Orlando – Vegas (For Families)

Walt Disney Statue Michael Sult

Once upon a time, Vegas was just for gamblers. In that same era, Orlando was just for those seeking the mouse. Now, one can visit Vegas without ever needing to go into a casino. While Orlando's off-theme-park picture isn't quite as complete, it's getting there.

This weekend, my family and I got stuck in Tampa, Florida. Foggy weather in Key West didn't allow planes to land, which meant they shuttle departing passengers out, either. When the fog lifted, we made it as far as Tampa, where we missed our connections. It was the first weekend after New Year's, so everything for the two days following was sold out.

I grew up in Tampa, and when I was a teenager, said things like, "When I have kids, I'm not taking them to Disney World. I'm taking them to the Don CeSar," which was my go-to St Petersburg beach resort for several decades. "Shall we go to the Don?" I asked my husband. "Ugh, no," he replied. "It was a disappointment last time we went, remember?" I did. And then it occurred to me: this was the perfect chance to take them to Disney World and get that out of the way.

We started researching hotels. Our friends had loved an extended weekend at the JW Marriott, which is on the same property as the Ritz-Carlton. They were the same price ($319), as was the Waldorf-Astoria, which is on the same property as the Hilton. The Ritz has a dress code, though, and at this point, we couldn't be bothered. (But their rooms have balconies, which is very useful when putting kids to bed then looking for a place to hang out.) The Waldorf Astoria got points for being closest to Disney World and offering a free shuttle. So then we figured we should check out its neighbour, the Hilton. The No. 4 hotel on Trip Advisor, and a rate of $209? We were sold.

On a quick-and-dirty trip like this, it was perfect. And I got to see that Orlando is as perfect a destination as so many of my friends have said. In one trip, you can have theme parks, shopping (there are two outlet malls, a mall with Nordstrom and Saks, and another one with Neiman Marcus and Burberry), the Kennedy Space Center (where launches are far more regular than you think), a day at the beach (Cocoa Beach is one hour away), multiple meals at Downtown Disney, an evening in 'real' Orlando, and a day or three at a sprawling pool that has a lazy river.

While I'm usually a fan of renting houses on longer trips, on our return, we'll be staying at the JW Marriott. On a trip with this much activity, you don't want to think about meals, you need a hot tub to soak your tired body, and let's face it, you'll probably be going to bed with your kids. But think of the wardrobe you'll come home with. And the tan from the beach. And the story of the rocket launch.

Vegas, look out.