This past summer, Universal Orlando opened its gates to the most incredible and advanced water theme park I have ever seen.  It is no wonder this is a very popular (and very crowed) park! Here are three tips to enjoy your experience and dodge some of the crazy crowds.

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Tip #1 When Should I Get There? I have three very different recommendations on when to arrive to make sure you get in and not have to deal with horrible lines.  Your best bet is arrive at park opening and claim your chair at Waturi Beach.  This works even better if you are staying on site and eligible for Early Morning Hours.  You will be guaranteed entry and will have your choice of chairs and best view of the breathtaking volcano.  My second recommendation is after 4 pm.   Guests that have arrived in the morning are exhausted, sunburned and ready to leave, which means you will be walking into an empty park.  Similar to this strategy is a little more spontaneous, but very effective.  See a thunderstorm coming? If it is just one of those short Florida bursts, head over to Volcano Bay!  Most guests will not wait out the storm, and again, you will be walking into an empty park.

What to Avoid: Definitely do not try to arrive between 10-2 pm.  Since they have been closing park due to capacity, you would be risking being turned away at the gate.

Tip #2 – Use Tapu Tapu Wisely: IMG_0649Tapu Tapu is incredible technology launched by Universal to help you avoid standing in line for long periods of time.  You will receive your Tapu Tapu when you go through the entrance and feels like an Apple Watch.  To use, you will go to any of rides with a wait time listed and tap your band.  Your Tapu Tapu will buzz when it is time for you to ride.  To make the best use, go to the most popular ride in the park (Krakatau Aqua Coaster) and tap for your wait time, then go find rides with signs that say “Ride Now.” Tapu Tapu will hold your place in like for the Krakatau Aqua Coaster while you ride other lines, experience the lazy rivers, explore the caves or lay out on the beach.  While this doesn’t completely cut out standing in line, it does help you enjoy more during your day.

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What to Avoid: Don’t do a “Ride Now” without first tapping for one of the more popular rides.  Virtual lines fill up, too, and that can cause you to miss a ride you really want to do.   

 Tip #3 Lockers and Credit Cards: Right when you enter, test up your credit card to link your Tapu Tapu on the Universal Orlando app (you can pay for stuff with this, too with Taptu Pay!).  Next, take the path to the right to the very last lockers on the right hand side and rent a locker for the day.  These lockers will be the least crowded and in a more convenient location to the slides and restaurants.  Tapu Tapu actually controls your locker, too!

What to Avoid: Don’t go to the first locker area.  This is the most crowded and chaotic area of the entire park. 

To add Volcano Bay to your Universal package, contact your Me and the Mouse specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

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The relatively recent Fastpass Plus system is a great mystery to many Disney guests, even those who have been to Walt Disney World before.  Planning your Fastpasses too late, too spread out, or not doing them at all can completely derail your vacation.  Follow these tips to handle your Fastpass Plus reservations with minimal confusion and chaos so that your days in the parks go as smoothly as possible.

1) Stay on Disney property.   If you stay at a Disney resort hotel, you can make your fastpass reservations 60 days prior to your check in date for the duration of your vacation.  For offsite guests, the fastpass window will open up 30 days prior to your vacation and will require you to make fastpass reservations one day at a time.  If Frozen, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Avatar Flight of Passage are on your must-do list, you may be very disappointed if you don’t have a 30-day advantage by staying at a Disney resort hotel.

2)  Make your Fastpass Plus reservations for the mornings and as back to back as possible.  Once you use all three fastpasses, you have the ability to get more that day.  By having morning fastpasses, you are at way more of an advantage to get more throughout the day.  Since you have a one hour time frame for a fastpass reservation, make your reservations close together as possible.

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3) On your third fastpass reservation, get on your mobile app right after you scan your band.  While you wait to get on the ride, you can make great use of your time by immediately getting on your my Disney Experience app and securing your next fastpass.  For some of the less popular rides, you may be able to secure a Fastpass within the hour.

4) Use your Fastpasses on rides, not shows.  Whether you have a fastpass or not, you will still be waiting in the same line and the same amount of time for a show.   If Fantasmic, Rivers of Light, or the Festival of Fantasy Parade are on your must-do list, book a dining package instead.  Your seats will be better and you won’t be burning a fastpass.  Rides and absolutely must-see characters are the best use of your fastpass.

5) Make your Fastpass reservations for the rides that typically have the longest lines.  Do your research and check the wait times on your my Disney Experience app to see what rides have the longest lines.  Not only will you have short wait times for rides with longer lines, but rides with typically shorter wait times most likely have reservations you can make the day of (see tip #3).

Fastpass reservations can definitely be confusing for the Disney beginner, but if you use a Me and the Mouse Specialist, they will tailor your fastpasses to your family’s preferences so don’t forget to contact your agent!

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Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist.

Incredible Restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom ParkYak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom

One of the best tips for making the most of your time at Walt Disney World is to stay in the parks for your meals.  While there are many great table service selections in Epcot, Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, there are only a handful available in Animal Kingdom.  With the new Pandora expansion, more and more guests are wanting to spend time in Animal Kingdom so a table service meal inside the park is usually the best way to have a meal break without wasting time traveling to another part of Walt Disney World. I’m introducing you to one of my favorite spots to grab a bite to eat – Yak & Yeti!

 

Nestled in the Asia section of Animal Kingdom lies one of the most overlooked restaurants in all of Walt Disney World: The Yak & the Yeti. This restaurant is often overshadowded by Tusker House. However, this table service restaurants has one of the most diverse and delicious menus of any restaurant on property.  Since there are two Yak & Yeti locations within Animal Kingdom park {one table service and one counter service}, most guests think if you’ve experienced one, you have experience both, but that could not be further from the truth.  Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom

 

Walking into this gorgeous, two-story restaurant, you immediately feel engrossed in the culture of Asia.  The Asian art and artifacts in this environment get you prepped and ready for the amazing meal you are about to have.  Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom

 

We were seated in the quiet second story of the restaurant, and our friendly waiter greeted us! She offered several helpful suggestions!  Our tabled ordered the teriyaki chicken and the steak and coconut shrimp for our entrees and neither disappointed.  Both dishes had an Asian flair without being “too much” for the picky eater in your family.

Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom

The real star of the show at Yak & Yeti was dessert.  Our table ordered the chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and the fried wontons! The cake was great! However, I cannot imagine this meal without the fried wontons. They were sweet cream cheese filled wontons on skewers with fresh pineapple, drizzled with honey-vanilla yogurt, strawberries and a side of vanilla ice cream. I can say it was  absolutely heavenly and so refreshing. It made for the perfect treat on an unbearably hot day.  If you are dining at Yak and Yeti, you cannot miss the fried wontons.

Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom

The service and food were absolutely outstanding, but this meal is also a great value.  With prices ranging from $16 per plate, this is a great value if you are paying out of pocket.  Yak and Yeti is one credit on the Disney Dining Plan for one beverage, an entrée and a dessert.  Next time you are at Animal Kingdom, consider giving Yak and Yeti a try.  You will not regret it!

 

Ready to plan your trip to Animal Kingdom to try Yak and Yeti? Contact a Me and The Mouse agent today! We can’t wait for you to join the Me and The Mouse family!

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

 

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