What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you think of Orlando? Theme Parks? Disney? Universal? Sun? Sea? Fun? Magic? Or all these roll in one!
I went on a seven night holiday to Orlando in Florida in May 2017 with my auntie and uncle and we were so excited to be going back as we hadn’t been back since 1999 and I was only seven at the time, so a lot had changed since then!
Booking with Ease!
We booked the holiday through Virgin Holidays as we liked you can have your own villa to do what you please. We requested a wheelchair friendly villa with a walk in shower or what they call it in America is a roll in shower so I could have my own independence throughout the stay in the villa. The booking was quick and no fuss was made about our requests.
Airport and Flight Information
We flew from Manchester Airport, which was a first time for me and I found it to be a nice layout airport with all the bars, restaurants and shopping outlets and not as hectic as the London Airports. The special assistance desk was easy to find and a quick process explaining what help I need in the airport and what I can and cannot do. We went to Frankie and Benny’s for breakfast, which I highly recommend and a few other bars for drinks, but we have decided next time we go away we will look into booking into the Airport Lounge as we discovered by the time you buy your food and drinks, it becomes expensive so you might as well pay the £25 per person to use the lounge and with that price you get a hot and cold buffet, drinks, unlimited Wi-Fi, flight screens and comfy seating area to relax in. The airport lounges are wheelchair friendly and have a smart-causal dress code. There is also adult only airport lounges too. The staff at the airport was friendly and helpful and escorted us right up to the aircraft door, which I love as you don’t have to wait around for the Airbus to take you. The part I hate the most about boarding the plane is leaving my wheelchair behind to let the airport porter take it to the hold. People who rely on their chairs for their independence on holiday will understand how I feel, that chair is a part of you, your lifeline in a way that allows you to be free and if it went missing or broken then you off to a bad start. While on the flight I just have to forget about it and hope its ok when I have arrived at the destination.
Check out my post – My Top Tips for taking your wheelchair abroad !
While boarding on the Pretty Woman plane we were given a bottle of water, magazine and a small bag with a pillow, blanket and headsets. The cabin crew were lovely, friendly and couldn’t assist you more if you needed anything and even helped me to my seat. The seats were comfy a ll meals were scrumptious and had a wide choice from pasta, curry, sandwiches, crisps to brownies and had plenty of choice of drinks too. It seemed we were having food every hour! I loved the safety announcement, which I have never said before because this time it was different from the usual procedure. It was an animated video on your screen with cool music and pictures, it made you watch it more and listen to the commands of an emergency landing. When we landed they called my name and told me they had my chair waiting for me, which was such a relief and nice that I didn’t have to wait for it come off with the luggage.
I will defiantly be flying with Virgin Atlantic again!
Orlando International Airport and Transfer Information
Orlando International Airport was massive! It had a hotel in it and a train to help you get to the other end of the airport, which at times was a bit confusing as it was so big. But beautiful modern with waterfalls and had a big Disney store, which heightened my excitement as I realised it was the start of seeing the magic of Orlando. We went to the Virgin Holidays Desk in the airport and was given a map of where we were staying with directions, a booklet on attractions you can visit and the option to buy park tickets through Virgin, but had already purchased them through Orlandoattractions.com. The funniest moment in the airport has to be being told where the cars was located that we had booked to hire would be, expecting them to have just had chosen one for us instead you could just pick any car you wanted on the left side of the car park, get in and go! We couldn’t believe it! That would never happen in the UK, you would have to have to forms of ID and have the one you were given. It was great that you could just pick a car, get in and go to your villa with no hassle. We requested to have a Sat Nav in the car as the roads can be confusing in America and the only requirement was once you return the car it must be clean and tidy inside or else you will be charge a fee. All cars had a big enough boot for a manual chair to fit in. We booked through the company Alamo. www.alamo.co.uk/united-states/florida/orlando/
We were staying at Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club that is located in Davenport, Haines City in Orlando. The Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club is a gated community manned 24/7 and you can only get in and out by showing your pass, which puts you mind at ease that you are going to be safe staying in your villa. It is located 40 minutes from Orlando International Airport and a short drive to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. It has an award winning golf course and a clubhouse with a restaurant and bar called the Tavern on the Dunes. The Tavern on the Dunes serves 7 days a week with a wide choice of meals for breakfast, lunch and tea with free Wi-Fi available. The Tavern is completely accessible to enter and inside the building with its open plan space with a disabled toilet. We had a few meals in there as it was convenient, good value for money and served delicious meals. The Villas at the Southern Dunes are all beautiful modern and range from 3 bedrooms to seven all with their own pool. Also just outside the community there is The Wal-Mart Superstore and a number of fast food joints and restaurants.
Facilities in our Villa
When we arrived at our villa I was impressed with how it looked from the outside but soon realised there was a step at the entrance to get into the villa, which wasn’t a huge problem as my auntie or uncle was able to lift my chair up or down, but it would have been easier to get in and out of the villa if there was no step and just a flat entrance. The hallway was nice and big and flowed into the living room and bedrooms. It had wood flooring, which made it easy to push my chair around the villa and I was able to get my chair through the bedroom doors and into the bathroom. The bedrooms had carpet in, which was a bit difficult to push on but didn’t have to go far to get to your bed and wardrobe. There were three bedrooms with two bathrooms. One of the bathrooms had a bath with a rail in and the other a shower with a step, even though I could roll my chair into and round the bathroom, I still had to struggle to step into and out the shower and place a pool chair into the shower, so I could sit down and wash independently. I just wish it was a roll in shower with a shower seat as that would have made getting washed and dressed easier and hassle free. The villa itself was beautifully modern and had its own pool with seating round it and three steps into the pool with a handrail. We requested a villa with a roll in shower. I believe that able to roll your chair into the bathroom and then step into the shower, isn’t a roll in shower. On Virgin Holidays website they state they have three terms of access in their villas; Good General Access – properties for guests who can walk short distance and can walk up six steps, Wheelchair Accessible- properties that have adapted roll in showers or bath tubs with a grab rail and Practically Accessible, properties with wheelchair adapted rooms with practically accessible amenities.
What I Recommend
I recommend Virgin Holidays state more about what villas are wheelchair adapted as some people wouldn’t be able to lift themselves in and out of a bath with one rail and step into a shower and stand themselves up to wash. Also when you book with Virgin Holidays you will have to state highly it is a must to have a roll in shower in the villa for your independence and don’t be afraid to discuss your needs because after all it will impact your holiday. I think Virgin Holidays are a good travel agent to go through to book your Orlando Holiday as you have the options of flights, accommodation, transfers, park tickets and any extras you need. I would book through Virgin Holidays again.
The Blue Badge Scheme in Orlando.
To get a blue badge in Orlando to park in the disabled bays for free you have to take with your blue badge that you use in the UK, a letter describing your disability with your name on it and your passport to the Tax Office. You have to pay $15 dollars to purchase one, state how long your stay is and sign you agree to the terms and conditions of having one. I highly recommend you get one because if you park in the disabled bays without one you will be charged $250 dollars. Everywhere we went they had loads of disabled bays and the spaces were twice as big. To get the directions to the Tax Office you can go to the Virgin Holidays Office and all information you could possibly want and need is there.
Accessible Restaurants and Bars in Orlando
I noticed when I was in Orlando that whichever bar or restaurant we visited had some form of access for people in wheelchairs, with a ramp or a flat entrance round the side of the building. They all had a disabled toilet that was big enough to move your chair around, handrails to hold onto to and very clean. The place I recommend you visit is international Drive, which is full of dining outlets. It has an amazing atmosphere in the day and even more electric at night. We went to Bahama Breeze, which has the atmosphere of the Caribbean with live bands performing and serving traditional Caribbean dishes like Jerk Chicken and Ribs, along with Rum and Coconut Cocktails!
Accessible Rides and Attractions in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
I was surprise to see only a few roller coasters and more 3D rides, which I prefer as I’m not a fan of spinning upside down and 3D is more accessible to go on and more fun as you see so many things. Universal Studios is set like New York and is lovely to look at and walk round seeing all the shops, restaurants and rides. The accessible rides in Universal if you can’t get out of your wheelchair are Shrek 4D, Men in Black Alien Attack, Revenge of the Mummy, E.T Adventure, Terminator, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket and all the rides and attractions at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But if you can transfer from your wheelchair you can go on all the rides. The rides in Islands of Adventure you can go on if you can’t get out of your wheelchair is Skull Island Reign of Kong, Dudley Do-Right Ripsaws Falls, Doctor Dooms Fearfall, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, The Cat in the Hat and Poseidon Fury. If you can transfer from you wheelchair you can go on all the rides in Island of Adventure. Before you enter Universal you walk through Universal Citywalk, where you are spoiled with choice of restaurants and entertainment and a great place for all the family. The choices range from Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritville, Hard Rock Café, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co Restaurant to the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savoury Kitchen. It’s even more impressive at night as it lights up with array of colours.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
I was so excited to visit here as I’m a massive fan of Harry Potter and ever since it has been opened in Orlando, it’s been my dream to go and it didn’t disappoint. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is situated between the two parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. To experience both parks it is best to purchase a park to park ticket, where you can enter the two parks in one day or come back the next day and experience the another.
In Universal Studios you enter Grimmauld Place and into Diagon Alley, where you will visit the famous shops, such as Ollivanders Wand Shop and Fred and Georges Joke shop Weasleys Wizard Wheezes and purchase array of magical gifts from wands, owls, sorting hats, robes and even talking letters! While you are there you get to let your inner wizard out and try out some spells, dine in the Leaky Cauldron for a butter beer and visit Gringotts Bank. Don’t leave Universal without a visit to Gringotts Bank as you can purchase gold coins and go on the 3D Escape from Gringotts Bank thrill ride
Accessibility of Diagon Alley
The entrance is flat
A few cobbles on Diagon Alley, but mostly flat pavement.
The shops are good, but can get crowded
Easy access into the Leaky Cauldron and around it
Excellent access into Gringotts Bank and inside to the entrance of the ride. There are warning signs for your health and safety, such as strobe lighting and dizziness. The staff only ask before you get on the ride if you can get out of your chair and hold on due to the four foot drop on the ride for safety reasons. Also there is lifts to the entrance of the ride and that is an experience in itself! The ride is amazing, clever and magical.
There are disabled toilets in the park and make sure you listen out for a visitor that always hangs out in the cubicles! Let’s just say I screamed with excitement when I noticed the voice.
It is amazing how they have built the theme park as do feel you are in Harry Potter with the music playing, owls squawking in the windows, people going around in the house robes swishing wands about and stepping into the Diagon Alley shops that look identical to film, you can’t help but feel like a kid and believe in magic when you are there.
Just when I thought they couldn’t pull it off even more, they did by building a train station with the Hogwarts Express in to transfer you from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure. It is identical to the film and has carriages inside to sit in and experience the journey on the Hogwarts Express. There is a carriage that opens so you can roll your chair into it and sit in the carriage in your chair, so everyone gets to experience the same.
The Islands of Adventure – Hogsmeade
In Islands of Adventure you will find Hogsmeade and the famous Hogwarts Castle. At Hogsmeade you can dine in at Three Broomsticks and visit HoneyDukes sweet shop. Hogsmeade is easier to get around than Diagon Alley as there are only few shops you can go in as the rest are sets. The main attraction at Hogsmeade is the Hogwarts Castle, which has the breath-taking ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Forest inside. As you walk through to get to the ride you get to see inside Hogwarts through the corridors, classrooms, Dumbledore’s office and the great hall. The ride is 3D and gives you the sensation you are flying as follow Harry, Ron and Hermione on broomsticks to escape the evil dementers!
Accessibility of Hogsmeade
Entrance into Hogsmeade is flat and pavement round the park is easy to wheel your chair round.
Access into and around the Three Broomsticks and the shops
Access into and onto the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Forest Ride. There are warning signs for your health and safety, such as strobe lighting and dizziness. The staff only ask before you get on the ride if you can get out of your chair
I loved every part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter as it really brought the film to life and was fun to experience it all. It’s the place where every Muggle gets to be a Wizard for a day! If and when I go back to Orlando I will defiantly be visiting the park again.
My Conclusion on Orlando
I loved going back to Orlando because this time I got to appreciate it more and experience the excitement and the true magic of Orlando. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you never too old to have fun! Each park you go into seems to bring your inner child out of you and forget about the real world for the time you are there. Walt Disney built Disney World so high you couldn’t see outside it, so guests could escape from the everyday, have fun and believe in magic and I believe he has achieved it and it’s carried on in all the parks that has been created since!
One lesson you can take from Walt Disney himself is don’t take life so seriously and always believe in the magic!
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