Go with the Flo in America's theme-park state

by lel

Florida has never been so affordable. So grab the chance to savour Universal Studios, Disney World and those belt-busting all-you-can-eat buffets

On the nine-hour flight to Florida, with a broken entertainment system and a boyfriend grumpily having to make do with my trashy celebrity magazines, I prayed our trip would be worth the wait.

We’d been looking forward to visiting Universal Studios, Disney World and those all-you-can-eat buffets for months, but there’s nothing like a gruelling plane journey to make you doubt your decision to blow your savings on America rather than a booze-fuelled break to Benidorm!

But we needn’t have worried. As soon as we arrived at our newly-renovated hotel, The International Plaza Resort and Spa, and settled into our apartment-style room complete with a king-size bed, breakfast bar and fridge, we knew it was money well spent.

Flight, accommodation and a two-week pass to Universal Studios cost us £750 each, and we spent an additional £600 on food, shopping and Disney water park tickets.

We spent our days experiencing the exhilarating rides and shows Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks offer, including the Incredible Hulk Coaster, where you’re catapulted from zero-to-40mph in two seconds and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-man, a 3D ride where you get splashed by water and narrowly miss the flames of Spidy’s villains.

Shrek 3D is great for kids and The Simpsons ride is a refreshing replacement of the outdated Back to the Future simulator. I definitely recommend getting to the parks early to beat the queues for these though, as they’re not worth waiting more than an hour for.

A surprising highlight was a show called Blue Man Group. This consisted of three blue-painted bald men playing the steel drums and drain pipes, dancing to rock music and catching paintballs in their mouths. Their clever humour and impressive musical talents made for an incredible night at Universal Studios, and embarrassing audience participation added to the fun.

In terms of water parks, Disney’s Blizzard Beach is number one. It has a virtually-vertical water slide (America's tallest) and two head-first racing slides. This water park isn’t for the faint-hearted. However there is a giant lazy-river covering the park and a leisurely family raft-ride to enjoy too.

Inconveniently we had to catch four buses to the Disney parks from our hotel. Getting there won't be a problem for anyone renting a car, but we chose the cheaper alternative of bus rides and walking which takes a little more effort and time.

Now on to the food! As someone who tends to plan her day around meals, I was certainly looking forward to sampling the huge portions that the America offers. And I wasn’t disappointed.

For the first few days we ate at Ponderosa Steakhouse and Sizzlers for breakfast, where we overindulged with crispy bacon, fried egg, scrambled egg, boiled egg, cheesy egg, fried chicken, toast, pancakes, ice cream and cakes. That filled us up until 6pm, as you can imagine.

Other restaurant recommendations on International Drive include the Olive Garden, a stylish Italian with delicious cocktails and generous portions of pasta, and BB King's Blues Club in the Pointe Orlando shopping complex. This Southern American bar has nightly entertainment from blues and jazz bands and is a great way to spend a lively evening.

If you miss the last bus home, catch a lift from one of the many cyclists who will ride you back in a little cart.

We spent a few relaxing afternoons by the hotel’s pools - a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. The many crazy golf courses along International Drive are also a great way to spend some down time.

Our flight home was made more bearable by a working entertainment system, but we just couldn’t hack anymore excitement. Instead we waved goodbye to the Sunshine State and caught up on some much-needed sleep.