Going to Florida Without Visiting the Parks….. Are you Mad?!

Well, yes, I may be a little mad. But it is entirely possible to visit the State of Florida, and stay in the Orlando area, and NOT visit any theme parks.

Not everyone has the budget or the inclination to visit theme parks. Think of the millions of people who live there who don’t visit the parks. I personally love the place, and even though I would love to go to Disney World and Universal Studios on every trip, it’s just not practical from a time and money perspective. Plus there is SO MUCH to do when you’re there, it would be silly not to venture away from the parks and see what else is around.

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What you choose to do will be purely down to what interests you. My personal choice is to try to get a little bit of Disney and Universal in my trip, without forking out on the park tickets.

To do this, I usually check whether there are any event tickets I can buy (if the budget will stretch to it) for one evening in a park. I tend to visit during the Halloween period, so there’s Halloween Horror Nights if you can stomach it, at Universal Studios (I tried it and hated it, despite being a huge horror fan. Let’s keep the peril on the screen and not in my face, thank you very much), and there’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney’s Magic Kingdom (much more my style). Both offer you entry and the run of the parks for a dedicated number of hours on one evening.

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You also have the option of the park’s leisure areas, so City Walk for Universal and Disney Springs for Disney. You don’t need a park ticket for either of these. City Walk has restaurants, bars, shopping and I believe there’s a cinema there too. Disney Springs is bigger and offers shopping (both Disney Parks merchandise and other branded stores) restaurants, bars, bowling, cinema, and other activities.

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I personally LOVE Disney Springs, because there’s so much to do. The shopping is great, the restaurants are excellent and there’s a lot to do and see. Plus parking is free there, unlike at City Walk.

From Disney Springs you can also take a free bus to any of the Disney resorts so you can have a nosey around the hotels, partake in their activities and eat in their restaurants. I love visiting the resorts even if I’m not staying in one.

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But if you’re not at all interested in exploring Disney or Universal property, you can still have tons of fun. The little all-American towns in the Orlando area are well worth an explore. Places like Celebration and Kissimmee are lovely and one of my favourites is Winter Park with it’s shopping, restaurants and little train track that runs right through it.

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It’s also home to the head office and flagship store of one of my favourite brands Rifle Paper Co.

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As you’re probably aware, I’m back off to Florida in a few weeks, and we had loads of things planned. As well as going back to pretty much all of the places above, we intend to pack in a lot more. Our trip is double the length we stayed last year and I still feel like we won’t have enough time to fit everything in!

Included in our trip is an NFL game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium, a trip to the Kennedy Space Centre (a bucket list item!), Wonderworks (a hands-on science exhibit) and possibly a visit to adventure golf and an epic looking escape room!

Of course I plan on visiting the shops, and the list I have is getting as long as my arm! Have you been to Orlando and had a non-park holiday? I’d love to hear about the places you’ve visited and the activities you’ve done! Maybe something you suggest will make my list for this year’s trip!

We Went to Disney World!

Our recent trip to Disney world was planned to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. I’d never expected to be able to afford to go and so the fact that we were actually going was crazy.

The flight to Florida was fine and fairly uneventful – until an older gentleman collapsed and Gary found him. That was kinda stressful.

We arrived in Orlando after the sun had gone down but it was still balmy hot and it was lovely to be on the bus to the resort.

Once we’d checked in and been given our magic bands we headed to our room. We had chosen to stay at the Port Orleans French Quarter, a mardis gras themed moderate resort. We grabbed some food from the restaurant, took showers and unpacked.

Let me tell you about our Magic Bands. These things are AMAZING! Firstly they’re your room key, so you never had to think about remembering a key, or whether everyone in your party has one. They’re also payment – you can choose to link a card to it and charge things to the band in stores, restaurants and resorts. They store your fast passes, restaurant reservations and photo-pass pictures. They’re your park tickets, parking pass at parks and resorts, and they’re waterproof so you can wear them at water parks. This also means you don’t have to concern yourself over where to keep money when you’re having fun in the pool – scan your band when you want snacks and it’s charged to your room. Magic Bands also hold your dining credits, if you’re on a dining plan. You choose your meal, scan your band and voila – meal paid for! Another funky thing is that because they store all your information, on selected rides you might find your band has been scanned and the ride will interact with you based on what it knows about you. Our bands were also used at a restaurant so that the wait staff knew where we were sitting. It truly was magic!

Anyhow, our first full day saw us mastering the skill of putting on our Magic Bands, loading up on sun cream and heading out.  We knew we wanted to arrive at Magic Kingdom for rope drop so we got up early and headed out.

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We arrived at MK via the free shuttle from the resort and got there about 10 minutes before rope drop. It was really surreal being in the place I’d been researching for so long. Halloween and Autumn decorations were up and everything was shiny and pretty. The Welcome Ceremony was everything I’d hoped. I saw all the characters and Mickey in their finest. Day time fireworks welcomed us to the park and we were in!

I’m not ashamed to say I got a little emotional, and walking towards the beautiful castle in the sunshine and glorious heat. We had some fast passes booked, but as we were there a little while beforehand we wandered around and checked out the wait times. We came across the Winnie The Pooh ride which had no wait and jumped on. It was really nice to be back on a Disney ride!

The rest of the morning was wandering around, riding our fast pass rides and grabbing breakfast and lunch. I had the most amazing Chicken Parmesan sandwich – so good it was the first meal I ate and then happened to be the last meal I ate on our last day too!

After eating we rushed to the Disney Car Care centre to pick up our rental car. We were given Nissan Rogue and it was lovely! We drove it around a little, and then headed back to the hotel for a rest! We were still getting used to the heat, and jet lag was making us struggle! A little nap and a shower and then we were ready to head to Disney Springs.

Disney Springs is the new name for Downtown Disney, and it’s mostly new buildings, restaurants and places to shop. It’s a beautiful area, and we were able to get there by boat straight from our hotel room.

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After having a look around, we grabbed a table at Rainforest Café. It seems to be a Disney tradition for us to eat at Rainforest Café on our first night! We both had really delicious salads and then headed back to the hotel for sleeps!

I’m not going to outline the whole of our holiday – it’ll get dull for you, and if you know me in real life you’ve no doubt have already heard about it all!

So here are the highlights:

We LOVED Magic Kingdom, Disney Springs and Epcot. We weren’t enamoured with Animal Kingdom, though Everest is now one of my all-time favourite rides. Hollywood Studios is great, although would have been better if everything was open. We’re not Star Wars fans, so all of that was lost on us.

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We attended Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and it was fantastic. We also attended Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, but it was way too intense for me.

Universal Studios was epic, though of the two parks we preferred Islands of Adventure. The Harry Potter areas were so good. I had a frozen Butterbeer and now I want to live there…..

The weather was amazing, and despite being chased home by a hurricane we didn’t have any problems with the rain. Only one evening was rained out and we had to change our plans. But any changes we made during the stay were for the best in the end.

We loved Epcot’s Food and Wine festival. The evening we spent there was amazing, food was great (and all on our dining plan) and we even saw Wilson Phillips perform as part of the Eat To The Beat event. The Japan pavilion shop as AMAZING and I now want to visit Japan simply from having spoken to one of the girls who served us.

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Food in general was amazing. In the parks there’s no shortage of choice. You’re walking a minimum of 10k in the parks so you don’t have to really worry about calories – in fact you should really up them. Outside of Disney we ate at Cracker Barrel for breakfast, which was awesome, and a few other places. Stand out eateries of our holiday were Blaze pizza and Homecoming in Disney Springs. I crave the Moonshine cake I ate there almost daily. I have to go back!

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We also at twice at Be Our Guest, which is beautiful inside, and Sci-Fi Dine In.

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The service, the atmosphere, the weather – the whole place! I’m in love with Florida. I also managed to pick up all the Starbucks You Are Here mugs they had going, both in the parks and outside the parks. I brought a total of 8 coffee mugs home!

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After having never thought I’d make it to Disney World, I’m now excited for the idea that we can, someday soon, book our return. The saddest part about leaving on the last day, after having taken our car back, was sitting on the shuttle back to Port Orleans to pick up our cases and hearing the announcement ‘Welcome Home’ – it felt like home after two weeks, and it was bittersweet that we were heading back to the UK.

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Until next time Disney World, until next time.

If you’re planning your own Disney World trip, I’ve posted about planning your holiday. Check that our here. And keep an eye out for part two, all about how to plan your trip once you’ve booked.