When I filled in the application to go on the holiday of a lifetime, I honestly never thought I would be the one to get picked. I have watched on the sidelines and read other bloggers traveling abroad but it always felt like that was a goal that would be a long time until we reached, if ever! When the email landed in my inbox telling me that it was us, it felt like the entire world just stopped including my heart and my lungs all at once. I felt excited and panicky.
The two weeks that followed that email felt like a blur of stress and rushing as we managed to sort out new passports for all five of us plus packing too. It was a very last minute arrangement in the scheme of things and I don’t think we truly had time to process exactly what was happening to our little family until we pulled up at the airport early on a Monday morning. We had been invited by Virgin Holidays to travel all the way to Orlando and stay at the Universal Orlando Resort. This was my first long haul flight and of course the girls as well. To say I was pretty nervous would have been an understatement.
We were flying from London Gatwick South Terminal with Virgin Holidays. We had pre booked our seats and checked in online the day before which was all a really super easy process once we had our booking reference. We were also able to book the children’s meals for the girls and there was an option to pick various dietary requirements for us although Hubby and I were more than happy with the standard meals. Being able to book seats online made me feel less anxious and we were able to all be seated close to each other.
On the day of the flight, all we needed to do was drop our bags off in the check in area of Virgin Holidays and then head through security. I love that London Gatwick Airport is super family friendly, with a separate security area just for families. The walls had bright characters painted on them and the staff were all super patient and helpful. We were able to take three bottles of cows milk through security which was really good, however they did take them to be tested. It was all a pretty speedy process. Whilst we waited for our gate to appear on the board the girls were able to play in a little soft play area which was really secure and allowed them to burn off some steam before the nine hour flight.
We were able to take our double stroller all the way up to the airport doors and boarding the plane seemed to happen really quickly with no delays. The girls didn’t seem to be nervous at all but I was petrified inside. P1 especially just seemed to be concerned about when she’d be able to explore the entertainment and not the fact we were taking off into the sky. P3 fell asleep shortly after take off and managed to sleep for around an hour but I had so much adrenaline pumping through my body that I just couldn’t drift off. Instead I sat and watched Finding Dory on the little screen attached to the seat in front which made me extremely happy as I’ve been wanting to see that movie for a while now.
We were traveling Economy Class with Virgin. The seats were really comfortable and pretty spacious. You were given a little pillow, a blanket and headphones as this was a day flight. The girls were each given a little Virgin back pack with an eye mask and activity book with crayon inside. We were also all given a complimentary bottle of water as we boarded the plane too. During the flight we were able to enjoy two meals, a lunch and afternoon tea. The girls meals were really good with lots of variety of food so that if they didn’t like one thing, they were able to munch on something else. The adults meals were really yummy too, I had Chicken Teriyaki with Rice and it was pleasantly yummy and not how I imagined airplane food to be!
The staff and entertainment on the plane made our whole experience super smooth with the girls. I was also pleased that none of us suffered any travel sickness which is extremely rare for a car journey let alone a nine hour flight. We were hit by the heat as we entered Orlando International Airport and made our way to Customs. It was only P3 who had managed to grab some shut eye throughout the entire flight so we were all pretty exhausted. It was about 3:30pm in Orlando but over in the UK it was past bedtime so as you can imagine we had three rather restless children as we joined a slow moving queue through the Customs and Border Control. Eventually we collected our double stroller and bags with no issue and headed to find our airport transfer.
I think the lack of sleep was beginning to defeat me and it took a little while to figure out where the transfer would be waiting. In the end the poor driver found us. He was really friendly and helped us with our luggage into the huge car. That was the moment I first experienced the sheer scale of America. At home we have a Range Rover which is considered to be quite a large car, but that felt so small in comparison to the three rows of seats plus a huge boot space too. It was about a half an hour drive to Universal Orlando Resort and we were able to see all the tall palm trees swaying as we drove past.
There are five different on site hotels in the Universal Orlando Resort. We had been booked into the Premier hotel which is Italian themed called the Loews Portofino Bay. Immediately stepping out of the transfer car we were greeted by very friendly porters who helped Hubby get the luggage out of the car and onto a big trolley. We were given a ticket and shown where to check into the hotel. The staff were super friendly and explained absolutely everything we needed to know including how to catch a water taxi. I was very shocked to learn that the first water taxi departs at 6am and the very last at 2am! A lovely porter walked us to our room with our luggage, pointing out the directions for all three swimming pools at Portofino Bay, where to catch the water taxi from and where all the restaurants were. I was totally in awe of the hotel already. It was like it’s own little resort inside a resort if that makes any sense. The attention to detail on all the buildings and how the Italian theme flowed so elegantly throughout the hotel was just extraordinary.
We were only able to drop our bags off into our room before heading straight back out for dinner as we were a little late for our reservation. We had been booked to dine at Mama Della’s Resaurant. This restaurant had such a feeling of warmth and the atmosphere was vibrant. We were greeted by the staff and we were given the first taster of the American customer service. They offered us booster seats for the girls and were so helpful with getting them all comfortable. They gave the girls colouring sheets and crayons each which entertained them for a little while. I was literally barely awake and the staff were so patient with me as I tried to splutter my words out to order food.
Mama Della’s Restaurant is decorated with dark wood which continues the Italian theme. There are popular Italian dishes to choose from as well as dishes from Tuscany, Naples and Piemonte. I honestly don’t think I was able to appreciate the food that evening as although it tasted absolutely delicious, jet lag and exhaustion was taking over my body quite rapidly. P3 ended up falling asleep in the stroller before the meal was over. The photo of P1 below really expresses everyone’s tiredness I think. However, the girls had a good variety of food to choose from and it came out the perfect temperature. This restaurant was perfect for a chilled environment and it felt like you were dining in your own home which is a strange thing to say.
I think we were all pretty excited to get back to our room and explore it for the first time. We actually had two interconnecting Garden Rooms at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Each room was identical just mirrored of each other at the connecting wall. They had two Queen sized beds in each which had the softest 100% cotton bed linen. They had a huge tv in each room that was on top of the most beautiful looking chest of drawers which also had the refreshment mini bar inside which was stocked with chargeable items. A huge wardrobe that had a safe inside. A coffee maker with a few items to use.
The wallpaper and decor gave off this real tranquil feeling of luxury and this flowed through into the bathroom which was ginormous! It had a slightly sunken bath with a shower over the top, double sinks and a toilet, obviously. The bathroom was kitted out with many different sized towels and lots of toiletries. There was also a hair dryer and little ear buds in a pot too. I immediately realised that I didn’t actually need to worry about packing any toiletries because everything we could have needed (except deodorant maybe) was provided. The rooms just felt completely posh and very expensive.
We managed to transfer P3 straight into her bed. I used the round log shaped cushions to form a barrier so she had her own Queen sized bed. P1 and P2 explored our room which had plenty of room for running around and getting their toys out. Thinking back we actually think that our hotel rooms were each bigger than our downstairs area in our own home so it was definitely a surreal experience. We had all the girls in bed and we were all asleep by 8:30pm. There was no arguing and I think everyone was just very wiped out from our journey. I honestly have never felt the sheer overwhelming sense of exhaustion before. I was drained and sinking into the most comfiest hotel beds I have ever slept in was just dreamy!
I had to keep pinching myself that this was really happening. Our flight had been so smooth and our initial experience of the resort had been phenomenal. We were all super excited to explore the theme parks in the morning and have a VIP Tour. I have another four posts that will be uploaded in the next few weeks which include more about visiting the theme parks and our experiences of the Halloween Horror Night and Blue Man Group too, so please keep your eyes peeled for those. I have included our first of five travel vlogs below which gives a real insight of flying Economy Class with Virgin Atlantic. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the rest of my holiday videos.
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