Yes, I'm still catching up from our trip to Orlando, where we did everything not Disney. The kids love Disney but Orlando has many other charms besides Mickey and crew.
Nissan lent us a Rogue to get around, a CUV that gets 28 mpg and has good cargo space for the overpackers of this world. Dave loved that the navigation system said "Please" before instructing you what to do.
We splurged with a night at The Waldorf Astoria Orlando and, well, wow. It was heavenly, from the majestic lobby on in. For people wanting to hit Disney, it's just a few minutes away. Happily, they let us in despite the fact that Max kept pouring himself and the floor drinks from the lemonade machine in the lobby.
We got a suite, with a living room and a bedroom.
Dave said the bed was the most comfortable one he'd ever slept in and wanted to take it home. I think the kids would have happily lived in that suite for the rest of their lives.
The Waldorf shares outdoor amenities with The Hilton Orlando Bonnett Creek next door. It has a lazy river. None of us can ever resist a lazy river, and we were there for hours.
Can you guess where this is? Hint: It's not the Lilly Pulitzer store.
Why, yes, it's Gatorland, a 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve with hundreds of alligators and crocodiles. We learned to tell them apart; crocodiles have a long snout and are typically a light-tan color, while alligators' snouts are wider and more u-shaped and tend to be blackish-gray. Sabrina and I saw a show where they dangle chicken parts over a swamp to get alligators to jump for them, which was both freaky and fascinating.
The water play area—good, clean fun, and a nice chaser to the alligator show.
Max was enchanted. Wouldn't you love one for your bathtub? *
* Chill, it's not real.
Next up: Universal Studios Orlando. SpongeBob: He's real! The hottest thing right now is the Harry Potter section, though we didn't make it there; I would have loved to see it, but the kids aren't into Harry yet. There's also a Wet & Wild park, but we stuck with the main park, which is all about movies and TV. Because, you know, the kids don't have enough TV in their lives.
We got a tour guide from Universal (hi, Ashland!) as well as access to the park. Sadly, Max wigged out when we arrived; there was a band playing on Hollywood Boulevard, and it unnerved him. Little lesson: It's a good idea to call Guest Services ahead of time and ask about any loud outdoor shows if your kids are sensitive to noise. But Max calmed down once he saw the Madagascar crew. One surefire way to make him crack up is to sing, "Max likes to move it move it!"
If you have a kid with a disability you can get an Attraction Assistance Pass at Guest Services, which means you get to go on the Express line. If there is more than a 30-minute wait on the regular line, they will give you a time to return. All entries to rides are wheelchair-accessible, and in some cases, you can take the wheelchair on the ride, like for the Men in Black Ride and the Shrek 4-D ride.
We hit Fievel's Playland, an outdoor playground filled with oversize props from An American Tail and Fievel Goes West, and the Curious George area.
Max was mesmerized by the huge bucket o' water, we watched it tip over again and again and....
I was totally entertained by the E.T. Adventure ride, and realized that the kids are old enough to see the movie, assuming they can overcome the trauma of the ride because they were a little terrified. I was all, "COME ON, GUYS, IT'S E.T.!!!" But they didn't care, perhaps because they were seeing an alien for the first time.
Inexplicably, Sabrina thought Jaws was a laugh riot.
Max mostly stayed off the rides, but Sabrina hit as many as she could—Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast, Men in Black, The River Adventure in Jurassic Park.
Her favorite area was Seuss Landing. She loved meeting the characters and riding the High in the Sky Seuss Trolly Train Ride; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; and of course, The Cat in the Hat.
And of course, the place is sprinkled with stars.
I wish we'd had more than one day at Universal, and I really wish Dave and I had a night there alone, so we could do the scarier rides (Earthquake! Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster! The Incredible Hulk Coaster!), ones the kids wouldn't yet appreciate (The Simpsons Ride!) and enjoy shows and stuff like the tribute to I Love Lucy (one of my all-time favorite programs). We'll be back.
One night we dined at Pie-Fection. The pizza is delicious—you can choose from several crusts, a few sauces and about 40 toppings. It's baked in a wood stone oven. But Purple Spaghetti Max had other ideas.
Next, off to Nickelodeon Suites. The kids were out of their heads with excitement.
There are two water parks with 13 slides and flumes. This is The Lagoon.
And this is what it looks like to get slimed, aka The Mass Sliming, 4:45 every weekday. Also at 10:45 on weekends! Be there or be...clean. I wanted to go, but Max got scared of the crowd so we watched from a balcony. A month later, Max is still talking about the slime and carrying around his little green tube of it.
Brunch with SpongeBob: Does life get any better? Nuh-uh. Max decided to do a dental check.
Nickelodeon Suites is a destination in and of itself. There's a crazy-big arcade, a mall area with restaurants, and lots of activities, from sand art creations to decorating back packs. Kids can meet with the Nick characters—Dora, Diego, Boots, Little Bill, Jimmy Neutron, Blue, you name it. There's a 4-D theatre (complete with wind, water, bubbles and SLIME!), and there are cool Studio Nick shows, too, including Family Improv and SpongeBob's Krabby Patty Celebration.
I was SpongeBob'd out by the time we left. Not the kids.
Last: SeaWorld! Here are dolphins, doing their thing.
Max got a little shy around Shamu. Sadly, we did not get to meet the real one, as he was shopping at the Lilly Pulitzer store.
Random dudes on stilts.
We could have watched the manatees all day long, they are glorious creatures.
Penguins have the best posture, don't they?
Max had a blast at Water Works; we had to carry him out of there, crying, but not before he tried to shoot me down with water. I have to say, his aim is impressive.