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

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!

Family Travel Planning – Part 1

family, Florida, Travel, wedding

My sister is getting married in October, in Orlando, in a backyard wedding. This means the whole famdamily is going to the wedding. Which means we are going to be trying to make the most of the vacation, family time, and sightseeing in one giant Robinson Wedding Week.

As you can imagine, trying to organize approximately 20 people to show up to pre-wedding events, and another 60 for the wedding, is a bit of a project. While it’s my sister’s wedding, and she is tackling the wedding EVENTm I am working on extra events to keep kids, parents, cousins, and myself sane.

While my family likes a good time, I can’t say they are the best at planning in advance to make the most of their time. If you are in a situation like me, it’s vital that you make a plan and stick to it so that you can actually enjoy your “vacation” without getting lost in a sea of relative needs. Here are my tips for surviving and enjoying the journey.

UNIVERSAL FLORIDA RIDES  
Ivy Friendly “Grown-up” Rides
Minion Mayhem Revenge of the Mummy
Shrek 4-D Men in Black
Simpsons Ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster  
Hogwarts Express  
Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl  
  1. Make Lists
    • Make a list of people going, lists of priority sites and activities, lists of time needed for travel.
    • Lists will help you prioritize and plan more comfortably.
    • If you are headed for theme parks, make a list of activities and rides that are most important, and that will work for different people and ages. For instance, my five year old cousin won’t be able to do many of the rides my 12 y/o step daughter wants to ride. Therefore, with some planning we can split up and get to ride everything we want. (see above)
  2. Plan What You Want or Need
    • Vacations are expensive, so it’s important to make a plan to get the most out of your time on a trip. With a group, things go slower, and sometimes you just won’t get everyone to commit to a plan. Therefore, it’s important to choose what you want and need the most then invite everyone.
    • For example, I pick days that work the best for the most important things. What day do we need to do the Bachelorette for the Bride? What day will be more comfortable for everyone for sleep, timing, obligations etc.
    • You won’t be able to make everyone happy, but people usually will make something work if they want to join in. If they can’t, then they usually find an alternative option.
  3. Know You Won’t Make Everyone Happy
    • Inevitably you will have people that aren’t happy with the schedule. While it’s nice to make things work for everyone, it usually doesn’t ever work. If you waited for everyone to be able to go, the truth is that you probably would never get to go!
    • Prioritize the most important people, sometimes this is the people getting married, sometimes it’s making sure the kids get to have the most at their day at Disney. While it’s nice to wait for Aunt Janet to get her nails done, maybe Janet needs to reschedule or join everyone at another time.
  4. Don’t plan on Being with Everyone All The Time
    • It’s nice to plan on being together a lot, but the truth is that everyone will want to do different things at different times.
    • It’s common for everyone to get sick of each other too. This gives kids and adults a chance to get space, quiet time, and down time to relax.
  5. Plan Ahead
    • The sooner you start trying to book an AirBnB, hotel, rental cars, and other arrangements, the better the rates and the better selection you will have. Booking a last minute flight and room probably won’t give you the best price and options.
    • Start drawing up plans for each day so that you can get a feel for what everyone wants or needs. This gives you time to rearrange plans in case of closures, event changes, or other situations.
  6. Plan for Down Time
    • If kids are involved you will need some time to relax. If adults are involved, you will need some time to sleep, eat, talk, and not have to be anywhere. I highly suggest making a day or two free days, or open days, where loose plans are made, and everything is casual. If people are exhausted, cancel plans, and take time to sleep or just chill.

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Happy Travels!

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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