What to Do in and Around Orlando: When Not at The Parks

My recent trip to Florida felt like a bolt-on to my trip last year. If you’re new to Musings of A So Called Shutterbug, you may not be aware that last year, for my 10 year wedding anniversary, me and my Husband planned a dream two weeks in Orlando staying at Walt Disney World. We visited all the parks and also Universal Studios. It was a jam-packed holiday, but there were things in and around Orlando that we didn’t do because we wanted to make use of our park tickets 100% of the time.

So when we got the opportunity to go back to Florida and stay with friends for a week, this year, we snapped it up. As part of this trip we wanted to do all of the things we hadn’t had the chance to do last time. And I’m pleased to say we managed to tick everything the list.

Now, as much as this is a post about what to do OUTSIDE the parks, we DID visit the Magic Kingdom for one evening, for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. I haven’t planned a post about this event, but if you’d like to see one then please leave a comment.

Snow White Disneybound at Magic Kingdom

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We also managed to fit in both Universal Parks in one day, but again, that’s not why I’m here.

If you haven’t got the time or resources to visit the parks, or if that’s just not your thing, there’s LOTS to do (for basically no money) in and around Orlando. And I wanted to share with you, what we did!

EAT

You could spend a whole month in this area, and eat in a different and good place every meal time and never eat the same place twice. Whilst in Florida, we ate at Chick-Fil-A 3 times. You might not consider it good food, but we certainly did and I’ve been craving it ever since we got back.

Other places we ate were Smokey Bones, Egg City, Cracker Barrel (which is a big breakfast favourite of ours – you can even sit outside on the porch chairs and play checkers whilst you wait for your table!)

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Blaze Pizza at Disney Springs (and I’ll come back to Disney Springs in a bit) is epic

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And restaurant style food is also aplenty. We ate in some great ones but the best was Homecomin’, also in Disney Springs

The food here is amazing. I was able to try fried green tomatoes for the first time and oh my were they good.

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NBC Sports Grill at Universal’s City Walk (again, more about there in a bit) is great. We went there for Sunday football and not only is the atmosphere awesome, but the food is amazing too. We tried Wisconsin cheese curds there for the first time and I’ve been dreaming about them ever since!

Wisconsin Cheese Curds

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SHOPPING

So, other than getting fat, we like to go shopping when we’re away. One of our favourite past-times is going to local supermarkets and seeing what things they have that we don’t. We visited Target, Walmart and Publix as well as Walgreens and CVS. We spent a good hour and a half in the first Target we went to. I just love slowly browsing EVERYTHING (sorry to Sarah and Nick who we were with!)

This is aside from visiting the shopping malls, industrial parks like The Loop and one of the many outlet malls (Premium Outlet Mall is our choice) to have a good look.

One thing to remember is that even if you don’t have a part ticket you can still visit the bar and restaurant areas of the parks.

At Disney it’s Disney Springs, and has just been completely overhauled. It’s free to park here, and has shopping, restaurants, bars and entertainment. It also features the world’s largest Disney store which contains lots of the official Disney World parks merchandise, so even if you can’t visit the parks, you can get your merch on!

Disney Springs in Fall

The Universal Studios equivalent is called City Walk. The parking here isn’t free so you need to know you’re going to make a trip of it, but City Walk is open until the early hours so you can definitely make a whole night excursion if you wish. There’s a cinema, bars, restaurants and I think a bowling alley too. You can also visit the new Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium, Blue Man Group theatre and Hard Rock Cafe from here, all without park entry.

Let’s also not forget the 192 and its tacky gift shops. I LOVE visiting these and this time around went to Orange World, and the Wizard Gift shop.

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The shop-fronts are tourist attractions themselves, and that’s even before you go inside to see what interesting things they’re stocking. Orange World also just happens to be direstly opposite my favourite Cracker Barrel for breakfast.

RESORT HOPPING

One of the things I was eager to do, was ride the monorail and see some of the resorts on the line, whilst we were staying off property this time. You can visit any of the Disney World resorts without having a room there, but just remember you cannot park there or use the pools. We parked up at the Ticket and Transportation Centre (this isn’t free but you pay once for the day and can park at any of the Disney car parks using your ticket), and hopped on the resort monorail to the Polynesian and the Grand Floridan hotels.

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This meant I could get myself a wonderful Dole Whip at Pineapple Lanai at the Polynesian (they taste the best here anyway!)

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It was my first time seeing the Grand Floridan, and though it’s a little stuffy, I’m glad I went and had a look around.

The other thing we did was park up at Disney Springs and get on a resort bus (again, this is free and you don’t have to be staying at a resort to use these buses) You can get the bus to any resort of your choice. We wanted to visit the Boardwalk as we hadn’t before.

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We’re so glad we did, and we got there a few hours before sunset, so we were able to see it in both daylight and then at night after we’d eaten. The Boardwalk area is a lot quieter than other Disney restaurant areas. It has a few shops, restaurants and bars but comes to life at night with night clubs and lights aplenty.

WINTER PARK

Last time I was in Florida I wanted to visit Winter Park, but we just didn’t have the time. It’s north of Orlando and we wanted to know the trip would be worth it. I love the Rifle Paper Company, and new they had their flagship store and head office there, but didn’t know what else there was. I’m so glad we visited this time, because we managed to have breakfast, do some shopping, and have a good look around.

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Winter Park has a lovely ‘sleepy town’ feel but also feels like a hub of business. It’s rather trendy and I’d even go as far as to say it’s a little ‘hipster’.

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There are loads of restaurants and coffee shops. One coffee place I knew I wanted to visit was Foxtail Coffee, and try their nitro cold brew. I’d been following them for a while on instagram and really wanted to visit.

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BEACHES

And last but not least, you can’t visit Florida without going to one of their white sand beaches. We’re not beach day people, so we made a short visit to Clearwater on the morning of our flight out from Tampa airport.

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An absolutely stunning place. We visited on a chilly, and windy, morning but it would be nice to spend a little more time there next time we’re in Florida. It looked exactly like a postcard!

As you can see, as long as you have a car, you don’t have to spend a huge amount of money filling your time in Orlando and the surrounding areas. We’ve discovered loads of places this time around, and next time we visit I know we’ll be making a trip to these places again.

Orlando, you have my heart!

 

 

Returning To Orlando!

Never in a million years did I think that I would be visiting Orlando twice in as many years.

Even whilst boarding the plane last October (in the midst of a hurricane, no less) did I suspect that in just over a year I’d be heading back.

Orlando is definitely my second home, forgetting all the parks (but why would you want to?) it’s got all the weather, the food, the beaches and the views. It’s an incredible place.

So, when friends offered to have G Man and I for a stay whilst they are there in October, we knew we had to try to make it work somehow.

I’ll no doubt keep mentioning this over the period of time we have left until we head out, but I thought I would share a little bit of the things we want to do whilst we’re there!

Disney!

We’re not going to be spending much time in the parks, in fact it’ll be just one evening – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party! We’ll be able to spend from 4pm til Midnight in Magic Kingdom and intend on rinsing every single second! I’ve got my costume sorted and I can’t wait to walk down Main Street and see the castle again!

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Visit Downtown Orlando, Winter Park, and St Augustine

Since our visit last year was straight Disney and Universal Studios jam-packed, we didn’t really go out and about in Orlando or the surrounding areas (apart from the shopping malls of course!) so this time around we want to visit some of these areas. I’m especially looking forward to seeing St Augustine because from what I’ve seen in photos it looks beautiful.

 

Complete my Orlando ‘Your Are Here’ Mug Collection

About a week after we left Orlando last year, Universal Studios announced the release of their Starbucks ‘You Are Here’ mug…. I knew I had to go back and get one, so that’s what I intend to do. I can’t have an incomplete collection now, can I?

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Shopping!

Oh yes! I will be stocking up on Bath and Body Works, getting my money’s worth in Victoria’s Secret and Hollister (the prices are so much better there!) and visiting far too many Target, Ulta and Sephoras. Let’s just say I’m planning on packing light so I have room to bring things home….. eek!

The Food!!

I honestly can’t wait to get eating! Blaze Pizza, Publix Subrolls, Cracker Barrel for breakfast – and the one I’m most looking forward to… Homecomin’ I get to have that beautiful Moonshine Cake that I’ve been dreaming about all year, again! This isn’t even mentioning Dole Whips and all the other Disney treats you can get in Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs!

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Speaking of Disney Springs……

I’m looking forward to spending time in Disney Springs and City Walk, as well as visiting the Boardwalk area which we didn’t do last time.

Clearwater

And last but not least, I’m really looking forward to hopefully visiting Clearwater beach. We didn’t have the chance last time, so I’m hoping we will this time around, because I can’t go to Florida twice and not see at least one of their beaches!

As well as all of this, we intend on relaxing, taking in the weather and spending time with our hosts. I really can’t wait!!

 

We Went To Disney World – the movie!

 

Okay, well it’s not a movie so much as the YouTube video I’ve been promising is now up!

It’s taken me a little while to get all the footage together, and in a way that got as much as I wanted in but without boring everyone!

And if you want to read about our trip, then you can read my blog ALL about it!

I hope you like it. If you do, don’t forget to give it a thumbs up and subscribe if you want to see more!

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.

I Can’t Keep Calm….

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That’s right, next month G and I are off to Disney World Florida, and we’re beside ourselves with excitement!

Disney World was always somewhere I’d wanted to go but never thought it would be possible. It’s so far and so expensive. Instead we visited Disneyland Paris a few times, and had such an awesome time. But since our 10 year wedding anniversary is also next month, we knew we would have to make the trip. It’s such a good reason for it!

We actually booked our trip almost 2 years ago, knowing that we would have the time to save up and plan for it, and I honestly can’t believe it’s almost here.

We’ve booked our ADRs and Fast Passes, planned where we want to be on which days, and we’ve started buying sunscreen, ponchos and the like too.

We’ve also been watching a lot of vlogs of the parks and area. I’ve been making a list of things I’d like to buy – mainly makeup! – whilst we’re there. I’ve got all the clothes I need to take and I really don’t need any more!

When we hit 100 on our Disney countdown, Gary gave me the challenge of telling him a new fact about Disney World, Universal or Orlando every day until we leave. I’ve been doing really well so far, and only a few of the facts are things that he already knew! I’m having a lot of fun doing it.

To pass the time, I’ve got a few friends and family who are visiting Disney this month and I’m really looking forward to seeing photos whilst they’re away. Anything to help reduce my excitement – or else I’m going to be a nightmare…. I know I am already!

We’re staying at Port Orleans French Quarter which looks rather fun from what I’ve seen. It’s themed on New Orleans at Mardi Gras! The main food court of our resort is closed for refurbishment whilst we’re there so I hope this doesn’t affect the quality of our stay, but to be honest, there are so many places to eat elsewhere that I doubt it will make the slightest bit of difference.

We just so happen to be visiting during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, which means there will be double the amount of exciting snacks and drinks to try whilst we’re there. And since we’re going to be doing so much walking, I don’t think even eating 3 puddings in one go will make a difference! We’re also there for Halloween (well park Halloween season) so we’ve bought tickets for the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. I have my costume all sorted, and we can’t wait to go trick or treating, see the shows and meet the villain characters.

As part of our booking we snagged a free Dining Plan and Memory Maker. The Dining Plan means we can get a lot of our daily meals for free which is really awesome. The Memory Maker means we can receive all ride photos/videos and character photos we have taken during our time, emailed to us to keep and print. It usually costs around $100 so we’re really pleased we got it for free.

There are so many rides I can’t wait to ride at both the Disney parks and Universal. We’re trying to gather as much information, tips and tricks as we can before we go. I just can’t wait!

I’ll try to post a bit more about our trip before we go, and will definitely be posting when we come back. I’ll be adding to my Project 365 on instagram with a photo a day, however there’s a very high chance I’ll be posting more than just the one photo! If you’d like to follow my project, and my trip then head over to my instagram. (I also have another awesome trip planned before this one… but it’s a surprise!)

I’d love to hear if you have visited Orlando, your best tips and advice for our trip. Pop it in the comments, and it might feature in a future post.