Day 1: Arrival day! Relax and enjoy your resort or villa. Tomorrow will be full-on at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park!
Day 2: You’ll be up with the sun, so make the most of jet lag and arrive at Magic Kingdom Park for opening time to get ahead of the crowds. You may be too tired to stay for tonight’s fireworks, but you’ll have time to return on Day 4.
Day 3: Jet lag is still a ‘thing’ for you today, and early arrival at Disney’s Hollywood Studios will pay off for big attractions such as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Slinky Dog Dash and Toy Story Mania! If you visit once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens, early arrival is a MUST.
Day 4: Choose from Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park or Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park water parks, and give yourself a day to revive after all the park-pounding of the last two days. Then, play a round of mini-golf this evening, or catch Magic Kingdom Park’s fireworks if you missed them on Day 2.
Day 5: Head to Epcot today, and don’t forget to make a dining reservation at one of the Park’s excellent restaurants in World Showcase!
Day 6: It’s time for the slower pace of Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park Make sure you visit Pandora - The World of Avatar both during the day and again once the sun sets. It’s a totally different experience at night.
Day 7: Head for the Florida Keys! Your first stop is Key Largo, 4.5 hours’ drive from Lake Buena Vista (Disney area). Hop in your hire car, head south on the Florida Turnpike, then jog onto Ronald Reagan Turnpike just south of Hollywood which becomes Highway 1, the main road that stretches all the way to Key West.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is one of Key Largo’s major highlights. This is the place for canoeing, kayaking and picnicking, but it’s best known for its world-class snorkelling, scuba diving and glass bottom boat tours to the state park’s shallow coral reef out in the Atlantic Ocean. What you see depends on where nature decides to be, but the reefs are teeming with marine life and the experience is unforgettable.
For dinner, choose from the local institution, Mrs Mac’s Kitchen, with its quirky licence plate decor and uber-popular Key Lime Pie, or try upmarket Snook’s Bayside, where you can literally dine with your toes in the sands of Sunset Bay if you so desire. The food is fantastic, and the ambiance is dripping with romance.
Day 8: Iconic Key West is today’s destination, and you’ll want to get a relatively early start to make the most of your time there. Highway 1 (a.k.a. Overseas Highway) takes you straight to the heart of Florida’s southernmost point, the stamping grounds of author Ernest Hemingway and railroad tycoon Henry Flagler.
Key West’s main attractions include the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum (a real glimpse into the island lifestyle of the great writer); Truman Little White House (the winter home of President Harry Truman); the fab Mel Fischer Maritime Museum (much more interesting than it sounds, and perfectly suitable for families); and Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S., a large buoy at which tourists line up to take selfies. It is possible to do them all in a day, especially if you make use of a hired scooter, bike, or the fun trolley or train tours that routinely make their way around the main tourist areas.
But the biggies here are Mallory Square, where shopping and dining rules the day and all of Key West turns out for the Sunset Celebration each evening, with drinks in hand; Duvall Street, the Floridian equivalent of Bourbon Street in New Orleans (think: drinking, drinking, and more drinking in any of dozens of bars and restaurants); and the chance to get out on the water on a boat, parasailing or jet ski tour, which will be one of your choices tomorrow.
Day 9: Choose from a second day in Key West or start the journey back and have an overnight in Marathon or Islamorada. If you stay in Key West, and everyone in your group is old enough to hang on tight, jet skis (a.k.a. wave-runners) are the must-do tour (age 18 and up to drive; use a triple jet ski with young children, and place them between two adults).
“But where are the big expanses of white-sand beach,” we hear you say. The vast majority are back on the mainland, unless you’re staying at a resort that imports sand from the likes of Naples, Sanibel and even Orlando.
Most of Key West is bordered by mangroves, ground-up coral or pebble beaches, but there are a couple of exceptions. Smathers Beach offers two miles of sand and sun (with paid-for parking), plus waves that are gentle enough to make it kid-friendly; Higgs Beach is the more natural option, and the less crowded; while Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is the place for those who want to get into the water for some snorkelling or diving.
If you opt for a day on Marathon Key or Islamorada Key (1 hour 10 minutes and 1 hour 50 minutes from Key West, respectively), tour Marathon’s Dolphin Research Center (a dolphin sanctuary featuring informative behavioural sessions and up-close experiences) and the wonderfully educational The Turtle Hospital, or Islamorada’s Theater of the Seas (with loads of unique add-on experiences, such as Paint with a Dolphin or Paint with a Sea Lion) or browse the seriously funky Rainbarrel Artisan Village of one-off, family-run shops. Adventurous? Take a 4-hour ocean fishing tour with Two Conchs Fishing Charters, one of our favourite Keys experiences.
Day 10: Make your way back to Lake Buena Vista, with a nearly 7-hour drive if you’re leaving from Key West or nearly 5 hours if you’re leaving from Islamorada. Stop at Robbie’s on the north-east end of Islamorada for a quick peek at the massive tarpon fish that hang around the dock. You can even pay to feed them, then have lunch at the outdoor restaurant.
You’ll arrive in Orlando in time for dinner if you make an early start. If you’re staying at Universal Orlando, dine at your resort or at CityWalk.
Day 11: You’ve earned a serious rest day after all that travel, so spend today at Volcano Bay, perhaps having dinner at CityWalk’s newest restaurant, Bigfire. If you have the energy, spend a few hours in Islands of Adventure this evening, specifically for the chance to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
Day 12: If you’re staying onsite at Universal, make the most of your Early Entry and Front of the Queue privileges to access Universal Studios’ attractions today with little or no wait. If you’re staying offsite, consider starting at the back of the park near opening time and work your way forward. Treat yourself to a giant milkshake at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium at some point today. You deserve it!
Day 13: Make today an Islands of Adventure day, heading directly to Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure if you did not have the chance to ride it already. It’s an outstanding addition to Universal’s thrill-ride line up, and you won’t want to miss it! Hint: the sidecar and motorbike are two different experiences, so try for an early ride on one, and an evening ride on the other.
Day 14: It may be your final day in Orlando, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit around feeling sad about it. Today is the ideal day to do a bit of shopping before your return flight. Premium Outlets on International Drive is a good choice, while Florida Mall is just 16 minutes from Orlando International Airport.
Now that you’ve had a taste of a twin-centre stay, where will you go next time you visit the Sunshine State?
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