Wednesday, 9 October 2013

My Round Trip from Manchester to Florida... for £268

The first time I went to Orlando, I thought a £200 flight from London was incredible. 
It was. 
That was 11 years ago, and inflation means prices get a lot more expensive. 
But thankfully not by much it seems. 
With my last week’s holiday of 2013 looming and a desire not to waste it, I managed to land a round trip to Sanford, Florida for £268. 
Not only that it was on Thomson’s new Dreamliner, complete with tinted windows, ambient lighting and extra legroom. 
£134 to go 4,000 miles in relative comfort? That's what I call a bargain. (In case you're wondering, said travel company didn't pay a penny towards my trip). 


                            Grand Floridian, Orlando; pic: Roger Crow

There's little wonder Orlando is one of the most popular travel destinations for Brits. The sunshine is a natural attraction, as is the endless array of restaurants and events. If you’re one of the thousands of repeat visitors that yo-yo between Blighty and the Sunshine State each year, then this is hardly a revelation. 
However, if you have yet to take the plunge, here's the lowdown on the top attractions at Walt Disney World at the moment. 

Shopping, Dining and Movies
Downtown Disney is a great destination for shopping and dining. For me the heart was removed when Virgin closed their megastore a few years ago. However, with a new bowling alley and dining section, among many other fine shops and attractions, things are looking up. 
The AMC cinema is also a great diversion, especially if you go early.
I saw new Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie Don Jon for seven dollars (about four quid), and Gravity (in 3D with state of the art ETX sound) for 12. Plush seats are a bonus, as is the fact you can dine and watch a film should you want to. 

Breakfast at The Earl of Sandwich kept me going until a blowout at Planet Hollywood - glorious burger, fries and milk shake for 25 dollars.
(I spent much of my trip existing on one meal a day. Given notoriously large American portions, that's all you need). 

Getting around Disney World can be an ordeal if you don't drive. So it's a good job the fleet of courtesy buses can whip you from your resort hotel to Downtown Disney in next to no time. 
Okay, you may be miffed if you're staying at the Grand Floridian and every bus seems to be for Typhoon Lagoon, but that's the same with any queue. The other line always moves faster.   

The Best Hotel in Orlando?
’My’ hotel is easily the best hotel on Disney property in terms of elegance. It's the Ritz of Mouseland, and even if the cost takes your breath away, it's worth having a look round during a Monorail trip from neighbouring residences such as Contemporary or Polynesian Resorts. 


The Parks
Magic Kingdom is still the jewel in the crown of Disney's Floridian theme park empire. It's not my favourite, probably because I'm not a five-year-old kid or their doting parent, but there's enough other stuff to entertain, from gravity-bothering Splash Mountain, to the Monsters Inc interactive stand-up show, a state-of-the-art, fun attraction utilising the same ’magic’ as other interactive chats with CG turtle Crush, as featured elsewhere in Disney World, and on their newer cruise liners.
Nightly fireworks displays are always a treat, though there are times when it's so loud it sounds like an attack on the Death Star. Hey, I'm of that age.  

Pirates of the Caribbean might be one of Disney’s oldest attractions, but despite the addition of Johnny Depp's rogue buccaneer Jack Sparrow over the past decade, it feels in need of a spruce-up, even if it's just that mangy old dog holding the keys. 
However, it's still a superb way to spend a few minutes, and for me a lot more entertaining than the later Pirates movies. 

Animal Kingdom shows little sign of losing its appeal. Crowd pleasers such as Expedition Everest continue to have a magnetic pull for punters, though having done the roller coaster a few times, I opted for Finding Nemo: The Musical instead. 
For the most part it's good fun, with some catchy numbers and likeable characters, though there is a disconnect between the sub-aquatic protagonists and the puppeteers/singers. 
I spent too long looking at the performers and not enough at the characters. Maybe if the singers had worn black body stockings against black backgrounds the illusion would have worked.
Not that the auditorium full of kids, families and pensioners seemed to mind, though the very young were wailing at the loud noises and scenes of mild fish-based peril.

Animal Kingdom's jungle trek safari is still good fun, though a sub-plot involved a disembodied radio voice seeking help was omitted from our version. 
Maybe the poaching storyline had worn thin in this well meaning Africa-style tour.
After several trips over the years, it still proves compelling entertainment, not least because of the exotic wildlife. (No, not the pasty faced ones who had been flash-burned because they overdid it on day one). 

One of my favourite elements of Disney is Epcot. Whether wandering around its World Showcase, or riding on the ever popular hang glider simulator Soarin’, this is the theme park for more mature fans. Yes, the kids will love it, but for those who prefer to take things a little easier, this is the place to be. 
And if you come in the autumn/fall, the Food and Wine Festival is a must. Pottering around the World Showcase snacking on nibbles from assorted countries, or sampling their tipples, you'll have a great time. 
(I went three nights running and it felt like a different experience each time). 

The fact some great bands play the Eat to the Beat area gives it that extra something. For half an hour with some good friends, a frozen Margarita and the stunningly good Air Supply, I was in heaven.


I'd sampled assorted Floridian water parks over the years, but Typhoon Lagoon was a first, and it soon became a ’new’ favourite. 
Whether relaxing on loungers at the artificial beach, or catching my breath in the lazy river, it was a great way to spend a few hours. 
I also enjoyed one of the best hot dogs of my life. 
The fact our sun loungers didn't adjust was a pain, but it scarcely mattered. 
I was stunned by the quality of service at the Grand Floridian. Not just the hotel itself, with comfy beds (as standard with every Disney hotel and cruise I've stayed on), but the extra mile the staff went to ensure my holiday was as good as possible, even down to the fact that when my pre-booked coach would arrive too late to get me to Sanford Airport in time, the management ensured I would get there without too much nail biting drama). 
My biggest problem, aside from ensuring my 2.5kg case came in at 5kg for the return journey, is a long hard winter counting the days until I can return.  

Roger Crow was a (very happy) guest of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Thanks for their hospitality.

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