A Guide to Orlando Florida
Destination: Orlando, Miami & Tampa Florida, Atlanta, Georgia Date of Travel: March 2016 Flight Time: Just over 9 hours with Virgin Atlantic
Duration: 12 Days
Language: American! ( Lol – English)
Currency: U.S Dollar ( Weak rate of 1.3/1.4 currently)
Departing: London Gatwick
Weather: Warm but can be overcast in March.
Visa Needed: Yes, though some countries are under the Visa Waiver Program and will need to acquire an ESTA. This is the official site to get one of these: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/ – This is valid for two years and is $14. Be wary of any other sites, as you can end up paying much more!
As a silver tier member, Addison Lee offer some great off peak deals to both airports and local drops, so we took a spacious 7 seater car all the way to Gatwick airport to begin our journey for an amazing £52!.
Our flight with Virgin to Orlando took off on time … And although we landed on time. The wait for car hire took absolutely ages. This is something I’m starting to witness at every airport when hiring a car. When booking your car hire be very careful about agreeing things such as mileage, fuel and the all important Sat Nav! ( I’d love to hear your Car Hire tips)
We drove 30 mins to the gated community of Formosa Gardens which housed all our villas.Thankfully a pre-arranged chef had dinner ready for us…
Villas in Orlando are plentiful, almost all will come with a pool within good distance of the Disney Parks and at a great price so it really is worth checking them out as an alternative to a hotel with much more space. Some equipped with both a games room and a cinema room. See some Florida Specials here on James Villas
Atlanta Trip The next morning, as we were celebrating a bachelorette / Hen Party, 19 of us left for the airport at 5:30am to catch a flight from Orlando airport to Atlanta with Spirit Airlines. The Flight went smoothly, though bear in mind, you have to pay to bring carry-on luggage here. See more in my Hand Baggage Packing Guide for Spirit’s carryon restrictions.
Once at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta airport we stopped at iHop express ( in the airport ) for breakfast and walked to the train / MARTA ( Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority)station, which is easily accessible in the airport. Here you can buy a Breeze card for $2, preloaded with as much as you want. We planned to do a few trips over the next two days, so preloaded $10 credit. You’ll find the MARTA map very easy to understand and most people were helpful with information.
We rode 11 stops on the North Line to Midtown Atlanta to check in to the Loews Hotel and drop our bags off.
Back on the MARTA at Midtown and North East to Lenox, to check out the Lenox Mall. We later rode back to Midtown to Einsteins for a pre-arranged celebration lunch and then back to the Bride’s room at the hotel for some activities headed up by Miss Elise. She runs a company called Playground Atlanta which will arrange activities but also a party bus with host, drinks and the arrangement of VIP sections at a number of bars / clubs if required.
At 10pm our party bus picked us up and took us to the bar at W Midtown…then onto Harlem Nights Club and back home again. The next day we stopped off at Cafe Intermizzo for brunch, which is just next to the Loews Hotel which has not only a great menu but staff ( Say Hello to Tavious – if he’s not a movie star before your next visit) and atmosphere are great too!
Most of the group departed flying back to Orlando, leaving three of us to drive north to Buckhead in Atlanta.
We checked into the W Hotel Buckhead Atlanta… With the lovely Alexis.
We then went off to explore Phipps mall and had lunch at the Tavern on the outskirts of the mall. Back at the hotel we made use of the hotel’s free shuttle taxi ( operating in a two mile radius) to Chops restaurant, which is dark and atmospheric with great food for a more sophisticated dinner. We used Uber to get back to our hotel and headed up to their rooftop bar, Whiskey Blue for some drinks whilst their DJ entertained.
Orlando After breakfast we headed back to ATL airport on the MARTA and experienced the well known delays of Spirit Airlines with an approximate flight delay of 2 hours which seemed to increase by the minute. We finally arrived at Orlando Airport at 7pm and jumped in a taxi to International Drive to meet our group at Ice Bar Orlando. They had arranged a VIP area for us, some bottles and of course access to the Ice Bar with some premium warm faux fur coats! We were entertained by their DJ, though it being a Sunday meant it was VERY quiet in there. Needless to say with 30 of us in tow, we had a great time.
The next day we attempted to rock up to the Escape Game Orlando – but with it being Spring Break, it was fully booked, so I do recommend booking in advance at every opportunity. We returned to our villa ( and with 6 DJs being in our group) music was always plentiful! Thanks to Westend DJ and Pioneer DJ for the DDJSX whilst in the US. The following day we decided to hit up the ever popular Outlet stores in Orlando. There are two, both managed by Simon. Premium Outlets Orlando International ( on International Drive) and then Premium Outlets Orlando Vineland ( Vineland Road) Although they have similar deals, the International one does have slightly more shops. It’s worth either downloading the Simon app or visiting both websites, to ensure the one you visit has all the shops you want. On the way back to the villas we stopped off at The Florida Mall as our final stop.
Our next scheduled meet up was the Orlando Gun Club Range – where in a safe, controlled / secure environment, you can have a go at shooting and getting those shots on a paper target. The staff were great and although light-hearted ensured everyone knew the dangers and also the seriousness of being safe. Our session was from 10am – 12pm which accounted for all 28 of us present, splitting us up into groups of seven.
From there, three of us drove to Disney World, specifically to Magic Kingdom. Parked up and caught their parking bus to the main entrance, where you purchase your tickets. I’d strongly advise signing up to a fastpass so you can pre -book some rides with a shorter wait time. You can also get your tickets exchanged onto a magic bracelet, so you don’t have to find your card each time you get to a ride. There is a lot of walking involved, Wear comfortable shoes and get yourself a map, but do some research beforehand. You can also download an app that also tells you approximate wait times in real time, which is incredibly handy. There is a parade a couple times a day, also fireworks, so time your trip accordingly. Might be worth noting the park closes at midnight most days, so you have more than enough time to stagger your entry, or combine with a multi park ticket and visit two in one day.
And buy ears – you must do, you can’t leave the park without buying Mickey or Minnie ears! It’s a Disney given!
The next couple of days were spent exploring Orlando, familiarising ourselves with the local supermarkets, Walmart ( which sells everything) and eating fast food of various forms! You must try Chick Fil -A ( They aren’t open on Sundays) Popeyes, iHop and Five Guys.
The end of the week, we were celebrating the wedding of two of our friends, which was the main purpose behind this trip. They arranged a coach pick up for all guests and the wedding took place in The Abbey in Downtown Orlando, followed by the reception at Mezz. ( two doors down) I’m sure you’ll agree the detail was stunning!
Miami and Tampa
As the rest of the group got ready to depart and fly back to London, we embarked on the 4 hour drive to Miami. Got there just in time to experience all that South Beach has to offer. First the beach itself and then all the bars and restaurants on the strip. We stopped off at Wet Willie’s and experienced their alcoholic frozen beverages. Didn’t quite have the energy to make it to Club Liv, which is a must on Sundays but make sure you pre -arrange your entry or table beforehand.
The next day we did the three hour drive to Tampa staying there for our final night, stopping off at Miromar Outlets in Estero on the way. We ended the night with an all important visit to The Cheesecake Factory at International Plaza and Bay Street…
On the morning of our final day, we returned to the International Plaza and Bay shopping mall to get some last minute bits and finally visited the infamous Taco Bus! A pop up Taco Bus which opens up at 11am each day and provides some of the best Tacos…made to deliver. The best way to end a trip.
Back at Orlando airport, with a visit to Outback Steakhouse served by the wonderful Donna and then onto a half empty flight… the flight was on – time and arrived early into Gatwick to an empty passport control room and immediate arrival of baggage which was absolute bliss. Another trip Over! Although we were working to a wedding group schedule. Are there any activities / places that you would suggest people visit whilst in Orlando? Let us know below or over on Facebook / Instagram…