Recently, I told you all about my amazing Saturday Night Takeaway adventure, and promised to update you on some of the new openings and gossip from Universal Orlando Resort, Florida. While we were in the park, we were really lucky to be given a sneaky peek behind the scenes at an incredible new attraction (and also the opportunity to eat ALL THE DOUGHNUTS at the fab new Voodoo Doughnuts on Universal’s CityWalk – more news of this very soon). The new Fast & Furious – Supercharged at Universal Orlando featuring the stars of the movie franchise as well as breathtaking original vehicles, is due to open very soon and promises an action-packed ride experience. Here’s what I learned…
What an exciting week it’s been! In my head, I’m still at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida in the audience at the live finale of Saturday Night Takeaway, laughing at Dec, Scarlett and Stephen’s rowing race at Volcano Bay, boogying to Craig David, learning dance moves with Jason Derulo and singing the Friends theme with The Rembrandts. If you don’t follow me on social media (and if not, why not?!) you might have missed the exciting news that last week I was lucky enough to fly out to Orlando for a behind the scenes sneaky peek at the Saturday Night Takeaway live finale. My Saturday Night Takeaway adventure began when I joined the lucky place on the plane ticket winners and boarded a specially chartered Virgin Atlantic flight to Orlando. As you can imagine, the atmosphere on board was pretty electric, Stephen Mulhern and Scarlett Moffatt were milling around, chatting to the winners and the gorgeous, glam Virgin cabin crew were on hand to make sure we were all safe and looked after.
If you’ve read my top ten tips for visiting Halloween Horror Nights, you’ll know that we had a fabulous trip, and this time – thanks to Dixons Travel – I get to truly share it with you as we made our first GoPro video! Yes, there was some jerky camera work (and rather a lot of screaming) but I’m actually really proud of our Halloween Horror Nights GoPro movie. GoPro have an excellent editing app called Quik that’s simple to use and allows you to edit your movie, blend clips together and add music too.
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:
I am SO busy at the moment it’s ridiculous. I’ve taken on a huge project with a really short deadline, but I’m absolutely loving it, although everything else has completely gone out the window: the laundry pile is overflowing from the basket, and don’t get me started on the ironing. No Christmas cards have been written, very few pressies have been purchased, and to add insult to injury, Charlie is learning to drive, so I’m living in a permanent state of ‘OMG I’m so busy!’ mixed with ‘oh god, he wants to go driving again – my poor nerves’. My Dad is also in hospital having had a hip replacement. So… yes, I’m feeling lucky and stressy and busy busy busy! One thing I really must do, though, is tell you about Grinchmas and my AMAZING trip to Orlando last week to visit Universal Orlando Resort and experience their magical 2015 Holidays Celebration.
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
Ah, meetings. Inevitably I get invited to quite a few, but when an invitation pops into my inbox to come to a meeting AT A GORGEOUS HOTEL AND SPA? Well, naturally, I’m all over it. So this is how I came to be enjoying the gorgeous spa at Pennyhill Park in Surrey. The lovely chaps at Kissimmee, Florida, invited me and a few fellow travel folks to The Spa to hear more about the area and meet with some of the representatives from the area.
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:
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
Universal Studios have just announced a huge new project, bringing London, and more specifically, Diagon Alley to the resort in 2014. Work has already started on the new experience, which will stretch across both Universal Orlando theme parks and offer lots of new experiences including, it’s rumoured, a trip on the Hogwart’s Express to Hogsmeade (from one park to the other) and a ride through Gringott’s Bank.
Also at Universal Studios, The Simpsons’ home town, Springfield is coming to Orlando this summer. There’s a whole new Simpsons area, with a The Simpson’s Ride, and food too – you might even bump into Krusty the Clown while you’re scoffing your Krusty Burger, or need to dodge Sideshow Bob at Moe’s Tavern.
Seaworld’s new Empire of the Penguin
Open from May 24th, Seaworld’s newest project mixes a brand new family ride through Antarctica with incredible new animal encounters. This HUGE new attraction, covering an area over 4 square acres, features icebergs, hundreds of penguins in a brand new area (the largest artificial penguin habitat even built) and an incredible new 8 seater trackless ride that slides through the penguin habitat, plus a new café and gift shop.
Disney’s Brave new Princess
Disney have crowned their newest Princess, Merida from Brave, at a sparkling ceremony held at Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort, Florida. Merida’s meet and greet spot is situated just by Cinderella Castle inside Fairytale Garden, where guests will have a chance to meet Merida and her three ‘baby bear’ brothers and even get an archery lesson! The area is decorated with beautiful new, original tapestries and artwork inspired by the movie.
If you’re planning a trip to Florida, check out Florida Tix – a really handy site where you can pre-book park tickets before your holiday.
I do love a Minion. And the cheeky Minions of Despicable Me are soon to have their own ride at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
Planned for 2014, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem will mix videos, special effects and digital animation and whizz guests around Gru’s house (and secret super-villain laboratory) , encountering loads of elements of the movie on their way – you even get a special pair of 3D Minion goggles!!
If you’re lucky enough to be heading to Walt Disney World Resort, Florida before 19th May, check out the amazing floral art at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival where you’ll find Disney and DisneyPixar characters recreated as topiary displays as well as other themed flower and garden displays.
Staying with Disney news, the fabulous Disney Wonder cruise ship will be visiting Alaska from May this year through until September, departing from Vancouver. This is next on my absolutely must-do list, stopping at capital city, Juneau, as well as ‘Salmon Capital of the World’ Ketchican, where you can, wait for it, go on a Bering Sea crab fishermen’s tour aboard the Aleutian Ballad, made famous on Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch! (Mr English will faint when he reads this). You can watch the fishermen haul crab pots and chat to them about their adventures. This cruise is worth it JUST FOR THAT!
Adventurer Ben Fogle has recently returned home from a trip to Sarawak, part of Malaysian Borneo where he met some of the local wildlife and made eight short films about the area. If you visit the Sarawak Tourism Board website you can find out more about this beautiful area. Here’s Ben visiting Gunung Gading National Park and visitng the world-famous giant “Rafflesia” flower up close:
Lastly, lovely Monarch are giving three lucky schools (pupils yrs 7- 9) the chance to win exclusive use of a Monarch aircraft on 24th April 2013, with a range of fun activities in the air and on the ground. Here’s Pixie to tell you more:
I have so much to tell you about our trip. This means that it’s probably best to break it into several sections to prevent you falling asleep at your laptop and waking up with little keyboard-shaped indentations in your forehead.
First stop, then, was the fabulous Virgin V Room at London Gatwick Airport. I met up with a couple of my fellow travellers, Kash from Budget Traveller and Victoria, otherwise known as Pommie Travels, plus Claire, our lovely and long-suffering PR. We started as we meant to go on with enormous plates of eggs benedict and a refreshing 9am cocktail (what? we were on holiday):
A very comfortable flight and a very sweaty queue through US immigration later and we were reunited with Laura, and met Lily from Visit Florida, our guide for the weeks’ adventures.
First stop was the Hilton Bonnet Creek. The place is enormous (1000 rooms!) and sits next to its twin, the equally fabulous Waldorf Astoria. Here’s my room, already becoming sullied by the contents of my somewhat overstuffed suitcase. The bathroom had a gorgeous double width/wetroom shower thingy (a thing of beauty) and possibly the biggest, most comfy bed ever:
We ate in the beautiful La Luce restaurant, created by the very famous Napa Valley chef, Donna Scala, where I nearly died and went to heaven sampling the crispest, most delicious frito misto with a crunchy, sweet, beet salad (sigh):
There was also a butterscotch dessert so gorgeous and so heavenly that there was total silence around the table apart from the odd contented sigh. The dessert is so amazing it even has its own Facebook page (I kid you not):
The next day, we were very excitedly heading out to Universal Studios. The studios are split into three main areas: the City Walk, which is an amazing strip of all sorts of bars, shops and restaurants before you get to the main entrances, then the Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Our absolute faves were:
The Incredible Hulk Coaster – just amazing (and a bit scary)
The Jurassic Park River Adventure – fab dinosaurs and whooshy raft action – be warned, you get wet!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Dragon Challenge – a feet-dangling-free terror ride upon a dualling dragon
Butter beer – taste it and immediately fall in love (oh, that frothy topping…)
Top tip: ask the guard of the Hogwart’s Express where he’s from!
If you’re a fan of Dr Seuss you’ll love this whole area – it’s like being dropped into the set of The Cat in the Hat
And at Universal Studios:
We spent far too long at the Islands of Adventure to properly check out everything at Universal, but don’t miss:
The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit – my neck STILL hurts (this is my own fault – I didn’t want to take my hair clip out so rode the entire vertical-up and vertical-down section of this terrifying ride craning my neck away from my headrest. What a dunce.)
Universal’s Superstar Parade: check out the parade, if only for Spongebob and the dancing Minions from Despicable Me. Hilarious and gorgeous.
Next up is beautiful St Petersburg, the bonkers Dali Museum and some unseemly horsing about on segways. Stay tuned, viewers!
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.
So we’re back. After an hour delay (and an upgrade!) we finally touched back down at Gatwick at 10am this morning. My legs are a bit wobbly (and enormous – stuffing my feet back into my Birkenstocks after we landed was akin to wedging a large sausage into a thimble) and I’m pretty sure I fell asleep against the shoulder of a man I was sitting next to at Clapham Junction, but apart from that it’s all good.
We had such a wonderful time in Florida – I can’t wait to tell you all about discovering amazing new places (St Pete’s and Sarasota spring to mind – the BEACHES!) and visiting old friends (down on the Boardwalk at Disney and new attractions at Seaworld) and fabulous food (firecracker shrimp *drooool*).
Our group bonded amazingly well and apart from the odd car accident or two (minor) and small screeching session when it was discovered that a teenager back home had slept through his A level (mine – ‘WHERE ARE YOU?!’), the whole thing went incredibly smoothly. The boys were delighted with their chocolate frogs from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, their freeze dried astronaut ice cream from the Kennedy Space Centre and their watermelon chewing gum (from the service station) and nobody’s burnt, destroyed, broken or maimed anything or anyone in my absence, which is always a bonus.
Back soon with excitement, things to make you go ‘ooh’ and about 15,000 pictures of flamingos (you know how I love those salmon pink beauties). You’ve been warned.
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