IT is the morning after the election and I had hoped to have breakfast with The Donald, but he’s busy… his pal Goofy comes instead.
We’re sitting in Ravello, the breakfast bar at Disney’s Four Seasons Orlando, twirling our napkins in the air singing Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A with the other kids and piling into pancakes the size of the table. Mickey and Minnie give me a high-five and wave me on my way.
My, oh my, what a wonderful day.
I’m on a five-day Visit Orlando trip and will take in Universal Orlando, Seaworld, Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the charming lakeside town of Winter Park, every bit as relaxing as it sounds.
I will base myself at the convenient gated Four Seasons Resort Orlando hotel where they have me truly spoiled… where else could you wake up every morning to a cuddle from Minnie Mouse?
Did I tell you too that they have a spa haven, a range of pools, their own golf course, sumptuous bedrooms and the best steaks in their Spanish-themed rooftop restaurant Capa?
From where you can watch spectacular fireworks shows from the nearby Magic Kingdom and Epcot Centre? It’s all I can do to drag myself away but there are new worlds out there to conquer.
First up is King Kong, Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s stunning stunning 4D attraction. The special effects are scarily realistic.
I have my cart rocked and get splashed but I’m not wet behind the ears. I take that big ape down. And the pterodactyls and T-Rexes at Jurassic Park… no dinosaur, me.
Now ancient worlds, Egypt, where I’ve only angered The Pharaohs and they want revenge. Oh Mummy!
Battling Mummies and monsters can be hungry work but there are no shortage of pit stops to refuel on CityWalk, Universal’s foodie and music hub.
Ours is Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savoury Feast Kitchen, new since last year. Savoury shmavoury. I pick at the flatbread but wolf down the chocolate bread.
I’ve done old worlds, new worlds, now for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I am honestly just as excited as I was the first time I entered Hogwarts Castle last year and I’m glad got say I seem to have got the hang of quidditch this time as I join Harry for a 4D ‘hang on to your cart – and your lunch’ spin on a broomstick around the castle.
I take more conventional transport to Diagon Alley, the famous Potter train, by some feats of modern wizardry I actually walk through the wall and even have a video to prove it.
No, I don’t know how they do it either. Or how they rebuilt an exact replica of Diagon Alley. Gringotts Bank, with its fire-breathing dragon on the roof and animatronic goblin clerks at the cashier desks is the pick but Ollivander’s wand shop runs it a close second.
I was overlooked again this year by the wand master for my own special wand, so I’ll just have to come back next year. Please!
Of course, Universal is the gift that keeps on giving and just to get out we walk through Springfield, home to the Simpsons. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to pop into Moe’s for a Duff beer and Krusty Burger like I did last year, probably best as there are more rides ahead.
I walk past a who’s who of cartoon and film royalty, quicken my pace as I spot The Hulk, I angered him last year, and look longingly towards The Shrek 4D experience where I spent the best time ever in a cinema last year being jiggled out of my seat and sprayed as we tried to save Princess Fiona from the clutches of Lord Faraquaad.
If you prefer darker, more futuristic worlds then The Transformers’ crash-bang-wallop ride will be right up your street… and our street too, it’s on our way out.
My head is spinning. I could do with Minnie to hold my hand now. Thankfully, I have my wonderful guide Cory for that…. she will mother me throughout my time in Orlando.
A couple of words on Orlando’s cast of superheroes here, Cory, my confidante and friend, as I’ve said, I couldn’t have done the nosedive into the abyss that is SeaWorld’s newest ride – the 117kpm Mako – without you by my side while getting up at 4.30am one morning to check if we could take a balloon ride over Orlando as fog engulfed us was truly beyond the call of duty.
Meg, meanwhile, kept us entertained with her infectious descriptions of the animals in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, especially the horned dude with the straw-coloured combover he’d fashioned out of the hay.
TJ is still there in the SeaWorld penguins’ enclosure in his waterproof dungarees as he was last year. I don’t think he ever left, although the legendary JP was missing from the manatees’ section.
Becca tells me he’ll be back. Never has there been such love between a man and a manatee.
I think of those lazy big sea cows with their ‘slow personalities’ as Meg wonderfully described them as I browse one of the high-end shops in Winter Park the next day after our boat ride around the millionaires’ lake and spy a manatee-shaped rubber tealeaves percolator: a manatee.
I think of them today as I stir my tea cup at home in rainy Wicklow, with JP, my rubber manatee, perched on the rim of the mug.
In my daydream his big eyes look up and wink at me from the cup.
And not forgetting the dolphins and their handlers and all those who share their lives with their fellow creatures who walk the land and swim the seas.
In SeaWorld everyone is made to feel part of the family.
The same is true at Four Seasons Resort Orlando where Dana greeted us with a smile as warm as the sun, as did the receptionists, the bell boys and cleaners who attend to your every need.
There’s even a masseuse on hand in case you need destressing… as if!
And of course there’s Minnie who stretched out her arms and enfolded us in her embrace.
I finally made my meeting with The Donald at the World Food and Wine festival at Epcot.
Here every country and every race rubs along real nice and their stands showcase their cultures and their people.
I find The Donald by the Mariachi band wearing a sombrero and a poncho. I shake him warmly by the hand and wish him well.
I knew it, The Donald does love Mexicans.
THE FULL ORLANDO EXPERIENCE
Jim travelled with visitororlando.com/uk on British Airways www.britishairways.com from Gatwick. Aer Lingus also travels to Orlando. Visit www.aerlingus.ie.
British Airways Holidays has seven nights at the 5* Four Seasons Resort Orlando from £1,589pp (1,817 euro) inc. ‘Stay six pay four’ offer on Golden Oak Room or above, travelling selected dates May 28-June 28 including World Traveller return flights from Gatwick and stay. Book by February 28. Visit ba.com/orlando or call international 0344 493 0122.
Buy Disney Tickets before March 29 to save 25%.
Plus enjoy Free Park Days with Disney’s 14-Day Ultimate Ticket for the price of Disney’s 7-Day Ultimate Ticket including unlimited access to all SIX Disney Parks… Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney Animal Kingdom Theme Prk, Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park. Available to book until July 31.
Guests can get access to three amazing parks for the price of two with the 3-Park SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Garden Ticket which includes 14 days unlimited entry SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando AND Busch Gardens Tampa with free parking – when guests book before December 31, 2018.
Park to Park tickets and Universal Express Unlimited start at $219.99 (205 euro).
Enjoy Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure each day you visit. Plus Universal Express Unlimited access to skip the regular lines on most rides and attractions. Visit www.universalorlando.com.
First published in the Irish Daily Mail in 2017.