We booked with Thomson for 4 adults for 11 nights in a bronze (sorry not silver) villa and a family car. We upgraded the car and flights.
The Thomson Dreamliner with premier cabin upgrade was excellent. Getting in and out of the window seat with the seat in front in the incline position is quite a challenge, but not too bad. Food, service and entertainment was very good. We were glad that we spent the money to upgrade especially as the flight was 8.5 hours outgoing and 8 hours on the return.
We upgraded the car to an intermediate SUV with Gold insurance package before we left the UK. However, the sales person at Alamo was keen for us to upgrade again once we arrived (bigger car for our baggage and GPS) - we didn't. We had to put one case on the back seat for the journey to and from Sandford airport, which wasn't an issue and allowed us to save the money we would have paid just to put a case in the boot. We bought a GPS system before leaving the UK, which included the US. This is a must have and we can carry on using it when we're back in the UK. We did upgrade to kerbside assistance insurance for $50. We had everything else as part of our upgrade to intermediate Gold.
The villa for the four of us was more than adequate. 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms (2 en suite) was great for me with my wife and two grown up daughters who are always in front of a mirror. We were 30 minutes from Universal and 20 minutes from Disney. It was a little annoying that we didn't get a folder explaining what we needed to do because apparently the previous guests took it with them. We didn't get any advice. It was nice to receive the password for free internet after three days of calling the office, which should have been in the missing folder. We did have to buy trash bags and toilet paper, which was strange and had to put the trash out one day and get home to retrieve the bins from kerbside the following night before 23:59. The pool was lovely and big and was imperative to keep us cool with the temperature hitting the high 90s. All pools have black netting, which allows you to get a nice colour whilst making it more comfortable to sit by the pool. It appeared cooler under the netting than outside in the sun, which could be fierce at times. You have to register for the villa once you get there at the Thomson property office. They give you a choice to leave a damages deposit of $500 or a one of payment insurance of $39. Everything here is about getting as much money as possible off you everywhere you go albeit with a smile. And after some pleading and begging we got an extension from 10:00-13:00 on check out day, which was handy as we had a 18:00 flight.
We went shopping at Publix and Wallmart to stock up on essentials, which was a good experience. We also spent money at the local designer outlet malls. Check sell by dates - we got caught out on this a few times as some produce was well out of date. The Mall at International Drive was the best on choice and price. Purchased a lot of Oakley stuff at good prices.
After some research over the last few months we decided to purchase our theme park tickets from Park-tickets.com. We purchased bonus package A, which gave us 4 days at Disney - Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot & Animal Kingdom (no hopping between parks on the same day) and 14 days unlimited at Universal - Studios, Islands of Adventure and City Walk (you can hop between all universal parks as much as you want). This cost $499 per person. This was more than adequate for us as we didn't fancy the waterparks and didn't want to visit Epcot. We were away for 11 nights and spent 8 at the theme parks. We also received free tickets for Wild Florida although we didn't get time to use them. Although we were going to buy these tickets in the UK, we ended up buying them online once we got to Florida at the same price. We picked them up as they were only 10 minutes away from Disney and we received a bonus goodie bag worth $25 for our efforts. You can also get 3 x fast pass tickets per person, which allows you to book time slots on the Disney App or at the park. Once the 3 passes are used you can then find another Fast Pass booth in the park and get another Fast Pass. You can keep doing this all day everyday whilst you're there.
In addition, Universal sell Express Tickets to avoid the standby lines on many rides. If you want to go on as many rides as you can in the shortest amount of time, you'll need these. It's better to buy these just inside the park instead of queuing outside on the gate. However, I found out that it worked out far better to book a night in one of the Deluxe on site hotels. We booked the Loews Pacific Resort Hotel for $342. This allowed us to book in before the park opened on check in day, which gave us two days in the park and we also could spend the whole day there on check-out as well. This then enabled us to take advantage of the 1-hour early opening on both days and get on the Harry Potter rides before the crowd got there. This also gave us 2-day unlimited Express passes for all four of us. The usual express pass price was $99 per person for the 2-days. Car parking is $17 per day for regular visitors or $20 for 2 nights if you're staying at the hotel. Therefore, by booking the hotel we saved almost $70, got in the park earlier than everyone on both days and even had a pool that the wife and I could head for leaving the girls (aged 22 & 18) in the park all afternoon. Tip - although we got to the park at 07:50 (park opened at 9am) it was already open for hotel guests. We had breakfast and dinner at the hotel and was pleased with the food, service and the price wasn't too bad.
We dined out at a few places. We tried Denny's for lunch because it featured on the series Breaking Bad. This was mainly a little Chef with burgers the size of a large grapefruit and was okay. We tried Margeritaville at Universal. The food was good. However, despite only 3 tables being occupied, they forgot our order, which meant it took 50 minutes to see any food. The server constantly offered us tap water as a consolation! We stuck to bottled water during our entire stay. The main restaurant we dined at was in Disney Hollywood Studios and called Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italian. The service and food was okay but pricey. We asked for a booth for the four of us (all adults) and was told we couldn't have one as they were for larger groups. However, it was a little annoying to see every booth allocated to parties of three and four. I think the staff member just simply couldn't be bothered, which was a poor show. We also dined at Vinito Restauante at the Mall on International Drive twice. This was excellent in comparison and shows how it should be done. Great food, service and price. Great server called John. Unlike Mama Melrose, we were happy to return to Vinito Restaurante. We also loved the food, service and atmosphere at the Hard Rock Cafe in Universal City Walk. Although the air con made it a little too cool. Our server Jerry was outstanding. Our best breakfast was at IHOP, where we dined on pancakes. For those watching the calories, it's worth going for the wholewheat blueberry pancakes with scrambled egg white and turkey bacon.
Remember the theme parks charge $17 per day standard rate to park your car.
Our top 10 rides.
1 Harry Potter and the forbidden Journey - Universal Islands of Adventure (there is no express pass available for this but it opens an hour earlier for Deluxe Hotel Guests - not Cabana Beach Resort.
2 The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man - Universal Islands of Adventure.
3 The Incredible Hulk Coaster - Universal Islands of Adventure.
4 Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket - Universal Studios.
5 Rock 'n' Roller Coaster - Disney Hollywood Studios
6 Space Mountain - Disney Magic Kingdom.
7 Harry Potter Flight of the Hippogriff - Universal Islands of Adventure
8 Revenge of the Mummy - Universal Studios
9 The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - Disney Hollywood Studios
10 Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Disney Magic Kingdom
All of the firework/laser shows at all of the parks are well worth staying to the end of the night to watch. We loved the film/Laser show at Universal Studios. The international food & film festival is the best place to watch the show. Grab a table behind the wall near the Simpsons ride, there's no charge unless you want to buy a drink. I bought a beer. The Blues Brothers show at Universal Studios is brilliant, but too short. Harry Potter Diagon Alley at Universal Studios was about to open when we had to depart back to the UK, which was a big shame because we thought the set including Kings Cross Station and the Hogwarts Express looked amazing. VIP guests appeared to be getting some priority and seemed to be to get on this ride, but we have no idea how they qualified.
We went to the Orlando Gun Range at Vineland Rd - it cost us $65 for two of us to shoot 50 bullets at 6 Targets including Zombies. Brilliant! Remember to bring ID and don't wear open toe sandals/shoes.
Hope this helps.
We loved Florida. It was like home from home and we didn't want to leave. It was a fantastic family trip and it was the first time for many years that we all spent every day and night doing things together for the entire holiday. The girls, despite being 18 & 22, were like little kids again.
I hope we can save up enough to get out there again.
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- Also Known As:
- Silver Villas Kissimmee, Florida