Day 7 – A Deserted Wizarding World, preparing for Irma and meeting a Polar Bear

Today is the main reason we decided to stay at Hard Rock Hotel.

Staying on site gives you the early entry and both parts of the Wizarding World open an hour early for hotel guests. 8am in our case at this time of year. We got up early, checked out and walked to Universal Studios. Literally a 5 minute walk if that! No need to get on a bus, train, monorail or boat.

Nothing else bar Starbucks and a few places to eat were open and we were a little disappointed to learn that Gringotts didn’t actually open until the park did. That being said there is so much to look at in Diagon Alley and we had so much fun looking about and being able to have pictures without loads of people in the background. Paul even pretended he knew what Harry Potter was all about and had a go at being a wizard!

Anyone who’s been here knows how immersive it is and it does really feel like you’re entering the wizarding world. Even with the ride closed the hour we had before opening wasn’t anywhere near enough time to explore it all in peace!

We spent a lot of time doing spells and wondering around the shops and into Ollivanders to see how the wand chooses the wizard. One of the little extra things I really wanted to do that I’d kept quiet from Amelia was visit the money exchange where you can change up your dollars (a minimum of $10) to wizarding money with the help of one of the gringotts goblins. Fully interactive of course.

The money can only be spent in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade or of course makes a relatively cheap souvenir. We kept ours.  We did video our experience in the money exchange as well as most of the trip so when I can get my head round editing I’ll put all that up as well.

Food in Diagon Alley, well snacks, are magical too. We had the obligatory Butterbeer which comes frozen or normal, and is every bit as delicious as I remember but a little too sweet for some people. We had Earl Grey and Lavender Ice Cream which was lovely but in typical Orlando style even one scoop was far too big! Amelia was sensible and went for a no melt ice cream from the sweet shop. It looked fabulous but was essentially just a pot of frosting, very good frosting but frosting all the same.  Pumpkin spice is one of my favourite things in Orlando so we went for a Pumpkin Pasty which was ok and we also bought a cauldron cake – we skipped breakfast so we were all a bit hungry!

I really enjoyed just wandering around and to be honest I could have quite happily walked around all day. But we needed to get as much done as possible as we needed to find a Walmart to stock up on rations for when Irma hit.

We had a quick stop off at The Night Bus and a chat with Stan and the shrunken heads before we took a little walk over to the other side of the park to see a show I’d been dying to watch for a while.

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That didn’t happen straightaway however as Paul nearly had some sort of fit after The Blues Brothers were walking along. He loves the Blues Brothers and we were planning on making sure we caught their show but we ended up seeing an earlier one. Paul even got involved in it, again to be seen in an upcoming vlog!

The Blues Brothers show is one of those must sees, everyone knows all the songs and it’s so entertaining and funny. Lots of audience participation and the performers are really really good 🙂

Jaws the ride may now be a distant memory but you can’t visit Universal Studios without finding the famous shark himself and inspecting the inside of his mouth.

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We did try and go to Richter Burger for lunch which does some of the best burgers but sadly it was closed.

The park was very quiet today, eerily so, due I would imagine to the upcoming storm. Most of the people in the parks were on holiday, I think most locals were out getting supplies.

If you’re planning a trip to Universal or have been before and are looking for something different to do, make a spot in your itinerary for the Horror Make Up Show. It’s not something I was overly interested in on previous trips just thinking it would be like some of the animation classes you used to get at Disney which although I enjoyed it wasn’t something I would rush to do again. I actually saw a vlog on it a few months after we booked and I laughed so hard! So we decided to give it a go 🙂 Plus it’s inside and it’s been raining on and off quite heavily all day.

It’s a live stage show with 2 fantastically funny hosts who show a few techniques for horror make up and blood and then show clips of the movies that they’re used on. And the movies the hosts have worked on. An unsuspecting audience member – sadly not one of us – gets roped in to be made up as well.

There are screens in the theatre – which isn’t that big – so any tricks they show you are shown close up on those 🙂

It’s a great way to spend half an hour, you won’t be disappointed and honestly it’s one of the funniest shows I’ve seen 🙂

Plus you can have your throat cut by the hosts after if you want to…

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One thing I only found out about recently were the impromptu ‘dance parties’ involving the floats from the Superstar parade. We were lucky on coming out of the show to stumble upon a Despicable Me one. Amelia got picked to be a Minion which she loved and you can have a dance with all the characters to the music from the film. I was just really excited that you can meet the girls!

These are really good fun and kids love it!

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It turns out we were in a great location for meeting characters here, after the dance party we spotted Popeye, Beetlejuice, Scooby Doo and The Simpsons. Some with photographers so we could take advantage of the photopass.

Shaggy and Scooby are always fun to meet. Other places where you can use the photopass are with the meets with Transformers, Minions and Shrek.

I finally got to do the Transformers ride which I wasn’t all that impressed with. The ride tech is brilliant and the special effects are really good but it’s not really that much different to Spider-Man, it’s just the story is about Transformers instead. I prefer Spider-Man.

The Despicable Me ride is one I always enjoy, I love the films and the Minions do make me laugh. Best bit of the ride though is undoubtedly when you exit to a dance floor where you can dance with the Minions 🙂

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After a quick? stop in Walmart and $200 of groceries later – we were told we could be in our rooms for 48 hours so we needed enough to last – we went back to Port Orleans, without getting lost for a quick dip in the pool.

I really enjoyed the pool at Port Orleans, it’s a great size and has a slide. There’s always activities for the kids as well, at an extra cost though.

There is also a bar that does some brilliant cocktails and an adults only Jacuzzi which we most definitely made the most of.

We decided to spend the evening in Disney Springs. The beauty of staying at Port Orleans is that you can get to Disney Springs on a boat which was fun. They run quite late into the evening as well it’s a less crowded more fun way to get about than the buses.

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We had a reservation at T-Rex where I really wanted to try the famed Cottontini 🙂

It’s basically a martini poured over candy floss (or cotton candy as they call it). I went for the apple one and I loved it. If you don’t like sweet things you won’t like it. The Candy Floss dissolves as you pour the drink over it. I ended up having 2 and another fruity cocktail as well. You get to keep the cocktail shaker when you order as well so you get a little reminder.

Food wise we really enjoyed T Rex, I’d read a lot of bad reviews about it but honestly apart from it being loud, it is dinosaur themed and comes from the same people who do Rainforest Café so you do expect a certain amount of ‘background’ noise from all the things that go on. I don’t remember exactly what happens in T-Rex I think it’s supposed to mimic the demise of the dinosaurs but there are animatronics all over the place and it’s a great fun place to eat with kids.

After the cocktails we had a rather tipsy wander around the Springs. I love the shops in Disney Springs so much grown up Disney merchandise from homeware and clothes to artwork, I never buy a lot but I just like to look.

One of the things I was super excited about was meeting the Coca Cola Polar bear. I’d watched some videos of him on YouTube and he really made me laugh so finding him was one of the things on my bucket list for this trip. He was brilliant, such a fun character meet and all the photos – in fact all the photo ops in Disney Springs – are included with memory maker. We loved him that much we went back twice.

We also had more cocktails on the rooftop bar at Coca Cola Store. You can have them with all the different coke products you can try in Epcot at Club Cool, I wasn’t brave enough to try the Beverley one so I went for something raspberry flavoured although all I could taste was the alcohol. Don’t forget if you are over 21 and old enough to drink in Orlando you will need to prove it so make sure you have ID with you.

The rooftop bar is lovely, it gives you great views over the Springs, the shop was great as well. It wasn’t there last time I visited so I was excited to have a look 🙂

Feeling ever so slightly tipsy we went back to the boat to go back, tomorrow is the last day the parks are open before Irma hits so we’re off for breakfast with Winnie the Pooh…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

Day 2 – Islands of Adventure, Blue Man Group and a present from Spiderman.

Up a little bit later today and headed off to find a Waffle House for breakfast – guess what? – we got lost and couldn’t find one!! So we ended up in an IHOP near Universal.  I remember going to IHOP loads on my first ever trip over here nearly 20 years ago.

Have to say this time we were so not impressed and it wasn’t what we’ve come to love about eating out over here – and boy do we love eating out over here!! We had a miserable waitress who told Amelia off for looking at and smelling the different flavoured syrups for the pancakes on our table and when the – very small – meals came out no cutlery for Amelia, she had to go and ask for it herself.  I ordered a breakfast but asked for no eggs as I have an allergy and was told they can’t be substituted so I basically ended up paying 8 dollars for 2 small pieces of bacon and a hash brown!! The food itself was OK but the bad service made it a not very good experience to the day. $40 that cost us. I don’t recommend it at all, if you want a good value breakfast then Waffle House all the way – if only we could find one! They were literally everywhere yesterday why is it when you want to find something you can’t!!

We got to Universal at around 10:30 and to be honest considering it is Labor Day weekend it wasn’t actually that busy until we got to the turnstiles. Inside the park we went to get my Access Pass which I didn’t think I’d get after the rules had changed but it turns out I do so that made our day good again 🙂

They do ask a few questions about how your disability affects you and that’s how they determine what pass you need. It works really well and wait times less than 30 minutes allow you to go in the express pass lane any longer you get a return time.

We went straight to Seuss Landing one of my favourite lands. I love it. First ride was Cat in the Hat 🙂 We didn’t manage to do Islands on our last trip so it was exciting to  be back.  We went on the Trolley Ride around Seuss landing too which gives you an amazing view of the whole park.

There’s a cool little show in Seuss with all the characters which we missed by a few minutes but we did get to the meet and greet which was really exciting and only maybe 2 minute wait for each of them. Super speedy!! It was actually really quiet most of the rides were walk on with less than 15 minute wait.

Headed over to Marvel Super Hero Island for Spiderman ride and also to meet the man himself who took a liking to Amelia ‘the girl who can fly’ and we ended up with our print with him free 🙂

We talked before we left about getting the photo package at Universal and the very lovely cast member at the Spiderman photo op gave us the 14 day package for the price of 3 which was awesome. It’s definitely worth it and I’ll go into more detail about where you can use it etc in a later blog.

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No visit to Islands is complete without a soaking on the Popeye ride, we have some fab video of how soaked we got, we may as well of just had a shower that’s what we looked like. Then on to get even more soaked from Rocky and Bullwinkle. One thing we noticed about that ride was how much it really needed a bit of TLC, it didn’t look as clean as the other rides and it looked really unloved, apart from the length of the ride and the way that side of things worked it just reminded us of being at Chessington…

We then made our way over to Hogsmeade which was insanely busy, my only complaint about all of the Wizarding World is how thin all the walkways seem to be you just feel like there’s too many people too close to you and you’re bottlenecked in. Now it may be an illusion because the buildings are pretty high compared to some of the others and obviously we all know that’s what London/England in general is like but a couple more inches would make a big difference!!

We rode forbidden journey which I love, I don’t however love the spiders in it as you can see from the photo above which gave everyone a good laugh!!

After that off to citywalk to try out Toothsome one of our most anticipated eateries and it is out of this world in terms of ambience and service. We loved it even with the $100 price tag however in the grand scheme of things the food itself wasn’t that amazing, the puddings were though so maybe just go there for that side of things. I will be going back before we come home to purchase some sweets to bring home. Not as presents for people, all for me 🙂

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We ended our evening with a visit to Blue Man, I won’t bore you again with all the info on how awesome it is, I did a pretty extensive blog on that a while ago which you can read here Blue Man Group – Is it worth it?  What I will say about the show is no matter how many times you do it you cannot get bored, it’s still as hilarious as the first and second times I saw it and I cannot stress enough how much of a good time you will have at it and look you can meet the Blue Men after…

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Oh and guess what happened on the way home? We got lost. Again.

Another early morning tomorrow for us, breakfast with Lilo and Stitch 🙂

Things to do in theme parks without being in a queue – ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE

Last of my Universal blogs on this and I think I’m going to surprise myself at what there is to do here without queuing.

I love IOA and I’m so looking forward to going this trip as my last one we didn’t get a chance to do it all properly.  I didn’t even get on Dudley Do Rights!!

The themeing in all the lands here is incredible and you can spend ages just looking at stuff – and taking photos, there are so many great photo opportunities if you’re an Instagram user.

Seuss Landing is fab and it really is like walking into a Seuss book. The Cat in the Hat ride is so much fun and I’ve rarely seen a queue for it – although I would imagine during the summer there would be some. There’s a great interactive playground for little ones here based on ‘If I Ran the Zoo’ and there are splash bits so expect to get a little wet. And keep an eye out for character meets throughout the day as well.

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There are 2 great shows here as that are often overlooked as is the area that they’re in.

The Lost Continent does seem to get a bit ‘lost’ with all the more well known ‘lands’ in IOA. But here you will find the awesome stunts and special effects show ‘Eighth Voyage of Sinbad’ as well as the walk through action show ‘Poseidons Fury’. There’s some really interesting stalls in this area as well so it’s a unique place to do a bit of shopping. You can find the Mystic Fountain here too, don’t tell the kids but he does talk to you so tell them it’s a wishing fountain and watch them jump when it starts to strike up a conversation with them. There are so many little things in this almost hidden area you can do, you can pick a pearl and have your fortune read – these are an extra charge.

IOA is of course where the first part of Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened and it’s here you will find Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.  Of course the rides always have a queue but just like Diagon Alley there is plenty to do.

You have more interactive windows for your wands and another Ollivanders not to mention the interesting but odd ‘Frog Choir’ and the TriWizard Spirit Rally.

Ladies make sure you have a wee here in Hogsmeade, you might just find yourself joined by Moaning Myrtle!! This is one of my favourite things here.

Jurassic Park has plenty to do as well as the River Adventure. There’s a great kids play area ‘Camp Jurassic’ with an active volcano for little ones to explore and it’s just as much fun for big ones. Discovery Centre is a real fun and interactive game area where you can learn all about dinosaurs and mixing your DNA with one. You also get to see and handle dino eggs and if you’re lucky you might see one hatch and be able to name it.

You can also have your photo taken with a T-Rex

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There’s various side show games for an extra charge and a climbing wall.

Toon Lagoon is one of my favourite themed lands here the shops are fab especially Betty Boops which smells amazing.

There’s lots of water fun here and splash zones are not just found in the kids area they are all over so be warned!!

The jokers among you should head down the small trail to the right of kids playland ‘Me Ship The Olive’ it’s packed with gags such as a miniature ‘school’ of Fish. A must for Dads I think! The ship itself is a three storey watery play area which is perfect for squirting people on the Popeye ride below it.

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You can meet vintage cartoon characters here which is always good fun.

Marvel Super Hero Island is a must for boys of all ages and has some awesome features that not a lot of people are aware of. Keep an eye out for anything that looks like a giant speaker they are communication ports that have special messages from the heroes and villains in the area.

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The heroes meet periodically throughout the day and appear on their bikes which is a fun thing to watch.  Here you will also find a huge games arcade – all at an extra cost.

So you see so much to do here to keep you amused without queuing not to mention all the incredible shopping – of which there is a lot at Universal. Make sure you look in the shop just to the right as you exit IOA that is usually selling off season stock and you may find some stuff at lower prices.

Massive thanks to Jolie for some of these little things I didn’t know about. If you have any others yourself then please let me know.