Florida Family Fun

Foreboding but fun: The new Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley attraction at Universal Studios.
Foreboding but fun: The new Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley attraction at Universal Studios.

The second annual Ensemble Insights: 2014 Summer Family Travel Survey reveals that 55 percent of the more than 900 Ensemble Travel Group members polled indicated an increase in family travel bookings this summer, compared to only 32 percent last year. Multigenerational bookings were up, as 50 percent of the respondents showed an increase, compared to 46 percent in 2013.

When American Express Travel surveyed a group of nearly 300 of its agents, more than 80 percent said they were planning vacations for clients and their offspring, while 35 percent reported curating trips for multigenerational families. Overall, according to Destination Hotels & Resorts 2014 Summer Travel Trends consumer study, 41 percent of vacationers are traveling with children in tow.

It’s clear, then, that family/multigenerational travel is alive and well, and even though Independence Day has come and gone, there’s still plenty of summer left for your family clients who haven’t yet made their vacation plans yet (or are looking for options farther down the road). For them we present some of the noteworthy developments on that front, starting with a perennial favorite—Central Florida.


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As part of the aforementioned AmEx survey, those same agents cited Orlando as the most heavily booked domestic destination for the summer, topped overall only by Europe’s power trio, London, Paris and Rome. Orbitz.com’s Orbitz Insider Index put the Central Florida city second among U.S. options, while an earlier report based on hotel bookings made by travel agents via the CCRAtravel.com hotel reservations portal ranked Orlando third and nearby Kissimmee number 10. If you don’t know why Orlando is so popular, perhaps you’ve been living under a rock—or maybe under a spell, which brings us to the newest attractions for fans of a certain boy wizard.

More Harry Potter Magic

The Wizarding World of Harry PotterDiagon Alley has doubled the size of the Harry Potter world at Universal Studios Florida expanding it across both of Universal’s theme parks. Guests pass through London and the brick wall archway into Diagon Alley, which consists of Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, shops featured in the Harry Potter books and films, Knockturn Alley, and the Hogwarts Express that travels between King’s Cross Station in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure. 

RELATED: Universal Executives Open Wall to New Harry Potter Diagon Alley

Family-friendly double queen rooms at the new B Resort & Spa in the Downtown Disney Resort Area.
Family-friendly double queen rooms at the new B Resort & Spa in the Downtown Disney Resort Area.

Universal Orlando’s new vacation package gives guests the opportunity to explore this new realm, as well as other benefits such as early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and breakfast at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade and the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. Guests will also receive a themed welcome parcel delivered to their hotel. The package starts at $135 per adult, per night, including tax, for a four-night stay onsite at Universal Orlando, and multi-day Park-to-Park tickets for both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Book by July 31.

With the correct incantations and motions, Universal Orlando Resort guests, young and old, will also be able to cast spells throughout The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with new Interactive Wands that they can purchase from Ollivanders wand shops in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.

They’ll also get a map that marks all the locations where the new wands can be put to use. Bronze medallions embedded in the street mark the various shop windows where spells can be cast, and would-be wizards can watch the magic come to life. With a swish and flick, they can levitate a feather quill at Scribbulus, quiet the maddening song of the Fwooper bird at Magical Menagerie, and light all the lamps in Flimflam’s Lanterns’ window.

New ‘Retro’ Hotel Option

The new Universal Cabana Bay Beach Resort is designed to recall the vacation trips of the 1950s and early 1960s without leaving 21st century conveniences behind. Positioned as a family-friendly property to attract visitors whose vacation budgets do not allow for stays at Universal Orlando’s three luxury hotels, its guest room amenities include two queen beds, 40-inch flat-panel TV and mini-refrigerator. Family Suites have a second 40-inch TV; a kitchenette with mini-fridge, microwave and small sink; living room with full-size pull-out sofa; and extra-large bathroom with preparation space for three people at once. All accommodations are handicap accessible.

RELATED: The Beach Boys Open Loews Cabana Bay Beach Resort in Orlando

Along with an extra-large swimming pool, the resort has a winding lazy river that takes about five to seven minutes for guests to float through, surrounded by foliage and several opportunities to get splashed from water cannons, spouts, and rocky waterfalls.

Theme park amenities for Cabana Bay guests include a one-hour early gate admission to the parks, but not the Universal Express Access feature that takes Universal’s luxury hotel guests to front-of-line entry on many rides. Loews Cabana Bay Resort, unlike the other Universal Orlando Resort properties, does not have water launch access to the theme parks, but rather the hotel is serviced by a fleet of stylish, aquamarine colored buses that transport guests at frequent intervals to other Universal Orlando areas from the bus stop at the front end of the Cabana Bay entry circle. Packages including hotel stays, park tickets and airport transfers are available from Universal Vacations and other tour operators partnering with Universal Orlando.

Mining for Tourism Gold

At Walt Disney World New Fantasyland, the largest expansion in the history of the Magic Kingdom, is now complete with the opening of its centerpiece attraction, the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It’s a combination of a roller coaster experience and a dark ride, with new animatronics designed to raise the bar for the character-driven rides. The attraction uses a new system that lets the cars pivot back and forth during the twists, turns, rises and drops of the ride. Taking cues from the film, riders go through various locations in the storyline, including a mountain, a mine and the Dwarfs’ cottage (with Snow White visible inside). Mom, dad and the grandparents may note that while the Mine Ride is new, several elements in the cottage are from the original Snow White attraction.

Other innovations this summer include FastPass+ service (included in the theme park admission price), which lets clients reserve access to select attractions and entertainment experiences before they leave home, and StartYourDisneyExperience.com, where they can access My Disney Experience and discover online tools to personalize their experience—before and during their visit.

Multigenerational travelers should note that automated wheelchair rentals, very popular with older guests, are available in the theme parks for about $12 per day and are complimentary for guests in Disney resort hotels with a $315 deposit. Child strollers or double strollers can also be rented for about $15 per day.

On the new accommodations front, the B Resort & Spa has opened on the site of the former Royal Plaza Hotel in the heart of the Downtown Disney area, minutes from Walt Disney World Theme Parks. Following a massive, top-to-bottom redesign, the new 394-room hotel, the first resort designation for the B Hotels brand, targets experience-driven families, couples and groups, as well as business travelers. It offers an array of signature B Hotels amenities, including playful design, innovative technologies, and zero-entry pool and relaxation area, plus the B Indulged® Spa by Aveda

Guest rooms and suites have floor-to-ceiling windows with sweeping views of the area’s theme parks, lakes, and evening fireworks celebrations. They are equipped with large HD LED interactive flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi. Complimentary gaming consoles are available upon request. Of importance to families, many rooms also feature bunk beds, kitchenettes and wet bars.

As part of the brand’s B Humane program, each guest room has a plush toy gopher frog, a species indigenous to Central Florida, perched on the bed. Guests can “adopt” the stuffed animal to take home, with a portion of the proceeds from sales going to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

Opening in August, the new luxury Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort will have a golf course, a full-service spa, an elaborate pool area, and rooftop steakhouse with views of nightly firework celebrations at the area’s theme parks.

Grande Lakes Orlando

An alternative for families who don’t want to stay onsite at theme parks, the 500-acre, two-resort Grande Lakes Orlando offers convenient shuttle service to minutes-away Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World and has its own array of fun amenities.

“Camping out” in an executive suite at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes.
“Camping out” in an executive suite at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes.

Back by popular demand, The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes brings cool outdoor fun inside at its executive suites. Throughout the summer, guests can ditch the rollaway bed and offer the kids a one-of-a-kind in-room camping experience. Featuring an adorable tent large enough to be a private home for kids, the hotel’s In-Room Camping Experience comes complete with a luxe double featherbed and a lantern for nighttime reading of a Florida-themed children’s book, along with an alligator stuffed animal. The package costs $75 and is based on availability, with a maximum of one tent package per suite. All amenities, except for the tent and bedding, are intended for guests to keep. The tent, with carrying case and stakes, can be purchased for an additional $75 fee. The hotel also offers the Ritz Kids program, providing a variety of supervised physical and creative activities designed especially for children ages 4 to 12.

Walt Disney World Imagineer Chris Beatty joins Sleepy, Dopey and Snow White at the opening ceremonies for the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride at New Fantasyland.
Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman, Tom Staggs  joins Sleepy, Dopey and Snow White at the opening ceremonies for the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride at New Fantasyland.

Throughout the resort, young guests soon discover many facilities designed purposefully with them in mind. The grandest of all is the JW Marriott’s 24,000-square-foot, winding lazy river pool, which holds 672,000 gallons of water and circles the property in a gentle loop. Outdoor play areas and dive-in movie pool parties are also available at both hotels, and families can enjoy bocce ball, play sand volleyball, and ride around the expansive resort on surrey bicycles.

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