After much (much!) pestering by our then 11 year old daughter, we decided to go to Orlando, Florida and then to the Keys. The main draw being The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Islands of Adventure. This actually worked out quite well as friends of ours with a 9 year old girl wanted to get away as well. We also have a friend who lives in the Keys who was willing to show us all the good bits that regular tourists miss.
Getting to Florida from Vancouver is a long day/night of travel. There’s almost always a layover which is a pain with kids. Tired and grumpy we arrived in Orlando in the dark and found our rental car which turned out to be a mini-van. Hindsight being 20/20 this was a great stroke of luck as otherwise we would have had to take two vehicles anytime we went somewhere as a group.
Our rental in Orlando was adequate for the six of us and central to the theme parks. At this point we had only ever used VRBO for any vacation rentals and were always satisfied.
Orlando and the theme parks
Day One in Orlando: Universal Islands of Adventure and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! This was my favourite of the three theme parks we visited. We started with Harry Potter World. As we were there in late October we sidestepped the busy periods and were able to see anything we pleased without too much of a lineup. It was my daughter’s first experience on a roller coaster and she loved it. I loved it too.
We lined up for Ollivander’s Shop where the wands are sold and my daughter was pulled out of the group and used for the role-play with Mr. Ollivander. She was pretty thrilled and we were happy to buy the special wand that Mr. Ollivander chose especially for her.
The best ride is in Hogwarts Castle itself. A 3D experience not to be missed.
Also at Universal, Jurassic Park, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing. We enjoyed some of the rides at Marvel and Jurassic, but our hearts belonged to Harry.
Day Two in Orlando: Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park. There were rides: the Carousel of Tomorrow! the Pirates of the Caribbean! Teacups! This was my least favourite of the parks we visited.
To my mind, the electric parade went on forever and then we had to jockey for position to watch the fireworks. Never having experienced many theme parks before, I was a bit taken aback by how poorly thought out the exit strategy was at Disney after the fireworks. You could leave by trams or a boat and both were extremely crowded. I saw a scuffle break out between two seniors. Wow.
Day Three in Orlando: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. There were more rides and the hardest rain I’ve ever seen. I enjoyed this park as it was a lot less Disney-fied (if you can believe it) than the previous one.
There was a fun roller coaster that went backwards at one point, a river raft ride (you WILL get soaked), a safari ride (the animals looked relatively happy), and face painting, etc…
Near the end of our visit the skies opened up and let loose. As we were still damp from the raft ride, we didn’t really mind, but a lot of people scurried pretty hard to get out of it. Little did we know that this was just an edge of Hurricane Sandy.
The Florida Keys
On our six hour drive down to the Keys the following day we hit a lot of torrential rain. We still had no idea that this was hurricane related, I don’t follow much news on vacation. We didn’t hear much about the damage up north until later. The skies had cleared by the time we reached the Keys but the winds lasted for several more days.
We stayed on Marathon Key, at a waterfront property. It didn’t have a swimming beach, but the owners had dug out a huge tide pool for swimming that housed some local lobsters and fish. There was a pipe that connected the pool to the ocea to allow access for smaller creatures. The storm surge had made the pool overflow its banks, but not enough to damage anything.
This was the vacation the adults had signed up for!
Our friend Jessica took us to Key West on Hallowe’en morning and we enjoyed a waterside lunch,the butterfly conservatory, and general wandering about. In the afternoon we returned to Jessica’s home alongside a canal and got the girls ready for trick-or-treating.
Trick-or-treating in Florida was a revelation! No one had to wear a heavy winter jacket, there was no knocking on doors, everyone was set up at the end of their respective driveways with a table, often with a blender and treats for the adults. The decorations were amazing and detailed. As the designated driver that day, I was was unable to partake in the adult treats, but it was fun to watch.
At some point that lazy week we took the girls to the Dolphin Rehabilitation Center to interact with the dolphins. I think aside from Harry Potter World, this was their favourite thing to do. Jessica took us to some great little eateries and beaches (I was surprised at the lack of beaches, there are not as many as you may think), but mostly we enjoyed our vacation rental and relaxed.
We had to drive to Miami to fly home. I was impressed by the Florida highway system. If you’re willing to pay the tolls, the driving is smooth and easy. We saw almost none of Miami. I suppose that will wait for another trip!