An area known for tourism, great weather and a sea of theme parks, Orlando has been hosting visitors for over one hundred years—since 1875 in fact. Depending on the stage in life, you’ll have a new experience likely, every time you go. Most equate Orlando to the days of treating our children to the obligatory lifetime memories which include visits to Sea World, Disney and perhaps Universal Studios. But Orlando is a convention destination too—and now, places like Disney Springs cater to some solid adult fun.
Orlando is about an eight hour drive from Chattanooga. But there are direct flights right from Chattanooga Airport making for an easier getaway. There is no lack of places to stay. Many national chain hotels even have multiple properties per brand. The Doubletree at Sea World was our destination, recently, (sans little ones) with a visit to Sea World and Discovery Cove.
The Doubletree in Orlando has been in a major rolling renovation—one that will have taken two years and tens of millions of dollars to complete by spring of 2018. Steven Green, director of sales and marketing at Doubletree says, “About 60% of our business is tourism, meaning we do quite a bit of convention and special event hosting. We have added a large conference facility, a new dramatic lobby area with shopping and a full service lobby bar. We are able to host large groups with over 1,400 newly remodeled rooms.”
Visitors this spring to Doubletree at Sea World will enjoy a new outdoor fire pit area, as well as an enlarged full-service pool bar for those who want to stay casual and play. The tower section of the hotel suits anyone, but
serves well for business travel with easy parking and a luxurious fitness center at the ground level. The newly updated villas boast outdoor entrances (Bahama-style) and are perfect for families with close proximity to the pool and pet-friendly tiled flooring. All rooms are equipped with refrigerators, microwaves, upscale bedding and new furniture.
Of course, known for their fresh and warm chocolate-chip-oatmeal cookies, the Doubletree did not disappoint with our daily sugar fix. For a morning meal, we recommend the buffet style breakfast on site at the Laguna Restaurant. Make no mistake, everything is freshly made including made-to-order omelettes and southern treats like biscuits and gravy. You cannot make your way through all of the selections in one day—or maybe even two.We were able to meet Chef Alberto Correa, who has been the Executive Chef at this Doubletree for over a decade, and enjoyed several of his meals over our stay including a creamy seafood bisque that could rival any other.
The Doubletree is actually within walking distance to Sea World and probably a quicker walk than the parking at Sea World. What’s new at Sea World? Again, if it’s been awhile, you are going to have a different experience. Notable for us was the tour through Sea World’s rescue and rehabilitation area. While these efforts have been going on behind the scenes for years (over 31,000 rescued thus far), Sea World now offers a public tour allowing visitors to see whales, dolphins, sea turtles and more who may have been rescued
at sea or transported from another facility. The operation is quite impressive with several tanks, hi-tech equipment—including transport vessels—and full time 24-hour staff. We were able to see several sea turtles in isolated recovery tanks along with some massive manatees—one who was being treated for a punctured lung.
Sea World is great for all ages. They’ve incorporated a few roller coasters over the years, the newest one being the Manta. We enjoyed the thrilling virtual experience that they added to Kracken—where you follow an octopus beast named Kracken underwater through the technology of 3D goggles. But, this park is probably best known for the engaging shows and sea life interactions.
Families will appreciate a very reasonably priced “all day dining” option which takes the stress out of meal planning. This option includes entrees, snacks—eating every hour if wanted. Craft beer lovers can enjoy local and national selections all over the park—Sea World has old Anheiser-Busch ties, after all. It’s also pretty easy to eat healthy with plenty of salad options, fresh fruit and turkey spinach wraps, for example. If you want hot dogs and salted pretzels you won’t be disappointed either.
Remember the old Disney Downtown? It’s had a total overhaul and boasts quite a nighttime scene with plenty of live music, restaurants and other entertainment including bowling. We enjoyed some local BBQ there at The Polite Pig, along with a few craft beers that are brewed right on site. Business partners James and Brian Petrakis have a unique restaurant concept—BBQ, beer and…bourbon.
The menu at The Polite Pig consists of pork, chicken, beef selections and our personal choice—the jalepeno-cheddar stuffed sausage. We were impressed with some creative twists on vegetable sides including a roasted and seasoned cauliflower and roasted red beets with goat cheese and mandarin oranges.
We strolled throughout Disney Springs realizing that it was at least a week’s worth of nightly entertainment. There were live music mini-amphitheaters along the way with musicians of all genres. Retail stores and restaurants also line the perimeters with doors open beckoning a visit.
About 15 years new, Discovery Cove can hardly be termed a theme park, but is more like a resort. We visited on a day where the temperature was a perfect 75 degrees. The grounds resemble a tropical island complete with small bodies of water offering various sea life interactions. Incredibly unique, this experience is all-inclusive: admission, food and drink (including alcohol). Experiences include snorkeling with sting-rays, fish and other sea life, wading in a tropical lazy river and touring a very large aviary of birds in their habitat. You can swim right up to an otter exhibit and watch their play too.
For the premium adult experience, we enjoyed the add-on cabana which includes all-day service, fully stocked refrigerator and snacks galore. The two-person hammock which was shaded by beautiful palm trees made for a perfect afternoon nap spot—the park opens at 7:00am for breakfast so there is plenty of time for relaxing.
Other experiences offered at Discovery Cove include a dolphin swim encounter. Dot, our dolphin for the day, weighted 400 lbs and was about 13 years old but fully grown. Dot’s trainer guided us in handling and ultimately allowing each of us to ride the dolphin for a short swim—an exciting experience for sure.
Discovery Cove is a destination for the most discerning travelers. The level of service, attention to detail and overall experience is high-end. The ratio of employees to visitors appeared to be close to 1:4—there is no need that is unmet.
After a very relaxing (a word never used in relation to a theme park) day, visitors can wrap up their water experiences at 5pm (the park closes around 6pm—when the last person leaves) and enjoy a nice warm shower in their luxurious facilities equipped with fresh towels, shampoo and conditioner allowing you to go back home clean and dry.
Visit the links above for more information about planning a trip to Orlando, Florida.