EXACTLY why does Florida prove so popular for the British?
Every year around 1.5m holidaymakers leave these shores and head for America’s Sunshine State.
The vast majority jet in to take advantage of magnificent Walt Disney World and the numerous other five-star theme park attractions, while others arrive to enjoy the wonderful climate (averaging between 60 and 85 degrees throughout the year), the cleanliness of the place and the friendliness of the people.
On top of that, visitors flood in for the shopping (designer-label prices in the famous Florida Mall are half those in England), the dream-like golden beaches and the chance to sample the delights of the Everglades or the famous US city of Miami. The golf is pretty impressive, too.
Quite clearly, the options are limitless, and seasoned Florida travellers suggest at least three weeks to take in all the ‘must see’ attractions.
Unfortunately, for the vast majority, a 21-day break is out of the question.
One or two weeks is the norm, and even a seven-day stay can prove a wonderful – and exhausting – experience, as myself, my wife Jane and 13-year-old daughter Amelia discovered for a second time during the recent October half-term holiday.
Our first visit was in October, 2001 when we spent all seven days at Disney’s four main theme parks of Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios – and, to be honest, that really wasn’t quite long enough.
As a result, last month’s Orlando-based holiday also centred around trips to the four parks, as well as to one of the area’s world-famous waterparks – Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon – and a day at the truly amazing SeaWorld.
It’s the usual pattern to kick-off with a visit to the flagship Disney park, Magic Kingdom, where Cinderella’s fairytale castle leaves children and grown-ups alike in awe. There’s no doubt at all when you see the imposing towers you’ve arrived!
But with Magic Kingdom usually at its busiest on a Sunday – our first full day in Florida – a trip to one of the other parks is highly recommended.
That’s why Animal Kingdom was first on the ‘to do’ list.
This offers a perfect mix of top rides – spearheaded by Expedition Everest – and the chance to travel around beautifully re-created African and Asian landscapes which offer visitors the chance to observe free-roaming wildlife of almost every variety. Lions and tigers are just the start!
The following day it was on to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which boasts the always-exciting Tower of Tower and a whole host of shows to suit all tastes.
The new American Pop Idol Show was, surprisingly a major – if somewhat corny – hit.
Next up it was Epcot, which is described as an ever-changing, always entertaining world of discovery.
Its wide and growing variation of rides made it the most popular of the week’s Disney visits, culminating in the magnificent firework display on the Epcot lake. A fitting finale to another top day.
Next on the agenda was SeaWorld, which was a truly breathtaking experience.
The finishing touches may not have been as polished as Disney, but in every aspect this attraction is as good – if not better – as anything else in Florida.
The rides, and particularly the brand new ‘Manta’, were incredible, as was the killer whale show, starring Shamu, the biggest of them all. The show is called ‘Believe’, and there’s no question that what you see is almost unbelievable!
The highlight, however, is getting up close and personal with the dolphins and stingrays which for $7 dollars you can feed a handful of sardines. It’s a must.
An easier following day was arranged at Typhoon Lagoon waterpark, which provided the ideal opportunity to recharge the batteries after an exhausting four-day period.
Not surprisingly, the park and its wide variety of water slides and pools was in a class of its own.
Finally, there was the compulsory trip to Magic Kingdom, followed by a trip to Downtown Disney, which boasts the world’s biggest Disney store.
It’s also home to a wealth of other shops and restaurants to suit all tastes and the interactive Disney Quest, where out-of-this-world computer games are on offer to visitors.
Before leaving for Orlando airport (boo hoo!) and the evening flight, there was time to check out the area’s shopping and pick up bargain after bargain, particularly on the clothing front.
It was then time to leave on the eight-hour flight home (it’s nine going out into the head wind), but the decision has already been taken not to leave it a further eight years before making the next Florida visit.
The piggy bank has now been dusted down and is fully operational in a bid to return in 2011, although next time other world-class attractions will come under the radar.
Pencilled in are trips to Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure (also just outside Orlando), the Kennedy Space Centre 50 miles away, Boggy Creek where you get chance to meet and feed alligators, a return to an Orlando waterpark (either Disney’s Blizzard Beach, Wet ‘n Wild or Aquatica) and, money permitting, the chance to swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove, situated right next to SeaWorld.
Busch Gardens, The Everglades, the golden sands at Daytona and Miami will have to wait for visit No4!
But on the next visit it would surely be rude not to call in once again and say ‘hi’ to at least one of the Disney parks and/or possibly SeaWorld, wouldn’t it?
Our seven-night stay was at the four star Sheraton Safari Hotel, a five-minute drive from Downtown Disney, 10 minutes to Universal Studios and 15 minutes from the Disney Parks and SeaWorld.
The price of the trip through Virgin Holidays was £899 per person, flight and accommodation only. Restaurant eating, is, however, relatively inexpensive compared to England. For more details visit virginholidays.com.
Must-see visits for a first seven-night stay are the four Disney World theme parks, SeaWorld and Universal Studios.
The numerous theme park passes are available direct on the internet by visiting the attraction’s official websites.