We love holidaying or ‘vacationing’ in the USA. It's always a fun experience as a couple, and this time we decided to get a bit of sun and see what the always popular Orlando, Florida has to offer.
At the time of year we headed over (in mid-Autumn) we found that flying Aer Lingus from Dublin to Orlando meant a stop off in JFK. And sure…it’d be rude not to also have a wander around our favourite city. Even though NYC is somewhere we’ve both been before on numerous occasions – it always feels new, exciting and fun every single time we go.
But first, we wanted some sun and theme parks!
After landing in Orlando for the first of a three night stay we headed straight to the Waldorf Astoria for dinner in the ‘Bull and Bear’ restaurant and were greeted by the extremely welcoming Suzanne Stephen.
She explained to us that the Waldorf Astoria Orlando has many of the same features as it’s famous and well established NYC counterpart such the famous Waldorf clock - and while it is beside the Disney theme park area of Orlando, it is postioned perfectly enough not to be engulfed by the theme park. We were lucky enough to see the nightly Disney fireworks from our seats in the Waldorf ‘Bull and Bear’ restaurant, and it is a sight to behold while chowing down on some incredible food.
Dinner at ‘Bull and Bear’ truly is ‘a culinary journey unlike any other’. The ambient chandelier lighting and beautifully laid out restaurant was the perfect setting to start off our holiday. We were handed our menus – which were very cool iPads to pick through the options which were in photo form – such a handy idea. Suzanne explained that the Head Chef Francois not only is one of the best chefs in the world but also brings a ‘new way to eat’ to the menu. For example – the ‘pasta explosions’ are meant to be carefully placed on your tongue as you let the bite melt and explode with complex and delicious flavours. We also had table side preparation of a wonderful caesar salad and the beef tomahawk (for two). The tomahawk comes with a lit candle made purely from delicious beef fat which is then poured over the beef for added flavour.
The desserts were equally amazing. We tried their signature lemon dessert, the chocolate bar, the very real looking chocolate ‘cigar’ with meringue dipping ‘ash’, and the cheesecake with Pinot Grigio jelly. All of which were ridiculously delicious.
For reservations hit up their site. We can't speak highly enough of their delicious food.
Our next stop was the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando which is ‘nestled along the water at Universal Orlando, just like the seaside town of Portofino, Italy it’s inspired by’.
Guests of this Italian-themed hotel in Orlando receive exclusive theme-park benefits that will make your time at Universal Orlando even sweeter. Our suite was fabulous, as were the three stunning pools. One of the really great things about this hotel is the all-day complimentary boat service to the Universal parks.
After hours of excitement at the Universal parks it’s great to come back to the hotel and take the time to sip an espresso or have a drink outside as you listen to live music. It’s the perfect way to end the day.
We had the most gorgeous extensive buffet breakfast at the ‘Trattoria del Porto’ which really set us up for the day, they have literally the most delicious version of anything you could want for breakfast – and as much as you want.
At night we sat out at the lake and had a drink at the ‘Thirsty Fish’ bar, and a most delicious Italian dinner at ‘Bice’ (prounounced Bee-Chay) where we enjoyed mouthwatering bread and dips, marinara and alfredo sauce pasta with grilled chicken strips washed down with a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Gluten free pasta is available and is delicious. ‘All the charm of Italy, with Florida sunshine and theme-park fun guaranteed.’ You can see the rooms etc on their site
After getting the beautiful boat ride in 32 degree sunshine straight from our hotel to the Universal Parks we first headed to ‘Universal’s Islands of Adventure. ‘Take an unforgettable journey through the uniquely themed islands of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, where the world's most cutting edge rides, shows and interactive attractions bring your favourite stories, myths, cartoons, comic book heroes and children's tales to life.’
As an extremely nostalgic ‘Jurassic Park’ fan we headed straight to that ride. Venture through the mists of time as you experience the epic adventures of The Lost Continent’…which was all very exciting (we're suckers for nostalgia), the Jurassic Park theme tune plays on repeat as there are ruffles of ‘dinosaurs’ in the surrounding greenery. As we went on the ride there are multiple ‘warnings’ as the ‘raptors had escaped their enclosure’ and big signs warning ‘Danger – go back’. The ride takes you through the Jurassic Park enclosures where you encounter all the dinosaurs from the movies including coming face to face with the famous T-Rex. You will get wet on this ride. Very wet. But when you step off they have ‘human dryer’ machines where you and your family can step in for 5 dollars for a few minutes – these are scattered throughout the park for people stepping out of the wet rides. And you can of course buy merchandise – LOTS of it - and the hilarious, slightly disturbing photographs of yourself on the rides.
It is worth mentioning that we did both have the ‘Express Pass’ which does cost extra but if you can stretch the budget for it – is worth its weight in gold. With this you can bypass the regular lines and use the ‘Express’ lines, so you will save so much time queuing and get so much more out of your time at the parks. This would be particularly handy in the peak, summer months.
Also especially for the Harry Potter fans don’t miss ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade. Pass through the towering Hogwarts castle gates and explore the familiar passageways, classrooms and corridors. Experience pulse-pounding rides including Dragon Challenge, Flight of the Hippogriff and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a state-of-the-art attraction that brings the magic, characters, and stories of Harry Potter to life in ways never before imagined.’
For lunch there are plenty of different options in the parks themselves or in the area bewteen the parks on the lake – which is full of restaurants and shops. We went to the 'Red Oven Pizza Bakery' which was between the parks and again – had a tasty gluten free option available.
Next we went to the Universal Studios Park. ‘Go behind the scenes, beyond the screen, and jump right into the action of your favourite movies at Universal Studios, the world's premier movie and TV based theme park. At this real, working film and TV production facility you’ll find an amazing array of rides, shows, movie sets and attractions that put you right in the picture.’
The first ride we went on here was the live action simulation ride TWISTER where you feel what it’s like to be a storm chaser just like in the original movie. This ride focuses on showing you what it’s like while they try to recreate a real life twister and what the physical special effects feel like on set. They also have the bigger, white knuckle roller coaster rides like the.. ‘Magical experiences await at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Dragon Alley. Get ready for an adventure on the multi-dimensional thrill ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott.’
We then visited the old fashioned ‘arcade’ in the center of the park where we relived our mis-spent youth - and also caught the ‘Beetlejuice’ Live actor show which is fun for the kiddies.
‘You can also battle alongside Optimus Prime and Bumblebee in TRANSFORMERS: The Ride – 3D, visit Springfield to experience the Simpson Ride and join Gru and his Minions on an adventure in Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.’
Unfortunately we missed the ‘Animal Actors’ show by just a few minutes which, having our own puppy we would have really enjoyed – but it’s a good excuse to come back for another trip!
‘From entertaining shows that take you behind the scenes of the movie-making process to state-of-the-art rides that make you part of the action, nobody brings the magic of the movies… television… and music to life like Universal Studios.’
Also, if you have time the Outlet Malls in Orlando are definitely worth a cab trip. With high end brands and plenty of bargains – it’s definitely time to max the credit card!
For more info head along to their website. While the trip was expensive, it was absolutely worth – especially if you have kids. And the time of year we went was perfect weather wise. It was warm, sometimes hot, but never uncomfortably so.