Destination spotlight - Orlando
When many think of America they jump straight to Orlando as a sure-fire hit destination for the family. With its wide selection of theme parks and attractions you’ll never run out of things to do. Whether you’re looking for animal thrills at Busch Gardens, or want to make your inner film buff happy at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there’s always something to do in Orlando.
Orlando is the entertainment capital for families looking for summer thrills and memories that will last a lifetime - it’s the place where dreams can come true. But it’s not all about the theme parks! There’s good food and fun to be had in some of the non-tourist areas as well, if you’re looking to avoid the busy summer tourists.
So take a look beyond Mickey Mouse and the fantastic skills of Shamu to the real Orlando this summer - if you can bring yourself to look away!
When to Go
There are numbers of studies carried out by companies that evaluate the best and worst times to visit places in Orlando, but the best bet to go with would be Disney World’s list of times to visit and times to stay away.
Disney suggest that the best times to visit Orlando are: the very end of February and the beginning of March, the second half of August, most of September and October, November and December.
However, they also suggest the worst times to visit, which are: the rest of March and the beginning of April, weekends in May, all summer, Thanksgiving week and the Christmas week.
A lot of those dates are based on school holidays, but also the weather as well. It can get very hot in the summer, so be careful if you plan to visit and make sure you have lots of water and suncream at the ready! But there are also chances of torrential rain as well, so make sure you get yourself a poncho, as an umbrella may not survive!
What to Do
If you travel to Orlando between the months of March and May and are looking to see something a little different, you should definitely check out the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival.
Kids and adults can truly embrace the joys of spring and see some of their favorite Disney characters transformed into magnificent floral arrangements. The event features over 70 Disney themed topiaries to explore and a stroll through the gardens, displays and activities will be long remembered.
If you think floral arrangements sound boring for young ones then fear not! The event promises to cater for every age and interest, and children will enjoy hunting out their favourite characters who are hidden around the park.
Visitors to the festival can also enjoy a variety of outdoor kitchens, offering a range of fresh food and drink options. You can even join crowd at the Garden Rocks™ Outdoor Concert Series, which has some of the biggest acts from the year taking the stage.
If that wasn’t enough, fans of the fantastic floral festivities can also participate in a number of how-to demonstrations and inspirational exhibits.
Where to Stay
Orlando is used to having a huge number of families traveling to see the local parks each year, and because of this the surrounding area has some of the best family hotels you can find.
Booking to stay in one of the hotels adjacent to Disneyland or Universal usually comes with some great perks if you are visiting the parks, and generally means much less hassle when it comes to getting kids out of the door in the morning or back to bed at night. Not only this, but the hotels are often incredibly quirky and stylish, offering luxuries like pirate shaped beds which kids will love. Disney in particular includes a range of fabulous hotel designs including the Pop Century Hotel, which features a gigantic jukebox and a pool in the shape of a bowling pin.
These hotels can be expensive, and if you are looking for a cheaper alternative there are still plenty of accommodation choices to choose from. Floridays Resort Orlando is a good example. Prices are less expensive than many of the theme park resorts, but it still has an amazing pool, a man-made beach and a complimentary shuttle service to Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando.
If you are an adult travelling to Orlando or looking for somewhere quieter then you can stay at a number of luxury hotels and resorts tailored to your every desire. The Villas of Grand Cyprus is a great example of a hotel for adults looking to enjoy unsurpassed relaxation, and will be a real hit for anyone interested in golf - boasting an enormous professional 45 hole golf course.
Not to be Missed
With Orlando, you’ve got two different halves: the tourist areas and the non-tourist areas. Here’s a list of the best places to visit on either side of Orlando.
Walt Disney World Resort: The is the combined parks of Epcot, Magic Kingdom Park, Disney's Animal Kingdom Park and Disney's Hollywood Studios, and two water parks: Disney's Blizzard Beach and Disney's Typhoon Lagoon. You’ll never run out of things to do at this wide variety of attractions.
Busch Gardens: A combination of theme park and zoo, Busch Gardens is home to 250 different species of animals, and 30 threatened and endangered species. They also focus a lot on the conservation of certain breeds of animal, like the black rhino or the bornean orangutan. It’s a great place to visit with the family to have fun on the rides, but also to learn.
Kennedy Space Centre: For the big kid in you who always wanted to be an astronaut, this is the place to visit! With tours that take you into the hangers that build rockets that travel into space, it’s sure to amaze and inspire you and your children.
Downtown Orlando: If you’re looking for something fun to help you wind down after a day at the theme parks then Downtown Orlando is for you. Full of hip bars and restaurants, as well as tours covering the history of Downtown Orlando, there’s a variety of things to fill your evening with.
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art: If you happen to get caught in one of Orlando’s torrential rains, the Museum of American Art is a great place to visit. The Morse Museum houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933), including the artist and designer’s jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass lamps and windows. It’s an art lover’s dream!
Getting to Orlando: You can fly from London to Orlando in under 10 hours, but for connecting flights it will be closer to 16 hours.
Visa requirements: Under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), British passport holders do not require a visa for holiday, transit or business purposes providing they: check into the US government ESTA website at least 72 hours prior to departure; the stay does not exceed 90 days, and a return or onward ticket is held.
Currency: Orlando uses the US Dollar as currency.
Time zone: The UK is 5 hours ahead of Orlando, so if it’s 4pm GMT, it will be 11am in Orlando.
Language: Residents of Orlando speak English.