Written by Jill Feigelman
Photo credit: Visit Orlando
Orlando is the American city most synonymous with the family vacation. A place where memories are created, it calls to mind visions of sunny beaches as well as theme parks. And when you make “couple only” time a priority, the classic Orlando family vacation can do wonders for your marriage.
Family Circle teamed up with our friends at Visit Orlando and had readers share with us why their family deserved to win the ultimate getaway: a five-day/four-night trip for four with special time to reconnect with their significant other. We sorted through hundreds of entries, and while it wasn't easy, we picked our three winners!
FC caught up with the three lucky families to see what they’re most looking forward to on their upcoming Orlando vacation.
Winner #1- Leslie Dahlman
You could say Leslie is an expert packer. She and her family have moved from Jacksonville to San Antonio to Las Vegas to Houston—all within the span of four and a half years. But when Leslie packs for Orlando, she’ll be especially happy. That’s because while Leslie is now living in Florida due to her most recent job relocation, her husband of 17 years, Ray, and their 15-year-old son, Raymond, have stayed in Texas.
Even with daily Skype sessions, the separation is still hard (especially when it comes to missing her son’s football games). When the family is all in the same place, they’re extremely busy, which leaves hardly any downtime. “We’re trying to fit everything into a few days,” Leslie says.
Leslie jokes that the next time she thought she’d be able to go to Disney was when she had grandkids, which was not soon enough for this Disney fan. Originally from Jacksonville, she’s got Disney in her blood. Ray grew up hooked on Astroland, but Leslie is hoping this trip will convert him. Besides sharing her love of Disney with the family, Leslie is excited to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: “If it’s as amazing as everyone says it is, I might just have to spend the whole day there.”
Leslie and Ray are looking forward to a special meal out and finding the best location to watch fireworks from one of the theme parks. Since the Fourth of July was the first holiday the couple celebrated together, fireworks hold a special place in their heart.
Winner 2 – Christina Radke
Over the past year, “alone” time for Christina and Jason, her husband of seven and a half years, has mostly consisted of going to doctor’s appointments and, later, chemo sessions.
When Christina was diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, she quickly saw that the diagnosis affected not just her but her whole family as well. Her son, who was in kindergarten at the time, would periodically share her treatment stories with his class. “He would let them know about me losing my hair and getting a new wig and how I wasn’t supposed to cook in it because it might catch fire. It made me laugh when I visited his school to have lunch with him and got an impromptu cancer Q&A from his kindergarten class,” Christina recalls.
Christina’s last radiation treatment was on August 5, and she found out she’d won the trip two days later. “I was beyond excited! Heart racing and tears. I know that may seem a little overdramatic, but cancer treatments come with some pretty extreme emotions and make you appreciate the little and big things in life,” she says.
This will be her family’s first trip to Orlando. Christina is most excited to see Disney’s Magic Kingdom because “it just seems like such a beautiful and magical place.” Both her boys (9-year-old stepson Christopher and 6-year-old Hunter) are excited about the hotel and its pool. “I have to admit the hotel [Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek] looks like an attraction on its own,” she explained. The boys are also looking forward to going on their first airplane ride.
Christina and Jason are planning a special meal with just each other at Bull & Bear Steakhouse, located at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Orlando Hotel, or at La Luce and then a night out in Downtown Disney. They might even catch a Cirque du Soleil show.
This vacation will be a chance to let go of the challenges of the past year. “It will signal getting back to having fun and not having that nagging diagnosis in the back of everyone’s minds,” Christina said.
Winner 3 – Megan Scarniac
Megan Scarniac, her parents and her sister will be bringing their own brand of magic to Orlando.
Scarniac family vacations usually include driving to their destination. “My dad told us about trail magic, which means the things that happen along the way that are out of the ordinary. We've seen so many neat things, like eagles soaring, manatees in a spring,” she explained.
Megan is engaged and is planning her wedding for next December. Megan thought that this trip to Orlando would be a great way to give back to her parents, who have not been able to enjoy a nice vacation in years due to financial struggles.
Since the family’s first vacation was to Orlando, they thought it would be great to return to the city as just the four of them one last time, before her wedding. The Scarniacs are excited about revisiting a lot of the sites that are the basis for so many of their family memories. And they’re looking forward to making some new ones, especially at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.