After spending some time in St Augustine, which by the way is a really fun little town, we headed for the area of the USA which everyone else seems to go to in order to have fun – Orlando, Florida. For many people in the UK, no USA road trip (or any trip to the USA) would be complete without a stop in Orlando, but to be honest I’m not sure how people spend 2 weeks or more in the area… 3 days was a nice length of time for a couple without kids… At the most I think we could have maybe done with just 1 more day.
Day 1 – Seaworld
There was a bit of a drive from St Augustine to Orlando and our hotel wasn’t very near to our first attraction which was Seaworld. The hotel we stayed in was the Champions World Resort, which is an OK hotel serving a nice breakfast and in a pretty quiet area with good transport links to all of the park. Whilst the hotel is a little out-dated it is at least nice and clean.
Due to this drive we headed straight to Seaworld as we didn’t want to be late for an arctic animal encounter we had booked for the afternoon as well as wanting to take advantage of the rides and great animal collection before hand. Now Seaworld does get a lot of flack in the media and public eye these days and to be honest I don’t think it’s all deserved but that will be a discussion of its own, on another day. All I will say for now is that their animal collection is great and everything looks really well cared for. There is a lot of signage and other possibilities to learn about the great conservation and rescue work they do – speaking of which, make sure you don’t miss the manatees!
During our arctic encounter (which is well worth the extra $59 – especially if you also buy tickets to Discovery Cove which gives you free entry to Seaworld and Aqautica) we were able to learn a lot about the work which they do here, through a behind the scenes tour, before getting to meet a seal, beluga whale and walrus – each with a further educational talk. The best part was by far the whales, and make sure you get the photo package as well, as you can’t take your own photos.
As well as this we had plenty of time to enjoy the roller coasters. Journey to Atlantis is like nothing I have ever gone on before… somewhere between a log flume and roller coaster – well worth the queue, whilst the Kraken is quite frankly a brilliant coaster! I had my doubts about the Manta Ray though after my experience at Six Flags America with the Bat Wing… My wife however wanted to check it out so I obliged… BAD idea – if you are afraid of falling or heights, this coaster is not for you!
Dinner tonight was really tasty and very reasonable… Being a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory I had heard many remarks about Olive Garden on the show so I made it a goal to visit one whilst in the States… Just 5 minutes drive or so from the hotel there is a small shopping complex which has an Olive Garden… Really glad we went!
Day 2 – Discovery Cover
We got up nice and early as we had a feeling that Discovery Cover would be busy and to ensure we got our spot for the dolphin interaction we went about half an hour before it was due to open… It was already packed by that time! However we got in quite quickly and the process to start with, where you get an id card which also has your slot for the dolphin interaction on was really smooth… You even then get a complimentary photo taken which you can pick up at the end… If you do the dolphin interaction make sure you get the photo package at the end – it is well worth the money!
Even though you can’t take your own photos of the dolphin interaction (which not matter where you do it should be part of any USA road trip which heads down to Florida – and I don’t care what the animal rights activists say, I have spent half of my life around exotic animals, and these guys are looked after very well), make sure you get yourself a waterproof camera to take for going down the lazy river (a lovely warm stream) or snorkeling in the salt water pool (which is freezing).
Apart from some gifts and the photo packages this is in effect an all inclusive resort where your price includes:
- Breakfast (which was ok but more limited than the buffet at the hotel)
- Lunch (which had a really good selection)
- Snacks (try their pretzels – they are delicious)
- Drinks (including beers, cokes, wine, water and slushies – which can also include an alcoholic option – but by far the best slushie in the self dispenser is the banana one)
- Sun cream
- Use of showers & lockers
- Use of swim vests or wet suits (you have to wear one or the other while in the water)
- Use of swim aids
- Use of snorkeling equipment
- Food to give to the aviary birds
- Animal encounters with their keepers (such as birds)
You really do get a lot of value for money here and can easily spend a full day here (we certainly did)… It is one activity I would recommend everyone who comes to Orlando does – especially if you have kids… It’s such a safe environment for the whole family to have a lot of fun… Best of all, as its all inclusive even adults can go back to being kids for the day – without a care in the world! This really is a place to put your phone in your locker and forget about everything else.
After all the fun we had during the day we finished the day off with our first ever dinner show – at what I can only describe as the amazing Medieval Times!
When you first turn up it looks a bit tacky from the outside but as soon as you go in they get you through very easily and you get given a flag and crown in various colours, which will determine where you sit and which knight you root for during the show! Walking from the entrance to the main foyer it opens up in to a large hall where things start to get exciting, as well as getting expensive in terms of gifts! One big tip I would give is that the show costs $63, so about £40 at the time, for adults if you buy it through the website (and it does need to be booked in advance). However we purchased our tickets through Attraction Tickets Direct for just £32 and with this we also got a guide book (usually an extra charge), a behind the scenes DVD (usually an extra charge) and an upgrade to VIP first row seating… This package is usually an extra $12 on top of the $63… so in the end you save £20 per person!
This is just about the best way you can wrap up your last night in Orlando before you head back to your hotel… You eat a delicious 4 course meal – with your bare hands… Awesome! The you get to see a short bird of prey display, before seeing several rounds of competition and battle between 6 knights… remembering of course to cheer for your knight all the way! The horsemanship really is something special, which is a shame for the guys at the Icelandic Horse Park, Fakasel whom we saw a couple of years later in Iceland!