Thinking about an Orlando-area theme park vacation, but also hoping to get in some rest and relaxation? Kissimmee, about 20 miles outside of the theme park capital of the world, is the perfect answer for families’ quest for chill time after thrill time. Imagine spreading out in your own spacious vacation home, swimming and grilling in a private backyard, then jumping into the action of the attractions when you’re ready.
Stay in a luxury vacation rental by Jeeves Florida Rentals
The most soothing part of our recent trip to Kissimmee was the luxury home we stayed in at the Encore Resort at Reunion. The whole family did a happy dance when I told them they’d each have their own bedroom (Mickey Mouse and Moana-themed for the kids) and bathroom and that the backyard had a private pool with hot tub and slide. Let me tell you, the digs did not disappoint. Jeeves Florida Rentals offers a collection of luxury condos, villas, pool homes and luxury mansions, ranging from single rooms to 12 bedrooms– great for gathering friends and family!
Encore Resort owns 963 acres of luxury homes and amenities, like an awesome water park, two on-site restaurants, tennis and basketball courts and so much more. There’s a complimentary shuttle to the theme parks, concierge, grocery delivery, a kids’ club and pretty much anything a family would want to have a wonderful time in a fabulous home away from home. It’s incredibly recharging to be able to spread out away from the crowds and relax together as a family. My daughter says the best part was being able to jump into the pool any time she wanted.
Enjoy family outings in Kissimmee
Kissimmee is known as the Gateway to Fun, and for good reason. Not only is it super close to seven of the world’s top theme parks in Orlando, but Kissimmee itself is host to countless family-friendly activities. You can glide above the water on an airboat, play mini golf and adventure in the treetops on an aerial course, to name a few.
Our favorite Kissimmee activity was visiting Gatorland. It was a little bit insane and loads more fun than we could have ever expected, mainly because of the infectious energy and enthusiasm of the employees. Stompin’ Gator Off-Road Adventure is a new, 15-minute, hilarious romp around a swamp in a 12-foot-high truck. Our kids were giggling non-stop. If you’re seriously brave, swing for an Adventure Hour, where you can get up-close to hundreds of alligators, feed them raw meat and pose with a pile of gators behind you. You can even zip line over a gator-filled swamp or feed baby alligators with a fishing pole. Our kids held hairy tarantulas and slithering snakes, too.
Fun Spot America, in Kissimmee and Orlando, is a smaller theme park with an old timey feel. There are considerably less crowds, so it’s a great way to get in a fun day without all the wait. Our favorite was the Rockstar Coaster, a wild mouse ride with sharp turns that ignited giggles each of the four times we rode it.
Dinner and a show at Medieval Times is a popular dinner attraction that takes guests back to 11th Century Spain.
Eat out with fewer crowds
When you need a break from the bustle of character dining and busy restaurants, take a seat at one of the many great restaurants in Kissimmee or Celebration, a cute community built by Disney. Columbia Restaurant is a historic Spanish tapas restaurant known for its 1905 Salad, which is prepared tableside. My husband couldn’t get enough of the pork ribs and the kids went crazy over the Churros “Tres Amigos” with warm chocolate, caramel and guava dipping sauces. Eleven at Reunion Resort features a breezy, 11th floor patio to enjoy fireworks or sunsets in the distance as you dine on steaks and farm-to-table accompaniments.
Make the most of your time in Orlando
Orlando boasts the highest visitation in the U.S., with more than 72 million visitors in 2017. Here are some suggestions for navigating the world-renowned theme parks with young kids.
1. Purchase Park-to-Park tickets: Board the Hogwarts Express to experience all the awe of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as well as attractions with superheroes, giant beasts and silly Seuss creations. You’re going to want to see why, for the fourth year in a row, Universal’s Islands of Adventure was voted #1 Amusement Park in the World by TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards.
2. Skip the regular lines with Universal Express Passes: Pricey, but Express Passes are well worth it to take full advantage of your time at the parks. My family waited no more than 20 minutes for each ride with our Express Passes.
3. Pack water and snacks: There are fun, themed restaurants throughout the parks, but nothing saves the day like a quick, familiar snack when little ones start to run on empty. Pack a backpack with healthy snacks and drinks.
4. Ride Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon: This “flying theater” ride is tame enough for most members of the family, but super fun with joke cracking throughout the simulated race. My kids are now big fans of Jimmy Fallon.
5. Taste test various kinds of butterbeer: You can sip the regular version, or try hot, frozen or ice cream varieties. They are sweet nonalcoholic treats.
Magic Kingdom Theme Park tips
1. Book your FastPass+ as soon as possible: FastPass+ is included in the price of theme park admission, but plan ahead as rides get booked well in advance. Guests of the Disney Resort hotel can book their FastPass+ selections 60 days in advance. Those staying offsite can reserve 30 days in advance.
2. Play inside before your Dumbo ride: There is an air-conditioned playground inside that children of all ages can run around on while waiting to ride the flying elephant. Don’t worry, you’ll be alerted when it’s your turn to soar.
3. Cool off with a tangy Dole Whip: This dairy-free soft-serve desert has quite the following. Pineapple might be the original, but we think the vanilla version is best.
4. Save on mouse ears and other souvenirs: Many of the area stores offer large sections with souvenirs that will help you spend more of your hard-earned vacation dollars on the moments that matter.
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