With no small amount of trepidation, I boarded the 10-hour flight to Orlando, Florida, with my three young boys in tow, clutching our Covid recovery certificates as if our lives depended on it.
We didn’t have the virus in our house once, not twice, but three For the last two years it has been a turbulent time for us, like for so many other families. We were all used up. We needed homeschooling and antigen testing and evidence of “close contacts” to be distant memories. We needed sunshine, water slides and oversized meals. We had to trade the darts for the Hogwarts Express and the Baltic Sea swim in Ireland for the balmy expanses of Volcano Bay.
We wanted our children to feel “normal” again.
The Sunshine State lured us and we followed its call. We just had to get through the journey with our hyperactive three year old Patrick and his two brothers Liam (7) and Rían (8). What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a lot, as it turned out. We almost missed our connecting flight from Dublin to London after being severely delayed through security. We arrived in London seriously nervous to find that Virgin Atlantic would not allow us to complete our health check with their online system as we were using Covid recovery certificates. Instead, we had to physically fill out five individual forms before they let us on board.
While we were doing this, we saw another Irish family who were devastated after their grandmother was denied boarding because she made a typo in the spelling of her name on the ESTA form. A whole new application was required and a huge cheer erupted when she finally boarded the plane with only moments to spare. phew!
All of this serves as a good reminder of how careful you need to be when applying for your visa and checking travel rules and regulations these days.
Thankfully, the flight itself was a breeze. The boys were in seventh heaven with a choice of endless movies and cartoons while we bullied them with crap to keep calm. I worried that they would find the trip overwhelming as they hadn’t gotten further than Kerry in two years. But they enjoyed the whole experience. Traveling with young children doesn’t have to be an absolute nightmare. Just prepare yourself with lots of snacks, sticker books, iPads… and more snacks.
Landing in Orlando in the afternoon sun was a delight. Wincing in the brightness, we made our way out of the plane as the heat hit us with a welcome blast. We rented a minivan from Orlando Airport and our hotel was a 20 minute drive away – just off International Drive which is close to all the parks at a place called Floridays Resort Orlando. It was ideal for a family of five as our room had two large bedrooms, two bathrooms and a separate kitchen and living area. It even had a balcony where we could enjoy a few beers after the kids went to bed.
There was also a large pool area which the boys took full advantage of, alongside a piping hot jacuzzi area. When we went swimming for the first time on that balmy evening, surrounded by palm trees, I felt the stress of the last two years subside. I felt relaxed for the first time in so long.
Until we got to the amusement parks. A long-time fear of roller coasters, I had done my best to avoid them – while my adrenaline-loving husband Eoin had been to Orlando six times for exactly that reason. We had a three park pass to Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay and I had promised to conquer my fears and take at least one ride.
With that in mind, I’ve settled on the scariest of them all, the Incredible Hulk Coaster. Named after the 1980s comic book hero who scared me as a kid, the ride is one of the biggest attractions in the park.
My attempts to duck the line were all rebuffed until I accepted my fate. And it was really great fun. The ride begins with a fast uphill launch over water, followed by no fewer than seven inversions and a 110-foot cobra roll. It cruises at 67mph, which was fortunate as it meant my terrified screams were muffled.
Two minutes later it was all over. I had survived. Then it was the boys turn as Eoin took them to the amazing adventures of Spiderman and Jurassic Park River Adventure suitable for all three. The park also has a convenient “swap out” system for parents to switch rides without having to wait in line a second time. And if your time is limited, it’s well worth purchasing an Express Pass.
But the highlight for us was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which was also the busiest area. The boys were fascinated by Diagon Alley, the 3D ride in the replica Hogwarts Castle and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures motorcycle adventure. We couldn’t resist buying them two overpriced wands in Hogsmeade Village, which had the added benefit of making objects move when they waved them around shop windows.
Chronic jet lag meant we were mostly up early at night and up early in the morning, which is perfect for getting the most out of the parks. At Volcano Bay water park, we even pushed the boat out and rented a cabana for the day. At the entrance is an impressive 200-foot-tall man-made volcano called Krakatau, which is home to a series of thrilling water slides and body slides. There are also several lazy rivers and an aqua coaster that was so good we rode it twice. And when the temperature is a glorious 25ºC, it’s the ideal place to spend the day.
We also managed a trip to the super chilled Aquatica water park, as well as Busch Gardens in Tampa, where I was again forced into the Cheetah Hunt, one of the fastest rides. The fact that it broke temporarily just before the ascent did not calm my nerves. But I really loved it when it was over. There was just time to hit the outlet malls, but don’t expect bargains at the current exchange rate.
In what felt like an instant, we were back at Orlando International Airport, reminiscing about our week-long trip. We had spent a fortune, had our legs removed, and I had burned my nose from the sun.
But was it worth it? Absolutely, 100 times over.
Florida, you were exactly what the doctor ordered.
Aer Lingus flies direct from Dublin to Orlando (aerlingus.com), while Irish tour operators such as Tour America, American Holidays, Sunway and American Sky offer packages – check if they are direct flights or one-stop flights. Melanie Finn and family visited Universal Orlando as guests of the theme park.
Do not forget
Before traveling to the US, make sure your passports are current and complete your ESTAs (esta.cbp.dhs.gov). Travelers over the age of 18 must be fully vaccinated and all travelers over the age of two must have a negative Covid test result obtained no later than one day prior to boarding the flight. dfa.ie/travel
For more information on what to do and see in Florida, visit visitflorida.com
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/world/family-fun-in-orlando-after-two-years-of-covid-vitamin-florida-was-just-what-we-needed-41503755.html Family Fun in Orlando: After two years of Covid, Vitamin Florida was just what we needed