This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s Mardi Gras Celebration. No one loves theme park events more than us. Mickey’s Not So Scary? Fantastic. Halloween Horror Nights? Even better. Grinchmas, Mickey’s Very Merry, and Food & Wine? Can’t wait for each of them. Earlier this year, EPCOT’s Festival of the Arts was shockingly good and we’re incredibly excited it is already scheduled to return in 2018. Villain’s Unleashed? Okay, that was the exception that proves the rule.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE Universal’s Sapphire Falls Resort! Currently, the Universal Orlando Resort has five on-site hotels, with a sixth (Aventura) opening next summer. Universal separates its hotels into three categories: Prime Value (Cabana Bay Beach Resort), Preferred (RoyalPacific Resort), and Premier (Hard Rock and Portofino Bay.) Sapphire Falls falls under the Preferred category.
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Sapphire Falls is located directly next to Royal Pacific, and the two hotels actually connect in their convention space area. As part of the Loews brand, Sapphire Falls has the type of service you receive at a higher end hotel, and stays at Sapphire count towards the Loews YouFirst Loyalty Program. Today we’re going to take a look at some of our favorite parts of Sapphire Falls, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…
# 6 – The Lobby
The lobby at Sapphire Falls is the most guest friendly of any Universal hotel. Similar to the lobbies at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and the newly renovated Polynesian Village Resort, guests walk into a wide open lobby with a huge window on the opposite end overlooking the property. One of the most oft-talked about features of the lobby is the striking “beach ball” chandelier. Pictures do not do this chandelier justice and, when lit up at night, the fixture looks absolutely fantastic.
There is plenty of unique seating in the lobby, including one area with a huge TV. There are outlets all over the place to plug in your electronic devices, including a large wooden table which has enough space for at least ten people to work from their laptops. If you need to spend time in a hotel lobby, this is the exact type of one you want to be in.
Summer is coming and this year will be unlike any previous year in Orlando because Universal Orlando’s Volcano Bay erupts onto the scene. It’s hard not to call Volcano Bay a water park, because well, that’s what it is, but it is indeed so much more. It is said to have technology and features unlike anything we’ve seen before, especially in Orlando. Still, chances are as you think about planning your Orlando vacation, you’re thinking about Volcano Bay as if it is a water park. Most likely you are trying to decide how to spend the time you’ve allocated for a water park and debating between Volcano Bay, Disney’s water parks, Aquatica, or even Discovery Cove.
Price comparison of Orlando’s water parks
Without diving too deep into the strenuous detail between all of Orlando’s water parks, let’s take a look at this price comparison.
Prices below do not include tax, prices are as of 2/17/2017
Disney Water Parks
Single day tickets are not officially available as of yet, but can be purchased only as part of a vacation package through select travel booking services. Several sources indicate $124 as the price per person.
Multi day regular theme parks plus water parks
(park to park / park hopper)
($105 per day)
($102 per day)
($121.33 per day)
($115.33 per day)
Multi day regular theme parks plus water park
(park to park / park hopper)
($81.24 per day)
($78.75 per day)
($110 per day)
($105 per day)
Multi day regular theme parks plus water parks
(one park per day)
($86.66 per day)
($83.33 per day)
water parks are not available without Park Hopper option
The Big Easy has arrived in Orlando. Universal Mardi Gras 2017 is now in full swing, through March 25, 2017. This year marks the first time that Mardi Gras fills the streets of Universal Studios Florida every single night. It’s nice to know more guests are able to enjoy this lively celebration no matter the day of the week. I paid a visit to Universal Orlando to get some Mardi Gras flavor in my life, and I even managed to make it over to Walt Disney World and visit two parks in two hours!
Thousands of plastic beads patiently wait to be tossed into the hands of eager park guests. Spicy Cajun food will soon be devoured. Parade performers practice endlessly, waiting for their time in the spotlight. Universal Mardi Gras 2017 is about to begin!
With more consecutive nights than ever before, Universal Mardi Gras 2017 looks to be a bit different than years past. There’s lots to see and deux so check out this guide to make sure you don’t miss a beat!
This year Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras is a little shorter than before, February 4 to March 24, 2017. However, this year is different because the parade, special food, and other festivities will bring the best of the Big Easy every single night through March 24, 2017.
French Quarter Courtyard – Food and live bands
One the best features of Universal Mardi Gras are the bands brought in from New Orleans itself that perform in the French Quarter Courtyard (in the New York area of the park near Revenge of the Mummy and across from the soon-to-open Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon). Many people aren’t aware that these authentic bands perform in the French Quarter Courtyard, but they are a real treat and straight from the land of the Big Easy, so check them out.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We’ll Never Forget 2016 (No Matter How Hard We Try). With the new year upon us, it is time for another SATURDAY SIX annual tradition of looking back at some of the most “memorable moments” of the previous year. Now we already covered some of the great things that happened during the past 365 days, and some of the worst as well, so today let’s look at six theme park stories that fall into a different area. Events that are almost hard to believe actually happened, but we promise they did, and we’re here with the proof. So let’s kick it off with…
# 6 – Disney Puts a Paper Bag Over the Tower of Terror
Disney has some truly incredible projects opening over the next couple years including Pandora: The World of Avatar in Florida and a huge Star Wars Land on both coasts. These projects look to give guests the same level of immersion – if not more – than the critically acclaimed Cars Land and Diagon Alley. For their first ever Marvel attraction in America, Disney went in a different direction. In a shocking announcement at last year’s San Diego Comic Con, it was revealed that the Hollywood Tower of Terror in DCA would be converted over to Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! While Pandora will have guests dropping their jaws while looking up at the “flying mountains” and Star Wars Land will fulfill many a fanboy dream of walking onto the Millenium Falcon, the Marvel attraction is going to look just like the iconic Hollywood Tower of Terror with a bunch of pipes on it.
The Tower of Terror prepares to undergo its transformation into the Collector’s Fortress. (photo by Guy Selga)
Here’s the thing: say what you will about California’s Tower of Terror versus Florida’s version (it stinks), the ride still has the memorable Tower of Terror hotel facade. This is one of the all time most iconic ride facades in Disney history. In fact, with the Sorcerer’s Hat now gone from DHS, it has become one of the four WDW park icons along with Spaceship Earth, the Tree of Life, and Cinderella Castle. Disney has owned Marvel now for almost a decade, and as they saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. No matter how good the actual Guardians of the Galaxy ride is or isn’t, being shoehorned into one of the most recognizable facades in any theme park is going to make the attraction look and feel out of place.
The most unbelievable part of this entire story is the fact that Disney started converting the Tower of Terror over to Mission: BREAKOUT! while guests were still enjoying the Terror of Terror. Large parts of the Tower were covered, and the attraction started to look like a sports fan wearing a paper bag over their head because they were ashamed of their team.
Paper of Plastic? (photo by Justin Martin)
Despite the Tower of Terror not being in anyone’s top ten ride list in DCA, the reaction to the hotel being changed was not received well on social media (to be fair, not much is anyway). Even crazier, DCA is just coming off a Billion dollar makeover that included making a large part of the park themed to early 20th century California, the exact same theme which Tower of Terror already had. Many have voiced their displeasure, but a few have also had a little fun with the idea of the hotel soon to be under new management….
It’s that time of year again! My Best Week Ever sisters and I are kicking off a hopeful new year by making promises for what we’re going to do with it. Of course, since you’ve come here for some Orlando based fun we’re going to be covering our New Year’s Theme Park Resolutions. Even better, you’ll be able to follow along with Best Week Ever during 2017 and see if we keep our resolutions this year. Keep us honest, folks! 😀 But don’t let the fun end with us. Let us know what your New Year’s Resolutions are in the comments below.
Dani’s Plan for 2017
2017: Less solo time in the parks, more togetherness
Many people know that 2016 marked a year of dipping my toe in the treacherous waters of thrill rides. Well, what I define to be thrill rides are probably considered mild by most. Universal Orlando has been the site of most of my thrill seeking, but this year it’s Disney’s turn. I will conquer Magic Kingdom’s mountain range, though with one modification. There is absolutely no way I am going on Space Mountain (do not try to convince). I will replace Space Mountain with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which I’ve never been on. And I haven’t ridden Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain since my long ago preteen years.
Being a Florida Native, I love the water, be it a pool, the ocean, refreshing spring water, or a water ride. I want to spend more time flipping my fins, after all it’s better down where it’s wetter. I resolve to spend more time in all kinds of water including going to the beach more, going to Florida state parks and springs more, but also in the world of theme parks I will go on more water rides and will plan one or two weekend getaways at area hotels which will include some pool time of course. Oh! And I want to rent a pontoon boat on Bay Lake and maybe a Sea Racer too!
Finally, I want to be more social. Because my time in the theme parks often involves researching a specific topic and sharing my adventures in the parks live on social media channels I often visit the parks solo. I do value my alone time, but I want more time in the parks with family and friends. Visiting the theme parks solo is fun and it does gives me a different perspective, but so does spending time with friends, family, and making new friends.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Can’t Wait To See In 2017! 2016 was another unbelievable year in the theme park world, containing a wide mix of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. 2017 is already shaping up to be even more amazing. We have a new immersive land that promises to eclipse what Disneyland has done with Cars Land and Universal with Diagon Alley, a new President being added to the Hall of Presidents, and the first of its kind “water theme park.” If that doesn’t get your blood pumping about the next 12 months you may actually be a Host from Westworld, but for the rest of you, here’s some of the things we can’t wait to see, starting with…
# 6 – Pandora: The World of Avatar (Animal Kingdom)
Our long national nightmare is almost over. First announced on September 20, 2011, Pandora: The World of Avatar is nearing completion. Disney is saying “Summer 2017” for this new land, and is going on record saying it is the most immersive area in any theme park. Just from what we can see from what rises over the construction walls and the Blogger-In-The-Sky helicopter camera shots, the land does look STUNNING. The info we’ve been given on the bioluminescent plants in the area along with the experience in the Na’vi River Journey make both seem like “wow” moments. Last year, this fine blog did question what Pandora will be doing in the areas of food and merchandise, two extremely important factors a theme park land needs to deliver on to satisfy its Return On Investment (ROI). These are also two areas that Disney has not released much info on for Pandora. We all know that Avatar the movie – by far and away the most financially successful film in the history of cinema – never really figured out a way to get its fans to buy merchandise the way that Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, and even Star Trek have.
Na’vi River Journey. (photo courtesy of Disney Parks and Resorts)
One of the most exciting things about Pandora is that it appears the land will be using projection mapping on its incredible rock work. This is something that has never been mentioned by Disney over the course of the Pandora project, but Johnny-on-the-spot bloggers have seen this technology being tested. Your Humble Author thinks projection mapping is one of the areas that Disney is heads and tails above anyone else in the industry right now. Whether on the castle in the Magic Kingdom, the Great Movie Ride facade in DHS, or the jaw dropping Tree of Life Awakens shows at Animal Kingdom, Disney’s use of projection mapping in the parks is amazing.
What looks to be testing for projecting mapping on the rock work in Pandora. (photo by @Blog_Mickey)
# 5 – Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon (Universal Studios Florida)
Last year Universal fans lost Twister…Ride It Out! along with its Bill Paxton performance that was so mailed in he should have put a stamp on it. In Twister’s place will be the upcoming Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. One of the most underrated aspects of this change, is that the attraction takes place in the New York area of Universal Studios Florida, so it is a perfect fit. There are many who do not like Fallon’s broad sense of humor, but his Late Night TV dominance shows there is most likely a much larger group of people who love what he brings to the table (Your Humble Author included). While there have been some debates on how the “flying theater” ride mechanics will actually work, one thing we do know is that Universal is trying something truly different with how people experience the attraction’s queue.
Much like how Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom allows kids to play in a themed area until it is time to ride, Race Through New York looks to have things for adults to do while waiting. There will be a woman’s quartet singing songs, a chance to check out classic bits from from Fallon’s Tonight Show run (including Lip Sync Battle), write your own “Thank You Notes” at an interactive desk, and even get a meet and greet with the Tonight Show’s mascot, Hashtag the Panda.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon is designed to get guests to laugh, and comedy is one thing Universal is very good at delivering on. From the criminally underrated Horror Make-Up Show to the non-stop gags in Springfield USA, be prepared to bring your smile when stepping into Universal Studios Florida.
Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon concept art.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon in Universal Studios Florida. (photo by @bioreconstruct).
When most people think of visiting a theme park in Orlando on Christmas Day, Magic Kingdom is top of mind. However, Universal Orlando presents a great alternative on this festive day. This year marks my second time visiting Universal Orlando on Christmas Day, and although I visited by myself, I had a great time. Here’s how I accomplished having an enjoyable visit and what I learned on this, one of the busiest days of the year in Orlando’s theme parks. Last week in this Touring Plans blog post about Visiting Universal Orlando during the busiest weeks of the year I shared some tips that definitely came in handy.
I had Christmas Day to myself and had set the day aside to visit Universal Orlando. Now, it should be noted that the manner in which I visited Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida this day is a bit different than how the average guests would do. I was on my own. It didn’t matter to me if I rode anything. My purpose was to be in the atmosphere I love and be able to report on the crowd levels, wait times, and the overall experience of being inside Universal Orlando on Christmas Day.
The arrival experience at Universal Orlando on Christmas Day
Arriving at any theme park sets the tone for the whole day. When visiting during a busy day like Christmas it is important to not let the long lines and crowds that you will surely encounter dampen your mood. I arrived around 11:00 AM. The parking toll was not backed up as I expected, but still very busy; I headed toward the left hand lanes which are typically shorter.
The security checkpoint at Universal Orlando can get very congested first thing in the morning and on busy days. Such was the case around 11:00 AM on Christmas Day morning. The real backup and congestion came not from waiting to go through the x-ray machines, but rather after passing through and waiting for your belongings to be handed off to you after they go through the machines. Family members wait in clusters making it difficult to exit this area.
The third and final hurdle came when trying to get into Islands of Adventure. Lines everywhere! Lines for the ticket windows. Lines for purchasing Express Pass in order to avoid other lines. Lines at Guests Services. And of course lines to get through the turnstiles themselves. I’m just going to say it: Universal Orlando’s ticket taking system is so slow. Word on the street is an upgrade to this system is coming soon; I sure hope so!
Extra tip: There is a “Side entrance” at Universal Studios Florida that can save you time and frustration when the regular entrance is congested. It is the pathway in between Hard Rock Cafe and the regular park entrance, it leads up to the Blue Man Group Theater. As you walk along the Blue Man Group pathway this side entrance to the park will be to the right of the Blue Man Theater.
It seems 2016 is an unforgettable year. Events and memories that happened this year are unlike previous years. Yet each week, we the Best Week Ever team found ways to make the most of it. Each week we aim to share with you the moments that make being in the theme parks so enjoyable and wonderful. Perhaps this year, more than ever, it became increasingly important to make our visits the best week ever. We are grateful for the time we spent in the parks this year and we want to share with you our favorite moments of Best Week Ever 2016. You’ll hear from all three of us as we each select three of our favorite Best Week Ever posts from this year.
Dani’s favorite Best Week Ever posts
This year I focused on growth and dealing with fear. Theme parks offer us entertainment and escapism, but they can also offer teaching moments. My desire to deal with and overcome fear started as a spark at the end of 2015, but grew into a warm, bright flame in 2016. By pushing myself to go on rides and try experiences I’d otherwise avoid, I’ve learned that fear never actually goes away. Instead we can accept it, acknowledge it, and ultimately realize most things are never as bad as we imagine them to be. And by opening myself up to new experiences I gained a new level of appreciation for my hometown, Orlando, and all that the theme parks offer.