney/International Drive, in case you have any problems with your holiday. WHERE TO STAY? HOTEL OR HOUSE? Most hotels in the US are pretty standard. I have arrived at only one hotel and refused to stay there because it was unclean. Most are classed 3-star, and the room will be arranged the same whether you're paying $40 or $140 a night. Prices will vary from night to night, as well - pay a lot of attention if you're doing a fly-drive. Have a think how much time you'll be spending at the hotel. In Orlando you'll spend most time out at attractions, so you won't really take much advantage of a gym or spa, although it may be useful if it's not too costly. All hotels have at least one pool, for those lazy days in between exhausting yourself in theme parks! Other facilities that are useful are on-site shops. They can be a little pricey - I tend to stock up at the local supermarket or minimart - but are useful for those late night snacks you can't be bothered to drive out for! Most hotels will have some sort of restaurant. Certainly on International Drive you'll be spoilt for choice locally! Not all hotel restaurants are great - I've had mixed experiences, but they're probably a good thing to look for if you're a non-driving vacationer. Alternatively, you may choose a private house. If you have a friend prepared to loan you one cheaply, great, but otherwise check what you're getting exactly. If a house says "sleeps 6-8" work out how many actual beds there are and if this is sufficient for your party. A 6-berth house is usually one double room, one twin and a pull out sofa or Z-bed or two. If there are three couples going, this isn't going to be enough. Consider also the privacy element - i
f some of you are having to sleep in the lounge how much sleep will they really get? This can be a good option for families. I haven't any children, but I'm not sure I'd want to sleep in the same room for 2 or more weeks! LOCATION Get a good map of the area, either from the Internet, W H Smith, or the Virgin brochure is usually quite accurate. This will give you some idea of how far everything is away from one another. The main areas you'll see covered in the Orlando brochures are: International Drive: The most popular area to stay in Orlando, and its increasing in the number of hotels and timeshares that are there. If you're not hiring a car (see my section on car hire later) this is a pretty good place to stay. There is a bus service called the "I Drive" that runs regular buses up and down it. Don't be fooled that its a short road by the maps - it is a few miles long from end to end! International Drive is mostly hotels, shops and restaurants. There is a saying that there are enough restaurants that you could eat at a different one every night for a year, but I've never worked out how true that is - they are opening up all the time! Most hotels provide free or cheap transportation to the main attractions. The prices vary - most are of the Quality or Comfort Inn style, although the north of International Drive is very close to Universal City, so be prepared to pay a little more there. Lake Buena Vista: If you've ever seen any Disney movies you'll recognise the name. Lake Buena Vista is where Disney is, and comes under two areas. There's the area marked Downtown Disney. Although the hotels are Sheraton etc the land is officially Disney property. These are very pricey naturally, as they are within walking distance of Downtown Disney (previously known as the Village) and free transportation around Walt Disney World. The other part of Lake Buena Vista is quite literally over the road, a 30
-60 second drive away, and you'll find a slightly cheaper range of hotels there. I often stay at the Comfort Inn, as you can get some real bargains, although be aware you are close to I-4 the main road running through Orlando, and it can get pretty noisy if you're not used to it! Kissimmee: Kissimmee is to the South and South-East of Disney. If you're looking at hotels here, watch their proximity to other attractions. The actual town is actually about 20 miles away from Disney itself, although the hotel prices will be a lot cheaper. There is a fast road that will take you into WDW but be prepared you're gonna do a lot of driving if you stay down here! This is also where a lot of the private houses are located. Downtown Orlando / Winter Gardens: If you're going for the attractions don't even think about staying here. It's often the first choice a lot of independent travel agents will give you, because it's a lot cheaper than staying near the attractions. Downtown Orlando is a good 30-40 minutes drive away from the rest of the tourist attractions. Disney: Pretty much the most expensive option. However, it's worth it if all you're going for is Disney, Disney, Disney. Your accommodation will include entry to the parks and use of all the transportation. You may also on selected days get entry to some of the parks an hour earlier than non-Disney guests. This depends on where you're staying. There is plenty of choice for food, shopping etc, but be warned that you will pay through the nose, so to speak. Now you've worked out what kind of accommodation and whereabouts you're staying, you're on your way to booking the trip? WHAT FLIGHT? Charter or scheduled? What does that even mean? Well the larger companies like Virgin, American Airlines, British Airways to name a few, run their own scheduled airline. What that means is that the plane will fly according to its timetable
whether it has 1 passenger or a full load. In real terms, there are very few bargains to be had on scheduled flights, unless you turn up and wait. They do generally however have more room, and if you are interested in upgrading to a Premium or Upper Class/First Class seat this is how you'll have to fly. Most companies that fly to Orlando are charter airlines, like Britannia. These will try and fill the plane, and if you are offered last minute deals it will usually be on one of these flights. They are not always THAT cramped, though it won't be first class accommodation. Most transatlantic flights these days are comfortable for an average sized passenger. If you are large or tall though you may have some problems. One tip for if you have long legs is to get to check-in early and ask for a seat with extra legroom which will be at one of the doorways. These cannot be booked in advance as they can only be given to physically fit passengers (for safety / evacuation reasons). Be warned that the arm rests don?t always move in these seats as the lap tables are often integrated - it depends on the airline. Orlando has two airports, and this may also be a consideration when booking your holiday. Orlando International is the closest to the tourist attractions and is where all the scheduled flights go. There are quite a few shops there for last minute souvenirs, and its only a 10 minute drive or so up to International Drive hotels on the fast toll road. The other one, Orlando Sanford International, is an ex-forces base and is used by many of the charters as well as locals for their flying lessons! It's actually a nice scenic drive, but is a good 40+ minutes drive from the attractions as its north of Downtown Orlando, and you'll have more local traffic to contend with when you step off the plane. Even if you have booked a car, you don't always have to drive it straight away. Some companies provide a transfer to the hotel first, but
this is rare. I'm comfortable with driving in the US, and its a lot more relaxed than in the UK! However, if you're unsure you may want to consider flying into the International Airport so you're only a short hop from the hotel the first night! TO DRIVE OR NOT TO DRIVE? To me, going to the US without hiring a car has never been an option. One of my friends went (unfortunately it was her honeymoon) and they didn't like it because without a car they were limited on where they could go. I have already mentioned the I-drive and transportation to the parks. If you are intending to stay in Disney for the whole two weeks, you really won't need one. However, to be one of the natives, many of the attractions and places are either inaccessible without a car, or you will find yourself spending a lot of money on coach trips to go shopping. The choice is entirely yours though! Assuming you want to hire a car, read the usual small print. You have to be 21 to hire a car in Orlando, although you will have to pay an extra daily premium if the driver is under 25. Car hire is relatively inexpensive, although its the insurance and extras that racks up the cost. It also depends on what size car you want - you will generally be allocated one based on how many people are in your party. There are varying types of insurance available, so check them out carefully. The basic and the very minimum you can take out is their version of third party, fire and theft, and doesn't cover damage to your own hire car. Touch wood, I have been lucky and never had a prang, but have a think about the US legal system, and you'll see my thoughts. A quick prang in the back of someone and you might have to fork out for their medical bills, and then it gets messy and very expensive. More comprehensive kinds of insurance are available from different tour operators. One of the best types of insurance I've had is from Virgin, who charge you a
total daily cost which covers you and other drivers comprehensively as well as some little added extras, such as the initial tank of fuel. They offer several options, but make sure you read the small print carefully. I've done both "pay at the other end" and "pay in advance". Paying in advance is certainly the easier way and you'll get a voucher to show to your car company at the other end. The salesmen at the other end are very slick and will try and sell you all sorts of extras - before you know it you'll be faced with like a $600 bill before you leave the airport! Some examples of extras you may need to consider: how many drivers you need, are any drivers under 25, they'll make you pay for the tank of fuel you drive off with (you return the tank to them as EMPTY as possible! Hehe), do you need a babyseat? The salesman at the other end will often try and sell you an upgrade to the next model. Every time I've been so far I refused to PAY for the upgrade only to be told "oh, erm, we seem to have run out of that model - we'll upgrade you for free!". But I guess you always take the risk on that one. If you want a convertible or minivan you will have to pay for the upgrade. Generally, of all the times I've been there, I have found Alamo to be cheaper than Dollar (the two main companies that the operators will use, although there are others). Both have convenient depots at the two main airports and will try to help you the best they can. I had a problem with one tour company not mentioned here failing to inform the car rental firm I'd already paid, but Alamo were very good at sorting it out. Its quite a tricky process, but if you can pay over here in the UK its a lot easier. You may still be required to produce a credit card at the other end in case there is any damage - don't worry this is quite normal. Don't forget to take your driving licence (full UK, naturally), otherwi
se they won't let you have the car! You will also be expected to produce your licence should you get stopped by the police, so its worth carrying it around with you. If you have a new photo one, you will need both parts of the licence. HEALTH INSURANCE Don't leave home without it (that, and your credit card!). Medical assistance is available in the states along the lines of the NHS, but if you have a serious problem and are admitted to a hospital you may find yourself liable for all sorts of bills for things and treatments you've never heard of. Its fairly inexpensive, so don't skimp on it. PASSPORT / VISA Don't forget this. It has to be a full UK 10-year job, and you must have 6 months (last time I checked) remaining on its expiry date, otherwise you'll have to renew before you go. Visas are not usually a problem for UK residents, but check with your travel agent or the US embassy before you go. Visa waiver forms are available for UK residents on the plane, together with a customs declaration you have to fill out and hand in at the other end. MONEY You'll need spending money, of course. Orlando isn't just a beach holiday - expect to part with a LOT of money while you're there, whether it's on eating, drinking, shopping or entertainment. As a guide, when I go as a couple I take approximately $1000 which doesn't include Disney tickets. A family of four can easily part with $1000 for attractions alone. I know the exchange rate is lousy at the moment, so just shop around - you'd actually be surprised how good the rate at the airport can be! You don't need acres of cash, just a few dollars for tips, tolls etc when you arrive. Take most of it in US Dollar travellers cheques. These are accepted like you'd give a cheque here, and they can be easily replaced if lost. Don't forget the credit card, either! OK, I think we're just about ready for the off then? FRUIT DOGS No, I'm being serious, and so is the US Govt. Customs officials walk through the airport with beagles sniffing for fruit in your luggage. They are VERY strict on plants, animals and fruits being brought into the country unofficially. It is an offence to take fruit into the US, and you WILL be fined up to I think $1,000 for it. Unfortunately many airlines provide the children with an apple for their dessert, and I did witness a fruit beagle sniff the child out and her parents being told they would have to pay the fine off their credit card. Don't get caught out by this. Now I've frightened you, onto some of the delights of Orlando before I get writer's cramp or block or something!! BUYING ATTRACTION TICKETS There are 3 main ways to obtain attraction tickets: 1. Buy from your rep. They can often obtain discounts (although not from Disney) and you can purchase all your tickets on the first day you're there. Disadvantage is you'll have to try and think up front of where you want to go. They will show you a presentation film, but it doesn't always give you a lot of time to decide, particularly if there are a few of you! 2. At the gate. This is an option if you decide to go somewhere you're just passing. However, be prepared to queue, particularly at some of the more popular attractions. 3. Timeshare sales. All the local publications / free guides telling you where you can go will have adverts for cheap tickets. These usually involve you sitting through a timeshare presentation. I've never done this, as I don't think I could say "no", but it's down to you. I have heard of people making spectacular savings, but also of people receiving tickets that were worthless when presented on the gate. THE ATTRACTIONS: DISNEY Well, what can I say about Disney? It's great! However, it can be VERY tiring especially now with the four parks (Magic Kingdom, MGM Studios, EPC
OT Center and Animal Kingdom). There are a number of ticket options you can purchase (see website for current prices). They depend on whether you are going to be "park hopping", ie using their transportation. You will have to pay for parking at Disney (currently $7 a day) unless you are a resident of one of their hotels or an annual season ticket holder. Once you've paid that, you can drive to another Disney park and park for free if you show them your ticket. Which brings me to the annual ticket. For three years running I had an annual pass to Disney. If you are intending to go twice within a 12 month period it works out cheaper than buying two separate passes. There are other discounts and benefits you get too, including free parking, discounts on certain events. It doesn't matter that you live in the UK, either! It's worth considering as its UNLIMITED ACCESS. If you want to, you can visit Disney every day of your holiday for a couple of hours. You're not restricted to a certain number of days you can visit. If you're planning to stay at a Disney hotel, don't forget your admission is usually included (double-check your brochure). So what's the best thing to do in Disney? Really, it's up to the individual as to his/her preferences. I know I have my favourite rides and places to eat. While the rides are free, don't forget that all the extras such as food and merchandise can be quite pricey. One thing to watch out if you are staying at a Disney park is their pack-up-and-go service, where you can buy things and have them sent up to your room/hotel. You can sorely underestimate how much stuff you've bought if you're not having to lug it around the park with you! My favourite attractions within Disney are (in no particular order): Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Honey I Shrunk The Audience, Test Track, Muppets 3D and the Norwegian ride in Epcot. Perhaps when I have more time
I'll sit and write a more comprehensive op on Disney's attractions (the hundreds there must be by now!) UNIVERSAL CITY STUDIOS / ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE Used to be Universal Studios and has branched out to this second theme park. The studios still have the old favourites there - Jaws, ET, Back to the Future etc. I love this park to bits, especially Terminator 2! Islands of Adventure has branched out a bit more into the cartoon/fantasy realm, including the Cat in the Hat, Popeye, Spiderman etc, and contains a few more "hairy" rides than the Studios. This was an amusing and fun day out, but as I'm not a great one for the hairy rides, I prefer the Studios. There is also the Universal Citywalk which is a number of bars, cafes and such on the walk up to the Studios and Islands entrance. This is where you'll find the Hard Rock Café, and is a popular place to go in the evening. As per Disney, I had an annual pass to Universal Studios. This will give you not only free parking, but discounts on merchandise and food throughout the park. Latest prices and details are on their site, and you can subscribe to their newsletter for latest information on events. KING HENRY'S FEAST/WILD BILL'S Just two examples of the numerous dinner shows that you can go to. Some tour operators sell the tickets, others may give you free tickets but you pay for the "tip". This is different from normal tipping, in that you don't leave your tip for your waitress but pay at the cash desk in advance. Its usually around $6 a person, but when you see how much you get to eat its worth it. The entertainment is very good, including how much the waitresses manage to carry around on their trays! It always includes unlimited wine, beer or soft drinks, served in pitchers so don't expect the latest draught export! SEAWORLD My favourite park in Orlando, but I won't dwell on it too much - this op is already
way too long! They have lots of attractions, including the famous Shamu and Dolphin shows, but have some lesser known exhibits highlighting their work with rescuing wild animals. Wild Arctic is great fun if you're into polar bears, and on a hot Orlando day the chill of this exhibit is most welcome! Again, I had an annual pass which gives you free parking. It also gives you discounts on merchandise. If you have time while you're there try to take in one or more of the behind-the-scenes tours which show you areas you wouldn't normally see. They are not included in the admission price, although as an annual pass holder I got them free. COUPONS Coupons are big business in the US, particularly in Orlando. Most shops will have a rack on the way out with Free publications about the area, such as "See Orlando". They are full of adverts of places to go, places to eat and where to shop. Coupons can save you an absolute fortune while shopping or eating - there are lots of 2 for 1 or kids eat free vouchers. Don't be frightened to use them - people expect you to! You'll be surprised just how much you can save just by a little careful coupon management! DISCOUNT STORES Orlando is one of the world's capital Discount store cities. There are discount stores all over International Drive, such as the Belz Factory Outlet, Reebok etc. Down in Lake Buena Vista you can visit "Lake Buena Vista Factory Outlet" - the VF outlet there has casual clothing at amazing prices. You'll be amazed at the bargains you can pick up in them, although you may have to be a little choosy if you're short of luggage space. I always take a spare or nearly empty suitcase when travelling to Orlando. Take full advantage of any coupons to make it even cheaper! MALLS AND SUPERMARKETS There are of course normal malls you can visit, although there are more of them in the US than over here. Check out your hotels Yellow Pages for
a complete listing. The Florida Mall is the most popular one with tourists as its not that far from the attractions. However, because of it's proximity to the attractions and discount outlets, there are often better bargains to be obtained at other malls. Altamonte Mall (north of the city) is one of my favourites - it's a sizeable mall with other stores nearby such as Walmart. Remember Walmart who took over Asda? There's not much you will need that you can't find in this store! There's also one on SR192 in Kissimmee about 5-10 minutes drive from Disney. FOOD AND DRINK Use your coupons! There aren't many places that will do bad food. It's the US, so people speak up if they don't like their food! Good US restaurants include the Olive Garden, Sizzler, Ponderosa, International House of Pancakes, all of which will provide a good meal for a reasonable price. Sizzler and Ponderosa are best known for their "all you can eat breakfast" which at around $3.99 for an adult plus drinks and tips, and is a good start to the day, so you won't always need lunch! You have as well the usual takeaways - Pizza Hut, KFC, McDonalds, Burger King. Taco Bell is one of my favourites and I wish it was here in the UK. Wendy's is also a firm American favourite. If you want to cater yourself, or even just keep some goodies in the hotel room to munch on rest days, there are plenty of supermarkets around. There are "Goodings" on International Drive and at Lake Buena Vista, plus Walmart in Kissimmee. There are lots of minimarts around too. "Eckerd" is a US-style Boots. They sell pharmacy products and medicines, plus are a relatively cheap source of knick-knacks, drinks and nibbles (including alcohol!). For example, you can often pick up a 12-pack of Coke for under $3 (£2, which is what we charge for 6 cans here). If you are a Costco member in the UK, this membership is WORL
DWIDE. Take your Costco card with you as there is a store near the Florida Mall where you can get supplies in even cheaper! TIPPING You have probably already heard that tipping is a way of life for the restaurant trade. This is true - waiting staff make up most of their wages in tips. However, the general tip for good service still applies - I have refused to tip on more than one occasion because of bad service. And I'm generally easily pleased. Good service will warrant 15%. For an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast you would generally leave around $1 per person. Well, I've just about exhausted this topic for now. I'm sure I'll be providing more in-depth ops of some of the attractions in due course. Have a nice holiday, and don't forget the postcard! :o) USEFUL SITES: http://www.travelcity.co.uk http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/waltdisneyworld/index http://www.universalstudios.com
I've been to a lot of countries in my time: Spain, Italy, France, Austria and Greece to name a few, but one burning desire that I've held ever since I was a little boy was the opportunity to go to America. That opportunity came in the summer of 2000 as I went to Florida as part of a family holiday. There was great excitement amongst the family weeks before the departure date which seemed as though it would never arrive. Inevitably, it did and the family packed into the car, filled to the brim with suitcases and hand luggage as we drove to Prestwick airport. The eight-hour flight that faced us would be enough to dampen anyone's spirits but we survived it - it actually wasn't that bad - thanks to a couple of well-timed meals and some decent in-flight entertainment. Eight hours seemed to fly by, and pretty soon, we were touching down in Florida. Unfortunately, we arrived in the middle of the night and the first day of our two-week holiday was spent recovering from jetlag. When we had though, it was definetly worth it as we went onto spend the best two weeks of our lives. The entertainment is great, the range of theme parks is superb and if you're into that sort of thing, then you have Disney, Islands of Adventure, Busch Gardens and Universal Studios to chose from, as well as the splendid Wet 'N Wild Water Park. There really is something for all the family at Florida. The hotel we stayed in was the Holiday Inn International and I can have no complaints what-so-ever about the service or quality of the room. The food is great, and if you're going, I recommend the Ponderosa which does fantastic food at astonishingly low prices. In general, prices were really low and I brought home a pair of spanking new, red Addidas football boots for only £20! Deisgner clothes and sports equipment were just some of the things which were at really knock-down prices. Taxis were readily available to t
ransfer you around the area and these were fairly priced - a little to my surprise - and they also came promptly and efficiently. The only downside was the weather - it rained and there was thunderstorms every afternoon for two weeks, but by that time, you were in need of a rest anyway. Florida is expensive, that is inevitable, but if you can afford to splash the cash, why miss out on what will surely be the holiday of a lifetime!
when checking in at your hotel or stopping off for a quick snack keep one eye open for coupon racks and stands. they are all over the place - every where you go you can pick up coupons and coupon books. a lot are disguised as free travel guides - look out for the ones near newspapers racks on the side of the road. these coupons are genuine and you can save lots and lots of $$$$'s by cutting them out and keeping them with you. the outlet malls are great but combine the great deal with a extra $10 off if you spend $75 (as in the case of reebox outlet) or even 20% off when purchasing a meal - it all adds up - they want you to use coupons this is the place where coupons were invented. one coupon exchanged at the outlet malls info desk will give you a book full of coupons to be used at the outlet mall itself - nearly one coupon for each store - this is how you save - time spent adds up to $$$'s