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.
There’s no place like home for the holidays, but it’s difficult to beat Orlando during this festive time of the year. Perhaps you’ve decided to visit Orlando during the final two weeks of the year. Being in the theme parks at Christmas time is magical, but takes some planning. You’ll need to be prepared. In this post I’ll share some planning tips for visiting Universal Orlando during these last two weeks of the year, which are some of the busiest days in Orlando’s theme parks.
With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays it is easy to forget the basics of theme park survival. So here’s a little refresher.
Dress comfortably, especially with regard to your footwear
Plan for changes in the weather, this means pack a mix of both warm and cold weather clothing, because here in Florida we experience both warm and cold weather in Winter, often from one day to the next
Stay hydrated with water (as opposed to soda, adult beverages, etc)
Use sunscreen, after all we are actually closer to the sun during Winter
Take breaks and rest throughout the day
The great news is Universal Orlando’s longest operating hours of the year are taking place right now through New Year’s Eve.
Coming up with a plan
Plans are what we’re all about here at Touring Plans, and this time of the year is one of the most important to have a good solid plan. The most effective way to do so is creating a custom touring plan through our site. All you have to do when creating your customized Touring Plan is to select which parks you’re visiting, your arrival time to the park, and plug in the rides and shows you want to make sure you experience. Then the service will calculate the best touring plan including exactly which order to visit the attractions and when in order to maximize your time (and sanity). This plan is based on a huge collection of data that will ensure you spend the least amount of time as possible in the standby wait lines.
Creating a custom Touring Plan on TouringPlans.com
If you’d prefer to create a plan yourself, make sure you’ve really determined what rides and shows you absolutely must do. Without the advantage of the Touring Plans data you’ll need to review the park maps and strategize your plan based on the location of the attractions you want to experience. You may want to also consider visiting some of the lesser known attractions at Universal, which typically will have somewhat reasonable wait times on busy days.
If you’re searching for a last-minute holiday gift or a little something special to add to your own holiday wish list, TouringPlans is here to help! I compiled a list of what I think are some of the best gifts for those planning to visit the parks soon. And while holidays present the perfect gifting opportunity, most of these will work year-round for other celebrations like birthdays or anniversaries too.
Accessories for a Minion fan
Wearable Gifts – For a truly impressive gift, put your knowledge of their favorite character, attraction, or movie to good use. From custom t-shirts and mouse ears to lanyards and pins, there is an endless supply of fun things they can wear to the parks. Even better, there is an endless supply of online or local stores that sell these too, so finding something perfect while staying on budget shouldn’t be too hard.
Disney themed day-bags
Gear – There are certain items that almost every theme park vacationer likes to pack: poncho, day bag for the park, refillable water bottle, portable phone charger, hand sanitizer, and so on. Other items, like a toiletries bag, suitcase, or travel friendly snacks, are great ideas for travelers in general. Depending on the budget, you could pick just one item or put them together into a gift basket that will please any theme park vacationer.
Photo Package – Both Disney and Universal offer photo packages to capture those special vacation memories. Plenty of vacationers on tight budgets question whether the package is worth it, but receiving it as a gift can alleviate those worries. The price is discounted when purchased in advance, and they receive photo memories to cherish for years to come. It’s a definite win-win.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Snacks at Universal Orlando That You Gotta Try! A couple weeks ago we flew across the country to check out some of the great Disneyland snacks, and today we’re back home in Florida to look at even more delectable delights. We’re going to head over to the Universal Orlando Resort, home of some of the most outrageous and most extreme food options we’ve ever seen in the theme park world. However, instead of looking at crazy desserts that should come with an insulin pump, we are going to set our sights on some of the most original, creative, or just plain fun treats in either Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. So sit back, prepare to channel your inner Homer Simpson, and let’s begin our list with…
# 6 – Lard Lad D’oh-nuts
The fine folks in Springfield USA are no strangers to delivering great donuts to us theme park fans. The area opened with the debut of the classic Lard Lad giant pink donut, which immediately became a huge hit. In 2016, Lard Lad introduced more donuts to the menu, but in true Simpsons fashion, they didn’t go with the same ol’ same ol. Instead we got the donuts we dreamed of. Donuts topped with crushed Oreos, Fruity Pebbles, bacon and more! This at least gives us in Orlando a small taste of the type of donut options available in Universal Studios Hollywood’s Lard Lad. Unlike Orlando, USH’s Lard Lad does not serve ice cream because their Springfield has Phineas Q. Butterfat’s Ice Cream Parlor, so instead they opened with a larger variety of donuts.
Lard Lard Oreo d’oh-nut. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Lard Lad Fruity Pebbles donuts. (photo by Brandon Glover)
A selection of some of the D’oh-nuts available, and take a look at that GIANT apple fritter in the back! Universal a clear supporter of #MAGA. (photo by Brandon Glover)
# 5 – Character Themed Candy Bars
Several years ago, Disney started releasing some very fun candy boxes featuring many of their iconic characters from both movies and the theme parks. However, the actual candy had very little to do with the characters outside of silly puns. For example, there was the Haunted Mansion’s Madam Leota on the box of I See Chocolate In Your Future (dark chocolate hot fudge truffle.) Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat was on the box of I’m Just Mad About Chocolate (milk chocolate mint meltaways) while Monster Inc’s Mike Wazowski and Celia Mae had the Eye Know What Women Want! Chocolate! (milk chocolate peanut butter.)
Universal has many generic candy options themed to their brands as well (including my favorite, the Jaws themed gummy fish candy,) but there are also ten candy bars which are completely tied into the characters they feature. The candy bar with Despicable Me’s Minions uses banana in its recipe, while the one with Agnes is cotton candy flavored (in the film, the kids came home from Super Silly Land with Cotton Candy.) The E.T. bar is a chocolate peanut butter bar with Reeses Pieces, while Spongebob Squarepants has a white chocolate pineapple bar with pineapple bits. The synergy between these bars and the characters they feature is a great touch, and something we can hopefully see more of from both Universal and Disney in the future.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Lost From the Theme Park World in 2016. As theme park fans, we’ve had a lot to be thankful for this year. However, as much as we are looking forward to the opening of Pandora and more Star Wars at Disney, or Volcano Bay and the upcoming Nintendo projects at Universal, it wasn’t all good news. This year we had to say goodbye to some old friends. Today we pay our respects to some of those that we lost in the past year, starting with….
While I was never the biggest fan of Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue, it did hold a special place in my heart because we got to see the Universal Classic Monsters – including Dracula, Wolfman, and Frankenstein – on stage. Outside of cameos in the underrated Horror Make-up Show and theming inside the Classic Monsters Cafe, these characters are not being used in the park. The live show, headlined by Beetlejuice, had been recently revamped with the addition of new characters (including the Phantom of the Opera’s daughter Phantasia) and a new set list of songs.
Originally, Universal stated that the show was going to close on December 2, 2015. However, the show got a short lived stay of execution and continued on until January 5th, 2016. Both Beetlejuice and its next door neighbor Disaster were closed to make way for the upcoming Fast & Furious – Supercharged attraction coming in 2018.
A moment of silence for Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice….Beetlejuice. (photo by @Drubov)
The great big Universal theme park in the sky. (photo by @Drubov)
# 5 – Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
DHS fans may want to get a box of Klennex ready, because you’re about to be in for a bumpy ride for the rest of the article. Speaking of bumpy rides (see what I did there) the Lights, Motors, Action! started its run in America as a “gift” from Disneyland Paris as part of the Happiest Celebration on Earth. This is why you should ask for a gift receipt when given something, just in case you want to return it. The Action! part of the stunt show was awesome. Guests got to see cars and motorcycles in a series of elaborate sequences that involved crashes, jumps, and even explosions. Unfortunately the “action” only took up about 7 minutes of the near half-hour show. Like a real movie set, a lot of time has to be spent setting up the next stunt. In 2011, the show added in a segment featuring fan favorite Lightning McQueen from Cars.
On April 2, the Lights, Motors, Action! show performed its last stunt. In its place will be the new Star Wars Land.
Experiencing a theme park for the first time is an eye opening experience. If there is any downside at all to being a frequent theme park visitor it is that the excitement and thrill of the first time quickly gives way to the comfort of the familiar. But really, that’s not actually a problem is it? This weekend I had the privilege of taking my mother to Universal Orlando for her first visit in 20 years. This day in the parks together is one of the best days I ever had in a theme park in my entire life, especially now that Universal Holidays have begun!
Good morning, Universal Studios Florida
It is a rare occasion in which I find myself in a theme park in the morning, but since this would be my mom’s one and only visit to Universal Orlando I wanted to make sure we got as much done as possible. When we arrived to CityWalk something told me to check at the Concierge booth across from Cinnabon to see if they could print my mother’s will call ticket.
I’ve found that the services provided at this Concierge booth depend on the specific skill set and willingness of the team member working at this location. On this occasion the team member kindly obliged and printed off my mom’s ticket, and explained that the ticket system was down at the parks so the lines at the ticket windows and Guest Services were quite long. Sure enough when we made it to the entrance we saw such sights.
Visiting Universal Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights provided the perfect opportunity to stay in the new Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. Back in July, Dani included a visit to Sapphire Falls in her Best Week Ever series, and I was curious to see if the resort completed most of the last minute touches since then. Here are my first impressions and experiences of Sapphire Falls. To give you a taste of what it’s like to stay at the new resort, we’ll start with ‘great’ and work through ‘good’, ‘average’, and ‘bad’ before finally reaching ‘ugly’.
Staff: When your main competition is Walt Disney World, a company known for its friendly Cast Members, slacking off in the customer service department would be unwise. The Team Members at Sapphire Falls did not disappoint. Every single Team Member, from the luggage service staff to the managers, went out of their way to be friendly, helpful, welcoming, and engaging. Out of all the hotels I’ve visited, including many of the Disney Deluxe resorts, the staff at Sapphire Falls was by far the best I’ve experienced. They genuinely seemed happy to be there.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is one of our favorites as we present the Third Annual “Turkeys” of the Year. For Thanksgiving this week we took a look back at things both Disney and Universal fans should be thankful for, but today we are going to go the other way. Gather ’round as we continue the fine tradition of awarding six Theme Park “Turkeys” to the craziest, most outrageous, or just downright weird stories of the year, concluding with the coveted Golden Turkey award. Let’s kick off the ceremony with a food situation that blew us away….
# 6 – That Time Disney Charged $12.99 For a “Hurricane Box”
Art by Juliette Elton (@JulietteElton)
In early October, the state of Florida had its biggest weather scare in almost a decade with the oncoming Hurricane Matthew. Most of the models used by meteorologists had Matthew slamming into the East Coast, and then continuing straight up through the center of the state hitting Orlando. Seemingly playing a weird game of chicken, Disney and Universal both waited until just about the last possible moment to announce their hard ticket events of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Halloween Horror Nights would be cancelled for Thursday, October 6th, and all the Orlando theme parks would be closed on Friday, October 7th.
With the storm bearing down on Florida, food everywhere was being cleared off the shelves at Walt Disney World. Lines appeared at the hotel food courts that seemed impossible to believe were true (but they absolutely were.) The food court at Port Orleans French Quarter was in the process of being refurbished, and there WDW was offering a $12.99 boxed meal that included a sandwich, an apple, a bag of chips, and a cookie. Pictures of the paltry boxed lunch hit social media and news outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel, with most of the reaction being very unfavorable to Disney.
Greetings! TouringPlans.com Blog Manager Brian here to welcome you to the continuation of TBT: Throwback Thanksgiving week here on the blog. All this week we will be revisiting a few wonderful Thanksgiving-related posts from the past. This wonderful entry from 2015 highlighting the six things that Derek Burgan gave thanks for during that year.
Make sure you come back Thursday at 9:00am for this years items to give thanks for!
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is our annual Thanksgiving Special and takes a look at Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks. 2015 was another great year to be a theme park fan, and for this Thanksgiving we are going to take a quick break from all the turkey, football games, and Black Friday planning to count our blessings and thank the parks and resorts we love so much. So, for one day only, we ask that all Disney and Universal fans put aside their differences and spend a moment appreciating all the wonderful things that we can share together, starting with…
The selfie stick ban was definitely a controversial move to be sure. Universal had earlier become more strict on preventing selfie sticks on rides, but Disney outright stopped people from even entering the park with them. Now we joked earlier about only kids and narcissists using them, the truth is that selfie sticks have become increasingly popular across almost all demographics. While people using selfie sticks inside the parks can be a nuisance, they were starting to become a serious safety factor on attractions. You may have seen what is called an Envelope of Protection as Imagineers test out the attractions. This device makes sure that all the attractions are safe for every rider, basically simulating the possible reach of every guest in the ride vehicle. This is why while it may seem like your may lose your arms in Space Mountain if you hold them up during the ride, but in actuality you are nowhere close to hitting anything. What the Envelope of Protection doesn’t take into account though, is guests holding on to anything that extends their reach.