Tell anyone youre going on holiday to Orlando and theyll naturally assume youll be squeezing in a visit to meet Mickey Mouse.
Why? Because Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is one of the states crowning gems. Excitingly, though, whether youre meeting your favourite Characters or visiting the enthralling attractions, youll find theres a whole lot more to discover in Orlando too, including Universal and the SeaWorld Parks.
Youll need two weeks to pack in everything there is to enjoy.
This sun-drenched playground of the world not only has 7 ever-evolving theme parks, but so much more to keep you busy, time after time.
Golf, lakes, wildlife and animals galore, as well sensational cuisine, designer outlets, malls and unique boutiques.
Meet marvellous marine life and experience record-breaking rides at the SeaWorld Parks and take on some of the worlds most exhilarating roller coasters and rides at Universal Orlando Resort, including Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay.
Lucky Orlando gets year-round sunshine and winter highs of 23c too – making it the ideal destination for a cheeky week of sun when its freezing back home.
There are so many reasons why your next holiday should be to Orlando.
Here are 11 of them.
1. The weather
Florida isnt called The Sunshine State for nothing. With average winter highs of 23c and summer temperatures reaching into the 30s, 233 days of sunshine (Americas average is 205) and a warm, pleasant climate all year round, Orlando is the ideal balmy bolt hole and an antidote to grey days.
Make the most of the clear skies with a day spent biking across the city, channel your inner daredevil with a tandem skydive or keep cool in the Florida sun with a visit to Aquatica, SeaWorlds Waterpark, or one of the two waterparks at Walt Disney World Resort. Disneys Typhoon Lagoon Water Park offers exhilarating waterslides, childrens play area, giant wave pool and more, and Disneys Blizzard Beach Water Park boasts family-style raft rides and a one-acre wave pool.
Kids big and small can explore the wonders of the underwater world at Aquatica by way of pulse-racing rides like Ihus Breakaway Falls and brand new water adventure Ray Rush, or float along a lazy river and relax on a white sand beach.
The best way to relax in the sunshine is with a cocktail in hand while overlooking a peaceful bay. Visit Discovery Cove where all of your food and drink is included in your ticket and you can cool off in five unique waterways.
2. The world class roller coasters
Orlando has 7 legendary theme parks – making it more than deserving of its moniker Theme Park Capital of the World – and they offer wall-to-wall rides.
Walt Disney World Resort, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Universal Orlando Resort which is home to Universal Studios Florida and Universals Islands of Adventure, where you will find The Wizarding World of Harry Potter have some of the worlds biggest, best, fastest and most exciting roller coasters, as well as one-to-one character and immersive experiences.
Busch Gardens is home to more roller coasters than any other park in Florida. The whole family will enjoy Floridas first family spin coaster Cobras Curse, as well as super-fast Cheetah Hunt. The thrills are set to continue into 2019 with two new rides, including Tigris which will be Floridas tallest launch coaster.
SeaWorlds Mako, named after one of the fastest sharks in the ocean, is the tallest, longest and fastest in Orlando, with 9 terrifying/exciting (you choose) moments of airtime and a huge vertical drop from 200ft up on a 1,450m track with a top speed of 73mph. Brand new water ride Infinity Falls offers guests the chance to plunge down the worlds tallest river rapid drop. Hold on tight and expect a huge splash!
Another bucket list item is the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Universals Islands of Adventure -it speeds round a corkscrew track and the worlds first non-inverted loop-the-loop 167ft up at 65mph. Want to know the extra fun part? You can pick a song to listen to as you ride it – and the hilarious faces you make as you enjoy its amazing twists and turns will be turned into a music video you can keep and share with your friends.
And dont miss Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain at Disneys Animal Kingdom Theme Park which will see you careen through the Himalayan mountains on a speeding train while avoiding the clutches of the mythic Abominable Snowman. Hurl 80 feet down the base of the cursed mountain and swoop in and out of murky caves and along jagged rocky ledges as you race to escape the dreaded monster before he catches up with you.
3. The wonders of Walt Disney World Resort
Of course, the worlds most famous Resort has its home right here in Orlando.
Its the place where dreams come true. Imagine six fantastic Disney Parks including 2 Water Parks, plus two exciting night-time entertainment districts, and a state-of-the-art sports complex. Now add in over 20 themed Resort Hotels, plus countless opportunities for dining, shopping and recreation, and its easy to see why Walt Disney World Resort is the number one holiday destination in the world.
Immerse yourself in the magical world of Pandora – The World of AVATAR or spot lions on an early morning safari at Disneys Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Visit Toy Story Land where you can meet Woody and the gang – and dont miss the epic nighttime spectaculars, including Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular at Disneys Hollywood Studios and the truly magical Happily Ever After fireworks display at Magic Kingdom Park.
Frozen fans will be delighted with the wondrous wintery world of Frozen at Epcot, where they can enjoy Frozen Ever After, an unforgettable adventure where youll be whisked away for an on-the-water journey through Arendelle—one set to the tune of your favourite songs from Frozen! Then head to the Royal Sommerhus, where youll have the opportunity to meet with Anna and Elsa!
Whether youre looking for big thrills, family fun or experiences for little ones, theres something for everyone at Walt Disney World Resort.
Insider tip: make sure you experience Character Dining: a delicious meal that comes with appearances by some of your favourite Disney Characters. Just dont forget your camera and autograph book!
4 Expect the epic at Universal Studios
Visit a working film and TV studio at Universal Studios Florida, with rides, shows and attractions that bring decades of movie-making to life. Its Hollywood meets Orlando and all ages will be enthralled – what kid doesnt want to see Transformers in epic 3D, Shrek in 4D or a 3D Despicable Me Minion Mayhem?
New this year is Fast and Furious – Supercharged, a fully immersive experience featuring Tej and Mia. The Fast and Furious queue area is just as exciting – youll find yourself in the crew warehouse surrounded by supercharged vehicles – and the attraction also uses the new Virtual Queuing System, so youll get a time slot to ride, cutting down waiting time. You will also get quizzes, games and messages from the characters delivered to your phone while you wait.
Time your visit for the ultimate Halloween experience in Halloween Horror Nights. This year running from 14 September – 3 November, Universal Studios Florida is taken over by scary sights – horror stories and haunted houses that bring together visions from some of the worlds most notorious horror creators, including Netflixs Stranger Things, Poltergeist and Chucky.
Universal is about so much more than movies too – they have a brand new water theme park, the world class Volcano Bay. The largest water theme park in Orlando, it has 19 water attractions as well as a very relaxing lagoon beach and lazy river.
Volcano Bays wearable watch (TapuTapu) lets you hold your place in the ride lines. Its a tropical escape in Orlando.
And, of course, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Spanning two parks, Universal Studio Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a Mecca for Potterheads who can explore Hogwarts castle, ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and visit the shops of Diagon Alley, where Harry is famously chosen by his wand… and you may well be chosen by yours.
Diagon Alley and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts are at Universal Studios, while Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Hogwarts castle are in Islands of Adventure – and guests can travel between the two lands from Kings Cross to Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express. JK Rowling herself was involved in the creation of this wizardly world, and it shows: its like stepping into the movie.
Save at least three days to take in all Universal Orlando Resort has to offer – you wont want to miss a thing. EPA or Early Park Admission is also available for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay when staying at one of Universals hotels.
5. Four times the adventure at the SeaWorld Parks
SeaWorld, Aquatica, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove are packed full of fun for adventurers of all ages. From nerve-wracking hypercoasters for thrill enthusiasts to play areas for those still learning to walk, there is something to keep you wide-eyed at every turn.
Take a seat on Floridas wildest rides and prepare to gasp, plunge, splash and scream. Youll sprint as fast as a cheetah on Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens, chase your prey like a shark on Mako at SeaWorld and plunge towards the earth like a bird of prey on Falcons Fury at Busch Gardens – we suggest you hold on tight!
As the temperatures soar so do the splashes! Float along the calming streams of Loggerhead Lane at Aquatica, swim amongst beautiful marine animals in The Grand Reef at Discovery Cove or drop down the gigantic water slides of Ihus Breakaway Falls at Aquatica…whatever you choose, youre sure to stay cool.
Get as close to the wild as you dare. See the world through the eyes of incredible animals, and then come face-to-face with them. Waddle amongst penguins in Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove or head out on an African safari at Busch Gardens.
Holidays go at your pace at the SeaWorld Parks. Relax on white sand beaches at Aquatica, paddle in pristine pools or soak up the sun in the tropical paradise Discovery Cove. Tranquility and relaxation await you…
6. The food
Apalachicola oysters, Florida lobster, Key West pinks – seafood is abundant in Florida and Orlando is no exception.
There are hundreds of authentic restaurants around Florida serving up the freshest of fish, as well as regular appearances by celebrity chefs.
Orlandos Winter Park is fast becoming a go-to spot for foodies, and while theme parks are well known for family-friendly burgers, corn dogs and pretzels (which also have a very special place in our hearts), there are also many fine dining experiences, Character Dining and incredible themed Disney Dinner Shows that will stay with you for a lifetime.
For a true culinary experience, time your visit for Orlandos Magical Dining Month, sponsored by American Express, where over 100 restaurants come together to showcase the best of Orlandos offerings annually each September.
For a unique dining experience, book a table at Sharks Underwater Grill at SeaWorld. This award-winning, full service restaurant gives you the opportunity to dine while being surrounded by sharks.
Elsewhere, try real-life Butter Beer at Harry Potters Leaky Cauldron at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or book a table at the exquisitely themed Beauty and the Beast restaurant Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom Park to dine on fine cuisine – and find out once and for all just what the grey stuff is.
The whole family will love the Satuli Canteen in Pandora – The World of AVATAR at Disneys Animal Kingdom Theme Park , a dining facility adorned with Navi art and cultural items which serves international-inspired cuisine, vegetarian options and specialty libations in a menu inspired by Pandoras bounty.
Dont miss Pongu Pongu where you can try beverages with Boba Balls and other drinks from another world.
7. The wildlife
Animal lovers will find much to entertain them in Orlando, whether on an airboat ride or at one of the theme parks.
At Disneys Animal Kingdom Theme Park explore the wonders of nature throughout the day and into the night. Here you can discover rare animals, authentic adventures and world-class entertainment transporting you to the heart of nature — alive with magic.
A day at SeaWorld will introduce you to manatees, killer whales, penguins, sea turtles and sharks. Take a look Behind The Scenes and discover how the SeaWorld Parks have helped rescue over 33,000 animals and contribute to conservation projects around the world.
Over at Busch Gardens you can meet more than 300 species of animals, including big cats, gorillas, elephants, meerkats and snakes. Climb aboard a safari truck alongside your expert guide and explore the 65-acre Serengeti Plain, home to zebra, rhinos and giraffes.
The record-breaking rides at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens allow guests to experience the speed, power and agility of some of the worlds most impressive animals. Glide through the sky with the grace of a ray on Manta at SeaWorld, or dive face-down like a stalking falcon on Falcons Fury at Busch Gardens.
If you prefer a slower pace, step into Dolphin Lagoon at all-inclusive day resort Discovery Cove where you can swim with a bottlenose dolphin or hand-feed exotic birds in the Explorers Aviary.
8.Time for grown-ups
If you can snatch some time without your mini-mes, there is a tonne of adult-friendly fun waiting for you, including sushi and cocktails, rum bars, haute cuisine and spas – take your pick. Here are just a few:
- Enjoy night-time entertainment like live music, world class shopping, and gourmet dining at Disney Springs
- Dine in The BOATHOUSE® at Disney Springs for fresh seafood, a raw bar and premium steaks—complete with retro dream boats, from vintage American Amphicars to Italian Water Taxis
- Enjoy fine dining in a stunning water-front location at Narcoossees at Disneys Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Duff Beer and lunch at Moes Tavern in Universal Studios Florida
- Universals CityWalk for Rising Star – a karaoke venue where you front a live band
- Sushi and burgers at Cowfish, also at Universals CityWalk
- Visit World Showcase in Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort, where you can experience the sights, sounds and tastes of 11 different countries in one day
- Margaritas at Jimmy Buffetts Margaritaville, at Universals CityWalk
- …And Universals CityWalks 20-screen movie theatre
9 The lakes
Orlando has more than 100 lakes, all of which offer something unique. At Lake Eola, actually a giant sinkhole, youll find 5 different types of swans – whooper, royal mute, trumpeter, Australian black and black neck.
Clear Lake, Jessamine and Conway are a wakeboarders Mecca, training ground to the worlds top pros who live and train around the lakes.
Orlandos lakes and rivers also offer kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, boating, snorkelling with manatee and freshwater swimming.
Just like the Florida coastline, many of the lakes are lined with palm-fringed, white sandy beaches and cypress trees, with charming colonial-style houses dotted here and there to offer either an idyllic backdrop or a place to stay.
10 The golf
Whether youre a pro, a pitch & putter or a mini golf maniac, Orlando has the course for you.
There are 170 world-class golf courses on offer – frequented and even designed by some of the worlds top golfers – alongside multiple very elaborate mini golf courses that are most definitely not just for kids.
Among many others, Walt Disney World Resort has three Arnold Palmer golf courses while Reunion Resort is the only club in the world with courses created by Palmer, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.
For mini golf, theres Pirates Cove, Congo River (with actual waterfalls), Disneys Winter Summerland (all-year Christmas theme!) and the newest jewel in Orlandos mini golf crown: Hollywood Drive-in Golf at Universal CityWalk with two movie themed courses, 1950s sci-fi and horror, complete with soundtrack, pop culture references and gags, good by day and great when lit up at night.
11 The beach life
Orlando itself is inland, but miles of white sandy beaches with swaying palms and crystal clear turquoise waters line the Florida coast, the nearest less than an hour away, where you can venture out on a day trip to surf, paddleboard, build sandcastles in dazzling white sand – or just soak up the sun.
Go east for beautiful sunrises on the Atlantic coast and west for sensational sunsets on the Gulf. The azure waters of Cocoa Beach on the Atlantic coast are claimed as their own by Orlandoans, and its well worth a day trip – not only for beach bar life and rich surf history, but also because its the gateway to the Kennedy Space Center.
New Smyrna Beach is quieter and more residential but an equally easy drive. Daytona Beach offers sunbathing + NASCAR speedway.
On the Gulf side, Clearwater beach has truly tropical white sands and breathtaking sunsets, plus a nightly pier music festival as a soundtrack to your sundowners. A 20-minute ferry goes across to Caladesi Island, an untouched slice of paradise only reachable by boat.
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OUT OF YOUR TRIP TO ORLANDO
With so much to see and do in Orlando, let Virgin Holidays help organise your trip from start to finish – making sure you dont miss a moment.
From theme park entry and tickets to events to tours and spectacles, Virgin Holidays can help create your perfect itinerary. Chat to Virgins knowledgeable Holiday Experts – who have 30 years experience sending families to Orlando – to help make the most out of your trip and all the adventures on offer. You can find more info on Holiday Experts here.
Virgin Atlantic flies direct to Orlando (MCO) from Gatwick (LGW) and Manchester (MAN) daily, with summer services from Belfast (BFS) and Glasgow (GLA).
Guests flying from Gatwick or Manchester have Vroom access – find out more here.
More information on Orlando here.
More information on Universal Orlando Resort here.
More information on Seaworld Parks here.
COMPETITION: Your family could be in with a chance to experience the wonder of Orlando for FREE!
Virgin Holidays and Visit Orlando are giving one lucky family the chance to spend a week in the sunshine state, with free reign to enjoy all that Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Parks have to offer.
The winners will get return Economy Flights from London Gatwick or Manchester Airport to Orlando International for 4 people (2 adults & up to 2 children up to 16) and hotel accommodation for 7 nights at a 3V or 4V hotel on a room only basis.
You will be able to get around in style with car hire for the whole week with the Virgin fully inclusive insurance package included in the prize, along with entry tickets to Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Parks for 1 week.
And thats not all. Three runners-up will each get an incredible £500 Virgin Experience Days gift card, which they can spend on a whole host of exciting treats and days out, such as supercar track sessions, luxury spa days, theatre tickets and so much more.
All you have to do to be in with a chance to win and experience the magic first hand is draw your perfect family holiday in Orlando. Find out more here.