Day One: Friday
We checked into the Loews Royal Pacific Resort on Friday morning, and met up with the other bloggers and their families for lunch at the Navigators Club. While we ate, we got to see a sneak peak of the plans for the new Cabana Bay Beach Resort (it looks amazing) that is opening in 2014.
After lunch we went on a VIP tour of the parks. Universal Orlando Resort is comprised of two parks - Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure. We started our tour in Islands of Adventure, where The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located.
First Taste Of ButterbeerThe Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the wizard town of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts castle. You can't read a Harry Potter book without wondering what Butterbeer tastes like, and wishing you had a big mug of it sitting on your table. Universal took that into account when they created the Wizarding World, and you can get Butterbeer at the Hog's Head pub or from street vendors selling it out of big barrels. It comes in frozen or fizzy, and Katarina chose the frozen.
It is hard to describe the flavor of Butterbeer. It is kind of like a butterscotch root beer. That isn't a perfect description, but it's close. It is much sweeter than I expected, and very yummy.
We moved through WWoHP fairly fast during the tour, stopping to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey rides before our Butterbeer tasting. Katarina and I both agreed we needed to visit it again to really enjoy soaking in all of the little details in Hogsmeade and browse in the shops.
New RidesDuring the tour, we were able to go on some of the new rides that have been added to the parks since my family visited Universal Studios a few years ago. We've been hearing about Transformers: The Ride 3-D since it opened last summer. It was one of the rides we were excited to try, and it did not disappoint. You sit in a car that seats four to a row. As your car moves along the 2,000 foot track, it spins and darts from scene to scene where giant 3-D screens make you feel as if you are a part of the story. It is very similar to another one of our favorite rides, The Amazing Spiderman, but the ride feels newer, and you can tell they have made improvements on the technology.
You can meet the Transformers outside of the ride. Bumblebee was being shy, and turned his head right as I snapped this picture. I still love him.
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem was a huge hit with Katarina, and I enjoyed it, too. It is another 3D ride. The car you are sitting in is more stationary than the seats in Transformers or Amazing Spiderman, not moving from room to room, but it does tilt and lean, and gives you the sensation of falling and flying with the characters on the screen. We rode it at least four times during our visit, and stayed longer at the dance party at the end each time we rode. You have to love a good dance party.
Men In Black Alien Attack isn't new, but it is very fun. It is part ride, part game. You shoot at aliens with laser guns as you go through the ride. Our tour guides gave us some tips (look for Frank the Pug, who is worth a lot of points, and hit all the aliens hiding in trees, lamp posts, and the second story windows), and my car racked up a lot of points. We walked through the Alien Immigration area visitors overlook when exiting the ride.
On our way to E.T. Adventure (the last remaining original ride in the park, and one of my favorites), we spotted the construction for the Diagon Alley Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion in Universal Studios Florida. Surrounding the construction area, they have a fence with old movie posters on it. I couldn't resist getting this shot of Diagon Alley behind the Jaws poster, as this is the location where Amity and the Jaws ride were located. It seemed fitting.
When the Diagon Alley expansion is finished in the summer of 2014, you will be able to access Diagon Alley behind the streets of London, just like J.K. Rowling first imagined it. You will also be able to travel between London in Universal Studios Florida and Diagon Alley in Islands of Adventure by riding on the Hogwarts Express. I can hardly wait.
CityWalkBoth of the theme parks close at 7:00pm, but CityWalk, which connects the two parks and is accessible without a park ticket, is open until 2am. We made great use of CityWalk both nights we were at Universal Orlando Resort.
On Friday night we ate at The Hard Rock Cafe. I had Twisted Mac & Cheese with chicken, followed by a piece of amazing cheesecake for dessert. The atmosphere was great, and I could easily spend hours in the restaurant looking at all of the rock memorabilia.
Blue Man GroupAfter dinner we walked next door to see the Blue Man Group.
You are not allowed to take pictures during the Blue Man Group show. It felt a little strange for me (a picture-crazed person and a blogger) to sit through an amazing experience without reaching for my camera a single time, but it was actually very refreshing. I thought the show would be all drumming and splashing paint, but it wasn't. There was a lot of improv, they pulled people out of the audience, and a sketch with giant ipads that had everyone laughing. They also did the iconic drumming and paint splashing. The show alternated between hilarious and amazing. I enjoyed every minute of it, and would definitely go see it again.
When the show ended, we were able to meet a Blue Man and one of the band members. Katarina told him she was going to make "a serious Blue Man face for our picture" so she could match him. The Blue Man motioned for the photographer to wait (the Blue Men don't talk), and he wiped some of the blue paint off of his face and put it on her nose for our picture.
Before we walked away, I got the blue nose treatment as well. That made Katarina so happy, she couldn't hold on to her serious face, and the laughter broke through. It was awesome, and I am so glad someone captured the moment.
Day Two: Saturday
On Saturday morning, Katarina and I took advantage of the opportunity to go to Islands of Adventure an hour before the park officially opens. This is a nice perk you get when you stay on-site in the Universal resort hotels.
Wizarding World Of Harry PotterWe did not get enough Harry Potter on Friday (because it is impossible to get enough Harry Potter), so we immediately headed to the Wizarding World after breakfast.
It was fun to walk through all of the shops mentioned in the books. Zonkos had several of Fred and George Weasley's inventions for sale, and Honeydukes had Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans.
Visiting Hogsmeade really does feel like you have walked right into the wizard world from Rowling's books.
At the Owl Post, you can actually send letters, and Ollivanders sells wands. They have wands that will choose you according to your birthday or other special dates in your life, and they also have replicas of a large number of the character's wands. But the really exciting thing at Ollivanders is the interactive wand choosing experience.
When our group went in for the wand choosing, Ollivander picked Katarina to be the wizard looking for a wand. She went through several wands, ringing bells and accidentally killing some flowers she was tasked with watering, before finding the wand that wanted her. It was an amazing experience. I took a very dark video of it (no lights or flashes are allowed in Ollivanders) that you can see on youtube.
Universal Studios and more CityWalkAfter our visit to the Wizarding World, Katarina and I spent the rest of our morning with my good friend Lee and her family, who were also attending the Family Blogger Trip. I can not even explain to you how excited Lee and I got when we were walking down the street at Universal Studios and saw Shaggy and Scooby. It is possible we cut in front of a line of small children accidentally, due to our excitement, to get this picture. Scooby loves me. He really loves me.
We rode lots of rides with the kids, and Lee's husband and I snuck in a couple of roller coasters. The Incredible Hulk ride made my top three list of best roller coasters in America. It was that awesome.
Because we stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, we had complimentary express passes to use, and that enabled us to get through lines very fast. I don't think we waited more than five minutes for any of the rides on Saturday, even though some of the regular lines had waits of over an hour posted. You can buy express passes even if you aren't staying at an on-site hotel, and I would definitely suggest getting them on your next visit to Universal - they make a huge difference.
After we took part in all of the Christmas festivities on Saturday afternoon, we ate dinner by the hotel pool. It was nice to rest our feet and relax a bit, but we still weren't ready for the day to end, so we ended up at CityWalk's Hollywood Drive-In Golf at around 10pm.
I Can Not Mini-GolfSomething you might not know about me: I can not mini-golf. When I was ten years old I was actually kicked out of a mini-golf place after accidentally breaking three light bulbs. That was the last time I tried to golf...until this trip.
It was with great trepidation that I picked up a club on Saturday night. On the first hole I found that I had not lost my "special" golfing inability. The ball flew off of the green, jumped a wall, skipped down a stair, and almost hit another mini-golfer in the head. I decided one hole was enough, and quit, but Katarina had a blast finishing out the course.
We finally crawled into bed around midnight, and slept hard until it was time to go home on Sunday morning. Then both Katarina and I took very long naps on Sunday afternoon to recover from our amazing weekend.
There were just so many things I wanted to tell you about Universal Orlando Resort, but I just couldn't fit them all into one blog post. It is a great place for a family vacation. If you plan to visit, I suggest wearing good tennis shoes, planning out exactly which areas you want to see and which rides you want to ride, and having an idea what souvenirs you are interested in buying before you arrive. You can use the vacation planner on Universal's website to help you customize your perfect adventure.
*I was given media tickets to attend the Universal Orlando Family Blogger Press Trip, and was not compensated in any other way. I was not required to write this blog post, say nice things, scream like a small child when I met Shaggy and Scooby, or skip through the streets of Hogsmeade singing Can You Dance Like a Hippogriff.