Florida Keys & Universal Studios Trip Report

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Eeyore's picture
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Florida Keys & Universal Studios Trip Report

Hi All!

We just returned from our vacation to the Florida Keys and Universal. I wanted to share a brief report - mainly about my experience at US.

We rented a home in the Keys for a week and drove down, taking our dog along. I think the last time people posted about pets, we had recently lost our previous Great Dane to cancer. In February, we finally got another dog and her name is Stella. Stella is cousin to Scooby-Doo and Marmaduke. Stella was a great passenger on this 12 hour drive. Just the three of us went on this trip, DH, myself, and Stella.

This is Stella
[img][/img]

The Keys
We had a great time, but the Florida Keys were not what I had pictured in my mind. I guess I pictured all the Keys to be quaint, beautiful, and smaller? That sounds weird, but I was somewhat disappointed. We had the pleasure of visiting each section of the Florida Keys and they each have homeless people, shacks, trash on the road, and unmanicured highways like the rest of the United States. It was much larger than what I anticipated and spread out. I enjoyed Key West the most - mostly historical places. We are not big "partiers" and the town seems to cater to cruise ship passengers and there is ample opportunity to party at all hours of the day. Key West has around 70 art galleries and we were able to visit several that were interesting. We love art and have been fortunate to collect a few nice pieces over the past couple of years. We visited Ernest Hemingway's Home and The Little White House. Both tours were great and I recommend them if you're a history buff.

[img][/img]

A few pics from Ernest Hemingway's home

And of course we had more than one slice of key lime pie! Yum!

We were never disappointed with the food. We ate at several staple restaurants that have been featured on the Travel Channel and Food Network including Mrs. Mac's Kitchen and The Conch House. We had great seafood all week and most restaurants were directly on the water so we had a fantastic view!

We also went paddle boarding and were able to see three large manatee in their natural habitat. It was probably the most amazing thing I've ever seen. We were just paddle boarding along and all of a sudden, they drift underneath my board. We also went snorkeling in Key Largo because this is the only living reef in the United States. We went a few miles off shore and snorkeled for 4 hours. We saw sharks, barracudas, sting rays, etc. It was very cool! Very much a highlight of the trip! Unfortunately, due to the water involved, I have no pictures from either experience.

Overall, we had a great time. I would recommend a weekend or four day trip to Key West, but not necessarily the upper and lower keys. It was not much different than your average coastal town in the US. I was starting to get bored towards the end of the trip - I like adventure and seeing and trying things on vacation. Sitting on a beach for 7 days is not my thing - surprisingly we only visited the beach once during our stay there. Stella did swim for the first time and she did great!

We literally decided on Thursday to leave the Keys a day early and drive to Orlando. It was so last minute, but exiting!

Universal in next post!

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Yay for a trip report. yay

Interesting perspective about the Keys. We'd like to see it at least once, but unsure when we'll get there. Beautiful pics!

Ken and I are the same - we're not keen on a 7-day beach vacation either. This is one of the main reasons we enjoy going to Disney! mickey

Looking forward to hearing about your Universal trip. awesome

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Glad you had a great vacation! I'm looking forward to reading about Universal awesome

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JanJ wrote:
Yay for a trip report. yay

Interesting perspective about the Keys. We'd like to see it at least once, but unsure when we'll get there. Beautiful pics!

Ken and I are the same - we're not keen on a 7-day beach vacation either. This is one of the main reasons we enjoy going to Disney! mickey

Looking forward to hearing about your Universal trip. awesome

We're not beach goers either. People always tell me I need to do an all inclusive trip somewhere like Dominican. I would be SO bored! Plus I don't drink eek I'll stick with Disney thanks mickey

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Thanks for the report Eeyore. Not beach goers here either. Disney does it for us!

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We live in Florida and couldn't care less about going to the beach. But IMO, if you go to the beach in Florida, the keys are a wonderful choice.

I love your Stella so much. She is stunning! I Love Danes. I worked with a family(as their Nanny) and they got a Dane puppy that I trained and took care of for two years. I miss the dog more than the kids laugh

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Universal

As I stated above, we literally decided to go to Universal during our keys week. We were supposed to check out of our rental on Saturday, but we decided to leave Friday morning and head to Orlando. Because this was so last minute, I had to quickly find a hotel, buy tickets, and find somewhere for Stella to go during the day.

If we did not have the dog, we would've stayed at one of Universal's resorts - specifically the Lowe's Portofino Resort. It is so pretty from the outside! After a few minutes of searching, I discovered the LaQuinta accepts dogs. The LaQuinta was across the street from Universal Orlando Resort and within walking distance. We visited IOA in 2012 and stayed at the DoubleTree across the street as well. I was familiar with the area and knew it would be safe and close! We got an awesome rate of $79 per night. The rooms were newly renovated and the floors were pergola. This was nice in case the dog had an accident. It also did not smell like a pet room because there was no carpet. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. They even had a complimentary breakfast including scrambled eggs, bacon, coffee, muffins, waffles, cereal, etc.

We left the keys on Friday around 2:00PM and drove to Orlando. We hit several cash only tolls on the Turnpike, which I totally forgot existed because the route we drive to Disney does not require any tolls. We ran into terrible weather and traffic. A 5 hour drive quickly turned into 6. We were going to try and hit Downtown Disney when we arrived and checked in, but it was storming terribly in Orlando and between the traffic and the dog, we decided just to order takeout from Friday's and stay in the room.

Luckily, Universal has a pet kennel on site located in the "Jaws" parking garage. On Saturday, we got up early and started walking towards Universal around 8AM. From our hotel to the pet kennel was almost 2 miles. It did not feel that long, but boy was it hot and humid. We quickly remembered why we will never plan a Disney trip during August! laugh I did call the kennel ahead of time and had our dog's vaccination record faxed over. We got to the kennel and I was very, very impressed. Stella was there with three other dogs all day. It was only $15 to board all day from 9AM until 2AM the next day. The only bad part is that they do not "walk" your dog, they recommend you come back and some point and walk them. Because Stella is a big girl, she stayed in a large cabin that was 7x5. She had her bed and toys.

The kennel ceiling tiles with doggie paws! silly

k

This took a little longer than we anticipated so we made our way towards the entrance of City Walk. We had to go through the checked bag entrance. I REALLY tried to not carry a bag, but I did not have anything to wear with pockets that I could keep my phone, debit card, ID, etc. in for rides. My husband was already carrying his items in his cargo shorts. I just settled for carrying my little Dooney cross body bag. It is actually small, but we still had to put it into a locker for certain rides.

We walked into Universal around 9:30AM. The park opened at 9AM, so we were not too late. I have not visited Universal since I was around 10 years old so it felt very new to me. There had been quite a few changes that I was excited to see! Of course I was most excited about Harry Potter! We only had one day to visit the park so we only purchased one day park tickets. This meant we could not ride Hogwart's Express, but I did not feel the extra $47 pp was worth it to ride the train because I knew we would not have time to do everything in both parks.

Once walking in I was greeted with this view:

Nothing really iconic like Disney parks! mickey

I felt like a first timer - we had to get a map and try to figure out what to do first. We also did not purchase the Express Pass. We thought about it, but decided to check ride times and if it were crazy, we would upgrade.

More in next post!!

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I interrupt this program for cute Stella vacation pictures!

But, I AM a lap dog!!

This is how I nap in the car...

My "bed" during vacation...

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Awww, she's adorable! Especially love the last photo.

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JanJ wrote:
Awww, she's adorable! Especially love the last photo.

Thank you!!

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I could not even imagine sitting on a beach for ONE day LOL. I am not a sand or ocean person and the heat, well, it is not my friend. The keys have never been a high priority for me (except for the Key Lime Pie) but maybe some day just to say we went...

Your pup is BEAUTIFUL!!!! and the nap picture OH MY CUTENESS!!!!

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I'm not a beach person either. I love Stella.

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Couldn't do seven days at a beach either, but Key West does sound nice for a short trip. Stella is lovely, and she looks mighty comfortable on her trip!

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I have not yet been to the Keys, my grandparents used to love staying down there and doing Disney though. You sound like you are a bit of a history buff (I am too) I would highly suggest. St. Augustine, FL. When I was younger my grandparents were DVC members so I went to FL regularly and my gram doesn't fly so we always drove the long trip for NH to FL. But one time we stopped in St. Augustine for two days, where my grandpa met us (truck driver) before going to Disney.
I really loved it! There is so much history there and so many things to do and see that are not "beachy". Also if you are into ghosts it is super haunted. They had Haunted night tours and such as well. Me and my gramps did the lighthouse which was a lot of stairs but it was awesome! And we did a day tour that was one ticket price but included accesses to tons of stuff. Plus at the time we went it was around Christmas time and the whole town was covered in white lights.

The highlight was, the Lightner Musuem and Flagler's college. I was so amazed by it that I wanted to go to Flagler college because it was so.....cool, but as I got older it wasn't what I wanted to go to school for. I was in my freshman or sophomore year of high school at this time. I had a blast and I have always wanted to go back. Just a suggestion for the future.

And Stella is beautiful!!! muchlove muchlove muchlove

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As soon as we arrived, we headed towards "Hollywood". We checked out times for the shows we wanted to see.

Of course, I had to stop and say hi to Stella's cousin, Scooby-Doo!

Nothing was really open in "Hollywood" so we proceeded on to "Production Central" and hopped in line for Transformers. We waited maybe 15 minutes - not bad at all. I thought the queue was well done. The ride itself was neat - very similar to Spiderman in IOA, but a few new touches and upgrades. It was not completely mind blowing or anything.

We then moved over to "Twister" and it was just as lame as it was when I was 10. They should seriously replace this "experience".

We attempted Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket and the wait was over 60 minutes so we decided to come back later, which was a huge mistake.

We headed over to Men in Black and got in the single rider line. I figured this ride was similar to Buzz Lightyear and I did not want to or have time to wait 50 minutes to ride it. It was pretty good - better than Buzz, but nothing like Toy Story Mania!

My DH is a huge Simpsons fan and eating a certified Krusty Burger was on our list! As other people have stated, Disney should consider stealing Universal's idea on quick service lunch seating. When you walk in, they do not allow you to get a table. You must order your food first, then after paying they have a CM find an available table and walk you to your seat. Even though it was crowded, we never waited for a table. The Krusty burger was excellent and even included "Special Sauce".

It most certainly did not disappoint. It was not too terribly priced either. I think we both had lunch for around $30. After lunch, we headed towards Diagon Alley! biggrin This was the most exciting part! Once we got to the entrance, we were so confused as to how to actually get in there....and then we walked around the brick entrance and all I can say is WOW. awesome

I was completely blown away and shocked. I was impressed with Hogsmeade, but this was on a new level. I truly felt like I was walking in a Harry Potter movie. There is just so much to look at, see, smell, etc. It was almost overstimulating. I could see spending almost an entire day just in this section of the park.

Our first stop was butter beer! Oh, I love butter beer! It was the perfect after lunch snack! We walked around and took in the sights while drinking our butter beer and then we got in line for HP and the Escape from Gringotts. I will say this ride queue tops anything at Disney. It was very, very well done. The attention to detail was impeccable. Of course, I had to check my bag so I do not have any photos of this at all. I only had one problem with this queue. At one point, a large group of people come out of a room and are required to squeeze into a a single/double file. (Think Haunted Mansion stretching room exit to the doom buggy) It was chaotic and cramped and of course people are inconsiderate and push and shove. There also was not a CM there monitoring, which shocked me. Once we got to the ride itself, I was impressed. This ride is designed with new technology and Disney has nothing to match it. It was very cool and kept you on your toes. I still think The Forbidden Journey is a better ride though. I was impressed with the ride, but I actually found another ride that topped this one!!

A few pics:

Of course we tried to visit all of the shops! I did not really expect to buy anything, but once we wandered into Ollivanders, it was all over! My DH truly felt I needed this stuff for my office....he insisted I get a wand. We only felt it appropriate that I buy Professor Dumbledore's wand, considering the purpose of this trip.

Wand Shopping

My wand

After buying the wand, my husband started picking out other "necessities" for my office, including these gems:

A HP quill with ink. It is a very cool desk accessory and I purchased the black ink. It does write well, but it requires a dip after four or five letters. It does look very fancy when used for signatures. It was a nice touch. The book is a blank notebook for notes. My DH thought it complimented the quill well.

As if I needed more things, the last item is a wax seal with the initial of my last name. We purchased wax as well to accompany. I just used this for quite a few thank you notes and it is awesome!!! I love it!

More coming up tomorrow! wink

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Thank you to everyone for your sweet comments on Stella! She is a doll.

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Great report Eeyore! Would like to hit the keys sometime and also HS just to check it out (haven't been there in over 20 years).

Dang, your dog is HUGE. LOL. How tall is she when she "stands up"? Looks like she's as tall as person.

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Love Love Love Stella! She is gorgeous!

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Love the trip report! Stella is the cutest. muchlove

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After wandering through Daigon Ally, we went back out to ride Rip Ride Rocket. As we were walking there it started pouring..... sarcastic Typical Orlando summer afternoon. Of course they closed the ride due to weather so we practically ran to The Mummy. By the time we got there, we were soaked, but it was fine. We were on vacation having fun and I refuse to pay $19.99 for a glorified garbage bag to keep me from getting wet.

The Mummy attraction is by far the best ride at US. In my opinion, Disney has nothing like it and it was incredible. I love riding a ride for the first time because you have no idea what to expect. We scored front row seats and it did not disappoint. This is ride is similar to the new HP ride, but I think this one is better. It def. has the wow factor. We ended up coming back again at closing to ride it again!

Then we headed over to the Beetle Juice show and well this show is wheelchair .....O.L.D. We stayed for about 15 minutes and could not handle anymore so we left. I was so relieved last week to learn it will be replaced with the Fast and Furious Ride.

We headed to E.T. and muchlove . I hope this ride stays forever. I know it's very very old, but it is just so classic and cute!

We then ate dinner at Finnegan's Bar and Grill. It's an American-Irish Pub. It was a table service meal and it did not disappoint. Food was good and it was nice to be out of the rain and in the AC. I was somewhat disappointed with dining selections. US only has a few table service restaurants available. We really enjoyed ourselves!

Afterwards we headed to the Simpson Ride. This ride was previously Back to the Future, which my husband was devastated to learn was gone. He did buy some memorabilia for our movie room though. It was actually a very good ride. I was pleasantly surprised. At this point, it was time for a snack. I heard Lard Lad's had these awesome HUGE doughnuts that were to die for. We went on the hunt and they were all sold out. It was literally pouring and my DH stood in line for 20 min only to be disappointed. We sat for a while and saw the next batch of fresh doughnuts be delivered! We finally got one! All I can saw it WOW...it was so awesome and it was literally huge. We only ate about 1/2 and ended up trashing the rest. So rich, but so so good!

Of course, we had to get Flaming Moe!! What a cool drink!

By this time it was around 7ish and still pouring! All of the outdoor rides were closed. We were never able to ride Rip Ride Rocket. I was so mad!! I quickly got over it and we hit several shops on our way out. I got a few Christmas ornaments and the DH got a Back to the Future t-shirt and other items. We also purchased a piece of the film reel from The Godfather. My DH was extremely excited about that!

We left around 9PM and walked back to the kennel to pick up Stella. She was very happy to see us! clapping

Overall, it was a great day and we had a blast! I def. think it's a Disney add-on when you vacation. We decided we would not travel to Orlando just for the Universal Parks, but with the new attractions they are adding in the next few years, it will be tough not to visit.

That's it! Hope you enjoyed this quick little TR. Hopefully next year either West Coast/DL will happen or Alaska! awesome

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AnnielovesDisney wrote:
We live in Florida and couldn't care less about going to the beach. But IMO, if you go to the beach in Florida, the keys are a wonderful choice.

I love your Stella so much. She is stunning! I Love Danes. I worked with a family(as their Nanny) and they got a Dane puppy that I trained and took care of for two years. I miss the dog more than the kids laugh

Thank you!

JMed wrote:
I could not even imagine sitting on a beach for ONE day LOL. I am not a sand or ocean person and the heat, well, it is not my friend. The keys have never been a high priority for me (except for the Key Lime Pie) but maybe some day just to say we went...

Your pup is BEAUTIFUL!!!! and the nap picture OH MY CUTENESS!!!!

It was hard! haha Thanks!

JoAnn C wrote:
I'm not a beach person either. I love Stella.

Thanks!

jtownpluto wrote:
Couldn't do seven days at a beach either, but Key West does sound nice for a short trip. Stella is lovely, and she looks mighty comfortable on her trip!

It was nice for a few days, but you don't need much more than that! Thank you!

FutureMrsHurst wrote:
I have not yet been to the Keys, my grandparents used to love staying down there and doing Disney though. You sound like you are a bit of a history buff (I am too) I would highly suggest. St. Augustine, FL. When I was younger my grandparents were DVC members so I went to FL regularly and my gram doesn't fly so we always drove the long trip for NH to FL. But one time we stopped in St. Augustine for two days, where my grandpa met us (truck driver) before going to Disney.
I really loved it! There is so much history there and so many things to do and see that are not "beachy". Also if you are into ghosts it is super haunted. They had Haunted night tours and such as well. Me and my gramps did the lighthouse which was a lot of stairs but it was awesome! And we did a day tour that was one ticket price but included accesses to tons of stuff. Plus at the time we went it was around Christmas time and the whole town was covered in white lights.

The highlight was, the Lightner Musuem and Flagler's college. I was so amazed by it that I wanted to go to Flagler college because it was so.....cool, but as I got older it wasn't what I wanted to go to school for. I was in my freshman or sophomore year of high school at this time. I had a blast and I have always wanted to go back. Just a suggestion for the future.

And Stella is beautiful!!! muchlove muchlove muchlove

My cousin went to school for the blind there and loved it. While we've driven through, we've never stopped. Sounds like a lovely place to visit! Thank you for the information!

And thanks about Stella!

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KenJ wrote:
Great report Eeyore! Would like to hit the keys sometime and also HS just to check it out (haven't been there in over 20 years).

Dang, your dog is HUGE. LOL. How tall is she when she "stands up"? Looks like she's as tall as person.

Well, she just turned 8 months old and she is almost 90lbs. She is almost as tall as me when standing and I am 5'10. Our last Dane was about 135-140lbs and very tall. I think Stella will be the same. You should def. visit US/IOA if you haven't been in that long. It was so different from what I remember!

Kris1971 wrote:
Love Love Love Stella! She is gorgeous!

Thank you!

jhugo wrote:
Love the trip report! Stella is the cutest. muchlove

Thank you!