When it comes to holiday popularity contests, Florida continues to top the polls. For families in particular it offers a fantastic blend of great weather, hospitality, value for money and amazing attractions … not least Walt Disney World.
However there’s much more to Florida than Disney as I discovered when I headed off recently as a guest of Virgin Holidays to check out its amazing ‘Universal Orlando’ offering … and I have to admit that I was as excited as any kid as I stepped on board the plane!
A great flight with all the special touches which are synonymous with Virgin, got the trip off to a fantastic start and meant we arrived ready to go: just as well, given there’s so much to see in this part of the world.
Our VIP familiarisation tour of Universal Studios did nothing to quench my excitement. From Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley to the Escape from Gringotts Bank, it was thrills all the way and the unforgettable rides brought out the big kid in all of us. Whatever your interest, there’s a ride here that will make you feel as though you are part of your favourite movie. You don’t need to be a roller coaster daredevil to enjoy the park, for the rides vary from mildly to wildly scarey and there’s plenty to suit everyone. Queues may well be a feature of the most popular rides, but I have to say that there’s so much going on and the waiting is so well managed that no-one seemed impatient even at the busiest times of the day.
We had a couple of days at Universal, but it left us all wanting more. There’s enough here to merit plenty of return journeys during the course of a holiday, allowing you to take in not only the rides but also some of the great events and celebrations staged regularly throughout the year. Let me put in a word for one of my own favourite attractions at Universal’s Islands of Adventures: the brilliant Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey … if you’re feeling brave, tackle the Hulk Coaster or the Popeye Water Rapids for some great craic! The nearby Wet’n’Wild Park is perfect for anyone who loves to …. well, get wet and wild really! (I can also recommend it for feint hearted types who enjoy a bit of sunbathing and a decorous splash in the shallows!)
Universal Studios is also a retail hotspot and its Universal Citywalk is a fabulous centre for eating, whether you opt for casual dining or go for entertainment-packed experiential dining. For us one of the dining highlights was at the Hard Rock Hotel, but the choices in and around Orlando could see you eating somewhere new and memorable every night of your vacation!
Accommodation is equally varied and value is generally excellent. We stopped at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort which I would strongly recommend for families or groups of friends travelling together. It has great family suites (that can sleep 6) with kitchenette area, pools, waterslides and it even has a bowling alley. The Loews Royal Pacific Resort and the Loews Portofino Hotel have more tranquil atmospheres but also provide fantastic dining and entertainment, while the Hard Rock Hotel offers a brilliant touch of style … ‘only in America’, as they say!
No trip to Orlando would be complete without a bit of retail therapy and outlet stores abound. I just loved the huge Florida Mall, as my credit card will testify – but I should say that many items in America offer great value for money, particularly when it comes to children’s clothes, homewear and of course designer gear.
My only reservation about my time in Florida was that I had left the family at home. It’s great on your own, but I think I will enjoy the whole experience even more when we all get to sample Virgin’s Universal Orlando experience … and I’m already making my plans.
Call me on 028 9145 0931 to hear more and start planning your Orlando holiday.
By Jill McBurney, Travel Executive, Bangor