It started with a Post It pad. “27 Days Until Disney”. And each day, a note was torn off. And so it went. Until the day came. To say that my daughter was excited about being at Walt Disney World on her 19th birthday would have been a huge understatement. I was fortunate enough to be able to swing a trip which would have her at Mickey’s front gates on her actual birthday, during her university Reading Week.
But I knew there was a lot more to Orlando, Florida, than Disney. I also knew that it’s a rare opportunity to travel with your young adult child and to be able to do things together, one on one, particularly when she’s the third out of your four children. I had to sit down and negotiate first with myself, and then with her, the elements that would make our trip successful. I mean, we were spending part of it at the Happiest Place on Earth, right? And you do know how teenage girls’ temperaments can run, right?
What did I want this trip to be? I wanted to spend some quality time with her, hear all about the classes she was taking, what residence life was like, and her plans for second year, as she had to opt into a particular program. None of this was going to be easy while we were screaming through the air on the Rock N Roll Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios. That, however, was her number one objective for the trip. While I knew we had a two-and-a-half-hour plane ride each way, I also knew she would be focused on watching a movie, with her headset on, and I might be reading a book and having a glass of wine.
Clearly, our real one on one time would come once we were on the ground. I promised myself to spend every minute being present at Disney, which I did, besides the occasional picture, which she also wanted to take. We were the first in the parking lot, and the last to leave. She was thrilled and I survived some rides I had never tried before, and according to her Go Pro audio footage of me in the Tower of Terror, I may never again. I made her tour the “Walt Disney Presents” museum exhibits, and we both enjoyed the campy “Carousel of Progress” animatronic exhibit. I also made sure we had dinner at a sit-down restaurant that served wine. We had a great chat there. Her special day was done and it was fantastic. Now, we moved on to activities I knew we both would enjoy (which would be followed up with a day of activities which were my own preference.)
In terms of accommodation we knew we could share a small space together and it would be okay. But because I traditionally get up earlier than her, having separate rooms was something we were looking for. Many families who visit Orlando stay for a week, and they opt for suite hotels, of which there are many. We were lucky to stay at the Sheraton Vistana Villages resort, and we not only had two bedrooms, we had two bathrooms, and a full kitchen, plus a living room area. Perfect for spreading out our information sheets and planning our days. We also took advantage of one of the pools, and loved eating at the on-site restaurant Breeze, patio style.
A great way to really see the Orlando area, which is beautiful, is by taking off in the early morning for a unique (literal) bird’s eye view via Orlando Hot Air Balloon Rides, owner of the largest hot air balloon in the US. Guests meet a half hour before sunrise and after basic safety training spend hour-long flight thousands of feet above the tree tops, with a great view of amusement parks and orange groves. A champagne toast and full breakfast are included.
Another activity to be done up on high is the adventurous Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park. The progressively tougher aerial obstacle course is set in the trees, with Tarzan ropes, climbing ladders 50 feet up, hanging nets, wobbly suspended bridges, and giant zip lines. I managed to complete the first two courses before giving up; my 19-year-old completed all four. They told us after they have a 75% “rescue rate” on the fourth course, so she was pretty pleased to be in the top 25% that even attempted the last course. We had great mother daughter bonding over her superior climbing and agility. This was a terrific activity for the two of us to enjoy together.
The last day we took it down a notch and started with the calm and serene Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour. This pontoon boat ride is located on Lake Osceola, about a 40-minute drive from our hotel in Orlando. This hour-long tour took us through three different lakes, each connected by tight, curvy, and beautifully foliaged canals. While we didn’t spot any rumoured alligators, we did see blue herons and large cranes as well as craning our necks to see the opulent private homes and exquisite estates sprawling along the shores. Our tour guide gave us a great history Winter Park, Central Florida's oldest community, which was originally founded by wealthy Easterners in the 1800s.
Park Avenue North is the place to be and to be seen in the Winter Park area, and our first stop was at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum, exploring the world’s most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Exhibits include Tiffany jewelry, pottery, painting, art glass, windows, lamps and a chapel interior created especially for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
We carried on down Park Avenue into the heart of the Winter Park dining and shopping area, where we stopped for lunch at the bustling Italian restaurant Prato. We had been advised to try the seafood, and the salmon we ordered lived up to its reputation. A great spot for people watching, either from the industrial interior or the bustling patio café seats. Prato prides itself on serving local Florida seafood and produce, and the results were well worth it.
We started our stay in Orlando at a park – one of the world’s most famous, celebrated by a mouse, and we finished it at an entirely different type of park – Winter Park – and managed to find a trip that suited both mother and teenage daughter, each with our own agendas. The key to this successful trip? Making sure we had something she wanted to do, something for both of us, and something I wanted to do. We both learned to love new things (thrill rides for me, historical tours for her) and can’t wait to plan our next trip together.
Go to www.visitorlando.com to help plan your next great trip to Orlando.
This trip was organized by Visit Orlando and some elements were compensated. Opinions as always, are my own.