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Travel: Orlando’s blooming great for kids (and dads)

© SYSTEMOrlando, Volcano Bay
Orlando, Volcano Bay

When you think of a holiday in Orlando, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? The castle, right?

But even though Cinderella’s iconic fairy tale home in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom has been a honey pot for tourists for the past half a century, my 11-year-old daughter Evelyn had another famous castle in mind.

Since our previous trip to Orlando, she had seen the Harry Potter films, and couldn’t wait to head to The Wizarding World At Universal Orlando Resort.

When we arrived at the JK Rowling mecca, she was in her element, walking down the snow-covered Hogsmeade and cobblestoned Diagon Alley, experiencing Forbidden Journey and Escape From Gringotts and the replica of Hogwarts.

However, it wasn’t only Universal that had Evelyn giddy with excitement ahead of our dad-and-daughter break in the Sunshine State.

She hadn’t been to SeaWorld since she was in nappies and couldn’t wait to accompany her dad on the white-knuckle rides.

During our first full day in Orlando we climbed aboard four rollercoasters – Kraken, Manta, Mako and the all-new Ice Breaker.

Then, once our motion sickness had subsided, we checked some of the park’s animal experiences, including the Sea Lion and Otter Spotlight show, and the dolphin and stingray encounters.

Away from the main theme parks, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Orlando, and Evelyn and I checked out a couple of the city’s lesser-known gems.

Orlando Downtown.

During an exciting morning at Gatorland, reptile expert Brandon introduced us to his favourite alligator Buddy, as well as some of the other creatures who call the park home.

We even got to feed a congregation of 14-foot adult gators. Holding a bucket of raw chicken pieces, with around 50 pairs of hungry eyes transfixed on her, my daughter was initially petrified.

However, Brandon coaxed a dominant male called Raul to open his mouth and Evelyn seemed to make a new friend when she tossed him breakfast.

And the thrills didn’t stop there, as we got a bird’s eye view of the park grounds aboard the exhilarating Screamin’ Gator Zipline ride.

During a safari tour at Wild Florida, we watched zebras, water buffalo and lemurs at play, and fed the giraffes, before climbing aboard an Everglades airboat ride, seeing bitterns and eagles, showy lotus flowers and wild gators on Cypress Lake.

Back up north, beside a smaller and tamer stretch of water, was our hotel for most of the week, the Wyndham Grand at Bonnet Creek.

The resort is one of six dotted around a serene lake, each connected by a half-a-mile-long boardwalk.

For the remainder of our holiday, we checked into a suite at Disney’s Swan Reserve.

The hotel had all the amenities we needed and staying at a WDW property meant we could give the hire car a rest and use Disney’s free transportation system to get around.

Our final day in Orlando was spent at Disney World and we were determined to cram in as much as we could.

First, we checked out Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios, home of new Rise of the Resistance ride, along with Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and Toy Story Mania.

Then we boarded the Monorail into Magic Kingdom.

Although Evelyn is a bit older than when she last walked down the famous Main Street, when she clapped eyes on the aforementioned castle, decked out pink, blue and gold in honour of the park’s 50th anniversary, her jaw-dropping reaction said it all.

That said, Orlando means much more than just Cinderella, Mickey and Minnie to my daughter these days.

The rollercoasters at SeaWorld, the surprisingly friendly animals at Gatorland, and a certain teenage wizard at Universal, all played starring roles in what was a magical American adventure.


Walt Disney World is NOT a Small World After All (as the song from the ride may suggest). The resort encompasses 50 square miles, and there is a secret underworld network of tunnels, Disney Utilidors, under Magic Kingdom, so the work of the cast members doesn’t distract visitors from their magical experience.


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