For a dreamer like me, Disney World in Florida was the only honeymoon destination worth considering.
There’s no doubt in my mind this is the best place on Earth – but outside that magical mouse’s domain, Orlando offers plenty more amazing adventures for lovers to embark on.
From swimming with dolphins in Discovery Cove, to watching the sunrise from larger than life Bob’s hot air balloon, there is no shortage of romantic attractions for newlyweds.
And if the champagne toasts, stunning sunsets and Disney princesses amount to an overload of saccharine soppiness for you, why not throw caution to the wind and let your inner adrenaline junkie loose?
There are enough spine chilling roller coasters and water rides across Orlando to satisfy the most reckless of risk-takers for a lifetime.
Arguably the scariest of them all was waiting for us at SeaWorld’s water park, Wet ‘n Wild.
Der Stuka sees its brave victims, I mean riders, step into a tight, confined capsule. The door is shut and you realise the only thing standing between you and a 250 feet practically vertical free-fall drop is a rather shaky looking panel which is about to be pulled right from under your quivering feet.
In my case, the attendant left me standing in the pod for a few minutes – which felt like a lifetime. Tinny sound effects of a rocket launch mixed with my disturbingly loud thumping heart made the capsule more claustrophobic by the second, until the floor suddenly disappeared and I was plummeting to my watery grave, or, the end of the ride.
Although my blood curdling scream could be heard echoing throughout the park, I have to admit I loved the experience in a sick sort of way, but wasn’t in a hurry to repeat it.
I’d chickened out of this monster two years earlier, so I’m definitely proud I took the plunge. I’d recommend it to anyone with a healthy ticker.
But if you choose to avoid Der Stuka, Wet ‘n Wild is packed with plenty of, marginally tamer, top rides which make it my favourite water park in Orlando.
After we’d dried off and stuffed our faces with IHOP’s customary blueberry pancakes and chicken fried steaks followed by peanut butter sundaes from Dairy Queen, we hit the hay ready for a very early morning adventure the next morning.
I’m not the best at early rising, but the promise of flying up in a hot air balloon to watch the Floridian sun rise somehow sweetened the 4am wake-up call.
Nervous and excited, we drove out to Celebration, Orlando, to meet our pilot Bob at his favourite morning hangout, McDonalds.
Waiting in the deserted, dark car park with butterflies in our stomach, it felt like a dodgy deal was about to go down.
And the second we met Bob, who drove us out to the take-off point, his passion and enthusiasm for flying only added to the thrill.
With years of experience under his belt, you couldn’t ask for a better, more charismatic pilot with whom to pop your hot air balloon cherry.
“I only take up six packs,” he told us, referring to the capacity of his balloon’s basket.
An American family of three joined us for the flight (despite the poor dad’s broken leg being in a cast), and after helping Bob and his assistant fill the vast balloon with air, it was time for take-off.
I’d been silly to worry – after getting used to Bob sporadically blasting flames to keep us soaring higher, floating over the glades became incredibly peaceful.
Seeing the sunrise and feeling its warmth as we slowly drifted through the sky is something I’ll remember all my life.
As we moved over a residential estate, dog-lover Bob howled hello to each confused pooch we saw – it was hilarious watching them figure out where the friendly greeting was coming from.
After around an hour in the air, it was sadly time to re-join our fellow land-walkers, but a champagne breakfast softened the blow.
Full of fascinating facts, former estate agent Bob makes a fantastic tour guide. But he’s also a true romantic at heart, helping couples celebrate anniversaries and even working with nervous guys to plan the perfect airborne proposals.
Back on Earth it was time to get wet again and make a few new slippery friends. Discovery Cove is truly paradisiacal. Forget just leaning over to stroke stingrays at aquariums – here you can jump in and swim among these graceful, calm creatures in a manmade mini ocean.
Guests pay to spend the entire day at the Cove, with gorgeous meals included in the deal and free snacks and drinks on tap. Relax on the beach or take a trip down the tranquil lazy river and stop off at two open menageries to feed tropical birds who land in your hands – however you choose to spend the day, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
On arrival, visitors are provided with masks, snorkels and wetsuits or vests. You can pay extra to take a swim with one of the park’s dolphin stars too. Trainers take small groups at a time for a very special encounter. All photographed and filmed, the dolphin swim includes lots of kisses, strokes and cuddles and even a one-on-one dolphin ride with the group taking it turn to get pulled along by the clever animal’s fin.
We got up close and personal with the park’s most senior dolphin, Capricorn, who has reached an incredible 36-years-old and has even starred in Jaws II.
Our trainer was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, as was every member of staff we came across. This really is a five-star, joyful day out, full of surprises and incredible animal encounters. Although a little pricey, you definitely get your money’s worth and after spending all that money to get to Orlando, I wouldn’t miss out on this one.
With my birthday fast approaching, it was finally time to head to my favourite place in the whole world, Disney World. As a special treat, we checked into Disney’s Wilderness Lodge for four nights.
Once inside Disney’s resort, you can park up and forget about driving as handy buses go to and from all the attractions regularly. Wonderful staff who are trained to go the extra mile to make your dreams come true help everyone feel special, no matter who you are.
I had been dying to book a table for lunch at the Magic Kingdom’s new Be Our Guest – a stunning restaurant modelled on the castle in Beauty and the Beast – but in the months before our trip the slots were booked solid.
While you can stand in line for hours at the park, we didn’t want to waste precious time. So we asked our concierge to help. With a smile he went over to his computer and seconds later gave us our own fast pass to the restaurant.
“I love making magic happen,” he said. Wow.
Practically running to the glorious new diner, we passed the long queue and went straight in. And it is everything I hoped it would be. The ballroom is amazing, and it is always snowing outside. The famous rose is under its dome in the West Wing, along with the Beast’s portrait complete with scratch marks after one of his tempers.
On entry, you order and take a rose. Then you’re free to wander around the three dining rooms, choose somewhere to sit, and when you’re order is ready, waiters locate you with your rose. Disney always gets it right, but they’ve outdone themselves here.
The food wasn’t bad either.
The vastly improved Fantasyland section of Magic Kingdom took my breath away. Gaston’s Tavern and the French town square make it easy to imagine yourself as Belle, singing and dancing through the streets – especially when you’re hanging from Gaston’s muscly arms.
And Prince Eric’s castle from The Little Mermaid is just magical. The new Under the Sea ride is a wondrous journey through the movie’s beloved scenes – and no, I’m not ashamed to admit I was moved to tears.
Although I was gutted to see the new Snow White ride through the mines was under construction, it gave me the perfect excuse to return as soon as possible.
Even though we’re grownups (sort of) with no kids, Disney’s parks are so superbly run and exciting, I never wanted to leave. It’s so easy to forget real life there and get swept up in fantasy, magic and dreams – and it all started with a mouse.
The fireworks, as always, were just out of this world. A light show against Cinderella’s castle before the bangs begin invokes powerful childhood memories and leaves you baffled by Walt Disney’s incredible legacy and brilliance.
Next time I’m going to ask our fab concierge to magic me up a permanent residence in the castle’s turrets.
Top Ten Orlando attractions:
Bob’s Balloon rides (bobsballoons.com)
Be Our Guest restaurant at Magic Kingdom (disneyworld.disney.go.com)
Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid at Magic Kingdom
Wishes Nighttime Spectacular at Magic Kingdom
Forest cycle trail at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Finding Nemo – The Musical at Animal Kingdom
Discovery Cove’s Grand Reef (discoverycove.com)
Der Stuka at Wet ‘n Wild (wetnwildorlando.com)
Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios