Handle the Crowds Like a Pro
& Experience All Pandora Offers!

Pandora: The World of AvatarWhether you loved the movie, hated it or have no clue what it’s even about, Pandora: The World of Avatar is a “must experience” land. All Disney guests should be sure to visit it during their vacation.  The breathtaking scenery, attractions, food and merchandise are bringing in guests by the millions, which means you better go with a plan!  After attending the grand opening of this new land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, here are some tips to be able to experience all it has to offer.

Tip #1

Plan on going during the Extra Magic Morning Hours at Animal Kingdom.  Since the hours are for resort-guests only, you will have the least crowded hour in the park before it opens to all guests. This will be one of your best times to visit the World of Avatar. If you are taking Disney transportation, plan on being on the very first bus, which departs the resort 45 minutes prior to park opening.

Tip #2

Reserve your Fastpasses 60 days out from your check in date if you are staying at a Disney Resort Hotel.  Since there are two options for Fastpasses in this land and you can only pick one to Fastpass, I recommend Avatar Flight of Passage.  This ride has had wait times up to five hours since opening, so having a Fastpass for this attraction is like having a golden ticket.  If you have a morning Fastpass reserved for this ride, go ahead and get in the standby line for the Na’vi River Journey.  If you are there for the Extra Magic Hours, you will not wait in this line for more than 20 minutes.  Pandora: The World of Avatar

Tip #3

Explore! Once you have ridden the two attraction in this land, take the time to explore and take photos.  Never have I ever felt a part of a movie like I have here.  Every detail is carefully crafted and more than worth exploring.  

Tip #4

Find the Photopass Photographers!  The photo opportunities in this land are countless and one is more amazing than the next.  You can get a standard shot of your family with the floating mountains in the background and you can even get magic shots featuring flying Banshees and other characters native to this land.  Use your My Disney Experience app to locate photographers and make sure you purchase Memory Maker so you can download all of your photos. Pandora: The World of Avatar

Tip #5

Head over to the Situ’li Canteen to get some much-needed sustenance after a busy morning exploring this other world.  With create-your-own rice bowls and other healthy alternatives, the Situ’li Canteen is a great place to take a break and have a meal or a snack before heading back to Earth. You can read more about the Canteen, HERE! The World of Avatar has several tasty places you can try, but we love Situ’li!

 

For more information or to book your Walt Disney World vacation complete with a trip to Pandora, contact a Me and the Mouse Travel agent today!

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

Leaky Cauldron - Universal StudiosIf you are like most Universal Orlando guests, you start your morning by running to the back of Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure to beat the crowds to see all of the Harry Potter attractions.  After some playing, you are bound to feel hungry.  Good news!  You can continue to feel the magic of the Wizarding World with meals and snacks inspired by the series.
On the Universal Studios side, immerse yourself in London, get all of your Wizarding supplies and grab a meal at the Leaky Cauldron.  This restaurant serves breakfast,  lunch and dinner in the setting of the famous pub right out of the movies.   I prefer to grab breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron just after my ride on the Escape From Gringotts and before heading over to Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express.  On the Islands of Adventure side, head over to Three Broomsticks from some traditional English fare.  The ordering stations are laid out to look just like you are checking in as a guest of this famous inn.  This restaurant does a fabulous job of immersing guests into the movie while they enjoy a tasty meal.

 

Do I need to make reservations?

Leaky Cauldron - Universal StudiosNo!  Both of these restaurants are considered counter service locations so simply decide when you want to eat, walk up and order.  Prices range from a reasonable $9.99-$16.99 or 1 counter service credit on the Universal Dining Plan.  Both of these restaurants are pretty busy all day, but don’t let a line deter you.  They move people very quickly and there is always room to sit.

 

Leaky Cauldron - Universal Studios

If you are having way too much fun to take time to sit and eat, but still want to experience some Harry Potter treats, there are plenty of options.  If Butterbeer is what you crave, there are plenty of Butterbeer carts in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley served regular, frozen or my personal favorite, Butterbeer ice cream.  If you want a more magical snack to take home as a souvenir, visit Honeydukes in Hogsmeade.  You can fill your own bag of Bertie Bott’s, take home some Butterbeer fudge or surprise your friends with some Exploding Bon Bons!

 

Leaky Cauldron - Universal StudiosUniversal does an excellent job of immersing guests in the magic of Harry Potter.  Eating like a wizard here is a magical experience for both adults and kids.

 

For more information about Universal or to book your vacation, please contact a Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist. We are highly trained in both Universal and Disney destinations, and we would love to assist you!

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

Loews Royal Pacific at Universal Orlandoulie4Staying “on property” at Universal Orlando definitely has its perks, but what you might not expect is the high quality of their hotels.  I had the pleasure of staying at Loews Royal Pacific during my last visit and had one of my most enjoyable hotel stays to date in Orlando.

Loews Royal Pacific is a tropical, “South Pacific” themed resort just tenths of a mile away from the entrance of Islands of Adventure.  While you are just walking distance away from Universal Studios, you feel a surprising sense of peace and relaxation in this gorgeous resort hotel. Room types include water view and garden view rooms available with one king bed or two queens at 335 square feet as well as suites, including the popular Jurassic Park kids’ suites. Loews Royal Pacific at Universal OrlandoThese rooms provide an incredibly comfortable night’s rest so you are refreshed and ready for Early Entry to the Wizarding World the next day!

 

If you are looking for recreation and amenities, Royal Pacific offers some of the very best in the area.  The center piece of this resort is the huge lagoon-style pool with two hot tubs and an interactive water play area for little ones.  When you aren’t at the parks, you can take part in poolside activities such as ping pong, hula hoop contests, arts and crafts and poolside “Dive-In Movies” after dark.   If you aren’t too exhausted from enjoying your day in the parks, there is 5,000 square foot fitness center complimentary to guests.

 

Loews Royal Pacific at Universal Orlando

Another huge draw to this resort is the variety of shopping and dining located within the resort.  With two large Universal gift shops located within the hotel, all the souvenirs and items you may have left at home are at your fingertips.  You are also sure to never go hungry with a variety of restaurants located throughout the hotel.  Emeril’s Tchoup Chop, featuring Asian Fusion food, and Islands Dining Room for breakfast with some of my favorite Universal friends are some of the most enjoyable meals I have ever had in the Orlando area and are all very reasonably priced.

 

Loews Royal Pacific at Universal OrlandoWith any Universal Orlando resort stay, guests are treated to exclusive advantages to make the most of your time in the theme parks.  Guests can enjoy complimentary transportation to and from the parks and City Walk via boat, early entry into the Wizarding World and free Universal Express Pass for every member of your party.  Extras like these make this resort an excellent value that your whole family will be sure to enjoy!

 

To book a Universal package or hotel stay at Loews Royal Pacific, please contact your Me & the Mouse Travel Specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

A Multicultural Treat for the Senses

Food and Garden Festival at Epcot in 2017Epcot is in full bloom every spring during my favorite time of year: The Epcot Flower and Garden Festival!  From now until May 29, guests from all over the world can experience the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Epcot in this sense-indulging experience.

 

Epcot is never more beautiful than during the Flower and Garden Festival.  Character topiaries not only greet you at the park entrance, but can be found all over Future World and World Showcase.  Food and Garden Festival at Epcot in 2017Fan favorites like Mickey and Minnie, Cinderella and Prince Charming, Anna and Elsa and many more are arranged beautifully with various plants and flowers.  My personal favorite is the Beauty and the Beast display in France.  Not only do they look gorgeous, but the aroma is every bit as tantalizing.  There are more than 100 topiaries all over Epcot, making for some wonderful photo opportunities.

Tip: Make sure you purchase Memory Maker if you are visiting Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival.  Not only will the Photopass photographers take wonderful pictures of your family with these beautiful backgrounds or even do a Magic Shot or two, but the stock photos that you can download from your Memory Maker of the character topiaries are fabulous quality! Food and Garden Festival at Epcot in 2017

 

Like the Food and Wine Festival, one of the highlights of the Flower and Garden Festival are the outdoor kitchens.  There are 15 outdoor kitchen booths located throughout Epcot specializing in small plate samples, desserts and alcoholic beverages.  The outdoor kitchens range in offerings from “farm fresh” to French, Chinese, Moroccan and other international cuisine.  The Frushi (fruit sushi) in Japan is a popular favorite for guests every year.  Who can say no to fresh pineapple, strawberries and melon rolled with raspberry coconut rice with a side of whipped cream for dipping?

Food and Garden Festival at Epcot in 2017Tip: Add a Disney Dining Plan to your package and use your snack credits for treats from the various outdoor kitchens.  With food prices at $5-$6 per item, it is a wonderful way to use your snack credits!

 

Also during this time, Epcot is rockin’ with the Garden Rocks Concert Series.  During the Flower and Garden Festival, guests can enjoy free concerts at the America Pavilion in World Showcase.  Some of this year’s acts include the Plain White Ts, Pointer Sisters, Gin Blossoms, Little River Band and many more.

Tip: Add a Garden Rocks Dining Package to one of 15 different table service restaurants located in Epcot for guaranteed seating.  Food and Garden Festival at Epcot in 2017

 
If you are visiting Walt Disney World in the spring, Epcot s an absolute must do.  Alive with color, tasty cuisine and music, there is not a more beautiful time to visit. If you would like to visit the Epcot Flower and Garden festival, contact a Me and The Mouse agent today.

 

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

Are you ready for some Muggle Magic?

Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of the most immersive and impressive themed lands ever created.  It is no wonder that this area is very popular and always crowded.  In order to get the most out of the Wizarding World with the least amount of hassle, you must go in with a plan.  By following the steps below, you are sure to experience all that your Muggle heart desires without the aggravation of lines, crowds and excessive waiting.

 

Step 1 – Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Park 

Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Escape from Gringotts!

Congratulations!  You’ve been accepted into Hogwarts so now you must pick up all of your supplies.  Stepping into Diagon Alley is like stepping into the movie.  Never have I experienced such a feeling of being a part of the story.  You will want to spend some time here experiencing all of its beauty.  Do the attractions in the following order to get the most out of your time here:

  • Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts
  • Purchase your interactive wand from Ollivanders and if you are lucky, your wand will choose you!  Interact and cast spells all over Diagon Alley. (Read more about the Wand Ceremony, HERE!)
  • Grab breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron before catching the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade.

 

Step 2 – Arrive in Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure Park 

Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Hogsmeade

You’ve made it to Hogsmeade and now you are ready to become a wizard!  Stepping off the Hogwarts Express, pause and take it all in.  The snow-topped buildings with the awe-inspiring Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will be like heaven for muggles so make sure you get plenty of photos!  Explore Hogsmeade in the following order to make the most of your time:

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Compete in the Triwizard tournament in Dragon Challenge (Use your Express Pass)
  • Hop on board a Hippogriff in Flight of the Hippogriff (Use your Express Pass)
  • Interact throughout Hogsmeade with your wand
  • Have lunch at Three Broomsticks (Learn more about Universal’s Dining Plan, HERE!)
  • Grab a Butterbeer from one of the carts: regular, frozen or ice cream. Wizarding World of Harry Potter

 

Other tips and tricks to make the most of your visit to the Wizarding World 

  • Stay at a Universal on-site hotel to get early entry into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  For an even more convenient experience, add Universal Express Pass to your tickets or Unlimited Express Pass free with your stay at one of the three premier Universal resort properties.
  • Make sure you have a Park-To-Park Ticket to be able to ride the Hogwarts Express between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Whether you are a Harry Potter fan or not, you are sure to fall in love with this area of the Universal theme parks.  Take your time, tour with patience and enjoy your journey into this magical world. For more information or to book your Universal Orlando vacation, contact your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

 

A Universal Orlando Character Dine Review

Character Dining at Universal If you want to see characters on your next Universal Orlando vacation, avoid the long lines for character meet and greets and enjoy breakfast with some of your favorite friends.  Often overlooked is the character breakfast at Islands Dining Room located at Loews Royal Pacific Resort. {Read more about this incredible resort, here.} This breakfast has wonderful character interaction and a wide variety of breakfast foods all for a great value.

Every Sunday morning Islands Dining Room comes alive with characters from The Simpsons, Despicable Me, Hop and more while guests enjoy an all-you-can eat breakfast buffet.  Each character visits your table for photos, autographs and meaningful interactions.  Unlike many other character meals, I found the character breakfast at Islands to be peaceful, low key and very relaxing. Character Dining at Universal

Included in the buffet are many breakfast favorites like scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, waffles, pastries and an omelet station.  While nothing on the buffet is particularly original, I felt the quality, variety and taste were all excellent.  There is truly something for everyone, even the pickiest eaters.

I also really enjoyed the environment and the feel of this restaurant.  Islands is a beautiful, tropically-themed restaurant with views of lush tropical plants and the and  South Pacific-inspired décor.  It is easy to kick back, relax and forget you are just walking distance from the hustle and bustle of City Walk, Universal Studios-Florida and Islands of Adventures. Character Dining at Universal

The character breakfast at Islands Dining Room is offered only on Sundays between 7am-12pm.  At $26.99 per adult and $14.99 per child, this is an excellent value for an all-you-can-eat character breakfast.   During the off season, it is fairly easy to walk up and be seated within 10 minutes, however, reservations are recommended.  To reserve your breakfast at Islands, please contact your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

Holidays at UniversalWhen you think of Christmas in Orlando, most people immediately think of Cinderella’s Castle decked out in gorgeous lights or the giant gingerbread house on display at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.  Lesser known, but very impressive, are the celebrations and special events at Universal Studios.  With the Macy’s Holiday Parade, Grinchmas and the Manheim Steamroller live in concert, guests are sure to get in the holiday spirit.

During the month of December, the streets of Universal Studios come alive with the floats, balloons, bands and dancers of the Macy’s Holiday Parade.  The parade happens daily at 5pm on the Universal Studios side of the park, kicking off in the New York area.  Spectators will need to reserve a spot no later than 4pm.  The best place to view the parade is New York Street across from the Mummy attraction.  Holidays at Universal

The Manheim Steamroller concert is also a big draw to Universal Orlando during the Christmas Season.  This concert takes place exclusively on weekends at 7pm on Hollywood Street on the Universal Studios park side.  This concert lights up the street with classic Christmas music and stage effects sure to put you in the Christmas Spirit.  To view this concert, it is best to start finding seats no later than 5:30pm.

Holidays at UniversalAt Islands of Adventure, Seuss fans can enjoy the story of Grinchmas.  Located near Circus McGurks, this indoor show blends acting, music and other theatrical elements to tell the story of the beloved Grinch.  The show takes place 6-8 times daily during the holiday season.

 

 

Holidays at UniversalEach of these special holiday events are free with park admissions.  For more information, or to book a Universal holiday vacation, please contact your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

Loews Sapphire FallsAn exciting, new resort opened on Universal Orlando property in July 2016.  Loews Sapphire Falls is a beautiful resort conveniently located one mile from the entrance of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.  Full of lush Caribbean scenery and breathtaking waterfalls, this resort hotel is sure to make you feel like you are in a relaxing tropical paradise, not in the middle of a theme park.

Walking in to the lobby of this resort was very impressive.  The spacious lobby is decked out with a giant beach ball chandelier. You can also see a view of Islands of Adventure from the windows. The check in process was absolutely flawless. The desk staff was extremely friendly and efficient.   It took only 10 minutes from check-in to being in my room!

Loews Sapphire FallsMy room had two queen beds and a standard view. However, I still had a great view of the water surrounding the resort.  Each room comes equipped with a Keurig coffee maker, flat screen television and mini refrigerator. The room was very clean. I loved the decor. The decorations are a stunning sapphire blue, white and tan matching but not overkilling the Caribbean beach theme.  I personally love the separated toilet and shower from the sink and vanity area. This helps families trying to get ready to go to the parks in the morning.

Loews Sapphire FallsOne of my favorite amenities at this resort is the huge pool area.  The 16,000 foot is the largest pool on Universal property, includes a waterslide, hot tub area and plenty of lounge chairs to accommodate the guests.  Around the pool, there are also several outdoor games, ping pong tables, a large screen for movies at the pool and an indoor fitness center.

The Sapphire Falls Resort offers several restaurant options inside.  First, the Dutch Trading Company is the quick service/grab and go option.  You will find quick service food as well as a Coke Freestyle Machine with the option of purchasing a refillable resort mug.  Amatista’s and Strong Water Tavern are also available if you are in the mood for a table service meal. Loews Sapphire Falls
Like all Universal Orlando resort hotels, Sapphire Falls offers benefits for staying on-site.  The complimentary water taxi will take guests direct to the parks and City Walk.   As a guest of Sapphire Falls, you are also eligible for early morning entry into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Overall, I was very impressed with my stay at Sapphire Falls.  It is truly a moderately-priced resort with the feel of a deluxe.  For more information, or to book this resort for your Universal Orlando vacation, contact your Me and the Mouse Travel specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

Universal Quick Serve DiningTo get a dining plan or not is one of the greatest debates families have when planning a theme park vacation.  A dining plan can save money, add convenience and provide flexibility for a family visiting Universal  Parks.  After spending a day on the Universal Quick Service Dining plan, I can easily see how this is a great option for families.

  • It’s a great value: On the quick service plan, adults pay $21.99 per day and receive one counter service meal with non-alcoholic beverage,  a snack and an additional non-alcoholic beverage. This can save guests as much as 30% on dining.
  • It’s flexible: Guests can purchase this dining plan for one day or all days of their vacation.  The plan can also be purchased for only some of your travel party. It can even be added the day they are in the park.  For example, two teens traveling with parents can have the quick service dining plan. At the same time, their parents can be on their own for dining. This a great perk for kids exploring the parks on their own.  Universal Quick Serve Dining
  • Wide Selections:  Quick service dining options are available at over 100 restaurants in Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure and Universal City Walk.  With a huge selection, each person will find a meal or a snack well-suited to their tastes.  Even the popular Harry Potter-themed restaurants, Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks, are available on the Quick Service Dining Plan.
  • Anyone can get it:  To be eligible to purchase the Quick Service Dining Plan, you can be a Universal Orlando Resort guest, or a day guest staying off property.  Anyone in the parks can take advantage of this plan.  Universal Quick Serve Dining

*     Credits don’t expire:  If you have leftover credits you don’t use, hold on to them and bring them with your your next trip to the parks.

I found the Universal Quick Service Dining Plan to be very convenient and easy to use.  I added the refillable Coke Freestyle mug to my plan for an additional $6 for unlimited refills all day.  To add this plan to your Universal package, please contact your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

Sometimes it’s fun to shake things up, & we’re here to help!

If you are a Disney expert, chances are you are curious about visiting “the other parks” in Orlando.  Universal Parks and Resorts have probably piqued your interest, especially if you have a Harry Potter fan in your family.  If you are visiting Universal for the first time, you may expect it to feel the same as visiting Disney parks.  While there are some similarities, it can feel like a very different experience.
Universal Studios - What to expect

  • Parks:

    There are currently two theme parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.  It is only a 3-minute walk between the entrances, or guests can ride the Hogwarts Express between the two Harry Potter areas located in each park.

 

  • Tickets:

    Guests can purchase both single park tickets and park-to-park tickets. With the purchase of a single park ticket, the guest must choose one of the parks to visit all day and excludes visitors from riding the Hogwarts Express between the two parks.  A park-to-park ticket acts much like the Disney Park Hopper.  Guests with the park-to-park ticket can enter each park as many times as he or she wishes during the day.  68% of guests who purchase the single park ticket upgrade to the park-to-park ticket during their stay. Universal Studios - What to expect

 

  • Express Pass/Unlimited Express Pass:

    This is Universal’s answer to Disney’s FastPass service, but acts in a completely different way. Express Pass is an additional fee to add on to your ticket and allows the guest front-of-the-line access to each ride one time. Unlimited Express Pass can be added to your tickets for an additional fee for front-of-the-line access as many times as you want.  Guests do not need to schedule a time while using either of the Express Pass options.  Simply show up, show the ride attendant your Express Pass and proceed to the front of the line.

 

  • Attractions: Universal Studios - What to expect

    In general, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure attractions have a higher intensity than Disney.  Simulators and roller coasters dominate the park. There are a few Disney dark ride-style attractions scattered throughout. Universal Orlando is a fabulous destination for daredevils and adrenaline junkies.  If you aren’t a thrill seeker, there is still plenty to see and do with a vast array of shows, character experiences and less intense rides.

 

  • Resorts: Universal Studios - What to expect

    Like Disney, staying in an on-site resort property is a huge advantage. There are currently five Universal Resort hotels: Cabana Bay, Sapphire Falls, Royal Pacific, Hard Rock and Portofino Bay.  Staying at any of these resorts gives guests free transportation to and from the parks via shuttle buses and/or water taxi, as well as exclusive early entry into one of the parks.  If you choose to stay at Royal Pacific, Hard Rock or Portofino, guests also receive complimentary Universal Unlimited Express Pass for the length of your park tickets, which can be up to $89 per ticket per day.

 

For further clarification or to inquire about pricing, please contact your Me and the Mouse Specialist. All of the Me and The Mouse agents are highly educated in Universal parks and promotions.

Julie Stewart

Disney Vacation Planner