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Orlando Theme Parks - for the not keen!

rollercoasterWinches creak as my carriage is cranked up, up, up .... then wooosh down, hair on end, a rush of fear passes from my head to my toes. Although I'm held in place by the grip of hefty safety straps at that moment it doesn't seem quite enough. There is no time to even let out a scream - but the odd 'oh my god' escapes my pierced lips. Then flung to the left, swiftly over to the right, violently spun up and over and that scream finally is released - no holes barred - building to a crescendo. I stumple off the ride, clutching my stomach, feeling clammy. All around me are exhilerated faces. My own children are grabbing at me and screiking 'Again, again!'

Is this your idea of a good time? I was shocked at the amount of adults that rush from ride to ride and have selected Orlando (from all the amazing places to go in the world FOR GOD'S SAKE!) as their holiday destination. It is term time. I thought the place would be empty. I think I have answered that question emphatically. It is not my idea of a good time, but this isn't about me. Orlando - the last stop on our world trip - the carrot reward that we've dangled temptingly over the kids for the last 3 months is unavoidably, forcefully upon us.

Climb this volcano and you can ride the roller-coasters. Visit this temple and we'll join you, we chanted. Brave the jungle and we'll tackle the waterslides. No moaning in exchange for a fast food fix. They had done their side of the bargain impressively, even with enthusiasm. Now it was our turn....but WHAT, without moaning..?


It was 90 degrees and humid as we entered Universal. Term time (we had overrun by a few days) had not abated our accompanying crowd. Why so many adults without a child to drag them? But there was no time to ponder, we marched purposely towards Hogwarts, the newest attraction at Universal's Islands of Adventure. OK, I concede, this is actually pretty impressive. A snow capped village with towering castle jutting out of vast rocks. Butterbeer, wands and snot-flavoured sweets can be bought in authentic looking 'village' shops. Plus there are 2 stomach-flipping rides, 1 of which includes you in a game of cribbage, that set off the nausea for the rest of the day. A quick snap with the Station Master on Platform 9¾ - poor man sweating in his 3 piece uniform - before we drag the kids away. The only possible downfall with going to Harry Potter's corner first is that it is undoubtably the best attraction therefore you can feel you have peaked too early, but it is good to get there before the crowds accumulate as the day goes on.



Jurassic Park, a selection of drenching water shoots, a dark depressing queue for the brief Doctor Doom's Fearfall (I can't comment on the benefits of taking the ride as I got out of this one), The Incredible Hulk was a super-fast rollercoaster that gives you no time to breath (it was my turn for that one and I was so stunned I didn't have time to hate it)... The kids were estatic, and although we were somewhat horrified, there was merit in pleasing hulkthem so much. We played on, even succumbing to a return visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Finally we distracted them into Thing 1 and Thing 2 tee-shirts and whisked them through the turnstiles. Phew! Day 1 done, 2 to go.

Over the free dinner (not a la carte of course, but including popcorn and some beer!) at our nearby hotel - The Drury Inn - we realised that we weren't on the same page as other guests. A family on a neighbouring table had been resident for 3 weeks, visiting theme parks enthusiastically everyday! I would go completely insane. We take a dip in the pool to recuperate and then relaxed in front of the tellie before an early night in our comfortable 2-room mini-apartment. Early start tomorrow - after the free breakfast.

Accommodation at least is very reasonable in Orlando. There are plenty of great deals to be had. Many of the hotels offer free shuttle services to the main theme parks too so you don't have to have a car. We spent a lot of time on the wrong highway and frustratingly spotting our destination passing by on an adjacent road. If you really like to be here and don't want to miss a second of the excitement, perhaps go for a themed hotel, be on-site for the parks and even dine with the characters. Nickelodeom Family Suites have Spongebob Squarepants themed kids rooms with waterparks and arcade to entertain. Marriot's Harbour Lake is in a pirate theme. Universal has 3 on-site hotels with kid's themed suites. The Art of Animation Resort for Disney has family suites that can sleep 6 or go for a Theme Park View room at Disney's Polynesian Resort.

Tickets were readily available from your hotels. We did hope to find a deal on a coke can but that didn't materialise. We went for the 3 day Universal Pass which meant we could go to a different park of theirs each day. Children's slightly reduced rates were available for under 10 year olds. I liked the fact that we could bring in some food and a water bottle that we topped up every time we passed a drinking fountain. But even when we did buy something it wasn't extortionate, and contrary to our belief in American's unhealthy food habits, kids meals included fruit and veg (something I don't often see in Europe.) Keep away, as much as possible, from those merchantise shops though - they are everywhere and will gobble your dollars. In fact many rides will end in the shop making it unavoidable!

wetnwildOur Day 2 was more relaxing at Wet n Wild. We managed to take turns plotting up by the wave pool while the kids took some of the more terrifying slides and joined them on the fun ones. This day was a success! With KFC over the road we got more parent points at the end too. You have to pay for a locker here so its good if you don't bring any valuables and can just leave a few bits on a sunlounger. Despite constant threat of forecast thunder storms the sun stayed with us throughout.

The last day, yay, and we went to Universal Studios. This was possibly my least favourite day as many of these rides are those 3D, or even 4D, movies where your eyes do most of the travelling and leave you feeling more than a bit whoozy. There were peaks, liking drinking a beer in Moe's (The Simpsons) and the gentle ET attraction. Some of these rides have been here for a long time! A big disappointment was that the widely advertised brand NEW Transformers ride was closed with technical difficulties. I have to admit that we did cheat on this day, paying to jump the queues. Occasionally there was no dramatic benefit from this (in Terminator 2 and Disaster! for example when you pile into a studio) but at other times I could have leapt for joy at passing line upon line of folks at a standstill. And when the kids said, 'More!' we could send them in for another go and see them back in a matter of minutes. We only paid for the unlimited rides for them. It is expensive to do but otherwise I can't see how you could do all the rides in a day, and certainly in the school holidays I would think its almost pointless to go at all without it - if you hate queuing and crowds as much as I do at least.

There are heaps of other theme parks in Orlando including Seaworld, Epcot Centre, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Discovery Cove (like spending the day in the Carribean) and even the religious Holy Land Experience. I think Disney World is probably for slightly younger kids - under 10s - although I'm sure many would disagree. It is worth doing this sort of holiday once in your children's youth, if you can, to see how joyful an experience it is for them. I'm just glad we've ticked that box and its behind us.