Category Archives: Universal

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen

As a lover of all things CHOCOLATE, I had to try out Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen for myself. I mean look at the milkshakes!!!

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Toothsome is an impressive sight from across the water at Citywalk. It sits just outside the entrance to Islands of Adventure and appears to be a Willy Wonka’esque contraption rising from the water.

Inside, the theme is steampunk head to toe and it’s a fully immersive experience. The story of Penelope and how she created the Emporium to find her family is entertaining. Penelope and her chocolate creating friend Jacques wander from table to table chatting with guests. The building houses the restaurant, the foundry (milkshake shop), a pastry shop and a gift shop. And upstairs a small bar.

The restaurant offers more than just chocolate though. The menu has some eclectic choices and comfort food with a twist. The menu is expansive with everything from burgers, flatbreads, steaks, pasta and of course an amazing dessert menu.

We started with a chocolate drink of course!

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On this particular trip, my companion and I shared a few appetizers.

The Totchos,  fried tater tots, spicy green chili, crispy pork belly, andouille sausage cheddar cheese sauce.

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Forest Mushroom Flatbread, Mushrooms, goat cheese, caramelized onions, arugula, white truffle oil

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Both were excellent, the totchos were nice and crispy and the flatbread was simply divine.

After ducking into the parks for a bit to close them down, we returned to Toothsome for the icing on the cake, or whip cream on the milkshake, or something like that.

They taste as great as they look!

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I chose the Chocolate X5 and it was delicious! Not gonna lie, they are a bit difficult to eat, but worth every messy napkin involved.

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Finding a spot to sit can be difficult, but there is plenty of seating along the wall outside.

This is definitely on my return visit list. So many more things to try on the incredible menu and just a fun vibe. Have you tried a meal or a milkshake at Toothsome? I’d love to hear about it!

A look inside a Universal Fam Trip

I get comments all the time when I go on a “work” trip. “What is it that makes it work?” or “you aren’t really working!”

Fam Trip stands for familiarization trip and is usually hosted by a hotel group, travel company or even tourist board for a country. They are limited to travel agents, spouses, friends, tagalongs are almost never allowed. Usually, you have to share a room with another agent.

I’ve been on fam trips in Ireland, hosted by hotel groups, Germany hosted by the German Tourist Board, Sandals Resorts in Jamaica where we toured almost all their Jamaica properties, see that trip here. A small hotel chain in Mexico last year, Disney, and most recently Universal.

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Contrary to popular believe, fam trips are not free. First off, you have to get there and that cost is never included. Sometimes there is also a fee associated with the actual trip and meals are not always or all included as well as other miscellaneous things. It’s an investment in your business to learn all you can to better help your clients, that’s why we go on these trips. Are they fun? Sure, we have fun, but they are also a lot of work. They do require you to attend all mandatory workshops and site inspections and you can be booted out or charged full price if you don’t.

I just returned from a Universal Orlando Training trip. I arrived in Orlando on Tuesday afternoon, met up with my fellow A Time to Treasure Travel agent/friend/roommate Melissa and we made our way to the host resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, and after checking in and having a snack made our way to the official check-in for the fam. A lovely buffet dinner was included and a visit from a minion for pictures! After dinner, we were set free and headed over to Universal Studios for a few rides before closing. After a long travel day, we made our way back and to bed.

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Wednesday we met back at the conference center across the street or a very long walk through our hotel’s conference center which connects to the conference center at Royal Pacific where our workshops were being held. A buffet breakfast awaited and then we were split into groups of about 15 with the Travel Sales Reps and off we went to tour several resorts and Volcano Bay. We boarded a bus that took us across the street to Cabana bay, toured this entire resort, saw 2 rooms in 2 different buildings then walked the path from Cabana Bay to Volcano Bay. We did a quick spin of Volcano Bay. It’s really not fun to walk through a water park fully dressed on a hot day. Then we exited Volcano Bay and walked by Aventura Hotel and got back on the bus. Next up was Royal Pacific where we toured the resort and saw a room. From here we walked back downstairs to the conference center where our late buffet lunch was waiting.

My fitbit registered 17,000 steps at this point. It was about 1pm. Next up after lunch was a workshop so we rested in our chairs for a few hours after walking all morning. Our workshop ended at 5:30pm and we had the evening free. We headed to Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen because neither one of us had been there and wanted to try it. After that, we hopped into Islands of Adventure right next door and had a bit of time, did a few rides and saw the Hogwarts Castle light show. We ducked into King Kong on our way out of the park. Stopped back at Toothsomes for a milkshake! Back to the hotel and bed.

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Thursday morning we grabbed a coffee and pastry at the New Dutch Trading CO. and made our way to the conference center at Royal Pacific. No breakfast this morning, but a 1-hour training on the booking system we use to book Universal. Then we had a brief tour of Aventura Hotel across the street including the rooftop lounge, Bar17 with incredible views of all of Orlando. At the end of this tour, at about 11am, we had the rest of the day free. Melissa and I made our way back to our hotel and jumped on the water taxi to Citywalk. We stopped to buy BlueMan group tickets, neither of us had experienced this and wanted to. There was an entrance to Universal Studios right by the box office so we popped in that way and made our way to Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron for lunch. We rode Gringotts and got ice cream then hopped on the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade over at Islands of Adventure. Here, we contemplated the new Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure, but the line was about 120 minutes and rain was threatening to shut it down so we opted for the Hogshead Pub for frozen Butterbeer! Then we made our way out of the park slowly and back to our hotel to enjoy a relaxing hour by the pool before getting ready for our dinner at Cowfish and the BlueMan group show.  After the show, we headed back and went over to Aventura Hotel to check out the night time view from Bar17 and then came back to end the night at Strong Water Tavern in our hotel before calling it a night.

Morning meant the shuttle back to the airport and flights home.

This fam trip actually had a good amount of free time and Thursday morning’s offerings were optional, it could have been a full free day and was for many, but the training that morning was informative and I’m glad I went.

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All in all, yes, fams are fun and we get some time to do our own thing, but they are also a lot of walking and listening. Taking notes and hundreds of pictures.

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We represent our agency on these fams and we share what we learn with everyone else in our agency. We cannot all go on all of them, so we take turns and share our learning.

Universal SuperStar Shuttle

Heading to Universal and wondering:

How are we going to get there? Rent a car and pay for parking? Uber or Lyft?

Universal Orlando Resort offers a great transportation option from the Orlando International Airport (MCO) for a very low rate.

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This is a great option if you won’t be needing a car. Superstar Shuttle does need to be booked in advance and can be added to any Universal package booking.

How much does Universal’s SuperStar Shuttle Cost? 

  • Adult: $39, tax inclusive, Roundtrip
  • Child (3-9): $29, tax inclusive, Roundtrip
  • Children 2 & Under: Free

What if I have a child that requires a car seat? Car seats can be brought and used but they will not be provided.

You will receive confirmation in your E-Travel Document with instructions on where to go. The Universal SuperStar Shuttle check-in desk is located across from the Hertz rental car counter on Ground Level 1, head towards Disney’s Magical Express, but it’s well before that. It’s to your left as you pass the Hertz counter and if you pass Starbucks you just went by it.

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At the check-in desk, if you are within normal hours (7:30am-8:30am), they will have your packet with your tickets, coupons, everything you need. If it’s after hours, the packet will be available at the Vacation Planning Desk at your resort the following morning.

The shuttle takes about 30 minutes to get to Universal and may make multiple stops based on where everyone on the shuttle is staying. On a recent trip, we waited less than 10 minutes for the shuttle and were the first stop.

K%atOOt6RjqiENa2kHGXsQYou will be given your return time at check-in as well, which you can have them adjust if you would like. The shuttle picks you up in front of the hotel lobby where you were dropped off.

Superstar Shuttle is an easy peasy way of getting to and from Universal Orlando!

Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando

Loews Sapphire Falls is a Caribbean themed resort located on the water path at Universal Orlando Resort. It boasts the largest pool on property and a laid back casual Carribean vibe. 

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This resort is beautiful! 

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Cascading waterfalls and views of the water, the lagoon on one side and the spectacular pool on the other really lend to the relaxed vibe at this hotel. The vast lobby houses The New Dutch Trading Co, which is a partial Starbucks and more quick-service type fare. Next to the showcase staircase, a feature of all Loews hotels is Strong Water Tavern. This place is a gem. With over 75 kinds of rum in addition to a regular full bar selection and incredibly tasty tapas and small plates. Service is impeccable!

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A Universal Store with a great selection as well as a Fuel Rod kiosk and of course the Vacation Planning Desk with kiosks where you would print your package tickets.

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Avis is the Universal car rental partner and there is a desk at every hotel. Complimentary WIFI is available throughout the hotel. Valet and self-parking, both for a fee. Room service operates 24 hours a day. A fitness center and game room/arcade is available on the second floor.

Amatista Cookhouse™, a full-service restaurant that offers scenic water views and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Spectacular Pool!

The largest pool at Universal at 16,000 square feet with 2 sand beaches, zero-entry area, a fabulous water slide, and water play area for the littles. Also by the pool are cabanas available for rent for a very special day by the pool. There is also a fire pit, movies by the pool in the evenings and complimentary life jackets.

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The Drhum Club Kantine, a pool bar and grill offers a fresh seafood inspired menu and taste-tempting drinks.

Access to the parks

Easy access to Citywalk and the theme parks via the water taxi. At Universal, you will go through a security checkpoint on the boat dock which means no waiting in a long bag check line at the theme park entrances.

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Exclusive Benefits of Sapphire Falls

  • Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ and select attractions at Volcano Bay™ water theme park, one hour before the theme parks open (valid theme park admission required)
  • Complimentary water taxis or shuttle buses that take you directly to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay and CityWalk™
  • Resort-wide charging privileges with your room key card
  • Complimentary delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the resort to your hotel
  • Complimentary access* to select live entertainment venues at Universal CityWalk™ for the length of stay.
  • Start your day with a wake-up call from one of your favorite Universal Orlando characters
  • Golf Universal Orlando™ program offers an exclusive program for golfers that enables guests to take to the links during their stay. You can reserve a perfect tee time, arrange for complimentary transportation* to and from select courses and more. For more information please contact the Universal Orlando Ticket Center in the hotel lobby.

This resort has 1000 rooms including the most suites of any other Universal resort. A mix of hospitality, Sapphire and Kids suites. Rooms have all the amenities including a refrigerator, Keurig and a magic mirror!

The door that closes off the shower/toilet space is a sliding door and it does lack total privacy as there is a sliver of space left, it doesn’t quite close all the way.

 

We also go an exclusive look at a Kids Suite: A king bedded room with an attached 2 twin bedded room only accessible from inside the suite.

 

Loews Sapphire Falls offers incredible value for the amenities offered at the resort. With water taxi to the theme parks and the ability to walk to Volcano Bay via Cabana Bay across the street, the location cannot be beaten.

Contact me to start planning your Universal Orlando EPIC vacation!

Volcano Bay Rises

Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando Resort is set to open May 25, that’s just a month away!

And as details emerge I am more and more excited to visit! Here are my top 5 things I am looking forward to at Volcano Bay. In no particular order.

1. Kopiko Wai Winding River™

Yes, that’s right. I LOVE me a lazy river. It’s my favorite thing to do, just lounge and float along.

2. Premium Seating

For a very reasonable price, just $29.99 + tax you can have 2 padded loungers with an umbrella and a lockbox in an area with food and drink service. Umm, yes please. Sign me up.

3. Tapu Tapu

This is Universal’s new virtual line system, so no waiting in long lines for  rides. You tap the totem pole by the ride entrance with your wearable Tapu Tapu bracelet ( similar to Disney’s Magic Bands), and get a return time. Then come back at that time and tap and enter.

4. Express Pass

Even better, most rides will also offer Express Pass options to bypass even the virtual line system.

5. Dining

The dining at Volcano Bay looks incredible. Imaginative options in-keeping with the South Pacific Island theme.

Volcano Bay is going to be a fantastic addition to an already exciting vacation experience at Universal Orlando Resort. Read more about a Universal vacation here and here.

To start planning your EPIC Universal Vacation, contact me at Barbara@ATimetoTreasureTravel.com

Return to Universal

We recently returned from another fabulous Florida vacation. This time was different from all the previous ones. For one thing, we didn’t do the Disney parks, but we still stayed onsite at Disney of course. Let’s not get too crazy here!

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This trip was Universal and other Orlando attractions we’ve never taken the time to do. Sea World, Discovery Cove and we took an air boat ride through the swamp to see alligators! We also rented a car this time, which we’ve never done. Using Disney and private transportation is great, but with so many different things on the itinerary, a car was really necessary this time. It turned out to be easy peasy too.

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You can read all about our last trip (August 2015)  to Universal here. I just posted all about our amazing day at Discovery Cove here.

This trip we spent more time at Universal, 4 nights total with 3 days of park to park tickets, so we could ride Hogwarts Express! This amount of time was great as it really let us enjoy so much more of the parks and still get lots of down time at the resort pool to relax. We mainly spent half days in the parks, the mornings, and the afternoons and evenings at the pool. A dinner break at City Walk and maybe a short trip into a park for a few rides in the evenings.

We stayed on site at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, we love this place! Read all about it here.

Highlights for this year:

Eric was tall enough for everything, last year he missed out on Hulk and Dragon Challenge, so he was thrilled. Hulk had just re-opened after an almost year long refurbishment just a few weeks prior. Phew!

We missed out on a few things last year that we made sure to not miss again. We rode Hogwarts both ways, enjoying the walk through the wall at Platform 9 3/4. The Simpson’s ride became a new favorite and finally after a 20 year wait, I rode E.T. So cute! I was in line for E.T. 20 some odd years ago on a trip with a friend and after waiting in line 2 hours, the ride broke down and we never got to ride it, we were almost inside!

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The Schenectady sign!

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen had just opened so while wait times for milk shakes and the restaurant were a bit much for us, I did tour the shop and it was great, so unique!

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Matthew the donut lover got to have the Big Pink Donut from Lard Lads. Heaven for him!

img_7408We ate at several restaurants at City Walk including Margaritavilla, Hard Rock Cafe, NBC Sport Grill and Brew, all wonderful.

Skull Island Reign of Kong had recently opened and just started accepting Express Pass when we arrived, perfect timing.

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We of course rode all our favorites from last year, more than once taking advantage of early park entry for onsite guests on 2 of the 3 days and the invaluable Express Pass included with our stay at Portofino Bay Resort. Even during a not so busy time of year, the last week of August, Express Pass came in handy.

Universal can be done in 1-2 days, but taking a little more time really makes it a much more enjoyable vacation and as the kids get older, they tend to lean more towards this type of entertainment.

Ready to go? Let’s plan a trip!

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La Dolce Vita in Orlando

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort is one of my favorite hotels in the world. It is picturesque and looks exactly like the real deal in Italy. Only cleaner. It’s so serene and really does force you to slow down and savor the sweet life.

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Our most recent stay was longer than in the past and much more relaxing as we enjoyed the resort as much as the theme parks. We arrived in the evening and after a lovely check in were in our room in no time.

We stayed Club Level in a Deluxe room and found ourselves in the Villa Wing. Location was great, high floor which I requested and not too far from either the front elevator down to the lobby and club lounge or the back elevator which led right to the pool. We had a lovely view of the Villa pool and Bocce Ball court.

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The deluxe rooms are larger than the already very large Portofino rooms. They are 490 sq ft.  The bathroom had a tub and separate shower and is spacious as is the room.

Club Level at Portofino was wonderful. The staff is very helpful, friendly and they keep the food and drink stocked nicely. Club offers you food and beverage options throughout the day. It was easy to stop by the lounge on the way in or out to grab water or a drink.

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In the morning there is breakfast which includes fruit, pastries, cereal, hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs and breakfast potatoes. A coffee station as well as milk and orange juice station round it out.

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During the afternoon, snacks are available, chips cookies and the like. As well as lemonade.

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A drink station is available all day, anytime the lounge is open. Soda and bottled water are available here as well as to go cups.

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During the evening reception, 2 hot dishes are available, usually a pasta dish and something else. As well as a salad bar, cheese, crackers and wine and beer.

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Later, dessert with cakes and cookies.

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walking to the parks with my to go cup of vino

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One of our favorite features of this hotel is the pool. The main pool is the Beach Pool. There are fun pool side activities for the kids and adults, the slide is fabulous and great food and drinks can be had at Splendido, the poolside bar. The villa pool is the quiet pool, with cabanas surrounding it and in just a beautiful serene location. There is another small pool called the Hillside in the East Wing of the resort. Pools stay open late, 11pm and the main pool shows a movie at night right there on a screen on the beach in the sand. There is a lovely large hot tub at the Beach Pool as well, with a waterfall feature. Another hot tub and a small children’s splash pad rounds out the area. Music is playing all day and there is lots of activity.

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There are lots of great restaurant choices here, but it’s not far to City Walk or the other hotels either. Bar food at Thirsty Fish, comfort food from Nonna at Mama Dellas or the Trattoria, something quick from Sal’s Deli or upscale Bice. Don’t forget gelato, it’s so good! There is a Starbucks as well. Shopping for art work and unique pieces, a Universal Studios Store and the hotel gift shop with some lovely unique gift ideas.

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The walk to the parks is about 15 minutes via a lovely scenic path that takes you passed Hard Rock Hotel.  Security will be a the end of the path just before arriving at Universal Studios. The boat is quick and easy and you will go through security before boarding the boat.img_7466

A little bit of “la dolce vita” right in the heart of the theme parks!

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Royal Pacific Paradise

Staying onsite at Universal Orlando Resort has many benefits and staying at one of the 3 deluxe resorts  includes the best benefit of all, included Unlimited Express Pass.

HOTEL GUESTS ENJOY EXCLUSIVE THEME PARK BENEFITS
  • SKIP THE REGULAR LINES with Universal Express SM Unlimited ride access* in both theme parks – a FREE benefit worth up to $89 per person, per day^
    (valid theme park admission required)
  • Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, one hour before the theme park opens (valid theme park admission required)

Loews Royal Pacific offers the lowest cost option of the deluxe resorts and is an absolutely gorgeous resort. Easy walking distance to both parks and boat service as well.

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Dine on exceptional cuisine; delight in the impeccable service; and soak in the breathtaking splendor of lush tropical surroundings at a white sandy beach of the lagoon-style swimming pool; all while enjoying the latest in modern conveniences.

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Royal Pacific offers several room categories, from standard, water view, suites and their fun kid’s suites…Jurassic Park themed!

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Guest Room Amenities

  • 1,000 guest rooms including 51 suites; rooms start at 335 sq. ft
  • Flat panel television with HD channels and On Demand® in-room movies (fees apply)
  • iHome clock radio and docking station
  • Keurig coffee maker featuring Emeril’s Gourmet Coffee and assorted teas
  • Refrigerator
  • Cotton signature bathrobes
  • Nightly turndown service (upon request)
  • Iron, ironing board, hairdryer and in-room safe
  • Complimentary* wireless internet access in each guest room and most common areas of the hotel
  • Upgrade to Premium Plus^ wireless internet access for optimal entertainment and business needs
  • 2 telephones (1 cordless) with dual voice lines, data port and voicemail
  • Club Level rooms feature complimentary continental breakfast, access to the fitness center, and more

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Hotel Amenities

Whether it’s relaxing in the serene lagoon-style pool, the sights and sounds of our weekly luau, or a workout in the fitness center, Loews Royal Pacific Resort has something for everyone.

Pools

One of the most impressive features of this resort is the lagoon-style swimming pool and sandy beach. Sink your toes into the sand and ease your body into your lounge chair. Lagoon style swimming pool featuring a white sand beach and the following:

  • Two (2) hot tubs
  • Beach volleyball court
  • Private cabanas for rent

Mandara Spa® & Fitness Center

Visit the full service Mandara Spa® next door at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Mandara Spa® offers comprehensive wellness services, a de-stressing zone where you can work out, or tune out with a delicious spa treatment.

Supervised Kids Camp

When Mom and Dad want to enjoy a night on the town, drop the kids off at the supervised children’s activity center.

Kids will enjoy an arts & crafts table, storybook corner, computer desks, a movie room, and more. Counselors are trained to supervise toilet-trained children ages 4-14 only. One counselor for every 8-10 children.

COST: $15 per hour, per child / $15 per meal

HOURS: Open from 5:00 pm to 11:30 pm, Sunday through Thursday and from 5:00 pm to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. * Times are subject to change.

Restaurants

Emeril’s Tchoup Chop

In both atmosphere and menu, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop offers diners a unique and exotic journey through the Pacific Seas, a perfect complement for the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, complete with bamboo, waterfalls, sculpted gardens and giant woks in full view.

Islands Dining Room

Enjoy savory chef-inspired creations featuring noodle bar dishes, rice bowls, wok and hibachi specialties. At breakfast, join us for traditional favorites, along with several Polynesian-influenced morning specialties.

Jake’s American Bar

Jake’s American Bar is the perfect place to meet for drinks and lively conversation after your day’s adventures.

Wantilan Luau

Sit back and experience an evening of authentic Polynesian food and entertainment at the enchanting Wantilan Luau, a weekly Hawaiian dinner show featuring an all-you-can-eat buffet of Polynesian specialties, live Hawaiian music and traditional hula dancing. Hula and fire dancers delight the audience and entice a few to even learn the hula! (Fees apply; reservations required)

Orchid Court Lounge & Sushi Bar

Enjoy a continental breakfast or a tropical cocktail at the Orchid Court Lounge, which overlooks a serene orchid garden. The Orchid Court Sushi Bar features modern, inventive sushi and sashimi presentations along with Asian-inspired desserts and South Seas martinis.

Bula Bar & Grille

Bula means “welcome” in Fijian, and you’ll definitely feel right at home at this poolside eatery serving up food and beverages with a tropical flair.

THE LONGER YOU STAY THE MORE YOU SAVE!

Stay more nights and save up to 35%!

Contact me to get starting planning your EPIC vacation at Universal Orlando!

Universal Orlando Review

053-IMG_0856On this year’s family vacation to Disney, we added two nights at Universal since our kids (12 and 9) are now old enough to get the most out of these parks. They are geared to a slightly older kid crowd.

We stayed at the Portofino Bay Hotel, and you can read the hotel review here.

When you arrive from the hotel via the water taxi, you disembark at CityWalk. CityWalk is an entertainment and dining complex located between the two theme parks. Over the bridge to the right is Universal Studios and over the bridge to the left is Islands of Adventure.

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The big draw at Universal Orlando Resort is of course, their two Harry Potter themed lands. Walking into Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, takes you right into the movie. Universal nailed it! We are not big Harry Potter fans, kids are reading the books now, and we’ve seen and enjoyed the movies, but even we could appreciate the level of detail. Everything you’d expect is there, Ollivander’s, Butterbeer in several varieties, pumpkin juice, snacks, and merchandise.  Wands for sale at various price points, including interactive wands that will activate window dressing throughout the two lands. The Harry Potter attractions are fantastic and even the queues are entertaining enough to make the waits bearable. Escape from Gringotts was our collective favorite, although my oldest might say Dueling Dragons was his.

There are now two Harry Potter themed lands with the opening of Diagon Alley  last summer. Hogmeade is inside Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios. There is a train, the Hogwarts Express, that connects the two parks, but a park-to-park ticket is required to ride this attraction. The park to park ticket is akin to Disney’s Park Hopper allowing you to hop between the 2 parks on the same day. This is not just a train connecting the parks though, it’s a ride in itself and different in each direction.

This is where staying onsite comes in handy. Onsite guests have early entry to one, sometimes both during busy times, of the Harry Potter sections each morning.  For our trip, in late August, is was  Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. Entering early meant little to no wait times on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the ride inside Hogwarts Castle. Also Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff.

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Beverage Cart in the queue! This is genius!

Staying onsite, we also had Unlimited Express Pass included, which allows you do bypass the main queue in almost all the attractions at both parks (Harry Potter rides not included). Now, this didn’t eliminate the waits completely, but it did shorten them significantly. Despicable Me was probably the longest wait even with Express Pass at about 30 minutes, but it was posted at 80 minutes without. Note that you can buy an Express Pass, but it is not Unlimited, you can only ride each ride once with the regular Express Pass.

Being that the parks are both movie themed, all the attractions are obviously movie centered. Comic Book heros,  Minions, Shrek, Transformers, Men in Black, Jurassic Park, a favorite of my boys. There are younger kids areas like Seuss Landing. Many of the attractions are simulator type rides, but with a moving ride vehicle.

 

As I said, most of the rides are more suited to tweens and teens or slightly older kid. My youngest is 9, almost 10 . Only 2 rides had a height limit of 54 inches. He missed the cutoff by a 1/2 inch on The Hulk and Dueling Dragons, but was able to do everything else. Several are 52 and 48 inches. There are several water rides as well, a log flume similar to Splash Mountain, a raft ride similar to Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom and the Jurassic Park ride. You WILL GET WET on all these rides. Soaked on two of them. I warned you.

When you’re hungry there is food everywhere. Tons of counter service places and most are quite large with lots of seating. We had lunch in Jurassic Park at The Burger Digs one day. Don’t make the mistake of sitting at the tables just outside, stay inside. We had to move when a crazy squirrel would not leave us alone, he was jumping on the table and coming right to our tray trying to take our food. No fear for him, I  was terrified!

You don’t have to make reservations 180 days in advance!

We did table service for both dinners. There are not many table service restaurants in the parks, but just outside at CityWalk there are plenty.  You can make reservations for the table service restaurants, most are on Open Table, but it’s not always necessary and you can do it a week or two in advance, or even just early in the day for dinner.  We chose Mythos at Islands of Adventure which is consistently ranked one of the top theme park restaurants and it did not disappoint. Food and service both very good.

We also ate at Finnegan’s at Universal Studios which was great as well.  Authentic Irish pub food and live entertainment, although at first the songs were decidedly classic rock, but eventually he broke into some classic Irish tunes like Irish Rover.

Both Universal parks are fairly small in comparison to the Disney parks, think more along the lines of Hollywood Studios size. We had half a day, the day we arrived and then a full day the next and were able to see everything we wanted to. Now, if you are big Harry Potter fans, you’ll need a bit more time as we didn’t spend too much time exploring those areas other than doing the rides and wandering a bit during the early entry hour before it got crowded. We also took afternoon breaks to return to the resort and swim, which was super convenient being just a 15-minute walk or short boat ride away.

Next time we might do 3 nights just to have a little more time to spend more time in certain areas and still have the afternoon swim breaks, maybe explore some of the other resorts as well since pool hopping is permitted at Universal.

Overall it was a very enjoyable add-on and change from our usual and I do believe it will now be a MUST DO for all future trips.

I can help plan your trip to Universal Orlando Resort, just contact me and we’ll get started.  🙂

Portofino Bay Hotel Review

My family recently ventured to the “dark side” and added a 2 night stay at Universal Orlando Resort to our traditional Disney vacation.

Perfect add-on for families with older kids, tweens and teens!

Planning a Universal Orlando Resort trip is not quite as overwhelming as a Disney trip can be, but there is still a little planning to be done. I can help you with this too 🙂 This wasn’t my first stay at Universal, but it was our first trip as a family and with the kids . We will be back!

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We chose the Portofino Bay Hotel as our home  base for our 2 night stay. This hotel is simply stunning. It’s is a replica of the Italian coastal town of Portofino, right down to the little fishing boats in the harbor and vespa’s lining the piazza!

The hotel complex is sprawling, made up of 3 main areas. The lobby facing the main harbor piazza and then the East and West Wings. A Villas Wing extends off of the West Wing.

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The West Wing offers the best proximity to the boat dock and walking path to the theme parks and the feature pool.

Rooms at Portofino Bay are spacious and well -appointed, starting at a generous 450 sq feet for a standard room Garden or Bay view. Deluxe rooms, suites and club level services are also available.

Rooms have all the standard amenities and beds are queen sized.

Portofino Bay features  Despicable Me suites in the East Wing. 

There are numerous restaurants, all Italian, including a Gelateria and Starbucks. Splendido Bar & Grill is right by the main pool with lounge chair service. Three pools are scattered throughout, the Beach Pool being the feature pool with the Roman aqueduct themed water slide, zero entry, sandy beach, waterfalls and a small grotto. Even when busy, we were always able to find a few lounge chairs available.

Recreation includes poolside activities, bocce ball, a game room, fitness center, a spa and much more.  Be sure to catch the daily Musica della Notte show in the harbor piazza, and enjoy the sounds Italy.

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Transportation to/from the parks is so easy! There are boats running constantly from early morning till the wee hours of the night. Every 20 minutes or so. The ride is less than 10 minutes. The walking path is just past the boat dock and takes about 15 minutes at  a leisurely pace, 10 minutes if you are really trying to make it back before a downpour…we made it. 🙂 The path brings you past the Hard Rock Hotel and right to the Universal Studios entrance. They also have bicycle jitneys going back and forth if you choose.

The major benefit of staying on-site at Universal is this:

  • SKIP THE REGULAR LINES with Universal Express SM Unlimited ride access* in both theme parks – a FREE benefit worth up to $89 per person, per day** (valid theme park admission required)
  • Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, one hour before the theme park opens (valid theme park admission required)

That’s right, staying at one of the 3 deluxe onsite hotels, Portofino Bay, Hard Rock or the Royal Pacific, entitles you to the above benefits. With the popularity of Harry Potter, that extra hour is much needed! And Express Pass really helps with the rest of the parks , the only place it is not accepted is for the Harry Potter rides.

We made the most of both the parks and the resort by splitting up our day with a pool break in the afternoon each day and with Express Pass and having early entry one day, we were able to see and do everything we wanted to in less than 2 full days, but would probably stay longer next time to really make the most of everything offered.

Universal offers some great packages including a Wizarding World of Harry Potter package and Stay More Save More deals. Contact me for a free no obligation quote.