Fast forward ten years and here we are again. This time, we don't try to pretend that we're just here for the girls. Small daughter is so excited that there's a danger she's going to bounce right through the back seat of our rental car. She's been bouncing for the last few months, counting down weeks, days and hours until we finally got here.
We've got a week to see as much as we can before heading back to the airport for our next adventure - and small daughter has a very big list of things that she wants to see! Top of the list and as you'd imagine - lots of Disney princesses. Big daughter is almost too grown up for Disney princesses now, but she's hoping that Stitch will be around as he's her absolute favourite. We've got time to visit three Disney parks (Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and of course, the Magic Kingdom). We also plan to visit Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure and - thanks to Lesley who managed to get us tickets after we thought they'd sold out - Discovery Cove. Big daughter suggested hopefully that we might be able to go there to swim with the dolphins there and amazingly, that's what we we're going to do.
Orlando is perhaps much as you'd imagine it to be. Wide roads, three or four lanes across, full of huge cars. Diners and restaurants on every corner next to gifts shops selling souvenirs of varying qualities. Enormous billboards advertising attractions that try to compete with Disney. It's quite an assault on the senses. And then there's the heat. When we're there, it's approaching the hurricane season so the heat and humidity is at it's highest, and we saw some spectacular lightning displays - nature competing with anything you can buy a park pass for. At the Disney parks, however, the show goes on ...
Whatever the weather, Mickey and his friends are at the heart of everything, even in the gardens!
I have no intention of showing you endless family shots of small daughter over-awed in the presence of Disney royalty or the rest of us with permanent cheesy grins fixed to our faces as we pack more into our week than we ever thought possible. What I do want to show you though, is what never failed to impress me, whatever park we were in, and that's the attention to detail.
What Harry Potter fan in the world wouldn't recognise these spires?
Or this train?
Or this alley where you can buy anything from robes to owls?
The girls even wanted to try Butterbeer, although the sickly-sweet concoctions available from The Three Broomsticks weren't quite what they were expecting!
The attention to detail is everywhere; the Princesses were ready to answer questions from even the most fanatical of children (I thought we'd watched Frozen more times than anybody else but clearly not!). The queueing areas for the rides immerse you in the worlds of Toy Story,
Despicable Me, The Mummy and any number of other rides. It's not just about the five minutes you are hurtled about at sickening speeds or blast aliens with laser guns, it's about the entire time you set foot into the ride area - which is just as well in case of the new Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios which had a five hour wait time even at 8.30am. And no, we didn't queue up to wait!
However, it's easy to forget that there's more to Orlando than the Disney and Universal parks. This is Astra, the beautiful dolphin who chose to come and meet us.
Yes - chose - which was very important to us. We had a few misgivings over the idea of meeting dolphins that lived in captivity and greeted visitors every day, but the trainers we spoke to allayed our concerns. All of the dolphins at Discovery Cove have either been born there or have come from another park; none of them have been brought in from the wild. These dolphins live on average ten years longer than wild dolphins because they don't have to face the hazards of predators, lack of food or tuna fishermen. They always have a choice of whether to come and greet visitors or not, and if they don't want to, nobody is going to make a 300lb (21 stone) dolphin change it's mind. They certainly didn't seem mistreated in any way or as if they were having a terrible life, and we felt very blessed to have had the opportunity to get up close.
We also felt very lucky every morning to wake up to this.
Our accommodation was on the shore of a large lake with a lovely sandy beach. Small daughter was rather concerned to see the notices warning visitors not to feed the alligators, but we didn't see any.
It was calm and peaceful and seemed a million miles away from from the theme parks, diners and malls which were actually not very far away at all. The diners reminded us very much of Little Chef restaurants which are always a stopping-place for a breakfast treat on our days out to Wales. My husband enjoyed his mugs of coffee which seemed to be endlessly re-filled, although he had to be careful he didn't drink too much or he left the diner walking like a Thunderbirds puppet!
A week passes all too quickly when you're having fun, and it was soon time to pack up our suitcases and head off to the airport for our internal flight to Canada. And just in case you're wondering, big daughter did meet Stitch ...
Pack your cases and come with us as we fly to Ottawa, Canada's capital city!