We just got back from a 10-day Summer Vacation in Orlando, Florida. Our family went almost 14 years ago, but our youngest sister was just 4 years old. Our parents decided to take her back this year, after her high school graduation, and I am not one to pass up a trip, so I tagged along with one mission...to find the Best of Orlando. And I think it was a huge success!
We grabbed the Mazda CX-3 and headed out.
When you think of Orlando, it's not surprising if the theme parks are the first thing to come to mind. DisneyWorld and their 4 theme parks, Universal Studios, and Sea World. Of course we think a trip to Orlando is not entirely complete without a trip to Walt Disney's Studios, so we did spend 4 days checking out their popular attractions....but Orlando has SO much more to offer, that 10 days wasn't nearly enough time to fit it all in. But, we were determined to pick from the best and fit in as many activities and experiences we could. Here's our list of Orlando's Must Do's...
I'm starting this list off with a bang, and starting with our Bucket List Experiences. Our first Bucket List Orlando Experience was flying in a hot air balloon with Orlando Balloon Rides. You may be like our family, who has always said "one day, I'll fly in a hot air balloon", and you have never had another thought about it. Well, what a perfect time to make "someday", today! It's an experience that will leave you with awesome memories to last a lifetime.
Orlando Balloon Rides makes your experience hard to top, and you'll be reliving the ride for years to come. We got some awesome pictures, flew over some beautiful scenery and got to check "hot air balloon ride" off of our Bucket List. What an amazing experience, and one to complete your Ultimate Orlando Trip!
Now you may be wondering why Gatorland is under our Bucket List Experiences...it's just another "theme" park, right? Totally wrong! Gatorland actually has a few different experiences we were able to check out, that skyrocket itself into our Bucket List section.
First, there's Zip Lining!
And not just zip lining...but zip lining over gators!! Of course you have the initial excitement of just zipping in general (and yes, I think Zip Lining should be a bucket list check in and of itself) but then you add alligators and crocodiles in the waters below, and you zip line over them...that is what made this an incredible experience.
Trainer for the day
If you are looking for a one-in-a-lifetime experience that many people don't get...you're going to want to check out this program. We just got a little taste of this adventure, and it's all we can talk about! We had the chance to get up close and personal with some of Gatorland's finest "beasts". Gatorland has an impressive exhibit of white gators, and we met this beauty!
Sitting there staring face to face with an 11 1/2 foot white gator, was something I would have never imagined doing in my life. It was incredible and a bit scary being that close. At first, all I could imagine was this guy charging straight at my face! But of course we had some awesome professional trainers taking care of us, and that fear (while still always there) gets a little less intense.
I still can't believe we did that! And can you believe we actually turned our backs on those monsters for a picture?! The things we do for the blog, huh?! ;)
GATOR Wrestling and Feeding
Want to sit on the back of a gator, and become a "Gator Wrestler"? It's only $10 for that experience (plus the picture), and anyone can do it! Just head to the super fun Gator Wrestling show, and you'll get your chance.
How about feeding these fabulous beasts?! Gatorland gives you a couple options to do so. Right in the front, you can "fish for gators" and watch them jump for your bait, or feed the larger ones, hot dogs throughout the park. It's so much fun to watch them go for the food, and is definitely something you've just gotta do...and its just a few dollars, so is perfect for those budget trips.
Speaking of Must Do's, The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, is definitely one to put on your list. If you're wondering what it is, you'll know as soon as you get into the heart of Orlando. It is a huge, 400-foot tall observation wheel...think extra high ferris wheel...except you are in an enclosed air condition capsule, and it moved very slow.
It takes a little less than 25 minutes to make one full rotation. While you're up there, you'll get picture perfect sites of Orlando. You can see all the theme parks, beautiful lakes, lands, and everything around the area. There are screens inside that will show you what the landmarks are, so you can understand what you are looking at as well. It's definitely a site to see and so relaxing seeing all that beautiful Orlando has to offer.
While you're at The Orlando Eye, you can get a 3-pack of tickets and save tons of money doing all 3 attractions in the same building. Sea Life is a fun aquarium where you can walk through tons of exhibits and see all the wonderful creatures that live in our oceans. The sharks and rays were my favorites, and they even have massive sea turtles in their tanks. Theres a huge 360 walk through tunnel where the sea life is swimming all around you. I'm always a fan of aquariums, and this one had it all. Tropical fish, sea horses, a huge wall of jelly fish, and even a tank where you can touch live starfish.
I've never really cared to visit a wax museum, so this one wasn't too exciting for me at the beginning...but it ended up being my favorite part of the day. I had always imagined the museum to be a bunch of wax figures behind ropes and you can't get anywhere near them...a "look but don't touch" exhibit. Boy was I wrong! You actually get to take pictures with the figures and even dress up like several of them for your pictures too! We had such a blast hanging out in there and getting some fun pictures. The further into the museum we got, the more fun the figures became. It was seriously such a blast!
Don't go to Florida without going on an airboat ride, looking for Gators. Wild Florida has half hour and hour long airboat tours for you to go on and hunt for gators. We did the hour long tour, and I'm glad we did. I don't think the 30 minute tour would have bene enough for us. Unfortunately, we didn't see any gators on our tour, but we did see a gator's nest, a tiny snake, and a bald eagle. It was an extremely hot day, so I guess the gators were taking cover like I would be doing if I was them. Regardless, the airboat ride was such an awesome experience. Driving through whatever was on the water, through the weeds, lily pads, and trees, it was tons of fun.
There was a guy in our tour who said he went on the same tour in the Spring and there were so many gators around. Lots of them babies and even one huge gator that kept circling the boat. So there's definitely gators out there, but may have just been an off time, and the heat on top of it. Still, the boat ride was great.
Wild Florida also has FREE admission to their park as well. Here you can see lots of different animals, feed the gators, and see their live shows. It's a little trek outside of Orlando, as they like to say "in the middle of nowhere", but if you have a car, it is worth the drive.
Have you ever wanted to skydive, but you just can't seem to find the courage to actually do it? How about trying indoor skydiving?! At iFLY, you get to do just that. You're flying around in this huge wind tunnel and feeling weightless. It's a lot more difficult than it looks, but it is loads of fun. When you get there, and check-in, you'll go to a brief class to learn how to "fly" in the tunnel. They'll teach you hand signals that your trainer will give you, so you can adjust yourself better in the tunnel to fly better. You'll suit up in a one-piece flying suit, and you'll be given goggles, ear plugs, and a helmet.
When your turn comes, you will go (dive) into the wind tunnel, with your instructor, who will make sure you are flying safe and properly. If you seem to be getting the hang of it, your instructor will let go of you, and you can fly on your own without assistance. (Your instructor will still be in the tunnel with you to make sure everything is good, of course). My dad and sister got it pretty quickly and really enjoyed it. This was actually my third time flying with iFLY. Each time you fly with them, if you demonstrate that you know what you are doing, and can fly on your own, your instructor may teach you some new tricks, like moving backward and forwards, and higher and lower. We got to see some people learning to flip on their backs and some even doing flips in the tunnel. Your instructor will also go in at the end and give you an awesome show of all their tricks. They are so fun to watch, as they do so many cool things.
You can even head to the iFLY on International Drive and just watch everyone flying in the tunnels. Always a fun show. If you are flying, be sure to get the extra "high fly" option added to your package too. During the "High Fly", your instructor will fly you all the way to the top of the tunnel, as you spin, flying up and down, for the last 30 seconds of your flight. For sure the best part of the experience!
After our jammed packed 10-day vacation, we were definitely ready for some relaxation...and The Spa Orlando was the perfect place to get that and the perfect place to finish up our whirlwind vacation. We all went an got an hour long aromatherapy massage, and were able to leave Orlando feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I was almost ready for another 10 day vacay after my massage!
The Spa Orlando offers all your favorite spa services, from mani-pedis, facials, and massages, to sauna, spa, light, and dark rooms. We were offered a beverage on arriving and were served in these cute wine glasses. We were then each taken to our own room, for one blissful hour of relaxation. If we had more time, we would've loved to add the mani-pedis and facials as well, but the massages sure hit the spot. And they even have awesome deals for your very first visit with them. Be sure to check out their website to snag the best deals!
If you've never been to an ice bar, you've gotta check this out. There are actually 2 Ice Bars in Orlando, and we stopped by Ice Bar Orlando just for a quick bit to see the bar and grab a quick drink. I mainly just wanted to show my family what an ice bar was. We went on Thursday, which is ladies night, so girls are free and boys are 50% off the admission price. AND kids can go too, until a certain time, so be sure to check that out. You don't need much time in there, you're seriously in an ice box, but you'll get a jacket and gloves for your time in there. You'll even drink out of a glass made of ice. It's so cool to stop by and check it out. We were there on the early side, so we actually had the whole bar to ourselves!
This one can actually go in "Must Do's" and "Dinner shows", so I decided to start it off here. Its 2 separate things, but joined together! WonderWorks is a super fun attraction that everyone will love. There are so many things to do and see in this fun-filled building. And speaking of building, it's the building on International Drive that is...Upside Down! But the outside is just the beginning. Inside, there are tons of games, activities, and science fun to be had. There's a 4D theater, (where your chair moves with the short movie), laser tag, and a sky ropes course (where you walk in the sky across bridges and pathways made of ropes).
We loved the "Bed of Nails"...it doesn't hurt like you would think, but you can definitely tell they are real nails (don't cross your legs!), the Brain Game, where the person who relaxes the most, wins... and the "Wonder Wall", where you can "create 3-D images of your body on a gigantic pin wall made of 40,000 plastic pins".
There are challenges like "how long can you keep your hand in this ice water", basketball games to challenge your friends, dance off's, and beat the machine type games. We had no idea there was so much stuff packed in there. There's a bubble room to make ginormous bubbles, hurricane and earthquake simulators, and so many other activities. Fun for both adults and kids.
You can even add the "Comedy Magic Dinner Show" to your ticket, where you'll get "all-you-can-eat" pizza, salad, and beverages served family style, with a delicious dessert, all while watching an interactive comedy magic show. It is a bit cheesy for adults, we thought, but the kids are sure to love it...and we laughed too! We were told our magician was actually featured on "America's Got Talent...pretty cool! The show and dinner lasted about an hour and a half, and you can enjoy WonderWorks before and after the show. WonderWorks definitely made the night, so be sure to do the combo ticket!
Say goodbye to Orlando, and step into Chicago during the prohibition. From the moment we entered the building, everyone was in character, and help put you right in the 1930's. You must know the password to enter their speak easy, and you'll become part of a huge Italian family. They offer an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet and unlimited drinks...beer and wine included! The characters roam around and mingle with the guests before the show, and you get to make as many trips to the buffet as you would like before getting ready to enjoy the show. They even have a meat carving station. Our waiter was sure to not let our drinks run dry for even a second. And they are even a part of the show...because, again, so are you!
The acting and singing was cute, and we had fun playing along. Our waiter "Vito" was the best, and help make our experience that much better. If you go, tell him Sara from What the Girls Say, says hi! ;)
One of the best parts was the "Mug Shot" they take of your party when you enter. The photographer brings your photos around (for purchase), but it's not just an ordinary photo...it's a full sized newspaper with your family name and your mug shot right there on the front page! Such a perfect memorabilia piece. We noticed Orlando really likes to take your picture wherever you go, but this one is definitely worth it. Such a cool idea! This fun, interactive show is definitely one we recommend.
Sleuth's has several shows and we got to experience "Kim and Scott Tie the Knot!" It's a comedy Murder Mystery Dinner, which made it that much more fun. The cast had us laughing out loud! We dan't really give you too much detail about the show, cause we don't want to spoil it, obviously, but it is a very interactive show, where you get to question the suspects. Think you can guess the killer? Be sure to write down your answer to win the prize! They even got a few audience members to join in the story as "cast members" which made it even more entertaining.
The food was good too. You choose your meal beforehand, and the waiters serve you just like at a wedding. You get to jump into character and play along the whole time. It's a very funny act, and you can tell the actors are even improvising a lot of it too. It's definitely one of the top dinner shows, and is even family owned. There are so many different shows they put on, and they even have improv, magic, comedy, and stand up shows as well. Be sure to check out all the different shows available, and look for a coupon on their site. Then add Sleuth's to your Orlando vacation!
WHERE TO STAY
If you're looking for luxury without the crazy luxury price tag, then Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill is perfect for you. It's barely minute outside the hustle and bustle of the busiest part of Orlando, but feels like you are in a whole new city. It is close enough to everyone, but feels far enough from the craziness, and like you are in your own little retreat. It is a dream resort. Beautiful rooms, rich decor, and all the extras you would want. They have fancy restaurants, a famous golf course, a spa (where all the guests can enjoy the facilities complimentary, and can book spa services too), a beautiful pool, and tons of Arnold Palmer Memorabilia. Even if you aren't a huge golf fan, it is so awesome to see.
The rooms were very comfortable with heavy wooden furniture, tiled and stone bathrooms and we loved their shampoo, conditioner, lotion and mouthwash they leave in your bathroom...oh, and a long robe! You will feel so relaxed and not want to leave while staying here. We enjoyed lots of time on our balcony, taking in the beauty overlooking the golf course. You'll feel like you're spoiling yourself, but really, the price is hard to beat for what you get there.
If you're heading to Disney, one of the other theme parks, or checking off our Best of Orlando list, you may want to check out StaySky Suites on I-Drive. This hotel is in a great central location, just a mile from the Orlando Eye, Sea Life, Wax Museum, and so many other I-drive attractions. It's even walking distance from the world's largest McDonalds! They offer a free shuttle to all the main theme parks (Disney, Universal, and Sea World), and your stay includes a hot and cold breakfast each morning as well. If you're trying to save money on this trip, saving on parking and breakfasts each day, is a great way to start! We had a great breakfast every morning before heading out for our day.
The rooms at StaySky also have a full kitchen, with all the dishes, pots and pans, utensils, and appliances you need. So if you're trying to save even more money, cooking in, is the way to go. It was nice to have the living room as well, as it gave the 4 of us more space than just a hotel room. We actually loved staying at StaySky so much, that we cancelled our other hotel room, and booked StaySky again, and came back to it after our little trip to Cocoa Beach!
Stay Sky also has a gym, a pool, and a small arcade room to enjoy too. They even sell park tickets in the main lobby. The rooms were nice, and we loved the beds (and pillows) too...which is why we came back for a whole other stay! Great breakfast, Free amusement park shuttle, comfy beds, a nice pool, and lots of room in the suite?! We'll be back!! If budget is your game, StaySky is one you should check out first.
Quick Stop at Smile Direct
Right before heading home, I stopped by the Smile Direct Shop as well, to get some impressions done for my new invisible aligners. Since they don't yet have a shop in Los Angeles, I thought I would knock this one off my list in Orlando, and get them done there! You can check out my review here.