Why you should stay at a Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Resort

I love the perks that come with the onsite hotels at Universal Orlando. Back in my cheerleading days, we had competitions at Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. Because of this, we stayed at the park hotels. Which hotels, you ask?

1. Hard Rock Hotel
2. Loews Portofino Bay
3. Loews Royal Pacific

The prices at these places can be a tad pricey during peak season. But, the hotels come with a list of perks that I believe are worth the price.

  • Free Express Pass to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. This pass allows you to skip the long lines and join the lucky people who have the fast pass. If you were to purchase this pass, it costs $89 (on top of the normal ticket price of $136 per person for a one day pass).
  • Early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You get in an hour before the crowds. With the new addition of Diagon Alley, these areas in the parks get swarmed with crowds fast and early. The line for the new ride, Escape from Gringotts, can be upwards of a five hour wait.
  • Priority seating at CityWalk restaurants. After a long day at the park, who wants to stand in line to wait for dinner? Yes, dinner. The restaurants at CityWalk get packed. Your stay at one of the above hotels gets you on a short list for dinner. If you love food like me, this perk is pretty amazing.
  • Complementary water taxis and shuttles back to the hotel. If your feet are sore and your legs are tired, take one of the complementary means of travel to your comfortable bed.
  • Prime location. You’re right by the parks and attractions. You want to go to CityWalk? It’s a short walk, bus or boat ride away. You won’t waste a lot of time traveling to your destination and paying for additional parking.

These are just the major perks that come along with staying at a Universal Resort. If the early admission and fast pass doesn’t make your mouth water, I don’t know how else to entice you!

If you don’t want to pay the sticker price of the deluxe hotels, Universal Orlando just opened up a budge resort for patrons as well. Welcome to Cabana Bay Beach Resort! If you stay here, you will lose some of the perks. You will no longer have priority seating or an express pass for the rides.

When planning your trip, it’s all about preference. Do you need the fast pass? Does the priority seating mean that much to you? If not, Cabana Bay sounds like it could be a good fit for you. It will keep you close to the park and other attractions. If you’re a hardcore thrill ride fan, the fast pass is 100% worth it. The lines can be terribly long and, if you’re traveling with kids, the wait can feel even longer.

Take a good look at what you want to accomplish on vacation and see if a Universal Resort is right for you and your family. The price may be worth it!

Must See Halloween Displays in Northeastern Ohio

Transformer Display Cleveland Ohio

There’s a saying: Everything is bigger in Texas. When it comes to Halloween, I’d say that everything is bigger in Northeastern Ohio. Homes across the region put up large displays that draw hundreds, probably thousands, of people each year.

Take a look at this list from Northeast Ohio Family Fun: Must See Halloween Displays in Northeastern Ohio.

If you live in the region, stop by and see these awesome displays. I support you getting in the Halloween spirit! :)

Photo of the Week: King of the Zoo

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So they say the lion is king of the jungle. When visiting the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo this past weekend, I spotted this little guy who has enough sass to rule the kingdom. This meerkat sat at the top of this hill and curiously stared out at what was happening around him. (I have a gut feeling it was a “him.”) Pretty much, the meerkat is my new favorite animal.

15 Real Northeast Ohio Haunted Places

In the spirit of Halloween, it’s time to start sharing articles about haunted places. Let’s start with my home city, Cleveland. When I was in high school, my friends and I use to find scary places to go. Were they really haunted? No, probably not. But the fear of the unknown was enough to give us the shivers. But what if those places were really haunted.

The Cleveland Scene put out this article: 15 Real Northeast Ohio Haunted Places. Some that jump out at me are:

1. Old Chestnut Grove Cemetery: Who wants to be haunted by a witch that was buried and possibly executed at this graveyard? Not it!

2. Lima TB Hospital: Hospitals are scary enough when there are people working in them. Abandoned hospitals give me the creeps.

3. Mansfield Reformatory: This one has gained national attention on ghost hunting shows and is the setting for Shawshank Redemption. You never know what crime the ghosts following you committed. Good luck if you go to this one!

All the places on the list are creepy in their own right. Enter at your own risk! You never know what, or who, you’ll run into.

Image courtesy of Google Images 

Undiscovered Disney Parks on TLC: What you may not know about Disney

World of Disney

Sometimes I find myself getting wrapped up in TV shows about travel. I’m sure none of you are surprised and find yourself in the same boat that I was in on the other weekend.

I turned on TLC after waking up and was sucked into the world of Disney. I just returned from Orlando the night before from a business trip, but had a taste of Disney Parks while I was there. I curled up in bed and took in all the information this TV special had to offer.

Here is what I learned about Disneyland (California) and Disney World (Orlando):

1. Downtown Disney is home to an indoor amusement park, DisneyQuest. Here you’ll find arcade games and motion simulators, but there is one thing attraction here that stood out to me. You can build your own roller coaster and test it in an F-16 simulator. It’s called CyberSpace Mountain. Talk about cool.

2. Be a NASCAR driver at Richard Petty Driving Experience. I feel like this one is a nice little get away for the adults on the trip. Get your adrenaline pumping by getting behind the wheel of a real NASCAR race car. Suit up and hit the track — after a few must-know lessons from the professionals.

3. Take in the sights parasailing. Disney’s Contemporary Hotel sits right outside Magic Kingdom. The lagoon has boat rentals and you can also go parasailing. Who wouldn’t want to look down on the majestic sights of Magic Kingdom from 100 feet above the Contemporary Hotel?

4. Take a surf lesson, or show off your skills, at Typhoon Lagoon. You can rent out wave pool before or after park hours to have a Private Surf Party with 25 of your closest friends. Not a surfer but want to learn? Typhoon Lagoon offers lessons, too. With 12 people in the class and the perfect waves being made, you will be standing up on the board in no time.

5. Be in the “in-crowd” at Club 33. Walt Disney himself opened Club 33 at New Orleans Square in Disneyland in May of 1967. It was the only place in Disneyland he could break from the crowds to park-goers. It takes a lot to get into this club, so you have to be patient. It’s so secret I don’t think there’s a webpage for it. Note: This is the only place in the park that serves alcohol.

6. Get VIP treatment with Disney World tours. If you want a peek into the behind-the-scenes of Disney, sign up for the Keys to the Kingdom tour. You’ll get to see the preproduction center and explore some of the tunnels located under the park. Would you rather have someone be your personal guide? Sign up for the VIP tour. Your guide will show you how to navigate the park, help you gather fast passes and get you to your shows on time. Essentially, you will get to relax and enjoy the day a little bit more.

7. Transform into a princess at Bippity Boppity Boutique. I think this is every girls dream when visiting Disney World. A Fairy Godmother will help turn you (or your child) into a little princess. Full costume, make up, hair and nails are part of the package. You can do this at Cinderella’s Castle or at Downtown Disney.

8. Experience the seasons at Disney World and Disneyland. 

  • Spring: Disney’s California Adventure Food and Wine Festival offers 600 cooking classes and different foods and wines from around the world. Epcot’s Flower and Garden festival is a sight to be seen because of all the intricate characters and structures made out of flowers. Also, learn tips and secrets from Disney’s horticulturists.
  • Fall: Epcot has its Food and Wine festival in the fall. Halloween at Magic Kingdom won’t be intimidating for the kids. The Not-So-Scary Halloween Party makes Halloween fun. There is a specialty parade even featuring the Headless Horseman.
  • Winter: Christmas is in full swing at Disneyland and Disney World. The decorations are overpowering. You can even expect some fake snow to set the mood.

9. Personalized fine dining experience at the Grand Floridian. Want to really impress your loved ones? Visit Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian and book the Chef’s Table. Chef Scott Hunnel invites you into the kitchen and customizes the dinner menu for you. Want to remember what you eat? No problem. You get to take home the menu with you.

10. Disney Vacation Club resorts offer you more. Staying onsite at a Disney hotel gives you added perks. You can utilize Disney transportation and experience the Extra Magic Hours at theme parks. Want a unique experience? Stay at the Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs. If you like camping, you’ll love glamping.

11. Don’t forget about Disney After Dark. There is a nightly fireworks display at parks that will keep your mesmerized. At Magic Kingdom, hang out to see SpectroMagic. There are more than a million lights in this parade. The whole parade is set to a musical score, keeping you entertained the entire time.

A big thank you to TLC for airing Undiscovered Disney Parks and sharing all this awesome information. For all my Disney lovers out there, I know they appreciate it, too.

Photo of the Week: A Buckeye Autumn

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I don’t know about you, but I love the fall season. Crisp temperatures, bright sunshine and vibrant leaves fill your days. On my day off this past Friday, I took an impromptu drive through the Cleveland Metroparks with my camera. I stumbled upon this amazing place, Wallace Lake. Trekking down a little slope, I found myself staring at this view. Now, I’m not a big nature person. I’ll admit, I love the comfort of my home. But I hung out here for a bit and took in how awesomely beautiful nature really is.

London, England: Harry Potter Tours

Hogwarts

Hogwarts

I think from previous posts it’s pretty clear that I love Harry Potter. I am a fanatic. It should come as no surprise that part of the allure of London is going on Harry Potter tours. The Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter is one the comes to mind. As I start to plan a trip to London, this is where I start my voyage.

From the research I have done, this is any Harry Potter fan’s dream come true. Leavesden was the home of the Harry Potter movies for 10 years. After the films wrapped, all the sets and props were left onsite. So what do you do? You set up a tour. Genius! But what are some of the things I would do given the opportunity to go?

1. Ride a broomstick. Yes, you heard me right. Muggles can sit on a broom in front of a green screen and take flight like the cast did. Want to remember it forever? You can purchase a photograph or DVD of your broom riding experience.

2. See the Great Hall. This is an iconic part of the film. All four houses gather here and the war in the last book has a large presence here. Really I would love to have a meal in the Great Hall and sit at the Gryffindor table. Do they allow this?

3. Walk Diagon Alley. I’ve visited Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Orlando, but walking through the set of the real Diagon Alley would be something special.

There is another tour that caught my attention: Muggle Tours. This seems like a fun group of Potter Heads that take you to unique places that are seen in the film. Like where, you ask? The tour highlights include:

  • The entrance to the Leaky Cauldron
  • Several locations over which Lord Voldemort’s death eater wreak havoc
  • No. 12 Grimmauld Place
  • The location where the Triple Decker Knight Bus squeezes through two London buses

If you’ve never been on the website Trippy, go and sign up! It’s a place to get peer-to-peer information on travel. Ask questions. Give answers. It’s a GREAT community. I asked about HP tours in London and got an awesome answer.

I also stumbled upon this Buzzfeed article: The Super Fan’s Guide to Harry Potter’s London

The possibilities are endless when it comes to Harry Potter! These tours are on my bucket list plan for London. Do you have any other advice for HP fans visiting London? Share in the comments below or on Twitter @tripintotravel.