Following a three year absence, we were visiting Florida together for an amazing seventh time and we were really excited to be spending our first day at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park. Beginning with Pirates of The Caribbean, we also went on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Space Mountain, Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, Jungle Cruise, Philharmagic, Barnstormer and Voyage of the Little Mermaid as well as watching the stunning Happily Ever After fireworks show...what an amazing day! It is so great to be back in Florida and we love feeling that special Disney magic!
One of many rides that we all really enjoy is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad...and it has gained special sentimental value for us over the years. Frontierland is landscaped so well that it was easy to feel like we had been transported to the ‘wild west’ as we wandered towards Big Thunder and Splash ‘Mountains’. Always great fun in the heat of the day, “the wildest ride in the wilderness” seems to adopt a different personality after dark and is possibly an even better experience while Frontierland is subtly lit by ‘gas lamps’.
It was very hot and sunny when we arrived at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and headed straight over to Pandora where we waited in line for 90 minutes for Avatar Flight of Passage...but it was well worth it! We were all blown away as it was like nothing that we had experienced before and is definitely the best ride we’ve ever been on...wow! During the rest of the day we also enjoyed Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and Kilimanjaro Safaris before making it to the (indoor) Dinosaur ride just as a rainstorm hit. Thankfully it was a short one and afterwards we we went on the Gorilla Falls Trek and Na’vi River Journey before enjoying a delicious meal at the Satuli Canteen. Animal Kingdom’s opening hours have been extended since Pandora has opened so we were able to take another breathtaking Flight of Passage (still stunning despite an even longer wait) before experiencing the interactive bioluminescent ‘World of Avatar’ after dark...such a great day!
After heading off to theme parks as early as we could for the first two mornings of our holiday, we decided to treat ourselves to breakfast at Denny’s today. Arriving at our favourite diner on International Drive just before 9 o’clock, we were greeted in the usual friendly manner and seated in a booth straight away. Between us, we had a veggie skillet, hash browns, scrambled eggs, toast and pancakes...a delicious and really enjoyable breakfast.
It was hot and sunny when we arrived at Typhoon Lagoon so we decided to find a spot on the beach to sunbathe for a while. We love the Caribbean look and feel of this Disney water park...a great place to relax, unwind and have fun. It wasn’t long before we headed into what we think is possibly Typhoon Lagoon’s best attraction...the surf pool. We swam out into the warm water, listening for the thunderous ‘sonic boom’ which is always followed by screams of joy as a cresting waves barrels towards us. Enjoying an epic body surf ride as the ‘big kahuna’ propels us towards shore is a fantastic experience...which we excitedly repeated over and over again! Afterwards, we went on a couple of the water slides and were about to ride Castaway Creek ‘lazy river’ when a nearby storm caused the rides to be temporarily so we decided to head back to our hotel to get ready for the evening.
We always enjoyed spending evenings at Downtown Disney but since our last visit to Florida, it has been notably expanded and upgraded to the rebranded Disney Springs...a very impressive retail, dining and leisure destination. After wandering around some of the stores we headed over to Rainforest Cafe where we were seated in the Elephant section just before 10 o’clock. It was later than we had initially planned to be eating but we all enjoyed our delicious meal while being immersed in the exotic sights and sounds of a tropical jungle!
We decided to launch into our day at Hollywood Studios with a ride on Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster...it’s fast, very fast! We slowed things down afterwards with the Beauty & The Beast stage show then the Star Wars ‘A Galaxy Far, Far Away’ centre-stage production. After a treat to eat (and a short thunderstorm) we had great fun in Toy Story Mania interactive midway-style shooting gallery...our first pre-booked fast pass ride of the day. Heading back outside we saw the boarded-off area where Star Wars Land is being constructed before watching the rousing ‘March of the First Order’. Next was Muppet Vision 3D followed by Star Tours...which took us racing alongside the Millennium Falcon on Scarif then through a ‘dogfight‘ in space! After wandering around the park for a little while we went on the frighteningly exciting Twilight Zone Tower of Terror free fall ride then watched the Pixar Live show. It started to rain while we had our evening meal so we headed back to Toy Story Mania before going on the nostalgic (but slightly dated) Great Movie Ride. We ended an enjoyable day by watching the entertaining Star Wars ‘Galactic Spectacular’ fireworks show...in the rain!
After spending the morning at Typhoon Lagoon, we drove to Disney’s Boardwalk Resort to have some lunch before making our way over to Epcot. The Boardwalk has a timeless charm with a wooden promenade that arcs around Crescent Lake to Disney’s Yacht Club Resort opposite. We bought sandwiches from Boardwalk Bakery but unfortunately it started to rain heavily while we ate our lunch. It was very warm outside and we were sat under cover so, despite the rain, we decided to stay and wait for the storm to pass over...we also had our pictures taken in the vintage photograph booth . When the rain stopped we headed over to Epcot for the rest of the day before spending the evening at Disney Springs.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure probably has the most ‘white-knuckle’ rides of all the theme parks. After arriving at 10 o’clock we decided to head over to the newest of these rides...Skull Island Reign of Kong. It was the right decision because the wait time (which would be much longer later in the day) was only 10 minutes. The 4D action adventure wasn’t as breathtaking as Animal Kingdom’s Flight of Passage but was very exciting and really enjoyable. Afterwards, we were quickly on the Jurassic Park ride then Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey and Dragon Challenge in Hogsmeade. Back on Marvel Island we went on The Amazing Aventures of Spider-Man which we all really enjoy and is one of our ‘old favourites’. After enjoying delicious treats from the Croissant Moon Bakery we went on the very intense Incredible Hulk and Dr Doom’s Fearfall rides before catching the Hogwarts Express over to Universal Studios.
After taking the Hogwarts Express from Islands of Adventure over to Universal Studios we all went on Rip, Ride, Rockit...following a long delay due to inclement weather in the area. We watched Universal’s Superstar Parade and had something to eat before experiencing the intense but enjoyable Transformers The Ride 3D followed by Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York. For our final ride of the day, we decided on Harry Potter & The Escape From Gringott’s...which had experienced technical difficulties on our previous visit, so this would be our first proper ride on Diagon Alley’s main attraction. We were all impressed by the ‘multi-dimensional thrill ride’ and thought that it was a fun way to end our day. After leaving Universal Studios we made our way around to The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium where we treated ourselves to deliciously indulgent milkshakes!
For the middle week of our holiday, we would be leaving Disney and Universal behind and heading down to Miami and The Keys! Before setting off on our journey down Florida’s Turnpike, we decided to treat ourselves to breakfast at Denny’s on International Drive. Arriving just before 9 o’clock we were seated in a booth and served fresh, hot coffee and a delicious breakfast!
After leaving the Rosen Inn International Drive in Orlando at around 11 o’clock set off down the Florida Turnpike and arrived in Miami Beach in the early evening. We checked into the Pestana South Beach Hotel in the Art Deco district, which is just a short walk from Ocean Drive and Miami’s world famous South Beach. Our first impressions were that the Pestana is a really nice boutique hotel in a great location.
After getting ourselves ready for the evening we made our way around to Miami Beach’s famous Lincoln Road Mall...a pedestrianised avenue lined with shops and restaurants. We enjoyed a lovely Italian meal at Rosinella before spending the rest of a balmy south Florida evening wandering along Lincoln Road and looking in some of its high street stores. We soaked up the lively atmosphere as we excitedly contemplated the next part of our holiday...in Miami Beach! The last time we had been here was for a family wedding in 2008 and it was so exciting to be back.
We were up before 6:30 in an attempt to see the sunrise but after taking the short walk from the Pestana across Collins Avenue over to the beach we could see that there was a covering of cloud on the horizon. It was still a memorable experience to be on Miami Beach just as it began to get light with the sky turning a spectrum of pastel shades as the sun rose through the clouds.
After an early morning storm there was plenty of blue sky around after breakfast so we decided to take advantage of the sunshine and headed over to the beach. We relaxed on the powdery sand and bathed in the warm sea before making our way along Beach Walk down to the iconic Ocean Drive.
Despite the forecast of storms and the early morning rainfall, our first full day in Miami Beach had been very hot and sunny. After nursing our sun-kissed skin, we got ready for the evening and headed over to the popular Espanola Way where we enjoyed a delicious meal at ‘Oh Mexico’ restaurant...fajitas, quesadillas and tacos!
We were up and out before 6:30 again to head over to the beach for sunrise. We were met by similar conditions to yesterday but shortly after dawn the sun burst through the clouds so we were happy! After a while we made our way over to nearby Rosetta Italian Bakery where we enjoyed a lovely coffee before heading back to the Pestana hotel.
After breakfast we drove over to Shark Valley in The Everglades where we hired bikes from the Visitor Center. Making sure we had plenty of water, we set off on the Shark Valley Loop Road in searing heat. We reminisced about our previous visits as we cycled through the world famous National Park. The chain came off my bike at around the 3 mile marker so after fixing the problem we decided to turn back. Although we didn’t spot any alligators we saw a large crane take off and fly right past us on the way back. After cooling off at the Visitors Center we went for a little walk around before setting off at about 4 o’clock...passing through a huge thunderstorm on our way to Dolphin Mall.
After a spot of shopping in Dolphin Mall we went for a delicious meal at one of our favourite restaurants... The Cheesecake Factory! We chose to sit in a booth outside where we enjoyed our pasta, shakes and smoothies in the early evening warmth...a really enjoyable treat at the end of another great day!
After packing for our ‘mini break’ to Key West tomorrow, we decided to go for an evening walk down Collins Avenue to Ocean Drive, where we went for a drink from Starbucks. Overlooking the bright lights of the ‘Art Deco’ buildings on Ocean Drive on a tropical evening in Miami Beach, with a trip to the Florida Keys ahead of us...these are good times!
We were up early and headed over to the beach just before dawn again. Although there was cloud around it was probably the best sunrise that we had seen this week and we are really enjoying the experience. Afterwards, we made our way over to Rosetta Bakery on Collins Avenue where we had coffee and planned the rest of our day.
After breakfast at Rosetta Bakery we walked down to Ocean Drive and the Historic Art Deco District in glorious sunshine. It was very hot and humid but we didn’t mind at all as we made our way over to the beach where we took photographs of some of the brightly coloured lifeguard stations. We wandered back up the Beach Walk before checking out of the Pestana Hotel and setting off for The Keys.
Leaving Miami behind us for the next couple of days, we made our way down through the Keys on Highway 1, stopping for refreshments at Starbucks on Islamorada. After enjoying our drinks we wandered through to the idyllic beach for a little while before continuing our journey down to Key West.
The drive down through the Florida Keys was unforgettable. Passing between the idyllic islands on the Overseas Highway 1 and along the Seven Mile Bridge, flanked on both sides by the gleaming ocean, was such a special experience. The hot sun shone down on us all the way and the water was just a few feet away for parts of the journey. We were still in Florida but it was a long way from Orlando and it really felt more like we were in the Caribbean!
It was late afternoon when we arrived in Key West and checked into The Gates Hotel in the north of the island. Our rooms were gorgeous...the beach house style decor was perfect and we were all so impressed. First impressions was that it was our favourite hotel that we had ever stayed in! At 6:30 we took the free shuttle from outside our hotel down to Mallory Square.
Witnessing the stunning sunset from the bustling Mallory Square was a memorable experience. Crowds lined the seafront to glimpse the stunning views as the sun turned the sky golden before dipping beneath the horizon. The celebratory atmosphere added to the effect that we were sharing a special, almost unique occasion...and we certainly felt that we had done.
After experiencing a stunning sunset from Mallory Square we wandered along the pier before making our way through to the popular Duval Street, where we found Hard Rock Cafe housed in a colonial style wooden building. We treated ourselves to some souvenirs from the Rock Shop before enjoying (non-alcoholic) cocktails sat outside in the evening heat.
We were up before 6:30 and after getting coffee from the Starbucks in the neighbouring 24 Degrees North Hotel we headed across to the Quayside of the nearby Hyatt Residence Hotel. From there, we watched the sky burn a bright gold then light blue as the sun rose above the calm ocean.
After exploring Fort Zachary Park we wandered through the leafy streets of Key West to the Southernmost Point of Continental USA. After queuing patiently for a short while in the stifling heat and humidity we had our photographs taken at the famous landmark location under clear blue sky and in bright sunshine...a picture perfect scene!
After leaving the Southernmost Point of Continental USA, we drove over to the Cuban Coffee Queen to see the ‘Greetings from Key West’ artwork before wandering around Mallory Square for a while, where we sampled the local specialty...Key Lime Pie!
We headed back to The Gates Hotel in the early evening where we spent a little while relaxing by the pool before driving back to Duval Street...and seeing another stunning sunset on the way.
After wandering around for a little while we enjoyed an evening meal sat outside in the evening warmth at Fogarty’s American restaurant on Duval Street. From there it was just a short walk to the waterfront where we relaxed on the jetty, gazed at the stars in the clear, night sky and reflected on our relatively short but very enjoyable stay in Key West.
It was our last day in Key West and after watching the sunrise from the Esplanade on Roosevelt Street, we enjoyed breakfast at the Sunshine Grill then headed back to the poolside at The Gates Hotel to take advantage of the hot and sunny weather before our drive back to Miami Beach.
After an enjoyable drive in the afternoon sunshine from Key West back to Miami Beach we checked into the Riu Plaza Hotel before driving over to Bayside. We walked through the Marketplace to Hard Rock Cafe where we enjoyed a delicious evening meal before wandering back along the lively waterfront and auditorium to the parking garage.
After driving back from Bayside we decided to have a late night coffee sat on the veranda of the Riu Hotel overlooking the poolside. It was a typically warm Miami evening so after finishing our drinks we wandered over to the beach and down to the waterfront before heading back up to our room.
We were up and out before 6:30 to head over to the beach to see another (slightly cloud affected) sunrise before taking a really enjoyable walk along the boardwalk and beach...such a great way to start the day!
After spending a stormy day in Little Havana, Coconut Grove and then Aventura Mall, we enjoyed an evening meal at Carraba’s Italian Grill (where we had previously eaten during our holiday in 2008) before deciding to head over to the popular Bayside marketplace again, later in the evening.
We were up before 6:30 again and walked all the way down the beach to Ocean Drive and Lummus Park in the early morning sunshine. It was already very warm when we reached the iconic ‘Miami Beach’ 5th Street Lifeguard Station. From there, we jogged all the way back to the Riu Plaza Hotel, taking photographs of all of the lifeguard stations that we passed along the way.
After checking out of the Riu Plaza Hotel we drove the short distance to Miami’s Wynwood Walls art district. All of the buildings in the area were decorated with street art and the Walls and Garden were lined with stunningly colourful and creative murals and artwork. We were really impressed with the aesthetics and atmosphere of Wynwood Walls and thought that it was such a great place to visit.
Our final stop before leaving Miami behind was the recently redeveloped and rebranded Hard Rock Stadium, home to the city’s NFL franchise...the Miami Dolphins. We were able to drive up to the main entrance of this impressive venue from where we could appreciate its size and scale. It would be great to have the opportunity to attend a game there in the future.
After driving from Miami to Orlando (via the Hard Rock Cafe at the Seminole Hotel in Hollywood), we checked into the Rosen Inn at Pointe Orlando. From there, it was just a short walk across International Drive to Johnny Rockets at the Pointe Orlando shopping, dining and entertainment centre...a restaurant that we have enjoyed a meal at during every one of our family holidays to Florida. Tonight was no exception as we treated ourselves to delicious milkshakes and shared their signature Chilli Cheese Fries while we reminisced about our previous visits and the special memories that they evoked.
For breakfast on our first morning back in Orlando we had made a dining reservation for 9:30 at Olivia’s Cafe at Disney’s Old Key West Resort...a sentimental favourite of ours since we stayed there back in 2009. We arrived a little early but were seated straight away in the friendly, neighbourhood eatery...”as breezy and relaxed as Key West itself.” We all enjoyed a breakfast of traditional favourites (eggs, pancakes, breakfast potatoes) in the typically idyllic surroundings of this little Disney gem.
After leaving Disney’s Old Key West Resort we drove over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios...which we still refer to as ‘MGM’! It was very warm but cloudy as we made our way around to Sunset Boulevard to catch the 12 noon showing of Beauty & The Beast...a really enjoyable 30 minute ‘Broadway style’ live show based on Disney’s animated classic.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is temporarily reduced in size while Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars Land) are under construction but we filled a really enjoyable afternoon (with the help of pre-booked Fast Pass allocations to reduce wait times) riding Aerosmith’s Rock’n’Rollercoaster, Toy Story Mania, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Star Tours...and watching Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Star Wars March of the First Order...before heading over to Disney Springs for the evening!
After a cloudy start to the morning the sun as starting to break through as we headed through the organised chaos of the security checks on our way into Universal’s Islands of Adventure. We took the decision to head straight for Skull Island : Reign of Kong...a ride that was likely to have longer wait times later in the day. It was really enjoyable and had we not been spoilt by Animal Kingdom’s ‘Flight of Passage’ we may have been more blown away by its originality and intensity...a great way to start our adventure!
After surviving King Kong battling with dinosaurs on Skull Island, we narrowly escaped the velociraptors and T-Rex on the Jurassic Park River Adventure before taking Harry Potter’s The Forbidden Journey
We made our way around the Islands of Adventure to the colourful comic book land of Marvel’s Super Hero Island where we had great fun on the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man...always one of our favourites! After re-energising with delicious treats from the nearby Croissant Moon Bakery we were hoping to take on The Incredible Hulk, but the nearby inclement weather caused the ride to close temporarily just as we reached the front of the queue! We waited for nearly an hour but the ride didn’t re-open so we decided to leave Islands of Adventure and take the short walk over to Universal Studios.
After spending the day in Islands of Adventure we made our way over to Universal Studios where we really enjoyed Transformers : The Ride and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts... especially after taking advantage of the really short wait times in the single rider lines. We grabbed something to eat and watched the Superstar Parade from outside Mel’s Drive-In before incurring the Revenge of The Mummy...after which we reminisced about our first experience of the ride when it was a new attraction back in 2004! We ended on a high with ‘adrenaline pumping and music thumping’ on the towering Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit rollercoaster before heading out of the park and into Universal City Walk for the rest of the night.
Our visit to Denny’s for breakfast was as enjoyable as always...but slightly more memorable thanks to our server (Cynthia) who was very engaging...joking with us all, giving feedback on our order, confiscating our phones, taking photographs of us in front of the Denny’s logo! Our breakfast of eggs, pancakes, veggie skillet, toast and coffee were delicious and Cynthia was great fun...she certainly earned her healthy tip!
Our original intention was to go to Volcano Bay today it Universal’s new water park was already at capacity when we arrived at 10 o’clock so we decided to go to Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon instead...not a bad back-up! The wave pool is always great fun and we also went on Castaway Creek ‘lazy river’, Crush’n’Gusher, Miss Adventure Falls...and found some time to soak up the sunshine on a gorgeous afternoon!
After missing out on Universal’s Volcano Bay yesterday, we out early to arrive at Universal Orlando Resort for 8:15 so that we could be at the water park before it reached capacity. Taking the shuttle bus over to Volcano Bay we were issued with our Tapu Tapu bands and then when the park opened there was an almighty rush as the crowds raced on to the beach and scrambled for sun beds...but there were plenty for everyone! We grabbed some breakfast from the Kahului Cafe then explored the park, discovering that our Tapu Tapu bands were used to issue us with a wait time for a ride of our choice...Turtle & Whale ride, 120 minutes! In the meantime, we could enjoy the wave pool, lazy river or only one other ride (Tanihwa Tubes) so we did that. It was a flawed system in that the wait times needed to be shorter and/or you should be able to obtain wait times for more than one ride at a time. When our ride time eventually came around we really enjoyed it, a really fun water slide with great views across the park. We left Volcano Bay just before 2 o’clock, very impressed with how it looked but a little underwhelmed by its organisation.
After spending the morning at Universal’s Volcano Bay water park in the morning, we drove over to Disney’s Epcot Resort area in the afternoon. We parked at the Boardwalk where we enjoyed delicious treats and drinks from the Bakery and Ice Cream Factory in the searing heat and soaring humidity. From there, we wandered over to the World Showcase entrance of Epcot. After recreating a photograph that we took in 2009 we went on Spaceship Earth, and then Test Track and Soarin...both of which had been very impressively upgraded. We enjoyed a delicious meal from Mexico, while being sat in China, before watching the Reflections of Earth firework presentation then wandering around the rest of the World Showcase. After leaving Epcot, we treated ourselves to another drink from the Boardwalk as a spectacular thunderstorm approached in the distance!
We were missing our sunrise walks from earlier in the holiday so we had decided to get up at 6 o’clock and drive over to Disney’s Boardwalk. After getting coffee from the Boardwalk Bakery we wandered all the way around Crescent Lake, passing the Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts as the sun rose. It was such a lovely way to start our day and we were back at the Rosen Inn before 8 o’clock so we will definitely do it again tomorrow.
After breakfast at Denny’s we drove over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom where we went on ‘It’s Tough to be a Bug’, ‘Primeval Whirl’ and ‘Dinosaur’ before midday. We all got wet on Kali River Rapids then dried off in the hot sunshine while enjoying drinks on Discovery Island. From there we headed over to ‘Asia’ for Expedition Everest before deciding to join the long line for ‘Avatar Flight of Passage’. It was just as mind-blowing as we’d remembered and was definitely worth the long wait. We watched ‘Festival of the Lion King’ then had a delicious evening meal at Pandora’s Suvali Canteen as the sun set before taking another ‘Flight of Passage’...this time with only a 5 minute wait thanks to Fastpass. Afterwards we wandered through Pandora’s bioluminescent Valley of Mo’ara before taking a Kilimanjaro Safari...which included the unforgettable experience of seeing and hearing the lions! At the end of an amazing day we were treated to the visually stunning Tree of Life Nighttime Awakenings and Rivers of Light shows.
We started the last full day of our holiday with another sunrise at Disney’s Boardwalk then breakfast at IHOP before heading for the Magic Kingdom. It was hot and sunny as we soaked up the atmosphere on Main Street and the iconic views of Cinderella’s Castle on our way to blasting off in Space Mountain. We rode the WDW Railroad all the way around the park before speeding things up on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad...the wildest ride in the wilderness! When we stopped for lunch we watched the Festival of Fantasy Parade before heading over to Philharmagic...one of our favourite attractions. A thunderstorm hit during the afternoon, causing some of the rides to be temporarily closed so we went on the ever popular Pirates of the Caribbean and then Splash Mountain after the storm had passed.
We finished the evening watching the spectacular Once Upon a Time fireworks and Castle Projection shows...a visually stunning climax to yet another truly magical day!
It was the last morning of our amazing holiday and after watching the sunrise at Disney’s Boardwalk then treating ourselves to breakfast at Denny’s we checked out of the Rosen Inn before driving to the nearby i360 on International Drive. We took a ride on the Orlando Eye observation wheel which gave us great panoramic views across the Orlando area and out towards the iconic landmarks of Disney’s theme parks.
After enjoying our 20 minute ride on the Orlando Eye observation wheel we drove to Disney Springs where we had a look in World of Disney, Pin Trading and a few other stores. We always try and squeeze as much into our holidays as we can, even on the last morning...but it is more difficult to feel enthusiastic knowing that we were flying home in a few hours! Although we had arrived in hot sunshine, we were caught in a quick shower before heading over to Starbucks where we enjoyed a drink while we enjoyed the views across to Saratoga Springs and reflected on how amazing and special our holiday had been.
On the plane home at the end of another unforgettable holiday in Florida!