Flora Ioannou took the whole family to Orlando and discovered how to tailor the parks to any age
Eight people. Two weeks. One location. It’s Orlando, home of theme parks – and the biggest turkey legs I’ve ever seen. Well, we needed a substantial snack to keep us going.
Motivated only by dedication to you, dear Travel Weekly reader, we ignored our sore feet and occasional feelings of nausea, and tried and tested as many rides in as many parks as was humanly possible in a fortnight.
Here’s a rundown of our favourites, to help you point clients with kids of different ages in the right direction.
BEST FOR... TWEENS
Tyler, 12, who hates queuing but loves a good thrill ride, says: “Transformers: The Ride – 3D at Universal Studios was by far the best simulator attraction in Florida – the graphics and technology were so real it blew my mind.
“I honestly felt I was in the movie, being tossed from building to building, and being saved by Optimus Prime. If you are a fan of the film this ride is a must, if not, you just won’t believe your eyes – if you can keep them open, the 3D makes the thrills pretty convincing. It’s amazing! I managed to last the 30-minute queue, which was the only bad thing, even though we all had express passes.
“Toy Story Midway Mania! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was a definite runner up. We queued for 40 minutes on this ride but the 4D shooting game was the funniest game ever. You had to build up your score while going through five shooting ranges, which all had a different Toy Story theme. Being 4D we were blasted with water and blown with bursts of air. It was so funny competing with the whole family.”
TOP TIP: A Universal Express Pass costs £45 a day, but it is worth it if you are visiting the parks in peak season and you have a Tyler in your family.
BEST FOR... TEENS
Tori, 16, who loves animals, but hates getting wet, says: “We got to feed and touch the dolphins at Dolphin Cove at SeaWorld and have our picture taken with them, it was by far the best part of our holiday. I must have spent a whole hour mesmerised by them.
“At SeaWorld, one minute you can be stroking the dolphins and the next, spinning upside down on a rollercoaster.
“I hated the Journey to Atlantis (pictured below), it’s a water rollercoaster with a twist at the end. At one point in the ride, it dropped what felt like 200ft and we all got soaking wet.
“There was a row of spectators waiting for us at the bottom of the drop with water cannons who soaked us even more, then the ride carried on into a rollercoaster, what a surprise!”
TOP TIP: Thunderstorms occur regularly in the afternoons in Orlando during the summer months. In the event of lightning, outdoor rides will close so recommend clients do these before 3pm so they don’t miss out.
Natalie, 18, who is a mad Harry Potter fan, says: “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was the most amazing place we went to in the two weeks we spent in Orlando. It was just like being in the movie.
“Everything was so realistic – they had talking portraits on the Hogwarts Castle corridor walls as you were in the queue for the main ride. The only thing that brought you back to reality was the hundreds of other visitors who were there too. There was no Express pass for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Even though we got there at 10am, we had to queue for 90 minutes, but it was worth it.
“It’s the only simulator ride that throws you in the air and twists and turns you around. You are strapped in a chair with your legs dangling, which adds to the sensation, while you chase after the golden snitch during a game of quidditch. It’s awesome!
“We visited a place called WonderWorks on International Drive, which was a lovely change to the big theme parks. We spent a morning at this upside down house, which had many strange things for visitors to try such as lying on a bed of nails or landing an aircraft. It was a good escape from the rain as it was all indoors and air-conditioned .”
TOP TIP: If you want to go on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, get up early and make it the first ride of the day, because the queue time for this ride can be well over two hours by mid-afternoon.
BEST FOR... ADULTS
Johnny, who hates the rollercoasters, but loves to eat, says: “After a long day at Universal we had a table reservation at Hard Rock Cafe in the park so we didn’t have to travel far, which was good as we were all tired and starving.
“The atmosphere was buzzing and the burgers were the best I’d eaten all holiday. It catered for all of us, even the fussy eaters. The watermelon mojitos were to die for. Nothing was a problem for the waiters, they were so friendly, and it was great value for money.
“SeaWorld’s water park Aquatica had the most soothing lazy river, which carried you around the park on a giant rubber ring through glass tunnels of fish and black and white dolphins.”
TOP TIP: When you arrive in the morning make a reservation for a restaurant in the park at one of the dinner reservation kiosks, to save on queuing in the evening.
Sharon, who loves Africa, but hates bugs, says: “I have always wanted to go to Africa and visit a safari park. Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the closest thing to a safari I have been to so far – it was incredible. You sit in a jeep with about 20 people and get to see lions, elephants and rhinos up close. We even saw a two-week-old baby giraffe.
“You get to travel through the ‘Serengeti’ and you feel like you are on a real safari. I loved it.
“Also at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we saw the 4D movie It’s Tough to Be a Bug. It was so real you thought the bugs were jumping out at you and you could feel them running past your feet and pinching your bottom.”
TOP TIP: Make sure you take mosquito spray with you, as you can get bitten even on a theme park safari.
Darren, who hates water, but loves sunbathing, says: “Aquatica water park was perfect. The kids spent the whole day shooting down water slides and being swept away by tidal waves and loved every minute of it, as the cold water was a nice relief from the scorching sun.
“As for me, I spent the whole day sunbathing on a beautiful white-sand man-made beach, relaxing and recharging my batteries ready for the following days’ theme park rides.”
TOP TIP: Sun cream is a must every day, even if you are just walking around the parks, as the temperatures hit 38C and there is nothing worse than a sleepless night due to sunburn.
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