Universal Studios – Islands of Adventure

Florida, Travel, United States

While the original Universal Studios is a fabulous trek down memory lane, Islands of Adventure offers a blast through additional fun and journeys. The second park opened in 1999, and is a bright and bold blend of 90s fun with futuristic excitement, the park is equally, if not more enjoyable than the main park.

For the Potterheads take the Hogwarts Express from Diagon Alley to Hogsmead and begin exploring the rest of the park from there. Hogsmead is home to several great rides including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff and my absolute new favorite ride EVER Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventures!

A side note on Hagrid’s, this ride opened in 2019 and has been a runaway hit, clocking in wait times of 10+ hours on opening week. I was a little cautious about all the hype, but I have to say it was well worth our wait of 70 minutes or so! The build up to the ride was taken with immense care to create a well-crafted and detailed line ride that tells the stories of Hagrid and brings more of the Hogwarts grounds to life. Massive pumpkin, Hagrid’s hut, carved building ruins, paintings, and much more bring the story to life and build on the excitement. Harry Potter fans can’t miss this ride if even for the build up. Beyond that, the ride itself is a fantastic high speed roller coaster experience that stretches almost a mile long! The coaster seamlessly blends story and speed bursts, with some amazing surprises, to make a fabulous experience for all. I have never been on a ride I loved so very much and I can’t wait to return to Universal to ride again!

Beyond the rides, the area is home to fan favorite locations from the stories including the Three Broomsticks and Hogshead. Shops sell things like Pumpkin Juice, and a treat shop is sure to please any sugar rush. There is even a wand shop for those that missed Olivander’s or need to replace one they left on the train (I know this from personal experience….12 year olds).

As an additional charm they have ample outdoor seating and wonderful views of the castle made with a distorted perspective, allowing guests to REALLY feel engrossed in the Wizarding World.

My last tip is to check if they are doing any light shows or events for the season you are visiting. When we were there they had their Halloween Death Eaters Show and it was phenomenal to watch and enjoy. My stepdaughter even had a showdown with a Death Eater!

Death Eater Show Hogsmeade

Now, if you must venture out of Hogsmead and Harry Potter world, the Islands of Adventure offers something for everyone! Exit by the castle and you can’t miss the Jurassic Park education zone, an exact replica from the 1993 movie! This family-friendly area brings to life moments from the movie’s work with DNA and eggs to create new-age dinos and it’s a blast for kiddos to get involved with. Even if they haven’t seen the movies.

Image result for islands of adventure map

Follow along that same path and you will see a raptor encounter, recently updated with Blue from the Jurassic World trilogy. A little further along you will see the River Adventure Ride that offers so much fun for kids of all ages (my 5-year-old cousin lovingly calls them water coasters). This log flume ride offers some thrills and nostalgia as it reflects the first movies in the series, and some animatronics that could use some love. Regardless, it is a lot of fun!

For thrill seekers, don’t miss the Kong ride they opened in early 2016 which celebrates the stories and thrills over King Kong. The ride is a bus simulated ride through the jungle, in 3-D, offering bumps and falls and much excitement for riders.

After Kong there are several options for fun, including toon land, and a superhero land. The Spiderman Ride is worth a spin, and my husband loved the Hulk Coaster! If you are a fan of 90s superhero cartoons and classic comic books, make sure you visit this area of the park. Rumors are around that the rights to the area may run out soon. Since Disney now owns all the Marvel characters, there is a good chance they will want to create their own Superhero world and they will need to get rid of the competition.

If you are traveling with little ones, exit Hogsmead by the Hogwarts Express and head along that route for some delightful theming and “islands” that are less intense for little adventurers. The Lost Continent is like a mysterious land of shops, shows, and a touch of Arabian Nights. Past that you will land in Suess Landing which is ultimately a “little kid land”. This area is purely delightful for Dr. Suess fans, and it is full of all your favorite characters, such as the Lorax, and Cat in the Hat. If you are a fan, simply walk through and enjoy a piece of your childhood in real life.

The Lorax in Suess Landing

Both sides will loop you back to the front of the park, which exists onto Universal City Walk.

All around, if you are visiting the parks, visit both of them. If you have more than one day, go twice. You will want to ride certain things twice, buy things you forgot, and overall make sure you have time to take it all in.

Mount Dora, Florida

adventure of the week, Florida, Travel, United States

A few years ago my baby sister took on the challenge of buying her first home with her fiancé. While staying in Orlando proper would have kept their commute down, they decided they needed a break from their lives in the tourism industry and they selected something further afield. Thus, they selected a cute little suburb of Orlando to create a home in.

Along with their three (yes three) cats they moved to the small and quaint town of Mount Dora, Florida. Known as the highest point in Florida, the township is affectionately understood as a “mountain”, in the closest form of “mountain” Florida can get. (Mind you I may have a slanted view being a Colorado girl, also my sister is a Colorado girl and we can’t understand why she ran away to live in the heat).

Their home was built in 1924 and is full of old-growth trees! The entire city blooms and is covered with a mist of Spanish Moss.

Anyway, mountain or hill, Mount Dora is well known as an artistic and charming community of retirees and hippies, offering up art festivals, weekly farmers markets, and some of the best antiquing in central Florida. It is also considered the most Christmas-filled town in America (I don’t get this because HEAT), and thousands flock to the city to celebrate the holidays, lights, and find some old town American charm.

While they purchased the home in 2017, I was not able to visit this beloved community, until this fall, where I had the pleasure to attend my sister’s wedding and find some fun. I was pleasantly surprised and revived visiting the little city! Here are some of my favorites in the town and why it is worth a stop on your journey through the area.

Where to Eat

WAVE (Sushi) – This was by far my favorite dinner place for the trip. The food was phenomenal, well-priced, and absolutely delicious (landlocked states lack in fresh seafood). The restaurant has gained a following for their Sushi Donuts, Sushi Burritos, and Sushi Burgers all which seem to defy physics. All of which are delicious and enjoyable, if hard to eat! They offered phenomenal options for Gluten Free food, and the staff was considerate, aware, and caring about our needs. I would recommend this place for any visitor to Mount Dora!

HIGHLAND STREET CAFE – This sweet little charmer is about a block away from my sister’s and while it is bordering on the “too cute” spectrum, they offer humble and satisfying eats for a fair price. The staff is super sweet and well versed in food needs. If you need a fast, homemade meal, this is a perfect breakfast and lunch spot.

FESTIVALS

The town is affectionately known as the “Festival City” with events and activities going on almost every week, or at least a couple times a month. While we were there in late October, the city was doing an art festival. At Halloween they had a downtown event for kids and families and soon after they were hosting holiday lightings and events. Check out events on your vacation here.

WALKS

The city is home to a small lighthouse, celebrating Florida’s nautical history. Photo by: Daniel Piraino

Unlike most American towns, Mount Dora is extremely walkable and offers a lot of opportunities for exploration and enjoyment. The downtown is full of small inns and bed and breakfasts which only need to be parked at. Then it’s extremely easy to walk to everything you might need including shopping, dining, nightlife, the main lake of the city, and some trails. If you are brave enough to exercise in the heat, the city is home to many nature trails that are ideal for hiking, biking, and exploring the Florida wilds, click here.

Overall Mount Dora is a great place to stop in Central Florida. If you have an extra day and want to get out of the chaos of Orlando, or if you need an escape to some charm, Mount Dora is sure to please!

Disney Discount Shopping – Is it Worth it?

musings

Disney is notoriously expensive, and adding on souvenirs can make everything that much more! My family isn’t particularly materialistic, but we do like fun items to remember our adventures and that includes Disney. All of us at my house have some favorite characters, and all of us have fandoms that we collect from. So, the question when we were headed to Disney World was how much should we budget and how can we save money?

When I visited Disney Springs in 2015, I was surprised at how affordable a lot of options were for visitors. There were a lot of two for one deals on stuffed animals, affordable bags, and other items that made the cost a little more bearable. I also LOVED the pins and lanyards, and inevitably bought about $100 worth of goodies for myself and to share with my stepdaughter.

Planning for our trip in 2019, I am surprised to hear that overall, Disney has increased in price, and that hasn’t skipped souvenirs. From my research on their online shop even, many items seem more expensive than they did previously. Some of the sales are not as good etc. I think a few things have happened with this, including a moving away from so many steep discounts in retail, and general inflation on goods. Thus, being the budget-minded traveler that I am, I have researched and found a few suggestions on getting souvenirs, including visiting the Disney Outlet(s) in Orlando.

Naturally curious, I had to stop at one of these stores for my own take on if it’s worth the time, or if it is a waste. Here is what I learned, bought and decided overall.

plan on it being busy!

  • Start early if you can
    • By the time I arrived in the stores Th e shelved we’re looking kind of bare. I imagine this had to do with the time of year (big family holiday season from Europe and the USA). And that it was a Friday.
  • Make a list
    • In order to keep my spending in check I watched some current videos of locals on YouTube to see what might be available. This allowed me to know what to budget and what to plan to buy.
  • Budget
    • With the prices so much lower than the theme parks it’s easy to want to buy buy buy. However, before you know it you may have spent $100 and bought more than you planned. This is where the list of options/planned purchases are worth the time before you go.
  • Visit both Orlando locations
    • Often I have heard of people just visiting one location, and skipping the other. My advice is to take some extra time and do both. This is because one store may be out of an item, or may have better sizes left (I experienced this directly).
  • Just pay to park!
    • These outlet malls in Orlando have LIMITED parking. This can meat circling the lot for 30 min and still not getting anywhere. Instead, plan ahead and download the MYPARK app, set up your spot when you pull up. Pay your $3, and be on your way. Why eat into vacation for $3?
  • Plan on crowds and lines
    • The closest location to Disney (Vineland) was WAY busier, but it is a bigger store. This made it hard to shop and look around. I was literally bumping into people just trying to walk through the store. I would suggest to be courteous to others and your family, leave the kids elsewhere and just send in an adult to dodge and weave.
    • As a side note, the check out line was long and FAST moving! And the staff was Sooooooo nice and patient and kind. Gold ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • My preference was the International Drive location:
    • While parking was harder at this MASSIVE mall, this store was better. It was less busy, not as picked over, and the feeling was much nicer. Pricing was as good, selection was basically the same. If you only go to one, go to International Drive!

Purchases

  • I can’t post specifics as some are presents for the upcoming holiday season. However, I did get some awesome (and expensive) shirts for about 75% off their original prices. I got my stepdaughter an ornament for our tree (an annual tradition). And I got myself a patch for my travel denim jacket (my thing).
  • If you have littles, there were MANY toys to choose from that would make great surprise souvenirs for before or after the park (leaving more money in your pocket.

Have you shopped the Disney outlet?

If so, what have you found and enjoyed?

Happy Travels!

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 – Where to Stay, How to Fly, How to Save

family, Florida, Travel, United States

Part 1

Part 2

Once you have a good idea of what you are wanting from your Disney trip then you can start to make solid plans.

Most importantly I think it’s important to establish a budget and what your family can afford. While everyone wants an epic vacation, it may be important to plan another year and save. This is especially true if you are saving vacation days and want to make sure you get the vacation you want!

Be real – Disney isn’t going anywhere.

What I think shocks most people is how fast the cost adds up. Disney tickets are realistically $100+ a day for everyone. More for adults. You save if you do multiple days or if you do half-days (a new program Disney is doing), or if you do an after hours option instead (like Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween party). However, tickets and pricing now varies day to day, with increased cost around holidays and on weekends. Cheaper days land on your Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (generally speaking). This is because they’re trying to reduce congestion on weekends, but also bring people into the middle of the week.

When it comes to hotels, you have choices. Plan on around $200/night for your family of four to stay in the lower 3-star kind of hotels on property. This does not include breakfast or other amenities.

If you stay off property you will save , and I’ve seen hotels within 20 minutes for around $70/night. However, if you stay off property you have to consider the cost of transfers and resort parking. But no doubt you will most likely save, regardless.

If you stay on property you also have the opportunity to combine everything for a package savings. This means your hotel + theme park tickets + flights + dining can all be bought in one go. If you like the idea of being on property, this will probably be your best option overall. BUT, don’t just buy this without checking specials, rates throughout the year, and other important options.

An added perk to being on property is that every resort has public transportation to the parks and from the airport included in your stay. That means you DON’T need a car. This is especially true when parking is between $25 to $30 a day at the resort of parks. I’ll go into if you want to leave later.

Of course, this benefits Disney if you never leave. However, there are ways to avoid costs by packing food, having groceries delivered, and meal plans with the park.

For flights, if needed, you will likely pay around $200-500/person roundtrip. From Denver (my airport) we usually pay $330 with Southwest and $200 with Spirit. For us, Southwest is usually better if we have to change our flights, and when we’re taking presents to family in Orlando (use those 2 bags baby!).

With all of this in mind, figure out what your family will need to pay for the trip and what is realistic for your budget!

Happy Travels!

Disney Planning – How to Plan

family, Florida, food, Travel, United States

Part 1

While looking at lists of everything you need to do when you plan your Disney vacation it’s all extremely overwhelming. With my work as a travel advisor (agent) it’s always best to break things into reasonable pieces. Think of it like cutting up your plate of food, the small pieces prevent you from choking and dying. This is important for Disney too. (Ok death is less imminent, but your headache is real).

If you don’t have a lot of time to break everything down and you need to make sure things get done, talk to an expert! There are thousands of travel agents that have specialized training to help you turn a Disney dream into a reality. AND it doesn’t have to be a bank breaking vacation to get help! Search locally and online and you are sure to get connected with an expert. Many times your fee is minimal or even free!

Also, check with your credit card perks, some even offer concierge and travel experts as a part of your card fees! This is especially true if you are using points for any parts your travel.

If you want to handle the whole thing yourself, then prepare for it to take a good chunk of time. Most importantly, start planning what you’re doing MONTHS if not a year in advance. Even if you have been to Disney since you were in pull-ups, the changes that roll out every few months will mean you need to update your mental picture of what you want to do.

My personal suggestion is to make a list of wishes. Ask your spouse and kiddos or friends what they want out of their Disney time. Some may be all about Star Wars, others may be into the Princesses, and some may not care. Make a detailed list of everything from rides, foods, events, shopping, and hotels. This will make putting the puzzle together much easier. If you can, have everyone pick their top 1-3 “things” they don’t want to miss and then narrow it down. Find the things that overlap, and work in the rest. Ultimately, this will help you understand what you need to plan for the most.

Once you have a good idea on what everyone is wanting (don’t forget yourself) you can get into reservations and solidified plans.

-stay tuned for part 3

Happy Travels!

Disney Planning – Getting Started

family, Florida, Travel, United States

I have never been to a Disney Park. A weird admission from a travel and media geek like myself.

See my parents didn’t really love theme parks. I don’t think my dad went to a single one with us as kids. And the biggest theme park I had been to before 2015 (I was 24) was Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado.

It wasn’t that my dad didn’t like fun, or even Disney movies. In fact he adores the music from quite a few of them, it was the crowds and the noise and the heat, and most importantly, the cost.

When you’re living below the poverty most of your childhood, a Disney vacation is at the bottom of the list.

Therefore, at the age of 28 I am taking on the work of planning a day at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World!

What I thought would be a simple planning of a day or two has turned into months of opening dates and reservations and hourly details. It’s insane.

Therefore, what has been a deep dive into planning a Disney World vacation, and at times a headache, has lead me to thinking that other people could use some guidance. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my tips and tricks to figuring it all out, saving money, and having the best time possible! I look forward to helping others along the journey.

Happy Travels!

Part 2

Venice Travel Tips

italy, Travel

Venice is one of those places one dreams about visiting. It’s a bucket list destination full of legends, art, myths and plenty to explore!

If you are heading to Venice, here are a few things to remember before you hit the road…. I mean lagoon.

  1. There are no cars allowed on Venice. No cars. This means you need to take a train, or boat to the city. Trains arrive on the main island through Santa Lucia station. Planes are at the Marco Polo airport, where the train or a bit can be taken into the lagoon. If you have a car leave your car parked and take the ferry to Venice, Lido or other island.
  2. Take the Gondola ride! It’s expensive but worth every second. You wouldn’t go to Paris and miss the Eiffel Tower, don’t miss the Gondolas!
  3. Travel in the off season! Avoid the crowds and have a better time. Go in the fall or early spring to see more with less chaos.
  4. Learn a little. Pick up a book or two before you go and learn some about the rich history of Venice. This will bring everything you see more to life.
  5. Get off the main island. If you have time, get out and explore the Venice Lagoon islands such as Burano and Murano for charming villages and awesome art. If a beach is more your style, head to Lido.

Happy Travels!

Visiting Cinque Terre

History, italy, Travel

Located on the west coast of Italy, a part of the Italian Riviera is the ever increasingly popular National Park of Cinque Terre. Millions visit the area every year from Florence and Rome, making it a top destination for travelers.

The appeal of The “five lands” is its sweeping landscapes, rich views, and unique adventures.

Here are my tips for visiting this enchanting location.

  • Catch an early train
    • Most people start from Florence, catch a regional train from Santa Maria Novella to La Spezia. At La Spezia you can buy your day or multi-day pass to the National Park and access to the train network in the region
    • If you are renting a car, park in La Spezia, and buy your pass just the same.
    • A small train network links the five villages (lands) running approximately every 20 minutes in each direction (north or south). This is the easiest way to get from city to city.
    • Note that there are no cars allowed in the cities and that there is a bus line that also connects the region but it’s less consistent and requires more walking.
    • The earlier you go, the better! This will help you avoid crowds and heat.
  • Bring your hiking shoes
    • There are over 70 miles of trails that links the five villages are region. The views from these trails are magnificent and offer amazing photo opportunities.
    • The trails are tough, but you do escape the crowds and enjoy some fantastic nature along the way.
    • Check trail conditions before you go, as wash outs are common.
  • Check your trains
    • Train schedules are more of a guideline than a rule in Italy. Therefore, make sure you read the schedules and allow extra time to get back to La Spezia and then your “home base” if you’re doing a day trip.
    • Allow time
    • If you can, stay a couple nights and truly take in the cities!
  • Off season or bust
    • If you can, go right at the end of summer (September/October) or right at the beginning of summer (March) so that you can enjoy the region sans millions of tourists. This allows a local connections that is often missed in June and July!

Memories of Chianti

europe, italy, Travel

As about 10% of College Students in the United States do, I did a study abroad program. I chose Italy before I started college, and stuck with Italy, specifically Florence. While the fees were high and the time away from my partner (now husband) was hard, it was worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY and every hard day to have the experience.

Reflecting on this trip is a constant aid to my work today, and a reminder of just how much I have seen and enjoyed since I graduated from high school in 2009.

Today, I share a little video on the PERFECT Day in Chianti and where you should head on your next journey to Tuscany.

Locations