Universal Studios – What are we eating?

Florida, Travel

Universal Studios offers a lot of food options for visitors, but unfortunately they don’t offer the variety of Disney. This is due to the size of the parks, the demographics of the parks, and just pure logistics. While Disney operates on a much larger scale, Universal is a fraction of the size, meaning it has a fraction of the resources.

However, that being said, they have a lot more options every year than they did before. If you are a regular family, and you have no allergies, you will have a great time eating every deep fried offering you can find. For instance, their Halloween Horror Night menu looks completely amazing.

If you are a part of my family, everything gets hard.

I have celiac disease (I eat Gluten Free), which makes life interesting enough, but I also have allergies (because of celiac) to dairy, soy, and I don’t eat any meat but fish and seafood. I am an absolute pain in the ass – I admit it. So eating out is a nuisance, and even bigger when you are visiting a theme park that was never meant to cater to people like me.

If you are in my boots, I suggest bringing something from home to eat through the day. While Universal has a “no outside food” policy I have never had an issue if I explain I have a lot of allergies and it’s safer if I bring something pre-packaged. If you can’t bring something, go straight for table service restaurants. The table service restaurants will have someone speak to you about your needs and they will be able to make you something, or modify something. A few years ago I had a very tasty risotto at Mythos and had no issues.

While the parks have a few dining options, the real gems are located at City Walk, and they are very easy to access during your day. My sister is quite partial to the experience at Toothsome. Don’t worry you will be able to reenter the park after dining.

For you potterheads, the Butter Beer IS Gluten Free!

Universal Studios offers a lot of food options for visitors, but make sure you read up in advance to make the most of your trip!

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Universal Studios – What are we riding?

Florida, Travel

Start by reviewing what you want out of the vacation. Universal Orlando has two separate theme parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios) and a water park (Volcano Bay). The theme parks are manageable in a day, depending on how old your kids are, and what all you want to ride. If you are going to try for both theme parks, I suggest starting at open, and not leaving until closing and only going on a weekday, not a weekend. If you have little ones, just do a park a day, or those little feet may not quite make it.

Volcano Bay is the water park at Universal Orlando, and from all reviews, it is a great park for a day visit. The park has most of the important water park features, and has some fantastic tech to reduce ride waits, make reservations and more. Having a nice water park is extremely helpful for HOT days in Orlando, and for your mermaid/merman littles.

Universal Hollywood is one theme park, and is theoretically comfortable to visit in one day. However, if you want to get the most of the activities and fun, a second day may be worth the extra cash.

Much like with Disney, I suggest you read over all of the rides and make sure that your kiddos are all tall enough to ride. Make sure your big people are comfortable, and make sure people are actually interested in such and such ride. For more information on rides that may be uncomfortable, click here and here. Also, for you tall folks, my husband (6’ 4”) had a miserable time on the Rip Ride Rocket as it literally smashed some sensitive areas (it wasn’t so bad that ice was needed, but bad enough that there was awkward walking the rest of the day).

UNIVERSAL FLORIDA RIDES
Kid – Friendly (40″ and less)“Grown-up” Rides
Minion MayhemRevenge of the Mummy
Shrek 4-DMen in Black
Simpsons RideHarry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster 
Hogwarts Express 
Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl 

For instance, we are traveling with my five-year-old cousin, but there is plenty she can ride at Universal that we can either split up to enjoy, or that we can use a kid swap option for.

If you are going with older kids and/or adults, talk about what the top priorities for the day are. For instance, we are taking my stepdaughter to Olivander’s and to avoid the crowds we are planning on doing that part of the park first thing. Then we can spend the morning in the busiest part of the park (Wizarding World) before the majority of crowds show up.

If your group has been there, done that, then head to other parts of the parks and skip it. There is no point in visiting a super crowded part of a theme park if no one actually wants to be there.

For families with littles there are endless opportunities with cartoons, movies like Shrek and Despicable Me. For classic story lovers, the Dr. Suess land can’t be missed. For my family, we LOVE the Jurassic Park ride and mini attractions.

If you are planning trips in the near future (2020, 2021) you can expect even better options for families, and fanatics of a variety of fandoms. My number one suggestion is to pick your favorite characters or movies, and make an effort to experience interactions with them.

Universal is different in that many of their classic rides and activities go away when they lose popularity, so there are not as many popular “classics” as exist in Disney. That being said, Universal is little kid friendly, but really geared to older kids, in the 8+ range. It’s not that littles won’t have a great time, but some of the activities and events may just go over their heads.

Regardless, I do feel like it’s an easy place to have fun and escape from reality. Seeing their Diagon Alley in Orlando was truly a magical experience for me. I was practically skipping I was so excited. Meaning, if you just love fun, movies, and some whimsy, you are sure to enjoy the parks!

Happy Travels

Planning for Magic at Universal Studios

Florida, Travel, United States

Universal Studios is the competitive edge to Disney’s theme park empire. While the Universal Studios experience has existed since 1961, the theme park magic that we know today is a more recent concoction. While some attractions existed at their Hollywood Studio in the 1960s and 1970s, the theme park lands really expanded in the 1990s with the opening of Universal Orlando in Florida. Over the last 50+ years Universal has brought its own version of movie magic to kids young and old, offering imaginative and exciting adventures.

Disney Planning – What Are You Wearing?

Florida, Travel, United States

Disney Planning – What are you wearing?

What you are wearing to Disney is a huge question. The interwebs LOVES Disney Bounding and no doubt, I also find the cosplay meets every day fashion quite a treat (my stepdaughter and I will also be Disney Bounding in the Magic Kingdom in October). Then there is being practical to deal with the weather. Orlando is notorious for heat and rain, making a normal day hot, muggy, and sopping wet. Then there is the shoe question, if one is walking seven to ten miles in a day, what does one wear to ride rides, play in water, and stay comfortable.

For our trip to Disney, we are keeping things simple but cute. My stepdaughter’s Epcot day will be a tanktop and shorts. Her shoes for every day (including one day at Universal Studios) will either be Sanuk sandals that wrap around her face, or tennis shoes (my preference is the tennis shoes, she’s 12, so we’ll see who wins). For our magic kingdom day, she will be wearing a Minnie Mouse Disney Bound that is a red Mickey shirt, black Minnie overalls skirt (shorts underneath), Minnie mouse socks (with tennis shoes), and Minnie Mouse ears.

My Magic Kingdom bound (I have to miss Epcot) will be Mulan. I have a Mulan tanktop with the original movie poster, grey chinos, a green jacket (rain coat), and Chacos for my feet. I also bought an epic Mulan Backpack, and some cute jewelry and hair accessories along with earrings to spice up the outfit. My goal is to have fun with the outfit, but also be comfortable for the day, as there is no point in dressing up but being miserable and uncomfortable all day.

My little cousin Ivy, who is five, got a very cute Minnie Mouse tutu outfit for her birthday that I may have been involved in…she will wear tennis shoes with this, and shorts under the skirt (just in case we get tired of the poof). She also has a pair of ears that match my stepdaughter’s.

Other people may choose to show of former Disney swag, shirts, ears, etc. Kids under the age of 14 are allowed to dress up for their day in the park. If you are going to an after hours event, like Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween, adults are allowed to wear costumes as long as they meet rules on layering, length etc.  For more details, click here.

All around, I think the best advice, is plan to be practical, and wear what will bring you comfort and joy. If you want some inspiration, hit the Pinterest and Instagram for millions of options!

Happy Travels!

Disney Planning -Do I Need This?

Florida, Travel, United States

There is a lot of information on what to bring with you to Disney, so many different opinions and ideas and expectations. In fact, you could pack three backpacks and still not have “everything you need.”

While, I am speaking from what I have learned, and what we are planning to use. I am also speaking from experience visiting other theme parks, festivals, and traveling a lot in the last ten years. However, I may revise this sometime in November, depending how my trip in October goes.

The truth is that you need what you would need for any day out. If you don’t plan to return to your hotel halfway through the day, bring it. If you need it regularly at home, at work, at running errands, maybe bring it. If you don’t hardly ever use it, don’t bring it. This will vary on who you are taking with you to Disney, your medical needs, and your specific preferences, but I am a big fan that you should always pack light (believe me I have learned this the hard way).

For my family we will be packing light to make the day more enjoyable and not have to deal with so much junk. My group will be Disney bounding, but in like the most practical way possible.

My stepdaughter will be Minnie Mouse, as will Cousin Ivy. Ivy’s outfit has a denim jacket in case it rains, but I will also be buying dollar store ponchos for them. I will be Disney Bounding as Mulan, with a green rain jacket.

For bags, I will have a large Mulan backpack and my stepdaughter has a small glittery backpack. My stepdaughter should be able to have a water bottle, snack, sunscreen, and a poncho in this bag. I will have enough room in my bag for my stuff, plus any souvenirs we pick up.

We will also be minimizing additional things we’re taking. I will only take my cell phone (IPhone XR) and a mini-cam (similar to GoPro) for the day with only one tripod. My stepdaughter and Aunt will have their cell phones, but that’s it. The less gear we have the better. (I may bring a charger and/or a charger pack).

I won’t bring things we won’t use, but here is our comprehensive list.

Rebecca’s Bag Lily’s Bag
-Mulan backpack
-Rain jacket
-Wet wipes
-Ibuprofen
-Lotion
-Sunscreen
-Burt’s Bees Lip Balm
-Wallet
-Charge pack
-Cell phone
-Water Bottle
-Snack/food
-Water bottle
-Wallet
-Sunscreen
-Poncho
-Cell phone  

Something I have invested in to make the trip easier are the Magic Bands that you can link your tickets to. I also got a gift card for my stepdaughter to use as her money. This is because she is traveling with my sister, Aunt, and Cousin Ivy on her day at Epcot. The magic band means her ticket is already set up, she just has to scan it when she gets to the park. If I make any fast pass reservations, they will also be on her band. Then my sister or aunt have one less thing to worry about. Her money is on a gift card so she won’t be tempted to buy some random thing at the airport and run out of money for food on her day in Epcot. If you also have kiddos that wants everything they see, give them a gift card and explain that’s their allowance for the trip. That way they will think twice about purchases and extras. I also got a magic band for myself, only because I feel it will be easier to deal with at the parks.

While it’s tempting to take everything “just in case”, know that Disney is also prepared for just about everything. If you need a band aid, go to guest services or a first aid stand. If you need a diaper, they have stations for infants (Baby Care Centers). Most importantly, have enough to have fun, and don’t worry about everything else!

Disney Planning – What to Eat?

Allergen-free eating on the road, Florida, food, geek, Travel, United States

Disney is well known for its food options at their parks. In days of lore it was the giant turkey legs and Mickey shaped ice creams. Today Disney is trying to constantly create and sell Insta-worthy options for a growing number of teens and young adults that capture everything. For those with diet restrictions, the theme park constantly makes strides in providing more and more gluten-free, vegan, and peanut-free options for visitors. The point is, you won’t go away hungry.

Even better than all of the what you CAN eat at Disney is that you can also bring in your own food. Unlike other theme parks, Disney still allows guests to bring food and drinks (non-alcoholic) into the park without issue. For those on a budget, or with numerous food needs (I have to do Gluten Free and Pescatarian, avoiding dairy and soy), this is a godsend. It means I can make sure I have enough food options for the day without having to restaurant to stand hop just to have a snack. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t partake in a little dining fun.

For those wanting something special, there are numerous options for adults, families, and kids to have a magical time. In my line of work, we get a lot of requests for Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest which are the big “Princess” dining experiences. Beware that they can cost you a pretty penny. My group of four (including a five year old) will be dining for a late lunch at Be Our Guest and it will be $350 total, including gratuities. Granted, this is a special thing we are doing, a one and done situation, not the norm.

However, if you need to be more budget conscious, there are so many options to get food in the parks.  For those of you wanting tips and information on what is available, I highly recommend the Disney Food Blog, click here, and their awesome YouTube videos. They also share a lot of other valuable tips and tricks, which I have found to be invaluable for my own planning and assisting clients.

If you are visiting during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival you can have even more fun with your budget by buying several small plates to share with your group, or hoard to yourself.  This is a great way to try a lot for a little, and a lot of the international offerings look divine!

Don’t forget that you can order food from the sort of “fast food” locations around the park, using your phone and the Disney App, which will save you time and effort. If you have time, play with the app and see what pricing looks like before you go to the park, and practice what it takes to make an order.

All around, you should have a lot of fun! Happy Eats!

Disney Planning – What are we Riding?

Florida, Travel, United States

More on Disney

Once you have selected which Disney parks you want to visit on which days and with who, you will have to narrow down the rest of your ideas. Gone are the days of visiting a theme park and riding everything or eating everything in one day. In this digital era, you will need to plan, plan, and plan.

Probably one of the most important things to figure out is if everyone can ride everything. Like most theme parks in the world, you need to be tall enough to ride, healthy enough to ride, and within other size requirements. Naturally, this will make it harder for young kiddos, and bigger adults. My husband is 6’4” and a lot of things are not built for people of his height. I am 5’2” and many times things are not adjusted for my short (roller coaster pads sometimes give me headaches as I am jostled around). If you are plus sized, some of rides will be downright uncomfortable, so it’s important to read reviews and make a list of rides that work for your group. For a good list and information, click here. For those with health conditions such as heart, back, and neurological, pay attention to warnings and do your research before you travel. There is nothing more disheartening than telling your kiddo that they can go on Splash Mountain, but they have not quite hit the required 40”.

My personal tip, if you are traveling with littles, is to go to the Disneyland, click here, and Disney World, click here, websites and review every single ride and their height requirements. Make a list of everything that is small person friendly and then pick what are the top rides for your group.

Also, as a side note, don’t try to push the rules and make the kids seem taller, these size guides are for your child’s safety and enjoyment and you will likely get caught!

IF you are not traveling with vertically challenged people, then select what rides you have not done, look the most fun, or are considered “classics”. I am looking at you Pirates of the Caribbean.

Once you have a list of rides, arrange them in a hierarchy of what is the most important. For my upcoming trip, it will be Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean. As I have never been to Disney World I have set plans on these. Mostly, I NEED that photo of my stepdaughter and I coming off Splash Mountain! However, your priorities may differ, maybe you need to see Ariel in her Grotto, or Dumbo is your jam, totally fine. My tip is to get the My Disney Experience App and review what is the most popular on a similar day you are visiting. So if you are going on Tuesday in October, look at Tuesdays and see what have the longest wait times through the day. From there you can select were you can use your FREE Fast Passes.

Fast Passes are essentially a line skip option, or a reservation for a ride. Everyone gets 3 selections to start their time in Disney, pick 3 and use them, then get 3 more for your day. Passes can be cancelled and altered throughout your time in Disney and you can make initial reservations 30 days ahead with tickets. If you are staying on property, you can make reservations 60 days in advance.

Perhaps the most important part of all of your activities planning is so you get to see your top activities, and save time waiting in line. Fast Passes allow you to skip the 2-hour wait for Frozen Ever After and get on with your day.

As an additional tip, if you can’t get a fast pass for what you want, monitor availability throughout the day to see what may become available as people cancel or alter their Fast Passes.

Happy Travels!

Disney Planning – Which Disney?

family, Florida, geek, Travel, United States

More on Disney

If you are staying stateside you have two parks to choose from, Disneyland and Disney World. Disneyland is in Anaheim, California and Disney World is in Orlando, Florida. Pick a coast. Both will be about the same cost, per day, with all things considered. If you are smack in the middle of the country, as I am, airfare will probably be comparable. If you want other theme parks to visit, both are by respective Universal Studios, and other similar activities. Even better, both are near oceans and seaside activities that come with such a geography.

Disneyland is comprised of two different theme parks, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. Both of these parks have unique activities, themes, “lands” and it is the original theme park under the Disney umbrella, opening in 1955. While California Adventure Park is the newest installment and expansion, which opened in 2001.

Disney World is by far a much bigger experience. The Disney World Resort complex has four theme parks for guests. The Magic Kingdom is the closest match to Disneyland, with many repeat rides and experiences, but also unique in its own right. The Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, and was followed by Epcot 11 years later. Epcot opened in 1982 as the first expansion of the Orlando property. Epcot has a focus on international cultures, events, food, and dining; which often labels it as an “adult” theme park.  Disney’s Hollywood Studios, opening in 1989, is getting the most attention recently as it has opened a Toy Story land and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in the last year. The focus on Hollywood Studios is definitely on movie magic and connecting guests to that feel. Finally, last but not least is Disney’s Animal Kingdom, opened in 1998. The Animal Kingdom is actually the largest theme park in the world, covering 580 acres, and it is themed around animals and natural areas.

All of these theme parks will offer a good variety of activities and adventures for visitors. However, it is important just to grasp the size of these theme parks and how few hours there are in a day, or one’s patience. All of Disney World is 40 square miles, roughly the size of San Francisco, or two Manhattans. While a lot of this is not fully developed, there is a lot of space to get around between parks, hotels, restaurants and everything else.

That being said, do not plan to try to go from park to park all day. For your sanity, and your family’s or friend’s I would suggest doing all single day tickets and going to one park per day. Then at the end of your stay, if you have extra time, return to your favorite or favorite(s) by upgrading your single park per day ticket. For more information, click here.

Therefore, if you are planning a trip to Disneyland I would plan for around five days. Spend one day getting there, go to Disney Springs in the afternoon, or your first park if you want. Spend one day at the other park. Then have two more days to park visit or just relax. Finally, you have day five to get home.

If you are planning on Disney World, and you want to see every park, plan on at least a week. Day one to get to the park and Disney springs. Day two Magic Kingdom. Day three Hollywood Studios. Day four Epcot. Day five Animal Kingdom. Day six is be an extra day to see favorites. Day seven travel home.

Of course, you can mix this up, skip places you have already been, or only go to one park all the days. I suggest visiting the respective websites for lists of activities and entertainment for each park and select what makes your heart excited, or the inner six-year-old squeal with delight. If you have a favorite movie, go see those characters. If your five year old is just happy to exist, plan your days around what will inspire and excite them.

Happy Travels!