FABULOUS Editor-in-chief Sinead McIntyre, husband Alistair and twins Riley and Harris, 10, created memories to last a lifetime in America’s sunny state.
Here’s what they planned to achieve their American dream in Florida.
With a daughter who loves rollercoasters and a son who can eat his bodyweight in waffles, the US has long been one of our favorite travel destinations.
Especially Florida, where the sun always shines and there are more theme parks than you can shake a selfie stick.
Obviously, trips to the States have been thwarted in the past two years, so my husband Alistair and our twins, Riley and Harris, were preparing with great excitement to embark on our first long-haul trip since 2020 to visit SeaWorld Parks.
The flight got off to a great start with a celebratory glass of Prosecco before we settled into nine hours of glorious inflight entertainment.
After leaving London in the freezing rain, it was blissful to emerge squinting into the glorious Orlando sunshine, and 15 minutes after exiting the airport we were sipping rum punch poolside at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel at SeaWorld.
The hotel consists of a main block and lovely family-friendly villas, all clustered around fun-for-all-ages pools (for a much-needed cooldown).
Breakfast is predictably huge, with stacks of pancakes and inexhaustible juice and coffee to set you up for the day. Double rooms start from £99, including breakfast (Hilton.com).
SUN AND SEA WORLD
Our first stop was SeaWorld Orlando, just a 10 minute walk from the hotel, which is not only an unbeatable place to see dolphins, killer whales and other marine life, but also a world-leading conservation and rescue facility.
SeaWorld experts are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to rescue animals and will never say no, no matter the cost.
More than 40,000 animals were rescued, most of which were released back into the wild. There’s even a rescue center for injured manatees.
We watched three members of the team tube-feed a manatee that had starved to death in the wild, and others suffered physical injuries after being hit by boats.
Leaving inspired, we took on the less serious task of trying out the park’s newest roller coaster, Icebreaker, which features the steepest vertical drop in Florida. I can attest that it’s appropriately terrifying – and a lot of fun!
Forget the usual disappointing theme park fodder of greasy burgers and fries and don’t miss out on a delicious lunch at the amazing Sharks Underwater Grill.
Both burrata, beets and grilled lamb chops are winners for starters, while the tempura shrimp and miso salmon entrees were delicious.
I washed mine down with an ice-cold glass of Moscato Rosé — just what I needed before getting soaked on the high-speed Journey To Atlantis water ride.
After a busy day at SeaWorld, an early start to Discovery Cove, also just a stone’s throw from the hotel, was next on our list. We started with a one on one chat with Louis the sloth – who looked about how I felt at 7:30am – and learned all about the species from our knowledgeable guide.
Next it was time to don wetsuits and snorkel among stingrays and leopard rays, followed by a relaxing swim in the lazy river to wake us all up.
We also enjoyed the magical experience of hanging out with a dolphin in the lagoon and watching them play before riding back to shore with them – something I know the twins will never forget.
Discovery Cove tickets include breakfast and lunch, so we feasted on grilled jerk chicken and churrasco steak, while chicken tenders were a hit with the kids.
Refueled and ready for action, we set off for the park’s SeaVenture experience.
This innovative underwater hike is a fantastic way to get up close and personal with sea life without using scuba gear.
We each donned 33kg helmets to descend a ladder 11 feet down to the ocean floor. Air is pumped into the helmet, weighing everyone down so you can walk among schools of amazing technicolor fish.
Next, it was time for a trip to Tampa’s Busch Gardens, home to some of Florida’s
best roller coasters and one of the largest zoos in North America – a 1 1/2 hour ride on SeaWorld’s free shuttle bus.
We went on a Serengeti safari to see everything from zebra to white rhino to wildebeest. Our favorites were the giraffes who love to feast on salad.
We also visited the Animal Care Center, a state-of-the-art facility where guests can watch veterinarians tend to everything from alligators to poor flamingos in need of some TLC.
Before long, Riley had us on some of the park’s scariest rides.
First up was the nerve-wracking Cheetah Hunt, hurtling down through a rocky canyon from high above the park, followed by the incredible Reverse Montu, which has to be experienced to be believed.
Last but not least, we’ve braced ourselves for the new Iron Gwazi – the world’s fastest and steepest hybrid roller coaster (steel and wood).
Finally back on the ground, we were able to relax with two giant tortoises – 70 and 50 years old respectively – who love to have their necks tickled.
SLIDES & RIDES
Our latest adventure was at SeaWorld’s Aquatica water park, just a short walk from our hotel. With the sun shining brightly, we couldn’t wait to climb the slides.
The twins are very competitive, so Riptide Race – the world’s tallest dueling racer at 68ft – proved to be a huge hit.
Hurtling down the 650-foot slides on inflatable boats and seeing who got down first was pure joy. Annoyingly, my husband Alistair won every time.
The Taumata Racer Mat Race Ride was another big favorite while the Ray Rush family ride was an adrenaline pumping thrill.
Then it was time for a well-deserved lunch of Caesar salads for us and hot dogs and waffle fries for the kids before relaxing in our Aquatica cabana and watching others hurtle down the rapids of Roa.
Orlando is rightly revered as the theme park capital of the world, and this was an action-packed vacation that only deepened our love for the Sunshine State. One thing is for sure – we will be back!
Florida averages 237 days of sunshine a year.*
Direct return flights from London, Manchester or Edinburgh cost from £446 at Virginatlantic.com.
The best way to visit SeaWorld Parks is with the Discovery Cove Ultimate Package, which includes a day at Discovery Cove (with a 30-minute dolphin swim experience, all meals, snacks, and drinks included) plus 14 days of unlimited admission to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica Orlando, with free parking.
Prices start from £244 per person (Attractiontickets.com).
Find out more at Seaworldparks.co.uk
https://www.thesun.ie/travel/8801402/florida-holiday-memories-rollercoasters/ From roller coasters to walks on the ocean floor, memories will last a lifetime in America’s sunny state, Florida