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