FABULOUS Editor-in-Chief Sinead McIntyre, husband Alistair and twins Riley and Harris, 10, made memories to last a lifetime in America’s sunshine state.
Here’s what they got up to creating their American dream in Florida.
With a rollercoaster-loving daughter and a son who can eat his body weight in waffles, the US has long been one of our favourite places to visit.
Particularly Florida, where the sun always seems to be shining and there are more theme parks than you can shake a selfie stick at.
Obviously, trips to the States have been thwarted over the past two years, so it was with great excitement that my husband Alistair and our twins Riley and Harris prepared to set off on our first long-haul break since 2020, to visit SeaWorld Parks.
The flight got off to a great start with a celebratory glass of prosecco, before we settled down to nine hours of glorious in-flight entertainment.
Having left London in freezing rain, it was blissful to emerge blinking into glorious Orlando sunshine, and 15 minutes after exiting the airport we were sipping rum punch by the pool at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at SeaWorld.
The hotel is made up of one main block and pretty villas for families, all dotted around fun-for-all-ages pools (for a much-needed cool-off).
Breakfast is predictably humongous, with stacks of pancakes and bottomless juice and coffee to set you up for the day. Double rooms cost from £99, including breakfast (Hilton.com).
SUN AND SEAWORLD
Our first stop was SeaWorld Orlando, just a 10-minute stroll from the hotel, which is not only an unbeatable place to see dolphins, orcas and other marine life, but also a world-leading conservation and rescue facility.
SeaWorld’s experts are on call to rescue animals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and never say no, regardless of the cost.
More than 40,000 animals have been rescued, the majority of which have been released back into the wild. It even has a rescue centre dedicated to injured manatees.
We watched three members of the team tube-feed a manatee that had been starving in the wild, and there were others that were suffering body wounds after being hit by boats.
Leaving inspired, we took on the less serious business of trying out the park’s newest rollercoaster, Icebreaker, which boasts the steepest beyond-vertical drop in Florida. I can confirm that it is suitably terrifying – and a lot of fun!
Forget the usual disappointing theme-park fodder of greasy burgers and chips, and don’t miss a delicious lunch at the amazing Sharks Underwater Grill.
Both the burrata and beets and grilled lamb chops are winners for starters, while the tempura shrimp and miso salmon mains were mouth-watering.
I washed mine down with an ice-cold glass of moscato rosé – just what I needed before getting drenched on super-fast water ride Journey To Atlantis.
After a busy day at SeaWorld, an early start at Discovery Cove, also a stone’s throw of the hotel, was next on our list. We kicked off with a one-to-one with Louis the sloth – who looked rather how I felt at 7.30am – and learned all about the species from our knowledgeable guide.
Next it was time to get fitted for wetsuits and snorkel among the stingrays and leopard rays, followed by a relaxing swim in the lazy river to wake us all up.
We also enjoyed the magical experience of hanging out with a dolphin in the lagoon, watching it play before riding with it back to shore – something I know the twins will never forget.
Tickets for Discovery Cove include breakfast and lunch, so we feasted on grilled jerk chicken and churrasco steak, while chicken tenders were a hit with the kids.
Refuelled and raring to go, we hit the park’s SeaVenture experience.
This innovative, underwater walking tour is a fantastic way to experience sea life up close, without using scuba-diving equipment.
We each donned 33kg helmets to descend a ladder 11ft down to the seabed. Air is pumped into the helmet, which keeps everyone weighed down to enable you to walk among the shoals of amazing technicolour fish.
Next up, it was time for a trip to Tampa’s Busch Gardens, home to some of Florida’s
best rollercoasters and one of North America’s largest zoos – a 1 1/2-hour ride on the free shuttle bus from SeaWorld.
We headed out on a Serengeti Safari to spot everything from zebras to white rhinos and wildebeest. Our faves were the giraffes, which love to feast on lettuce.
We also visited the Animal Care Center, a state-of the-art facility where guests can watch vets looking after anything from alligators to poorly flamingos in need of some TLC.
Before long, Riley had persuaded us on to some of the park’s most scary rides.
First up was the nerve-shredding Cheetah Hunt, which races from high above the park down to the ground through a rocky gorge, followed by the incredible, inverted Montu, which has to be experienced to be believed.
Lastly, we steeled ourselves for new Iron Gwazi – the world’s fastest and steepest hybrid (steel and wood) rollercoaster.
With our feet finally back on the ground, we got to chill out with two giant turtles – aged 70 and 50 respectively – that love to have their necks tickled.
SLIDES & RIDES
Our final adventure was SeaWorld’s waterpark Aquatica, a short walk from our hotel. With the hot sun out, we couldn’t wait to hit the slides.
The twins are very competitive, so Riptide Race – which at 68ft is the world’s tallest duelling racer – proved a big hit.
Hurtling down the 650ft slides on inflatable dinghies and seeing who got to the bottom first was pure joy. Annoyingly, my husband Alistair won every time.
Taumata Racer mat race ride was another big favourite, while Ray Rush family ride was an adrenalin-packed thrill.
It was then time for a well-deserved lunch of Caesar salad for us and hotdogs and waffle fries for the kids, before relaxing in our Aquatica cabana, watching others hurtle down Roa’s Rapids.
Orlando is rightly adored as the theme park capital of the world, and this was an action-packed holiday that only deepened our love of the Sunshine State. One thing is for sure – we will be back!
Florida gets 237 sunny days a year on average.*
Direct return flights from London, Manchester or Edinburgh cost from £446 with Virginatlantic.com.
The best way to visit SeaWorld Parks is with the Discovery Cove Ultimate Package, including one day at Discovery Cove (with a 30-minute dolphin swim experience, all meals, snacks and drinks included), plus 14 days’ unlimited entry to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica Orlando, with free parking.
Prices start from £244 per person (Attractiontickets.com).
Find out more at Seaworldparks.co.uk