I can’t believe summer is almost over with! I cringe at the very thought of it. It has flown by so fast, and I’m so disappointed that I am just now posting about our vacation in July. I promise you’ll be hearing more from me in the upcoming weeks!
Now I’m sure almost every single person reading this post has probably been to Orlando at least once in their lifetime. I grew up going to Orlando practically every year because my grandparents and aunt live in New Smyrna Beach which is about an hour away from Orlando. We would stay with my family for a week and get to experience what it was like to be a local and then we would venture to the theme parks once or twice during our stay.
I was particularly excited to go to Florida this year because I hadn’t really been since 2008-2009 and it was not at a good time because my grandfather had just passed away. We went with Ryan’s parents this time and brought Max along with us. Aren’t you surprised?
We decided to make the hefty drive from Illinois to Florida rather tan fly, and we did it like champs. We took turns driving (excluding me) and we arrived late Friday evening. This was perfect because we practically had gained an extra day by leaving Thursday night.
We stayed in Orlando, which I was super excited about, because like I had stated before, I had always stayed about an hour out of the city so it was a new experience for me to be able to drive 5 minutes to a park and explore new areas of Orlando.
We were able to sleep in the first morning and take a little adventure around our resort. There were plenty of things to do there and we didn’t even take full advantage of everything during our stay. It was beautiful to say the very least!
We then decided to drive to Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney). We were only five minutes away from the Disney area so it was super convenient to come and go whenever we wanted. I had only been to Downtown Disney once or twice before and it has changed so much! I’m sure if I lived in Orlando I would visit Disney Springs all of the time! There is so much shopping and dining you could do there, it’s crazy! They also, of course, have a HUGE Disney store which is a must if you are there. The best part about Disney Springs? It’s free! It’s even free to park there in one of their easily accessible parking garages as well.
One of my favorite things about Disney Springs was the store Basin. My mother in law had told me about the store when they went for New Years this past year. They sell bath items such as bath bombs, bath salts, body scrubs, etc. Think Lush, but more spa-like and more sophisticated. I plan on writing a blog post dedicated to my trip there!
Another thing I loved about Disney Springs is all of the fun Disney related bakeries and such they have there. Ryan and I split this delicious apple pie flavored caramel apple from Goofy’s Candy Company.
Our second day we decided to go to the World of Chocolate Museum & Cafe. I am obsessed with chocolate, so this was definitely something I’m glad we did! We learned about the origins of cocoa and how it came about, and we also saw statues made out of chocolate. Talk about major drool-fest. It was fun to learn about cocoa and of course taste all of the different types from around the world.
After stuffing our faces at the museum and then having lunch at Loudmouth Burgers we decided to go to the pool back at our resort, which was perfect timing because for a whole five seconds we had the entire pool to ourselves.
After we went swimming we decided to go back to the Disney side of town and go to Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course. This is by far the best miniature golf course I have ever been to! There are two courses you can decide from.
We went at night closer to when the course closes and it was lit up beautifully and we could even watch the fireworks from one of the parks while we were playing. You could also see the Tower of Terror lit up over at Hollywood Studios. After we were finished we walked over to the Boardwalk which is just a short walk from the golf course, right next to the Swan and Dolphin hotel. This part of the Disney Resort is accessible even if you are not staying in one of their resorts, like us.
On the third day, we traveled to St. Augustine which was about two hours from Orlando. My in-laws have been there before and loved the small town charm and things to do there and told us it was a very dog-friendly place, which it was! We had planned a day out of our week to bring Max with us since we had been leaving him in our resort most of the time we were in Orlando. St. Augustine was beautiful! We went to the Lighthouse and gift shop, and you can have dogs there on the grounds except the actual lighthouse itself.
After climbing a million stairs (ha) we went to one of St. Augustine’s dog-friendly beaches. This was Max’s first time at a beach and he didn’t seem too enthused about it. After the beach, we decided to walk around the older downtown area and have a late lunch/dinner. After dinner, we walked around for the rest of the evening until we stopped for ice cream. We went to a cute little shop right off the beach and walked down to a gorgeous secluded beach.
I plan on writing a separate blog post about all of our stops in St. Augustine in more detail in the next week.
We decided to go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Day 4 of our stay. It was a lot of fun, but it was one of the hottest days of the week. One of the things I really liked about our visit was the “fast passes” you could reserve on your phone. I’m not even sure that most people even knew about it, so listen up! If you are going to Disney you automatically get free (keyword free) reservations to 3 attractions with the purchase of your admission ticket. All you have to do is download the My Disney Experience app and you can make three selections. Then, after you use the three you are able to make reservations, one at a time until the park closes. This is an amazing deal, considering if you go to a theme park like Six Flags, for example, you have to pay a ridiculous amount (in my opinion) on a fast pass.
We enjoyed our time at Disney even though I felt like the KFC extra crispy Colonel by the time the day was done. The only thing that made me sad was that we had exerted so much energy that day because of the heat that we left early with the hopes of coming back for the night shows but it ended up raining and lighting so that we decided it wasn’t worth it to go back to the park for the shows. Especially if they could potentially get canceled. This summer was the first season for Animal Kingdom to be open until 11pm. The Tree of Life lights up and there is a Jungle Book show, as well as the River of Lights show that wasn’t quite open the time we went.
Much needed day of rest by the pool! In the evening we went to a newly built up part of Orlando by the Orlando Eye ferris wheel. We went to the Madame Tussauds wax museum and to the Sea Life Aquarium. These smaller attractions were definitely worth it and I’m sure they get overlooked by most tourists in the area. We then had dinner at Yard House, which I have always been dying to try. Best fish tacos ever! I have been craving them so bad since we have been home. My birthday is next week and all I have been telling my husband I’ve been wanting to do is go and get fish tacos at a Yard House.
We had strategically planned a day of rest between two park days because we also planned on going to Universal Studios during our stay. The company I work for does a lot of work for them, and I actually work on a lot of stationary and gift items that are in the gift shops. I was able to go into the shops and look at things I’ve worked on, and of course, I had to take pictures like a nerd. We had tickets to go to the Islands of Adventure as well, and so we hustled our way through the park that day. The park was insanely busy, but the majority of the people were in the Harry Potter portion of the parks, as well as the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride that had opened the day before we went. We were able to ride a ton of rides and go over to the other park, but unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go on Reign of Kong, bummer! We haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies so we were a bit in the dark when it came to that part of the park and the Hogwarts Express train, but everyone else seemed to be enjoying it. And by everyone else I mean like a million bajillion people.
Our last full day in Orlando! We spent the day relaxing and of course going back to our favorite spot: Disney Springs. We went back to the Disney store to buy the Chip mug I had been eyeing the first time we went, and of course to go back to Basin to buy everything we hadn’t bought the first time. We treated our former 9-year-old selves and ate at T-Rex which I would suggest for any of you who have kids who are into dinosaurs.
We weren’t able to visit one of the things we wanted to do in St. Augustine earlier that week, so on our way back home we decided to make a pit stop and visit the Fountain of Youth which is another dog-friendly attraction in the city.
Pit stop in Nashville for a little bit of sight-seeing and lunch! Tennessee has alway been a favorite of mine.
I had a blast in Orlando, and I’ve been to the city a dozen times. It definitely was different going as an adult but it still has the same charm that I remember as a kid.