By Kristy Tolley
Our family is always up for a road trip and Orlando, Florida, is one of our favorite drive destinations. There’s such a variety of diversions for every interest — from theme parks and dolphin encounters to obstacle adventures to foodie discoveries.
We love being able to spread out a bit when we vacation, so Reunion Resort & Golf Club was the perfect choice for us. This expansive golf resort is conveniently situated nearby Orlando’s theme parks. They even offer free transportation to Walt Disney World Resort. Options include estate homes, hotel suites and condo-style accommodations — ideal for family getaways.
We stayed in one of the estate homes, complete with a pool, outdoor dining area with a fireplace and a grill, a gorgeous (and well equipped) kitchen, washer and dryer, and spacious bedrooms. Two of the bedrooms were themed with fun Minions and Star Wars décor. What we really lost our minds over was the arcade room with a basketball machine, air hockey table and two arcade-quality video games. I also managed to capture the top four high score spots on Galaga while I was there, thank-you-very-much.
Families will also enjoy the resort’s tropically themed, 5-acre water park. The park features rope bridges, spray stations, water cannons and a huge water bucket that spills over every few minutes. You can also chill out along the 1,000-foot lazy river or challenge each other to a game of ladder ball, ping pong, foosball, corn hole or other lawn games. Parents can go full-on vacation mode with a frozen adult beverage from Drifters Bar. The water park is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Having a fully equipped kitchen made it easy to fix a quick meal (which we did each morning for breakfast), but we took advantage of the resort’s on-site dining with a dinner at Traditions restaurant. I loved the restaurant’s casual, tavern setting with an open-air kitchen. The menu is varied and extensive with items like wings, pork pot stickers, flatbreads, salads, sandwiches, steak, fresh seafood and tempting desserts. They’re open for breakfast and lunch, too. For an upscale meal, reserve a table at 7593 Chophouse. Nosh on crab cakes, beef carpaccio, lamb chops, fresh salads and other dishes. Save room for their signature Chophouse Brookie, served warm with vanilla ice cream.
I’m making small strides in improving my fitness level, but I was a little intimidated by the prospect of attempting an obstacle course at Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park. Situated in a natural pine forest, the park features a 425-foot zip line, as well as 97 aerial challenges. I like to think that I’m up for almost any challenge. However, deep down I just didn’t want to be the lame one in the family to sit this one out — and I’m so glad I didn’t!
We began our climbing adventure with a group training session. They fitted us into our harness and demonstrated how we were to attach ourselves to the safety lines and zip lines. Once we felt comfortable, we headed to our first course. There are courses for all abilities. The elevation and difficulty increase with each course — green, blue, silver and red. Our guide was always close by, walking below us as we worked our way through the course. We climbed 50-foot ladders, leaped across wobbly suspended bridges, navigated swinging logs and other tests of dexterity and strength. It was definitely challenging for me. However, the fact that I made it through two of the courses boosted my confidence considerably.
It’s been a few years since our family has visited a theme park, so we were excited to spend the day at Universal Orlando Resort. We’d yet to experience Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it was top priority for us that day.
Enhanced operational procedures were in place — guests and team members wore face coverings, our temperatures were taken before entry, daily park attendance was reduced, social distancing enforced and they cleaned rides and frequent touchpoints constantly. We felt completely safe and comfortable during our entire stay. We were able to hit all our favorite rides in the resort, as well as Universal’s Islands of Adventure. We even managed to pull off two rides on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. We all decided it just might be our favorite theme park ride of all time.
We grabbed a bite at Mel’s Drive-In, one of many delicious dining options throughout Universal Orlando Resort and Universal CityWalk. From seafood and international fare to quick bites and plant-based options, there’s something for all diners.
This June, Universal Orlando Resort guests will have something new to be excited about. The Jurassic World VelociCoaster will make its debut at Universal’s Islands of Adventure on June 10. The high-speed coaster takes riders on an exciting hunt alongside Velociraptors. In the attraction, the original cast from the movies — Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt and BD Wong — reprise their roles as Claire Dearing, Owen Grady and Dr. Henry Wu.
AAA Members can save up to $24 on 4-day tickets at Universal Orlando Resort (no block-out dates or reservations required).
We spent another day taking in several activities offered at Discovery Cove Day Resort & Marine Park. Our family really enjoys taking cruises and we’ve missed them terribly over the past several months. Our time at this all-inclusive day resort gave us strong cruise line private island vibes in the best possible way.
Face coverings were provided (and required during guided experiences and in public places) and social distancing was maintained throughout. The park has also implemented additional health and safety measures. It’s worth noting that Discovery Cove is also a Certified Autism Center, with staff specially trained staff who cater to all children, including those with special needs. The park also has a Quiet Space with low traffic and low noise for guests who need to take a break from the action.
Update 5/18/21: Face coverings will no longer be required for guests at Universal Orlando Resort and Discovery Cove who are fully vaccinated in accordance with CDC guidance. They will not require proof of vaccine, but ask that guests to respectfully comply with the revised policy. All Universal Orlando Resort and Discovery Cove employees will be required to continue to wear face coverings at this time.
Our package came with our own cabana, complete with a mini-fridge, a well-stocked snack basket, towels, lounge chairs, a safe for our belongings and a very accommodating attendant. Park guests can also enjoy breakfast, lunch and unlimited snacks and drinks at Laguna Grill. The menus provided a good variety of clearly-marked gluten free, vegetarian and vegan dishes. Snorkeling gear, towels, wet suits and other amenities are included as well.
Activities for all ages abound here. We did the SeaVenture experience in the park’s Grand Reef. Equipped with our oxygen-filled dive helmets, we made our way along the reef floor. It was like walking on the moon (I would imagine, since I’ve obviously never actually been on the moon). We saw tons of fish, rays and sharks. Our underwater guide provided details about each creature. All four of us really enjoyed the experience.
Discovery Cove guests can also check off a bucket list item of interacting with bottlenose dolphins. We were divided into small groups after we took part in a 10-minuted conservation-minded orientation. During our experience, our family learned about the dolphins’ habits, behaviors and amazing communication skills, then got our photo op kissing the dolphin at the end.
Other areas of the park worth checking out include Explorer’s Aviary, with natural habitats home to hundreds of colorful birds and opportunities to interact with them (and even feed them from your hand!). We enjoyed gliding effortlessly down the Wind-Away River, complete with cascading waterfalls, an underwater cave and sections of sandy beach. Don’t miss the Freshwater oasis, where you can snorkel alongside playful Asian small-clawed otters and get up-close and personal with curious marmosets. For the best chance to view these adorable creatures, time your visit during daily scheduled enrichment times.
AAA Members enjoy exclusive discounts on Discovery Cove Resort packages.
Photos courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort, Reunion Resort & Golf Club, Discovery Cove, Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park, Joe Tolley, Kristy Tolley