PARENTS

Orlando With Children

14/08/2014 16:49 | Updated 22 May 2015
nickleodeon Resort pool in Orlando

When I was a very little girl, there were just two places I wanted to go on holiday. Possibly because they were the only two places I had heard of outside of the UK: Egypt, where my dad was posted during National Service, and a magical place called Disney World where my aunt and uncle had been many times, always returning with photographs of Minnie Mouse and enormous tea cups you could ride in.

One year, they offered to take me with them. My parents said no, obviously thinking a two week trip away from home was just too much for a then four-year-old. I was furious in that foot-stamping, red-faced way only four-year-olds can be, and hated every Devon-based, Minnie Mouse-free holiday my parents took me on thereafter.

Some 36 years later, I finally found myself just feet from Minnie Mouse at Disney World, Orlando. Not that I had much time to stand and admire her frills and flounces though; I might have waited almost 40 years to see her, but for my nine-year-old son, Minnie Mouse was not the reason he was soaking up the Florida sun.

For him we were there entirely for thrill seeking and adventure – albeit 'William' style – and that meant no mega roller-coasters, sheer drops or heights but lots of fun, new experiences and sunshine.

We'd had a look at what was on offer in Orlando ahead of our break via the Orlando Holiday Planning tool - a nifty online device which allows you to make the most of planning your trip around your family's likes and needs.

William already had a good idea of what parts of the theme parks and attractions would be - or not be - for him. As well as a veto on roller-coasters, his anti-wish list also cited 'shows' 'too many animals' and 'shopping' (sigh).

Legoland, 'simulated rides' and 'Harry Potter world' however were his top three wants.

We arrived in Orlando from London on a cool Sunday evening, and checked into the vast Nickelodeon Suites resort. And I mean vast. I am certain there were quicker ways we could have made it back to our suite each day, but the signage wasn't great, and it did seem a trek each time - particularly back down to reception when we had any queries. But that's a minor niggle as it is a total kids' paradise of themed rooms, primary colours, familiar characters and the biggest play pool we have ever seen (complete with daily 'sliming' sessions...).

Nickleodeon Suites Resort in Orlando with kids

William loved his SpongeBob painted room, and likewise, me, my mellow-hued adult bedroom next door. By the time we woke up on our first morning, the temperature had risen, we were totally refreshed and the realisation we were really in the USA hit us.

Joyously donning our skimpiest of clothes (it had been snowing when we left London and we both felt we hadn't been out of vests and fleeces for years), we headed down to breakfast.

As it was our first day, we indulged in the character breakfast in the main restaurant, which included walk-abouts from Dora and SpongeBob (complete with singing and dancing - if you'd had a drink the night before and were suffering, you might not enjoy this quite so much).

It also included an excellent buffet which packed enough punch to keep us going until after lunch and had everything you could wish for from porridge, fruit, eggs every which way and choc chip muffins.

We spent our first day at Seaworld, despite my son's wish for 'not too many animals' and my dislike of beasts in captivity. I'll be honest; I don't particularly approve of it, but whether I like it or not, it exists, and we did enjoy watching the dolphins work with the trainers, and seeing the whales, stingrays, turtles and myriad other marine life so close up.

And my son was on cloud nine over the 3d TurtleTrek experience, which is an amazing simulation of a vulnerable turtle's life (and a tug-at-your-heartstrings message to help the environment and protect animals).

Seaworld Orlando

William's Florida wish-list however was topped with Legoland, and we headed there on our second day. A 30 minute or so drive from our hotel, we arrived early, and the park was bustling but in a totally manageable way.

William is a huge fan of Legoland Windsor and compared the two all day, immediately heading for familiar attractions like Mini World and the driving school.

Knowing that it was the day before we hit the two huge theme parks, Disney and Universal, it was nice to have the relative calm of Legoland and its familiarity. Perhaps less so when on the boating lake - we got our vessel stuck under a pelican fountain for a good five minutes, getting soaked in the process. But at least it was hot and we gave everyone else a good laugh...

Legoland also offered us the best food options out of all the parks. We're vegetarian, and to be honest, we struggled to eat well at Universal and Disney.

Yes, we could have had fries all day, everyday, but, well you know, we like a bit of fruit and veg... If you are veggie, plan your meals in advance, fill your face at breakfast (the buffet breakfast at our hotel was excellent) and do not expect their to be 'veggie options' widely available.

Legoland Orlando with kids

Universal Studios was the main draw for me in the planning of our trip and it did not disappoint. We were lucky enough to be using the services of a VIP tour guide so we cut the queues, and were whizzed effortlessly from ride to ride. It really makes all the difference - making the most of your time and of course, avoiding the crowds. Personal guides and Fast Pass or Express tickets might not come cheap, but it does add so much more to your holiday and make much better use of your time.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was the highlight of the entire trip for me; its been around since 2007, and took a whopping two and a half years to construct, and as you wander around its straight-from-the-movie streets, you can see why.

It is also the busiest attraction at Universal, so bear this in mind if you are taking very small children, strollers or enormous backpacks...

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando

After walking down the main street and stopping off for photo opps at various familiar Potter stores, we arrived in the shadow of Hogwarts.

We spurned the dragon's challenge roller-coaster at the last minute despite assurances from staff and other visitors that it 'wasn't too scary!' and instead made our way straight into the castle to prepare for the ride we were very keen to experience – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Ambling through Hogwarts is in itself another 'experience', with portraits which come to life, and a speech from Dumbledore all part of the journey through to board the ride. The Forbidden Journey is part simulated, part moving, and even for us 'coaster refuseniks', offered a thrilling and in parts just-scary-enough ride - especially when it was halted part-way through because of an issue boarding a wheelchair user - we were suspended in the air for at least five minutes and LOVED it!

We spent our final day in the Florida sunshine at Disney; while our friends enjoyed the American Idol show in the park's auditorium, we wandered off to sit out in the sunshine (sorry American Idol, but we can't stand it at home, so we were not going to endure it abroad) and reflected on our trip; it was not a holiday either of us had thought we would ever take, but the combination of sunshine, thrills and that ever-present faultless American attitude towards guest services and customer care left us with only one thing in mind: how soon can we come back.

Oh, and it was on that last day I FINALLY got to see Minnie. Aged 39 and a half (me, not her).

Minnie Mouse at Disney Orlando

Our Top Tips

Plan ahead and consider using the various parks' VIP services - you will waste time if you just arrive and amble, or if you spend all your days queuing.

If you are vegetarian (like us) prepare to live on chips. Sorry, but catering at the parks for veggies is terrible. Take a packed lunch of stuff yourself to the gills at your hotel at breakfast time.

Wear comfy, broken-in shoes and your lightest summer togs - as your mother would say, it's not a fashion parade. But really, the parks are HUGE and it is (generally!) hot - it is no place for heels and sweat-inducing skinny jeans.

If you have pre-schoolers, take a stroller - they WILL get tired and grumpy.

Don't try and be clever and travel as light as possible to avoid checking in too many cases... we didn't buy much at all, but struggled to fit our stuff back in our bags for our flight home because we had only brought one suitcase...

Check your mobile's roaming charges and turn of roaming until you need it... I arrived home to a £70 bill mainly made up of my phone 'handbag' dialling the UK. Oops.

Oh, and don't let the kids have ALL the fun - schedule in some shopping time at the Orlando Premium Outlets complex. (And if you do, note my tip above about case space...)

How to get there

British Airways offer seven nights at the 4* Nickelodeon Suites Resort in Orlando from £839 per person or £3,359 for a family of four, based on two adults and two children sharing a two bedroom suite, for travel in June. The price includes return British Airways flights from London Gatwick and room only accommodation. Visit ba.com/orlando or call 0844 493 0758

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