“Go big or go home” should be America’s motto when it comes to their parks, food and hotels! Disney and even Orlando itself is truly a dream come true. From May 2-7, we had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Spring Canada Familiarization Trip hosted by Visit Orlando.
The first day we arrived, we all met each other in the lobby of the Sonesta ES Suites. From there we went to Sea Life Orlando Aquarium.
Sonesta ES Suites is located on I drive (which is a distance from all the parks). In each suite there are 2 bedrooms (1 king bed, 1 double bed with their own bathroom) and living area with kitchen table. Within the suite there is also a kitchenette. This hotel has access to a heated pool that is open until 10pm. This pool is wheelchair friendly as they have a chair lift. Guests also are able to use the BBQs free of charge. Free WiFi throughout the facilities is included as well as a continental breakfast each morning for guests.
Sea Life is basically like Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. Sea Life has roughly 5,000 creatures within their facilities. Most popular are the octopus, sharks, jellyfish, sea horses and plenty more! Sea Life offers a 360 Degree Ocean Tunnel and rockpool experience. There is an opportunity if guests were interested in learning a little more about how they rescue, breed, and protect the creatures.
After Sea Life we went to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum which is located in the same building.
Madame Tussauds Orlando is really interactive with tons of fun photo opportunities with your favourite celebrities. Both Sea Life and Madame Tussauds are great activities on rainy days, or for those looking to escape the heat. The price per adult if purchased online is approximately $20.00 USD ($15.00 USD for children) and the same range for Sea Life (purchasing the same day is $25.00 per adult & $20.00 per child).
The Orlando Eye is a 400 foot tall observation wheel (similar to a Ferris wheel) providing fantastic views of Orlando. It’s a great activity to do either during the day or night. The Orlando Eye is a smooth ride and each capsule is air-conditioned. The price per adult is approximately $20.00 USD ($15.00 USD per child) if purchased online.
You can purchase the Orlando Eye, Sea Life & Madame Tussauds as a “combination ticket” online for approximately $31.00 USD per adult. It’s a really great saving if you purchase them all together. You can also get packages with Legoland included in them as well.
We went to a well known Brazilian steakhouse located on IDrive, called Fogo de Chao. During dinner they come up to each guest with meat on a rotisserie stick fresh out of the oven. They slice your preferred meat off in front of you. Some of the meats they offer are: Steak (Top Sirloin, Beef Tenderloin, Rib Eye, Bottom Sirloin), Beef Ribs. Chicken, Lamb, Pork & Seafood. It goes without saying that their food is fantastic and the service is exceptional. There is no such thing as a empty plate or stomach at this place. For more details on the menu & pricing visit their website.
Day two was a busy day of visiting hotels so we could better recommend accommodations to our clients.
Cabana Bay Beach Resort (Universal Orlando’s newest on-site hotel): This hotel is a retro-themed beach resort that makes you feel like you are in the 1950s and 60s. This hotel has no king beds. All the standard rooms have two double beds with a pull out sofa and mini fridge. Roughly 50% of the rooms are adjoining. At this hotel there are 2 different family suites: Tower Suite or Court Yard Suite. The only difference is that the tower suite is located within the hotel, whereas the courtyard suite you walk outside. Family suites sleep up to 6 guests. Room comes with 2 double beds with a living area that is sectioned off with a sofa bed and kitchenette. There are TVs in each room. The bathroom is nice and spacious. There are lots of activities around the pool. There are some unique features within the property: a massive connect four game, ladder toss, fire places, waterslide, lazy river (hotel doesn’t supply tubes, you can bring your own or purchase one at the hotel for roughly $9.00 USD. There is great free WiFi throughout the facilities. Guests also have access to the fitness center. If anyone is interested, the hotel has a ten pin bowling alley at additional costs.
Royal Pacific Resort (Universal hotel): This hotel is pet-friendly (for $50 per night per pet). While staying at the Royal Pacific you receive complimentary Universal Express passes. It has a very zen-like atmosphere, good for clients looking to escape the Disney feel. The hotel also offers free WiFi throughout and free access to the fitness center.
Hard Rock Hotel at Universal (Universal Hotel): The hotel has 650 rooms, it’s the smallest hotel out of them all. It’s also pet-friendly ($50 per night per pet) and another great hotel for guests looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Disney. A great experience for all ages, as well as music lovers. The hotel offers free WiF, access to the fitness centre, and Universal Express passes (a separate line for shorter wait time at select attractions).
**While staying at Royal Pacific, Cabana Bay, & Hard Rock, you have access to use all the resort pools which close at 10:00 PM**
While at Universal Studios, we were given express passes. It was a great experience and well worth the extra money. An important note: the express passes do not include express ride access at Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Followed by Universal studios was dinner at Universal’s City Walk . City Walk is basically a street of souvenir shops, restaurants and clubs located right outside of Universal Studios.
We checked out of the Sonesta ES Suites and later on checked into Sheraton Vistana Resort.
Aquatica is a famous chain of waterparks. At Aquatica you will find 2 wave pools that have a man-made beach with ample amount of chairs around. There are 2 lazy rivers, raft slides, body and mat slides, a 60 foot tall water jungle gym called Walkabout waters, multi-person family raft slides, 2 children areas (one for infants and one for small children). At Aquatica they also have a water slide called the Dolphin Plunge which takes place in an enclosed tube slide going through a tank of white Commerson’s dolphins. **Advise your clients to bring their own towels or they will have to pay to rent them at the park** Within the facility there are cabanas you can rent for the day if desired for privacy. For more details on pricing as it varies visit their website.
Seaworld Orlando is a famous chain of marine zoological parks and theme parks. Some of the main attraction rides are Mako, Kraken, Manta, and Journey to Atlantis. Some of the main exhibits within the park include Turtle Trek, Antartica: Empire of the Penguins, Shamu underwater viewing, Shark Encounter, Dolphin Cove, Stingray Lagoon, Flamingo Point & Pelican Peserve. While we were at Seaworld we saw two shows: One Ocean (the orca whale show) & Blue Horizons (featuring dolphins, tropical birds and acrobats). The blue horizon show truly brought the inner child out in me especially when they set the tropical birds free into the audience. We also ate at Seaworld’s Terrace BBQ offering BBQ goods which was pretty good.
Mango’s Tropical Café is a banquet facility and nightclub that offers a dinner show with evening entertainment. The cafe is located on Idrive. Mango’s can accommodate up to 2000 guests. Mango’s is basically a dinner show serving Latin, South American & Caribbean Cuisine. Nightly entertainment included Michael Jackson and Celia Cruz impersonation shows.
Wild Florida offers airboat tours and a wildlife park with over 200 native and exotic animals, event space, hands on gator exhibits, BBQ restaurant (at additional charge), hunting and fishing guides, and birthday and corporate group packages.
The Florida Mall is a large upscale mall close to all the attractions in the Orlando area with over 250 stores, restaurants and entertainment. The mall includes an onsite hotel called The Florida Hotel which offers many guests easy access to all attractions, the airport and I Drive. The mall offers currency exchange, free WiFi, baggage check and some children’s play areas.
The Florida Hotel and Conference Centre is located inside the Florida Mall. We had a catered meal here in a conference room which offered some amazing food and beverage service. They have a large gym and work out area with a pool with multiple change rooms. The hotel rooms are either 2 queen or 1 king. It’s located near the Crayola experience Orlando.
Disney Beach Club‘s atmosphere has a New England Style feel to the resort with lots of on site amenities. This resort is within walking distance of Epcot, with easy boat access to Hollywood Studios. Some amenities include free internet, on site restaurant featuring character breakfast (reservations required), adjoining rooms, fitness centre and a pools with a sand bottom and lagoons. They offer family rooms, which are also all non-smoking. Club level suites would be a good recommendation to guests looking for a luxurious stay.
Sheraton Vistana Resort and Villas in Lake Buena Vista offers studio rooms, as well as one and two bedroom suites. All suites in the village include upgraded amenities such as in-room washer and dryer, dish washer, kitchenette and large living and dining room with balcony. This resort is close to theme parks, golf and lots of famous beaches. Some of the amenities include pool, on site Starbucks/ Convenience store, restaurant and shuttle service.
Disney Caribbean Beach resort is a tropical paradise. In the pool area you feel like you are at the ocean, with the white sand and palm trees surrounding you. The layout of the resort comprises 8 villages with some pirate themed rooms. Within the properties 200 acres are covered with lush gardens to explore. The hotel is great for its family rooms, free high speed internet, shuttle bus service, pool and restaurant.
Disney Pop Century resort will take you a step back in time from the early 50’s to the 90’s. This hotel is close to the Art of Animation Hotel. Each building represents a different era. Each room is decorated according to a certain decade. There is an onsite quick service restaurant as well as a bar. The pool has lots of water features for the kids and free high speed internet around the hotel.
Disney Art of Animation Resort rooms are Walt Disney and Pixar Animation themed. The most popular rooms are Finding Nemo, Cars, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. Many room types from suites to family rooms which are all themed. The pool at this resort has lots of interactive water features for the children.
After a full morning and afternoon of hotel site inspections we got to have some time in a Disney World park and we decided on Hollywood Studios. There are many rides and interactive shows for the young and old, from learning how to become a Jedi to riding the Tower of Terror or being blasted through Aerosmith Rock N Roller Coaster. You can access this park by boat, monorail, tram and bus. We only had a few hours to spend at Disneyworld after the site inspections and only had time to see a very small amount of Epcot and Hollywood Studios, so you truly do need a day for each park if you want to see and do everything.