FAST PASS

BECKY WEAVER takes a whistlesto­p tour through Or­lando on a long week­end roller­coaster of theme park high­lights

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OR­LANDO is the theme park cap­i­tal of the world, home to award-win­ning parks and ex­pe­ri­ences that see mil­lions of tourists flock to the city ev­ery year.

There’s so much to see and do that you usu­ally need a fort­night to pack it all in – but what if you’ve only got a few days to spare?

Here’s how to hit the high­lights, and tick all the boxes, on a whirl­wind long week­end.

DAY 1: UNIVER­SAL STUDIOS

ON day one, I was up bright and early for Univer­sal Studios Or­lando Re­sort, ready to ex­plore its two award-win­ning theme parks, packed with jaw-drop­ping rides.

If you’re pushed for time, book­ing on one of Univer­sal’s Pri­vate VIP Ex­pe­ri­ence tours al­lows you to ex­plore the parks at their very best with­out feel­ing rushed.

Dur­ing your tour you’re es­corted around each park with your own per­sonal guide, who will not only give you some top tips and in­for­ma­tion, but will also get you the best seats on ev­ery at­trac­tion with­out stand­ing in a sin­gle queue.

Both parks are home to some of the very best sim­u­la­tor rides, in­clud­ing Trans­form­ers: The Ride, The Simp­sons Ride, Reign of Kong and The Amaz­ing Ad­ven­tures of Spi­der-Man.

Thrill-seek­ers will feel right at home on the likes of The In­cred­i­ble Hulk Coaster, Hol­ly­wood Rip Ride Rockit, Juras­sic Park River Ad­ven­ture and Dr Doom’s Fear Fall.

But if you’re a fan of Harry Pot­ter, then there’s some­thing that should be top of your list.

At Univer­sal Studios Florida, you’ll find The

Wizard­ing World of Harry Pot­ter – Di­agon Al­ley. With a range of shops from the Wizard­ing World, you can pick up your very own wand and house robes be­fore head­ing to the thrilling Es­cape from Gringotts ride.

Jour­ney on the iconic Hog­warts Ex­press over to Hogsmeade, lo­cated in Is­lands of Ad­ven­ture. Soar above the Quid­ditch pitch on Harry Pot­ter and the For­bid­den Jour­ney be­fore grab­bing a cold But­ter­beer at The Hog’s

Head.

This sec­tion of the park will also open its lat­est at­trac­tion, Ha­grid’s Mag­i­cal Crea­ture Mo­tor­bike Ad­ven­ture on June 13.

Our day was topped off by rid­ing a float dur­ing the Mardi Gras Pa­rade, a unique ex­pe­ri­ence for se­lect guests, be­fore grab­bing din­ner at An­to­ji­tos at Univer­sal Ci­ty­Walk.

DAY 2: HOL­LY­WOOD STUDIOS & AN­I­MAL KING­DOM

NO trip to Or­lando is com­plete with­out a trip to the Walt Dis­ney World parks, so day two meant Dis­ney’s Hol­ly­wood Studios. There’s a range of rides for all the fam­ily to en­joy here, but we headed for the big ones, in­clud­ing The Twi­light Zone Tower of Ter­ror and Rock ‘n’ Roller­coaster star­ring Aero­smith.

The park’s newest at­trac­tion, Toy Story Land, al­lows vis­i­tors to step into Andy’s back gar­den and ex­pe­ri­ence rides in­clud­ing Toy

Story Ma­nia, Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers.

Queues for new rides at the Walt Dis­ney Parks, es­pe­cially at Toy Story Land and Pan­dora – The World of Avatar at An­i­mal King­dom, can reach wait times of up to four hours.

But vis­i­tors who hold a FastPass+ ticket can re­serve slots for rides up to 60 days be­fore your hol­i­day, which means you can cut down your wait times.

Next up was An­i­mal King­dom, which boasts the Ex­pe­di­tion Ever­est, Di­nosaur coaster, Kil­i­man­jaro Sa­faris, Kali River Rapids and Primeval Whirl.

But don’t miss Pan­dora – The World of Avatar, where we rode the vis­ually stun­ning Na’vi River Jour­ney, be­fore head­ing to the thrilling Avatar Flight of Pas­sage.

This recre­ates James Cameron’s blue-skinned sci-fi flick in all its glory.

Our third park of the day was Ep­cot. Here, you’ll find the World Show­case, where you can ex­plore 11 coun­tries, as well as The Land and Fu­ture World.

Whether you want to meet some of your favourite Dis­ney char­ac­ters, sam­ple food and drink from across the globe, or ex­pe­ri­ence thrilling rides like Soarin’ Around the World, Test Track or Mis­sion Space, there’s plenty to see, do and ex­plore.

Our evening fin­ished with din­ner at Wine Bar Ge­orge, lo­cated at Dis­ney Springs, which of­fers a su­perb range of shar­ing plates and more than 130 wines, be­fore we headed to Magic King­dom. By visit­ing at night we were treated to Hap­pily Ever Af­ter, one of the many un­miss­able shows at Magic King­dom, be­fore sam­pling rides in­clud­ing Splash Moun­tain, Big Thun­der Moun­tain and

Haunted Man­sion.

DAY 3: WAL­LABY RANCH ANCH

DAY three saw us drift away from the parks, as we headed to Wal­laby Ranch for a morn­ing of hang-glid­ing.

Just a short drive away from our re­sort, here we saw Or­lando from a new per­spec­tive as we soared at heights of

400 feet with our in­struc­tor.

Weather de­pend­ing, a hang-glid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at Wal­laby Ranch can take you as high as 2,000 feet.

The af­ter­noon’s events in­cluded a trip to Ga­tor­land, where we got up close and per­sonal with some of Or­lando’s big­gest gators as part of a VIP tour of­fer­ing,

be­fore grab­bing lunch, which in­cluded try­ing gator nuggets and fin­ish­ing the day off by zi­plin­ing over a lake of crocs.

Our last sup­per was in our hotel at Shula’s. Owned by American foot­ball coach, Don Shula, this high-end res­tau­rant of­fers mouth-wa­ter­ing cuts of steak and side dishes, washed down with a crisp glass of wine and a sweet dessert.

DAY 4: TIME TO SAY GOOD­BYE

BE­FORE trav­el­ling home next day, we headed to Win­ter Park for brunch at The Glass Knife, which of­fers a great range of op­tions from waf­fles to Or­lando’s bis­cuits and gravy.

Next up was a boat tour of Win­ter Park, which pro­vided views of som some of the big­gest man man­sions in Or Or­lando, as well as p pro­vid­ing a his­tory of a beau­ti­ful city founded back in the 1800s.

As well as the par parks, Or­lando is also fan­tas­tic fa for shop­ping shop­ping, so we made our way to the hO Or­lando In­ter­na­tional Pre­mium Out­lets for some re­tail ther­apy. Brands in­clud­ing Con­verse, Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret, Kate Spade and many more can be found here, and you can snap up a bar­gain to take home.

Af­ter an af­ter­noon of shop­ping, our Or­lando ad­ven­ture came to an end with a trip to Lake Nona, where we sam­pled the finest beers at Park Pizza & Brew­ing Co. be­fore head­ing across the road to the trendy Boxi Park to sam­ple street food and drinks from lo­cal traders. A tasty end to a whirl­wind trip.

Get up close and per­sonal at Ga­tor­land

Pan­dora – The World of Avatar

Magic King­dom at Dis­ney World

Soar over Or­lando at Wal­laby Ranch

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