A cruise and stay holiday in Orlando proved to be more of a rollercoaster ride than Natalie Marchant ever imagined

Loews Royal Pacific Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, Florida.
Loews Royal Pacific Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, Florida.

Standing on a hill 500ft above sea level and staring down at the water in front of me, I’ll admit there was a brief moment when I wondered what on earth I was doing.

Seconds later, I was flying through the air at up to 50mph harnessed to a zip wire above the perfect white sandy beaches of Haiti.

At more than 2,500ft long, the Dragon’s Breath flight line is the world’s longest of its type over water, but any initial fear I had dissipated as I took in the view.

From that height our majestic cruise ship, Freedom of the Seas, looked like a toy boat against the picture perfect Labadee Bay and, despite my initial reservations, I was almost disappointed when I landed at the bottom with a clatter.

During the past week, I’d been spoilt for choice with adrenaline-pumping activities: I’d hurtled through the sky on a broomstick with Harry Potter, fought aliens with the Men in Black, gone rock climbing, watched an ice show, and had still found time to relax in a hot tub, soaking up the warm Caribbean sun.

By way of explanation, I was travelling on a Cruise and Stay holiday with Virgin Holiday Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.

After spending a couple of high-octane days at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida, we hit the high seas on board the Freedom of the Seas.

I consider myself to be one of those independent traveller types and this was the first package holiday I had been on in years. But you know what? I loved every second of it – both on land and at sea.

Our trip began at Universal Orlando Resort, which is like a country in itself. There are two theme parks – the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida – three on-site hotels and numerous restaurants, bars and shops.

We stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific Hotel which provides plenty of entertainment for children and is only a short water taxi ride from the theme parks.

There are thrilling rides (Spider-Man), more soothing offerings (the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Rail Ride) and plenty of shops and restaurants for those who would rather keep their feet firmly on the ground.

But most visitors’ favourite is clearly Harry Potter. Looking past the snow-capped buildings of Hogsmeade and towards the imposing towers of Hogwarts is an awesome sight.

The other half of the park is the movie-themed Universal Studios Florida. Complete with still-functioning film lots, this park is divided into Production Central, New York, San Francisco, World Expo, Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone and Hollywood.

Like its Islands counterpart, there are plenty of activities for all ages. I lived out a childhood dream by going on the E.T. Adventure ride - even if it does look ancient nowadays.

At night the studios really come alive when the streets of San Francisco, New York and Hollywood sparkle with the fluorescent lights of cinema-fronts, stores and restaurants.

After the excitement of Universal Orlando Resort, it was back to reality with a reasonably soft landing as we were transferred from our hotel to Port Canaveral in time to board Freedom of the Seas.

One of the greatest advantages of going on a cruise is the opportunity to see far-off lands that you would otherwise not visit.

Our ship called at Labadee in Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel, Mexico, before returning to Florida.

There is an extensive list of excursions you can sign up to before you arrive at each port - from parasailing to sunbathing on a beach or learning about local life as part of a cultural tour.