There’s no better place for a family holiday than Orlando. The Florida theme park capital of the world has so much to offer and not everything has to cost money. I was there recently and discovered lots of attractions which can be enjoyed for free or for very little cash.
Head to the entertainment centres of Universal CityWalk and Disney Springs and there’s so much fun happening on the walkways and stages. Take a look at the feature I wrote for Sun Travel, which picks out some of the best “free and pay for” attractions, which aren’t to be missed.
It was good to be back in Orlando, one of my favourite destinations. It’s where you can escape reality and immerse yourself in pure fantasy. The big boys, Universal and Disney, are masters at transporting you into magical, exciting and astonishing worlds. And they never stop getting bigger and better, so however many times you are lucky enough to visit, there is always something new to see.
As I wrote in the Sun article, Universal’s Bourne Stuntacular is stunningly spectacular! The show, at Universal Studios, lasts about 20 minutes and is an amazing mix between stage and screen action. Jason Bourne’s antics have you holding on to your seat and open-mouthed at the attraction’s sheer genius.
I revisited the Amazing World of Harry Potter in sister park Islands of Adventure and rode Flight of the Hippogriff and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and watched the night-time smoke, laser and light show above Hogwarts Castle. And I went on some of my all-time favourite Universal rides – Transformers The Ride 3D and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
I was also reunited with Marilyn Monroe at Universal Studios and toured The Tribute Store, a fantastic new shop honouring the classics, including Jaws, Back to the Future and ET. The merchandise is great quality and there’s some yummy novel cakes dedicated to the stars of the movies. See UniversalOrlando.com
I’ve always thought of Disney’s Epcot as the tranquil grown-up park, showcasing countries around the world through festivals, exhibits and restaurants. But in the past few months, to celebrate Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, the park has opened exciting new rides.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a dark ride based on the Pixar movie, opened last October and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind in May this year. Guardians is a high-speed rollercoaster, an intergalactic chase through space, which hurtles around the moon in the dark – with a few surprises. You’ll rotate 360 degrees, but, having said that, it is one of the smoothest coasters I’ve ever been on.
It’s Epcot’s first rollercoaster and is housed in a huge building within the Wonders of Xandar pavilion. Two new restaurants, Space 220 and Connections Cafe & Eatery are nearby, together with a spacious Creations Shop.
Disney’s 50th anniversary celebrations are continuing until March next year and there’s magic everywhere, including 50 characters cast in gold throughout the parks. See disneyworld.co.uk
Moving away from the major parks, I went to check out the New Peppa Pig theme park, adjacent to LEGOLAND in Winter Haven, 45 minutes away. It was smaller than I imagined but, through the eyes of a child, it will be huge. Superbly colourful, you can see from one end of the park to the other, so perfect for parents watching the kids as they play.
Daddy Pig’s Roller Coaster, a fun fair, Muddy Puddles Splash Pad, Grandad Dog’s Pirate Boat Ride and more will entertain them for hours. Add to that a shop, restaurant and cinema.
LEGOLAND has another of my favourite rides, The LEGO Movie Masters of Flight, where you are whisked away on a flying adventure alongside some familiar characters. As it’s for anyone over the age of three, it clearly isn’t that fierce!!
It was a real treat to go behind the scenes and see rows and rows of boxes of bricks, ready to be used to create may of the characters for the Florida park. A dream room for LEGO fans.
The latest Orlando entertainment centre to open is ICON Park on International Drive which has a 400ft observation wheel giving you amazing views. At night, it’s lit up and you can see it for miles.There’s a carousel, Madame Tussauds wax museum and Sea Life aquarium as well as lots of restaurants and shops.
And of course, entertainment hubs Disney Springs and Universal CityWalk never lose their appeal day or night.
Here’s how to get there:
Virgin Atlantic offers return fares from Heathrow to Orlando from £437 per person, based on departure on January 16. See virginatlantic.com.
Virgin Holidays offers seven nights room-only at the 3* Coco Key Hotel & Water Park, including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow on January 10, from £715 per person, based on two travelling. See virginholidays.co.uk