WITH sand between my toes and a margarita in my hand, I am on an paradise island . . . just 20 minutes’ drive from the thrills of Orlando’s theme parks.
Kissimmee, Orlando’s little-known neighbour, is home to the new Caribbean-themed Margaritaville Resort. It aims to make guests feel like they are on an island getaway — yet Florida’s nearest beach is almost two hours away.
The resort is one of ten across the US inspired by singer Jimmy Buffett’s hits Margaritaville and It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.
In the grand, tropical-themed lobby, I am greeted with a rum punch, mermaid stilt walkers, staff in Aloha shirts and Margaritaville’s iconic 13ft sandal (you would need size-29 feet to wear it).
This is Instagram heaven, including a chandelier made from 300 upside-down margarita glasses.
The nautical-style rooms are light and airy, with aqua and blue hues, cream wood panels and taps shaped like whale tails. All have balconies.
It takes time to familiarise yourself with the 300-acre resort. For sun worshippers, the lagoon-style pools have sandy beaches, loungers, cabanas with TVs and all-important table service.
If you want to be pampered, the St Somewhere Spa is a must.
I indulged in a Pedi On The Rocks that includes — as you might guess — a margarita delivered to your treatment room. It is strangely satisfying at 11am.
On my doorstep is the Sunset Walk lined with shops, restaurants. Kids will love Ford’s Garage, a burger joint designed to look like a Twenties service station. And there is an entertainment district with dine-in cinema, jazz bar and Brit-style pub.
A shuttle bus can take you to the resort’s waterpark, Island H20 Live! — with a social media theme also ideal for kids. It is the first in the US to use wireless technology wristbands.
Guests can request songs, take pictures and share their experiences online while zooming down the Hashtag Heights slide or making a splash in Chat Creek river.
Parents might prefer to take it easy in the adults-only Private Domain.
In the evening I dine at the hotel’s upscale restaurant Euphoria, where you will be spoiled for choice with eight different margaritas and immaculately presented dishes of ahi tuna tostada, crispy calamari and grilled mahi mahi. All this while local musicians serenade you.
Jet-lagged, I rise early and gorge on fruit pancakes, omelettes and salmon bagels at On Vacation. If you are lucky, head mixologist Sam Nelsen will be on duty to wow you with his bacon-and-orange-flavour Breakfast Margaritas.
Excitement builds as I grab the hotel’s shuttle bus to Walt Disney World Resort to visit the Magic Kingdom.
More than 20million people visit every year and the magic isn’t lost on this 34-year-old first-timer.
Space Mountain’s 30mph rollercoaster and the Fantasy Parade are not to be missed.
After exhausting all the rides, I catch the free bus to Disney Springs — a lively outdoor shopping and entertainment district.
There are dining options for all budgets but aspiring palaeontologists will dig the T-Rex café, set in a prehistoric world with meteors and life-size dinosaurs.
As fun as the theme parks are, Kissimmee has so much more to offer. Nature-lovers should take the one-hour drive to Wild Florida on Cypress Lake.
Its Gator Park is home to more than 200 animals including porcupines, wallabies, a two-toed sloth and a very vocal cotton-top tamarin monkey.
But the real highlight is a 60-minute, high-speed airboat tour of the Everglades where I see young alligators catching some sun on the banks.
On my final day, I get a taste of the American dream at the impossibly perfect town of Celebration, just 15 minutes away.
The brainchild of Walt Disney 25 years ago, architects were commissioned to design a utopian neighbourhood.
The result is rows of immaculate pastel houses, a retro cinema and bank reminiscent of 19th-century Gold Rush days.
Think The Stepford Wives meets The Truman Show.
After a hearty lunch at Columbia — be sure to order the restaurant’s signature 1905 tossed salad — I finish the day with yet another cocktail.
As the great Jimmy sang, it’s always five o’clock somewhere . . .
GETTING THERE: Norwegian fly direct from Gatwick to Orlando with fares from £170 one-way and £325 return in LowFare economy. See norwegian.com/uk or call 0330 828 0854.
STAYING THERE: Rooms at the Margaritaville Resort start from around £154, based on up to four sharing. See margaritavilleresort orlando.com
OUT & ABOUT: See wildfloridairboats.com
MORE INFO: See experiencekissimmee.com