Our First Family Trip To Florida
On Christmas Day 2010 we surprised the children with news that they were going to be visiting Walt Disney World the following year. They had to wait quite a while as we didn't go until October 2011, but it was well worth the wait! As the months passed, we planned our holiday together, we decided where we wanted to visit, what rides we really wanted to go on and where we wanted to eat dinner. It was a whole family discussion and everyone had a say in the plans, but there were a few surprises thrown in that the children didn't know about until we got there!
As the children were quite young (9 and 6) and not big fans of rollercoasters we decided to leave Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure off of our plans. We hoped to visit Orlando again in the future and we would do those parks when the children were a little older. Also, the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter had only just opened at Universal and despite being huge Harry Potter fans, we knew the queues would be huge and a bit too much for the kids to handle.
We visited Orlando the week before and the week of October Half Term. We had never taken the children out of school for a holiday before, but it was the only way we could afford to do it and both children had very good attendance and grades so the school were happy to authorise the absence.
I want to make this quite a helpful post for those thinking of (or are in the middle of) planning a holiday to Orlando, so I've bullet pointed the details of our holiday below, with a few side notes. If there's anything you would like to know more about please leave a comment below and I'll get back to you with an answer.
Who We Flew With
United Airlines. We flew indirect via Charlotte in North Carolina as it made the price of flights about £1000 cheaper. This was our first long-haul flight with the children and we were nervous about the stopover but it worked perfectly for us. Yes it is a longer amount of time travelling, but it meant that we cleared immigration before we got to Orlando, so we didn't have to join the long queues that often form at Orlando International airport. It was also nice to get out and stretch our legs for a while and it broke the journey up nicely. As for United Airlines, we couldn't fault them. We had plenty of legroom, a good selection of inflight entertainment and the food wasn't bad either. We found the Cabin Crew to be very attentive - particularly on our return flight when I was suffering from a migraine, they checked on me several times to see if I needed anything.
Where We Stayed
For this trip we hired a villa. We felt it would be better for us to have the space and the kids loved the fact that we had our own private pool! The villa was located in Sunridge Woods, in Davenport and was about a 20 minute drive from Walt Disney World, we found it using the VR360 website. We did enjoy staying in the villa, but we did feel that the holiday lost some of it's magic being away from the main entertainment of Disney and I-drive. Having said that, if there was a big group of us going then I would definitely stay in a villa again.
We hired a car from Budget that we picked up from Orlando International Airport. The car was nice and we had no complaints, however upon returning the car we found that Budget had added a lot of extra daily charges that we weren't made aware of at the time of collecting the car. This meant that we had a $300 bill to pay. Lesson learned - always read the paperwork before you sign!!
Where We Ate
Most mornings we had breakfast in the villa and would then eat lunch and dinner out. We ate at the following establishments during our holiday;
- Bahama Breeze (our absolute favourite and we try and visit on every trip!)
- Ponderosa (we didn't enjoy our breakfast here)
- Golden Corral (the kids loved breakfast here, mainly because it had a chocolate fountain!!)
- Beaches and Cream (everyone should try The Kitchen Sink, it's delish!)
- Tusker House at Animal Kingdom (an absolute breakfast 'must-do' for us)
- Chef Mickeys (we always have a good time here)
- Whispering Canyon Cafe (another 'must-do')
- Ohana at The Polynesian (the food was delicious and the view was perfect)
- Earl of Sandwich at Downtown Disney (we love the sandwiches from there!)
The rest of our meals were from Counter services around the parks. The kids found the size of the American portions quite big so didn't eat a huge amount. Our top tip would be to buy one meal and split it between two of them as there will be plenty for both of you!
Where We Visited
- Magic Kingdom
- Disney's Hollywood Studios
- Disney's Animal Kingdom
- Typhoon Lagoon
- Blizzard Beach
- Downtown Disney
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
- Discovery Cove
- Premium Outlets
- Congo River Golf
We also attended Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. This was absolutely brilliant and we had a great time. The kids loved seeing all of the Disney villains and trick or treating our way around the Magic Kingdom was great fun! When we visited SeaWorld they had a Halloween event happening too and the children were given bags to collect candy in. Between the two events I think we had our own weight in candy!
As this was our first trip with the children we factored in some rest days around the villa as we were worried about how tired they would be. We would usually spend part of these days in the pool and then pop out a bit later to the outlets or Downtown Disney or into one of the parks for the evening.
Seeing the kids' faces as we went into each park for the first time! There is nothing quite like seeing Disney World through a child's eyes. We loved every minute of our time spent in the Disney Parks and it's very hard to pick favourites, but the kids said that they preferred Blizzard Beach over Typhoon Lagoon, they loved the fireworks and meeting the characters. Mickey's Not Scary Halloween Party was a definite highlight too - seeing the Headless Horseman and the Boo To You Parade was fantastic.
Our day at Discovery Cove was a surprise for the children and it was one of the best days of my life. I never thought that I would be able to say that I had swum with dolphins, but to be able to give that opportunity to the children too was out of this world. It is an expensive 'day out' but well worth every penny in our opinion. All of your food and drink for the day is included in the price, there are sandy white beaches to play on and you can snorkel with the rays in the Reef. It is our top recommendation of the holiday.
Abs had a makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. It was a fantastic experience and she was given the vip treatment while she was there. Her Fairy Godmother In Waiting was amazing and she kept us all entertained with her knowledge of Disney, not to mention her amazing singing. Abs chose the Crown Package and the popstar hair design rather than the princess hair style that is often seen. Abs was made to feel like a princess and she had the most wonderful time there.
The weather in October is lovely. There was very little rain and the days were warm, the only downside is that it can be a bit chilly in the mornings and evenings, so you may want to pack hoody for those colder moments.
The crowds were incredibly low while we were there, we barely queued for anything and most rides were a walk-on. We did use the FastPass system for the bigger attractions, but we found that even on the majority of those rides we didn't need them.
The Low Points
To be honest there weren't many low points to our holiday, but these are the things that we wished we'd known about before we went;
Driving - although the roads are lovely and wide and the driving is easy, it can be a bit tricky navigating your way around so we would recommend always having a SatNav with you. We didn't have one for this first trip and it caused a few 'heated conversations' in the car! Also, as I've mentioned above, be sure to read the paperwork for your hire car before you sign it, don't get stung for extra charges like we did.
The Epcot Food and Wine Festival - we really enjoyed this festival and it was a great way to taste samples of food and drink from all around the world, however the crowds on a Saturday and Sunday are crazy. There was a lot of very drunk people in the World Showcase and while we are partial to the odd bevvy or two ourselves, we found that the atmosphere changed dramatically and it seemed to lose its Disney sparkle. The crowds were heavy and there was a lot of swearing and drunken behaviour. We simply moved to another part of the park, but it may be something to bear in mind if you are visiting with young children.
And that's about it! We loved our first trip to Orlando as a family and we made so many wonderful memories, it truly was the trip of a lifetime (but then so was the next trip, and the one after that, and I'm fairly sure the next trip will be too!)