Our 10-night Florida itinerary – Universal, Disney World, Legoland, a basketball match, five hotels, three waterparks and four days by the coast
A trip to Florida can be a once-in-a-lifetime holiday so if you are lucky enough to be going, you need to plan wisely.
There is SO MUCH to see and do that when you first sit down to organise this adventure for your family, it can seem overwhelming.
We’ve just taken our children to Florida – it was their first time in America and very special.
Our trip included Universal, Disney World, Legoland, a basketball match, five hotels (including one dream hotel – more of that later), three waterparks and four days by the coast staying on two of America’s best beaches.
I feel tired just writing all that! But it was manageable thanks to enthusiasm and some down time.
So here is our 10-day itinerary, we hope it inspires you.
Travel and settle in at our first hotel
Hotel 1 – Springfield Suites at Marriott Village Orlando.
This was a great location – a 20-minute taxi drive to Universal and a free shuttle to Disney World.
The amazing attraction that is Universal Resort Orlando is made up of the theme parks Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure plus the Volcano Bay water park.
This had the edge over Disney World for us especially as three of us are Harry Potter fans. It’s where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is – Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios and Hogsmeade is at Islands of Adventure. You can even catch the Hogwarts Express between the two.
Highlight: Our son being chosen by ‘Olivander’ to select a wand for him in the mini-show at Olivander’s Wand Shop.
Disney World is one of the reasons that Florida is so popular. There are four parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios plus water parks.
We did a long day here to maximise the value of the expensive tickets. We started at 8am and left Epcot at 8pm. Yes, it was tiring but we saw a lot in one day.
We bought a Park Hopper ticket and started at the iconic Magic Kingdom, leaving after the parade in the afternoon and heading for Epcot. This was a great decision as the Frozen Ever After boat ride there is amazing.
Legoland Florida Resort
Now with a hire car, we drove 45 minutes to Legoland.
Fantastic for younger ones and without the queues of Universal and Disney World (at least not when we went), this was a slower-paced couple of days in the park and at its water park.
We stayed on site at its Pirate Island Hotel and our favourite part was the Ninjago ride, which we went on four times.
Our room opened out on to the beach and we enjoyed water slides and zip wires and an evening’s magic show.
We headed into St Petersburg to enjoy its pier, markets, museums and laid-back harbour vibe and our final lunch overlooking the water before a last beautiful Florida sunset. For more ideas on what to do in Clearwater and St Pete, read our guide to the best attractions for families.
After pancakes for breakfast, we left for our flight home.
What do you like to do in Florida? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
We take our children to stay at Legoland Florida Resort in the US
As part of an action-packed holiday in Florida, we squeezed in two days and nights at Legoland Resort, enjoying the main park and waterpark and staying at one of its three hotels.
The entrance to the park was just a few quiet steps from our room at Pirate Island Hotel – bliss after racing throngs of people at Disney World and Universal.
When we arrived in our hotel room, the children were thrilled at the bunk beds, the theming, the LEGO to play with and the treasure hunt for LEGO gifts.
And we adults were quite content to sleep opposite a giant image of a bearded Lego pirate next to wallpaper and curtains depicting Lego pirates.
If first impressions are anything to go by then Legoland Pirate Island Hotel was a hit. And we still hadn’t entered the park!
Read all about our mini-break to find all about what we thought of the park and hotel and don’t miss our top tips to make the most of your visit.
LEGOLAND Florida Resort.
Where is it?
Legoland Florida is in the Winter Haven area. It is about an hour’s drive from Orlando in central Florida, America.
The resort is in its own grounds next to Lake Eloise in a self-contained safe site.
What is it?
LEGOLAND Florida Resort is a holiday destination made up of Legoland theme park (the second biggest in the world after Windsor), Legoland Waterpark, a new Peppa Pig theme park and three on-site hotels – the Legoland Hotel, Pirate Island Hotel and the Legoland Beach Resort.
Is it family friendly?
Do you really need to ask? The resort is all about families and their target age is two to 12.
The hotels have themed rooms, bunk beds, Lego to play with around the hotel, evening entertainment and specialised family dining at breakfast and in the evening.
Then there’s the theme parks…
At Legoland Pirate Island, the rooms are, you may have guessed, pirate-themed. Images cover every wall, curtains and even the carpet.
The rooms themselves have a children’s area with bunk beds, and a rollaway third child’s bed if needed, a tray of Lego and a child’s TV which can play all the Lego movies on demand.
Bunk beds and Lego to play with
Adults get a king-sized bed (which was surprisingly high off the ground), plus side tables with lights and their own larger HD TV.
The bathroom is compact with toiletries provided in Lego-branded tubes.
The room also has a small desk, safe and good storage for cases.
With lots of pirate ship-style brown wood it is quite dark in the room and the corridors of the hotel.
For a fresher, brighter feel – but fewer pirates – consider the Legoland Hotel which is next door.
Food and drink
The Shipwreck Restaurant serves breakfast and dinner.
Breakfast (included free with all rooms) is unusual as it is table-service and you get a family skillet (basically a big round tray) with hot food on it to share.
Ours had waffles, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, American breakfast biscuits (a type of savoury scone) and a gravy/creamy sauce to go with them.
Breakfast at Pirate Island Hotel
Friendly waiters and waitresses take your drinks orders and you can request other items like cereal.
A big shout out to our lovely waitress Bailey who went the extra mile to get us some fruit and pancakes on request.
We enjoyed experiencing something different, but the skillet won’t suit every family at breakfast time.
There is a similar skillet offering in the evening for all courses of a three-course menu (adults $36 and children $15).
We were given a salad starter with bread then a choice of two skillets as a main course with a range of meats or fish and sides like mashed potato, rice and beans.
Pirate Island Hotel
The restaurant will also do specific dishes for children like chicken and chips on request.
Dessert was either an ice cream and cookie dish or fresh fruit and marshmallows with chocolate sauce to dip in.
The quantities are absolutely huge, if you have a big appetite you will get value for money here. For those who prefer smaller portions, it might be a bit daunting!
More Lego stuff – the adjoining hotel next door has a large reception area and Lego to play with. There is also a nice bar area, more pleasant than the Smuggler’s Bar in Pirate Island.
Lego fun in the hotels
But of course, the main nearby attraction is the theme park itself – only 130 steps and 30 seconds away.
We could see the entrance opposite our room!
Legoland theme park
Legoland Florida has most of the rides you might expect if you have been to Windsor.
Lego Ninjago was our favourite as all four of us could compete together, shooting the villains with 3D glasses on as we spin through the ride.
Fortunately, the park was lovely and quiet when we visited during the week in October half-term so we could ride it four times!
Lots of photo opportunities
The site is spacious and with the lake on one side and plenty of greenery, it is quite a relaxing place to visit.
Most of the rides are suited to younger children, but there are some speedier ones.
We also enjoyed the aqua coasters and the fire engine ride where you have to pump your own engine to reach the blaze and put it out.
Some of the rides might feel a bit dated and quaint if you have just been to Disney World or Universal Studios but our children really enjoyed driving their own motorboats or steering a car in the driving school. Plus it was a relief to escape the crowds and the queues from the bigger parks.
Meeting a life-sized Lego figure
There are several places to cool down from the Florida heat – such as indoor spaces where you can create with Lego and a 4D theatre.
For a bigger cool off there is Legoland Water Park on site.
Legoland Water Park
You can only enter the water park with a ticket to the main park itself, but you need to pay extra.
Frustratingly it is at the far end of the park – a 15/20 minute walk from the entrance which means if you return to the park after a break/lunch like we did, you have to carry your swimming gear past all the rides – there is no separate entrance.
Once you make it inside, there is a nice, long lazy river with giant Lego bricks floating along to play with and a pool with a wave machine which runs every 10minutes. The water is lovely and warm and it feels very safe.
There is seating at the front of the wave pool and some umbrellas for shade.
Opposite the wave pool is a section with small slides and a splash park for younger children.
Slides and splashes for younger children
It has a large bucket which tips water over everyone every few minutes, five or six gentler slides and spray guns to fire water at parents.
For older children, there are the Twin Chaser and Splash Out rides. These were much bigger, faster water slides but unfortunately were closed when we visited.
There is only one changing room at the entrance to the water park and it is fairly basic.
We enjoyed our visit to cool off but parts of it do need updating and painting.
It includes interactive rides, themed playgrounds, a cinema and character shows and an indoor cinema for quieter moments.
There’s a splash pad for practising jumping in muddy puddles, fair games and a little roller coaster.
*Location – it is amazing to be staying so close to Legoland park. You can leave your hotel room just before the 10am opening and be straight on a ride minutes later.
No accommodation at Disney, Universal or most UK theme parks gets you so close to the entrance.
*Rooms – the theme is fun, the treasure hunt on arrival is entertaining and it is a magical experience for small children. It is brilliant to see their faces when they enter the room for the first time and discover their bunk beds, TV and Lego tray.
*Pool options – you can choose the theme park waterpark or there are smaller, shallow pools at both Pirate Island Hotel and the Legoland Hotel. The pool at the Legoland Hotel had its own small slide.
Legoland Hotel swimming pool
*The setting by Lake Eloise – it feels very calm and tranquil compared with other theme parks. You can do a short boardwalk along the lakeside, although the signs warning of possible alligators and snakes could be alarming (we think we spotted an alligator eyeing up its prey in the lake near to the shore).
*Go to the park at opening and you get the place to yourself for a bit. It is so close to the hotel that it makes sense to get in first. We visited on a quiet midweek in October and didn’t have to wait more than five minutes for any ride all day. At the same time of year at Disney and Universal, some ride waits were 90 minutes!
*Breakfast got very busy after 8.30am so try and go beforehand if you don’t want to queue for a table. Also, the restaurant is more relaxing when it is quieter – the rest of the time it sounded like a full-on children’s party!
*Grab some towels from your hotel pool area to take to the waterpark if you haven’t brought your own with you. You use your room card to access the towels from inside a cabinet and check them back in when you return after your swim.
*There are strollers and lockers to rent just inside the entrance to the park.
*Download the Legoland app for help navigating the park and seeing theatre times etc.
Legoland Florida Resort information
Food: There are various food outlets around the parks serving a range of fast food, ice creams and drinks.
For bigger meals there’s a pizza and pasta all-you-can eat buffet.
We spend two sumptuous days with our children in one of America’s top luxury hotels fabulously located within Walt Disney World Resort
Four Seasons Resort Orlando.
Where is it?
It is within the grounds of Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, US, a short ride from the Disney parks themselves.
What is it?
Four Seasons Resort is one of the top luxury hotels in America – widely considered the best in Orlando with a price tag to match.
The AAA Five Diamond Award property has 443 rooms (68 are suites), fabulous restaurants and a small water park.
The lazy river
Guests staying here are able to get into any of the Disney parks 30 minutes early. And travel there and back by free shuttle bus.
Is it family friendly?
Oh yes, yes, yes. Our children adored this hotel, thoroughly appreciated the luxury and special touches and were thrilled with the water park.
Water slides at Four Seasons Resort Orlando
Staff were so good with them. When we checked in, they received a bag containing a scavenger hunt.
This was a great opportunity to explore the hotel and find our bearings while they searched for various points to have their booklets stamped.
And the prize at the end? Free ice cream in a fabulous café/ice cream parlour on site, prettily named Lickety Split.
There’s also a great, free kids’ club for children aged four to 12, with enthusiastic staff and brilliant facilities.
Our room was spacious and luxurious. It was a park view room which meant we could watch the Disney fireworks and lights displays from our balcony.
Our spacious room
It had two queen-sized beds, the largest hotel television we’ve ever seen and an iPad for contacting reception, booking restaurants, ordering extra pillows etc.
The big bathroom had two sinks, a bath, separate shower and a large mirror with a television in the centre, a great novelty, plus Bose surround sound.
Bathroom mirror television
There was a very useful changing and wardrobe area with space for luggage between the bedroom and bathroom.
Plus, there was seating, a mini fridge and a present waiting for our daughter on the bed.
Food and drink
There are six places where you can eat at the hotel. We dined at Ravello restaurant, a modern Italian, with exquisite food and helpful, knowledgeable staff who called us by name.
This is also where the delicious buffet breakfast is served and it was lovely to be eating such quality fare.
We also enjoyed a lovely lunch around the pool, a server collects your order and delivers it back to you where you are sitting.
The Disney World Parks of Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are just a 10-minute ride away.
Hotel guests can enter the parks 30 minutes early – a huge bonus to be able to start exploring and queuing for the most popular rides when it’s a bit quieter – and travel there and back by free shuttle bus.
*The staff: From the moment we pulled up in our hire car and multiple staff appeared to help with our luggage and park the vehicle, through to those on reception, the concierge service, the Disney desk, those around the pool and the restaurant staff, we have never experienced such diligence and care.
*The Explorer Island water park: you can swim or float on rings along a lovely lazy river which loops around the grounds, there is a small pool off it with a volleyball net and basketball hoops.
There is a big infinity pool, which from a distance, blends into a lake behind it. There are two water slides in a separate area plus a big splash zone.
The main pool
An adults-only pool in a separate area looked especially peaceful and inviting.
*Games and sports: There’s a games room called The Hideout with pool table, games consoles, a tv and more. There are also pool and table tennis tables dotted around in other places along with a basketball court.
*Seating: It is invitingly placed around the pools and is a mixture of sunbeds, cabanas and egg chairs. And there are towels available on tap.
Anything else to note?
We didn’t have time to use them but there’s also three tennis court, a golf course (Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club), a spa with 18 treatment rooms and a fitness centre.
*Be sure to check Disney park opening times and shuttle bus times the night before, the timetable comes out every evening. The buses usually run every hour. The Disney desk opposite reception can link your tickets to your resort booking so you can great straight into the theme park in the morning
*On set days, there are Disney character breakfasts at the hotel – The Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy and Pals or you could even pay for a private breakfast or private meet and greet character experience with Mickey.
*Ask at reception for the times of Disney fireworks to watch, especially if you have a park-view room.
*This hotel isn’t cheap, rooms can cost up to $2,000 per night. That doesn’t include breakfast ($40 per adult and $20 per child). It is clearly aimed at the top end of the market but you are paying for an exclusive experience. There are no hidden costs here unlike other resorts with no resort fee and no costs for the kids’ club.
Sun lotion and water are freely available
The cheapest meals available on site were from the poolside restaurant with the most expensive at the top floor Capa steakhouse, which has two terraces with views across Disney World.
As it’s so expensive, it’s best to plan your days here when you can use the facilities and enjoy the tranquillity away from the crowds of places like Disney World.
Four Seasons Resort Orlando, 10100 Dream Tree Boulevard, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, 32836, USA.
A beyond magical experience for Harry Potter fans at Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay in Florida
Universal Orlando Resort
What is it?
Universal Orlando Resort is one of the most famous and popular attractions in the world, welcoming millions of visitors a year.
It includes two theme parks – Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure – plus Volcano Bay water park.
Based mainly on the themes of film and tv, there are loads of amazing rides, attractions and shows.
A huge draw these days – and certainly for us – is the Harry Potter areas known as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The American resort also includes a shopping area called CityWalk and eight hotels.
Where is it?
It is in Orlando, Florida, US.
What did we think?
We absolutely loved our time here and were especially blown away by the Harry Potter parts as three out of the four of us are fans.
*We loved, loved, loved the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Diagon Alley (Universal Studios)
We explored Diagon Alley first, which is in the Universal Studios park. It can be found through a gap in the wall which would be easy to miss. There is so much to see and do there – a multitude of shops like Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and places to eat such as the Leaky Cauldron.
Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes
What first catches your eye though is the tremendous dragon above which sits astride Gringotts Bank or more specifically, the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. Every 10 minutes or so it breathes fire which can be quite a shock if you’re not expecting it. He emits a loud roar to warn you and it’s a great moment to capture on your phone. The Gringotts ride itself is spectacular, part roller coaster and part 3D experience, it’s perhaps too scary for young ones.
The dragon breathes fire over Diagon Alley
At Ollivander’s Wand Shop, there is a small show where Ollivander selects someone from the group and everyone watches while the perfect wand is chosen for them. He tries three different wands, the first two with disastrous results while the third provides a satisfactory and magical reaction. Our son was the person taking part, which made our trip even more special.
There are mountains of wands to buy in the shop itself, but if you buy a more expensive interactive one, you can do spells in set places which you find on a map.
Wingardium Leviosa with an interactive wand
There is so much to see and do here that you might miss fun elements like talking to an interactive goblin in the little Gringotts Money Exchange or tasting butterbeer.
The interactive goblin in the Gringotts Money Exchange
We also caught a show from Molly Weasley’s favourite singer Celestina and the Banshees.
Celestina and the Banshees
The Hogwarts Express
To get to Hogsmeade in the other theme park – Islands of Adventure – you can board the Hogwarts Express. This is a memorable ride in itself.
You enter Kings Cross station, walk through a wall to platform nine and three quarters, thanks to mirror trickery. I don’t know how this works but make sure to send your children through while you video it for them to watch afterwards. Then you emerge on to the platform to see the train itself.
The Hogwarts Express
Once on board, the windows are screens which make you feel you are passing scenes and characters from Harry Potter while the corridor side of the carriage you are in, features shadows and voices of characters as if they walking past. There’s even a dementor on the way to Hogsmead. The return journey is different again.
Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure)
When you arrive at the other station, you are in the Islands of Adventure Theme Park. Here you will find a snow-covered Hogsmeade wizarding village with more shops like The Owl Post post office, Dervish and Banges and Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods.
There’s another Ollivander’s Wand Shop here as well along with the Three Broomsticks restaurant.
Hogsmeade is where the popular roller coaster ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is located, which takes riders into the Forbidden Forest. This has the longest queues of any ride at the park so if you are keen to do it, then get there early or wait until last thing in the evening.
Also here is the Flight of the Hippogriff Family Coaster which is a good first roller coaster for younger people for try – although can still feel very fast and dramatic!
And this park is where you get to see Hogwarts castle itself.
You only enter to do the ride there – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Other rides we enjoyed at Universal Resort were the classics like ET Adventure – it opened in 1990 and can seem quite dated to adults but it’s a relatively gentle ride and was one of our daughter’s favourites so we rode it twice.
Next to the ET ride is one of the two areas of the park for younger children. Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse rollercoaster is a nice gentle one to start with and there are opportunities there to have your picture taken with film characters.
In another part of the park is an area dedicated Dr Seuss with a series of smaller rides in a nice colourful area. We enjoyed the Trolley Train which gives a good view over the whole site. This is a good, slightly quieter spot to eat a picnic or rest for a few minutes.
One great way to rest your legs and escape from the heat is to go and watch a live show.
We loved Animal Actors on Location. Talented animal actors from films and tv including dogs, cats, parrots and more perform mischievous tricks.
There are other shows around both parks, including the Bourne Stuntacular which is very popular.
*How long do you need
We had two days at Universal and that felt plenty for us. But if you are a group who love the biggest and most popular rides including roller coasters and screen-based simulators, then you may need longer. The second day felt amazing. We got there early and walked in confidently, knowing what we were doing and where we wanted to go.
If you are a Harry Potter fan then you are going to want to visit both theme parks and have a Park-to-Park ticket. Universal has cleverly split the Wizarding World of Harry Potter into two, with Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and Hogsmead at Islands of Adventure, connected by the Hogwarts Express (which you can only ride with a Park-to-Park ticket).
This is a way to skip the long queues and enter a much quicker line on around 14 listed rides in each park. There are two versions – regular which lets you miss the queue once per attraction and unlimited, which offers unlimited times you can use it per attraction. We had Express Passes and it made our visit so much more enjoyable, so I would really urge you to consider this if your budget allows and if the rides you are keen to try are included.
*How to get there
If you are not staying in a Universal hotel on site – and we weren’t – the best way to arrive and depart, if you are within a few miles is by using Uber or Lyft taxis.
There is a specific drop-off and collection point and it works very efficiently.
This works out cheaper and easier than a hire car if you are staying quite near.
You aren’t allowed bags on some rides but there are lockers near to them. There are also big lockers near the entrance that you pay to use.
*When to get there
Make sure you get there before ‘rope drop’ – the actual opening time – as you can’t believe the amount of people pouring into the parks and to enter when it’s a bit quieter is bliss. You can then head to the Harry Potter parts first – we got there really early on our second morning and Diagon Alley is a completely different experience – it starts to get more unbearable mid-morning.
A quiet Diagon Alley first thing in the morning
There’s a third park at Universal Orlando – a water park called Volcano Bay. It has a South Seas theme with a big volcano in the middle and feels like a tropical paradise.
Instead of queuing, you wear a TapuTapu on your wrist to book a ride time.
A Tapu Tapu
There are lots of amazing rides but our favourites were the wave pool and the lazy river.
There is a slide section dedicated to younger children under a certain height, but we couldn’t find any of the next level up to build confidence – just much bigger slides.
But it was brilliant for a change of pace and to cool down.
To get there you need to get a free bus from the City Walk transport hub at Universal.
Tip: Beware of extra costs. Take your own towels or pay $5 per towel. Locker rent is $20 so if one member of the party isn’t swimming, get them to watch the stuff from the sunbed.
For eating and drinking there are a couple of restaurants and a nice ice cream stall.
Food: There are loads and loads of places to eat, including the Leaky Cauldron (Universal Studios) and The Three Broomsticks (Islands of Adventure) from Harry Potter. Bring snacks with you if you want to try to save money.
Cost: Prices start from $70 for Volcano Bay and $109 for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. A Park-to-Park ticket covering two parks starts from $159 for children. Look out for offers such as four days for the price of two – Universal Orlando tickets, packages and prices
Best for: There’s something for everyone, even rides and activities for toddlers. Plus all the rides have a child swap (also known as kid swap or baby swap) option. This means even if a younger child can’t or doesn’t want to go on a ride, the rest of the family does not need to miss out. There are different ways this works depending on the ride so check first. We used it effectively on the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts Ride.
A first for Dubai with four-star beachfront hotel from Riu
The first four-star, all-inclusive, beachfront hotel has opened in Dubai.
Hotel Riu Dubai is a large family hotel with children’s pools and a water park.
Splash Water Park at Riu Dubai
It is Riu’s 100th hotel in the world and the chain’s first in the Middle East.
The modern hotel has 800 rooms, two children’s pools (one with slides), three large pools for adults, a children’s park and club and a broad terrace with direct access to a large beach.
The hotel has a ‘Splash’ water park, with slides and other attractions for adults and children over 1.2 metres tall.
A restaurant at Hotel Riu Dubai
There are four restaurants and six bars including swim-up bars at the hotel which is located 11km from the airport on the Deira Islands beachfront.
Riu is a Spanish chain with 100 in 20 countries around the world.
Its 24-hour all-inclusive concept includes all meals, snacks and drinks at all the hotel’s bars and restaurants, without limits or schedules.
A Riu Dubai suite
It also includes enjoyment of all the facilities and services such as the water parks, day and nighttime entertainment and access to the gym and spa, where only the beauty and wellbeing treatments carry a charge.
Luis Riu, chief executive officer of RIU Hotels & Resorts, said: “The opening of the hotel Riu Dubai is a major milestone in our hotel chain’s international expansion, because this is our first hotel in the Middle East.
“This is a unique opportunity to offer all our experience with the 24-hour all-inclusive product, which is so popular among our European and American customers, but this time in a completely new destination.”
Riu partnered with developer Nakheel to build the hotel, creator of world-famous developments including The Palm Jumeirah and Dubai’s new coastal city, Deira Island.
*For more information on Riu hotels, read some of our reviews from our family stays in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.
And link to those stories by clicking on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote individually, but the button just doesn’t work any more.