Over Christmas, my family and I went on the holiday of a lifetime. On the 16th of December we embarked on a 2-week trip to Orlando, Florida. My husband and I spent a year there 14 years ago, before we had the kids, and we were so excited to go back now to share this warm and wonderful holiday paradise with them.
Matthew and Noelle, who are both 8 years old, were so excited. With child-friendly adventure parks, fun shopping experiences and American-style dining, Orlando is such a great family-destination, so we were excited to go back as a family and to experience this great place with them!
And we were not disappointed. Our two weeks in the ‘Sunshine State’ was the most action-packed family fun we’ve ever had, we created some of the most fantastic and most shareworthy, family memories ever.
Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
We started our trip with some low-key adventure at Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf. This miniature golf course showcases some amazing greens where the entire family can challenge each other to an ‘out of this world’ mini golf extravaganza! And so we did! I can’t remember who won our game, but it was truly not about the winning, because it was such great fun for us all and a great place to spend an hour and a bit.
What can I say, our vacation got real as we went through the entrance to Universal Studios! Superheroes, movie sets, animatronics and simulation rides, it was amazing! If you are huge Harry Potter fans (like we are!), you will love being transported into another world as you walk through Hogsmeade Village, or study at Hogwarts, or even tantalize your taste buds while sipping Butter Beer. We are also Simpsons fans and we loved spending time in Springfield, interact with the characters, have a drink at Moe’s and, not least, the simulated rollercoaster that is The Simpsons Ride!
Islands of Adventure Park
Universal Studio’s other park, Islands of Adventure, was a fantastic family park. We got into the Christmas spirit, as everywhere was decorated in Christmas cheer, nowhere more so than in the Dr. Seuss area where the Grinch was up to no good and we met lots of the characters. The best part for me was to see the kids having so much fun. Since our last visit 14 years ago, when my husband and I were just us, the Spiderman ride has been updated and is now an even greater ride – we had a blast! But the star of the show is, hands down, the ‘Skull Island: Reign of Kong’ ride. This is definitely the new generation of theme park ride and it blew our minds! To say that this part of our vacation was amazing would be an understatement.
In the best way possible, Orlando and a lot of it’s theme parks and attractions, is a sort of fantasy world, so we were surprised and excited to experience what can only be described as a very real adventure, when we went to Gatorland. This is an educational and wildly exciting outing, one we all enjoyed immensely. I’ll be honest, we expected a little zoo for crocs and gators, but we were surprised by an experience of a lifetime. We were shown around, we ‘petted’ the tail of the HUGE albino alligator, we held a smaller gator, we went on the scary (but super fun!) zip-wire and spent the day in the wild, or so it felt! It was interactive, my kids learned a lot, and we were happy to see the animals were so well cared for.
Cirque Du Soleil’s ‘La Nouba’
Bringing art and culture to our young ones is a must, of course, so we decided to check out Cirque Du Soleil’s ‘La Nouba’ – an eye-popping wonder from start to finish. It was a wonderful experience, and the kids were completely spellbound throughout the nearly 2-hour performance. A mix between the recurring clowns double-act and amazing acrobatics was perfect. The clowns though, so funny and humour that got all ages – every member of the audience was in hysterics, such good family-fun.
My children love all things animals – so we had to make a visit to SeaWorld. It’s a wonderful park with several great interactive experiences. We enjoyed the awe-inspiring show with dolphins and birds. We were also happy to see that the animals were well cared for and loved by the staff.
Luckily for us, it’s not just the animals who get to have all the fun in the water, there’s water fun to be had by people too in SeaWorld’s Aquatica. Now, it’s impossible to say what was our favourite thing to do in Orlando, but I will say this: We did not laugh as much as we did in Aquatica anywhere else on our holiday. For my husband and I, we were like kids again, running around in the water rides, splashing with our kids for hours and hours. We must have gone on Roa’s Rapids 30 times! Really truly a grand water park with water fun for all ages.
My husband and I have been fans of the Back to the Future films since they came out 25-30 years ago, and our kids, having watched them recently, love them too. I especially enjoyed the time in the 50’s in the films so we had to go to the iconic American 50’s inspired restaurant chain, Jonny Rockets, that is similar to the one in the films. We loved our lunch here, it was a fun way to share a bit of nostalgia and the food… well, hot dogs, hamburgers and milkshakes: DELICIOUS!
Whether you’re a sports fan or not (we’re not, particularly) you will enjoy catching an Orlando Magic NBA game. From the moment we entered the arena and settled into our seats, hot dogs and sodas in hand, we were all cheers the entire game. The atmosphere, the noise, the cheering fans, the food and the cheerleaders. One of the very best nights out we’ve had anywhere… AND Orlando Magic won (YAY!).
My daughter, Noelle, was the most excited that we were going to Wild Florida. She LOVES animals and the thought of going into a swamp on an air-boat to see alligators in their natural habitat seemed amazing to her. And it was just that, amazing. The air-boat ride was an exhilarating hour with a great guide who showed us alligators, snakes, golden eagles and cows… yes, you read that right, there were cows in the swamp! After the air-boat ride we explored the Wild Florida animal park that houses a variety of Florida native animals, from gators and birds to porcupines and sloths. It was an authentic experience that our entire family enjoyed – the air-boat ride is one we will remember forever.
From reptile to amphibious fun… we had lunch one day at Senor Frogs and if you’re in Orlando with kids, don’t miss that. What a great restaurant for families and a great menu too – we’d heard of chimichangas but didn’t know what it was until we had it here – deeelicious! But the best was the atmosphere and the décor – super fun and the kids loved it.
Old Town Kissimmee
At Old Town in Kissimmee we spent a couple of evenings strolling up and down the street, peeking into the shops and taking in the family-friendly entertainment and live bands. There are some thrill rides too but we were too chicken to go on them. This place is perfect to wind down or wind up the evening, a fun and welcoming place for kids and adults!
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
One morning, we started the day in the most weird and wacky way, by visiting Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Think 10,000 square feet, 600 exhibits and artifacts, and 16 themed galleries the weirdest displays, odd interactive activities, and strange facts known to mankind – it was certainly a weird way to spend a couple of hours, but a good laugh too.
We had lots of amazing food in super restaurants on our holiday, but there was only one place where we kept coming back again and again: Panera Bread. American food can be heavy and greasy, so every couple of days we went to Panera for the best soups and salads ever. A great place to go with kids too – ours loved the food and tried so many new things… can you believe they ate, and enjoyed, the Spicy Thai Salad with Chicken? I couldn’t!
We’ve been to LEGOLAND several times, both in Denmark and in the UK</a>, and we’ve had some of the best theme-park fun there, so we just had to see what kind of fun we could have in LEGOLAND Florida. It was pretty much the same… and that was a great thing! We had a super day, both kids loved it and as for my husband and me: well, it turns out you don’t have to be a kid to love LEGO, and we had a super time too.
WonderWorks on International Drive was one of the biggest surprises. Not sure what we were expecting, but I guess we thought it would be more museum-like and not so interactive, but it is an amusement park with over 35,000 square feet of “edu-tainment”. With more than 100 hands on activities that will challenge the mind and inspire the imagination, this is not just for the kids. We LOVED the laser tag, it was such good fun! And the perfect end to the day was the evening Dinner Show featuring Jimmy Rook from America’s Got Talent as the comedic and magic entertainment.
We saved the biggest surprise for last…. Medieval Times! We had driven past the Medieval Knights ‘castle’ in Kissimmee several times and thought it might be a bit of a cheesy show where knights rescue princesses, but we had to find out what it was all about, of course, and what an amazing surprise it was. We came for the dinner show and were “assigned” a knight that we were to cheer on – we got The Red Knight! We were seated in the huge arena, we cheered, we laughed, we ate food with our hands and we loved watching this battle of champions with blade and steed. It was a great dinner show, a fun audience, and my children loved the story and cheering. And at the end of the night, The Red Knight won the princess and the kingdom, of course.
All in all, our family holiday to Orlando, Florida was one of the best family vacations we had ever had. A mixture of indoor and outdoor activities, education and just plain silliness, and spending quality time with family made every moment special and memorable for years to come.