Universal Studios – With Tweens

Florida, Travel, United States

I think it’s easy to assume when a kid gets older that they will have it more together when you vacation later. I could not be more wrong.

12 is an odd age, somewhere between childhood and the teens, the 12 year old brain is a confusing landscape of hormones, angst, and forgetfulness. I was definitely more of the first two than the later, and when I am out and about with my step-daughter I find that FORGETFULNESS is the name of the game.

Lesson learned, when we were at Universal Studios, our second day of play, my stepdaughter had her wand (chosen at Olivander’s and a gift from my sister and brother-in-law)from the day before, we were having an AWESOME girls day before meeting my cousins, and then things went crazy. We could blame the Hogwarts Express, and the unassuming shelves and comfortable seats, and in which my stepdaughter left her wand. I blame not making her take a bigger backpack so she could fit her said wand in it. I also blame the own chaos of my day in which my credit card FELL OUT OF MY WALLET when we were at Universal, which lead to the day feeling disjointed and mad.

Tweens, in their hormonal state, tend to fall into tears. Which is exactly what happened when we discovered the wand was missing and no one had turned it into lost and found. While Lily freaked out, some magic was found in a way only dedicated Universal Studios staff can, by helping us replace the wand. An extremely kind “conductor” at the Hogwarts Express in Hogsmeade took us to the wand shop in Hogsmeade to replace Lily’s misplaced fun.

While the gesture was undoubtedly kind, it was that the company’s dedication to making sure that guests were taken care of and happy with all the elements of their vacation that really hit home. It left its influence on my stepdaughter too, as since she lost her wand, and went through the embarrassment of needing someone to save the day, she has been much more conscious of her existence.

It hasn’t made all of 12 better and we are still buckled in for the ride of the next few years (ok 6+), it made a positive influence on miss Lily. However, Lily is more aware of where her phone, and coat, and backpack are. She hasn’t lost valuable items, and her hoodies make it home. While homework is the next frontier, I see changes every week, for the better.

At the end of the day, the hiccups in life make us stronger, wiser, and better and travel often make us face it. Sometimes there are tears, and embarrassment, and hard lessons, but we ultimately learn some big lessons. For my stepdaughter, it has been that things work out, and kindness and manners go a long way (giving and receiving). It is also a lesson in responsibility and organization, and being able to let go of stresses and still have a fun vacation. All of which I am so happy she is learning while seeing the world.

Happy TRAVELS!

Universal Studios – Must Buy Souvenirs

Travel, United States, Florida

I generally find souvenirs a bit on the hokey, at times worthless, side. That being said, I do like getting little things to commemorate my adventures and I know it means even more to kiddos when they get to see the world.

Universal has no end to shopping and items one can pick from, if anything they have too many options to choose from. From Potterhead “musts” to Marvel treats, the entire theme park offers something for everyone. I am definitely in camp Potter, while my family loved the variety of Marvel, pride, and comic books offered in the park. However, while our decisions are based on preferences and fandoms, there are a few things that make great momentos and memories, and you should make sure you budget for with your family trip.

Here is my short list:

  1. A Wand – Harry Potter World offers the fantastic wand ceremony at Olivander’s and if you have young ones in your party, they will most likely hope to be chosen for the ceremony. If they are chosen for the ceremony, the wand that selects them is available for the low price of $55.00 each. While this does seem like a steep price for a fiber glass souvenir, do know that it interacts with the park and “unlocks” surprises throughout the Wizarding World. This means that trip one, or trip twenty is made all the most special. It also means, if your kiddo is chosen, a truly priceless memory is created with the Olivander’s experience AND you likely won’t have to do it again.
  2. A Lanyard – The park sells lanyards everywhere, and while the price may seem steep, it does make for an easier trip. The lanyards they sell allow for holding ones ticket, making going in and out of the parks much easier. As Universal does not offer a virtual or “Magic Band” equivalent, having something on your neck makes for an easier day with less wallets and worrying about losing your ticket. An added bonus, the lanyard works when you go home for whatever use you may need.
  3. Jurassic Park Shirt – This may be a personal preference, but I feel like everyone needs a Jurassic Park shirt. If you are a fan of the movie(s) then the shirt feels like a good purchase, however if you are going to ride the Jurassic Park River Adventure, you are likely to get sopping wet at the end, and a shirt just seems like a good rash purchase. My husband agrees this is a smart buy.
  4. A Hoodie – Living in Colorado we practically live in hoodies for like 80% of the year *short summers and cold summer nights* buying a hoodie on vacation is a common souvenir and they WILL get used.
  5. Sweets – While they mad get consumed in the park, sweets from different areas of the park bring a lot of fun to vacation. I adore the Harry Potter themed options in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade and my husband and stepdaughter loved Toothsome and their glorious shakes. Oh – and don’t forget the butterbeer.
  6. Patches – Last, but not least, I buy patches everywhere that I travel to and I sew them onto a jacket. It’s a cheap and small item that I can have as a reminder of my adventures. At Universal they have some great items in the Harry Potter world that are perfect for your own travel jacket.

HAPPY TRAVELS & SHOPPING!

Universal Studios – Dining with Allergies

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

It is so unbelievably hard traveling with food allergies. Living in the western United States with food allergies is Russian Roulette on where you go, with who, and how sick you might become. The biggest issue overall is that people don’t understand that allergies are serious, and that eating said food means hours, if not days, of discomfort and upset!

When I travel abroad I usually can find items without issue, it is taken pretty seriously in most establishments (if you can cross the language barrier). While in the United States, half the people you work with don’t care, or don’t understand. I am not picking on servers who are underpaid, overworked, and often undertrained, but rather a system that doesn’t always take it seriously. For instance, I have celiac, that means that if you make me a dish after someone else, you need to either use a CLEAN pan or CLEAN the pan to remove any residue from the last order. Sometimes the care is taken, sometimes it is not.

Therefore, when I went to Universal Studios this time around, I was really nervous about what I could eat and what would be offered. When I visited in 2015, I found it hard to find enough to eat that was worth the money and worth the sit-down meal time. Four years later I was worried I would be faced with similar issues. I even packed emergency food because I had no idea if I could eat all day.

My fears were actually overhyped. Completely overhyped. What I found on the food landscape at Universal in late 2019 was a complete overhaul of their menus, offering a vast and delicious variety of food for people like me. Not only am I celiac, but I don’t eat any meat but fish (pescatarian), and I try really hard to avoid dairy and soy. The true key to the success of their grab and go menus was the use of one magic little patty, the Beyond Burger. For those not in the know, the Beyond Burger is a protein packed veggie patty that is gluten, soy, and dairy free. It is also vegan, and the thing is really tasty when prepared right. Universal now offers this burger at most quick eat burger-type locations AND they offer a gluten-free bun.

This meant that I could go to Mel’s Drive-In with the rest of my group and eat a burger with everyone. To top it off they even had a gluten-free french fry fryer. This meant I could sit down in a burger joint and eat with my family. I almost cried with joy, I had not been able to do something like this EVER with my husband (we have been together 9 years) and stepdaughter. To top it off, it was soooooo tasty.

AND the better part is it wasn’t just Mel’s that worked hard to make our time great. We went to the Three Broomsticks for dinner that same night, and we ordered their Great Feast platter which is full of veggies, potatoes, and chicken. It feeds like four to six people. All of us but my husband and stepdaughter had allergies, so the chef came out and discussed our options. So wonderful was he that he made individual plates for my sister’s and I (the most common allergies) and made sure no one got sick. This was equally delicious, and we practically rolled everyone out of the pub after dinner we were all so full. This care and concern MADE the trip really magical.

Did I mention that Butterbeer is also GLUTEN FREE (not vegan/dairy free) and extremely tasty hot or frozen!

It didn’t stop there either, we ate at the cafeteria at Cabana Bay the nights we were there, and we had the same care and precision with our burgers there. We ate at Cowfish at City Walk and they were equally cautious and thorough. Then we ate at Toothsome, also at City Walk, and the gentleman there was so good that he had every menu item memorized and could tell us when we could and could not eat at the drop of a hat. He also did it without flinching, without checking with a chef, and without concerning anyone!

This meant many things, including that we all had a much easier and enjoyable time on vacation, and that we all left the restaurants without stomach aches, needing an Epi-pen, or days of discomfort. This precision made our vacation an elevated and magical experience, which I have only ever seen in the contained workings of a cruise ship kitchen.

This comes down to offering a variety of food at each location and well-trained EXPERT staff that do their job with love and dedication. Without the people that have the knowledge of ingredients, cooking, and allergies, none of this would work.

Therefore, I write this as a thank you to the fantastic employees of Universal Studios Orlando!

Happy EATS (and Travels)!

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.

Universal Studios (the 1990 classic)

Florida, Travel, United States

2019 has been my year of theme parks. I revisited a childhood favorite, added a new one, and revisited an adult favorite. Regardless of how many different ones I go to, or ones I remember from the past I still absolutely adore Universal Studios in Orlando.

While Universal is spread over three different parks at this point, the 1990 classic theme park still offers a phenomenal experience for visitors. The park is full of wonderful rides, character engagements, and theming that create a truly family-oriented adventure for children of all ages.

While the park has seen a few different manifestations, rides, and themes through the years, it still retains a healthy sense of 19th century movie nostalgia (Blues Brothers) and a new generations’ love (Diagon Alley). For geeks of all ages it is well worth a visit. Diagon Alley will always be my favorite, but I found some new delights this visit!

Blues Brothers – While only a show, this delightful show runs hourly in the late morning and afternoon and features some extremely talented acts that really embody the classic film. No it’s not Dan Ackroyd and resurrected Aretha Franklin and John Belushi, but it is people that make the skit truly a joy and worth watching.

Blues Brothers Block Party – Universal Studios, Florida

Minion Mayhem & Other Kid Rides offer a chance for littles to escape into their favorite movies and adventures. Even my 12-year-old stepdaughter enjoyed Minions for the enjoyable “little kid” elements. I was lucky enough to skip a lot of the more kid-engineered rides, I had plenty of family to take Lily to enjoy them!

Diagon Alley – The starting point for many a Potterhead, Diagon offers a jumping off point where one “enters into London”, greets the Knight Bus, and then “finds” Diagon (through a winding entry way). It is there that one can find the excitement of everything described in the Harry Potter books including shops, Knockturn Alley and other surprises one has to experience first hand. For the supreme experience, visit Olivander’s and watch the wand ceremony (or get selected) and make sure someone picks up an interactive wand. Finally, don’t miss the Escape from Gringott’s ride, a Butterbeer in the Leaky Cauldron, and nom some candy at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.

Diagon Alley – Universal Studios, Florida

My other favorite, favorite, ride in the park is the Revenge of the Mummy, based on one of my favorite thriller/adventure movies from the 90s, the Mummy (circa 1999)! While the movie turned 20 this year, and the ride is 16 in 2020, it hold strong as one of the most popular in the park. It’s a frightening coaster-themed ride with fire, monsters, Egyptian lore, and hidden gems that make it a legendary ride. While some leave the ride in tears (my poor stepdaughter) my husband and I find it wonderfully thrilling.

Finally, for some nostalgia and Americana, don’t miss the “streets” that are portrayed throughout the park. A little bit of Chicago, some New York, and 1950s charm and sprinkled throughout the park. The entire park expresses a walk through memory lane, and if you are in the mood, stop at the 1950s themed diner, Mel’s Diner, for a milkshake or Gluten Free and Vegan eats.

Mel’s Drive-In

Most importantly, take time to be silly, take photos, be spontaneous, and celebrate being a 90s kid (or 80s kid or 70s kid or…you know).

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!

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.

Did you know Dementors in Harry Potter are symbols for J.K. Rowling’s own struggle with depression? for me, they are the only analogy that makes sense to someone that has spent at least 15 years fighting those same monsters.

They come and go, sometimes I have the strength to fight, sometimes they overpower me. Sometimes I forget that they exist.

I have struggled with depression since I was about 12. That’s 13 years now…meaning I’ve been “depressed” longer than I’ve not been.

Yet, that’s only when I remember it getting bad enough that I thought my death might be a good option. Which is crummy that a 12 y/o would ever feel that way. Yet, at 12, even though you aren’t given the credit, we know more and feel more than the adults around us understand.

I would say my real depression started at age 9 or 10. 4th grade. When conflicts with members of my family hit a breaking point. And all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and listen to audio books. Compound this with constant and debilitating stomach aches. Splash on anxiety and I was starting to struggle with all the things a normal older child should be able to deal with.

Sadly, I didn’t always have a support system that could help me or reach me when I had attacks. Often, members of my own family could be Dementors.

This isn’t about the list of things that have made it hard to change my internal dialogue, but a list of things on how to fight the darkness that creeps steadily and sneakily into your chest when you’re busy trying to survive.

Yet, either I can fall down with the monster, into a dark hole. OR

OR I can fight it.

Because I have come too damn far to not.

It’s like getting to the final battle of Hogwarts and not showing up, you know you need to be there, but you forget to set your alarm…..

It’s easy to forget the alarm, but it’s a lot harder to make up for lost time on an already short existence on this blue marble.

Here are my tips on fighting off the Dementors…

  • Find little things
    • I love stupid animal videos and many hours have been spent laughing at dogs fall down stairs and cats run into walls. But who cares if it’s nonsense or silly, I can laugh. I can laugh and laugh and laugh and sometimes that is just the best feeling…remembering what it’s like to laugh.

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  • Remember what helps
    • make a list, or just think a few moments on what helps you feel better. Is it a hug from your partner or sister? How about chocolate chip cookies? Avoid co-dependence but try the little things to help. Remember if a poem helps you feel grounded, or a favorite book helps you feel alive.
  • Love
    • sometimes we can’t love ourselves, but we can love something else. When we share love, we can receive love and I believe if you love more and more, then you can’t stop loving everyone, especially yourself.
  • Be Healthy
    • many times, when I feel at my worst, it’s because I have been eating out too much, or not eating enough healthy things my body needs. This is a good chance to eat some salad, be mindful of foods you crave and maybe take a walk or a hike.

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  • Keep it simple
    • it’s easy, as a culture, to bury ourselves in To-Do lists. however, sometimes the list is a ridiculous set of standards that causes more harm then good. When you feel low, don’t worry about all the dishes or laundry, just enjoy little things. Embrace the crazy and be. DO WHAT YOU NEED TO FEEL BETTER.
    • The world will not end if you don’t clean the toilet TODAY
  • Do something for confidence
    • if you feel off inside, you’ll feel off outside. Not that anything may be wrong, but one may just need a boost. Maybe it’s a new haircut, or getting your nails done. Try a new perfume, or pull out those heels you never wear. Perhaps you just need a new toilet paper, but sometimes, the little things make a big difference.
  • Make a change
    • Change can be terrifying, but also liberating. Move some furniture around, paint a wall, sew something. Throw out old clothes, buy some new clothes, try a new blanket etc. New hobbies and other things can help a lot.
  • Reach out
    • talk to the people you trust and love to see how they are doing, Go get food or a drink. Be together, be friends, be loving
  • Meditate
    • This helps myself, and millions of others, find some sense in the storm that is their mind. In the internet age you can find thousands of videos, instructions and ideas to help with meditation. No need for it to be intimidating
  • Self-Care
    • Most importantly, practice self-care. Be loving, be kind and be patient. This life is hard and disappointing and no one makes it out alive….so sometimes we have to step back and care. Talk to people to get through the time, therapists and doctors may have some ideas to get you back on your feet.

Best,

Rebecce

musings

Universal Studios for the Potterhead

Florida, Travel

Old Firehouse Books

2015-10-24 07.12.02-1 (1) I was up at 6am! and yes that is a Marauder’s map dress!

This October I had the fantabulous experience of getting to go to Universal Studios Orlando!

2015-10-24 08.12.10 HDR-2 My baby sister and I were pretty stoked!

AND OF COURSE I WENT TO THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER!

Because you can’t have a potter tattoo and not go if you are in Orlando, let alone the theme park.

Also, 8 year old me desperately need to go be an 8-year-old in a theme park and 11-year-old me wanted to live the potter books and movies, and buy my wand, and get sorted, and try butter beer, and act like a spaz about the Hogwarts Express.

2015-10-24 09.34.33 HDR-2 The Knight Bus starts the journey to Diagon Alley

We spent like 75% of the day in “Harry Potter World” which is split between a “Diagon Alley” and a “Hogsmeade” and in two separate parks…

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