Credit: Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater

Sun, fun, thrills, adventure, relaxation, culture and gators – what more can you ask for in a family vacation?

Our family fun started in Orlando, continued to the east coast and then ended in the Gulf Coast. Fifteen days of non-stop fun and relaxation all in one trip.

As a west-coast Canadian family we have always felt Florida was too far away, but we were wrong. We had one quick stop in Denver on the way to Orlando, and the United Airlines flight crew made the trip easy and fun. We were off to a great start.

We decided to stay in Orlando for most of the trip, so finding a central location to call home was key. The Orlando World Center Marriott Resort was a great spot. Not only was its proximity to key attractions a benefit, but the pools and kid’s activities were a big win when it came to family relaxation.

When we weren’t hanging out by the pool, we were out discovering all that Orlando, Kissimmee and the surrounding areas have to offer.

Starting with the food and entertainment seemed to be most logical. At Arabian Nights Dinner Attraction we enjoyed a delicious meal while witnessing the magical story of Shaharzad. Arabian horses and their riders perform incredible tricks including jumping through a ring of fire and landing on a horse’s back!

Riding horse_large
Credit: Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament

Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament
allows you to go back in time and truly experience medieval times as you eat with your hands and cheer for your knight in shining armour while he jousts, battles on horseback, and sword fights in the ring.
Though there are thousands of restaurants in the area, one unique place stood out for us.

A small pizzeria called Pie-fection is a great family restaurant where you and the kids can make your own pizza. If you visit, be sure to ask the owner for his story of how it came to be; it’s a great entrepreneurial tale.

All good family vacations include shopping, especially with our above-par dollar. Orlando Premium Outlets was the perfect stop housing just about everything you could be looking for at some great prices. 

We don’t often think of attending a professional sports event on our trips, but the Orlando Magic NBA game was one of our highlights. The new Amway Center has lots to do: STUFF’s Magic Castle is a special area for kids 2 to 12 years old; the Nutrilite Magic Fan Experience is an interactive journey through the history of the Magic; and of course the game was a nail-biter, with a win in the final seconds.

No trip to Orlando can happen without a trip to Walt Disney World Resort. With four parks to check out, we always found something that made us smile. Splash Mountain was our favourite, as was getting an autograph book signed while meeting some Disney characters. We suggest you definitely use the monorail to get around, as it’s quick and easy to get from place to place.

Credit: Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando Resort is ride central! There are so many great thrills. The highlight for us was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The butter beer, the incredible Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride and the realization of words on a page in real life was awesome. We got a look inside Hogwarts, walking through town, visiting Durvish and Banges to pick up some apparel, the Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster, and posing for photos at the train station. Be sure to check out all the store windows, as some really magical things happen. 

What we found really cool about Orlando was we could be theme parking in the morning and go gator watching in the afternoon. At Boggy Creek Airboat Rides our driver found many gators and other wildlife as he whipped us through the Everglades on a Coastguard-certified boat.

Credit: Gatorland

Gatorland is home to all sizes of gators including Alf, Gatorland’s largest reptile at 453 kilograms, who is confined to his own enclosure because he doesn’t get along well with others. The park also offered gator wrestling where you can participate, an exotic creature show, a petting zoo, albino gators, a gator feeding show, and a boardwalk area where you can see and feed the gators in a more natural environment. 


Shuttle Launch Experience_large
Credit: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex was an easy drive from Orlando. It was a great opportunity to see the site you’ve watched for years on TV and check out first hand how impressive it really is.

Be sure to experience the Shuttle Launch Experience, a shuttle launch simulator that pulls 3 Gs of force for those of you wanting to experience what it’s like. Don’t worry there’s a place for those who just want to watch. On your way out don’t forget the gift shop that sells space food – just like the real astronauts eat.

The second part of our trip took us to St. Petersburg/Clearwater on the Gulf Coast. This part of Central Florida was just what we needed after nine days of Orlando excitement. The pristine beaches, warm sun and poolside cabanas at the Clearwater Beach Marriot Suites on Sand Key fulfilled the dream of pure relaxation. In Floridian style though, the fun continued. Our family highlights for the last six days included car races, artworks, and a rescued dolphin. 

The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is thrilling IndyCar racing right next door to the Dali Museum, and was an exciting event for all four of us. The speed, intensity and noise were an experience in and of itself. 


The Disintegration
Credit: © Salvador Dalí. Fundación Gala-Salvador Dali (Artists Rights Society) 2011

Hosting the largest collection of work by Salvador Dali outside Spain, the amazing Dali Museum has guided tours but we enjoyed the self-directed tours with headsets which even have a kid friendly version of the tour – follow the mustache! We all loved it and the kids learned so much that they still talk about it.

At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium we met Winter, who lost her tail when it became tangled in a crab line, and the star of the soon-to-be released movie Dolphin Tale. The Aquarium rescues and rehabilitates marine life, and offers animal interactions and tours. We definitely plan to go back. 

The beaches in the St Pete’s/Clearwater area are perfect. We went swimming, shell hunting and, of course, basked in the sun rejuvenating our spirits as we wrapped up our trip.


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