Magic in Orlando Outside Magic Kingdom
Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photographs by Ariane Nicholson and Laura Hockman
as my daughter Ari headed to the spa for a well-deserved massage. My
son and his wife were engrossed in a heady game of tennis. Nine-year-old
grand-daughter Becca was happily floating down the hotel's Lazy River
while her 7-year-old sister was designing a tie dye t-shirt in the kid's
activity center. Meanwhile, I (AKA Grandma) cuddled up with almost-three-year-old
Josh watching his four-year-old sister slide down and go up and slide
down and go up multiple slides in the waterpark.
And thus started our intergenerational vacation for
10 in Orlando, Florida recently where the kids and adults were all kept
affordably busy round the clock without ever meeting up with Mickey
and the gang at their $100 per person, per day DisneyWorld locale.
The epicenter of all this activity was Reunion Resort,
whose very name exemplifies its greatest attraction -- a great place
for families to come together for quality time without breaking the
With our three families spread out over two three-bedroom
villas there was plenty of room for nightly dinners and languid evenings
of card and board games, bedtime stories and actual conversation. Okay
-- so some of those nights the four younger grown-ups were obsessing
over games on their SmartPhones but at least we were all together sharing
the obsession -- sort of
But you better like your family: there's
not a lot to do in the way of nightlife! Either that -- or bring a lot
Compared to squishing two families of four into two
hotel rooms, with another for the grandparents, without the ability
to cook in at mealtimes, the savings is enormous. And the service memorable.
One night, despite the well-stocked kitchen, we reported a missing a
bottle opener which was delivered quickly by housekeeping. Okay -- that
is to be expected. But when they called a half hour later to make sure
we had received it, that's an impressive attention to detail. Attention
to detail #327? Upon leaving a wake-up call for 8 a.m., I was asked
if I'd like a 15-minute-later snooze-alarm call. I had never been asked
No doubt the kids would have been perfectly happy to
hang out at the waterpark all day (more on that later). "Isn't
a vacation supposed to be relaxing," protested my daughter. But
I told her this was not a vacation, it was a travel-writing expedition
and I appointed her and my daughter-in-law as staff photographers and
the kids as cub reporters as we headed out to a different -- and relatively
affordable -- adventure every day.
The entrance to WonderWorks -- a visual oddity of upside-down
windows, trees on their heads, and a crumbling façade with cracked
columns in seemingly mid-collapse, lets you know upfront you're in for
a very bizarre experience. And we were not disappointed.
We quickly dispensed with the simulated hurricane, earthquake
and gravity-defying demonstrations to get to the really fun stuff. Which
for the little ones was the making of giant soap bubbles; the older
kids, simulated space shuttles; the men, testing the speed of their
fastball; the women, attempting a mind-control game where you win through
the ability to relax. The women relaxed? With four children in tow?
Well, maybe not so much.
The opportunity to lie on a bed of nails comes with
the warning that WonderWorks is not responsible for clothing replacement
if damage is done. And that's a mere fraction of the numerous rooms
on various floors filled with interactive options I've not seen anywhere
else. And neither had 7-year-old Ellie, who pronounced it "my favorite
Did I mention the terrifying 4-D roller-coaster movie?
The one through which I mostly kept my eyes closed but which 4-year-old
Talya wanted to see again -- and again! (Admission: Adults, $25; children
Old Town was a more conventional outing though its name,
of course, is a misnomer. Still the several blocks of fun shops, restaurants
and amusements sufficiently quasi-resemble an old town to make the designation
appropriate. There are rides appropriate for the 3-4 year old crowd
as well as more adrenaline rushes for older kids who thrive on roller
coasters, zip lines and rope courses. And the shops are somewhat intriguing
in their own rite: the General Store has almost two dozen different
flavors of bath salts covering a wide range of flowers and fruits and
plants. The Black Market Mineral Store has an equal number of free-standing
raw minerals plus lots of jewelry, African art and wooden sculptures.
The Kissimmee Popcorn Factory boasts 106 different flavors in its repertoire.
How about root beer, jalapeno, nacho, coconut, amaretto and salsa verde
popcorn -- and those were the more recognizable flavors.
But it was the outdoor ropes course which extended more
than 40 feet high with multiple challenging configurations of interlocking
planks, wires, steps, and bridges, one more difficult to traverse than
the other that really commanded attention. I couldn't even watch Ellie
as she progressed to the highest level, leaving many a grown man in
her wake. From my perspective, she was walking a tight rope spanning
20 feet across, wind blowing, rope swaying, Ellie suspended in mid-air
just below the cloud line. Again I had to close my eyes, but she appeared
unfazed. I didn't ask her if she wanted to revise her WonderWorks proclamation.
Becca meanwhile was flying through the air several times running on
the zip line. (Admission free; $25 per person, unlimited rides).
And then on to Legoland. For every child, no matter
the age, who has ever played with Legos -- and does any exist who hasn't?
-- this is a throwback to childhood that can't help but elicit a smile
on kids and adults alike. Every sign and giant sculpture and character
is made of Legos. I checked out the park benches and they were
just benches. I actually started touching the trees just to make sure
they were real.
So many rides and theme areas to appeal to every age
from 2 to 12. They do have a minimum height requirement of 36"
so Josh's parents spent the night before trying to stretch him to make
sure he qualified -- he did and that made all the difference. He has
the courage of a kid three times his age and would have been crushed
if he couldn't go on at least some of the rides with the big kids
As the adults wait in line -- sometimes for 20 minutes
or more -- there are play areas, filled with Legos, of course, to keep
the kids entertained (read: from becoming whiny). Not a bad marketing
tool, I thought!
At Miniland U.S.A., there's a whole Legoland nation
duplicating all the hotels in Las
Vegas with their own special attractions, the monuments of Washington,
DC, the skyline of New
York, the Daytona Speedway -- and more. With the Lego-buildings
over 12 feet tall, it was like a mini-tour of the country. Rumor has
it, it took over 100 master model builders over two years to build the
cities comprised of over 30 million Lego bricks.
Upon arriving, make sure your kids each buy one little
Lego creatures for $3. They will not only have a blast trading them
with members of the staff throughout the park but they will have a wonderful
-- and inexpensive -- memento to take home. Said Becca: "I started
out with a fighter dude and ended up with a pretty pink rock star. Awesome!"
(Admission -- online: Adults: $68; children 3-12: $60 -- the most expensive
of our three outings but still considerably less than DisneyWorld).
Meanwhile, back at the Reunion Waterpark, with its multiple
pools, and a section of ascending inter-connected rope tunnels leading
to two winding slides to keep kids of all ages entertained. And if the
big bucket on top fills to the point of overflowing, dumping water everywhere
-- well then, all the better. There are also daily activities such as
balloon toss, parachute games and arts and crafts, some free, some costing
a minimal fee.
And of course, there are also adult-oriented activities.
Reunion boasts it is the only place in world where there are three signature
golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson
with an Annika Sorenstam Academy at which she teaches. Plus the afore-mentioned
tennis courts. And after my daughter, daughter-in-law and I emerged
from our spa massages, we were offered not the usual juice or tea but
champagne. Attention to detail #328.
As our multi-day adventure neared its end, I turned
to my cub reporters for comment. "I have friends who went to DisneyWorld
but I can't imagine it could be more fun than Legoland, Old Town and
Wonderworks," enthused Becca, touting our less costly entertainment
options. Grandma breathed a big sigh of relief!
And as Talya proclaimed at the end of each day we were
there: "That was the best day ever." Sort of makes for the
best trip ever for the parents and grandparents, as well.
For more information about Reunion Resort, visit reunionresort.com.
Three-bedroom villa rates start at $299, depending upon season and accommodations,
but be sure to ask for special promotions which often are available.
Park Survival Guide; Tips
for Taking the Kids