Part 3 – Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Christmas Eve in Miami: Route to Visit Florida
This is Part 3 of 3 – Jump to Part 1 (Miami, Delray Beach, Naples, and Everglades) or Jump to Part 2 (Fort Myers, Sanibel, St Pete and Clearwater)
ORLANDO – December 17th to 20th
It has long been my (Kach) ultimate dream to go to Disney World and Universal Studios, ever since I was a child, so when we found out that Visit Orlando was going to make it come true I was ecstatic! Orlando is much more than theme parks, it’s a place of outstanding natural beauty, arts and culture, museums and multicultural cuisine. Remember this route to visit Florida.
This is partly why, upon arrival in Orlando, our trip didn’t begin by charging straight into Disney. Instead, we headed to I-Drive 360, a recently opened entertainment complex, to experience three awesome attractions – The Orlando Eye, Sea Life Aquarium, and Madame Tussauds – to see a little more of what Orlando has to offer.
The Orlando Eye – At 400 feet tall, the Orlando Eye is a giant observation wheel, similar to the London Eye, where visitors can experience 360 views of the area from a fully sealed, air-conditioned capsule. There is even a little computer console inside with a digital map and information about everything you can see. The views were breath taking and the giant, white structure of the wheel itself was beautiful in its own, changing with the view as it rotated, revealing new parts to itself.
Sea Life Aquarium – A new underwater attraction with many large glass-walled viewing tanks, full of colourful fish, sharks, jellyfish, sea horses and loads more.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Sea Life Aquarium.
Madame Tussauds – The world’s most famous celebrities come to Florida, now we get to visit them whenever we want! Although Jonathan is from the UK, neither of us have ever actually been to the original Madame Tussauds in London, so we were both really looking forward to it. We met celebrities, politicians, sports figures, musicians, even the entire British Royal Family!
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Madame Tussauds London.
Where did we stay?
3 nights in The Waldorf Astoria Orlando, Set amongst 482 acres of the protected natural habitat of Bonnet Creek nature preserve, Waldorf Astoria Orlando is inspired by the original Waldorf Astoria New York. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the signature Waldorf feature clock located below the domed reception ceiling, reassuring us that we were indeed in the right place. Not that we needed to be told, as effortless sophistication and classic style radiated from every surface. Our King Deluxe Suite had outstanding views across the whole of Bonnet Creek and a beautiful sunrise in the mornings. The white-linen, king size bedroom was separate to the living and dining area, decorated in a luxurious classic-contemporary style, making it very easy to relax. Jonathan finally found the bathrobe to end all bathrobes in the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, but he’s afraid he may never find another one as good as this again! With six restaurants and bars, each unique in style and cuisine, there was no shortage of places to eat and drink. The swimming pools, spa, golf club, fitness center and other amenities mean there’s never any shortage of things to do. The hotel itself is within minutes of all the Disney World Park, with coach transport included with your reservation, so we didn’t have to drive the car and think about where to park. Read more about out amazing Waldorf Astoria Orlando story here – Luxury Hotel Review: Waldorf Astoria Orlando, Florida
What we did:
- Drinks and bites night – On our first night, after checking into our suite at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, we met with Suzanne, Director of Marketing, who told us more about the hotel, the area and gave us some valuable advice on our ambitious plan to visit 3 Disney Parks in one day! She also introduced us to cocktail and small bites menu in Peacock Alley, where we tried their unique signature drinks, the Peacock Egg and Looking Glass cocktails, as well as a simple but delicious board of fine cured meats, flavourful cheeses and lively accompaniments, like olives and house-made preserves.
- Disney World – The next day, we started our ambitious one-day journey through Disney World. We planned our day ahead, deciding to focus on three parks, instead of the full four – Magic Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios and Epcot. With the new Fast Pass system, we were able to choose 3 rides which we could fast track onto at certain times of the day, then we could do the same at the other parks, but just one at a time. Luckily for us, we weren’t traveling with kids, so we were able to choose the rides and attractions we both wanted to go on, so we saved a lot of time in each park.
In Magic Kingdom, we saw the morning parade, met Mickey Mouse, got soaked on Splash Mountain, raced around Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Magic Kingdom Park.
In Disney Hollywood Studios, we tried the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and the Indiana Jones stunt show.
In Epcot, Disney’s science and technology centre, we did the Mission SPACE simulator, Test Track and had some amazing Japanese food in the World Showcase area, which features the culture and cuisine of 10 different countries. Check out our whole Disney World story – coming soon, but for now, check out all the attractions at prices at Disney World Orlando.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Walt Disney World.
- Universal Studios – The next day we had one last park to visit – Universal Studios – the ultimate collection of thrill rides, themed experiences and simulators spread out over two parks. We were incredibly lucky to have the Express Passes, as some of the lines were over one hour long. Universal seemed to be aimed much more at an older age bracket, with less fantasy and more adrenaline and thrill rides, roller coasters and simulators. Our favourite rides were all of the Harry Potter rollercoasters, which we mind-bending mix of a roller-coaster, 4D cinema, and simulation. Check out our full Universal Studios story – coming soon, but for now, check out all the attractions at prices at Universal Studios.
- Family Meetup – We wrapped up our final day with an amazing Filipino meal at my aunt and uncle’s house, about half an hour away from Universal Studios, close to I-Drive 360. We hadn’t had Filipino food this good since my mum traveled with us through South America!
After checking out of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando the next day, we had lunch with my family and spent the night with them at their house.
The next day, we got up early and drove to Boca Raton, where we had a meeting with TravelPro luggage, who have agreed to be our new luggage sponsor in our continuing quest from Monkey Backpackers to Luxury travelers! Scott, the VP of marketing, showed us around the office and even their testing center, where all of their luggage is put through brutal tests of strength and durability. So for now, we’ve put down our backpacks and are traveling with brand new rolling luggage – a 30” TPro Bold drop bottom duffel for Jonathan and a Crew 10 hardside spinner case for me, both with matching hand luggage too!
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Fort Lauderdale.
Where we stayed:
3 nights in Lago Mar Resort and Club (compliments of the management) Located along a quiet corner of Fort Lauderdale Beach and around the corner from Port Everglades, where the cruise ship glide out to sea, Lago Mar Resort and Club is a little different to most the beach resort hotels we’ve stayed in. Luxury, hospitality and exceptional service are synonymous with Florida, but when we stepped out the car, everything instantly felt a little more personal, as if everyone knew we were coming. A family owned and run business since 1959, the Lago Mar has passed down through three generations of family management and many of the staff have been there for five to ten years. With 500 feet of private beach and two swimming pools, there’s no shortage of space to relax and find your own quiet corner. There are 164 suites and 40 resort rooms, all furnished in understated comfort and luxury. The Lago Mar Spa is another haven of relaxation and rejuvenation, with a steam room, massage and beauty treatments, where we enjoyed a couple’s deep tissue. You can read more in our whole Lago Mar story – coming soon!
What we did:
- Relaxation. Rejuvenation – We spent our days in the hotel, simply relaxing and enjoying the pool, the expansive private beach and the ocean view and breeze from the comfort of our balcony.
- New friends and Family – On our final night in Lago Mar, we met with Debbie, the 3rd generation owner of the hotel, for drinks and dined with her daughters, Dani and Demi and family friend Andrew, in the hotel’s Acquario restaurant. We shared starters of homemade vegetable chips and fresh tuna salad, authentic hummus, with Mahi Mahi and pan-fried scallops for the main course. Every dish was fresh and unique, with its own spin on traditional flavours. After dinner, we all went to the Boatyard, a sophisticated yet laid-back waterside bar and grill, for a couple of drinks and some dessert. It was great fun meeting everyone and learning more about how Lago Mar came to be!
MIAMI BEACH – December 24
This was our 3rd Christmas together – 2 years ago Jonathan and I spent it in Sofitel Hanoi (we weren’t travel bloggers that time), then last year in La Paz, Bolivia, which was only our 2nd-month blogging. This year, we celebrated our Christmas Eve in Miami Beach!!
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Miami.
Altura Photo – On our way back to Miami Beach, we dropped in to meet up with the team at Altura Photo at Digital Goja, a camera and photography gear company based in Miami, who have agreed to be our new camera gear sponsors! We shot a quick video with Izzy and Walter from Altura Photo to show the new gear they provided us with and how to use it.
The Spa at Conrad Miami – Then it was time to head across town to for our last bit of luxury treatment in Florida – a couple’s full body massage and facial treatment with The Spa at Conrad Miami! The Spa promises a ‘modern, holistic approach to comprehensive health and wellness.’ The luxury experience started as soon as we walked through the door, with a comfortable waiting area and relaxing scent in the air. The massage options range from Swedish or Deep Tissue to Hot Stone, Aromatherapy, and Couple’s Massage, with other facial and body treatments.
We were shown to the locker rooms, which was lined with warm wood, included a sauna, hot massage showers, and luxury grooming products. Changed and wrapped in our thick, warm robes, we made our way to the relaxation lounge, where we could snack on light, refreshing fruit and cleansing teas, in soft seats and warm, calming light. We had both opted for the Swedish Massage with a Personalized Organic Facial.
The facial treatment used natural and organic skin care products to cleanse, refresh and hydrate the skin, while the expert therapist analyzed our individual skin types and needs. After many months of non-stop traveling, we hadn’t been taking as much time to look after ourselves, so this was well-needed
Our muscles were also in need of some much needed TLC, as driving, buses, carrying bags and often spending too much time in front of a laptop had all taken their toll. ! Swedish massage is designed to ease muscle pain, cleanse tissue and stimulate circulation through a combination of specialist massage and movement techniques. After some 50 mins of this expert therapy, we could feel all of the stresses and strains of the past few months starting to melt away and we felt re-energized afterward!
Check out The Spa at Conrad Hilton for the full spa menu and facilities!
Where did we stay?
One night in Circa 39 Hotel, we had finally come full circle and returned to the hotel where it all started, Circa 39 Hotel, only this time they gave us their awesome suite room, with a large living room and balcony overlooking the swimming pool area and separate double bedroom and bathroom. All decorated in fresh, updated Miami Beach style! Of course, the breakfast was the next morning was just as fantastic as the last time, with huge fresh juice and coffee, cereals, bread and croissants and hot options like crispy bacon and pancakes!
Bourbon Steak – Since our final night in Florida was also Christmas Eve, we arranged a sumptuous dinner at Bourbon Steak, a Michael Mina restaurant in Aventura’s Turnberry Isle Resort. It was an amazing experience and the perfect Christmas Eve. The Chef, Gabriel Fenton, knew we were coming so he prepared a special demonstration menu for us. A trio of signature french fries with specially paired complimentary sauces, tamarind glazed pork belly, miso-glazed sea bass and perfectly juicy, tender, New York strip steak – every dish paired with select wines to complement and enhance the individual flavors of the food. The unique side dishes of Truffled mac and cheese, mushrooms roasted in fine herbs and roasted cauliflower were spectacular and held their own on the table just as well as the main dishes. While the service and attention to detail were that of a fine food, silver service restaurant experience, the atmosphere was relaxed, the staff personable and friendly, making the whole experience all the more enjoyable. Read our full Bourbon Steak story – coming very soon, but for now, check out their full menu Bourbon Steak.
This amazing meal was the perfect ending to an incredible 3-week journey around Florida. We flew back to Bogota, Colombia the next day, already planning our next visit.
This is Part 3 of 3 – Jump to Part 1 (Miami, Delray Beach, Naples and Everglades) or Jump to Part 2 (Fort Myers, Sanibel, St Pete and Clearwater)
Note: This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the help and support of Visit Orlando for our itinerary in Orlando, The Meridian Group for our stay in Lago Mar Fort Lauderdale , Diamond PR for our Hotel in Miami, Conroy Martinez PR group for our Spa in Conrad Hilton Miami and Visit Florida, the official tourism office of Florida in Tallahassee, and especially Ms. Summer Gilhousen, who arranged the whole trip and coordinated with all the local tourism boards, private companies for our sponsored hotel stays, tours and car rental. Thank you!
Thank you to everyone we met along the way who all helped to make this such a special experience. It was an incredible first visit to the USA and I will never forget it!
Many more detailed articles about our Florida experiences coming very soon!