Back in January, my Mum’s cousin and her family asked me if I would be up for joining them on a holiday to Florida in August, and naturally I said ‘yes please!’
My Mum’s side of the family and I are very similar and we’ve always got on really well, so I knew instantly that we’d have a blast. Unlike them I’d never been to America before (nor outside of Europe) so while I was excited, I was also a little bit apprehensive about travelling somewhere so far away and new. Recent news stories about Orlando hadn’t exactly filled me with confidence and frequent reminders to ‘stay away from alligators’ became almost enough convince me that I’d most certainly be eaten by one for breakfast.
But of course we had a fantastic couple of weeks and made so many amazing memories – here’s just a few highlights from our stateside trip. :)
Spoiler: food plays a big part in this blog post.
1. The villa
We stayed in a gorgeous six-bedroom villa Kissimmee, a city in central Florida and just south of Orlando, and our resort looked like a genuine housing estate with hundreds of almost-identical villas all lined up, row after row. We had a gorgeously warm pool and hot tub – one idyllic evening was spent outside in our swimming cozzies, drinking gin and sharing our funniest and most embarrassing stories. My second-cousin (Vicki) and I shared a princess room, which was really cosy and undoubtedly perfect for any girl that’s spent their childhood worshipping Disney heroines.
2. CiCi’s Pizza
CiCi’s was one of our first ports of call after a long and exhausting flight, and the food was absolutely gorgeous (but very filling). The place served up an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet and appeared to churn out more food than the whole of Italy in one night. CiCi’s Pizza also had us questioning just how much grub we could shovel into our mouths before feeling as though we needed to be rolled out of the building. I didn’t get any photos unfortunately as I was too busy stuffing my face.
A controversial one for sea animal-lovers (and yes, some shows were a little tough to watch), but SeaWorld did have some really great rollercoasters – not to mention their newest ride, Mako. We also got stuck in a penguin enclosure and my Auntie Jackie had to have firm words with an uncooperative jobsworth. A very fun day.
4. Islands of Adventure
We visited this park on our third full day, and upon arrival I really was blown away just by how spectacular it was. There were so much colour and detail – almost as though you were really on a film set. My favourites rides were The Hulk and Spiderman, though the Dr Seuss bit was a good laugh, too. We also went on Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges and came out looking like drowned rats.
5. All the Harry Potter stuff
From Hogsmead in Islands of Adventure to Diagon Alley in Universal Studios, all the Harry Potter stuff was totally breathtaking – the attention-to-detail, the atmosphere, the music, the rides, and the performances – everything was fantastic. Vicki and I even shared a butterbeer, the taste of which was I was pleasantly surprised by. The Hogwarts Express was definitely a highlight, not to mention the Forbidden Journey ride.
6. Bahama Breeze
Almost one week in and we visited a gorgeous restaurant on International Drive that serves delicious food and cocktails, and has very charming waiters. That’s probably all you need to know.
7. Universal Studios
There were lots of amazing rides at Universal Studios – these being The Simpsons Ride, Despicable Me, Rip Ride Rocket, plus the E.T. Adventure, in which you had to give your name before the start of the ride – Vicki hilariously spluttered ‘Ting Tong’, before receiving a very glum look from the operator who miserably informed her that this wouldn’t be on the system. In the evening we watched an amazing light show that was displayed on a waterfall and showed clips of loads of classic movies. Right up my street :)
8. Hollywood Studios (my favourite)
Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Fantasia – I virtually died and went to heaven when I came here. Equally brilliant were the Tower of Terror (in which ghost whispering became a thing – don’t ask) and the Toy Story ride, the latter of which you had to earn points throughout and compete against the person sitting next to you. One massive highlight though (and even I’m surprised to be saying this), was the Frozen sing-a-long – a kind of mad pantomime, Carry On-esque chaos played out on stage, but truly fantastic. Oh, and I bought some Minnie ears. #win
9. Chevy’s Mexican
After the Fantasia fireworks at Hollywood Studios, we were all starving so made our way to Chevy’s for a slap-up-meal. We weren’t disappointed – the food there was superb, but the portion sizes were enormous and we left feeling like we’d eaten our body weight in fajitas.
Also part of our Disney weekend was Epcot, during which we all wore Middlesbrough FC shirts, aside from Abi (who is a Hull supporter), and got quite drunk. The day started with the Test Track ride and saw Vicki and I design probably the world’s ugliest car, followed by an amazing augmented reality ride called Soarin’. It was then on to the ‘Around the World’ part of the park, in which you visit a selection of different ‘countries’. Our plan was to get a drink in each one, the biggest highlight being in ‘Morocco’, in which I led a conga line through a crowd of total strangers, in front of a band playing traditional music. Five seconds later, the singer of said band was in the crowd and leading our conga line, then inviting us to become his backing dancers for the rest of the performance. Even now I’m not exactly sure why or how it happened. Our mad day was rounded off perfectly with the Epcot fireworks – undisputedly the best I’d seen all holiday.
Our days at Aquatica (a water park) were ideal ‘rest days’ because it meant we could just lounge on sunbeds with a book or float down the lazy river and avoid crashing into total strangers. The water rides there were lots of fun, too!
11. Cracker Barrell
Think old-school, Mama’s homemade recipes, passed-down-for-generations kind of food. This was also one of the few places we came across that served vegetables. Make of that what you will.
12. Disney Springs
What used to be known as ‘Downtown Disney’ is now called Disney Springs, and it has lots of very cool shops and live music playing throughout the night. What I loved most was the scenery – it all just looked really beautiful.
13. Maggiano’s Little Italy
Our final night was spent at an Italian restaurant called Maggiano’s – also our last night together. The perfect way to end our holiday (with more food).
Of course it wouldn’t have been as fun and hilarious without the Lee family and the Askey family (the Asklees) there to entertain me throughout our holiday. Big thanks to them again for letting me come along – it was one of the most exciting and funny trips I’ve ever had. I wish we were all still there!
Photo credit: The lovely Jackie Lee xx