We had a trip planned to Hawaii this month, but due to COVID 19, Hawaii has closed its borders to tourists. We were left scrambling trying to figure out where to go. After doing A LOT of research we ultimately decided that Florida was our best option. It was more open than many states further north. Universal Studios and SeaWorld had recently been opened at limited capacity, and the beaches and pools were also allowed to be open with restrictions. The trip didn’t turn out as we hoped, but we still had a blast and would happily go again this summer!
The airport was even safer than the last time we flew about a month ago. Masks were no longer optional, they were required. Each line had a dot to show you how to maintain 6 feet apart from other passengers. At the ticket counter, security, and gate check-in was a glass partition between employees and workers. Several times I saw airport employees spraying down recently used seats and there were sanitizer stations EVERYWHERE. The airport wasn’t very crowded so it was easy to maintain distance from other groups of passengers.
When we were boarding the plane they only took 10 people on at a time. This obviously took a little longer but kept people from getting too close to other groups. When we boarded the plane they reminded passengers that they are only filling the airplane to 70% capacity so no one needs to sit in a middle seat, unless you are traveling with a large group and want to. I was grateful for the extra space but relieved that I had that option to use the middle seat because I needed to sit next to our two youngest. The flight attendant announced that unlike rumors have suggested, you are not sharing the same air with other passengers for the entire flight. In fact, because the cabin needs to be pressurized they have to filter the air every 2-3 minutes anyhow. That makes this air cleaner than the air found in buildings like grocery stores! He then told us after each flight they do an extensive cleaning of all seats, tray tables, floors, etc. We felt safer at the airport and airplane than we do that most stores where masks are optional, the products have potentially been touched by MANY customers before purchase, and everyone touches the same screen for purchasing items.
We rented a car from Ace Rental Car of Orlando. They were not an easy company to work with, and we will avoid them in the future. Our detailed story is at the end of this post if you want to read it!
The Hilton Grand Vacation Club Las Palmeras Hotel:
The hotel was the highlight of the trip! We got an amazing deal due to low demand. The 4 ½ star hotel is conveniently located on Universal Blvd. and just a couple blocks away from SeaWorld’s entrance. They had a doorman open the door When we first arrived so that we wouldn’t have to touch anything. They had a sanitizing station and masks (optional) as soon as you walked in.
Our room had a studio suite connected to a 1 bedroom suite. It gave us 2 private rooms, 2 kitchens, 2 bathrooms, 2 decks, and a living room. It was gorgeous and spacious. The rooms were immaculate and current. The view from our deck was beautiful. We not only felt comfortable but pampered.
The employees were probably my favorite part of our stay. They went above and beyond to help us with anything we needed. If we came to the lobby or went to the pool they offered us free water and brought us towels. They constantly asked what they could do for us. They even put money in the games so our kids could play.
The pool, hot tub, and splash pad were fun but the water slide was our favorite. Josh rode 117 times! With everything closed, it was nice to finally play on a water slide.
The hotel was located near Denny’s. I am not sure if this was a local deal or nationwide, but we were able to score super slam breakfasts for only 5.99 each! On Tuesday evening 2 kids eat free for each paying adult!
We loved our stay at the Hilton and would HAPPILY stay there again!
Disney Springs and Universal Walk:
We were excited to visit Disney Springs. As an added safety measure, they check everyone’s temperature before entering. They also require everyone to wear a mask. We weren’t worried about the masks until we tried them outside. It was miserable. I don’t think anyone likes masks, but wearing them in an air-conditioned building isn’t that big of a deal. Wearing one outside in the humid heat is another story altogether. We felt like we were suffocating. It felt a little unnecessary as well. We weren’t walking near anyone and it was fresh air, but it was required. After just a few minutes we were ready to leave. We stayed for a few hours but were constantly trying to walk as close to the stores as possible just to get some air. We had talked about possibly going to SeaWorld or Universal, but after an afternoon with the masks in the heat, we decided that it would not be worth the money!
The city walk at Universal also required masks and temperature checks. We visited them in the evening. They allow free parking after 6:00. The masks were bearable at night and we enjoyed that a lot more. If I were to go back I would only go back at night!
We visited the Hard Rock Cafe. The food was kind of expensive (about $15-35 for adults, and kids meals 8.50). It was a fun atmosphere and the kids loved watching the floating car.
We tried a new beach a little farther away called Vero Beach. It’s on the Atlantic side about 1 hr. 40 mins. away. Parking was free. We were warned that the waves can be pretty intense, but due to the moon cycle they were only moderate. The water was pretty clear, but not as pretty as other beaches. We enjoyed our day a lot, but it wasn’t worth the drive.
Beaches we recommend that we didn’t visit this trip: 🏝
Our personal favorite beaches are Daytona Beach and Sun Splash park just next to it. It’s roughly an hour and 15-minute drive. Daytona Beach has a Ferris wheel, go-karts, and shops. It’s charming but does require a $20 parking fee. Sun Splash Park is free! It’s located just a few miles south of Daytona and has a covered playground, bathrooms, fountains, and shallow beautiful water.
Cocoa Beach is the closest beach. The water is not as pretty but it has bigger waves. If you are looking for a close option, this is only about 1hr. away. It’s also close to NASA.
If you will be in the area, look up NASA’s schedule for their rocket launches. You may get lucky! You can watch one for free in the parking lot across the bay from NASA.
Clearwater Beach is a far drive. It typically takes at least 2 hours to get there. You have to drive through Tampa traffic. It’s a fun boardwalk town and the water is pretty.
It was a fun vacation! We always love Florida and will go back again soon! Happy Travels!!
A nightmare story at Ace Rental Car: (Warning: Its long story)
We found an amazing deal on a Tahoe or similar sized car at Ace rental car for only $120 on hotwire! Wow! The trip was last minute so Brett was able to get off work for most of the week, but not the first day. We asked Ace if we could change the day we picked up the car to the next day and they told us they would have to cancel our already paid reservation and have us repay for a week at a more expensive rate. Um NO! We decided the kids and I would go and pick up the car and check into the hotel and Brett would fly the next day. When we arrived in Orlando, we discovered we needed to take a shuttle to get to Ace. We waited in the drizzly rain for 45 minutes before the shuttle finally came!! When we got to the agency, I showed them our reservation, but they said I wasn’t able to rent the car because the rental agreement was in my husband’s name. I explained that he wouldn’t be with us until the next day and we were told we would lose our reservation if we all flew in the next day so we came earlier without him. They said that was their policy, no exceptions. What they were willing to do is allow me to rent the car for the night and then let us return the next day and change it into his name. I would be required to pay an extra night in my name to keep his reservation for the next day! Seriously? It was getting late and we didn’t have a way to leave so I paid for that night and got in the car.
We got into the Nissan Pathfinder (I’m not sure that’s the equivalent of a Tahoe, but whatever, at least we all fit). The driver’s side window wouldn’t go up right away so I got an attendant, eventually after some pulling on the window, and turning the car off and back on it worked. It was only after driving for a few minutes that I noticed the gas light was on. Really? I thought that was interesting seeing as how I was just required to sign a disclosure that if I brought the car back without a full tank I would be required to pay $6.99 per gallon to fill it. It was already 8:40 pm (we landed at 6:20,) and I still needed to drive to the hotel in the dark, and my kids were tired, so I took a picture of the gas tank and kept the receipt from the gas station.
I don’t typically carry cash, but knew I had just enough for the toll road I would have to take to get to our hotel. I was warned that if I went through a toll station without paying I would be charged $25 for each toll. Ouch! Everything was fine until I got to the toll booth. I paid my money and drove off. As I tried to roll up my window it got stuck again! I kept pushing it but nothing happened. I pulled over to the side of the highway and tried pulling harder. I turned the car off and on hoping it would help like last time, but it didn’t. I couldn’t get off the tollway because I didn’t have enough cash to get back on. I was going to have to drive 65 MPH with the window down. It was at the moment that the rain picked up again, and not just a light rain, It was a downpour. As the rain pounded down I determined I needed to keep moving. I pulled back into traffic, into the worst rainstorm I have ever driven through. Just a few minutes into the drive my phone notified me that there was a tornado that touched down a few miles from my location! YIKES! We didn’t have anywhere to hide. Our only option was to keep driving. We were terrified and soaked. So driving with the window down in tornado rain, and praying with all our hearts, we kept going. We tried to drive as slow as possible, but that only made it more fun when a car passed us splashing all their water into our open car. We finally made it safely to the hotel, and later the window slowly and grudgingly went back up.
When we went back the next day, we asked for a different car. We explained what happened, and when the window went up just fine for them (it wasn’t raining) they put it back in the lot! We showed them the receipt for the gas and their only question was, “Why didn’t you just put in enough to drive for the day? We won’t charge you for it to be full, but we won’t reimburse what gas you already put in.” …Um, Probably because we didn’t think we would have to change cars!?! They didn’t reimburse us. Our next car, another Pathfinder, worked fine and we had no problems after that, but I will NEVER use ACE in Orlando again!!