While Disney and Universal made up a large part of the Floridian leg of our travels, it was by no means everything we did while we were in Orlando. We visited the other parks, we swam with dolphins, we trawled round shopping malls, and went quarter hunting. For me, Florida will always translate as ‘Disney’ but we had a great time elsewhere too!
*It is embarrassing that I am writing this over a year after I returned from this amazing trip, but none the less, I need to finish these blog posts, or I will forever kick myself!
Yes, Disney has always been the focal point of any trip to Florida for me, to the point when someone says they’re going to Florida, I don’t think state as much as theme park. Alongside Disney, we always tended to visit SeaWorld, and the shopping malls, and as we’ve grown older we’ve been to Busch Gardens too.
It was cool to go back to these places as an adult, and to see them since they have changed (Blackfish and the Shamu incident occurred since our last visit), and it was even better to see them from another family’s point of view. Thrown into the mix was also some awesome new experiences and ways to visit Orlando.
SeaWorld has received an awful lot of bad press over the past couple of years. I am just going to say now that I do not want animal cruelty to be acceptable, nor do I want trainers to be dying all the time BUT I have always liked SeaWorld, and the shows, and the rides. Yes, the rides have got bigger, better, and bolder, which was awesome. Yes. all the animals are there: Beluga whales, and polar bears, and penguins, and orcas, and yes the shows still exist. They’ve changed though, and I am just going to say it: They’re not as good. SeaWorld is no longer the place I remember it to be, and it may well have been the last time I ever go, which is sad!
SeaWorld has an experience which I never made it to before: Discovery Cove. I’ve loved dolphins and wanted to swim with them for years, but the cost has always seemed too high, or the family have never felt like doing it. When Jayne contacted Jade to see if we fancied, I thought why not, now is the chance. The whole day was amazing. Jayne, Jade, Kirstie and I had a good early time slot, swam and made friends with the dolphins, which was the start to a fab and relaxed day. I didn’t realise quite how many things there were to do there, such as the hilarity of watching Jayne in the stingray pool, the aviary, the lazy rivers, and the free food and drink. Yes, it was expensive, but yes it was worth it. (Bonus: it wasn’t too hard on my foot, which was of course broken at the time!).
Last time I visited Florida, we made it up to Busch Gardens. I remember it being full of big rides, big drops, and big splashes. I was a little worried how my foot was going to fair as I could also remember the park being huge. Turns out, there was little to worry about. We made it onto the new big ride ‘Falcon’s Fury’ which tips you parallel tot he ground and send you hurtling towards it, but that was about it, The heavens opened, and it absolutely chucked it down. Lightening was hitting buildings less than 100m away, and we just had to wade through knee high water to get back to the car. My boot did not fare well at all. Still a fun story to look back on and tell though!
Another stop on the US necessity train is the out of town shopping malls. Things cost less when you go to America, fact. It has always been the case. I can remember buying Converse, Levi’s, Yankee Candle’s, and saving loads each time. I was careful this year, I didn’t over spend and I didn’t go crazy on things I didn’t need, but still got Skechers and vans, yankee candles, and even a watch (technically for my birthday) and probably only spent half of what we would have in the UK.
It was just theme parks where we had fun and experienced new things. Kevin, Jayne, Kirstie, and Nathan all quite fancied doing a helicopter ride over some of the parks and International drive. Going on a helicopter ride is on my bucket list, so I was eager and happy to do it. And it did not disappoint. It was short and sweet, and it definitely gave me the appetite to get back up in one, and made me realise how unique a view point it would be to do over some of the world’s spectacular wonders.
I also introduced the guys to the pictured quarters. Our family have collected plenty of the state quarters, but were missing a few which Jade and I were pursuing throughout our time in the US. Since our last American trip, they have also started released National Park quarters, so we decided to pursue collecting these too. This led to some amusing incidents, not least the fateful trip to Denny’s that resulted in a charity box open on the counter of the ‘restaurant’. I would like to point our we had the manager’s permission and gave a donation to the box as well as replaced the quarters we took.
I also got to try out a lot of restaurants I’ve never been in whilst visiting the US. From steak joints and fast food places, to Disney breakfasts and curries, we ate out a lot and experienced a variety of places. It was odd to be able to drink in America, as I’ve never been able to in the past with their 21 drinking age. I didn’t drink much, saving money always results in cutting back, but it was nice to have a beer or cocktail stateside when we went out for a meal.
Orlando was incredible. It was great to spend time with friends and family, and it was nice to see so much familiarity mixed with new and exciting experiences. I love the place, and I can’t wait to go back, but onwards it is to the last leg of the trip: Miami!