Days 6 – Staying at Hard Rock Hotel, Volcano Bay and more Universal

Breakfast this morning was finally at Waffle House after I didn’t get lost and found one! You can always rely on Waffle House for cheap good food and lots of it. Service is always great and the servers do make it a fun place to eat. Plus they have the tastiest and biggest hash browns. We did notice these seem to be everywhere on the 192 and not so prominent when you get to I-Drive so if you fancy trying one of their delicious breakfasts then head towards Kissimmee you’re bound to come across one!

 

I’d heard lots of good things about Hard Rock so we were both really looking forward to staying here. Mostly because of the early entry to the parks and the unlimited Express Passes that come with a room booking 🙂

We checked in about 9ish and were lucky as our room was actually ready for us. The smell of this hotel is unbelievable! I did ask if you can buy it but you can’t, they are missing a trick with that one! Because you get the early park entry with your room you can actually check in as early as 7am on the day of your stay to make use of it. Your room might not be ready but you can leave your bags somewhere safe.

We had a quick look at the room and got changed to head to Volcano Bay for a swim. The rooms are big and spacious and we loved the music channels as well. You can even make your own playlist that you can download to remind you of your trip.

My favourite thing about the room was this, it had me in fits – no-one else found it quite so funny..

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The good thing about staying on Universal is that all the parks are really close and we got on a bus from our hotel to Volcano Bay. It gave us a chance to see some of the other hotels on property as well. It was quick and there is no way to walk there from Hard Rock.

We didn’t actually take any pictures really in Volcano Bay just a few as we went it. It’s a great park. The Tapu Tapu worked great, its given to you as you go in and each of the rides have machines where you can scan it to put you in a virtual queue for that ride. We were lucky it was pretty quiet. Paul and Amelia managed to get on a few slides. The ‘Oh No’ was her favourite. It was a slide which ends 6ft above the pool giving you a free fall drop to the water.

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Volcano Bay has 2 lazy rivers, if you want to chill out and relax make sure you enter the right one. TeAwa The Fearless river is anything but relaxing. It’s like white water rafting in a rubber ring, its so much fun but kind of impossible to get off! The wave surges come at just the wrong time and kept shooting me past the exit, I think we went round 4 times and it’s not a short river!

Disabled Access here is really good, there was an entrance for me on the rivers with hoists to put you in and out of the water, most of the slides had lifts to get you up to them so if you are in a wheelchair you can still experience a lot of the park which is great.

The Volcano is stunning when you see it, and the wave pool in front of it is perfect to just chill out and soak up the sun. Do not forget your sun cream, we were there for a few hours and I ended up with red legs!

We went back to the hotel for a few hours to ease our sunburn and just as we sat down we had a knock at the door and some Champagne and Chocolates delivered as a Honeymoon gift from the hotel which was lovely, we were chuffed with that 🙂 Made light work of the bottle and went off to Universal Studios a little bit tipsy…

 

The Express Passes you get with your room booking are fab. It’s actually your room key that acts as your pass so buying a lanyard is a great idea, it’s a good way to carry them around 🙂

We were straight on every ride we wanted to do. Jimmy Fallon is amazing. We were obviously aware of his show and who he is but you don’t need to to enjoy it. The pre show is fabulous with a barbershop quartet like he has on the show singing some modern classics for you, I really enjoyed that. It’s worth queueing for just for them. And it does keep you entertained while you wait. The ride itself is another 3D/4D ride simulator of which there are quite a few at Universal. The general idea of these is pretty similar yet they are all unique in their own way. This one takes you on a race through New York City taking in all the sights like the Empire State and Statue of Liberty before ending up back in the Tonight show studio.

Amelia had been going on and on and on and on about Rip Ride Rockit since our last trip, it was another one we had tears about with her being so little. Having the Express pass meant she could go on as many times as she liked and I lost count at 5, seeing this little gem after she’d been on it made my day!

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We managed to get on Simpsons, which still makes me feel sick, Men in Black and The Mummy before our day was cut short because of the weather.

I mentioned the photopass in my last blog which we managed to get a good deal on and we did use it as much as we could. It’s nowhere near as good as the Disney one and there isn’t really any photographers about much it’s mostly just on rides and character meets you can use it. There isn’t a lot of those at all. With all the photo opportunities all over Universal and particularly in Wizarding World I think Universal would benefit from having more photographers dotted about. That being said we did take advantage of it today with ET and SpongeBob 🙂

Dinner today was in Mels Diner which I wasn’t overly impressed with if I’m honest. I’d eaten there before and I remembered having jukeboxes on the table but I’m sure it used to be table service. Food was ok, not brilliant and it was quite expensive.

We spent the evening chilling out with cocktails by the pool and sitting in the hot-tub not an entirely bad way to spend the evening. Universal doesn’t have the evening shows like Disney does so the parks do close earlier. You do have Citywalk to explore but being as we only had one night in the hotel we did want to make use of the pool and have a quiet and early night. We need to be awake enough to take full advantage of early entry for Diagon Alley!!

Tomorrow we get the chance to visit Diagon Alley without all the crowds!

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Planning your Trip – Where to Start! – Buying Park Tickets

I realized that although I’ve given you loads of tips and info on what to do when you get to Orlando what I haven’t really touched on is how to plan from the beginning!! So let me give you some basic info about Orlando and what there is to do, there are still people out there who don’t realize that Walt Disney World is not just ‘the park with the castle’…..

Orlando is a 8/9 hour flight from the UK. My big tip with booking flights is to leave the UK as early as possible to get to Orlando late afternoon – you’re able to have a look about go out for some food and then go to bed at the same time as you would at home. I find this stops any jetlag you may suffer from. Coming home, always get the latest possible evening flight, giving you at least half the day to maybe visit your favourite park or do a bit of shopping..

Orlando has 3 main theme park resorts. Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, Seaworld Parks and Entertainment.

Walt Disney World (the clue is in the name, it is a WORLD) not just one park. Disney is made up of:

Magic Kingdom (the one with the Castle)

Epcot (the one with the Golf Ball)

Animal Kingdom (the one with the tree)

Hollywood Studios (the one that used to have the Hat…)

Blizzard Beach

Typhoon Lagoon

Disney Springs

Disneys Boardwalk

ESPN World Wide of Sports

Disney Resort Hotels

Universal Orlando Resort is made up of:

Universal Studios (including Diagon Alley of Wizarding World of Harry Potter)

Universal’s Islands of Adventure (including Hogsmeade and Hogwarts of Wizarding World of Harry Potter)

Volcano Bay

Citywalk

Universal Resort Hotels

Seaworld Parks and Entertainment is made up of:

Seaworld

Aquatica

Busch Gardens

Discovery Cove

Most of the parks are in Orlando with the exception of Busch Gardens which is just over an hour away on the west coast in Tampa.

All the tickets that we can purchase in the UK are valid for unlimited access for 14 days, and on first trips people always say ‘but I won’t need 14 days’ – you will!! Buying your tickets in the UK before you travel is a lot cheaper than purchasing them on the gate in Orlando. The 14 day tickets are not available once you get there. With these tickets you’re able to ‘hop’ between the parks meaning you can visit more than one in a day if you like and Disney parks tend to stay open late. It gives you the flexibility to be able to see the evening shows at Disney but spend a day somewhere else if you wanted. ‘Hopping’ at Universal will include the use of the Hogwarts Express which transports you between the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter. All 14 day tickets for the Seaworld Parks will include complimentary bus travel to Busch Gardens.

The only park that you cannot visit multiple times is Discovery Cove. This is a one day experience where you can swim with Dolphins if you wish. This is a fully all inclusive day with all your food and drink (including alcohol) included. You have to book a date for this as it gets booked up quickly and prices vary throughout the year. All the Discovery Cove tickets include unlimited access to Seaworld and Aquatica, there is an Ultimate package which will also include Busch Gardens.

Are there any waterparks included?

Yes. Disney has Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, Universal has Volcano Bay when it opens and Aquatica is Seaworlds offering.

What Parks Shall I Visit?

If you’re unsure what parks you want to visit my advice to you is to use YouTube to watch some holiday planning videos that show you what there is at each of the parks.

Think about who there is in your party and what would be of interest to them.

Surely I won’t need 14 day tickets?

You may not think you do and you may think that buying a smaller amount of days will save you money. That all depends on what parks you want to see.

If you want to visit all the parks at Disney including the Water Parks you will need at least 9 days! The 14 day tickets include water parks and park hopping. On the gate you’d pay $60 for each of the water parks and around $120 per day for each of the theme parks, plus an extra $55 to park hop. And don’t forget the 6% sales tax you have to add as well.

If you want to see all of Universal then as of June you’d probably need 4 days. One for each of the theme parks, one to hop between the 2 and see things you might not have on the other days and then a whole extra day (maybe 2 it looks HUGE) for Volcano Bay. Again the 14 day tickets are much more cost effective than buying 3 days on the gate and including the hopping.

Seaworld, Aquatica, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove you could spend a day in each and see everything. One day in each of the parks (with the exception of Discovery Cove) is around $70 (plus the sales tax). If you want to visit one more than once or all of them then again the 14 day tickets work out best.

Ticket Types

In the UK you are able to buy the 14 day tickets that I mentioned. There are many ticket sellers in the UK who provide these at a lesser cost than travel agents and usually the parks directly.

It is really important to check that whoever you buy from is providing you with real gate ready tickets. This means that when you get to the parks you are able to go straight in. Some travel agents will provide you with vouchers which you would need to exchange when you get there, meaning you have to queue for them BEFORE you get in the queue to get in.

You will also need your ticket numbers to be able to book your Disney FastPasses, although these numbers can be given to you by your travel agent 30 days before you travel this isn’t automatic and you may find yourself chasing them for it and missing out on booking some of the rides you want to do.

There are a number of resellers in the UK who send real tickets and will have offers on throughout the year.  There are links to some of those in the useful links page.

Most of these are Orlando experts and will give great advice.

Most will allow you to secure the current prices with a small deposit and will give up to 6 weeks before you leave to pay the balance.

The tickets all have the same names with the sellers:

Disney Ultimate

Universal Explorer

Seaworld 3 park

Discovery Cove Standard ticket and Discovery Cove Ultimate ticket.

All the resellers above do combination ticket packages which works out better than purchasing them individually.  They will all have different names but they will include the same tickets within them. Each of the tickets will have 14 days on it from the first day of activation so if you’re going for longer than 14 days you are able to stagger that so you can visit parks for the whole duration of your trip.

You cannot buy a combination ticket to include Discovery Cove. This is a stand alone ticket and will include your entry to the other parks owned by Seaworld.

Do they offer discounted tickets for Disabled or free carer tickets?

No. And the reason for this is that 90% of the rides and attractions are fully accessible. Universal do a small discount on the gate but this is for day tickets only and it the saving is minimal. There is a system in place for guests with disabilities. I go into  much more detail here – Disney with Disabilities

What’s included in my ticket?

All the tickets above will include unlimited park hopping access to all the parks owned by that company.

Disney tickets also include Disneys Fastpass which allows you to skip the line at some of the key attractions by being able to book your time on the ride 30 days before you go (60 if you’re staying on site). It gives you 3 fast passes per person per day which you can book on your My Disney Experience (MDE) account. The app for this gives you all the current wait times for rides so by looking at it a bit before you go you’re able to figure out what rides you would need to book for. Peter Pans Flight always has a really long line, as does Soarin’, some of the character meets will have a long wait you can book some of them too.

Currently the UK tickets also include Disney Memory Maker (or photopass) free of charge. This is ALL of your professional photos taken around the parks, ride photos (and videos for the ones that have them), character photos and all the ones in the scenic places around the parks. These are all digital photos that are uploaded to your MDE account when the photographer scans your ticket. You can then download them all when you get home and get them printed off when you like. I found when I did mine that if you leave them in your shopping basket with some of these companies they start to send you discount codes so you will buy them. Photobox is what I used for my 2000 odd when I came home. It’s a great thing to have with the tickets it’s worth $170.

Disney tickets also include mini golf free every day (before 4pm) there are 2 mini golf courses on Disney, Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens and they’re so much fun. Nothing like the boring golf we have here.

You can also use the Oak Trail golf course if you want a ‘normal’ round of golf. Tickets include a round and club hire.

Universal tickets include park hopping as well – this means you can use the Hogwarts Express to travel between the 2 Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter.

Seaworld tickets currently include free parking if you’re purchasing a ticket to include all 3 parks and you do get the free transportation to Busch Gardens as well if you don’t fancy the drive.

Can I skip the lines?

Yes you can.

Disney’s Fastpass is free and included in the tickets.

Universal have their own called an Express Pass which you can only buy from them directly. It’s more cost effective to buy a 1-day 2- park Express meaning you can do all the rides in both the parks in one day. With an Express Pass it’s easy to do that. The UK based booking site has them and they vary season to season – these tickets allow you one ride on each of the rides that day. You can get unlimited ones on the gate. Some of the hotels on the Universal Resort include free express passes and early entry to Harry Potter.

Seaworld and Busch Gardens have a ‘QuikQueue’ ticket which is the same sort of thing. All the re-sellers I mentioned sell an unlimited one which gives you as many rides as you like on each of the rides. This varies in price by park and season.

None of the waterparks have fastpasses. Volcano Bay however has a virtual queuing system using a wristband called ‘TapuTapu’ which allows you to select the ride and time you want and will vibrate when you can get on, meaning you can do other things while you’re waiting.

Hopefully that should answer most of the questions you have about tickets. If there’s anything else you want to know or I’ve missed let me know.

 

 

 

It’s NEXT WEEK!!

Excuse me while I squeal a little!! I can now finally say we go next week!! The excitement is getting a bit much now to be honest I may well burst at any moment!

I get asked loads why I love Florida so much and how there are ‘loads of other places in the world’ but you know what? Apart from Italy (and maybe Germany after watching a Vlog about Europa Park) there isn’t really anywhere else I’m that bothered about visiting and I don’t think they’ll live up to my expectations after being to Disney.  I’m not a sit by the pool and drink type so a package holiday being stuck in a resort is my idea of hell I need things to do!!

I get asked why I don’t get bored being that I’ve been before – this will be trip number 6 – I don’t get bored because there’s always something new to see. In the space of 17 years I’ve seen loads of things come and go.  Rides like Snow Whites Scary Adventures and Mr Toads Wild Ride and Toon Town where you could visit the houses of Minnie and Mickey Mouse have gone and are missed and then there are things like Alien which scarred me for life and I’m not sorry to see the back of.

Of course the big new thing is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which has now stretched over 2 parks instead of just the one that there was on my last trip.

Even in 3 years there has been loads of development and new stuff to check out this time. Aside from the WWOHP extension there’s also the New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom, the new Frozen show and new parades at Disney. As well as the developments at Downtown Disney.   Jurassic Park at Islands of Adventure now has a Raptor encounter and Universal Studios has Transformers and Springfield USA is open.

Seaworld has opened Empire of the Penguin and opened some new shows as well, not to mention the big opening of I-Drive 360 which comprises of the Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds and Sealife Orlando.

With more changes and new rides/parks opening over the next few years – Avatarland at Animal Kingdom, the Star Wars expansion at Hollywood Studios (or whatever it will be called then…) and Universals Volcano Bay as well as the much talked about Nintendo Partnership at Universal.  And then there’s the King Kong ride that I totally forgot about – I remember the original one!! You can never get bored of Orlando there’s always something new opening!

The other thing I love is how accessible it is and how completely suitable it is for anyone with a disability. Be it a mobility issue like me or more complex needs no matter where you go in Orlando they will do whatever they can to help you and have policies in place for everything you could think of. Nothing is a hassle to them and unlike some other holiday destinations – I’ve been put in upstairs rooms in hotels with no lift and been felt like I’m causing the problem when I’m unable to walk up the stairs!! Here any sort of Disability isn’t seen as a major problem and rather than make a fuss they just figure out how to help you rather than huffing about it!!

The one thing I haven’t done properly in Orlando is a water park – I did Aquatica last time but all I did was bob along in the lazy river – I’m curious to see how they are geared up for someone like me.  There’s quite a few things I’m doing for the first time on this trip, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon which I’m really looking forward to. Discovery Cove which is something I’ve heard nothing but good things about (and that’s not just because all the food and drink is free), We’re doing a Penguin Encounter at Seaworld where we actually get to meet a real penguin – I’m a BIG fan of anywhere where I can cuddle any sort of animal, not sure the penguin will want me to cuddle it but I will give it a try.  We have an Airboat ride as well which I won’t lie, I’m a little bit scared of. I don’t really like boats at the best of times – unless it’s a cruise ship – so being on something that doesn’t look that steady and surrounded by gators isn’t exactly filling me with excitement. I panic in a kayak so goodness knows what I’m going to be like on this.  Also I’m finally getting to do a character breakfast – the bonus of taking kids – we’re doing both Chef Mickeys and Universals Superstar Breakfast (if the tickets get sorted in time) and also the Pirates Adventure Dinner Show. Last time I went to a dinner show I was ill with sunstroke and it wasn’t a pleasant experience so fingers crossed this one will be better.

The only thing that could make this trip even more perfect is that elusive booking at ‘Be Our Guest’…..