I was pleasantly surprised to be rostered a layover to Orlando. It’s a popular layover amongst crew due to its close location to the many theme parks and the good year round weather, so to see this in my bottom bid month was a treat and also this was a three day layover which is longer than usual! It had been two and a half years since I was last here, so I was so happy to finally be returning after I had such a fun layover last time.
Departing Dubai at 02:50am, it was fourteen hours and ten minutes over to Orlando International Airport in Florida. We landed late morning and after checking in at the hotel I arranged to meet one of the crew Danielle downstairs a couple of hours later.
We were heading over to the outlet malls, as they’re one of the best I’ve ever been to and heading for some food too. I managed some bargain buys, hi cheap bath and body works and Levis before we went to Chipotle for Mexican food (Danielle had NEVER been?!) and then ending our day at CVS.
The next morning we were awake bright and early as we had booked tickets to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. We paid $117 for tickets including taxes the day before and this included three fast passes for us to use throughout the day. I recommend booking tickets more than one day before though, as the fast passes are released I think three months in advance? So the one ride you seriously need the fast pass for, Avatar’s Flight Of Passage, all the fast passes have already gone days if not weeks prior.
As we arrived at the park at 8:50am, we got in the queue to be allowed into the park when the gates open at 9am. The park is made up of five different locations and we went straight over to the land of Pandora to get in the queue for the parks newest ride which is the Avatar Flight Of Passage.
We only had to wait around 45 minutes which is brilliant, considering when we looked at the wait time the day before when we had just landed, the queue time was around 110 minutes. I won’t spoil the ride for any future visitors, but it is such a visual spectacle incorporating 4D and simulation and a whole host of other features which makes you seriously feel like you are in Pandora flying on the back of a mountain banshee. The lead up to the ride takes you through two rooms in preparation for your flight (which I feel also add to the experience) and the four and a half minute ride is worth every moment of waiting.
We finished off the other rides in Pandora before we moved onto the next area of the park ‘Africa’. We went straight over to the Harambe Safari which is a 22 minute bus journey through the ‘African Savannah’ for those who have never been to Africa this is an amazing ride, that really makes you feel like you have been through all the different terrains that Africa boasts. For those who have, it is a little underwhelming but it was nice to see the animals all the same, in a more natural environment than a zoo. They also do a serious amount of conservation work here too, so it’s a lovely to know the animals are in a good home.
After the safari we were in the mood to watch the Lion King and there was a showing approaching, so we went over to the theatre and took our seat ready for the performance.
What I realised was that no matter which Disney park you are in, the Lion King performance is very similar. So I had definitely seen this when I visited Disney in Hong Kong. The show was great all the same, and had me singing away to many of the much loved songs, my favourite being “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King”.
Moving on from Africa, we went across to the next area which was Asia, not before passing by the tree of life which is so beautifully carved into the trunk.
Into Asia we did the roller coaster and the water ride before we walked past the Finding Nemo Theatre that was also just about to start. It was the middle of the day now and we were struggling in the baking heat, so it was the perfect time to cool down in the theatre too.
We left Asia and wandered into DinoLand and Discovery Island to complete the rest of the park before calling back one last time at Pandora to do the amazing Flight Of Passage again before we left.
After this we were feeling a little hungry after a lot of walking and a long day, so we headed to Disney Springs for a wander around the Disney shops and to grab a bite to eat.
We chose a place called The Boathouse and we grabbed a table and a drink and the most delicious bread I have EVER eaten was brought out to the table. It was served warm and slathered in honey butter and was genuinely one of the most delicious breads I’ve ever eaten. So much so, that we actually asked for seconds! I went for the crab stuffed lobster and Danielle a creamy pesto pasta with prawns and courgette. Food was exceptional, so delicious. Portions were large and we left feeling so full and content with our food decisions and also talking about these choices for the next few days.
With the sun setting we walked through the springs ready to take an Uber back to the hotel ready for a good nights sleep content after an incredibly fun filled day.
The next day we had arranged a car rental from just round the corner from our hotel and we were driving one and a half hours west across to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
The Weeki Wachee River has an average flow rate of 112 million gallons of crystal clear spring water per day and year round water temperatures ranging from 22C to 23C, and frequent manatee visitors.
You rent kayaks and you travel the 5.5 mile journey down stream where the company then picks you up to bring you back to the starting point. It costs $40 for a single kayak rental or $50 for a double which you need to reserve in advance and they give you four hours for the journey saying it takes between two and three hours to meander down the river.
We grabbed our paddles and our kayaks were placed on the water ready for us to begin our journey. Not before seeing the sign to caution of us of potential alligator sightings!
For the first twenty minutes, we are told we cannot get out of the kayaks and swim in the water as this is not within the national park limits, however you do pass a sign where it states you are entering so it’s very clear when you can get out and go for a swim.
The water was so insanely clear and calm, you could completely see everything that was underneath you.
There were numerous fish swimming around underneath us, and there were also flying fish too that would jump so high out of the water. Dragon flies were circling around us and at one point we even saw a manatee swim right underneath our kayaks, which I so wish I’d have managed to take a picture of!
The journey took around three and a half hours with a couple of stops to relax a little and lay out in the sun. The weather was perfect and kayaking made for great tanning with the water reflecting all around you.
One thing to note, anything disposable is not allowed into the state park. All drinks must be in reusable cups/bottles and all food must be placed into reusable Tupperware. Bags will be checked before you’re allowed onto the water. It’s a great initiative to protect the the environment and keep the area free of waste, but something I wish I’d have known leaving Dubai so that I would have had containers to place our packed lunch into! It is very tiring work paddling all the way, thankfully they had water bottles for purchase at the rental centre for $5 and filtered water filling stations.
We pulled into the end of 5.5 miles and piled into the van ready to be taken back to the car. We called at Starbucks to get refreshments for the journey home, and before taking the car back to the rental place we nipped to Whole Foods to get some groceries to take back to Dubai and some soup for dinner! Whole Foods soups are so yummy.
We had a night cap back at the hotel with one other crew before calling it a night and sleeping right through to the afternoon wake up call the next day. I’d had an exhausting last three days, I definitely needed the long sleep.
A brilliant layover in Orlando, ticking off more things that I wanted to do! I look forward to seeing this hopefully pop up on my roster again soon! As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube: