Tag Archives: Florida

Review of the Hilton Cocoa Beach Hotel in Florida, USA

Hilton Cocoa Beach Hotel Review

Review of the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront Hotel, Florida, USA

We have now stayed twice at the Hilton Cocoa Beach and have found it a great place to unwind before heading off on a cruise. Located right on the beachfront, you can either hang at the beach or let the kids swim in the pool while the adults relax by Longboards or the Beach bar.

Pool & Fitness Center

While it’s not a huge pool area, it is enough to cool down and keep the kids entertained.

The fitness center has a few cardio machines and some weights for those that like to work out while on holidays.

Longboards Tiki Beach Grille

If you’re looking for an outdoor bar with a great atmosphere to sit back, relax and have a few drinks with a bite to eat then Longboards Tiki Beach Grille is the place for you. They have a real good happy hour menu from 4.00pm to 7.00pm (daily except Saturdays). The staff service is excellent and the meals were pretty big. The bar has big screens which always have sport playing and at night there is live entertainment.

Next to Longboards is a sun deck with plenty of deck chairs and at night there are a couple of fire pits for the cooler nights.

You can watch our YouTube Video of Longboards and the Pool Deck area here.

Note: the video was taken before the Castaways Beach Bar was built.

Castaways Beach Bar

The latest addition to the Hilton Cocoa Beach is Castaways Beach Bar. Opened in July 2017 this bar is situated along the walkway from the hotel to the beach. Great if you are hanging out and the beach and fancy a quick drink.

Salt Restaurant

The main dining area inside the hotel is Salt Restaurant. We only ate here for breakfast but it is open for dinner from 5.00pm to 10.00pm featuring modern American cuisine. Breakfast is served between 6.00am to 11.00am and you have the choice of the buffet breakfast or you can dine a la carte. We chose the buffet as the selection was quite good. It had an egg station, bacon, sausages, potatoes, scrambled eggs and waffles. There was also plenty of pastries, bagels, cereals, fresh fruit and yoghurt.

Cool Beans Coffee Shop

If it is a quick bite to eat you prefer or you may just want a Starbucks coffee on the go, head to Cool Beans which is open 24 hours. Cool Beans serves a variety of foods including sandwiches & wraps, cookies, sweets and other convenient snacks.

Our Room

Both times we have stayed at the Hilton Cocoa Beach we have stayed in a two queen room with coastline views. The rooms are good-sized and features included a desk, coffee-making facilities and empty bar fridge. The bathroom is on the small side with all in one bath & shower and has the usual Peter Thomas Roth amenities.

You can watch our YouTube Room Tour video here.

Cocoa Beach

Just a few steps from the pool area is the very nice Cocoa Beach. Through the hotel you can rent beach chairs, umbrellas, surfboards, bodyboards, kayaks, wetsuits and even a volleyball. You can book in for private surfing lessons as well.

If you like walking you can wander up to the Cocoa Beach Pier which takes about 30 minutes if walking along the beach.

Conclusion

The Hilton Cocoa Beach is a really nice hotel, not fancy but great for relaxing on the beachfront. It has really good features including an on-site laundry so you can do a load of washing if needed for those that are travelling on an extended vacation.

We also took advantage of a shuttle service provided to the nearby Port Canaveral cruise terminal which is only $5 per person. We would definitely stay at the Hilton Cocoa Beach again before leaving on a cruise out of Port Canaveral.

For more information on the Hilton Cocoa Beach go to: www.hilton.com

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Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, USA

Epcot at Walt Disney World Orlando

Exploring Epcot at Walt Disney World Orlando with Kids

While Epcot is not a theme park that is filled full of thrill rides, it still has a lot to offer for those travelling with younger kids. We travelled with our two boys aged 9 & 11 and with a bit of pre-planning, made our day at Epcot into a fun-filled adventure.

Fastpass Planning

Planning your day needs to start 30 days (or 60 days if you are staying at a Disney Resort) before your visit date. This is when you can make your fast pass selections. If you are not familiar with the fast pass system, it basically means you can pre-book three rides at certain times where you skip the queues. It is best to book the fast passes for as early in the day as possible as once your three selections are exhausted, there are fast pass kiosks at the park where you can get extra fast passes for later in the day.

Epcot works on a fast pass tier system, which means you have groups A & B and you can only make one choice from group A and two choices from group B for your first selections.

Group A

  • Frozen Ever After – all young princesses will love this Frozen journey through the Kingdom of Arendelle, but fast passes go quick for this popular ride and can be hard to get.
  • Soarin’ – this is definitely another favourite of ours where you get to virtual hang glide around famous landmarks from different parts of the world. This is what we used our initial fast pass for.
Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, USA

Soarin’

  • Test Track – this was our boys favourite attraction at Epcot. On this ride you hop aboard a six-seat vehicle and take it through a series of efficiency tests ending with a high-speed blast around the Test Track facility building. Afterwards you can walk around a showroom featuring the latest Chevrolet cars. We didn’t use fast passes for this ride as there is a single rider option which has virtually no queues. As we weren’t fussed if we didn’t sit together, this was a better option for us and we saved our fast passes for other attractions.

Group B

  • Living with the Land – this is a slow-paced indoor boat ride through Disney’s agriculture farms and laboratories which lasts about 15 minutes. This is interesting if you love gardening but our boys got bored by it pretty quickly so we don’t recommend using a fast pass for this one. Plus there were no queues when we were there anyway.
  • Disney/Pixar Short Film Festival – popular Disney & Pixar short films shown in 4D, this attraction was actually really good and worth going to but you don’t really need to use a fast pass as there were no queues.
  • Journey into Imagination with Figment – travel through Dr. Channing’s sensory labs with Figment the purple dragon to test your five senses and imagination on this carriage ride. Afterwards the kids can enjoy ImageWorks, an interactive play area. There are also some pretty cool jumping water fountains outside the Imagination building, a fun way for the kids to cool off in the Orlando heat!
  • Spaceship Earth – located inside Epcot’s landmark 18 storey silver sphere, this attraction showcases the development of communication technology from caveman paintings to television to computers. This is a good educational slow-paced ride which goes for about 15 minutes. As you exit the ride you walk through Project Tomorrow which is an interactive game and activities area. This attraction can get quite long queues, so a fast pass is a good idea here.
  • The Seas with Nemo & Friends – younger kids will love this attraction where you board a “clam-mobile” on a journey under the sea to find Nemo. When you hop off the ride you are located in a pavilion which houses an impressive size aquarium and don’t miss Turtle Talk with Crush (see below). This attraction can also have long queues so try for a fast pass here.
  • Turtle Talk with Crush – the kids absolutely loved this Q & A session with Crush the Turtle from Finding Nemo. A few of Nemo’s friends from the movie also make guest appearances here. This was a really entertaining attraction, there were plenty of laughs for the whole family. There weren’t any queues when we went so wouldn’t recommend using a fast pass.
  • Epcot Character Spot – meet your favourite Disney pals at this character sport located at Future World.
  • Mission: SPACE Green – this is the less intense of the two space simulation rides that take you on a space journey to Mars. This one doesn’t get as busy as the more intense Orange ride so fast passes for this one may not be needed.
  • Mission: SPACE Orange – this is definitely not for those who experience motion sickness but awesome for those that like to experience the G-Forces of a spaceship launch. Would recommend a fast pass as this gets quite busy.

World Showcase

If you have ever wanted to eat and drink your way around the world, this is the place for you. World Showcase at Epcot consists of 11 pavilions attributed to different countries located around a large lagoon, so be prepared for a bit of walking. While a lot of the focus of the pavilions is to showcase the food and culture of that particular country, there are still quite a few attractions for the kids to enjoy.

Some things the kids will love about the countries featured in pavilions at Epcot’s World Showcase are;

  • China – there is a 14 minute film called Reflections of China shown here which highlights the natural beauty of China, but it may not hold the attention of younger kids for that long. They will however enjoy the amazing performance by the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats.
Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, USA

Chinese Pavilion

  • Germany – our boys really enjoyed this pavilion which included a Garden Railway Miniature Train and Der Teddybar where you can shop for teddy bears, toys and gifts. Snow White also has a meet and greet in Germany at select times.
  • Italy – the only real attraction for kids here is Sergio the juggler and mime who performs at certain times throughout the day.
  • United States – The American Adventure is a 30 minute show which explores key moments in the history of the United States.
Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, USA

American Pavilion

  • Japan – experience the amazing performance of the Matsuriza who will captivate the whole family with their Taiko drumming abilities.
  • Morocco – kids can have fun meetings with Princess Jasmine, Aladdin and Genie.
  • Canada – O Canada! is a 14 minute film which showcases the beautiful country of Canada and screens continuously throughout the day.
  • United Kingdom – inside a quaint English garden, kids can work their way through Tiggers Maze. There are also scheduled appearances by Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland.
Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, USA

English Pub

Special Events at Epcot

Epcot plays host to different special events throughout the year. We were lucky enough to visit during the International Food & Wine Festival which is a celebration of food and drink from all around the world. During the festival you will find a lot more food and drink stalls from all different parts of the world, as well as more roving entertainment. In 2017 the festival will run from August 31st until November 13th.

Another popular attraction at Epcot is the International Flower & Garden Festival which in 2017 will run from March 1st until May 29th.

Epcot Conclusion

While Epcot was probably the least favourite of all the Disney Parks for the kids, we still had a really fun day out here. There is more than enough to keep the kids busy for a full day if you want to explore the whole park. However if it’s only the rides that you are interested in at Epcot, then make sure you have a park hopper pass as you won’t need a full day here – you can just catch the mono-rail and finish your day off at another park.

You can also read our other Disney Park Tips – Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios Guides.

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Waldorf Astoria Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida, USA

Waldorf Astoria Orlando Review

Hotel Review of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, Florida, USA

Situated in the Bonnet Creek resort area near Walt Disney World, the Waldorf Astoria Orlando is the perfect choice for families who like to indulge in a little luxury travel as well as enjoying all that the Disney Theme Parks have to offer. We stayed here in September for five nights with our two boys aged 9 & 11.

Upon arrival the first thing you notice is the famous Waldorf Astoria Clock in the lobby area which is truly a stunning feature. We checked in early (around 10.00am) as we had just transferred from another hotel and while our room was not ready, our bags were stored and we were able to use the complimentary shuttle bus and head straight over to the Disney Parks.

Disney Shuttle Transportation

One of the great things about staying at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando or the neighbouring Hilton Bonnet Creek is that you are able to use the complimentary shuttle bus transportation provided by Mears Transport to all the Disney Parks including Downtown Disney. The bus picks up first at the Hilton and then five minutes later at the Waldorf. The Waldorf pick-up is in the driveway so you can wait just outside the Lobby while the Hilton has a bus shelter outside the hotel. You can access the shuttle times here.

Our Room – Deluxe Suite 

Upon check-in we were upgraded to a Deluxe Suite (we are HHonors Diamond). The suite was a good size, it consisted of a big living area with dining table, kitchenette (complete with espresso machine) as well as a couch that was made into a bed by housekeeping at night. We also had a fold away bed in the living area so our boys had separate sleeping beds.

There was a separate bedroom with king bed for the adults and a very good-sized bathroom complete with separate bath and shower as well as Salvatore Ferragamo bathroom amenities.

The suite also had a balcony with view overlooking the golf course. There are rooms available on the other side of the resort which have a view looking towards Disney’s Epcot where you can watch the nightly fireworks show.

We loved the little cards left on our bed each night during turn down service, it’s one of those fine touches that truly luxurious hotels provide.

Watch our Waldorf Astoria Orlando Suite YouTube Video here.

Dining at the Waldorf

There are quite a few dining and bar options at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando and as we were travelling with kids we chose the more casual ones to dine at. Our favourites included;

  • Oscars Brasserie – serves a Buffet or A La Carte Breakfast. This was one of the most extensive and delicious buffet breakfasts that we have ever had at any hotel. If you have a sweet tooth you will love all the pasties and cakes, they were divine!
  • Peacock Alley – stop by for a refreshing cocktail or something light to eat. In the mornings they offer a croissant and coffee bar for something to grab and go on your way to the parks. You can also watch the nightly fireworks show from Epcot at this bar.
  • Aquamarine – for poolside drinks & snacks, we found ourselves grabbing a meal here after the parks while the kids cooled off in the pool. Loved their Prosecco Popsicle drinks! Be aware though, Aquamarine can suddenly close if the weather becomes inclement or if they are not busy enough.
  • In-Room Dining – we tried room service one night after we came back from the parks and were exhausted, have to say we were all very impressed with our meals.

Staying at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando also gives you access to dining & bar outlets at the Hilton Bonnet Creek next door, we only tried the poolside dining area called Beech for snacks and drinks – the kids loved the ice-cream sandwiches there!

Pool Areas at the Waldorf and Hilton Bonnet Creek

Guests have the choice of the two Waldorf swimming pools or the more family friendly Hilton Bonnet Creek pool which comes complete with water slide and lazy river.

Waldorf Pool Area

There is the Cabana Pool which is perfect for relaxing and swimming laps. This pool has quite a number of cabanas available for daily rental. The main pool is more family friendly with a zero entry point making it suitable for toddlers to splash around in. A jacuzzi sits in-between the two pools and there are plenty of sun lounges in the pool area. The pool temperature is really nice and warm which makes going for a swim bearable for those that do like cold pools!

The kids also enjoyed some lawns games and chess by the pool.

Watch our YouTube video of the Waldorf Pool area here.

Hilton Bonnet Creek Pool Area

Kids will love this lagoon style pool with its lazy river and water slide (slide open daily from 10.00am to 5.00pm). This pool also has a zero entry point for the toddlers.

Watch our YouTube video of the Hilton Bonnet Creek Pool Area here.

Fitness Center

The Waldorf Astoria Orlando has a good-sized fitness center with plenty of cardio machines and weight-bearing equipment available. 24 hour access is included in the daily resort charge for hotel guests. They also have a fridge stocked with bottled water if you ever need to stop by and grab one to take out and about with you.

Waldorf Astoria Spa

If some pampering and rejuvenation is in order, the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Spa has treatments to suit. Here you can enjoy one or more of the following;

  • Facial Therapies
  • Body Therapies
  • Massage Therapies
  • Hand & Foot Therapies
  • Salon Services
  • Tea Lounge
  • Steam Room
  • Jacuzzi

Waldorf Astoria Golf Club

The Waldorf Astoria Golf Club comes complete with 18 hole golf course, pro shop, practice range and putting green. If you want to stop by for a bite to eat try out the Clubhouse Grille which has a modern pub lunch menu.

Conclusion

While we didn’t try it on this trip there is a WA Kids Club which provides plenty of activities for kids.

If you are looking for a family friendly resort which is in the Disney area but away from all the Disney hustle and bustle, then the Waldorf Astoria Orlando is a great choice. At about half the cost of a similar on-site Disney hotel such as the Grand Floridian, it is also a more economical option. We got a great nightly rate and found it easy to get to the parks so we were glad we gave it a try!

Just don’t forget to include the daily resort charge ($30 USD) plus tax not included in advertised pricing) in your total price when comparing hotels.

For more information on the Waldorf Astoria Orlando go to: www.waldorfastoriaorlando.com

Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida

Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Universal’s Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios in Orlando

Universal’s Islands of Adventure is one of two theme parks that make up Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. We really enjoyed our time here as this theme park had a bit of everything to suit all ages – roller coasters, water rides, 3-D adventures and plenty of attractions for the younger kids.

The park is not too big and is very easy to get around. Our two boys aged 9 and 11 tried every ride (apart from Doctor Dooms Fearfall which was closed) and absolutely loved them all! Our highlights of Universal’s Islands of Adventure were;

Marvel Super Hero Island

You can watch our YouTube video of The Incredible Hulk Coaster and surrounds here.

Toon Lagoon

We also loved walking around the Comic Strip Cafe area and reading all the comical signs.

Skull Island: Reign of Kong

This blockbuster attraction recently opened at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in July 2016 and is quite an experience. Guests are boarded onto a bus and taken on a 1930’s expedition where you will come face to face with King Kong. The queues for this ride can be very long, even with the Universal Express Passes so try to visit as early in the day as possible.

Jurassic Park

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

On this half of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter you will find the village of Hogsmeade as well as the famous Hogwarts Castle. With so much to see and do in this area we have posted a seperate blog about what to expect here – you can read our Wizarding World of Harry Potter  blog here.

Be sure to visit early in the day to avoid the afternoon crowds, especially as the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride has no Express Pass option and the queues can get very long.

If you have park-to-park tickets you can also ride the Hogwarts Express over to the other half of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter located at Universal Studio’s Florida.

The Lost Continent

  • Poseidon’s Fury – take this special effects tour with your archeologist guide around the Temple of Poseidon.

Suess Landing

Young kids will really love this area of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, with plenty of suitable rides and there are always special characters hanging around to have their photos taken with.

  • Caro-Seuss-el – ride the Suess characters on this colourful carousel.

Conclusion

Universal’s Islands of Adventure is definitely worth going to visit when exploring Orlando with kids. In our opinion it’s best to buy park-to-park passes so you can take full advantage of the awesome Wizarding World of Harry Potter and ride the Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios Florida.

You can also read our blog on the Universal Studios Florida theme park here.

We also recommend staying at an On-Site Universal Resort Hotel to get free Express Passes for each guest a well as a one hour early entry to one of the Universal Parks for each day of your stay. We chose to stay at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando – read review here.

For more information on Universal’s Islands of Adventure go to www.universalorlando.com