Life

Leona O'Neill: Why we upped our family holiday game from Wicklow to Orlando

A family holiday in Florida might not be good for your bank balance but at least it'll prevent your teenage children from divorcing you, writes Leona O'Neill

Glendalough it ain't – the thrill of a rollercoaster in Orlando, Florida

FOR our summer holidays last year we went to Wicklow for the second year in a row. This choice was partly because I left it too late to book anywhere else and also couldn't get a lot of time off work.

Wicklow is surely one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but my two teenagers were bored, less than impressed with Glendalough's distinct lack of McDonalds restaurants and left distraught by the fact that there were no vending machines stocked high with fizzy, sugary drinks on the sprawling and stunning grounds of Powerscourt.

On the four-hour car journey back home they told me that I needed to do better with regard our family's summer holidays and reminded me where their friends' mums had taken their lucky children. None of the other better mums had taken their kids to Wicklow. They impressed upon me that they were not going to Wicklow again, as in ever, and that I needed to pull something exciting out of the bag for 2018 or they might consider transferring to a new family unit.

So I spent months looking at Spain, France, Italy and the rest of Europe. I spent countless hours asking various children of mine what they wanted in a holiday, what they expected, what they wanted to see and do. They all wanted something different and I nearly went mad trying to pick something that would suit us all.

One day during a lull in work I stuck all their various demands into Google and Orlando came up as one of the results. And two weeks ago we flew out from Belfast International Airport on a Virgin Airlines direct flight to paradise and had what was the most epic O'Neill family adventure to date. Even better than Wicklow, if you could believe that.

We met crocodiles at Gatorland and swam with dolphins at Discovery Cove. We fought Transformers in 4D, raced through New York with Jimmy Fallon, escaped the clutches of King Kong, sailed through Jurassic Park with a T-Rex chasing us and rode on a broomstick high over Hogwarts Castle alongside Harry Potter at Universal Studios. We saw Killer Whales, sharks and a world of marine sea life at Seaworld.

We drifted around lazy rivers shaded by palm trees in tropical heat and got the adrenaline pumping on crazy gravity-defying rollercoasters.

We sat on our patio and watched tropical storms roll in, light up the blackened sky with lightning, dump a month's worth of northern Irish rain in 20 minutes and roll back out again to leave stunning blue skies. We ambled around old-style American towns and took our time wandering at classic fairgrounds sampling 1950s rides and eating candy floss. We had pizza and burgers in American diners, trundled down US highways and lazed by our villa pool for hours and did absolutely nothing.

And it was amazing, every single minute of it.

I'll write more about the experience in a travel feature and signpost all you families to what will undoubtedly be the best, most epic holiday you'll ever have. But for now I'll leave you with the thoughts of my two previously eternally bored teenagers who, much like Shania Twain, things don't get impressed much.

On the flight on the way home they were smiling (Yes tennagers can smile – up until now I too thought that was a myth), laughing, talking about what they had seen and saying the whole American adventure was "lethal" – a stark contrast to the year before when they were considering divorcing us as parents due to my distinct lack of holiday planning prowess.

Orlando was indeed "lethal". Our Virgin Airlines direct flight from Belfast was "lethal". My holiday planning skills have now been upgraded from "totally horrific, absolutely boring and utterly abysmal" to "lethal". My bank balance is most definitely not "lethal", nor is the fact that we will be living on baked-bean-based meals for the next month. But it was worth every penny and I'd go again in the morning if I could.

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