Every country that I've visited (albeit one *cough* Turkey *cough*) I've loved, all for different reasons. However there's one that will forever have a special place in my heart, and this is Florida, more specifically Orlando.
I was spoilt as a child (yes, I hold my hands up!) and got to visit Orlando on many occasions. However once I hit 13, there was a massive 15 year gap where I didn't get the opportunity to go. So although my memories of Florida were still there, they were slowly fading over time. In 2013, age 28 I managed to go again, this time with my boyfriend in tow as well as other family members. I was a little apprehensive of this holiday, purely because I was nervous that my fond nostalgic memories of the place would be replaced by a more 'mature' outlook. I was also scared that so much would have changed that I'd feel my memories were no longer 'valid' almost...
I did heaps of research in the run up to the holiday, planning itineraries (sorry, but it's a must if you're heading to Orlando!), places to eat and shows to watch, in order to get the best experience possible.
Our holiday arrived and although a lot of my memories were vague, there were still some 'trigger' moments that took me right back to my childhood once I discovered certain things.
Upon my return to the UK and reflecting over my holiday through photos and video footage, it made me realize just how much we managed to do and see in 2 weeks. I loved the massive variety of Orlando as well as it's laid back atmosphere, and that's why this is my No1 favourite city in the world.
The food is out of this world.. every cuisine you can think of, you will find, somewhere in Orlando. People automatically assume Florida/Orlando is full of junk food - Wendy's, McDonalds, Taco Bell, Dunkin' Donuts etc. Of course it is! But there is so much more too! The famous Bubba Gumps for seafood, The famous Cheesecake Factory, 'Be Our Guest' for exquisite dining...
Not only is the food good, but don't forget you're in America, so everything is larger than life.. so definitely go on an empty stomach!
Not only is the food fantastic, but the dining experience no matter where you go is just as special. Every dining experience feels unique - you might get given a small game to play with whilst you wait, there maybe some fun 'rules' that you have to abide by during your visit (i.e. no elbows on the tables, eat with your mouth full etc.. yes, I'm looking at you 50's Prime Time Café!). Your surroundings maybe different from the average table... you may find yourself sitting in a makeshift car whilst you eat your dinner and watch a movie! Or you may just be surrounded by wonderful interactive décor/scenery/fish tanks/memorabilia... the list goes on. They definitely know how to make dining out an experience in Orlando. The only sad thing about dining out is how spoilt for choice you are, knowing that you can't possibly visit all these in a typical 2-week stay! Oh well... more excuse to visit again!
The Diversity of Orlando
People instantly assume Orlando is purely for thrill seekers or princesses that want to spend their days in the theme parks. Lets be honest, if you've ever visited Orlando, you'll know that the theme parks are some of the best in the world, but that's for section 3! If you hire a car in Orlando, (which many visitors do), the city is your oyster, so please embark of an adventure. There are SO many little laid back quirky sleepy villages that bring you right back to traditional America. These parts remind me of when I used to visit in the early 90's, and fortunately for me, a lot of things hadn't changed. You'll walk across the odd newspaper stand on the sidewalk that is asking for 20cents for a paper. Its then left to your devices to be honest and only take what you've paid for - there's no one there to monitor it. I think this reflects the beauty of the villages - the trust, respect and honesty of the residents. I love how laid back everything and everyone appears as opposed to central Orlando. How no one seems to care what you're wearing, or if you've done your hair or make-up that day. They seem to mind their own business, but are also friendly in the process. The lack of hustle and bustle, traffic, pollution and general noise seem to give a sense of security and peace. I love the little fishing villages with boardwalks that are lined with little quirky ice-cream parlours, shops and restaurants, almost vintage looking, knowing that this place holds a lot of history is also nice. Knowing that usually we are predominately surrounded by contemporary décor and cosmopolitan cities, with everyone comparing, judging and running to get the latest gadget, these types of villages definitely are a breath of fresh air. We drove and found this hidden rundown kayaking shack - of course we hired a kayak out for a few hours and glided across a lake... not a soul in sight except my dad, boyfriend and I. The water was so still, the sun was so hot. It was bliss. I loved the spontaneity of it all, not knowing what was round the corner (quite literally sometimes as well!).
How could I mention Orlando without mentioning the theme parks.. it's just not gonna' happen! Honestly, I don't care if you're not a Disney fan, a princess wannabe, a thrill seeker or a pessimist that refuses to fall into Walt Disney's trap of 'Dream's really do come true!'. Just visit one park and I can assure you by the time you leave your opinions on the parks would have changed. There really is something for everyone.. even if its just to see your child's face light up in awe at the magic that surrounds them, its worth it. I have visited a handful of times now, the last being almost 2 years ago (still with no children) and as an adult, I was in awe. Firstly, the thing that made the biggest impact was the effort they put into these parks. The designers (whoever you may be!) are pure geniuses. Everything you can think of, they have done. There is so much order to the point where everything ran so smoothly in every Disney park I went to, that it made a huge difference. All staff were so organized, trained extremely well, interacted so perfectly with the children (we had our 2 year old niece with us and each character made her feel so special, one even rubbing 'pixie dust' onto her arms!). The detail in everything was out of this world. The flower beds were preened in the shapes of characters, there were gold Minnie mouse statues on the bins (of all things!), queuing up for rides was entertaining in itself, with things to look at, games to play, TV's to watch. The rides themselves are something I just can't put into words. The stunt shows are something I'm definitely happy we made room for in our day, again, the detail that was put into these were amazing. The night entertainment, both in and out of the theme parks were just perfect. I think I saw 3 firework displays during my 2 weeks stay, each of them completely different but left me in disbelief at the prettiness of them.. definitely no 5 minutes of fireworks then over like it is in England on Bonfire Night! Part of the 'Wishes' firework display in Disneyworld actually consisted of a glowing tinkerbell zip-wiring across the crowd - something only Disney could think of! I also remember our time in Hollywood Studios were the rain failed to hold off - Monster's University band was playing some music, and everyone continued having a good time, dancing and splashing about in the rain like nothing mattered..
So, there are my 3 main reasons why I love Orlando so much.
This is my entry to @Accorhotels competition in which they are holding. There is a fantastic prize, as well as 2 runner up prizes (and something that's on this year's birthday wishlist!). But hurry if you decide to enter, it closes midday on Monday 26th January!