At the start of the summer a friend of mine went to the west coast of America and had the most amazing time – some of it due to her OCD planning (one of the many reasons we’re friends!) but some of it damn good luck – bears and whales for example. Her blog was fabulous – and I can’t wait to do a similar trip in the future, when our youngest 2 are old enough to cope with it – but for now other US holidays are on the table. Just after she got back we headed off to the other coast of the USA to ‘do’ Florida. Proper, full on, Disney-tastic Orlando based ‘holiday’. Us 6 – plus my parents and my sister and her family – so a party of 12 (the dinner reservation all LOVED us!!)
Any attempt to blog each day was thwarted by the
ridiculous timetable my husband – and life long Florida fan – had planned! So here’s a random summary of a family holiday to Orlando – with the party ranging in age from 3 years old to 70 years old!
My sister is 35 – but was possibly the most excited member of the party in the countdown. She had a Disney app with our flight details in that was counting down the days / hours / minutes until our flight. Which was all well and good until we had a 3 hour delay taking off! But at least we could amuse ourselves at the airport with a selfie stick (and shopping and champagne!)
Timing and weather
Historically we’ve ‘done’ Disney at Easter – when the weather is perfect. Warm enough to not freeze after getting soaked on a water ride in the day – but needing a cardi first thing and last thing. BUT the parks are uber busy, as the US and UK have Easter at the same time (no sh*t Sherlock!) and consequently lots of people go. This time we did the last 2 weeks in August when – supposedly – the US kids are back at school. However, I have to say it’s still really quite busy! And the weather is roasting – with ridiculous levels of humidity. Apparently it’s always bad at this time of year – but is even worse than usual this year. We’ve noticed it particularly in our youngest and eldest members of the party – just as you’re advised when the UK has a heatwave!! We have many photos of the little ones sweaty and asleep in the pushchair!
Before kids, the husband and I did Disney and stayed in a Disney hotel (he even proposed to me at Magic Kingdom – bless!) Since having the kids, the ability to escape the Disney
shite magic has become more important. This time we stayed in an amazing villa in Formosa Gardens. Only a few minutes drive from the 192 and all the Orlando parks – but in an oasis of calm.
The facilities were fabulous – more than a home from home (as if we’ve had a summer outdoor kitchen in the UK!!) We were able to buy supplies from local supermarkets (we had a Target (think Tescos), a Walmart (think Asda) and a Publix (think Waitrose – and my favourite!) within a few minutes drive). Even the chemist at the end of the road sold booze (when 2 of our kids had an ear infection I went and bought drops and painkillers for them, and bottles of Prosecco for us! #winning)
When we went last time there was the option of ‘fast passes’ – but these were booked on the day when you were in the park. Everything is far more fancy nowadays – and through websites and apps you can book restaurants, experiences and rides from the comfort of your own home before venturing anywhere near Orlando. You need to do this as early as possible. Even a few days after the spaces were opened we’d failed to secure fast passes for anything Frozen related or for the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
Every day we reviewed the plans for the next day to ensure everything was already in place before we left home in the morning. Sounds a bit dull and anal – but it meant every ride we wanted to go on and character we wanted to see was ticked off!
And this was the husband – also the planner – with his whistle and autograph books at 6.30am on the first morning. And I’m not joking…..
Food is Florida is ENORMOUS! The portion sizes really do have to be seen to be believed – and the breakfast combos of sweet and savoury are something else.
As a group we were a little divided on food. Our family of 6 often ate out at lunchtime. We found that an air conditioned restaurant in the middle of the day was a welcome respite from the heat and chaos – and also meant the kids had eaten something decent at lunchtime, so if they then fell asleep on the way home at the end of the day they could be smuggled into bed without worrying they’d be starving.
My parents and sister and her family did more eating on the go. They didn’t want the expense of eating out daily – but also didn’t want to waste time in a restaurant. They would take a mini picnic and snacks. You have to be a bit careful as different parks have different rules about picnics and coolers – but they never had anything taken off them when going through bag check. Which brings me on to….
Getting into every park means a big queue so that bags can be checked (poked with a stick!) by security staff. We learnt that this point was a good time to divide and conquer! So some of the group would have the bags to be checked, and others would go through the ‘no bag’ line to get quicker access to the park to sort out pushchairs,. Which brings me on to…..
At home we have a pushchair for the 3 year old (useful to pop her in if she’s having a strop!) but not the 5 year old – but due to the walking involved we suspected she might need some help too – so we hired a double stroller every day. This made life much easier – and was a great place to hang the bags / fans / water bottles etc. My Dad also found it useful to push the pushchair to hold himself up! (And I was pleased, as if I pushed it, not all steps would register on my Fitbit – and the brother in law and I were being a *bit* competitive about steps!)
The only downside with hiring a stroller was getting to and from the car, which in some car parks could be quite a jaunt. Thankfully the aforementioned brother in law was a lovely Uncle and helped carry his exhausted nieces many times.
You can also hire mobility scooters for older folks – although my 70 year old father resisted!
Whilst we were in Florida, I joined in a regular linky over at Brummy Mummy of 2 with a photo of our 3 year old having a variety of Disney inspired strops. As someone pointed out to me, around most corners in Walt Disney World you have a parent telling a small child ‘come on, you need to enjoy yourself, we’ve brought you to Florida’. Actually, come to think of it, I think my husband and sister both said that to me at numerous points during the fortnight…….
This is obviously a big part of Disney – and all of the kids had autograph books – even the teenagers! We managed to see lots – and some were amazing (Cinderella did a fab video message for a little girl back home)
and some weren’t (I came close to punching Mary Poppins for being rude and running off before we could speak to her – despite us queuing!)
The boys took a particular liking to Rapunzel
We took A LOT of photos. In fact there are about 800 on Facebook (yes, I’m one of THOSE people!) We invested in the various photo passes at different parks to ensure we could have all of the group / ride photos that were taken by the professional photographers kicking around. For Disney this was amazingly good value and we really got our money’s worth. We would definitely recommend this investment.
Be warned at Busch Gardens – if you buy their photo package it DOESN’T include photos taken feeding giraffes on the Serengeti Safari. We were very cross to be charged extra for this after the event – definitely left a bit of a sour taste.
Last time we ‘did’ Florida Busch Gardens and Seaworld were our favourite parks, and the ones we remembered most fondly. So this time we were a little disappointed that they weren’t. Whether it’s because there’s been a change in ownership (which also meant no free Budweiser at Seaworld much to the husband’s disappointment – it was the one day I was going to drive home!) I’m not sure – but they seemed a bit less slick than Disney – and a lot more money grabbing. Disney have the parking and fast passes etc down to a fine art – and the other parks could learn a lot from them.
Long gone are the days of 2 dollars to the pound – but there are still bargains to be had with shopping. We did outlet malls and regular malls and did lots of purchases in both, My eldest daughter and my niece both bought Timberlands (they’re cool again, apparently!) and they were $150 whereas they’d be £150 at home – so a definite saving. Obviously they had to wear them home as they were too heavy to pack!
I also like clothes shopping in the US – as it makes you look 2 sizes smaller #result
Orlando International Airport
For a long time Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France has held my ‘worst airport in the world’ award – interestingly after a trip to Disneyland Paris. But this has now been surpassed by Orlando.
Upon arrival at the start of the holiday immigration took forever, luggage then took 2 hours (due to a storm stopping the conveyors), then you have to either lug all of your luggage on a train (which is tricky with 4 kids, all the suitcases and 2 car seats) or recheck it in – which we did. The lady on the recheck conveyor told us it would be about 20 minutes – but when we got to the belt to collect it we were told it could be up to 2 hours!!! There is then not an easy route to the car hire – and they just send you off across an immense car park to find your car. But we survived – just (with a lot of swearing, and clothes so sweaty you could wring them out!)
Flying back out again was even worse! At the check in desk we were told that despite us having a 40kg luggage allowance each (Virgin Premium Economy) each individual bag could only be 23kg. Apparently this was health and safety. BUT – you could pay $60 if you bag exceeded this weight. This seemed utterly ridiculous – it is either health and safety or it isn’t?!? So – in the middle of check in I was repacking bags to make sure all came in below the 23kg mark – which they did (I would not be beaten!!)
Then, the luggage belts weren’t working, so all of our bags were lined up in the middle of the check in area – with people milling about them. Not exactly high security!
The waiting area in the airport had minimal seats – although thankfully we managed to bagsy some. But the queue to get a round in Starbucks took AN HOUR!! Utter madness.
Some of us look happier than others to be about to board the plane!!
Once on the plane we thought we could be on our way home. But no, the inept ground crew struck again, and it was apparent to our captain on the way out to the runway that she’d been given the incorrect paperwork so we had to taxi back. Then we had to refuel, as she’d used up too much fuel on the taxing forwards and backwards Argh! So 2 hours later we took off.
And don’t even get me started on the rubbish service on board. Children’s meals that had been sorted on the way out not available, entertainments systems that didn’t work, seat that reclined about 5 cm – premium my arse!
But we survived! And some of it was quite enjoyable!!
We all came back exhausted, and it took a while to recover – a combination of walking 6 miles a day and jet lag is not fun. It’s definitely not a holiday you could do regularly – in fact our kids have all said ‘please don’t make us go to Disney again’ – but I’m sure we will. Maybe.