Kid-Friendly

Navigating Orlando: Jessie Vollero on Family Fun in the City Beautiful

Jessie Vollero (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Millions of families come to Orlando every year and, for some of them, Jessica Vollero is their guide. As an Expedia Local Expert and Lead Navigator Concierge at Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, Jessica helps families enjoy fun and unforgettable experiences in the city. Disney, Universal and SeaWorld may be the most popular Orlando attractions, but Jessica’s mission is to unearth tons of other places families can’t miss while they’re here.

Are you an Orlando native? How did you become an Orlando travel expert?

I’m originally from Pennsylvania, but during college I got hired at Disney to work as a performer in the parades and shows, and moved down here in 2006. After that, I got into the travel industry and helped open the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal. Now I’m working as an Expedia Local Expert and host a travel show for Orlando Attractions Magazine.

What inspires your work?

My passion for the city. The whole idea behind Orlando is so different than any other city because it holds a lot of dreams. It has such an appeal to the heart that a lot of other destinations don’t have. We have a lot of people that come here for that once in a lifetime experience. So, you have friends and family gatherings, reunions, anniversaries — you name it — they’re coming here to celebrate it.

You definitely walk away with a giant memory of something. Bring your bucket list, bring your dreams and we’ll make them come true. That’s what the city is about.

If you only had a weekend to spend in Orlando with your family, what are some things you’d do?

Of course, the major theme parks. We always visit Epcot, their World Showcase attraction, and the different things going on there, like watching the fireworks. SeaWorld also is great because it has so many hands-on experiences with all the different animals. We also visit Universal. Orlando’s known for its theme parks, so there’s no reason not to see them while you’re here.

What about dining and entertainment?

Downtown Disney is another great place; it has several restaurants and entertainment experiences like the House of Blues, Cirque du Soleil and Splitsville Luxury Lanes. And, we usually go to the farmers market in nearby Winter Garden to check out the local cuisine.

Orlando also has some fun and unique dining experiences. One of my family’s favorite places to eat is Café Tu Tu Tango. It’s a Barcelona arts studio with four different kitchens. What makes it so cool is that while you’re sitting there eating, all of a sudden a beautiful ballerina could walk by or a fire eater or something crazy. You never know what the restaurant is going to throw at you.

What’s something people shouldn’t miss while they’re here?

International Drive. There’s a trolley system, so you can use it to go up and down I-Drive. The strip also has over 500 different restaurants, anything from Greek to seafood to steak.

Starting next month, they’re opening the Orlando Eye Observation Tower, which is going to be twice the size of the London Eye. It’s going to have the Sea Life aquarium and Madam Tussaud’s connected to it. I-Drive is something that a lot of people overlook, but it has so many attractions and dinner entertainment options. There are a lot of things on that strip.

What’s the one thing that would surprise many people who don’t live here?

It rains every day. I think that’s a big shocker. When people come down here and they see the weather they think, “It’s going to rain my entire vacation. It’s ruined.”

Anyone coming here should prepare for a little rain in the afternoon, but don’t be scared away by the weather. It’s hot, but the rain helps.

Any other advice for first-timers?

Reach out to your concierge, Navigator or to your vacation planner. Have a plan before you get here because a lot of things should pre-planned.

Coming here and thinking, “we’re not sure of what we really want to do,” actually can affect what you can do once you get here.

What are the three most thrilling rides at Orlando’s amusement parks?

Mission: SPACE at Epcot. It simulates a rocket launch, so you hit zero gravity. It’s super intense and it’s actually my father’s favorite ride, so we have to do it every time he’s in town.

The Incredible Hulk at Universal. It has its own power source underneath it — that’s how powerful that ride actually is.

The Kracken at SeaWorld. It’s a roller coaster that resembles a mythical sea monster.

What’s so exciting is that there’s still lot to come. They’re building the world’s tallest roller coaster on International Drive and it should be open in the next two years. It’s going to be the craziest coaster — and the steepest one in the United States.

Let’s play rapid fire. Answer with the first thing that comes to mind.

Best cheap eats: Café Tu Tu Tango.

Best place to take the kids: Pirates Dinner Adventure.

Best place to relax: Downtown Disney.

Best place to spend the day outdoors: Downtown Celebration, FL.

Best place to people watch: Any of the theme parks or I-Drive.

One thing you can’t miss: Hospitality. No matter what park you go to, which restaurant you eat in, wherever go you there’s such a high level of hospitality and guest service.

Describe Orlando in one word: Memorable.