Tag: "Orlando"

Orlando travel plan – Universal instead of Disney?

Why Universal instead of Disney?

Universal is geared towards older kids. So if you took the kids to Disney a few years ago, and they think they are all grown up (like if they would rather get their picture taken with Spider Man than with Mickey Mouse), you should consider Universal. If you have little kids, there are a lot of rides at Universal that will be a bit much for a 7 or 8 year old (some 3-D rides are pretty intense). Some rides have height restrictions that younger kids are unlikely to meet. Speaking of rides, don’t miss Spiderman at Islands of Adventure, or Back to the Future in the other park. Terminator is also very cool… You might want to check out their website for some guidance on the suitability of rides but Islands of Adventure seems to have more of the rides that younger kids can enjoy.

Also, Universal is not as expensive as Disney and most people who have visited both tell me Universal is the better value. You can often find specials on tickets for Universal Studios in Orlando – if you compare prices, the Universal deals are just more compelling than the Disney ticket deals.

How many parks? How fast?

Can you see both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks in one day? If your little one is too small for the big rides, you can definitely do both parks in a day. The express pass that lets you pay a little extra to skip the general line is very good for saving time but if they run your card through their scanner, you can only go on the ride once. Having said that it’s possible to see both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in a day, why rush? You’ll end up needing a vacation to recover from your vacation.

Travel itinerary

Day 1

Universal Studios is up first. This park is mostly for the older kids. Start with Transformers. Then in order I suggest: Revenge of the Mummy, Men In Black Alien Attack, The Simpsons Ride, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. This can take all day without a Universal Express Pass.

Hopefully, you took my advice and got the pass so that you can see a show or two later in the day. The Universal Horror Make-up Show is cool. So is the mid-afternoon Superstar Character Parade. In the evening, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular is worth seeing.

Dinner is at Universal City Walk. You have several choices. I chose the Hard Rock Cafe when I was there because the food is good and the rock star items on the walls are always fun.

Day 2

Islands of Adventure today. Those with older kids head left. toward central lagoon. Start with Spider-Man, then move on to Hulk (this can be an intense ride – it is not for everyone). Next up are two water rides- Dudley Do-Right and then Popeye. They will soak you.

Families with younger kids head right instead of left. Find Seuss Landing to enjoy the Dr. Seuss-inspired attractions there – Go for a ride on the High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride then visit One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and The Cat in the Hat rides.

People of most ages should enjoy some Harry Potter action. The Hogwarts walk-through involves the Gryffindor common room and other memorable places. The very sweet non-alcoholic butterbeer is sort of a must-try even though most people don’t seem to crave butterbeer when they get back home.

Dinner is at Manny’s Steak House. Excellent steak, reasonable prices. The portions are huge so don’t order too much unless you want leftovers for breakfast the next day. I hope you have a fridge. The atmosphere is pretty neat with American signs and memorabilia on the walls. If you’re saving room for desert, save a lot of room.

Day 3 – Celebration Golf

You need a break from the kids although I can’t tell you what to do with them. Celebration is a Disney related community of homes with a stunning 18-hole golf course and fantastic clubhouse with a nice pool and other amenities. The course is great and tourists love seeing alligators lounging near the water traps.

You can eat at Celebration but I never found anything exciting there. The one place (not in Celebration but not too far) I always saw tourists having a great time is Joe’s Crab Shack. It is incredibly noisy but the crab pots are yummy and it is definitely an experience.

Day 4 – Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center may be a little over an hour away depending on where you’re staying. Space buffs will love the large NASA assembly building. Visiting Kennedy really gives you an idea of scale – space ships, buildings, transporters, etc. are all big. The history of the place is inspiring and they even have a few rides. It’s no Universal, but Kennedy is very cool. You learn something, appreciate the magnitude of effort required to leave the earth, and get to brag to your friends that you did something cultured. You’re better than other tourists.

Day 5 – Discovery Cove

I hope you know how to swim so you can fully enjoy one of the highlights or your Orlando holiday. Discovery Cove is pricey but in this case, you get what you pay for. Meet dolphins (and swim with one), float down a tropical river, see otters and sharks, snorkel in a coral reef with lots of different fish and manta rays. This is an experience you will remember.

The Unique Orlando Owner Rental Market + Orlando travel plan

A guest post for you to enjoy: I’ve been running several villa rental sites for resort communities in and around the Orlando area for a number of years now. At Windsor Hills Private Rentals we provide a platform for owners in Windsor Hills Resort (2 miles from Disney) to short term rent their properties. We’ve been in the unique position of seeing the rise, fall and rise again of the Orlando rental market. And we’ve had to develop our sites accordingly. In such capricious economic conditions it’s been an interesting experience trying to develop sites that keep pace with the general mood of the market place and ensure we meet the needs of both property owners (sellers) and holidaymakers (buyers).

For many avid fans the annual trip to Disney means scouring holiday rental sites for that most value for money off-site rental property. What ensues after initial contact is usually a lengthy game of email ping pong with several hundred owners, a trade in half-truths followed by the kind of fight to the death Charles Darwin might use as evidence of evolution theory permeating all segments of daily life. The Orlando vacation property rental market bears all the hallmarks of a securities trading floor. At the turn of the millennium property development went into overdrive in and around the Disney area with a subsequent flooding of the market with cheap rental property. With the property crash and ensuing worldwide economic downturn a series of events conspired to reset the rules of the Disney off-site rental market. Many resorts suffered swathes of foreclosures which in several circumstances breached that critical tipping point where resort association fees from non-delinquent owners are able to keep shared facilities operational. In most cases it left owners with properties they couldn’t sell in a market where supply could not satiate demand. From this malaise interesting behaviours developed in holidaymakers who rightly wanted only to get the best rental deal for their family.

Resorts such as Emerald Island and Windsor Hills have held up well given their proximity to Disney and the other major theme parks. Behind the scenes however owners have had to, and still have to, withstand a barrage of what they term “low ballers”. These are holidaymakers who loop round every owner in a resort sometimes with a sob story but always with an offer to rent a property at a rate so low the owner would almost certainly lose money from the transaction. It’s a shared frustration amongst owners in these resorts but it’s something that is very hard to eradicate.

Commonly accepted amongst the owners is the fact that low-ballers are so widespread and outwardly confident in achieving their target rate that someone in the owner community must be renting their property out at these rates. During the boom years many wealthy people such as sports stars had wealth managers buy up chunks of resorts on their behalf. In such circumstances it is likely that property managers have little interest in eating up time negotiating high rates. With no mortgages on the properties managers probably set pretty rudimentary rental rate targets. In this environment owners with big mortgages and electricity rates to cover are overlooked or screwed down to rates so low they struggle to stay afloat. It’s usually these owners however that have adapted their offering to stay solvent. To do this they’ve learned to offer a service; a personal phone call to discuss the initial enquiry, tips and advice for the trip, on call service during your stay where nothing is too much trouble and after care which ensures you’ve enjoyed your stay and any issues are action upon and resolved. Return business is king. And it’s for these reasons why holidaymakers should be careful about making budget their sole focus in planning a Disney vacation trip.

A real challenge when running rental sites in Orlando is to find the balance between allowing holidaymakers the flexibility to quickly enquire across various properties and property ranges while also protecting owners from blanket enquiries which frankly waste everyone’s time. As operators of rental sites for several of the most popular resort communities around Walt Disney World we’ve had to continually tweak our offering. We’ve restricted the ease with which a holidaymaker can submit enquiries to more than one property (instead of all villas, the choices are more granular such as number of bedrooms.) We’ve also encouraged owners to browse the site and really spend time reviewing each property by making the individual enquiry process as slick and simple as possible for holidaymakers; an example would be by pre-populating our enquiry form with the owners details so each individual enquiry becomes a simple one press transaction similar to Amazon’s one-click purchase functionality. Devising and developing functionality which pleases both holidaymakers and owners alike is tough and challenging especially in the Orlando area but it’s an enjoyable experience and always keeps us guessing.

Travel Itinerary – My Last Trip to Orlando

On my last trip to Orlando I rented a villa in Windsor Hills. Having spent several days at Disney and the theme parks in general in the past this trip was focused around the general Orlando area and a road trip north:

Day 1 – Windsor Hills

We spent our early stay in Windsor Hills, relaxing at the clubhouse. In the morning I made sure I arrived early to make full use of the large lagoon style pool, swimming 40 lengths before the holiday throngs arrived. Windsor Hills is a peaceful resort with one of the best community pool areas in Orlando. Most of the day was spent soaking up the sun and making our way back and forth between the clubhouse and our villa (on Teascone Boulevard in the resort), a walk of roughly 2-3 minutes from the main pool. We stayed in a large 6 bed villa with several bathrooms and private pool and Jacuzzi.

Day 2 – Manny’s Steak House

The highlight of day 2 was Manny’s steakhouse. Undoubtedly the best steak I’ve ever had. Think classic American food in classic American surroundings. Huge slabs of marbled meat, which cut like a hot knife through butter they were so tender. The steaks came served with portions of coleslaw that would probably constitute a main meal in themselves back in Europe. The walls were adorned with American memorabilia such as traffic signs and beer logos. Watch out for the desserts. I don’t recall exactly the dish’s official title but I’m sure it involved the word explosion or overload. What arrived was an ice cream sundae served in a glass big enough to bath a small baby. We’d been pre-warned so ordered one between three but even that was too much.

Day 3 – Celebration Golf

Day 3 we golfed at Celebration. Celebration is one of Orlando’s glorious boom time residential follies. The resort was slated to be huge but, begun at the start of the property collapse, Celebration’s large property values collapsed and the resort caved in on itself. When we arrived we found the resort still surviving, just. It is home however to a stunning 18-hole golf course and fantastic clubhouse. These were still running and 18 holes cost a mere $6 per person as the resort attempted to stay solvent. The course was great and we saw a few alligators lounging near the water traps. Not sure what standard Florida protocol is if they begin to take an interest in you but we assumed that run would be the best course of action. Thankfully it didn’t come to that. I actually also made use of the length pool next to the clubhouse to do some swimming.

Day 4 – Kennedy Space Centre

Day 4 we visited Kennedy Space Centre. I’ve always wanted to visit. Kennedy is roughly 65 miles east of Windsor Hills around 1hrs 10mins travel time by car. Seeing the large NASA assembly building loom large on approach made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Having always been a space buff I found the history of the place inspiring and would highly recommend. It is not a visit often considered by holidaymakers to Orlando but it’s a pretty accessible attraction if you use Florida State Highway 528.

Days 5-7 Road Trip to Charlestown and back

For the rest of the holiday we decided to take a road trip north to Charlestown (South Carolina) having always wanted to go. On the way we passed Jacksonville (a larger city than I would have thought with several tall buildings) and Savannah, Georgia (home to some fascinating southern architecture). Florida roads are great and the journey felt a lot shorter than it was. Charlestown is a beautiful place and its small central hub felt not dissimilar to New York’s Greenwich Village possessing an arty student feel. We’re from Scotland so one striking difference between Charlestown and Orlando was the interest in, and identification of, our accents. Charlestown is one of America’s truly historical cities having been home to the British and who fought off various attacks from the French and Spanish. It was later heavily settled by “Scots Irish”, better known as Ulster Scots in the UK. Most locals seemed to have some Scottish or Northern Irish ancestry, most had been to the UK and they all seemed to be able to distinguish not only our accents but also where exactly in Scotland we were from; a refreshing change from Orlando where the locals had us down as everything from Argentinian to Australian. We had a fantastic meal at the Crab Shack on Market Street and several glasses of wine in the roof terrace restaurant. Highly recommended. On the return trip we stopped at St Augustine, the oldest town in the US. In its traditional centre we found some fascinating old buildings from colonial times but outwith that it felt like any other part of small town America, the kind of place you pass through on the way to somewhere else.

We regularly holiday in Florida but a key tip for anyone travelling to Orlando and Florida in general is it’s a very large state, steeped in history and cultural depth which can act as a perfect balance to the theme parks for those who are willing to explore a little.

6 day Orlando and Tallahassee travel plan

I’ve just returned to Orlando after spending a few days in Tallahasse. Mostly I was in Tallahasse working. I went to an Instructional Systems conference where I met some people from the program I start in the fall. And most of my time was spent house-hunting. I need a cheap place to live in a nice area near Florida State when I return to school as a poor student.

So it wasn’t exactly a holiday, but we managed to do a few fun things, beyond just driving from house to house with our real estate agent. And it gave me an idea for a Florida vacation itinerary.

Day 1 – Orlando

Holidays to Orlando revolve around Disney so that’s where you go first. If you arrive early enough, Disney’s Animal Kingdom can be done in a half day. 6 hours is reasonable to hit the main attractions. The best rides are Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur, & Expedition Everest. There’s The Boneyard Playground for kids to wander through an archaeological dig. The film It’s Tough to Be a Bug is worth seeing for kids around middle school age. Then there’s the musical, Festival of the Lion King. You want to see some nature so check out the Kilimanjaro Safari, the Tree of Life and the Maharajah Jungle Trek

If you arrive too late for that, you might spend a few hours in Downtown Disney (the shopping district). Entry is free but I think most everything is overpriced. Remember that Disney vacations aren’t about bargain hunting.

Day 2 – Orlando

You’ll need a full day at Magic Kingdom. It’s a huge park with rides/events for everyone in the family. Without listing all the attractions, here are some big ones:

It’s a small world – a world-brotherhood-themed indoor boat ride (I still remember this one from when I was kid)
Celebrate A Dream Come True Parade – a feel-good afternoon Parade
Country Bear Jamboree – an audioanimatronic country-hoedown theater show
Jungle Cruise – an outdoor safari-themed boat-ride
Liberty Square Riverboat – an outdoor scenic boat ride
Main Street Electrical Parade » Old-School Nighttime Parade with a bazillion lights
Mickey’s PhilharMagic – a 3-D movie starring Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and some other favorites
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor – interactive animated comedy routines
Stitch’s Great Escape! – a sci-fi adventure show
The Hall of Presidents – an audioanimatronic historical theater presentation
The Haunted Mansion – a haunted-house dark ride – some people say the elevator is the best thing in Disney
Tomorrowland Speedway – mini cars you get to drive
Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress – another audioanimatronic theater production
Aloha Isle – go here for dessert

Day 3 – Orlando

There’s plenty left to see in Disney, but most kids would probably like to see Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If it’s a crowded day, some visitors report being rushed through the castle even after waiting on line for hours to get in. And some complain that the ride through the castle is too rough (and not worth a long wait). Other visitors report the line for butter beer being too long. The wand show is great, especially if you’re lucky enough to get brought up on stage.

When the park closes, you might as well head next door to Universal Citywalk for restaurants and bars like Hard Rock Cafe and Margaritaville.

Day 4 – Tallahassee

Holidays to Florida tend to focus on Orland and Miami, but the state capital has its share of attractions too. After a 4-5 hour drive from Orlando, you’ll want to relax a bit in the evening. Join the locals for a stroll around Lake Ella in central Tallahassee. At Cancun’s on Tennessee Street, $20 should feed a family of 4.

Day 5 – Tallahassee

Your only full day in Tallahassee so pick something fun. Top attractions include Florida State University (the campus is pretty and you might be able to catch a game depending on when you arrive). If you’re more into nature, try the trails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge where you can be a little active (short trails through different ecosystems) or more active (a 6 mile and a 12 mile trail). A third option is the excellent Tallahassee Antique car Museum, where you can see the Batmobile and more than a few other cool cars.

If possible, get this night to fall on the first Friday of the month. Then at night, head to Railroad Square for art that ranges from traditional coastal landscapes to weird stuff to jewelry. You’ll hear some local music and see some local people. Vegans must check out the Krishnas serving incredible vegan/vegetarian food ($5 or $6 for a meal).

Day 6 – Orlando

Seaworld is cool to visit on the 4th day. You can spend a lot of time here. Try to get a mixture of rides (Journey to Atlantis will get you happy and wet), shows (Shamu Stadium for the killer whale performance), and animal exhibits (we like the Shark Encounter underwater tunnel but if you like touching animals first head to Dolphin Cove and Stingray Lagoon).

Things For Couples To Do In Florida

Florida is one of the greatest places in America, and every year millions of domestic and international tourists travel to the sunshine state to experience the best beaches, food, attractions and south-eastern culture. Florida is also an amazing place to visit with your partner, and there are a number of spectacular sights to see and things to do.

Take Orlando for example. 1971 saw the gates of The Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney’s children paradise creation, open to rapturous applause, not only placing Florida on the entertainment map, but also making Orlando the number one resort for young families everywhere. Let’s take a look at some of the best things for couples to do in Florida, and see whether you can be persuaded to book a holiday to this fantastic destination!

Romantic Adventures

Real romance means finding beautiful, tranquil and special landscapes to serenade your wife or husband – and where better to see such places then from a hot air balloon flying high above Florida! Not only will you be able to enjoy amazing horizons and warm breezes, but there are a number of optional extras offered by the local hot air balloon companies to make your experience that little bit more special. From one to four hour excursions, to champagne toasts and video recordings of your flight, a hot air balloon ride over Florida is a great way to introduce yourself to the sunshine state.

Fresh Fruit and Fresh Air

If you’re looking to take a stroll with your other half, then why not visit the Orlando Farmer’s Market, one of the most vibrant and cultured places in the entire state. If you’re catering for yourself on your holiday to Florida, then this market is a great place to source out the finest and freshest ingredients for your meals.

Benefiting from live entertainment all through the market, from street performers to bands and artists, shopping for fresh fruit, vegetables and meats has never been so much fun. Furthermore, the farmer’s market is also a great place to buy fabrics and other arts and crafts materials!

Dinner at the Theatre

Usually couples have dinner before their evening entertainment, but when it comes to the theatres in Florida, they offer nothing less than an entire evenings service, looking after all aspects of your night. Although there is a lot of evening entertainment competition in Florida, the dinner theatres are one of the best ways to spend some time with your loved one, while experiencing some of the best dishes and wines in the state too. From Pirates Dinner Theatre to Al Capone’s, interactive theatres are located all over Orlando, and they offer the best entertainment as well as the best evening meal menus.

Dolphin Training

If you want to surprise your loved one with an experience they’ll never forget, then why not book a day of dolphin training! The ‘Trainer For A Day’ program offered by Florida’s Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive experience with your own dolphin, and with the help of a trainer, you’ll be able to work one to one with one of the world’s most amazing sea creatures. From swimming to feeding, and even talking with the dolphins, this is truly an unforgettable experience.

Guest author Jamie Kind writing for www.cheapflights.com the flight comparison website.