MUST SEE Attractions at Universal Studios Orlando & Islands of Adventure

Universal CollageRecently, I had the opportunity to tour both Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure as part of a VIP press tour. Because of our express status we were able to bypass the lines to visit nearly every attraction and ride in both parks ( VIP tours are available during your vacations too! Have you ever considered scheduling one? Totally worth it in my opinion! Get the VIP info here.) If you’re lucky you just might get partnered with one of these lovely ladies they were incredible and had SO MUCH knowledge about the park, movies, attractions. The trivia junkie in me was soaking up every piece of info they were willing to share.

VIP Tour Universal Studios

There seriously are SO MANY incredible rides and  attractions at both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure ( Did you realize there are 2 theme parks here?!?!) I have a “MUST SEE” list for you of my favorites.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

This ride is one of the BEST for all ages! It is a 3D motion ride that is just THE most fun! Let me tell you, it outshined all my previous 3D experiences. It IS Universal Studios so expect nothing less than amazing.

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit 

HollyWood Rip Ride RockIT
Adrenaline pumping and music thumping, you start climbing straight up. A moment later, you’re screaming at 65 mph, 17 stories over Universal Studios. For not being a Thrill Ride girl  I absolutely LOVED this ride and would do it all over again. It was one of the first “big” rides we did and while the height from the ground looked intimidating, being able to only hear your music as you go up, over, and around was my favorite part. Your teens and adreneline junkies will love this one!

HARRY POTTER AND THE ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS

Escape from Gringotts
At the far end of Diagon Alley™ stands Gringotts™, the goblin-run bank. Inside, you’ll experience a pulse-pounding adventure on the groundbreaking, multi-dimensional thrill ride that puts you right in the middle of the action as you navigate your way through the perils of the Gringotts vaults – encountering Harry, Ron, and Hermione along the way!

Hogwarts Express – Platform 9 3/4

Hogwarts Express

While this is not technically a “ride ” , it is an experience that will make you believe you are attending Hogwarts yourself.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the most spectacular themed environment ever created! The excitement and adventure of the Harry Potter films have truly come to life here. The expansive 20-acre area includes the village of Hogsmeade featuring Zonko’s joke shop, Honeydukes, the Three Broomsticks, the Hog’s Head pub, the Owlery and Owl Post, Ollivanders and Dervish and Banges.

Just beyond Hogsmeade is Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods and three attractions that place guests right in the middle of Harry’s world: Dragon Challenge, Flight of the Hippogriff and, located within Hogwarts castle, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

19_Hogwarts Castle

Interactive Wands
Wand Collage
Be sure to pick up an interactive wand while you are here! With this special wand you will receive a map to show you where to fins special location to cast a spell just like Harry Potter. You do have to move the wand in just the right way so this may be something suited for older kids or those willing to try more than once.

Seuss Landing
seuss landing
If you are a Dr Seuss lover like me you will not want to miss Seuss Landing! Keep your eyes open Universal Studios Orlando had let no small detail to be missed.
Seuss Collage

I LOVED this trip and am looking forward to taking my family with me next time! Have you visited Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure before? Tell me what your favorite part was! Or if you’ve never been what part would you most look forward to visiting?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Thanks again to Universal Studios Orlando for providing accommodations, park tickets, and meals for this press trip. All experiences and opinions are my own.

Dining, Shopping, & Entertainment – Universal CityWalk has it All!!

Citywalk

Dining, Shopping, & Entertainment – Universal CityWalk has it All!!

Universal Orlando really had so much more to offer than I ever expected. I think we have all heard about the amazing theme park, thrill rides, and cool events ( check out all the fun we had the Universal Orlando Mardi Gras Celebration). A few of us were familiar with Universal Orlando Resorts too. But did you know, there is an entirely separate entertainment, shopping and dining destination to enjoy too?! Universal CityWalk was one location my girlfriends and I had to check out! Also a big thanks to Universal Studios Resorts &  The CowFish for providing an amazing dining experience in both quality food and service as part of our #UORGirlsGetaway!

Dining
Cowfish Location Collage
On our first night out, we dined at The CowFish, a sushi-burger bar. “Burgushi” as its called here is a one of a kind dining experience! The Cowfish aims to offer something for the entire family. Between everyone in our group sharing, we got to enjoy a bite of practically everything! Generous appetizers for sharing,entree-sized salads, homemade desserts and a fun kid’s menu. With all the options I just couldn’t make up my mind. If you are like me, order a bento box to sample a mini-burger along with your choice of sushi roll and three side items!Cowfish Collage

Another evening we visited Antojitos at Citywalk, a Mexican dining experience! This restaurant features great drinks, a mariachi band, and complimentary guacamole made right at your table! On your way out don’t miss an opportunity to get your picture taken with the vintage VW bus!

Entertainment & Nightlife


The entertainment options at CityWalk are just as plentiful. Live karaoke, performances by Blue Man Group, a movie theater, awesome mini-golf are just a few of the nightlife options available on your visit.21_Blue Man Group Show

Golf CityWalk

The girls and I had a LOT of fun at Rising Star karaoke. Here  you get to sing with a live band and backup singers! Even though I do not ever wish to hold a microphone, this was such great karaoke. Everyone who went was having a great time!

03_Rising Star02_Rising Star

Shopping

You can’t come home from a fabulous vacation without a few souvenirs right? Lucky for you, there is also no shortage of fantastic shopping available at CityWalk either.

shopping at CityWalk

Fossil, Fresh Produce, P!Q, Element, Universal Studios Store, NBA Store, and many, many more to choose from. You can also go home with a tattoo if that’s your thing.( I can’t say the idea of getting tattoos on the girls trip wasn’t brought up – ha!) We decided visiting a few more shops for the kids was better for us on this trip. We had a lot of fun goofing off and finding unique gift items to bring home. Shopping Collage

CityWalk was such a fun part of our trip! It is something I wouldn’t have known to plan time for but I’m so glad we got to experience it. And now that you know your CityWalk experience will be AMAZING! For more information on store and restaurant hours check out the CityWalk website here.  Be sure to check out my other experiences at Universal Orlando Resort, like staying at Loews Royal Pacific Resort and Universal Orlando Mardi Gras Celebration, for other insider tips.

Universal Studios Orlando – Staying at Loews Royal Pacific Resort

Loews Royal Pacific Resort Universal OrlandoI love giving  travel recommendations, especially ones that were as amazing as this! I was a guest of Loews Royal Pacific Resort during our recent Girls Getaway trip to Universal Studios Orlando and it is a location that I can highly recommend for couples, families, or even just a relaxing retreat for one! Sometimes knowing where to stay on vacation can be tricky. I always have a million questions. How are the beds? Should I pack a blow dryer? What are the food options like? What’s the pool like?  Loews Royal Pacific Resort had everything I was looking for and more!

First here are some “insider tips” : If you are looking for a great pace to stay near Universal Studios Orlando, there are some benefits to staying at an on-site hotel that you  can’t get anywhere else!! By staying on-site you have access to FREE Universal Express unlimited ride passes allowing you to skip the regular lines in both parks, Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, one hour before the theme park opens, complimentary water taxi rides, and priority seating at select restaurants at the resort.

Loews Collage 1

From the moment I arrived at the resort I found myself encompassed in an entirely relaxing place. When you enter the hotel after crossing a bamboo like walkway over lush foliage that encompasses every exterior view, you immediately are greeted by the relaxing interior of the South Seas. From the elephants playing in the fountains, to the distinct statutes and art work throughout the hotel and grounds, every detail made you feel like you were in another world.

Loews Royal south seas Collage

It felt this way every single day we returned to the resort! It is exactly the relaxing atmosphere I want to come back to after a fun filled day of thrill rides and adventure. Guest room Collage

The guest rooms were both luxurious and practical. They were beautifully decorated with a royal orchid design behind the beds, full length mirrors across from the closet and in the bathroom.The rooms were also equipped with several outlets with usb connections that made it easy to recharge personally and electronically.guest room 2

One of my favorite parts of the guest rooms was the lighting in the bathroom. It was The beautiful mirror and perfect lighting made it easy to get ready for the day with a flawless face. I would take permanent residence here just for this lighting alone!

Poolside Collage

The girls and I spent a lot of our free time soaking up the sun and relaxing by the pool while we were away as well. The staff at Loews Royal Pacific were amazing. We enjoyed ordering our lunch by the pool while we chatted and listened to the Australian DJ who came to play every afternoon. I had a great chat with the photographer who will capture great candid shots at no charge of you and the family as you all play together. You can also schedule a photo session on the beach area (with no sitting fee to hotel guests) if you’ve been putting off that family photo. In addition to the relaxing view the poolside staff also plan a variety of fun games each afternoon and on select evenings “dive -in” movies are shown.

Wondering about food options? There are a wide variety of dining options available at the hotel no matter what time of day you your tummy starts to rumble. I ate at the amazing Islands Dining Room for breakfast every morning and my lunch served at the pool came from Bula’s Bar & Grille. Here is a list of all the amazing food options you have  without ever having to leave property!

Wantilan Luau – live music and authentic Polynesian cuisine (reservations required)
Emeril’s Tchoup Chop – Emeril Lagasse’s take on Asian/Polynesian cuisine
Islands Dining Room – offering breakfast and dinner
Jake’s American Bar – featuring live entertainment on select nights
Orchid Court Lounge & Sushi Bar – inventive sushi and South Seas martinis
Bula Bar & Grille – poolside eatery
Room service – available 24 hours a day!!!

It’s easy to indulge while on vacation. To help keep you on track with your fitness routine during your stay, you will find a beautifully designed fitness center near the pool. A very accommodating locker room is available help you freshen up without having to go back to your room.Fitness CollageGetting to and from Loews Royal Pacific is a breeze with many transportation options available at no cost. We took the water taxi many times during our stay and laughed the jokes told by our favorite driver. There is also a walking path that is just a short walk with plenty of shade. If you get tired along the route, there are pedicab drivers that accept tips for payment only. It’s a fun experience for those that have never done it. On the way back to the airport, I utilized the private towncar from the resort. It was reasonably priced ( only $5 more than a taxi) and immediately available.Transportation CollageIt really is such a great place to stay. For more information on making reservations for your next getaway visit the Loews Hotels site for all the info. Thanks so much to the folks at Universal for providing these amazing accommodations, meals and entertainment for review during our #UORGirlsGetaway. If you missed it, be sure to check out all the fun we had during the Universal Studios Mardi Gras Celebration.

 

Universal Orlando Resort’s Mardi Gras Celebration

Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando Resort 5
If you’ve ever wanted to experience Mardi Gras with the family Universal Orlando Resort’s Mardi Gras Celebration is your “must-see” destination. Last week, I was invited by Universal Orlando Resort to experience this incredible event first hand. It was authentic, family friendly, and not to be missed! Wanna know the best part? The Mardi Gras concerts, parade and French Quarter food & music are all included with your admission or annual pass.

Can’t make it Mardi Gras weekend? That’s OK! This celebration keeps going for several weeks. In fact, there is still time to catch it THIS year! All the concerts, parade, food and fun are happening in the park through April 18th.  Here’s some of what you can expect to see during your visit:

Street Performers

Mardi Gras Street Performers

 Authentic Music and Foods

Over in the French Courtyard, you’ll find sizzlin’ smells and sounds to delight your ears and fill your tummy. Head over to choose from a variety of Cajun and Creole foods. While you are eating, enjoy authentic zydeco bands straight from New Orleans. Our group enjoyed a delicious meal of gumbo, jambalaya, andouille sausage, and beignets.

Mardi Gras food
Mardi Gras Music

Experience a seriously IMPRESSIVE Mardi Gras Parade

What is Mardi Gras without a parade?! Of course there will be a parade!  This year the Universal Orlando Mardi Gras Parade features 13 exquisitely detailed floats.  These floats were engineered by Blaine Kern Artists, the same company that has been hand-crafting floats for the iconic New Orleans celebration since 1947. Following the parade floats are performers, dancers, glittered, stilt walkers all dressed in colorful costumes. As a guest experiencing the parade you will have the opportunity to catch beads tossed by the handfuls from the floats along the extensive parade route.  During my visit, our group had the unique opportunity to costume up and toss beads from the King and Queen float.

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08_Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando Resort

21_Throw Me Somthing Mister

14_King Gator Float, Mardi Gras at UOR

Live Concerts

In addition to the wonderful Zydeco street musicians from the Big Easy, there are also large-scale concerts held on site after each parade event. Universal Orlando Resort has an all-star concert line up sure to impress. Some names include Jessie J, Kelly Clarkson, Trey Songz, and Trace Adkins.  MKTO was the featured group during our visit and were ever in for a surprise!  Prior to our ride in the parade, the guys from MKTO treated us like the VIP’s by sneaking up and joining a group picture and talking with us individually. They even agreed to take a selfie with me.

MKTO Mardi Gras

MKTO selfie

After we quickly exited our float and de-costumed, we booked it over to the stage where our new friends MKTO were performing to enjoy their show that was already full of excitement and great energy!

MKTO 2

It was an incredible experience that I will never forget. I hope you have the opportunity to visit Universal Orlando Resort to have a Mardi Gras experience of your own. For more information on accommodations, park tickets, and other FAQ’s visit the Universal Orlando Resort Mardi Gras website here.

Disclosure: my trip experience, accommodations, and dining experiences were all provided by Universal Orlando Resort as part of a sponsored trip. All opinions expressed in this post are mine.

 

 

 

Finally letting go of 2014… Bring on 2015!

2015SO yes, I do realize we are now THREE weeks into the new year. I promise we celebrated New Year’s eve with the rest of the world. It’s just that 2014 was so ridiculously amazing that I wanted to revel in it a little longer. I thought once I put the Christmas tree away, 2014 could be packed up alongside it. As it turns out, I’ve really been having a tough time letting 2014 go ( insert Idina Menzel singing here).

Vacation 2014 collage

2014 brought us more opportunities to travel. No matter if it’s was for business or leisure, we love to travel! We had the opportunity to travel and enjoy some amazing vacations last year. A family trip to Myrtle Beach, a girls getaway to Vegas, a family staycation at the Gaylord Texan and quite possibly the best couples trip I have ever experienced with #BeachesMoms at Beaches Turks & Caicos.

Our career paths took some amazing plot twists too. Randall accepted a new position leading us to Austin, TX. Although we absolutely adore it here it now, it was bittersweet leaving Waxahachie,Texas which had become our family “hometown”. It was a whirlwind move between institutes and conferences all over the country for Randall.  My pursuits took me to a few places before and after our move as well. In July, I traveled solo to NYC for Blogger Bash. That was an incredible experience and one I will never forget. I made some amazing friendships and great business partnerships. After moving to Austin, I went on a small roadtrip to Galveston to attend Blog Elevated and connected with even more Texas bloggers in my community.

Neighborhood Collage

Our move blessed us with our beautiful new home and an even greater community. There was no way of knowing the incredible friendships that would be waiting for us in our new neighborhood. Right on our own street. Our new neighbors have become friends like family. We support and celebrate each other. To say the least, they have become “our village”.

But as they say, the show must go on. While I loved so much about 2014, I’ve caught a few glimpses that have already assured me 2015 will hold some pretty big adventures of its own. So here we go…ready or not….

One more thing…… Thanks for being along for the ride of 2014 and I hope 2015 will mean we will get to go on some adventures together. It means the world to us that you are here.