Seaworld

Continuing the Florida guide (which can be found here) we went to Seaworld in February 2017 and spent all day in the park, which was certainly a test of our stamina in the heat! However, we had a lovely day, especially as it was something a little different to the Disney parks. So without further ado, here are 5 things to do at Seaworld, especially if you have a small child:

Check out the ticket deals

We decided to go on the day, but bought the tickets in the villa before setting off and we lucked into an “all you can eat” option that was only available on the day and it was for free! Now, I wouldn’t recommend that strategy as buying in advance is always cheaper, but it is worth keeping an eye out for it.

If you go for this option, you can basically have a full meal and drink every single hour!! You probably won’t get value for money (at full price) but if you do get the package, you will enjoy it!! The drinks are obviously the key, although they do come without lids and straws for the safety of the animals.

Play cards with the animals

At the end of the Wild Arctic ride (take the walking route if you get motion sickness!) you get to see a wide range of animals. However, if you’re lucky, there will be a sea lion who will play cards with a member of staff and honestly, it is amazing to watch! (the picture doesn’t do it justice!)

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Go to the child friendly play area

While you technically don’t need a child to play in the water fountain, it does help! Just make sure you bring a spare pair of clothes!

There is a huge rope climbing frame for the older children (8+ I would think) but the rope is not kind to the legs, but there are smaller rides for the younger children. It can help break up the day a bit and give the grown-ups a chance to rest.

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Just after the train ride in the child-friendly area

Check out the penguins

The Antarctica ride is a lovely ride showing the plight of a new born penguin and ends up seeing the real thing in their enclosure. There are 2 options on the ride, a fast or slow ride and the slow ride is absolutely fine for the younger ones. The penguins at the end are gorgeous and perhaps even better, the room is ice cold which is what you need in the middle of the day – it might be the only time you complain of being too cold!!

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Watch the Pets Ahoy show

The show is inside (can you see a theme here!) and all the animals in the show have been rescued. The animals include dogs, cats, birds etc and they perform little tricks with the assistance of their handlers. The show is about 15-20 minutes long and at the end, you can stroke the animals and ask any questions to the handlers.

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Seaworld is a large park and so comfortable shoes are a must, as well as a plan!  If you don’t go for the all you can eat plan, then consider the refillable drinks offer – there is little shelter in the park and you seem to drink more here than at the other parks. We didn’t go on any of the big rides, but looking at Kraken, make sure all your valuables are safely secured – it is quite funny to see all the debris that has been collected where the ride goes upside down!

As Seaworld is one of the biggest and well known attractions in Orlando, you really need to do it, especially as it is so different to all the others, and as I hope to have shown, you don’t need to go on a single ride to have a great day out!!


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Orlando Science Center

 

Regular readers of the blog will know that Heidi is quite the scientist, with our regular trips to Mini Einsteins (read here) and almost continual rocket experiments

So a trip to the Orlando Science Center seemed like a perfect way to fuel this interest whilst on holiday and make sure she was learning a little whilst away from nursery.

Orlando Science Center is around 30 minute drive away from the Disney parks, up I-4 near downtown Orlando, and it is a relatively easy drive, apart from the traffic near the parks. There is onsite parking ($5) in a multi-story car park where there are plenty of spaces, but please don’t make the same mistake I did and park on the top floor – the sun makes the car remarkably hot!!

Orlando Science Center is a fully indoor attraction (good for rainy days!) and has 4 floors. Our favourite was the top floor with the lab and hands-on experiments. The lab had around 7 little experiments for people to try out, including testing the acidity of food/drink and testing the strength of structures. We had done a few of them back at home previously, so it was good to know that the science methods were the same on the other side of the Atlantic.

Also on the top floor were lots of hands-on, visual experiments which were ideal for smaller children. The dinosaur exhibit was also on the top floor and for any dinosaur fan, the impressive structures would really help their learning and bring them to life.

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The next couple of floors down were slightly too advanced for Heidi as they were to do with complex structures/mechanical engineering, as well as space. These would have been ideal for children around 7 years old and older as they would have linked into the school curriculum quite well.

However, there was still plenty for our 3 year old as there was a play area focused around farms/produce where the children could run around and “play” but they could also focus on learning if they so desired. There was also a lovely wet play/water table area in this area which had a similar effect.

On the ground floor there was a lovely small animal section, with some adorable turtles as well as quite a lot of small water creatures – highlighting the Florida eco-system. Again, for a 3 year old, it was mainly about seeing the animals, rather than learning about them in great detail!!

The best idea is to play the day around the pop-up activities throughout the day and take it from there. When we went, the activities weren’t well signposted, but the friendly staff went above and beyond to help. Likewise, the staff member in the Lab area (she had ginger hair and was losing her voice!!) took a real shine to Heidi and made a very good visit a little bit more special!

 

In terms of facilities, there is a Subway on site, which is useful for a snack, but if you’re staying all day, you might need something more substantial. As you would expect Stateside, the toilet/changing facilities are top notch.

As at May 2017, it costs $19.95 for adults, $13.95 for children aged 3 and over and under 3’s are free. As well as all the learning, you also get a screening to a “Hollywood Movie” as well as films in the CineDome – we didn’t take advantage of either because, well, a 3 year old on holiday doesn’t want to see films!!! This cost feels about right, but obviously for overseas visitors, the exchange rate plays a part.

Heidi was probably a year or so too young for Orlando Science Center.  We did stay around 3 hours and that is with us being slightly tired after walking round the parks etc.  However, that just means that we can go back again at some point and learn it all again!!


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Crayola Experience, Orlando

While visiting the Magic Kingdom (link here!) was amazing for Heidi, perhaps the attraction in Florida which she was most excited about was the Crayola Experience. Actually, it was Heidi who wanted to go here because she had seen numerous videos on YouTube and once she saw a leaflet, she knew she wanted to go!!

Despite the colourful design of the building, it is difficult to find as it is around the back of the Florida Mall and you can’t see it from the roadside. However, head into the Florida Mall and you’ll see it whilst driving round the car park.

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Just a little bit colourful!

As you might imagine, the Crayola Experience is an attraction that is based around arts/crafts and so if your child is into those activities, you’re in luck! There is also a soft play area/climbing frame which is really good which will help the little ones burn off some energy too!

When you enter, you each get 2 coins so you can get a personalised crayon and piece of play-doh to mould and play with. Additional coins are 50c and the personalised crayon is a lovely keepsake which the little ones can actually use and enjoy!

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Playing with the Play Doh!

The Experience is essentially a number of different activity tables dotted around where you can do various creative pieces of work. Some are based on computer imagery, such as designing an outfit for a fashion show (see my effort below!) and some are more “old fashioned” involving colouring, painting and those kinds of activities.

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Fashion of the future!

The favourites were the Drip Art (melted crayon dripping onto a spinning card) and the Melt and Mould where a crayon is melted and, you guessed it, moulded, into a shape such as a car, ring etc. Sadly, neither made it back across the Atlantic in one piece!!

We spent just over 2 hours there and a good tip is to plan your visit for when a Florida afternoon thunderstorm is arriving or when you can get a good discount on the tickets. We lucked into the late arrival discount (after 5pm) which made a significant saving. As Florida Mall is next door, you can do some shopping and go to their Food Court for a meal (quite a good range of shops and food outlets). Older children will be able to spend more time here for sure (Heidi was 3)

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All the colours of the Crayola rainbow!

The main activities are on a single floor which makes it easy with a pushchair, but to get the most out of it, your child needs to be comfortable drawing/being creative. Any child younger than 3 isn’t going to get the most out of it (however, they are free!)

Given that our visit was over 2 months ago now and Heidi keeps on talking about our visit enthusiastically, I feel as though it was a success and I am sure on our next visit to Florida, she will get even more out of it!!!!


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Magic Kingdom

In this section of the Florida write-up, I am focusing on the Magic Kingdom, which is probably the best known Disney park, with the Cinderella’s castle and rides and attractions.

(For information, the 12 Hints and Tips for Walt Disney World would be quite a useful pre-read! 12 Hints and Tips for Walt Disney World

If you’re staying off-site, getting to the Magic Kingdom is either a boat or monorail ride from the car parking lot, which will probably add  15 minutes to the journey, but the views from the boat are amazing, even though the monorail is my personal favourite! Either way, it gives you chance to sunscreen up!

Getting to the Magic Kingdom for the start of the day is a must do as there is an opening show either in front of the entrance, or (in 2017, due to building work) in front of the castle. It is the perfect way to start the day, so give yourself enough time to get there.

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Reaction to the opening show!

The park is set out in a number of different sections, each with a different theme, but all with rides, characters, mini shows and attractions. Depending on who is in the group, will mean different parts suit different people, but for the younger people, the area (Fantasyland) behind the castle is most suitable with a number of child specific rides such as the merry-go-round, Small World and Winnie the Pooh, as well as a lot of characters! However, use the map/app to plan what suits you the most.

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The map of the Magic Kingdom

If I had to suggest three things for the Magic Kingdom, they would be:

Dole Whip –  These are sold next to the Tiki Room show in Adventureland, and while there was a 20 minute queue, it is well worth it. Pineapple juice beneath ice cream – delicious!! Also, the pineapple ice cream itself is pretty good!

Shows/Parades – There is generally a parade mid afternoon and various shows in front of the castle and on Main Street throughout the day. You’ll probably bump into the shows on your travels, but the parade is brilliant for the little ones, especially if you can get in some shade (not great for photos!)

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The Move it Shake it parade

Crystal Palace breakfast – The lunch option is more expensive and the food was not particularly suited to British tastes, but the buffet breakfast is lovely and having breakfast with Eeyore, Winnie, Tigger and Piglet is amazing. You aren’t rushed at all and it just adds a bit of magic. Book your table as early as you can and if you get an early slot, you are in a perfect position to get brilliant pictures in front of the castle!

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Big Bear hug!!

As you can imagine, the park is pretty large so a pushchair may be needed, and there are loads of places to park it as you go in for rides etc. The park itself is flat so it is easier to walk for little legs! If you have smaller travellers, the bathrooms are decent sized (if you are a dad taking daughter to the toilet!) and pretty much every toilet block had a baby change bench for men to change nappies.

 

Finally, the fireworks are pretty amazing, and while it does get busy,even if you get in front of the castle 5 minutes before the start, you’ll get a good view. You’ll just have to fight the crowds to get back to the car (via the monorail or boat!) It took us an hour to get to the car after the end of the fireworks, so bare that in mind with tired legs!


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12 Hints and Tips for Walt Disney World

Given that there are 4 main parks (plus 2 water parks) within the Walt Disney World complex, I thought that it would be a good idea to give some useful hints & tips which can be used in all of the parks – think of it as a One-Stop-Shop guide. Over time, I’ll write more detailed guides for each of the parks to help anyone going in the future.

 

Book your park tickets in advance – For some reason, they are cheaper in the UK and bought in advance. While you need to be careful who you buy them from, there tends to be some deals on so be a little patient.

Parking – Parking costs $20 a day (in February 2017) unless you stay at a Disney hotel, and then it is free. You can use the receipt all day so if you want to park-hop or go back to the hotel for a bit, that is fine. Also, remember where you park – the car parks are huge and the last thing you want is to forget where you have parked when you’re hot and tired!

Get there early – The queues for the first couple of hours of the day are pretty small and you can do a good part of the park before the crowds get in. Generally it is the cooler part of the day also, so when it gets too hot and the crowds are too big, you don’t feel bad for going back to the hotel for a couple of hours.

Plan – Have a plan for what you want to get out of the day. Do you want to see the characters, or do the fast rides etc? The parks are too big and it is too hot to be wandering aimlessly around the park and it will only lead to arguments.

Security – Disney is an amazingly safe place, but generally because of the airport style security. It does lead to queues when entering the park, but it is for a reason. Plan accordingly, and make sure you leave your selfie-stick at the hotel.

Fastpasses are your best friend – Once you book your park tickets, link up the tickets to an account and the app and book your queue-jumping fastpasses. You can generally save half an hour on each fastpass, so use them on the busy rides. Also, use them early in the day and when you run out (you get 3 a day) you can get another one.

Food & Drink – $3 for a bottle of water?! Pack your own drinks and snacks and you’ll save a fortune! If you have a decent breakfast, you’ll be good for most of the day, but remember it does get hot so freeze a couple of the bottles you take so you have ice cold water in the afternoon.

Character meals – If you were to splash out on one thing at Disney and you have a child, do a character meal. It is wonderful to see the child interact with a character and just makes the holiday a bit more special. The best value meals are the buffets, especially the breakfast ones as they tend to be a bit cheaper.

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Character meal breakfast at Hollywood Studios

Photopass – There are a host of Disney photographers willing and able to take photos for you free of charge at certain scenic points/character attractions. These link through to your Disney app and so you generally don’t have to take that many photos during the day. Even if you aren’t linked up the the Disney app, they are happy to take a photo using your phone.

Wifi – The parks have really good Wifi throughout and so you can remain connected throughout the day. This means that you can access the Disney app and update Fastpasses and look at the photos throughout the day. Just be careful of your battery!

 Footwear and Clothing – Make sure you plan accordingly. It will be hot and you will be on your feet most of the day, so light clothing and decent shoes are a must.

Suncream – I think that this is obvious…don’t ruin the holiday by having sunburn! Top up as the day goes on.

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Not a cloud in the sky!

There are loads more and it would be good to hear some other hints/tips in the comments section!


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