Leyla Brooke is the mummy, blogger and running enthusiast behind ‘This Day I Love’. Here she shares with us her recent trip to Orlando with her two daughters and baby boy, and all the fun to be had beyond the theme parks…
For three years we saved towards the trip of a lifetime to Florida. It’d been a dream of ours to take our two girls and they eagerly counted down the days. During this time their baby brother made a surprise appearance and we postponed the trip by a year. As we approached the final few weeks we were all in a state of disbelief that we were actually going at last!
After all of this time we had a real passion to explore – to see more than the theme parks and to discover what else Orlando had to offer. It was this wish that took us to Sanford, a 30 minute drive north of the main parks, known as the ‘Historic Waterfront Gateway City’. What a family friendly place – lots of shops, great restaurants and a beautiful marina. From here our sweet tooth led us to Wondermade, a family owned marshmallow factory and shop. Imagine the joy of a six and four year old seeing how marshmallows are made, then designing and decorating their own. I meanwhile was happy tasting their melt-in-the-mouth bourbon and Champagne varieties!
On a separate trip to Sanford we visited Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens. The zoo was very shaded, built under the trees – such a welcome relief to previous days spent in the Florida sunshine. There was a real sense of charm and authenticity here, and few tourists. Instead it seemed to be the ‘go to’ place for the residents and this lent a different feeling to previous days out. We felt more relaxed, and while it only took two hours to walk around, we made an afternoon of it by feeding giraffes and interacting with the keepers. The highlight for the girls was the splash park, and they would have happily played here all day.
It’s a good job they enjoyed it, as before we travelled we’d already planned a day at the water park at Legoland®. I was impressed at how family friendly it was, with areas for the biggest and smallest kids. Large Lego blocks floated in the water so you could build and swim. There were plenty of shaded parts, areas to play out of the water with Lego, and of course, the main theme park to enjoy when you’re done.
We also spent a day at I-Drive. My one year old was mesmerised by the fish at the SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium, the girls loved dressing up at Madame Tussauds and I
was fascinated by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. The girls both wanted to visit Skeletons: Museum of Osteology and Wonderworks but we ran out of time. I-Drive just had so much to do, including the Orlando Eye, which offers some amazing views of the Florida landscape.
In coming to Florida we couldn’t miss a mall trip. Florida Mall is huge, but as my kids are not ones for walking around over 250 stores we were grateful for a hidden gem in Crayola Experience. Here they could draw, create and interact with the displays. There was everything for them to be imaginative! They made their own crayons and had labels printed with their names on to put on them. We had colouring sheets printed with their pictures on so they could colour themselves in. It was a wonderful experience for them, and a joy to watch them be so creative.
Orlando is a great place for big kids too of course. As a child I dreamed of being an astronaut and a fascination with space has never left me. Before we came away I checked if NASA had any shuttle launches from the Kennedy Space Center. Unfortunately we missed one by a few days, but I felt the same childlike enthusiasm as we visited the centre itself. Getting hands on with real rockets, talking to those lucky enough to have visited space and trying out rides and simulators was incredible.
Orlando is a busy holiday for children that’s for sure, but the days we spent resting in the morning we would make the most of our evenings instead. A great, family friendly place to spend an evening is the Old Town. Here the streets are set out like an old cowboy film and the shops sell everything from homemade soap to souvenirs. There are bars, restaurants, even fairground rides. The must see attraction for us though was the magic show at the Great Magic Hall – an intimate performance which had us all entertained. After the show you’re presented with your very own magic trick to perform, and my eldest (who loves magic) still does this trick every day.