Let’s be honest, from here in the UK, Florida isn’t the first place you think of as a weekend destination, but then when Universal called and said ‘hey, fancy a long weekend at Universal Orlando Resort for Mardi Gras 2017?’, my response was ‘hell, yes! Let me grab my suitcase’.
Well let me tell you… As a HUGE fan of the styling and atmosphere at Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay, I wasn’t sure that another Universal Orlando resort could steal my heart, but from the moment we were greeted with a smile at the main entrance of Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal, we were smitten. The resort has a Caribbean theme and is light, airy and very tropical. The main entrance is huge and beautifully styled too:
…and some old favourites. So last time, I told you a little about Walt Disney World Resort, Florida’s fabulous free dining offer. This time, I thought I’d bring you an update on some fabulous new experiences at Walt Disney World, including stunning new dining options and new attractions. I’ve also added in a few things that aren’t new, but that I experienced for the first time too. So sit back, grab a cuppa, and I’ll begin… Read more
While we were at Walt Disney World Resort, Florida last week, I was lucky enough to catch a press conference about everything that’s new and coming up at the parks. There’s exciting news of two new lands: a Star Wars themed land, and a new Toy Story land, plus more information on Pandora: The World of AVATAR, which is coming in 2017. We also had some sneaky peeks of attractions and shows that are due to open, including Rivers of Light and new nighttime Kilimanjaro Safaris. Step this way for all the news (by the way, I had to write really, really quickly while people were talking so please excuse any errors or omissions):
If you follow me on social media, you’ll be well aware that Charlie and I spent a wonderful week last week at Walt Disney World Resort, Florida. We were out there for the Awaken Summer press event and I have SO MUCH news to share about all the new and incredible things that are now open or coming up at Walt Disney World, including a sneaky peek at the gorgeous new evening shows and activities at Animal Kingdom, the new Frozen Ever After attraction coming to Epcot, lovely Disney Springs, and lots of fab new Star Wars stuff too. First things first, though, I thought I’d tell you about the delicious BoardWalk area.
After our magical 24 hours in Walt Disney World, Florida, we woke early and grabbed a quick breakfast at the Cape May Café with Minnie Mouse (as you do), before waving her goodbye and jumping on a coach which took us to Port Canaveral. There we caught our very first glimpse of the Disney Dream. Here’s part two of our Disney stay and cruise photo diary: all about the Disney Dream.
Last week, I was in Orlando (and the Bahamas!) with my gorgeous niece, Amy, trying out the fabulous Disney stay and cruise package. We’ve recorded a fantastic video for you which is coming soon, but until then, here’s our week in pictures, and lots of reasons why we thought Disney stay and cruise was the perfect holiday!
I’m off to Universal Studios in Orlando tomorrow to experience their incredible holiday celebrations, including Grinchmas, which I’m especially excited about (I’m going to interview the Grinch!). Unlike most regular travellers, I actually don’t really mind flying, especially when it’s Virgin Atlantic, and as a tireless plotter and planner, I adore packing and getting ready to fly. Read more
Oh, the Disney Dream. The delightful, delicious, delovely, delectable Disney Dream. Regular readers will know that I adore all the Disney Cruise Line ships, but there’s something about Disney Dream in particular that makes my heart sing. I think it’s because my first ever Disney Cruise was on board the Disney Dream. I just love everything about it – the restaurants, the fabulous AquaDuck water coaster, the gorgeous restaurants, the gorgeous cocktail bars, the sumptuous spa… So, if you’ve ever wondered what a cruise holiday on board a Disney Cruise Line ship is like, wonder no more. Sam (my oldest son) and I kept a diary during our cruise trip last week, and here’s part one.
So last time I told you all about the exciting #UKdoesMacys project, and about our first visit to the store at the Mall at Millenia in Orlando.
Here are my top five things to do and places to stay in Orlando. And, well, I think you can guess the first one…
So next on our wonderful trip to Florida, we hopped back into our amazing Mustang and headed down to Sarasota, to the brand new Mall at University Town Centre (UTC for short). The brand new Macy’s there is utterly fantastic, and very state of the art. We joined store manager Kerry Yelle for a tour of the store. She’s understandably pretty proud of the place and pointed out several really cool features that are unique to this ‘smart store’. The lighting, for example, has been designed to be sustainable and the lamps don’t need replacing, plus the changing rooms have lights that only come on when you enter, to save energy.
Having shopped until we dropped at Macy’s, we decided to grab a couple of hours at Universal Orlando (well, seeing as we were so close…). I was desperate to visit the new Diagon Alley section of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so we headed straight to Universal’s Islands of Adventure on the complimentary shuttle bus from the Cabana Bay Beach Resort and headed straight to Hogsmeade Station to wait for the Hogwarts Express:
I’ve been SO busy whizzing around all over the place, and have so much to tell you (I’m aware I always say this, but it’s generally true!). So last week, lovely Macy’s, the famous department store in the USA, invited me to their store in Orlando at the Mall at Millenia, and also to visit the new store in Sarasota. I’ll just let that sink in – I was invited to AMERICA to GO SHOPPING. And also, because it was his special birthday (not allowed to say but you know the one), they invited Mr English too!
So if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I headed over to Orlando last month to check out the fantastic dining options at Walt Disney World. Here’s my video report from my trip. Remember, you’ve only got one week left to book your 2015 holiday and take advantage of the free dining offer. Read all about it here!
Regular readers will know that I adore a Walt Disney resort hotel (click here to see my top five) and there’s much excitement in Orlando at the moment as there’s a new hotel opening very shortly. This one’s a bit different as although it’s placed within the boundaries of Walt Disney World, it’s actually a Four Seasons. The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort to give it its full title (bit of a mouthful, admittedly) is shaping up to be an absolute beauty.
Next stop on our whirlwind tour of Florida was Clearwater. Driving across the Frankland Bridge from Tampa, we were all struck dumb by the beautiful turquoise water, with the fabulous waterfront homes gleaming on the shores. Our first stop was Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of ‘Winter’, the dolphin made famous by ‘Dolphin Tale’, the movie. The poor creature got caught in a crab line when she was just a tiny thing and was rescued by the CMA. Sadly they couldn’t save her tail but have helped her with a permanent home, physical therapy and a succession of prosthetic tails, kindly donated by a company that usually makes human prosthetics. At first sight, it’s a little saddening to see her bobbing around (she doesn’t wear the tails all the time), but the staff love her with a passion and give her the best life possible, and of course now she’s famous, everyone wants to come and visit:
After visiting Winter (and the miriad turtles, otters and other dolphins), we stopped in the utterly gorgeous St Petersburg (think white sand beaches, Riviera chic palm-lined streets and sun-drenched outdoor cafés) for lunch. The Cassis American Brasserie is something of a St Pete’s institution, with a famous bakery attached (apple tart TO DIE FOR) as well. We worked off the excesses of the previous night’s lycheetinis and karaoke (another day, I promise) by diving in to gorgeous fresh oysters, bloody marys and mahoosive burgers. Everything was delicious and the location, right on the sidewalk on Beach Drive, shaded by enormous umbrellas, was just fabulous:
Fully restored, we took a gentle sunny amble along Beach Drive to the Chihuly Collection where lovely director, Wayne Atherholt, showed us around these frankly stunning glass pieces. If you’re around St Pete’s you MUST visit. I promise you’ll stand awestruck in front of these phenomenal, complex glass sculptures:
Another quick drive took us to the amazing Dalí Museum. Our wonderfully eccentric and terrifically knowledgeable guide, Janice (complete with Dalí inspired shoe hat) steered us around hundreds of Dalí pieces, pointing out specific things in the paintings we would never have spotted, and explaining the thinking behind the paintings. Without a guide, you’ll still have a great time, but trust me when I say I learned more than I ever thought possible with Janice’s help. Don’t miss the beautiful gardens, cleverly named, of course, the ‘Avant Gardens’, with the enormous Dalíesque moustache and Wish Tree, where people have been writing their wishes on scraps of paper and tying them to the tree for years. By the way, if you want to add a wish to the tree, the museum will do it for you if you tweet your wish to #Daliwishtree.
We fell in love with Janice. In fact, so much that we couldn’t bear to leave her at the Dalí and persuaded her to join us (after a slight altercation between her car and a bollard – the bollard won) on our segway tour of St Pete. The segways are a little tricky to master, but with the help of the wonderful David Boston from St Pete’s guided segway tour company, Gyroglides, we were soon whizzing along in a happy troupe along St Pete’s pier, Janice merrily shouting explanations for her Dalí shoe hat as we glided past stunned passers by. Here I am looking utterly ridiculous on a segway:
And here’s Janice. In her multicoloured coat. On a segway. With her shoe hat on. Surreal (Dalí would surely have loved it):
After all that excitement, we were delighted to check into our evening accommodation, the delightful Sunset Vistas Beachfront Suites, located smack bang on the gorgeous Treasure Island beach, and chill on the balcony overlooking the ocean, sipping a cold glass of champagne generously left in our fridge (the condos are huge and really well equipped with washing machines, huge kitchens and two large bedrooms and two bathrooms as well as a sofa bed (three bed apartments are also available).
The condos are a fab idea if you want to go to Florida and have a bit more freedom. Self catering is a breeze with a café on site plus a huge supermarket within half a mile and plenty of lovely restaurants within easy walking distance (I highly recommend Sloppy Joe’s – order the firecracker shrimp – you won’t be disappointed!). If you’re staying a little longer in the area, George Hoch, the General Manager, recommends a trip to John’s Pass village, a lovely historical fishing village with loads of things to do and some fabulous seafood.
Here’s the inside of our condo:
And here’s the view from the balcony. With my cankles:
I travelled to Florida with Visit Florida and Virgin Holidays. If you’d like to recreate my trip, here’s some information about a very similar seven nights in Orlando from £949.
Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick or Manchester direct to Orlando, two nights accommodation at the 5V Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, two nights accommodation at the 3V+ Sunset Vista Beachfront Suites, two nights at the 5V Longboat Key Club & Resort and one night at the 5V Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotel, all on a room only basis with car hire included starts from £949. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices are based on departures 12 – 14 Nov 2012.
Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport or Manchester Airport; Adults £20, Kids £12
Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected
To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk , 0844 557 3859 or visit one of our 90 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.
- Weekend Wishlist: all the Spring cuteness April 22, 2017
- Vary your dairy: giving goat a go April 20, 2017
- Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway at Walt Disney World – part two April 18, 2017
- The big Easter roundup: recipes, eggs and more April 14, 2017
- Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway at Walt Disney World – part one April 13, 2017