I'M GOING TO...Universal? TRIP REPORT!

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crazycatperson's picture
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I'M GOING TO...Universal? TRIP REPORT!

My sister and her family are HUGE Harry Potter fans, so they adore Universal Islands of Adventure. I spent a day at each of the Universal parks with them back in November 2011, but hubby wasn't able to go because of work.

Sis and family are going back this April and invited us to come along. After a bunch of not sures/what ifs, they booked their trip, and after a little more of the same we decided what the heck, we'll go and give hubby a chance to see those other parks. He's never been to either one.

So we're going to Orlando, but won't visit any of the Disney major parks (which would be unbearable if we hadn't just been there last October). In addition to three days at the Universal parks with sis and family, we'll have two days just the two of us doing Downtown Disney, water parks, and Disney Quest on some old no-expiration tickets that have no more major park days but plenty of minor park visits. Of course we'll make some ADRs for non-park restaurants; where will depend on what's available just two months out.

Any other non-park Disney suggestions?

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So this is what we have so far:

Saturday: Arrive, check in to non-Disney timeshare, dinner ADR at Boma.

Sunday: Disney water park if the weather's nice (or Downtown Disney/Disney Quest if it isn't), counter service lunch (at the water park, meh), dinner ADR at Cape May Cafe.

Monday-Wednesday: Universal parks. No definite lunch/dinner plans yet, although we'll probably hit the Harry Potter-themed counter service place at least once, since I know sister's family loved it.

Thursday: Downtown Disney/Disney Quest (or a water park if the weather was bad Sunday), counter service lunch (gonna try for Earl of Sandwich), dinner ADR at Kouzzina.

Friday: check out and head for home.

Of course, the really popular WDW table-service restaurants were all booked at this late date. But I think we'll be happy with what we have. We've never been to Cape May Cafe and haven't done Kouzzina since back when it was Spoodles, so it will be interesting/nice to try a couple of new places.

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I've always wanted to try dinner at Cape May: we're doing all in-park dining this trip since it's a shorter one, but it's definitely on my list for a future trip!! Awesome that you were able to get an ADR for Boma, too, since i know that one can be popular!! I'm sure you'll have a great time--I really like Universal, especially Islands of Adventure. No, it's definitely not Disney, but you'll still get your Disney fix with the resorts & minor parks.

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Our Sunday plans need to change - I just found out sister and family will arrive sunday MORNING. I assume we'll hang out with them in the late morning/afternoon and then split up when they check into their hotel later in the day. So our Cape May ressies might be okay. The water park will probably have to be done Thursday, with Downtown Disney fit in where we can. But you're right, Kat, we'll still get a nice little taste of the magic even without going to any of the major Disney parks.

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Kouzzina is delicious! I'm a big fan of EoS as well. We've eaten in a number of the restaurants in DTD all pretty tasty.
The three broomsticks in IoA was tasty however it's crowded and loud. I don't recall eating a sitdown in UniStu. We've eaten at a few places at City walk which was fine.
Have a great time biggrin

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How fun! I think it sounds like a good plan so far.

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Hey, a little Disney is better then no Disney! yay We enjoyed the counter service in WWoHP, the fish and chips were quite tasty.

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I cancelled the Sunday evening ADR at Cape May Cafe and added 11:00 a.m. Sunday breakfast at Chef Mickey's. We've never eaten there before, so it should be fun even if the place is crawling with over-excited sugared-rushing children. I was amazed by the availability of reservations at several character breakfasts; I guess that's due to the fact that spring break season will be over but summer vacation season won't have started yet.

So now the days when we won't be visiting a Universal park look more like this:

Sunday: breakfast at Chef Mickey's, hang out with sis & family, possible visit to Downtown Disney/Disney Quest, possible dinner at Earl of Sandwich.

Thursday: Disney water park (weather permitting), dinner at Kouzzina, possible visit to Downtown Disney/Disney Quest.

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Sounds like a fab trip! We love universal (though obviously not as much as disney Wink )

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A question: we've never visited any of the MK resorts by car, and it looks like you have to go through the MK gate to visit them. How do you get through without having to pay the MK parking fee?

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You just tell them the resort that you're going to. Stick to a right hand lane when you get to the gate Smile

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The one with all the birthdays Oct 14 4 Big Birthdays and a Vow Renewal thrown in
The OMG trip June 14 30th Birthday present from the hubs
Girly trip March 14 A last min cheapy week
September 13 our first all DVC stay
TR May 2013 the last min bargain trip offsite
Oct 2012 TR with a cruise!big family trip featuring the beach club, AKL, the dream and a villa offsite
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Like Robyn said stay to the far right when you go to the gate and stay to the right lane and go straight.

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Thanks, sounds easy enough.

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Less than a month to go, and I am just not feeling the excitement the way I would if this were an all-Disney trip. The Universal parks are just not that interesting for me since I can't handle thrill rides, and that's most of their rides. And the thought of being so close to the Disney parks without visiting any of them (besides water parks and DisneyQuest) is starting to gnaw at me.

I'm trying to decide whether it would be worth it to spend nearly $100 per person for single-day park tickets so we can visit at least one of them. I could probably sell hubby on the expense if I tell him Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival will be running while we're there. What would you do?

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I would go to Epcot if I could swing it money-wise. I agree there is nothing worse than being that close to WDW.....well you get it.

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crazycatperson wrote:
Less than a month to go, and I am just not feeling the excitement the way I would if this were an all-Disney trip. The Universal parks are just not that interesting for me since I can't handle thrill rides, and that's most of their rides. And the thought of being so close to the Disney parks without visiting any of them (besides water parks and DisneyQuest) is starting to gnaw at me.

I'm trying to decide whether it would be worth it to spend nearly $100 per person for single-day park tickets so we can visit at least one of them. I could probably sell hubby on the expense if I tell him Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival will be running while we're there. What would you do?

I vote heck yes! Especially with the Flower and Garden food booths they have this year!

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Talked with hubby; he says it's up to me, but if we do spend a day at a WDW major park, he wants Epcot for the Flower and Garden Festival. (The new marketplace food booths are a plus.) Epcot is fine with me; I'm dying to visit the revamped Test Track and suck down some more Beverly. biggrin

I'm inclined to wait till we get there to buy tickets in case I decide the water parks, Downtown Disney, and resort dining are enough of a Disney fix. Single-day base tickets are $89 online. Does anyone know if they're more expensive at the gate? If it's just a few dollars' difference I would still wait; if it's more I might buy tickets now.

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They are the same at the resort. You can obviously buy them at the parks, but when I did a 2 nighter at Disney on a business trip, I was able to buy the ticket at check in and just add it to my Key To The World.

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Thanks, JMUDukz (guess I know where you went to college, huh?).

So here is our latest plan for Disney days during our Universal vacation.

Saturday: arrive, dinner at Boma.

Sunday: Blizzard Beach (weather permitting, Downtown Disney if it's raining), counter service lunch, dinner at Cape May Cafe (new ADR). Cancelled the Chef Mickey's breakfast ADR so we can go to Blizzard Beach as early as possible.

Monday-Wednesday: Universal parks with sister and family, no detailed plans so far (more on that in a bit).

Thursday: Character breakfast at Cape May Cafe (new ADR), Downtown Disney (Blizzard Beach if it rained Sunday, the Cape May ADR is early enough to do both), dinner at Kouzzina. If I decide I can't let the week pass without visiting Epcot, we'll go there Thursday immediately after the Cape May breakfast ADR, cancel the Kouzzina dinner ADR, and skip Downtown Disney.

Friday: head for home.

The reason our Universal days are completely unscheduled, and why it's taken me this long to fully nail down the plans for our Disney days - sister and her family don't schedule. At all. Of course this was making me a little nervous - like most of you, when I plan a Disney vacation I have my days scheduled and my ADRs made well in advance of the trip. Sis and her crew will show up in Orlando and, each morning, decide what they want to do, and take their chances on where they're going to eat. (I guess this is easier to do at the Universal parks.) I've burned emails to them presenting my tentative schedule and asking about their plans so I can synch mine up with theirs, and...nothing. With less than a month to go, I decided I needed to nail down the Disney days to make sure hubby and I got to do everything we want to do Disney-wise.

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Sounds like a good tenative plan! How frustrating to not be able to nail down your itinerary, though!

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Brief backstory so you don't have to scroll back to the beginning:

Sister and her family are HUUUUGE Harry Potter fans and love Universal Islands of Adventure. They made plans to go back this spring, invited us to join them, we said what the heck, it ain't Disney World but it will still be fun. Because it's mostly Universal we're staying at a non-Disney timeshare resort.

Hubby has never been to Universal, so that will be new for him. He loves thrill rides, so I think he'll enjoy the parks. I have motion sickness issues, so there isn't a whole lot at Universal that I can handle. I'd rather go to WDW, but the point of this trip is to hang out with sis and family. Fortunately we have some Disney fun included so I can get my Disney fix.

Now that the trip is just a week away, sis and family have gotten into planning mode and we have a pretty firm itinerary:

Saturday: hubby and I arrive, dinner ADR at Boma.

Sunday: sis and family arrive, we all go to Blizzard Beach (Downtown Disney if it rains), no firm dinner plans (cancelled Cape May ADR because I wasn't sure we'd have time to get back to the timeshare from Blizzard Beach, shower and change clothes, and get back to WDW and the Beach Club in time for our 7:00 ADR). Might cook in, might eat at an off-property restaurant.

Monday: Islands of Adventure, counter service lunch, ADR for all of us at Ohana.

Tuesday: Universal Studios, counter service lunch, dinner probably cooked in at the timeshare.

Wednesday: Islands of Adventure, counter service lunch, dinner probably cooked in at the timeshare.

Thursday: Cape May Cafe breakfast ADR for hubby and me, then we meet sis and family at Downtown Disney (Blizzard Beach if it rained Sunday). Sis and family leave late afternoon, hubby and I have a dinner ADR at Kouzzina.

Friday: hubby and I head for home.

And then I start planning our next REAL Disney vacation.

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Glad to hear you were finally able to nail down an exact itinerary! So you did decide on Ohana....did your vegan family member change her mind?

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Yes, we're doing Ohana Monday evening. My vegan niece was outvoted by her mother (my sister). This dinner is supposed to be for sis and BIL's anniversary, so sis got the final vote. She did tell her daughter there would be no hard feelings if she preferred not to come along, but daughter chose to come anyway.

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It sounds like a great trip for not being a "true" Disney trip--I think you'll have enough in there to get a good taste of Disney (though obviously not as much as you're used to). I think hopefully you'll be able to find some things for you at Universal--my mom doesn't like thrill rides either but when we went she enjoyed much of the themeing, especially in the Seuss Landing area of IOA, and she still had a good time Smile And you're right, it's much easier to play it by ear at Universal than Disney--we've never had itineraries while going to Universal and our days there have ended up fine!!

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And we're back! Just got in this evening. So without further ado, here is the trip report!

Day 1 - Arrival Day. In the past we've always flown out of/into major airports. This time around, we checked the local airport, Harrisburg International (Pennsylvania), which qualifies as "international" only because of flights to Toronto. This airport is SMALL. Standing in the center of the airport, within the length of a football field I had the daily parking garage behind me, the ticket counters to my right, baggage claim to my left, and the nearest gates in front of me. Lines were all but nonexistant, even at security. Our airline's ticket counter wasn't open when we arrived - it was staffed only two hours prior to a flight. I think they have a total of twelve gates, all just a short walk from security. And visible from large windows at the end of the gate area, just beyond the end of the runway? Three Mile Island's cooling towers. No, I am not joking.

The flight was a little bumpy, but otherwise uneventful and on time. We flew into Sanford, which is larger than Harrisburg but still nowhere near as large as the airports we've used in the past (like Orlando, for example). Because of this, we got from the gate to baggage claim to the car rental counter and on the road in a matter of minutes.

This time we stayed at a timeshare off International Drive, which I can't recommend and won't name. (Just a few lowlights - the place showed its age and wasn't very well maintained. We had an in-unit washer/dryer, but I discovered the dryer didn't work at about 11:00 p.m. and had to hang my laundry from shower rods, coat hangers, and patio chairs to get it dry. We were supposed to get a midweek housekeeping visit to replenish consumables, change towels, remove trash and make beds, but the housekeeper left no new soaps or paper products, ignored the beds in the second bedroom, and removed a few used towels but didn't provide replacements.) We won't go back to that place. But we didn't know most of that when we checked in.

Dinner that night was at Boma, one of our favorite Disney restaurants. We arrived a good 15 minutes early, checked in, and were seated almost immediately. I sampled a few different salads, roasted root vegetables, cous cous with fruit, Durban chicken, beef, pork ribs, and salmon. I didn't have much room for dessert but managed a zebra dome, Kenyan coffee tart, cinnamon chocolate mouse, and panna cotta. We both left stuffed but happy.

We had a bit of an adventure on our way back to the timeshare. As you all know, the Disney folks make finding your way around the property incredibly easy with all the signs pointing the way to whichever park or resort you want to visit. Finding your way out is another matter (hubby calls it a "mousetrap" - once you're in you can't get out). So we ended up taking a wrong turn and driving through the Epcot parking lot gates before we finally found our way off property.

Thanks to the delicious but overabundant Boma dinner and a loud party in a nearby unit (I think they were in a different building, but I could still hear them - and this is another black mark against the resort for not enforcing the 10:00 p.m. quiet time), I had trouble sleeping that night. I can tell you when the party finally broke up (past 2:00 a.m.) because I was still awake. But no problem, I was on vacation and could sleep in if I wanted to.

Oh, yes - on the front of the envelope containing the resort information, it said "Welcome Home." Who do they think they're kidding?

Coming on day 2 - my sister and her family arrive.

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Before I move on to Day 2, I forgot to mention the bed at our resort. Kristen, you would've loved it. It was much too soft for me, and the pillows (six on our bed alone, and as many more for the second bedroom and sleeper sofa) were huge and fluffy. I hated them

Day 2 - In spite of not sleeping well, I was up by 9:00 a.m. The relatives joined us before noon. And our plans immediately changed.

The family consisted of my sister, Lynn; her husband, Scott; her daughter, Kat; Kat's boyfriend/roommate, Ben; and everyone's housemate, Tim. All of them were operating on no more than four hours' sleep, and the 20-somethings got none at all, so our original plans to do Blizzard Beach got postponed till Thursday, which was just as well since the weather forecast for Thursday was better than Sunday. Their hotel rooms weren't ready, so most of them crashed at our timeshare for a couple of hours while Tim, hubby, and I went to Downtown Disney. We mostly strolled around, peeked into a shop or two, and braved the long line at Earl of Sandwich because I was determined to eat there this trip. And I have to say I would stand in that line again without any hesitation. I got the club sandwich (without the cheese), and while I can't say it was the best sandwich I've ever had (that would be any of several choices from the triple-digit menu at Roy's Place in Gaithersburg, Maryland, http://www.roysplacerestaurant.net/), it was awesome. EOS will be a must-visit on all future trips to WDW.

After lunch we headed back to the timeshare to rouse everyone from their naps, then it was back to Downtown Disney for a few hours at Disney Quest. This is probably the reason I made it through the trip without feeling cheated out of a real Disney World experience. Disney Quest ain't Magic Kingdom, but it is a lot of fun, and the Pirates of the Caribbean - Battle for Buccaneer Gold VR attraction easily makes my top 10 WDW attractions. Groups of up to five people man their own pirate ships and battle other pirates (and ghosts) for pirate treasure. Very interactive. Because we were seven people, we had to split into two groups. My group of three (Scott, Tim, and I) chose a ghost pilot so we could all man the cannons and made it to the second-highest ranking, Kings of the Caribbean. Dan's group (Dan, Lynn, Kat, and Ben) had Lynn as their pilot, and they made the top ranking, Masters of the High Seas! Dan and I had never done that well before, so I was quite proud of them.

The others did most of the other Disney Quest attractions while I stood by or played video games (motion sickness makes most VR rides impossible for me). If you've never visited Disney Quest and have the water parks and more option on your WDW pass, I highly recommend spending an evening there.

After Disney Quest the relatives checked into their hotel, then we all met up at a grocery store to pick up food for dinner back in the timeshare kitchen. This was more of a production than I'd anticipated - planning meals for seven people ain't easy, especially when one is vegan, another is Paleo, and everyone has their own particular likes and dislikes. By the time we'd shopped and cooked, dinner ended up being past 10:00 p.m. and I confess I was not looking forward to future evenings of cooking in.

Dan and I inherited a roommate that evening. The relatives had been told they could get a rollaway bed in one of their rooms for Tim, but when they checked in learned that it would cost extra. Since we had a second bedroom and bathroom, we had no problem with letting Tim use it to save them a little money.

Coming on day 3 - Universal Studios, our Ohana reservation, and a huge change of plans.

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Great report, crazycat! "The relatives" are cracking me up. It would be totally the keystone cops with all 4 of my adult kids on a trip. I think not. Just sayin'. mickey

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While playing video games at Disney Quest, I passed by a child's fire truck ride and commented that there was no way I could get into it.

Challenge accepted!

This is my BIL Scott after he successfully wedged himself into the thing.

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Kristen K.'s picture
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Welcome home, good to read your report so far.

I am so sorry that the IDrive timeshare you stayed in was not so great.

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Really enjoying your report Jan Smile sad that your timeshare wasn't up to much though Sad I'm with you re the motion sickness, at disney quest I managed to raft rude and that was it, I was too scared to try anything else in case I was sick Sad

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Our Very Merry 24 nighter Nov/Dec 15
Watson's go West May 15
The one with all the birthdays Oct 14 4 Big Birthdays and a Vow Renewal thrown in
The OMG trip June 14 30th Birthday present from the hubs
Girly trip March 14 A last min cheapy week
September 13 our first all DVC stay
TR May 2013 the last min bargain trip offsite
Oct 2012 TR with a cruise!big family trip featuring the beach club, AKL, the dream and a villa offsite
TR on a budget May - June 2011offsite condo
TR Sept - Oct 2010 big family trip in an offsite villa

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I tried the raft ride once and had to close my eyes halfway through because it was making me queasy.

But IMO most people with motion sickness issues would be able to handle the POC Battle for Buccaneer Gold ride. So give it a try if you visit Disney Quest on your next visit.