Virgin Holidays is offering seven nights in Orlando from $889pp
As my five-year-old son James busied himself with building sandcastles in the sparkling white sand, eight-year-old Harry, who was snorkelling, suddenly surfaced and beckoned me over to watch a family of silver-grey rays gliding through the water beneath him.
The sun shone down and as I gazed around I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so happy and relaxed.
It might sound as if we’d been marooned on an idyllic tropical island – and to be honest, that’s what it felt like.
In fact we were in Orlando, Florida – the spiritual home of sprawling theme parks and whiteknuckle rides.
But there wasn’t a roller-coaster in sight at Discovery Cove. Instead, there are heated freshwater lagoons for swimming – but we especially loved the meandering Wind-Away River, which weaves its way around the park.
It is a leisurely 25-minute swim from one end to the other and is perfect for children to practise snorkelling or see how many beautiful brightly-coloured birds they can spot flying overhead in the Explorer’s Aviary, where we fed the birds by hand.
The moment I was given a small pot of food, a large red and black bird swooped down and – much to the amusement of Harry and James – landed on my head.
As I tentatively held out my hand, the bird pecked up the chopped mixed fruit and seeds before flying off again to rest in one of the lush green palm trees.
You can practise your snorkelling in the heated freshwater lagoons
The sun shone down and as I gazed around I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so happy and relaxed
Discovery Cove is a complete haven of relaxation and couldn’t have been more of a contrast to the adrenaline-packed thrills of the previous couple of days, which we spent at Busch Gardens, Aquatica and SeaWorld.
We started the week at Busch Gardens, about an hour’s drive from Orlando.
Part theme park, part safari park, it is packed with a whole host of animal-themed rides and experiences.
A good starting point was the Serengeti Safari Tour, travelling the park with a guide on an open-topped truck.
Busch Gardens also has its fair share of roller-coasters and rides
We spotted rhino, zebra and some incredibly rare antelopes, but the highlight was definitely the giraffes, which wandered up to the truck while we fed them.
Busch Gardens also has its fair share of roller-coasters and rides and our favourite was Cobra’s Curse, a new family-friendly “spin-coaster”.
As we approached the ride in the Egyptian-themed section of the park, James’ mouth dropped open as he saw the gigantic yellow-stone serpent’s head, complete with pointed blue fangs that measure 4ft from top to bottom, towering over the ride.
We were strapped into a cart before being cranked 70ft into the air, bringing us face-to-face with the snake.
Then we were off, hurtling down the track before screeching to a halt and setting off again in the opposite direction with the carts spinning furiously.
Next during our week in the Sunshine State it was on to Aquatica, an enormous waterpark with a fun tropical theme. It is a riot of primary coloured rides and flumes interspersed with beaches, restaurants, rapids and spectacular swimming bays, with powerful wave machines that kept the boys entertained for hours.
The rides vary from the relatively sedate to heart-in-mouth plummets.
Harry and husband Alasdair were brave enough to try Ihu’s Breakaway Falls but be warned, this high-speed ride is not for the faint of heart.
The Serengeti Safari Tour
After climbing to the top you take your position, standing give a thumbs up to show that you’re ready and then – without warning – the floor suddenly disappears beneath you and you go into freefall, shooting down a sheer 40ft drop before spinning
through a twisting water ride.
Our final thrill came in the shape of The Mako, a ride at SeaWorld that opened last year – and we’d left the best until last.
Mako is a hyper-coaster, which means it includes a drop of more than 200ft (61m). If you’ve never ridden one before, let me assure you that it is a long way down.
Its other claim to fame is that it is Orlando’s longest, its twisted blue frame visible for miles.
We began the slow ascent that would take us to the first drop and as we went over the top we plunged towards the ground, reaching an astonishing 70mph.
I felt as if I was having an out-of-body experience.
We twisted, looped and hurtled round nearly a mile of track and by the end I felt exhilarated – and also in need of a little lie down.
Our week in Florida was one of wild adventure and blissful relaxation.
Virgin Holidays (0344 557 3859/virginholidays.com) offer seven nights in Orlando from £889pp (two sharing), room only. Price includes return flights from Gatwick to Orlando and accommodation at Double Tree by Hilton.
The Discovery Cove Ultimate Ticket (seaworldparks.co.uk) includes one day at Discovery Cove, 14 days unlimited entry to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Aquatica plus free parking.
From £183pp. Orlando tourism: (visitorlando.com)