Last April, Universal Orlando opened a new virtual ride that takes you from the audience of the Tonight Show, through the streets of New York, and even to the moon and back.  The Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon is hilariously entertaining and truly immersive in the Tonight Show theme.  From the Tonight Show memorabilia in the lobby, to the Ragtime Gals live performance, the meet and greet with Hashtag the Panda and throughout the ride, guests truly feel like they are personal guests of Jimmy Fallon.  For that reason, Race Through New York is a very popular attraction for guests, however, Universal jumped ahead of a potentially long wait and set up the Virtual Line Queue.

Who really goes to theme parks to wait in line? Disney and Universal have both made great strides in making a queue enjoyable and part of the attraction and the Race Through New York does a very good job of making the queue an experience, as well.  However, the new Virtual Line system makes this an even more efficient process.  Once a guest enters the Universal Studios park, the app is then able to connect with the Virtual Line system.  Much like Disney’s Fastpass Plus, guests are given several time options in hour-long increments.  Simply choose the time that you like best,  show up at the entrance in between the allotted time frame, open the app and allow the Universal team member to scan the barcode on your app.  You will be given a ticket of a specific color before you go in and start enjoying the many interactive pieces of the queue.  Once inside, the lights will change colors as an indicator to send guests to the next waiting area.  When the colors match your ticket, that’s your cue to move! 

Keep in mind that the best way to experience the most popular attractions is through the Universal Unlimited Express Pass.  If you stay at one of the three Premier Universal on-site hotels (Portofino, Hard Rock or Royal Pacific), the Universal Unlimited Express is added to your package at no additional charge.  However, if you don’t want to add any additional charges to your Universal package by adding the Express Pass, the Virtual Line is a great option.  At this time, Virtual Line is only available at Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon.

For more information on Universal Orlando or to book a package, please contact your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

 

In the last 40 years, Walt Disney World has been the reason that millions of families visit Orlando each year.  However, with the full Harry Potter experience and so many additions to Universal Orlando, many families want to do both, but don’t know where to start.  This can get very expensive and overwhelming if you haven’t done your research.

One of the questions I get asked most is “how much time do I need at Universal?”  Several factors do come into play here, but I generally recommend 3:1.  For people doing three days at Disney, add 1 day at Universal and for six days at Disney, add 2 days at Universal.  Of course recommendations can change based on your family’s individual preferences, but it is certainly a good place to start.

Another question asked frequently is “should we get tickets only or purchase a Universal package as an add on?” If you are planning one day at Universal, it might make the most financial sense to purchase the one-day ticket and head to Universal for the day.  However, if you are more concerned about time and getting more accomplished during the day, end your Disney vacation and head over to a Universal resort hotel.  To really increase your time efficiency, stay at a Universal resort that offers the Unlimited Express Pass.  If you are planning two or more days at Universal, definitely stay onsite at Universal.   With a hotel package, you will be granted early access to the parks and be right in the center of the action, definitely getting more value out of the experience.

What about transfers? There are several ways to get to Universal from your Walt Disney World resort hotel.  If you are just going to be a one-day guest at Universal, ask your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist about reserving a private car.  This will not only save you a ton of time, but the personalized car gives you VIP access with a drop off point very close to the Universal entrance.  Without having to pay to park, this option will most likely save you money as well.  If you are doing a split stay with a Universal hotel package, you are eligible for Take 2 Transfers which will provide your family pickup from your Walt Disney World Resort Hotel to your Universal hotel and back to Orlando International Airport.  If you choose to enjoy the Universal part of your vacation first, you will be picked up from Orlando International Airport, taken to your Universal hotel and then on to your Walt Disney World Resort.  Either way, it is incredibly convenient and a huge time-saver.

The split-stay is a great way to make all the Mickey-lovers and Potter-obsessed people in your family totally happy with their Orlando vacation.  Your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist will take all of the intimidation out of this type of experience so contact him or her today!

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

 

Looking for something special for a diehard Harry Potter fan? Well, Celebrating Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort is just what you’ve been wanting. You can be part of a magical 3 day event presented by Warner Bros. and Universal Orlando Resort.

The event takes part January 26 to January 28, 2018. There’s a lot to see and do in this action packed 3 day event! Not only is there a Q&A session with 5 actors/actresses from the Harry Potter movies, but you’ll be able to learn some wand combat skills, hear from 2 graphic designers for the films, learn special effects secrets, and get sorted by the sorting hat. All of these activities and more will take place at both parks, so you’ll need to make sure you have a park to park ticket.

The best way to make sure you get the most of this 3 day event is the A Celebration of Harry Potter Premium Vacation Package. This package includes on-site hotel accommodations, park to park tickets, and guaranteed access to select event activities. It includes an exclusive autograph and photo session with select film talent, an evening reception at the Harry Potter Expo, breakfast at the Three Broomsticks, exclusive Evening at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with desserts and one complimentary Butterbeer, not to mention a lot of other special inclusions.

By booking A Celebration of Harry Potter Vacation Package, you’re allowed early access to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. These sections of the parks will open an hour earlier to guests staying on property. With the extra hour, you’ll be able to access Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley with reduced crowd levels. Set against the backdrop of Universal Orlando’s amazing theme parks, you’ll explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade™ at Universal’s Islands Of Adventure™ and Diagon Alley™ at Universal Studios Florida™. Experience Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™, and other thrilling attractions. Ride the Hogwarts™ Express* and travel between King’s Cross Station in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade™ Station in Islands of Adventure.

This is definitely on a must do list for a Harry Potter fanatic! There are many more experiences and magic that will happen over these 3 days than what’s mentioned above. We’d be happy to let you know of all of the special things that will be happening from Jan 26th to the 28th. Be sure to contact your Me and The Mouse Travel Specialist today!

Leigh Miller

Travel Specialist

 

Want to relive the time you rode the Hulk? Do you want to forever keep the moment you posed with a dinosaur? Consider adding My Universal Photos to your Universal package. I purchased this package on my last Universal trip and I absolutely loved all of the memories I get to keep forever. Here’s what you need to know:

Where do you purchase My Universal Photos? There are a few different ways to purchase My Universal Photos. My first recommendation would be to mention your interest to your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist. He or she can add it to your package at the time of purchase for the best price. If you forget to add it early, there are several kiosks located throughout Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure that will add the photo package. Once purchased, you will receive a lanyard and a card that will be scanned at all photo locations to save your images.

Where can we have our photos taken? Universal photographers and photo stations are located through Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. Character Meet and Greets like Transformers, Spider Man and Shrek are all photo locations, as well as the Raptor meet and greet in Islands of Adventure. There are also several areas within the parks with a timed, automated camera. I loved the ones at Volcano Bay! However, my absolute favorite moments are the ones you can’t capture yourself. The on-ride photos at Rip Ride Rockit, Hulk and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey were a family favorite for us.

How much is it to add the photo package? There are two different options: a one-day pass is priced at $69.99 plus tax and the three-day pass is priced at $89.99 plus tax if purchased ahead of time. With the package, you get unlimited downloads of all of your photos, view and share through the Amazing Photos app, 1 free 4×6 and 5×7 printed photos as well as discounts on any other prints or photo products. It is definitely a great value!

For any questions regarding your Universal Orlando Vacation or to add My Universal Photos to your package, please speak to your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

 

One of the most popular questions I am asked is “Where is the best place to eat at Universal?”  Unlike Disney, Universal’s in-park dining selections are fairly limited and if you are in the mood for something a little better than burgers, chicken fingers and fries, it is really convenient to leave the park and head to CityWalk.  With so many selections for table service restaurants with prices comparable to in-park counter service restaurants, I highly recommend a table service meal at CityWalk as a much-needed break from the parks.  On my last trip, I visited NBC Sports Grill and Brew and it was my absolute favorite meal.

Menu Selections: For a bar and grill, this restaurant had a huge variety of pastas, burgers, steaks and comfort food selections.  My table enjoyed the Chicken Mac and Cheese, Chicken Pot Pie and the Smokehouse Stack Burger.  As much as we each enjoyed our entrees, the star of this meal was the Large Warm Soft Pretzel.  This was the biggest, most buttery, delicious soft pretzel I have ever had.   Aside from food, you can’t miss the brew!  The beer lover in your family will be in heaven with more than 100 beer selections including one beer brewed exclusively for the restaurant.

Service: Next to the pretzel, I think the service was the next best part of the experience.  Our server made the meal so enjoyable with quick beverage refills and timing the appetizer and main menu service extremely well.  She was fast and very efficient, while also friendly and engaging with our table.

Environment:  If you are there to enjoy each other’s company, this may not be the place for you.  However, if you are trying to catch a game or have a sports-lover in your family, this is the dream.  The restaurant boasts 90+ HDTV screens with every sport/match imaginable.  In the bar, you can find glass-top foosball tables if you want to have competitive drinks with friends.  The theming even carries into the bathrooms with more screens and an athletic locker room feel.  You just can’t help but smile in this place!

During my visit, my family and I walked in during prime dinner hours and were able to get a table immediately so reservations are not required.  With prices between $10-$40 per entrée, and just a couple minute walk from the entrance of Universal Studios park, I highly recommend dining at NBC Sports Grill and Brew.  It’s not only a great meal, but it is an incredibly themed experience you are sure to enjoy.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

Whether you are an adrenaline junkie or prefer to kick back and relax, there is something for everyone at Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Theme Park.  This newly opened park boasts some of the most technologically-advanced attractions ever featured in a water park.  With 17 attractions and a lot of square feet to cover, it’s important to go with a plan.  While every attraction is unique and worth trying, here are my top five favorites to experience at Volcano Bay.

  1. Krakatau Water Coaster: Without a doubt, this is my favorite ride not only at Volcano Bay, but at any water park I have ever been to.  This water coaster takes you on a wild journey up and down hills, through the volcano and ending in a waterfall.  While somewhat intense, it’s something that can be enjoyed by the entire family all together.  Keep in mind, this is not only my favorite ride at Volcano Bay, but also most guests’ so make sure you arrive to the park early or use your Tapu Tapu if you want to ride.
  2. TeAwa Fearless River:  Lazy river? Not exactly.  This winding river circles guests around parts of the park at a brisk pace making it the perfect attraction to enjoy while waiting for your Tapu Tapu to alert you for your next ride.  While this does move faster than a typical lazy river, it is still relaxing and shows you some beautiful views of the park.
  3. Ika Moana (the green one!): I love a team ride that you can all experience together and Ika Moana is just the right thrill level for the whole family to enjoy.  This tube ride has a fair amount of drops without being too drastic, sending your family on a winding adventure, in and out of enclosures down a gradual hill.  Its counter-part, Honu (the blue), however, is a bit more thrilling!  Try Ika Moana first and then those who are brave enough can conquer Honu.
  4. Taniwha Tubes:  Ride alone or with a buddy on this tube ride water journey.  Choose from 4 different slides with varying levels of intensity from leisurely to very adventurous.
  5. Vol, Spirit of Krakatau: Not everything is about water here!  Step off the lazy river and walk inside the volcano for some interactive entertainment with Vol, the spirit of Krakatau.  He can speak to you and you can even create light patterns with your Tapu Tapu on the inside walls of the volcano.  This is a truly unique “water park experience” unlike anything else I have ever seen.

On your next Universal vacation make sure to check out all that Volcano Bay has to offer.  It is truly more than a water park, but a completely immersive experience.  To ad Volcano Bay to your Universal Orlando package, contact your Me and the Mouse Travel Specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

 

Looking for a little nostalgia? Stop in and visit the Bayliner Diner. It is located in the Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Studios. The Bayliner Diner is a self-service food court with multiple counters to pick from. It is open from 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Hours are subject to change.)

The atmosphere is family friendly offering a casual dining experience. Many families like to gather here before and after going to the parks, so expect a lot of activity during these times.

Grab a tray and explore the variety of choices offered!

Discover a new favorite food from around the world at the International Station, with dishes changing seasonally.

At the Deli Station, you will find fantastic wraps and sandwiches.

The Pizza Station offers home-style pizza and pasta options that everyone can enjoy.

For the healthy eaters, a Salad Station is offered with an abundance of toppings to build an amazing salad – just the way you like it.

My favorite station to visit it the Grill Station featuring burgers and chicken sandwiches. I found the bacon cheeseburgers to die for. I ordered a combo meal which included french fries and a shake. The burgers are made-to-order, so mine was served hot, juicy, and delicious. My french fries came out piping hot just the way they should. I decided to choose the chocolate shake over the vanilla even though both are great options according to my family. If you’re a fan of thick, creamy, frosty shakes, these will be the perfect fit for your taste buds.

Save room for the Dessert/Bakery Station offering frozen yogurt with your choice of toppings. This is great option to take with you poolside.

If you don’t have time to stay and enjoy the atmosphere, head to the “Grab and Go” area to pick up snacks to take on your next adventure. Get yourself a cold sandwich or a delicious pre-made salad plus more.

Drinks are self service with Coca-Cola Freestyle machines. These machines allow you to put your own twist on fan favorite Coke products. Have some fun making a vanilla Coke or a cherry Sprite. Refillable resort mugs are
offered for sale and can be a great deal if you are staying at the Cabana Bay Resort. One more important nugget of information – the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines are located in the dining section where you sit down to eat (not inside the food service section) so you may refill your mug anytime day or night even after the food service section closes. I often like to get a drink to take back to the room late at night so this is win-win scenario for me.

The Bayliner Diner will take you back in time while you eat. The fun old time commercials from the 50’s and 60’s era playing on big screen televisions in the dining area help create a fun environment. This relaxing area is a large, airy, and colorful space with plenty of seating for any sized family to enjoy. So stop in and enjoy a retro experience.

Please note: Menu items, times and rules are subject to change.

Traci Perjack

Travel Specialist

 

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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When you visit Universal – Orlando, I suggest adding a couple of extra days to your resort stay and enjoy all the other activities Universal has to offer without stepping foot in the parks.

You’re on vacation so take time to relax by enjoying one of the pools at any of the Universal Orlando resorts. One of the benefits of staying on property is your ability to pool hop between resorts. All the resorts can be accessed by a shuttle service or even a pleasant walk due to the proximity of the resorts.

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After spending a day in the sun, head over to Universal CityWalk, which is a destination in itself. It is packed with restaurants, shopping, nightclubs, miniature golf and an AMC movie theatre. You can find famous restaurants, such as Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and Hard Rock Café. But there are other options including my favorite restaurant Antojitos, where you can enjoy authentic Mexican food and on certain nights, live Mariachi music.

The most popular attractions in CityWalk is the Blue Man Group. I recently experienced the Blue Man Group for the first time. It was a wonderful and entertaining time for all age groups. The audience becomes part of the show, which adds to the fun.

If taking in a sporting event is more up your alley, head over to the Cabana Bay Beach Resort for a dinner and bowling at the Galaxy Bowl. The bowling alley follows the same retro feel as the rest of Cabana Bay and is located on the second floor of the resort. Or maybe hitting the links for a round of miniature golf on one of two 18-hole golf courses. The Hollywood Drive-in golf is located on the first floor by the parking garage of CityWalk. This is a unique miniature golf course that takes on a sci-fi and haunted twist (depending on the course you chose) with fun and over the top special effects, but very family friendly.

When planning your Universal Orlando stay, keep in mind the extra activities when deciding on the number of days to spend at your resort and create more memories of your vacation.

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Janene Jaroscak

Travel Specialist

 

Step back to a simpler time in this retro style resort. Depicting the feel of the 1950’s and 60’s, this resort makes you feel you have walked onto the set of Mad Men and the Brady Bunch. Cabana Bay may be considered a value resort, but it is fabulous well-appointed and clean resort and perfect for families with their spacious family suites, that sleeps up to 6 people or their 2 Bedroom suites, that sleep up to 8. All family suites make dining more convenient for busy families with each suite fully equipped with kitchenettes complete with microwaves, mini-refrigerators and a kitchen sink. Each living area also has its own flat screen TV.

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If water fun is on your agenda, you can enjoy two large pools, one is complete with a lazy river. In my opinion, the best part of Cabana Bay is the fact it is adjacent to the all-new Volcano Bay Water Park. Universal recently opened the tower portion of the resort and some of the suites in the brand-new tower provide a spectacular view of Volcano Bay.

For your dining convenience, there are plenty of quick service dining options throughout the resort including pizza delivery and a Starbucks to help kickstart your day. If you are looking for fun and a table service option, take in a few rounds of bowling at the Galaxy Bowl and grab dinner at the Galaxy Bowl restaurant.

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If you didn’t get enough exercise walking around the parks, stop by the Jack LaLanne Fitness area. Yes, for those of that age group, that Jack LaLanne in the one-piece workout suit. The fitness club has state of the art equipment, but you can also see Jack LaLanne memorabilia.

As with any of the Universal resorts, you will enjoy early park access to enjoy the parks before the crowds arrive.

Enjoy your time at Universal Studios!!!

Janene Jaroscak

Travel Specialist