Outside of Europe namely France and Spain which are the still the most popular destinations for the UK market the next most popular is Florida. Visitors flock to the centre of Florida to make homage to the multiple theme parks and associated tourist attractions that have been set up to capture this constant flow of visitors.
Personally I must have visited the area over a dozen times. The area is an all year round resort with the winters being sunny and warm and the summers are incredibly humid with frequent daily downpours between 14.00 and 17.00 hrs that last for 20 minutes or so. Sometimes the late summers are the landing places of hurricanes during that season.
Disney World covers an area bigger than greater Manchester at about 42 square miles. It has 4 main theme parks, The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There are the Disney Springs (aka Disney Downtown) and water parks. It has it’s own road network and nothing is built at the entrances to Disney land so all of the roads that surround it are jam packed with motels, hotels, tourist shops, fast food outlets, restaurants, crazy golf courses, shopping plazas and more. All of them competing for your dollars.
On the US192 in Kissimmee to the south of the attractions there areas known as Main Gate East (or West) and actually you are still not close to Disney World. These are the areas that built up as close to the land that Disney own. If you drive one block further back from the US192 there is nothing but forests.
The main area is International Drive and this is where Universal has 2 parks, Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure. These theme parks have a new water park called Volcano Bay.
There is Legoland Orlando and SeaWorld all within an hour of each other. Shopping opportunities are many and the outlet malls dominate the area.
Along the lower end of International Drive is a massive convention centre and enormous multi brand hotels. Around the edges of these areas, whole streets of rental homes with screened swimming pools, with manicured lawns are hidden away from the view of the main roads. Drive further out and new areas have cropped up with recognisable superstores and coffee shops. Accommodation choices are vast.
The area is vast and yet normal America lives along side all of the excitement that the area brings. If you venture north of the Premium Outlet Mall at the end of International Drive the area looks quite poverty stricken.
There was hardly anything here before Walt Disney purchased hundreds of acres of swampy Orlando to build his wonderland.
The decline of the charter flights and tour operator collapses have made Orlando Sanford almost redundant and Orlando International Airport is a very modern purpose built hub. Thomson still fly in and out of Sanford with the Dreamliner but the fares are almost the same as scheduled services to Orlando. Even Thomas Cook flies into Orlando Intl.
I do have some frustrations with Florida and most of it is when UK visitors say they have been to America and yet they haven’t set foot or rubber tyre outside of Orlando. Florida is beautiful and deserves being discovered outside of the theme parks. Discover nature and wild life along side rivers. Europe’s oldest settlement is in St Augustine Florida and a couple of hours drive to the north. It is beautiful and protected by a Spanish Fort. See my roads less travelled blog Visit St. Augustine.
Tips: Look at flying into Fort Lauderdale and driving up to Orlando. I just discovered that Orlando direct with Virgin is almost £180 more expensive than using British Airways into Fort Lauderdale.
Tips: If you are using a tour operator that includes a rental car for free be careful about the insurance fee on top of your FREE car! Also they only price it on the smallest and lowest grade of car so you will have to upgrade. I mean really, who can put 2 adults and 2 children into an economy car as well as the baggage.
Tips: Do your research on buying your theme park tickets. It appears that in the UK you can only buy a 7 day Disney ticket which is near enough the same price as a 14 day Disney Ticket. A one day entry to Magic Kingdom currently is about $140 per person. No food or drinks (other than plastic bottles of water) are allowed in Disney property. The costs build up.
Tips: The cost of parking at Disney or Universal Studios is currently around £15 ($20) per vehicle per day. Why not consider a shuttle service to and from the parks? The only free parking facility in Disney World is at Disney Springs.
Tip: The Florida Mall is the largest mall in the area and surprisingly the only one near Orlando. It is a very fine shopping experience but always mobbed and I don’t know about you I don’t like being around other Brits when I am away from home. My choice! So I drive to Lakeland about an hour away between Orlando and Tampa where the mall is quiet and still has most of the same stores to browse.
Tip: Beware of enticing signs offering discounted Disney tickets often accompanied with a small hot air balloon on the roadside or at the entrance of a petrol garage. There are a timeshare scheme and you will almost certainly end up giving up half a day of your well earned holiday time to listen to a presentation.
Tip: This is a personal view but I am happy for the accommodation representatives to hold a deposit against breakages whilst in a rental apartment or house. If something gets broken then fair enough but if it doesn’t you will get all your money back rather than paying an insurance of around $40.
Tip: Beware of extras that are hidden in a tour operator’s brochure (or website). Example being ‘some charges are collected locally’. It doesn’t explain what or why these charges exist and the one I find most irritating is a ‘cleaning fee’ on exit for a ridiculous amount of money. Also make sure that WiFi is included and if it isn’t be sure it is clear what the charges are. If you want to heat your included pool it will be an expensive addition to your rental.
The motto is BUYER BEWARE!!
The thing with catching the Orlando bug is that it isn’t possible to see and do everything so most visitors come away already planning their next visit to the area.
Personally as a family we have experienced the following accommodations; Hotels, Apartments, Houses, Motels, Two centre holidays in apartments and luxury coastal houses. There is a lot of choice and with the advent of Air BnB and similar websites there is a challenge to research for the best prices to fit your party.