Month: October 2016

Friday Inspiration: Favorite Pins of the Week

The weekend is here and it’s getting colder outside.  I’m looking forward to staying warm and cozy inside and dreaming up new projects.  Time for some inspiration!

This gorgeous master bedroom has me dreaming about the ocean in October!  Loving it’s calming effect.

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Another master bedroom with an AMAZING ceiling that brings just enough warmth to the space.  Cathedral ceilings CAN be cozy.

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I am drooling over shelving like this and am plotting to add it somewhere soon.  Love the contrast of the lighter wood and black iron.

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This dining space looks so inviting for the holidays coming up.  The reclaimed wood table and the mix of seating styles are the perfect combo.

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Curb appeal goals!  Such a winner to add evergreens around the front door to keep up the curb appeal all through the winter.

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My 10 Tips for A Universal Studios Orlando Vacation!

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I love Universal Studios better than Disney World!  There, I said it!  I am a true Disney fan at heart, I really am, but having visited Disney World and Universal Studios throughout my life, I can honestly say I don’t know if I will every go back to Disney?  Gasp!  I know, it’s a bold statement but hear me out.  My kids are ages 7 and 9 and I have a girl and a boy.  One loves crazy roller coasters and one doesn’t, but loves virtual reality rides.  They both LOVE shopping and souvenirs, eating out, water rides, Nickelodeon characters, Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Superheros and catching some entertaining shows.  What if I told you all of this was in one giant place AND your hotel could be attached to it all?  That’s why we love Universal Studios!  There is just something to be said for planting yourself among all of this entertainment and never having to get behind the wheel!

Tip 1:  Surprise your kids (if you can) and have some fun sharing the surprise with them.  When my husband and I planned this trip we decided that we would surprise the kids instead of telling them in advance.  It was so hard to keep a secret but so worth it because the look on their faces was priceless!  I got to work thinking about how we would finally tell them about the trip and found this letter and train ticket on Etsy.  Rather than buying all the supplies to make it myself (it had to be authentic looking of course!) it was so easy and inexpensive to order it.  I decided to have the letter arrive by “Owl Post” and found Harry Potter’s owl, Hedwig, on Amazon.  Seriously, the cutest plush my kids own!  The day of the trip we pretended that something arrived on the front step for the kids.  Hedwig was there with the letter and a brown box filled with Harry Potter Tees (side note: I purchased one for each of us from Target since they are so much cheaper than anywhere else.  They served their purpose, however, they aren’t the greatest quality.  Universal Studios has really nice soft tees but they are around $30 each)

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Tip 2:  Use points. I signed our family up for Jet Blue Family Pooling which allows us to collect points and combine them into one account.  Because of previous trips, we were able to get 2 free one way tickets which saved us around $450 on our trip!  Also, there are so many credit cards out there that accumulate points for vacations.  You can accumulate points for simply buying your weekly groceries.  With the holidays around the corner, it’s a great time to secure one of these cards and charge all your gifts!  It may take some time for them to add up, but it’s worth it to wind up with some money saved on one of your vacations.

Tip 3:  Book your trip through Jet Blue Getaways.  We have booked our 2nd trip through Jet Blue’s Getaways and I don’t know how they do it, but both trips have saved us a boat load of money.  When I did the math, our hotel only ended up costing us about $100 per night which is unheard of for all that we got!   Through this service we were able to book our flight, hotel and park tickets.  You can even book entertainment, car rental, and loads of other things for a discount.  Speaking of booking the park tickets, you save money by booking ahead of the trip instead of buying in the park.  Another tip is to plan your trip for a non school vacation week.  Check your school calendar to look for days off instead of going during vacation weeks.  I have heard that the cheapest time frame to go to Orlando is Nov-Jan (not including any Holidays during those months).

Tip 4:  Stay on the property.  Universal Orlando has 5 hotels attached to the parks and City Walk (a shopping area with restaurants and entertainment).  I have stayed at all of them except for the Hard Rock.  They all have pros and cons in my opinion.  I will tell you about my 2 favorites.   Cabana Bay is the less expensive option and was just built 2 years ago.  It is a terrific resort for families with a cool arcade, bowling, lazy river and amazing pool.  The rooms are motel style which is pretty cool because we had a room at ground level which meant we could walk right out to the pool.  They also offer family suites which offer a lot of room including a kitchenette and living room.  Most recently we stayed at Sapphire Falls – the newest hotel and I am blown away.  First off, it is completely gorgeous.  The decor made my heart happy.  The pool was a beauty with a fun slide for the kids.  The reason I liked this over Cabana Bay was that it was more upscale and it has a water taxi.  With all the walking you do at the parks, the water taxi was so easy to get to and from all the hustle and bustle.  Unfortunately, Cabana bay only has a shuttle or very long walking path.  The shuttle drops you off at the Universal Studios main parking garage which is still a good hike to get to the actual entrances of the parks.   Another perk of staying at any of the 5 properties is you get early access to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in either park.  The parks open 1 hour early for guests and you can bee- line it to the most popular Harry Potter Rides.  This is a must because at any given time of day these rides can have 60 min wait times or more.  If you stay at Portofino Bay, Royal Pacific or Hard Rock (all 3 have water taxis) you also get Express Passes included in your room rate which is an incredible value.  This allows you to wait less on all the rides!  We didn’t feel the need for the Express Passes this time of year but it might be worth it to stay at these hotels instead of my 2 favorites to get them included in the rate during vacation weeks.

 

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Tip 5:  Buy the Park-to-Park tickets.  Universal Studios has 2 theme parks:  Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.  This ticket allows you to go to both parks in the same day.  The sole reason for buying this is, in my opinion, to ride the Hogwarts Express in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to and from each park.  If you have little ones that don’t know Harry Potter yet I don’t really feel this added expense is necessary.  It’s a long day to try to go to 2 parks and you can easily spend one whole day in one park at a time.  But if you are fans, The Hogwarts Express is such an amazing experience – you feel like you are in the movie!
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Tip 6:  Make a game plan for the rides/shows and study the map.  Before we left, I looked through the rides to determine what I thought my kids would want to go on and got a general sense of the way the parks were laid out.  I attached my plan below and we simply used this as a guide (the plan is for a 2 day pass).  To me there is nothing worse than going to a crowded theme park, having no idea where anything is and having to stand around looking at a map while the kids are waiting.  That’s when people start to get testy in my family.  Another problem would be if you got there and your kid isn’t tall enough to ride something.  Know which rides (if any) are not an option to ride ahead of time so that no one is disappointed.  We all know how this could really derail an entire day for some kids.  I took some tips from other blogs and made my own game plan which works for our family with kids ages 7 and 9 (be sure to decide on which days will be park days for you and check the park’s hours – some days one closes earlier than the other so make the most out of your tickets).  It helped to know where to start in the park to avoid lines at some of the most popular rides.  Print my park-itinerary for your trip!

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Tip 7:  Plan for the water rides at Islands of Adventure.  There are 3 water rides at Islands of Adventure that get you completely soaked!  They were so much fun!  We noticed lots of smart people with ponchos on, but to me part of the fun is getting completely drenched. The first time we went on these rides a few years ago we had no idea what we were getting into.  We hadn’t planned, so we had to remain wet the whole rest of the day!  They have “People Dryers” and lots of stores to buy clothes in, but the dryers didn’t work well and we didn’t want to waste money on clothes so we stuck it out.  This time around, we were smarter and packed a change of clothes.  There are lockers near the rides, so pick one set and stuff a backpack in there for when you are done.  All 3 rides are close together so it makes sense to plan to do all 3 in a row and then change.  Also, it’s worth it to mention that when I say soaked, I mean soaked right down to your underwear and socks/sneakers so plan to wear flip flops on the ride that can easily be packed and change into sneakers afterward for all the walking.

Tip 8:  Plan some meals at the parks.  Because we wanted full days at the parks, we were on the water taxi by 8 am both days.  We skipped a full breakfast and instead went to the Dutch Trading Company in our hotel to grab bananas, protein bars, coffee, etc.  This saved time and money.  Once it was time for lunch, we were ready to give our legs a break and be waited on.  We had lunch at Mythos Restaurant in Islands of Adventure where you can make a reservation ahead of time.  It’s tough to know what time you will be ready to eat, but I just used my best guess and took ride wait times into account etc.  Thankfully our reservation saved us from waiting for an hour.  It was nice to have a break from all the self-service options in the park.  Wizarding World of Harry Potter in both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios have sit down restaurants.  We didn’t eat in either of them because we didn’t love the menus with traditional English fare.  But we loaded up on lots of goodies here instead.  See my next tip!  And just a side note:  we saved dinner for eating at our hotel on park days because by the end of the day, we were ready to head back, shower and walk as little as possible.

Tip 9:  Spend lots of time in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in BOTH parks.  If you love the movies and books, you will be amazed at both of these areas:  Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.  Buy an interactive wand ($50) for $10 more than a regular wand and use the map included to cast spells all over these 2 areas.  As you can imagine, these areas get extremely crowded so try not to let that overwhelm you.  Take your time and really look at the details.  You will be amazed.  There are sweet shops, wand shops, butter beer carts (a must! get the cold butter beer but not frozen, it’s so delicious!) and great performances throughout the day – and let’s not forget about the best rides too:  The Escape from Gringott’s and The Forbidden Journey are amazing and you should try to ride these a few times if the waits aren’t too long. Find Ollivander’s Wand Shop to purchase your interactive wand (do this in Diagon Alley/Universal Studios side versus Hogsmeade/Islands of Adventure side because the shop is bigger and the line moves fast if there is one – we didn’t wait at all). There is a separate entrance for the Wand Experience (there are no signs for this and it isn’t advertised, but there is usually someone at the door that you can ask if you are in the right place).  This is one of the coolest experiences.  Ollivander takes you into the wand room and chooses 1 person from the group to come forward.  He performs his famous monologue, “the wand chooses you, not the other way around”.  At the end, the person is united with his/her wand that has “chosen” him/her.  If you are chosen you are encouraged to buy the wand.  Other tips include:  purchase a Chocolate Frog – they are so yummy, if you love pumpkin spice drinks the Pumpkin Juice is delish, the shops all sell robes, accessories, souvenirs. Robes are VERY expensive here at $110 but they are great quality. One place that’s easily missed is Knockturn Alley inside Diagon Alley/Universal Studios side.  If you know the movies and books this is the “Dark Magic Alley” so it’s pitch black and you hardly notice the entrance.  Within there are spells to cast as well as the famous Borgin and Burke’s store where the vanishing cabinet is and all sorts of “dark magic” souvenirs.  Lastly, be sure to visit the Owl Post in Hogsmeade/Islands of Adventure side to buy postcards and Harry Potter stamps.   You can quickly write out a few postcards here, get them stamped and mail them all while drinking your Butter Beer right outside of Hogwarts Castle!

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Tip 10:  Spend time in City Walk eating, shopping and playing mini golf!  Just outside both park entrances is City Walk.  It’s a great place to grab dinner and shop.  For adults, if you have a babysitter with you (lucky!) or take advantage of on site babysitting or kid’s clubs at the Portofino Bay, Royal Pacific or Hard Rock hotels, it’s a great place to hang at night.  There is a piano bar which we love, as well as Rising Star karaoke which is like being at a concert.

Back to the kids…SOUVENIRS: Souvenir stores are EVERYWHERE!  Almost every ride at both theme parks dumps you into a souvenir shop!  And City Walk has a giant one as well.  What has helped us deal with this constant in-your-face-need to buy stuff is we gave each kid a gift card with a certain amount of money for their souvenirs.  You can do this for any budget.  We gave $100 each because almost every souvenir is $30-$50 and we wanted them to be able to get a few things.  This forced them to make choices and really think about what they wanted to take home.

 EATS and TREATS:  Absolute favorites are The Cowfish and The Toothesome Chocolate Emporium.  Both have pretty long waits so plan accordingly.  Cowfish has great kids bento boxes and the food is delicious!  The Chocolate Emporium is an out-of-a-movie amazing building and the inside is just as unbelievable.  Their milkshakes and sundaes are to-die-for and we ate there for lunch as well.  A must see.  There is also Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Hard Rock and a few other restaurants that are decent as well!

MINI GOLF:  One evening or a non park day, go to Universal’s mini golf course.  There are 2 course options and this was the cutest course I have ever seen.  It is open until 1:45 am!  I am guessing at night it’s really cool too.  There are lots of little details that make this a really fun activity.

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Those are my top 10 tips for travelling to Universal Studios Orlando.  I could go on and on about this place, but these are my biggest suggestions for anyone planning a trip.  There is SO much to do here and it really appeals to everyone.  Every year these parks just get better and better and I cannot wait to go again!  In 2017 Universal is adding yet another park – a water park,  Volcano Bay, to this already amazing experience!  By then the new Jimmy Fallon ride in the Universal Studios park should also be ready!  Time to start letting those points pile up!

 

 

 

 

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