When one thinks central Florida, we tend to focus on Orlando, home to several amusement parks and other attractions. But for families wishing to economize and diversify their vacation, Kissimmee is a great alternative. Situated next door to Orlando, Kissimmee’s tagline is The Gateway to Fun. They aren’t wrong.
A great way to save some bucks on any trip is to choose a condo-style accommodation that allows you to cook some or all of your meals. This is especially true for families with young children. Kid menus can become tiresome and expensive. VillaDirect owns a number of spacious townhomes in Paradise Palms Resort, an exclusive resort community just minutes from Walt Disney World. Prices range from US$800 to $1,000/week for a 2- to 4-bedroom unit, a far cry from a week in a typical hotel.
You choose a privately-owned home, town-home or condo and experience comfortable at-home living. Their homes are fully and attractively furnished – and spotless. Many units even have their own small pools.
Hot air balloon rides (with champagne for up to three people – great photo opps)
Chocolate Kingdom – an interactive journey all about, you guessed it, chocolate.
The Ice Factory – lace’em up and go for a skate
Kennedy Space Center – the Shuttle Launch Experience is memorable
Walt Disney World (literally minutes from our villa) – Made up of four theme parks –Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios and Epcot Centre – DisneyWorld is the granddaddy of all theme parks. We visited the Magic Kingdom including the new Fantasyland. Plus the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train that opened in May was a must.
If possible, avoid the parks’ high seasons (spring break, the Christmas holiday season). Many Disney fan-created websites offer crowd estimator calendars, including this one: http://www.undercovertourist.com/planning/when-to-visit.html. If you wish to stay closer to Disney World than Kissimmee, many budget options exist from campgrounds to luxury resorts. To be guaranteed MagicBands with park admission, stay on Disney property at a Disney hotel. For details visit disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. I am not a big roller coaster fan, but do love Harry Potter, so this was a must. You can do both parks in a day if you’re focused, but it might be hard for younger children. Visit Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and then take the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade Station in Universal’s Islands of Adventure to King’s Cross Station in Universal Studios to visit Diagon Alley. The recently opened Diagon Alley blew us away. Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts ride is worth the long (two hour for us) wait. The re-creation of Diagon Alley was exact. Yes, we all purchased wands at Ollivanders wand shop. But it’s not all about Harry Potter, the rides in the rest of the parks are just as alluring. One of our favourites was becoming a Minion on the new 3D ride, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem or the trusted and scary The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. www.universalorlando.com
Discovery Cove. This all-inclusive tropical adventure offers one-of-a-kind opportunities to snorkel in waters teeming with rays and tropical fish, or just relax on their pristine white beaches.
The bottom line: Staying in Kissimmee is a practical and exciting alternative to staying in Orlando. There is so much more to do that goes beyond theme parks. Plan ahead and start getting ready for the time of your lives.