A Magical 30th Birthday
So, let’s start at the beginning. There’s nothing glamorous about Gatwick airport. Except when you stay in one of the Club rooms at the Sofitel. Being served complimentary evening drinks and canapés in the lounge is a lovely way to get into the holiday spirit. And that’s what we did.
After a broken night’s sleep (I was too excited!), we checked out for our flight. Thanks to collecting Avios, we were booked on BA business class flights, so we headed straight to the Club lounge for a champagne breakfast. After spotting all there was to spot out of the window and enjoying the free champagne, it was time to wander on down to the gate.
We took our seats on the plane and were delighted to see that we would be looked after by an excellent queen. Our initial boarding champagne was topped up twice before the doors closed. The flight went by in a haze of champagne, lunch, naps and then afternoon tea. Before we knew it, it was time to land. I was ready for Orlando and the Florida sunshine.
Because of all that lovely champagne, we booked a transfer from the airport and picked up our hire car the next day in downtown Orlando. We were thrilled to see that our accommodation in Orlando was a modern detached town house on a beautiful development. And most importantly, it had a net-covered patio with a hot tub.
Tired after our long trip, it was time for bed. Much to Hugh’s dismay (he can sleep anywhere) I was up the next day at 5am due to jet lag and excitement. We were waiting outside the rental store by 9am, and opted for an open-top Mustang to cruise the roads of Orlando. It sounds dreamy, but we’ve now noted that it’s often too hot to have the roof down. It’s also impossible to move the roof when the car is in drive, which isn’t ideal if you hit a typical Florida rain storm came. Lessons learned.
Finally, it was time to make our way to Walt Disney World. I always get a burst of joy (no, not like that, filth) as we drive under that famous arch with Mickey and Minnie greeting us. Magic Kingdom, here we come. We opt for the monorail in and ferry boat out (usually because we’re leaving with 30,000 others after the fireworks and the boats carry more people).
Arriving at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom is always so special. Straight away, we could see Cinderella Castle at the top of Main Street. Aaaaaah the smells. The sounds. Momma’s home!
We used the ‘My Disney experience’ app like the bible and headed straight for one of our favourite rides; Big Thunder Mountain. “It’s the wildest ride in the wildernessss!!!!!”. Magic Kingdom is definitely magic. Coming from an entertainment background, I find it fascinating how they can make that many people that happy.
We made sure we got our seats early on Main Street for the parade. Top tip: for repeat visits to the park, parade times are also an excellent opportunity to get on the popular rides.
After the parade, we popped back to the villa to freshen up. Your parking lot ticket is valid for the whole calendar day at any of the Disney parks, so you can return to Magic Kingdom or one of the other evening activities. On our way back we stocked up on tasty bits at the supermarket. Sometimes it’s nice to make a salad yourself and not run the risk of it having lashings of dressing, in which case, you may as well have a burger.
After a shower and a nap it was time for a trip back to Magic Kingdom for more rides and the Happily Ever After Fireworks. Controversial opinion here, but I preferred ‘Wishes’. The score was more classic Disney big orchestra and less pop-y. Ahh well I guess it’s what the kids want.
The other Disney parks all have their unique personality. When we went to Epcot it was the World Showcase Food Festival, which we definitely made the most of. A wander around World Showcase at dusk is ideal because it’s cooler and there are less crowds. The evening show on the World Showcase lagoon at Epcot was just great. Fireworks, lights and water. Exactly what you would expect from a Disney show. Plus this was an amazing place to have dinner; the Chinese restaurant comes recommended.
Hollywood Studios was under construction to make way for Toy Story land, but it still had favourites like Tower of Terror and Rock and Rollercoaster. We even managed to take a final ride on the Great Movie Ride. The highlight of any trip to Hollywood Studios is Fantasmic! Hidden away in the Hollywood Hills amphitheatre it really is a show on an epic scale.
Animal Kingdom, the newest Disney park, is one of my favourites. Our two-hour wait for Flight of Passage was well worth it. And of course, this park is all about animals and their conservation so the Kilimanjaro Safaris are a must. If you go nice and early when it’s cooler, you get to see more animals. Finding Nemo the musical is also a really cute show and a great chance for 40 minutes of blissful A/C in the middle of the day!
Universal’s Volcano Bay was amazing. They have a very clever system called a TapuTapu™ which is like a wearable watch that you touch at popular attractions and it gives you a return time. You then go and enjoy other things like the Wave Pool or Lazy River until your TapuTapu vibrates. It’s a very clever system which means you don’t spend your day in a line.
The Universal parks will always play second fiddle for me in terms of attractions in Orlando. It’s clear they have spent a lot of their budget on the ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ to the detriment of the rest of the park, with rides like ET really needing a revamp.
With a nod to education, we also visited the inspiring exhibitions at the Kennedy Space Centre. Well worth the journey. We did the tour that takes you down close to the launch pads.
For my 30th birthday, Hugh had brought all my cards from home with us and banners and lots of confetti (I hate bits on the floor so the confetti lasted 30 minutes before I got the hoover out!).
Naturally, I wanted to spend my birthday in Magic Kingdom. Adorned with a birthday badge (they have one for every occasion) we headed to the Grand Floridian hotel for a superb breakfast. I had American pancakes and bacon, and a bath of coffee. I was buzzing.
We spent the day riding our favourite rides and then headed home to freshen up before going to Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian for a delicious lake-side dinner with some amazing wine and the most attentive waitress. The icing on the cake was the lights dimming and the soundtrack to ‘Happily Ever After’ playing quietly in the restaurant while we watched the fireworks out of the window. A lovely touch.
Orlando is one of my favourite places to visit. I just love the world-class parks, the laid back life, the weather and the wide highways. Oh, and obviously the drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts. Disney will always be there making magic and it’s great to go back each time and see what’s new.
At the end of the trip we popped to Disney Springs in the retail area, which is perfect for picking up souvenirs that you see in the parks. And then to home. We headed to the lounge, after check in. It’s included in a BA Club World ticket and has some very handy facilities. Top tip: shower before any night flight. It makes you feel so much better and will help you sleep.
Orlando for my 30th really was magical. I can’t wait to go back.