By: Rebecca Jones
December 14, 2017
For the past few years, the last weekend in January has been where all of those who long to visit Hogwarts and are fascinated with all things in the wizard world gather together at Universal Orlando Resort for a Celebration of Harry Potter. My oldest daughter and I attended in 2017, and it really was an experience like no other.
We reserved the Celebration of Harry Potter (HP) room package at the Hard Rock Hotel. In addition to the Unlimited Express Pass and Early Morning Park Admission that come with your stay at that particular hotel, we also received a special gift upon arrival. We were given a framed ticket for the Hogwarts Express, along with a special lanyard and credentials noting we had purchased a HP package. We were also given tickets for entry into some of the special events being held that weekend.
That was honestly one of the frustrations for a planner like me. There was virtually no information given to us prior to arrival. I couldn’t plan where we’d be each day and have an idea of our plans ahead of time. I knew that there were certain events happening, and that we would have entry to them, I just didn’t know what day or time they were. Once we arrived and received our tickets, I could make plans, but this is definitely more of a “go with the flow” type of weekend than I’m used to.
We arrived on Thursday evening, and the celebration officially opened Friday evening, after park closing. With our credentials, we were allowed to stay in Universal Studios theme park after hours to attend a ceremony with various wizarding world entertainment, including the frog choir. At the end of the ceremony, the actors who traveled to attend the weekend, officially opened the celebration. They included Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick and Griphook the Goblin), and Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy).
After the opening ceremony, Diagon Alley was open for all attendees, with complimentary food, both savory and sweet options, as well as all the pumpkin juice, gilly water, and butterbeer we could drink. I discovered hot butterbeer during this trip, and it was amazing! It’s like a thick, caramel hot chocolate, and I probably had 5-6 over the course of the weekend, it was that good.
During the days, we were able to attend the Harry Potter Expo. There was an Expo building in each theme park, so if one was crowded and you had park-to-park tickets, you could go to the other one. Our credentials got us into a shorter line and gave us preferred entry into the Expo buildings, but they were open to anyone with a park ticket, not just the people who had purchased Celebration weekend packages.
Some of the displays in the Expo buildings included a trivia game, sponsored by Audible. About 6 people at a time would listen to an excerpt of one of the Harry Potter books on audio, then answer trivia questions about that part of the book. If you won your round, you received a bookmark with one of the book covers on it, and once you collected all possible covers, you could turn it in for a prize.
My favorite display was the makeup and special effects area, where we saw goblin heads, spider legs, Hagrid’s costume, and even Aragog himself! There were special effects artists answering questions, and showing us how they threaded individual strands of “hair” into the spider legs to give it an authentic look. Then, we went into a separate room where they took our photo with Aragog, the gigantic spider from the Forbidden Forest, hanging above us.
Our package purchase also entitled us to attend a Q&A with the actors who were present. They answered questions from the audience for about an hour, both on Saturday and Sunday that weekend. That was obviously the highlight of the weekend for my daughter and I. She has grown up watching these people portray characters that she adores and feels like she knows, and I have a great affection for these stories, as well. I was actually chosen to ask the final question of the day, so that was really exciting!
Lastly, a description of our Celebration of Harry Potter weekend wouldn’t be complete without telling you about all the cosplay we saw. Several attendees went all out to create their costumes, and they were so authentic-looking! We saw a wizard carrying Dobby the house elf in his backpack. We saw Snape dressed as Neville’s grandmother, and even Myrtle, the ghost who lives in the toilet. Because “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” had just been released in theaters, we even saw several folks dressed as those characters.
My daughter and I had a great time at the Celebration of Harry Potter weekend. It was an opportunity for us to be immersed in the stories that we share a love for, with special events and treats that don’t happen other times of the year. I highly recommend reserving a vacation package, and taking advantage of this special event.
If you have questions about the Celebration of Harry Potter, or a vacation to Universal Orlando Resort in general, please contact me at Rebecca@wishesfamilytravel.com. I’d love to assist with your vacation planning!
By: Allison Flynn
December 12, 2017
I think having parents raised in the 50s and 60s may have contributed to my love of retro things and beach music. So when we decided to drive down to Orlando a day early for our vacation, I knew I wanted to spend at least one night at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
Do you remember staying in hotels with over-the-top fixtures and filled with kitsch? If you miss that, then you will absolutely enjoy this retro resort. Theming from the 50s and 60s are everywhere – and I do mean EVERYWHERE! As soon as you pull up to the gate, you are greeted by a line of old cars – I half expected to see Dean Martin or Sammy Davis, Jr. hop out of one of them. Inside, the lobby continued the throwback theming, with bright pops of color throughout.
Because we wanted a little room to spread out, my family of four opted for a Courtyard Family Suite. Family suites sleep up to six guests, and have a master bedroom with two queen beds, living room with a double sleeper sofa, kitchenette, and large full bath. A sliding door separates the area with the queen beds from the living room, so if you are looking for privacy or have a little who needs a nap separate from older siblings, this is a great room.
The theming in the family suite truly reminded me of going into my grandparents house as a child. Funky geometric artwork was on the walls, and the light in the kitchenette had a huge, white globe. The bar in the kitchenette had two bar stools. Use caution with these. They have very heavy bases and we found that they tipped over a little too easily.
The bathroom is a split design with toilet in a separate area from the shower and sink combo. There’s a second sink in the common area between the two, meaning three people could be using the bathroom area at the same time. Again with my word of caution – the tile floor was very, very slick. You do not want to go across it with wet feet. Did you forget your toiletries? There’s Zest soap and V05 shampoo for your use. (I bet you just sang the jingle, didn’t you?)
There isn’t an inch of wasted space in this family suite. On the back side of the bathroom is a large closet with space to hang clothes and store luggage. Noticeably absent was a dresser for folded clothes – but there are drawers in the wall that are built into the TV stand of the living room. Genius!
Because we arrived early, we decided to have lunch at the resort. I was actually very impressed with the Bayliner Diner, which is Cabana Bay’s food court. I don’t always like to eat in a food court because they tend to be busy and loud. The design of Bayliner Diner had the areas where you order and pay for your food far enough away from the dining room that it wasn’t as loud. We also sat in a high-backed booth to eat lunch, so it felt a little more removed from the hustle and bustle.
And the food! There were options from burgers and fries, to pizza, to pasta and more. My oldest son got spaghetti and meatballs, and the portion was too big to finish. My youngest son ordered his standard favorite – chicken tenders and fries – and they were much bigger than I expected.
With only one night, we didn’t have nearly enough time to enjoy all that is available for entertainment right at the resort. Hot and need to cool down? There’s a lazy river!! Want to try your hand at a strike? There’s a bowling alley!! Pump iron? There’s a physical fitness center!! You could very easily spend a few days just at this resort and never even visit a theme park (except I totally would.)
If you’d like more information on a vacation to Universal Orlando, complete with a stay at Cabana Bay Beach Resort, please email me or contact me through my Facebook page!
By: Anna Trosper
December 7, 2017
Summer is a time for fun outside in the sun! Vacations to the beach or that magical place where Mickey lives, the sun is ever present. Whatever your summer plans, you need to protect you and your family from the sun.
If you’re anything like me, you love to bask in the sun. It can be lying on the beach reading a book or playing a game of volleyball. If I am outside I am happy. But there is nothing worse than being on vacation and getting a bad sunburn. Not only does it put a damper on your vacation but the sun also has so many ways it can cause damage. So how can we stay safe from the sun and still have fun? Here are a few simple tips.
Keep Cool and Stay Hydrated!
Getting dehydrated is one of the biggest problems when playing out in the sun. It’s important to drink before you start to feel thirsty. Thirst signals that you’re already at least five to 10 percent less hydrated than you should be, so keep the water close by and drink more often than you think you should. Staying cool can be a tough task when out in the sun, but if you’re at the beach cool down in the ocean. Make sure to have some shade to get under to stay cool. If you’re at a park step into a shop with air conditioning and cool down while you browse. It does not take all that long and who knows you just might find that treasure you have been looking for.
Safeguard Your Skin from the Sun
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last 20 years you know all about the sun’s ultraviolet rays that cause sunburns and skin cancer. So any time you go outside you need to protect your skin from the sun. You do not need to worry too much about what kind of sunscreen you use, as long as you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of 15 or higher, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The best sunscreen is one you will use! Consider wearing a hat with a brim or sun-blocking clothing. But don’t count on clothes to replace sunscreen. The CDC warns, a typical T-shirt offers you less protection than an SPF 15 sunscreen. So it’s important to put on the sunscreen underneath your clothes too. Darker-colored clothing will shield you from the rays better than lighter-colored clothes and a dry shirt will protect you more than a wet one. Even if you’re in the water all day, watch out! Your body is not getting hot but the sunlight is reflecting off the water and can cause a bad burn quickly. And if you are taking medication, check to see if it can make you more sensitive to sunlight as well.
Protect Your Eyes from the Rays
Your skin isn’t the only body part that can be harmed by the sun. Be on the lookout for ways to safeguard your eyes from the sun’s rays, too. So that’s another great reason to buy those new pair of shades you have been wanting for your trip! Sunglasses are like sunscreen for your eyes!
The point is to have fun but stay safe. Whether you’re at the parks or at the beach it is easy to get a bad sunburn that can ruin your whole trip. So, apply sunscreen frequently throughout the day. And when packing for that vacation stock up! Purchasing sunscreen before leaving home will cost less than buying when you get there. Also, don’t forget to throw in that floppy hat and those new shades.
If you would like help planning that vacation in the sun I would love to help you. Contact me at email@example.com . You can also visit my Facebook page to keep up on great tips and travel information.
Have fun but stay safe!
By: Megan Kline
December 6, 2017
In a Galaxy Far, Far Away… Over in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Star Wars fans can immerse themselves in amazing experiences only Disney can engineer. Here is the run down on all the amazing things the Star Wars lover in your family can see and do in Hollywood Studios.
Let’s start with the beginning of your day at the park! You will want to get to Hollywood Studios before the park opens. Once the ropes have dropped, grab your little Jedi and head straight to the Indiana Jones Adventures Outpost. This is where you will register your child, between the ages of 4 and 12, for Jedi Training. Jedi Training is an interactive show that takes place several times each day in the park. Your child will train to become a Jedi, and even get to take on the evil forces of the Dark Side.
Once your child old has registered they are ready to train! Make sure to arrive back to the Adventure Outpost earlier than your scheduled start time. The Cast Members will get your children ready by suiting them up with a robe and light saber. They will then line them up for a parade that takes you from the Adventure Outpost to the stage. I suggest one parent walk in the parade next to the child while the other parent or family member goes to get a good standing spot near the stage. The show is amazing and the Disney Photo Pass photographers capture photos of your child, these will load right up to your Memory Maker account. After you have completed Jedi Training you will want to take a photo of your child on the speeder located nearby. This is the same speeder that is used in Return of the Jedi.
Now that you have taken on the dark side you will want to use your pre-booked Fast Pass for Star Tours-The Adventure Continues. This 3D adventure offers 96 ride combinations, including the newest battle from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is definitely a Do Not Miss attraction! Make sure to use Rider Swap if you have little ones who aren’t able or willing to ride this one. Once you exit the ride you will be whisked away into Tatooine Traders, a large store with Star Wars merchandise. Your little Jedi will love building their own light saber to carry around with them that day. This store features merchandise and clothing for fans of all ages.
I’m sure you have really worked up an appetite by now! Head over to Backlot Express where you can indulge in Darth Vader shaped waffles and Darth Vader cupcakes. These cupcakes are my FAVORITE dessert at Hollywood Studios.
Your next stop will be the Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away live show. (Is this still going on? When we were there in July, they only had the march…) You can catch this show multiple times a day at the end of Hollywood Boulevard. Before the show starts you will witness the March of the First Order where you can get up close and personal with Storm Troopers. This is my favorite part!!! The live show is thrilling and features several characters, past and present, from the Star Wars trilogy.
I’m sure watching the characters really has you excited to meet them in person. Head over to Animation Courtyard and you will see Star Wars Launch Bay. You will find so much to do and see. Enjoy it all in the cool air conditioning. My favorite member of the Dark Side is Kylo Ren and you get the chance to meet him in the Launch Bay. The long line is worth the wait, but don’t be surprised when you see guests exiting in fear after encountering the Sith Lord. Kylo is intimidating and can be rather frightening for young children. My son and I were decked out in gear rooting for the dark side while my son and daughter were team rebellion. I am glad we had our dark side attire because Kylo was happy to see us.
As we made our way to the line for Chewbacca we saw some Storm Troopers walking around and I was able to take a selfie with one of them, this made my whole day! We anxiously waited to meet Chewie and boy, he did not disappoint us! He greeted all of us with a large hug and warm embrace. Both Chewie and Kylo Ren will not sign autographs for you so keep those tucked away and enjoy your photo ops!
Your last chance to meet a Star Wars Chatacter is near the Mos Eisley Cantina area. Here you will find the adorable Jawas mingling with the crowd You can take photos and even make trades with them. This is such a fun activity for even the littlest of Jedis.
After a long day of Jedi mind tricks and evil Sith Lords you can kick back and relax and watch the new show, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular. This spectacular fire work show will be the perfect way to end your day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Coming in 2019, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will open Star Wars Land and the adventure will continue. Until then, may the force be with you.
To learn more about Disney’s Hollywood Studios email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Or check out my Facebook Page
By: Susie Swanson
November 14, 2017
My family and I visited Disney in April 2017. We were only there for one day so we packed in as much as possible into that one day! We started by going to Epcot where we went on Soarin’ and GM Test Track. We also squeezed in a quick lunch before taking the monorail to Magic Kingdom. We spent a good portion of the day at Magic Kingdom, however, my “big kids” (ages 10 and 8) were dying to get to Hollywood Studios to ride Rockin’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. We jumped on the bus and headed over. I was excited because I wanted to have dinner at Sci Fi and experience what it was like to eat there.
We called to see if we could make a reservation and they only had a dinner reservation for 8:30pm. We were thrilled that we could at least get in and still get to our attractions. We arrived for our reservation we were seated at the “travelers tables” that are located around the back of the U shaped restaurant. My kids loved it and really felt like they were eating in Radiator Springs from the famous Cars Movie. After seeing the Cars movie so many times it was so great to feel like I was right there in Radiator Springs!
Although our reservation was at 8:30pm, the restaurant was still full. When you walk in it is dark and there are “cars” facing a movie screen where old movies are being played. The atmosphere is a little different than most because guests are watching the movie and facing forward instead of facing each other. The whole place was rather somber and low key.
The menu was not huge but did offer a nice variety of food. I LOVED my meal! I ordered the chicken pasta with cream sauce. The asparagus that topped the dish was cooked to perfection. The portion was very large and I had enough for a carry out. My husband ordered the Ribs and they were very savory and fell right off the bone! They were finger lickin’ good! The kids also enjoyed their meals but I am pretty sure that the kids enjoyed the atmosphere more than the food. Service was very good and I would highly recommend visiting this restaurant the next time you are at Hollywood Studios.
If you have questions about the experience at Disney’s Sci Fi Restaurant please reach out to me and I would be happy to assist you. email@example.com. In the meantime here is a link to the restaurant for your viewing pleasure.
By: Corrie Krpejs
November 9, 2017
Universal Express Pass allows you to skip the regular lines at most attractions in Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, which significantly reduces your wait time. It is also now offered at all Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions! The Express Passes are extremely helpful during crowded times or if you only have one day at the parks. But it does cost extra. Unless you are staying at select resorts– Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay, and Hard Rock Hotel – you’ll receive the Unlimited Express Pass for every day of your stay.
Types of Express Pass
Universal Express Pass
This allows you one time at each participating attraction to bypass the regular line. I do recommend saving your Express Pass one time use for when the regular lines are more than 20-25 minutes. For example. You arrive at the park and find that The Mummy is only a 10-minute wait. Go through the regular line since there isn’t that long of a wait. Save the Express Pass for later in the day.
Universal Express Unlimited Pass
This allows you to bypass the regular lines an unlimited amount of times at each participating attraction. For example, if Johnny wants to ride Hulk 4 times in a row, he can! *Included at select resorts
Purchasing Express Passes
Express Passes are sold as 2-Park or 1-Park tickets, are date specific, and Universal does have seasonal pricing. Don’t forget that the Express Passes are a separate purchase from the actual Park Ticket. Everyone in your party will need to purchase both for every day that you will be visiting the parks.
How to use your Express Pass
Look for the Universal Express Sign at select attractions. I do recommend purchasing lanyards for everyone in your group due to the fact that your Express Pass will be scanned twice while in line. The lanyards make it much more convenient then having to pull them out of your pocket. Now enjoy the ride!
Wishes Family Travel-Corrie Krpejs
Email me for more information!
Check out my Facebook Page!
By: Sarah McClure
November 7, 2017
Have you been “pixie dusted” while on a Disney vacation?
The term “pixie dusted” refers to those magical moments when a Disney Cast Member shows a guest a bit of extra attention, gives them a little extra something special or treats them to a unique experience.
We have been blessed with pixie dust several times on our many Disney adventures. Some of our favorites include opening Magic Kingdom Park, playing mini golf with Max on Disney Fantasy and opening the Disneyland Parks four times. Some of the smaller magical moments include the gift of an extra FastPass and little tips for new adventures.
On our most recent vacation to Walt Disney World, we decided to try all of the Kidcot Fun Stops in Epcot’s World Showcase. This experience is geared toward children, but anyone can participate. Each of the eleven countries has a Kidcot Fun Stop station.
Simply visit anyone of these stations to receive your Duffy Bear. This is a cardboard cutout of Duffy glued to a stick.
The Cast Member at each station will stamp your Duffy Bear with the country logo and draw a small icon symbolic of their country. The Cast Members in Japan and China will also write your name on Duffy in Japanese and Chinese characters.
The Kidcot Fun Stops are a great way to get involved and explore each pavilion, while offering the opportunity to learn about different cultures and languages!
As we made our way around World Showcase, we found the United Kingdom pavilion to be very beautiful with great smells and amazing architecture. The shops are adorned with intricate detail, while the streets and gardens are stunning.
The United Kingdom Kidcot Fun Stop is located in the Toy Soldier shop on Tudor Lane. As the Cast Member was decorating our Duffy Bear with a British soldier, we spoke about where we were each from. I also love to learn Cast Members’ stories and what has brought them to Disney. I then proceeded to ask a question about Christopher Robin. I had heard that you could look into his bedroom window somewhere in the UK pavilion and wanted directions on how to find this window.
With a twinkle in her eye, the Cast Member asked if we would like to actually go inside Christopher Robin’s bedroom. “Of course we would!” “Really?!?” To which she replied with a quiet, “Follow me.”
We were lead through a door that said “Cast Members Only” and I was bursting with excitement! We were inside Christopher Robin’s bedroom!
We were told how this used to be the Meet and Greet area for Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. It was also used as a story time location for children. We were then allowed to take our time exploring this beautifully decorated bedroom. It actually reminded me of the children’s room in Disneyland’s Dream Suite.
The attention to detail, as expected of Disney, was astonishing! While the bed was very neatly made, there were toys everywhere, ready to be played with. A chess game needed to be finished, the desk was opened and waiting for homework time, Winnie the Pooh and friends were patiently waiting on the window bench for their next adventure.
After a few photos, we graciously thanked our hostess for her time and for sprinkling us with a bit of Pixie Dust. We walked away with a little extra bounce in our step knowing we were given the gift of Disney Magic.
I would love to help you create a magical vacation for your family. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
to start your adventure today!