If you traveled to Universal Studios Florida recently you may have noticed some big additions to the property with Volcano Bay and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. You’ve also may have heard of a new thrill ride coming to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. Here is what you need to know about each of them.

Let’s start right off with the big news about a new thrill ride coming to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. Universal is billing this a new type of “highly-themed” coaster experience. It will replace the Dragon Challenge coaster and is said to take storytelling on a roller coaster to a new level. Speculation is this may be themed around the new Harry Potter Franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Little information has been given but some believe this will be a fast thrill ride that is well themed like no other coaster in the world. Creating a story and theming a roller coaster is a difficult task due to the nature of the ride but Universal has done a tremendous job with their current 4D Potter rides in bringing both thrills and an incredible sensory element of the movie to the ride. Like many of Universal’s rides this one looks like it will be geared toward thrill seekers which is a common theme from the company as it contrasts what Disney has to offer.

Universals-Volcano-Bay

Next, let’s take a look at the highlights of the recently completed Volcano Bay. This is more than just a water park it’s a theme park with water! Just a short walk from Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal is billing this as a third gate. It has all the great amenities of a water park such as the lazy river, pools, water slides and places to enjoy the sun but it also has some thrill slides that are in line with Universal’s coasters in the other parks. Take a 125 feet plunge down a 70 degree drop through on Ko’kiri Body Plunge or travel down the iconic volcano on Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides where two people stand on trap doors that open plunging the riders down clear interwinding tubes into a pool. The park still has some kinks to work out but Universal is hoping this will put them on the map along side Disney’s two big water parks.

Finally, let’s take a look at the highly anticipated Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. Once entering the building which looks like the actual entrance to The Tonight Show in New York, riders will go through a pre-show hosted by Jimmy and his gang. It’s well done and sets the stage for the simulation ride on the Jimmy’s Tonight Rider. Riders join Jimmy as he travels through the studio, around New York’s big attractions and through some crazy coaster like 3D experiences. If you are a fan of the show, New York or 3D simulation rides you will definitely enjoy this new ride.

On April 6, 2017, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon officially opened at Universal Orlando Resort. Hundreds of fans and Universal characters joined Jimmy Fallon in celebrating the opening with a ticker tape parade and ribbon cutting of epic proportions. The new attraction gives guests the ultimate “Tonight Show” experience and gets them up close and personal with the show’s most hilarious segments before taking off on an action-packed race through New York against Jimmy Fallon himself. More info is available at UniversalOrlando.com. © 2017 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved.
On April 6, 2017, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon officially opened at Universal Orlando Resort. Hundreds of fans and Universal characters joined Jimmy Fallon in celebrating the opening with a ticker tape parade and ribbon cutting of epic proportions.
The new attraction gives guests the ultimate “Tonight Show” experience and gets them up close and personal with the show’s most hilarious segments before taking off on an action-packed race through New York against Jimmy Fallon himself. More info is available at UniversalOrlando.com.
© 2017 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved.

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist.

 

 

A Transportation Construction Update

If you’ve been to Walt Disney World lately you’ve noticed Disney is making major transportation changes to the property. This is great news for guests visiting. Most of the visible improvements and changes are near and around Disney Springs and Disney’s Hollywood Studios but from the looks of it Disney may be looking to change the way guests move from their resort to the parks.

Disney Springs

Construction UpdateLet’s start with Disney Springs! This congested area of Disney World was often a place where traffic led to frustrating times for those traveling by car and bus. The improvements made to the roads and parking at Disney Springs are massive and now make the trek to this shopping and restaurant district far more pleasant. It started with the large parking garages that now make it easy to walk to your Disney Spring destination. Disney took the parking garages a step further by making easy access from the I-4 and Buena Vista Drive and creating dedicated bus lanes giving guests who rely on Disney transportation a faster route.

Hollywood Studios

Looking Hollywood Studios you can see construction near Osceola Parkway where plans include a new car entrance to the park. This entrance will ease traffic on Buena Vista Drive and allow the larger Osceola Parkway to absorb much of the heavy traffic when Star Wars Land opens in 2019. Similar to Disney Springs, there will be dedicated entrance right off Osceola Parkway. That means less stop lights and better traffic flow. Thank you, Disney!

Magic Kingdom

Construction UpdateThere has also been an improvement to the Magic Kingdom toll booth. The traffic plans released by Disney look to show a separation for those going to the Monorail loop resorts and those going to The Magic Kingdom parking lot. This should ease traffic and congestion getting to these locations and help with bus traffic.

More News!

Between Disney Springs and Hollywood Studios, work is being done at the interchange of Epcot Center Drive and Buena Vista Drive. This work looks to again help relieve congestion on Buena Vista Drive and make a quicker route for cars and busses.

Construction Update

Looking to the future, there speculation regarding a gondola type transportation method from Art of Animation, Pop Century and Caribbean Beach to Hollywood Studios and Epcot. There is little information to ensure this possible idea. However, it would have major impact on guests traveling from these three resorts. There are thousands of rooms at the three resorts, and this would give an alternative option to driving or busing. It clears up a lot of traffic in and around these resorts and Hollywood Studios and Epcot. We will have to wait and see!

 

The overall theme here is that Disney is taking transportation seriously and this looks to be a great end result for guests who will be able to get where they are going quicker and with less frustration.

Ready to visit the MAGIC again?! Contact a Me and the Mouse agent, today! We would love to help plan your next Disney {or Universal} destination vacation!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

If you haven’t stopped by Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the past few months then, you have haven’t noticed the big changes occurring in and around the park. With the addition of Star Wars and Toy Story lands, the park is undergoing extensive work. These two new themed lands will add approximately 20 acres to the park {& a LOT of extra fun}! We are so excited to see and experience the new extensions that will be happening in Florida. Here is an update of where things currently stand. P.S. You should get EXCITED!!

Starting inside the park and with the Star Wars addition, the Streets of America along with the backlot and car stunt show are no longer. A few buildings remain along the street but outside of that not much is there. There are mounds of dirt and the start of new ride buildings gearing up for the opening in 2019. Toy Story land is also under way with a planned opening in 2018, this section of the park will start near Toy Story Mania and circle around eventually to the Star Wars land. This should make a large loop around the park. 

 

There have been very few released details about each of the two lands and access inside of these construction areas are off limits for obvious reasons. However, there is a lot of information regarding the outside of the park including parking and the new entrance. Hollywood Studios has always had the smallest parking lot and has experienced issues lately with access off of Buena Vista Drive. That is all changing. {Wahoo!!} They are expecting a huge influx of attendance projected in the next two years. Disney has decided to add a new driving entrance that will be located off of Osceola Parkway. (See attached road drawings submitted by Disney)

Star Wars LandStar Wars Land

There will be a new interchange near Victory Way and Osceola at the ESPN Wide World of Sports entrance. This interchange will guide cards into the parking lot from an entire new direction. The parking lot is getting upgraded to accommodate the high traffic. By the looks of aerial photos the parking lot will nearly double in capacity with a private lot for Cast Members. Speculation is there will be a private bus route in the park too, limited entrance to guest cars only.

Star Wars Land

As you can see, work is moving along quickly at the Studios. In the coming months, I will post another update as much will be completed this summer and further details. Star Wars and Toy Story lands are expected to be announced at the D23 conference in Anaheim in July. Stay tuned!

You don’t have to wait until Star Wars and Toy Story lands are opened to the public to visit Disney World! Contact a Me and The Mouse agent today to book your trip to a Disney Destination!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

The Animal Kingdom Lodge SavannahDuring my time as a Cast Member at Walt Disney World, I had a role that allowed me to work in a different resort or park each day. It was great for many reasons, but I especially enjoyed my days at the resorts. I was able to become incredibly familiar with each resort and talk to the guests that visited and stayed at them. I can truly say I think they all have great features in their own way. However, there is one resort that I can say is my favorite: Animal Kingdom Lodge! The resort has many features that I absolutely love, but today, I will tell you three things that I separate it from any other resort on property. Here is why Animal Kingdom Lodge is the top of my list.

 

Location 

Some people will say it’s far away from the other parks, and I respond to that with “that is why I love it!” As a frequent guest to Disney World, I love this feature. After spending the day in the parks, I love traveling back to the resort. I feel as though, I’m being transported to tranquil destination away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Disney World. When you step off the bus, you are surrounded by tall trees and plants. These types of vegetation are not seen anywhere on property! You hear nothing but crickets and the ambient music of the resort it is instantly relaxing. 

 

The Lobby

Animal Kingdom Lodge LobbyThere are incredible lobbies at Disney resorts, but I believe there is nothing like the one at Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is grand in a way that no others can compare. It rarely feels crowded, is set up wonderfully and smells incredible! Yes, I said smells incredible! That is because Boma, the buffet located near the lobby, is cooking up amazing wood fired dishes and the aroma feels the air. The lobby and corridors also offer an extensive collection of African art. You can easily spend hours looking at and reading about the deep African history. This space is truly unique, and it is a great fit for the safari lover in your family!

 

The View

The View at the Animal Kingdom Lodge looking at the SavannahThe view is where the resort really shines. There are multiple areas to view the savannah and animals that roam the resort. I’ve spent an hours sitting in rocking chair just taking in the sights of giraffes, zebras and other animals. Even if you aren’t into animal sight seeing, the view is peaceful and relaxing. The pool is another area that provides a special visual experience. It’s surrounded by the beautiful architecture of the resorts and greenery. It feels as if it’s an African oasis. There are incredible savannah viewing points, just steps away from the pool. However, I think the best view in the resort is actually one you can book! When you book a room that overlooks the savannah, the view is absolutely incredible. I have enjoyed this amazing view on my own visits, and I always look forward to it! 

 

If you’re looking for a memorable and magical experience on your next Disney World vacation, I would gladly recommend the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Ready to book? Contact a Me and The Mouse agent, today!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

Growing up in Western Nebraska, we took yearly trips to South Dakota or Colorado. I remember going on these vacations during my elementary school years. It was during my 5th grade year, my parents made the vacation decision that forever changed my life – a trip to Disneyland! This is the story of why that trip changed my life as a child and as an adult.

Disneyland changed my life!

We had never gone a trip of such magnitude. I remember going to our local travel agent with my mom and seeing that sticker of Mickey Mouse on the window that said “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.” As a child I thought to myself “wow, this is really happening!” After taking home a stack of Disneyland brochures and a few weeks of planning, we settled on our hotel and our tickets.

 

It was almost a year a way, but I was excited as if we were leaving the next day. I remember looking at those brochures every day and counting down until we left. I mapped out the park, the lands, the rides and the routes we were going to take to get around. At this time, my only perspective of a Disney park was seeing them on the Disney Channel.

 

After months of anticipation, we were ready to leave. My family and I were driving to California, and it was an adventure that rivaled that of Clark Griswold’s Walley World pilgrimage! {That is an entire story in itself.}

 

Fast forward to arriving in Anaheim. We drive down Katella Avenue and make the turn and there it is-the famous Disneyland sign. We made it! After a sleepless night, we park and make our way to the same gates that Walt Disney himself entered. It was a like a dream seeing the Mickey Mouse head flower garden and the train station then Main Street U.S.A. We made our way around the park: seeing, riding and eating! 

Disneyland changed my life!

Let me get to the part that changed my life. We were on the monorail and there is a place near Tomorrowland that when you look close you can see backstage. I remember this like it was yesterday. I proclaimed to my family “someday I want to work for Disney.” It was my childhood moment when I said I want to grow up and do this. And guess what? I did grow up and I did work for Disney, and it changed my life. I worked at Walt Disney World, traveled as a Cast Member to Disney headquarters in Burbank, walked Walt’s studio, held the first ticket to Disneyland, met with Imagineers, created magical memories, and bettered my career.
All of this started with a visit to the travel agent in Gering Nebraska and a stack of brochures. I ran into that same travel agent a year ago. She is now retired, but told me, “I remember how excited you were when I gave you those brochures! You were glowing with excitement.”


If you are ready to experience Disneyland for the first time, contact a Me and The Mouse agent today!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

Sweet, Savory and Scrumptious

Walt Disney World is full of amazing food. From full to quick service the options are endless. Today, I want to spend a little time on my favorite treats. Before I go any further, I first need to define what a treat is to me. When I’m on vacation anything I eat outside a meal is a treat and I like my treats! So anything from ice cream to a pretzel to a bratwurst is in my opinion, a treat! This blog post is for all of you food lovers out there, enjoy! Best Disney World Treats

Let’s start with the sweet treats! What may be the most famous refreshing dessert at Disney World is the Dole Whip. It can be found at the Polynesian Resort and in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom. The Dole Whip is a cool creamy pineapple ice cream type dessert. I lean toward the float in which the Dole Whip is surrounded by pineapple juice! {Can I just say, #heavenly!} Staying in the Magic Kingdom, let’s next travel to Gaston’s Tavern. Here you will find a LeFou’s Brew which is an amazing slushy type drink that I can only describe as fruity and butterscotchy! You must get a warm cinnamon roll to go with your LeFou’s Brew.  This warm and delectable treat is anything but small and is certainly full of flavor!

Next it’s the savory treats! At Germany in Epcot, you will find a little stop next to the buffet entrance where you can pick up a German bratwurst covered in sauerkraut and paired with paprika chips. To most this is a meal but to me it’s often just a snack! You can top it with mustard and sit in one of the tables next to the shops. You will feel like you are in Germany! My next savory treat can be found at Disney Springs. It’s poutine! I didn’t really know what that was until I tried it at Disney. It’s big combination of french fries, cheese curds and gravy! It’s a yummy carb filled treat that again is more of a meal, but again I call it a snack!

Best Disney World TreatsFinally, it’s the scrumptious treats! What is a scrumptious treat you ask? Well, it’s the treats that I couldn’t fit into the other categories. I start with one of my all time favorite beers. For this, we again travel to Germany. At the front, you can find an amazing pretzel cart! There will find the Schöfferhofer Pink Grapefruit Hefeweizen. A refreshing light beer with a grapefruit twist! My other scrumptious treats are beer at Italy, beer at the United Kingdom, beer at Canada and well I think you get the point! Epcot is a beer lovers dream!

So that is my favorite Disney World treats! Well actually, it was only a few as it would take about 10 blogs to list all my favorite treats! If you are looking for some different options or in need of more suggestions, contact a Me and The Mouse agent today!

 

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

Days at Sea – Part 2

This is the second part of my blog posting “To Cruise Or Not To Cruise?” This post is meant to help those who have never cruised but are intrigued with the idea of going on one. Part one of this post on the advantages of cruising. {You can read about that, here!} Today, will focus on what to do on sea days or for the cruise novice when you are not at port at a destination.

 Top Five Things to do on Sea Days! Is Cruising for me?

  1. Relax You are on a cruise in the middle of the Caribbean so enjoy the beauty. I usually get balcony rooms and on sea days I enjoy ordering room service for breakfast and enjoy the vast ocean and its peacefulness. If you don’t have a balcony that is ok to. Grab a bite to eat and take it to one of the decks and enjoy the same view. It’s also a great time to relax by the pool in a lounge chair soaking up the sun.
  2. Explore Is Cruising for me?Cruise ships today have so much to do that I enjoy walking the ship and finding little surprises. The last cruise I was on I stumbled upon a little known deck at the front of the ship and reenacted the scene from Titanic! It’s also a great time to see which places on the ship are busier than others. You may find a nice place to read a book or enjoy a drink that is quiet and relaxing.
  3. Eat Cruising is about enjoying a lot of great food. Sea days are a great time to do that. It is true that the restaurants are busier on sea days but I’ve found going at non-peak times isn’t all that bad. It’s also a great time to try different restaurants. You may want to grab a sandwich from one place, an appetizer from another and then finish with dessert at a third location. You may eat a lot but going back to point number two if you explore and walk around you will burn those calories off! {Well, maybe not all of them, but who’s counting!}
  4. Entertainment Is Cruising for me?There is always something going on during sea days, including Broadway musicals, movies, and live entertainment! If you want something low key you can take a cupcake decorating class, play bingo, try miniature golf, zip line or take part in trivia contest. There is literally something for everyone. Children can take part in volleyball tournaments, video game contest or meeting their favorite character.
  5. Spa This may be one of the best options on a sea day. Get a massage, skin treatment, steam bath or choose from dozens of other options. I’ve done spa treatments I would never get at home. They have great couples’ options too for those who want to have a relaxing hour together. They often offer sales on days at port, but if those days are full then stop by the spa on a sea day.

 

I hope first time cruisers now have a better understanding of why you should give a cruising a try! I also hope this blog has shown you what you can do on your day at sea. Be sure to check my future blog posts for what do at port and figuring out what excursion to take!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

That is the Question – Part 1

This time of year I get many people say “I’m want to go somewhere warm!” I reply with the one thing I love more than any other vacation and that is a Caribbean cruise! There reaction is one of three replies. Love em, hate em, and the most common answer I get is “It sounds fun but what do your really do on a boat all day?” That is when my ears perk up! Watch out, I’m about to tell you what you can do a cruise all day. Is Cruising for me?

Living in Nebraska I find a lot people haven’t cruised before, so not know what cruises are all about is very common. Here is my breakdown of what I think are the advantages of cruising.

  1. It is the most relaxing week of my year. I board the ship, turn off my phone and put it in the safe, wait for the ship to debark and next thing I know I’m in the middle of the expansive and beautiful ocean. You feel as if you are a world away from the one you left. 
  2. I eat, then I eat, then I get ice cream, then I eat, then I get dessert then a midnight snack. I don’t know about you, but vacationing is a time that I can say “NO” to watching what I eat. From amazing restaurants to classic buffets to room service with breakfast on your balcony – the food is part of the experience. For those who aren’t into the endless smorgasbord, many ships are offering healthy food restaurants. These restaurants serve endless fruits, quinoa and delicious steamed fish.
    Is Cruising for me?
  3. Amazing entertainment awaits around every corner. I’ve been on Disney and Royal Caribbean cruises and both have world class shows. Disney Cruise Line brings to life live action shows featuring your favorite Disney characters set in a beautiful broadway style theater. On Royal Caribbean ships, you can catch shows such as Cats, Chicago and and line up of original performances made just for the cruise. 
  4. It’s a kids dream! Children of all ages have a huge variety of entertainment and activity choices. From clubs just for the little ones to teen lounges, your kids will never say “I’m bored”. I tell parents it’s the ultimate vacation. They can relax by the pool while their kids are in supervised areas having fun doing what they want to do! 
  5. Different destinations every morning without packing a suitcase? That to me is the best part of cruising. I can wake up to a view in the middle of the ocean one day and the next touring Jamaica. Everyday is a truly a different day. I get to experience the best of the Caribbean in one week!

Is Cruising for me?Yes, cruising might not be for everyone but I think it should get a close look when booking your next vacation. You might end up like me – a Cuisy!!

This is part one of my “To Cruise Or Not To Cruise” blog. I will follow up with a Day at Sea! I will guide you through what I do when my ship is not at a port for the day.

 

 

If you are interested in cruising, be sure to contact a Me and The Mouse agent! Let us take the stress out of planning your next adventure!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

A former Cast Members guide for first time Disney guest

After working for Walt Disney World for nearly five years I’ve seen a lot of overwhelmed faces from first time Disney guests. So the question is how not get overwhelmed by all that Disney World has to offer. I’ve compiled my list of things that may help a first time guest to vacation capital of the world. Much of what will help keep you from getting overwhelmed can be done before you even get on the plane.

 

Tips for First Time Disney Guest

  1. Get familiar with what Disney World has to offer ahead of time. Disney has many resources to help families prepare for their first visit. Research Disney World’s website and explore the 27,000 acres the resort covers. What I found helpful before I ever worked at Disney was talk with someone who knows the lay of the land. In this case that would be myself and others on the Me and the Mouse Team:)
  2. Prioritize what you want to do. It’s a huge place and you will never do it all in one visit. I’ve helped first time families by asking a lot of questions like what do the kids like and then combining that with their ages I can help create a pretty good vacation strategy. First Time at Disney
  3. There is a lot to eat! Get a grip on the dining plan if you are going to purchase it. Know the restaurants and their features. Ask the question “do I want something in the parks or at resort?” Find out what characters at what restaurants too. You don’t want to miss Mickey! Also, don’t think that Disney Quick Service is just hot dogs and hamburgers because it is so much more now. Look at menus on Disney World’s website.
  4. A FastPass is a family’s best friend! Your Me and the Mouse vacation planner can give you the ins and outs of this great time saver. The FastPass system allows you to bypass the line and get more done on your vacation.
  5. Have your Me and the Mouse vacation planner send you a Disney ebrochure that is customized to your vacation. This is a great piece that is visual and will give you a good look at what is to come.
  6. Ask lots of questions. While planning your vacation ask questions and then when you arrive ask any Disney Cast Member for help. Cast Members are your guides while on vacation. They can assist with directions, getting dining reservations and almost anything. While I was a Cast Member, I helped a family who had their luggage misplaced by the airline. We were able to get their vacation started on the right foot by providing them with the essentials until their luggage was found. So don’t ever hesitate asking a Cast Member.

 

And of course all of us at Me and the Mouse are here to help! Ask your questions and we will do our best to help your family have the best possible first time vacation to the Magic Kingdom!

 

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

 

 

I’m a Disney purists. I love the history, the films and of course the theme parks! I think no one does it as well as Disney. With that said, two years ago, I had the opportunity to get a private look at Universal Studios and especially Harry Potter areas of the parks. What I found was a bit surprising and amazing. Universal Studios vs Disney

As a child I had visited Universal Hollywood. I grew up watching Nickelodeon on TV and it was great seeing the shows and rides that were featured. I remember the original Back to the Future ride and the backstage tour it was great but on that same trip I also went to Disneyland. To me, Disneyland is the center of all theme parks. It’s where it all started so at the time there was no comparing the two. Disney outmatched Universal – period.

Fast forward a bunch of years. I visit Universal Studios Florida. It’s okay but no Disney World. It has some great roller coasters at Islands of Adventure and some shows but I was like “ehhh it’s ok.” Now fast forward few more years after The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens and what can I say now – WOW! It changed everything. I said something I never thought I would. “I’ve never seen something like this at a Disney park.” It’s beautifully done, well designed and incredible. That is all being said from a person, who at the time, had never seen a Harry Potter movie! Universal Studios vs Disney

The folks at Universal have done a great job transforming that park. It’s a full fledged resort with hotels, great food, shopping and world class rides. I will say their rides, in my opinion, tilt toward older children but it is still a great family destination. I think it’s worth exploring one or two days or even staying at one of their resorts.

What I wanted to point out in this blog is that I’m a person who absolutely loves Disney – my white blood cells are in the shape of Mickey Mouse! Disney will always be the best in my eyes but I also think the park a few miles down the interstate is pretty good. Check it out and see for yourself and for those of you like me let’s just keep it to ourselves and not tell Mickey! 😉

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

P.S. All of the Me and The Mouse agents are specialized in Universal vacations. If you would like to add a day at Universal don’t forget to contact your agent!