Harry Potter Fans – Let’s Celebrate at Universal Orlando Resorts

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” ~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Universal Harry Potter Celebration

Year 5 for the Potter celebration at Universal Orlando Resorts also happens to be the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I wonder if there will be some extra celebratory happenings?

Photo Credit: Universal Orlando Resort

Step inside a world where magic is real –

For three days in January (January 26 to 28, 2018) you can stop dreaming and live in the world of Harry Potter! You can take part in a magical 3-day event presented by Warner Bros. and Universal Orlando Resort™, celebrating Harry Potter and his Wizarding World.

Join fans for the fifth year from all around the world and listen to film talent Q&A sessions featuring Stanislav Yanevski (Viktor Krum), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley). You will also be able to enjoy special panels, demonstrations and surprises. Explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade™ at Universal’s Islands of Adventure™ and Diagon Alley™ at Universal Studios Florida™. It’s sure to be a Harry Potter lovers dream come true!

The Celebration of Harry Potter will bring Harry Potter fans from all over the world together with the actors and artists who helped create the amazing stories come to life. The celebration is similar to a comic book convention and will fans see the stars up close and personal. Paul Harris, the choreographer who created wand combat for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, has led master classes in wand dueling at past events, and the designers of The Wizarding World answered questions about their craft.

During the three day celebration you will also be able to buy exclusive Celebration merchandise and souvenirs. Come dressed in your best Potter inspired costumes and waving your favorite wand!

It’s guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience at Universal Orlando Resort. Special event packages for “A Celebration of Harry Potter” are on sale now right here.

If you plan to visit Universal Orlando Resort – Here are 10 Tips for Saving Money on a Trip to Universal.




5 Restaurants to Try on I-Drive Orlando

Restaurants International Drive Orlando

Whether you are visiting Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando or Sea World, you can find lots of different and really, really good restaurants along I-Drive in Orlando to end your day with a great meal. Everyone should visit I-Drive at least once when they are in Orlando because after all, there’s more to Orlando than theme parks!

Restaurants I Drive Orlando
Photo Credit: InternationalDriveOrlando.com

International Drive, commonly known as I-Drive, is a major 11.1-mile roadway in Orlando, and is the city’s main tourist strip. The International Drive area is home to the Orange County Convention Center complex, the Pointe Orlando entertainment complex, major hotels, SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica (Sea World’s water park), Fun Spot America amusement park, the Orlando Eye Ferris wheel, the I-Drive 360 entertainment complex, museums, themed restaurants, bars, outlet malls, mini golf courses like Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf and other tourism-related properties and tourist attractions such as Air Florida Helicopter Inc, Wonder Works and The Magical Midway. The I-Ride trolley system provides bus transportation along the I-Drive district primarily for tourists and convention attendees. 

Cafe Tu Tu Tango

Located at 8625 International Drive, this spot has a great atmosphere that has artists paint as you eat. It’s a really funky tapas spot with live entertainment plus a patio and a bar. The cafe offers brunch on both Saturday and Sunday with bottomless bloody marys and mimosas. Monday thru Friday, 3:30 to 6:30 you can enjoy 2 for 1 drink specials. Cafe Tu Tu Tango offers an entirely small-plate menu that is extensive, eclectic and diverse with everything being prepared from scratch.

Brick House Tavern + Tap

Located at 8440 International Drive, offers Friday, Saturday and Sunday steak nights and offers brunch on Sunday. Brick House also hosts “Happiness Hour” Monday thru Friday with a dedicated drink and snack menu. Daily and seasonal specials make the Brick House Tavern & Tap a fun spot to visit more than once since the menu will be slightly different with each visit.

Copper Canyon Grill

Located at 9101 International Drive in Pointe Orlando, Copper Canyon Grill offers patio seating, private dining room and a chef’s table. It’s a perfect location for lunch or a glass of wine. You can expect an energetic atmosphere and welcoming staff. The menu features a selection of freshly prepared items daily. Copper Canyon has happy hour daily from 3 to 7 p.m. with a nice selection of appetizers and drinks. The restaurant also has a dedicated gluten free menu.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House

Located at 9150 International Drive the restaurant offers two floors, two state-of-the-art bars, four private dining rooms and a picturesque patio. It’s the perrfect place to relax and celebrate. Featuring a diverse wine list of more than 1,200 labels, diners are sure to find their inner Sommelier while they dine. Del Frisco’s offers one of the best happy hours daily from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., except Wednesday when they’ll keep you happy from 4 p.m. until closing! Dinner is served Monday through Friday starting at 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday starting at 4 p.m. They also offer a dedicated bar menu with some great choices!

The Oceanaire Seafood Room

Located at 9101 International Drive, The Oceanaire Seafood Room offers fresh seafood and an outstanding happy hour and bar menu. Only fish from the world’s most reputable suppliers is served, and each dish is carefully crafted to ensure the restaurant’s high standards of quality and flavor are exceeded. The menu is based on market availability, therefore selections change each day. Happy hour is every day from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Monday through Thursday it starts up again at 9 p.m. to close in the bar only and on Sunday 8 p.m. to close.

Do you have a favorite I-Drive restaurant?




10 Tips for Saving Money on a Trip to Universal

Money Saving Tips Universal

If you are looking for tips on saving money on your next Universal Park trip, you have come to the right place. Universal can be expensive, but it really doesn’t have to be too bad if you do your trip right.

For those of you looking for tips on saving, here are 10 ideas for saving money on a Universal trip:

  1. Buy your tickets online, in advance. If you are planning to go for multiple days, you definitely want to buy your tickets in advance and online. Online ticket sales will save you $20 over gate price for a multi-day pass. Bonus: You don’t have to stand in those long gate lines. Your tickets can be printed out at home and you get to walk right past all of those people waiting to buy.
  2. Stay at a partnering hotel. There are quite a few hotels that partner with Universal that offer discounts to people that are staying in their hotels and visiting the parks. From food discounts to shuttle services, you will find a way to save.
  3. Check your memberships. Do you have any memberships such as AAA, AARP, or Costco?  Double check through your membership package (or call to ask) and see if you are able to buy discounted tickets through them.  
  4. Buy a vacation package. If you are making a full trip of it, why not look into vacation packages?  Occasionally, you might find free tickets thrown in with a hotel stay or possibly a free dining plan during your stay. There are quite a few benefits to booking a vacation package and amusement park vacations are no exception to that.
  5. Plan your trip in September or November. These are typically the slowest months at Universal parks so you will find better ticket rates and far fewer people, which is savings enough for some people.
  6. Drive there. If you live close enough, consider driving to Universal parks as opposed to flying.  Flights often make up for 40% or more of a vacation budget.  If you can swap that out for the cost of gas, you will probably save a lot of money.
  7. Rent a hotel with a kitchen. Plan to cook your own meals and you will save a fortune.  Just because you are on vacation, doesn’t mean you need to be having 5 star dining the entire time.  Make sure you have a fridge and at least a small area to prepare meals.
  8. Study restaurant menus in advance. Check out a list of the restaurants in the park (or nearby) and go online to check out their prices and menus before you leave on your vacation. Doing this will prevent you from walking into a restaurant that is out of your budget.
  9. Purchase souvenirs ahead of time. This is true for just about any big park that you visit.  Souvenirs are expensive when you buy them inside of those gates. If you know that you or your kids are going to want souvenirs from your trip, buy them ahead of time and from a big retailer such as Amazon, etc. You will spend about ⅕ of the price by doing it this way.
  10. Plan a budget and stick to it. You need to be sure to have a budget in place for your trip, or it will be very easy to overspend.  Make sure to plan out what you are comfortable spending and either be very diligent in your spending on your debit/credit cards or bring the exact amount in cash (but be careful!).



Taking a Large Group to Orlando on a Budget

My family loves to visit Orlando. During the year one or more of us visit at different times. Once a year I take on the task of planning a trip for the entire family to enjoy together. Four generations head to Orlando early each June for 8 days of family fun and togetherness. There is no doubt that Orlando can be an expensive destination. Over the years I have found ways to save on our yearly trips so that everyone can have the experience they want.

Large Group Trip Orlando Budget
Orlando-Train-Station Photo Credit: WBEEM via Flickr

Orlando is best known for Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, but there’s so much more to the area. Vacationing in Orlando with 8, 10 or 12 people on a budget can be pretty easy with the right mind-set. As soon as I realized that hotels just won’t work, especially a Walt Disney World or Universal resort, my planning became so much easier. Having space for a large group can get expensive when you think about needing 2, 3 or 4 rooms to accommodate everyone in a hotel or resort.

Vacation Home Rental

Once I realized that renting at least 3 or 4 hotel rooms could easily explode my budget, I began looking at vacation home rentals in Orlando. Fortunately I found one that my family loves and we have now used many times.

The positive side of renting a vacation home is cost. Even the cheapest hotel room times four rooms can easily cost $500 or more per night. Times 7 nights, well, that’s lots of money. We can rent an entire home that sleeps up to 16 for much less. Each member of the family also has their own space with private areas so there is never a feeling of crowding each other. The home my family really loves, and has used many times, is Characters Corner Vacation Home. I will admit I was a little concerned going into our trip this year since we have added a new baby. Bringing a 5 month old along was definitely something I haven’t done in a long time. My mom, at 85, is also having a much harder time getting around. The home is set up so well and provides everything a family needs (2 cribs, high chair, ground floor bedrooms with bathrooms) that I was worried for nothing! Six bedrooms and two convertible sofa beds, 4 bathrooms, a movie theater and a pool/kiddie pool/hot tub! What more can a family want! Everything you need is in the home to make your family feel comfortable, relaxed and ready to have a great vacation. All dishes, linens, washer/dryer, Wi-Fi, pool towels, etc., are provided and the home is wheel chair accessible.

My new grandson was also able to experience his first pool time without worry that he would get splashed or afraid in a large resort pool with many other people around.

Cleanliness and customer satisfaction are the top priorities for the owners and there is a property manager nearby, just a phone call away in case of a problem. 

Location – Location – Location!

Location is an important factor for us. Characters Corner Vacation Home is ideal. The home is a short 10 minute drive onto Walt Disney World property (2.5 miles away) and a 15 minute drive to Universal Orlando, Sea World and all the restaurants, shopping and attractions on the heart of International Drive (I-Drive).  Multiple large name grocery stores are within a few minutes drive, as well as many restaurants, shops and attractions.

The home is located in a private, gated community so is a very safe and secure spot for a family.

Dining Out vs. Eating In

No one really wants to go on vacation and cook. When a large group also means a large cost to eat out, cooking easy meals is necessary for the budget. When we first arrive at the rental home, one of the first things I do is head to the grocery store. Not only do I buy a few easy fix meals for the week, I buy breakfast for each day as well as bottled water and snacks to take with us on our trips to local attractions. You’ll be surprised how much you can save by eating breakfast at the house and taking along your own snacks and water! Some evenings we may return to the house before dinner. There is a gas grill provided for easy meals like hamburgers and hot dogs. There are also several local restaurants that will deliver to the community. Pizza and a movie in the theater are a great way to spend a relaxing evening together!

Discount Attraction Tickets

Each member of my family likes to do something different. My granddaughter only wants to go to Walt Disney World. My daughter-in-law and son love Universal. I like Sea World. My daughter likes it all! Even though we travel together I am a firm believer in everyone getting to do what they like. Sometimes it’s necessary to split up and go our separate ways. We have a family meeting each year and everyone gets to say what they want to do and where they want to go. I then use discount sites to purchase the tickets and passes based on the list of things each family member wants to do. If only 2 want to visit Universal, I purchase tickets for those 2 only for one day. If all want to go to Walt Disney World, I purchase park passes for everyone making sure to not purchase tickets for every day of our trip. I try to build in days to see other things or to relax around the pool. My favorite site for saving on park and attraction passes is Undercover Tourist.

Free is Always Good on the Budget

There is so much more to Orlando than theme parks! There are many free and super cheap things to do in the area.

Disney Springs  is a great way to get a Disney experience without the cost of the theme parks. With shopping, dining, and diverse entertainment, you’ll be able to spend an entire day here. You can even pack a lunch, find a shady spot and enjoy a family picnic!

 Clearwater Beach Morse Museum of American Art offers free admission for children under 12, as well as free admission for everyone on Fridays from 4PM til 8PM (November through April). Morse Museum is technically in Winter Park but is less than 20 minutes from downtown Orlando.

Also located in Winter Park, the Albin Polask Museum and Sculpture Garden is home to exquisite art and serene sculpture gardens. Admission for children under 12 is free, admission for adults is $5.

A one-of-a-kind Holocaust Memorial has both permanent and traveling exhibits to communicate the history of the Holocaust. Admission is free.

For the adults in the group, Orlando Brewing Company offers free tours. Call ahead to find out hours and other information.

Several companies offer air boat rides, alligator tours, and more. While the prices aren’t too high, it could get expensive with a large family so be sure everyone wants to go before purchasing tickets.

What are your best tips when visiting Orlando with a group?




Volcano Bay and TapuTapu Coming to Universal Orlando this May

Volcano Bay Universal TapuTapuTapuTapu™ Puts The Wonders of Volcano Bay™ Right At Your Wrist.

 All images via Universal Orlando.

Due to open at the end of May, Volcano Bay is Universal Orlando’s nearest park. When you visit Volcano Bay™ you will be granted the powers of the TapuTapu™, a waterproof wearable bracelet specifically designed for the park. With just a touch of your wrist you’ll be able to hold your place in a Virtual Line™ at the rides and discover wondrous surprises.

Unlike Walt Disney World Resort’s MagicBands, the TapuTapu will be given out when you arrive at the park and must be returned before you leave. It looks as if it will be used for a system similar to Disney’s FastPass+.

Arrive – Enter Universal’s Volcano Bay™ where you’ll be welcomed as a part of the Waturi family.

Receive Your TapuTapu – Pick up your TapuTapu wearable as you enter the park. It’s yours for the day.

Look for the Symbol – Look for this symbol throughout the park and use your TapuTapu to get a return time, play and more.
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Hold Your Place in the Virtual Line™ – Touch your TapuTapu on the symbol at a ride entry totem. That checks you in to the Virtual Line™ and gives you a return time.

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Relax and Play until your TapuTapu Alerts You – Your TapuTapu will tell you when it’s time to head back to the ride.

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Touch to Ride – Touch the symbol on the totem again and proceed through the ride entrance.
Discover Interactive Surprises – You can also use the TapuTapu where you see the symbol to play with interactive surprises around the park.

Return Your TapuTapu – Don’t forget to return your TapuTapu wearable when you exit Volcano Bay.

Designed specifically and exclusively for use in Universal’s water theme park, TapuTapu™ will make your experience throughout the entire park as hassle-free and fun-filled as possible. It will allow you to virtually wait in line for Volcano Bay’s dozens of unique attractions and discover various TapTu Play™ experiences throughout the park with just a simple touch.

Here’s what we can all expect to see when Volcano Bay opens:

The Volcano

At the heart of the island stands Krakatau™, the mighty Fire and Water Volcano. Towering 200 feet above the tropical landscape, Krakatau streams waterfalls during the day and fiery lava effects at night. Inside the cavernous volcano the Waturi people dare you to brave a variety of heart-pounding water slides.

Krakatau™ Aqua Coaster

Honorary Waturi can experience the power of Krakatau™ on this amazing ride. Four-person canoes slide upward through the mists and into the dark twists and turns within the volcano before emerging with a plunge through a shimmering waterfall.

Ko’okiri Body Plunge™

Join in the centuries-old tradition of honoring the volcano god, Vol, by braving the incredible Ko’okiri Body Plunge. Featuring a 70-degree fall through a drop door and 125 feet of screaming, white-knuckle fun, this dizzying descent ends with a watery tribute from Vol himself.

Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides™

Join Kala and Tai Nui where sea and sky meet and take a leap of faith from high atop the volcano. Twin trap doors simultaneously drop two guests down clear, intertwining tubes before sending them joyfully splashing into the turquoise waters below.

Punga Racers™

A favorite among Waturi children of all ages, Punga Racers send single riders on their manta ray mats sliding down four lanes through underwater sea caves.

Wave Village

This peaceful escape overlooks the sparkling waters of Waturi Beach at the base of the volcano.

Waturi Beach

Locals know — the surf’s always up at Waturi Beach. Swim, splash and relax right along with them in the sparkling waters and warm waves of this sparkling lagoon at the foot of mighty Krakatau.

River Village

 The scenic River Village has fun for people of all ages, including the very youngest Waturi.

Honu ika Moana™

Just like the ancient Waturi people who rode the ocean waves on friendly sea turtles and whales, guests can enjoy these two twisting, turning, multi-person slides. Honu sweeps up two massive walls, while ika Moana sprays water on riders from the center of the raft.

Tot Tiki Reef™ & Runamukka Reef™

The little ones can frolic among the splashy slides and fountains of the Tot Tiki Reef toddler play area, while Runamukka Reef delights older children with its bubbling geysers, water guns, slides and dump cups.

Kopiko Wai Winding River™

Take a slow ride on the Kopiko Wai Winding River. Sprays of water surprise along the way, and beneath the lava rocks, Stargazer’s Cavern reveals the magical night sky above.

Rainforest Village

 Rainforest Village stretches along the shores of an action-packed river and features the perfect mix of relaxation and exhilaration.

Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides™

Test your mettle and get into the Waturi spirit. Ascend cliff side and plummet down the twisting waters of Ohyah before dropping out four feet above the pool below. To achieve even greater bragging rights, brave the rope bridge and plunge down Ohno, a serpentine adventure that ends six feet above the pool below. Be sure to yell your battle cry on the way down.

Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides™

Ready for the high adventure of the Maku Puihi lava tubes? This six-person rafting adventure is a favorite of Waturi families, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Choose one of two paths or try them both—just be ready for a thrilling ride. Puihi careens through a dark, winding tunnel before the stomach-flipping thrill of zero gravity hang time. Maku slides you through a deep volcanic gorge before spinning wildly around bowl-like formations.

TeAwa The Fearless River™

Up for an adventure? Take a thrilling whitewater ride along TeAwa The Fearless River. Race along a roaring, watery onslaught of churning rapids and choppy waves hanging tight to your inner tube.

Taniwha Tubes™

There’s a place where the puka trees grow abnormally tall. Inspired by their twisting roots, the Waturi built four twisting water slides called the Taniwha Tubes. Riders can try all four twisting tracks, but beware — mischievous tiki statues spray jets of water when you least expect it.
I know I’m looking forward to this newest addition to the Orlando area – what do you think?