A magical honeymoon in Orlando, Florida
28 Aug 2019
If you're looking for the perfect balance of fun and relaxation during your honeymoon - Orlando has it all, says digital editor Sarah Harris
As a Disney fanatic, there could only be one place for my honeymoon...Orlando, Florida. However, you don't have to be a die-hard Disney fan to enjoy Orlando and there's so much to see and do, that you'll be spoilt for choice. Here is a guide to what's on offer in Orlando and my top tips for getting the most out of your trip.
Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot
While it was a must-visit for me, Walt Disney World Resort is optional when you go to Orlando although the parks are so vast and varied you're bound to find something to suit everyone.
Magic Kingdom is more family-friendly with rides such as Space Mountain and the Alice in Wonderland maze, while Hollywood Studios - set alongside Magic Kingdom - offers more adult-orientated rides including Tower of Terror and Aerosmith's Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.
Venturing away from the main Disney hub, Animal Kingdom will transport you to Africa with various sub-kingdoms. Visit Pandora with rides and food outlets inspired by Avatar, enter DinoLand and search for prehistoric beasts, before climbing Everest on a roller coaster expedition to find the legendary yeti. You can even go on an animal safari, and don't forget to watch the uplifting Lion King show.
Epcot is a more sedate theme park, but is equally as enjoyable for all ages. Bringing all the countries of the world together, Epcot is centred on a lake which is surrounded by restaurants featuring various cuisines. Choose Italian, French or Mexican food - to name but a few of the options - and fully immerse yourself in to each respective culture. We chose a German Bierkeller, complete with live music, beer steins and an all-you-can eat buffet.
For all the theme parks, you can buy your tickets in advance which sometimes can earn yourself a saving. We bought ours from Virgin Holidays, as part of our holiday package, but you can also use websites such as AttractionTix. Tickets usually offer a 7-day or 14-day validity period, allowing you greater freedom during your stay. Take a print-out of your e-ticket, redeemable voucher or booking confirmation with you to exchange for your card or wristband on arrival.
Download the Disney app in advance of your trip and book your first Fast Passes for some of the most popular rides and shows. You can only have three active Fast Passes at a time, but once you've completed one ride/show this will free up another Fast Pass.
Scan your card or Disney wrist band at the various photo points and enjoy official photographs downloaded directly to your phone.
Pick up your honeymooners' badges from the visitor information centre on arrival, which might get you a perk or two and provides a lasting memento of your honeymoon.
Don't forget to attend the late night fireworks shows at each park - the Magic Kingdom show is particularly spectacular with Disney animations projected on to the fairytale castle, set to much-loved Disney songs. For an evening sweet treat, the Plaza Ice Cream Parlour by the viewing area serves delicious ice cream including the supersize Kitchen Sink Sundae.
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios is home to the wizarding world of Harry Potter where you can catch the Hogwarts Express from Diagon Alley to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. Take a thrilling ride through Gringotts Bank and jump aboard Hagrid's Motorbike Roller Coaster. Universal Studios is also the home to Hollywood's Rip Rocket Roller Coaster which features a vertical climb and a stomach-churning drop, as well as stunt shows and themed 4D simulators.
Similarly, Islands of Adventure is filled with fun: The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Jurassic Park River Adventure, The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman and the Reign of Kong are just some of the rides on offer.
We managed to cover both of these parks in one day thanks to Universal's Express Pass, which you pay for on top of your park ticket. If you're visiting the parks during a school holiday, the Express Pass could be well worth the extra cost. Allowing you to skip the queue for every ride, these upgrades are the perfect way to save yourself both time and patience.
Visit CityWalk at the end of the day, a collection of bars, restaurants and eateries outside the gates to Universal Studios. NBC's Sports Grill & Brew and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co are good choices, as is Voodoo Doughnut for dessert.
- If you want to buy several soft drinks throughout your stay, you might benefit from an official refill cup which costs about $15. Buy one between you at the start of your visit and refill at the various stations during the day.
Orlando has many water parks which offer the perfect way to cool down in the, at times, stifling heat. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are both firm favourites, while Volcano Bay is the latest in the water park portfolio. Centred on a volcano which erupts with water throughout the day, Volcano Bay features bay areas with swaying palm trees for sunbathing and a multitude of adrenaline-fuelled rides, including the Krakatau Aqua Coaster.
Every visitor to Volcano Bay is given a TapuTapu band on entry which can be linked up to a credit or debit card, so you don't have to bring cash or cards into the park. The bands also allow for more efficient queuing; simply tap on the scanners at the entrance of each ride and you'll be given a time to come back and queue for less time.
There is a shuttle bus service from Universal Studios to Volcano Bay and vice versa, which allows you to have dinner in CityWalk before your departure to the hotel if desired.
We ran out of time to explore any of the beaches, but I wish we'd factored this in as thrill-seeking can prove tiring. My recommendation would be to do a week of the parks and a week of relaxation at the many beaches Florida has to offer.
Daytona Beach is just an hour from downtown Orlando and has hosted many free summer concerts over the years. For surfers, Cocoa Beach is your go-to, and for those who like the thought of a pretty coastal village, St. Augustine Beach is the perfect place for you.
Kennedy Space Center
Located at Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center is about an hour's drive from central Orlando. Whether you are fascinated by space or not, the Kennedy Space Center will blow you away (no pun intended). With interactive installations, cinematic experiences and site tours, there's lots to fit in. You can even pay for a VIP ticket upgrade to have lunch with an astronaut.
Take a look at the launch timetable before you go and you may be able to coincide your trip with a rocket launch, one to tick off the bucket list.
Shopping and dining
Find cut-price designer labels at the various malls and outlets dotted around Orlando. Or, for a more Disney-inspired shopping experience, pay a trip to Disney Springs - an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex. Be prepared for higher prices when eating here, although Chicken Guy! is a tasty yet cheaper option for fast food lovers.
Virgin Atlantic operates an early check-in facility at Disney Springs where they scan and transport your suitcases to the airport for you, so you can enjoy a few hours of leisure before you depart.
Old Town Kissimmee is also a fun night out, with fair rides and shops open until late. The Saturday Night Classic Car Cruise is especially enjoyable, with vintage cars on display and entertainment from 7pm.
Food is plentiful when in Orlando and various American chains are always in close proximity, such as Wendy's, Taco Bell, Five Guys and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Sizzler and Ponderosa restaurants are particularly good value for an all-you-can-eat breakfast. And let's not forget, the ultimate American sweet treats...The Cheesecake Factory and Dunkin' Donuts.
Hotels and transport
There are plenty of hotels and motels in Orlando to make your honeymoon extra special. Walt Disney Resort hotels can come with a hefty pricetag, especially during peak season, so stay on the outskirts to save the pennies. We stayed in Celebration, which is an area originally developed by The Walt Disney Company (think white picket fences, immaculate lawns and picture perfect houses). This area is located a short drive from Magic Kingdom and is perfectly placed for restaurants and supermarkets.
Most hotels provide free shuttle services to and from the theme parks and water parks, which are ideal if you want to save some money. Parking at the theme parks and water parks tends to cost around $20 for the day, which can prove expensive if you have a lot of parks to cover. If you don't want to be restricted by bus timetables, however, Uber taxis are readily available - just remember you know exactly how far away your pick-up point is before booking...a lesson we learnt early on in our stay.
While public transport is pretty efficient in Orlando, I'd still recommend hiring a car. This allows you greater freedom to explore the area and travel further afield. We hired a Ford Mustang during our stay and it definitely enhanced the trip.
Orlando's road network is easy to use once you get used to the rules i.e. turning right on a red light when clear unless prohibited, and toll system. Always carry American change on you if paying in person at the toll booths, or speak with your car hire company about the cashless option when you arrive.
We went on honeymoon to Orlando in April, when it was hot but bearable. May and October are also a good time of year to go to maximise on Orlando's balmy climate. However, June to September is Orlando's rainy season and while the thunderstorms are spectacular to watch, they aren't as enjoyable when caught in a downpour on a day out. If you choose to honeymoon in the summer months, remember to pack your raincoats and waterproof ponchos...which also come in handy on the theme parks' many log flume rides.