Universal Orlando Resort

Dani’s Best Week Ever March 31, 2016: Universal Orlando CityWalk

by on March 31, 2016

Spring has sprung! Orlando has welcomed Spring Breakers and Easter holidayers with open arms. Word on the street is that this past Saturday marked the most amount of passengers through Orlando International Airport in a single day! After a quick, less-than-24 hour trip to visit my parents in North Florida, I headed to Universal Orlando for an extensive stroll around CityWalk and a movie. It was evident that the Spring Break / Easter crowd had descended upon Universal Orlando, but I easily had an enjoyable time. I noticed a few details I hadn’t before and although I had the ability to go into the parks, the desire to do so gave way to enjoying CityWalk instead.

I journeyed to Universal property via exit 75A (West bound just after Kirkman), this ramp provides a great vantage point of Volcano Bay water park and Sapphire Falls resort construction. This side of Universal property has been under construction for a few years now with the building of Cabana Bay and now its expansion and the addition of Sapphire Falls and Volcano Bay.

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I arrived around 2:00 PM and of course there was a large amount of cars waiting at the parking plaza, and not all lanes were open; thankfully things moved relatively quickly. One tip I can offer for parking is to make sure you have your form of payment ready to go and know ahead of time whether or not you want to shell out the extra money for preferred parking. If, like me, you’re an annual passholder then have your pass and photo ID in hand ready to go.

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Universal Crowd Calendar Report – March 13 to 19, 2016

by on March 30, 2016

How Crowded Was Universal Orlando Last Week?

How Crowded Was Universal Orlando Last Week?

Last week, Universal Orlando parks were much more crowded than we have seen during the same period in years past. Strangely, crowds during the week were busier than what we saw on Sunday and Saturday, almost a mirror image of what the Universal Crowd Calendar predicted. Twister, Disaster! and The Incredible Hulk were all down this year which may help explain some of the increased wait times.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Universal Orlando Resort Crowd Report:

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s ROYAL PACIFIC RESORT

by on March 26, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort. Currently the Universal Orlando Resort has four on-site hotels, with a fifth (Sapphire Falls) opening later this summer. Disney has three classifications for their resorts: Value (including Pop Century), Moderate (Port Orleans Riverside), and Deluxe (Contemporary). Universal also has three levels: Premier (including Portofino Bay), Prime Value (Cabana Bay Beach Resort), and Preferred, which is where the Royal Pacific Resort resides.

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Loews Royal Pacific Resort. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

While Disney runs its on-site resorts, Universal partners with a luxury hospitality company in Loews Hotels. One of the benefits of being run by a third party, is that Lowes has a loyalty program with YouFirst. Many of us have been on Disney vacations dozens (if not hundreds) of times, and unfortunately it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time at Art of Animation or your 50th, what you get is what you get. At Universal you start accruing benefits upon your 2nd stay and can earn privileges such as free room upgrades, late checkout, and even a $100 credit.

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Royal Pacific’s courtyard. (photo by Brandon Glover)

While I understand the arguments of staying off-site, for my family, staying on-site is one of our favorite parts of a theme park vacation, especially at Universal. Today we’re going to look at what I believe is the best on-site hotel in Orlando. So sit back, grab an ice cold Jake’s Red Lager, and let’s begin counting down the top six reasons we love Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort starting with…

# 6 – Pool and Beach Areas

The pool at the Royal Pacific Resort is massive. While it is the only resort at Universal without a slide, it does feature the gigantic Royal Bali Sea interactive water play area connected to the pool. This play area is themed to a ship, features water cannons, and seemingly dumps about a million gallons of water on the people playing around it. When I was a kid all the pools were the same shape: a rectangle. If pools and play areas existed like this, I’m not even sure my parents would have been able to drag me away to go to the theme parks.

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One of the small islands found inside the Royal Pacific Resort.

For adults, there is plenty of seating, a white sand beach, zero entry, cabanas, two hot tubs, an ice-cream place, and the Bula Bar & Grille. The pool area offers towels, magazines and newspapers to read while laying out in the sun, and games such as ping pong. While there is plenty of covered seating at the Bula Bar, servers will come out to the pool area to deliver drinks and food. Our recommendation: Shipwrecked Loaded Nachos (but you can’t go wrong with the burgers either.)

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Royal Bali Sea water feature.

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Shipwrecked Loaded Nachos, pound for pound the best food offered pool side in Orlando. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Universal Orlando Crowd Calendar Report – March 6 to 12, 2016

by on March 20, 2016

How Crowded Was Universal Orlando Last Week?

How Crowded Was Universal Orlando Last Week?

Other than last Saturday, crowds at Universal Orlando were lower than expected and lower than what we have seen in years past during the same period. The Universal Crowd Calendar predicted a level ‘6’ between Sunday and Friday but the resort-wide crowd level never hit a level above ‘4’. Islands of Adventure pulled the resort-wide crowd level lower each day with wait times a couple points lower than expected.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Universal Orlando Resort Crowd Report:

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The SATURDAY SIX News Desk: A Look at Recent Stories From Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld

by on March 19, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is undoubtedly a special one as we once again dust off the blue blazer and step behind the SATURDAY SIX News Desk. It has been a whirlwind of theme park related news lately. Our long national nightmare is over as purple MagicBands are available for your WDW resort stay, Disney started a new subscription service themed to the Haunted Mansion for the low low price of just $200 (oh, and it has already sold out), the Orlando Eye did its first baby reveal, and a worker at Art of Animation was caught on video using a dirty mop to clean a table. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

So – as usual – we took a page out of our old college playbook, chugged down a case of 5 Hour Energy, and pulled an all-nighter, cramming as much information as we could into our tiny brains so that we could report back to you, Dear Reader, with all the relevant facts (and before we forget it all tomorrow). So sit back, know that you are getting all the news that’s fit to print (and plenty more that’s not), and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – That sound you hear? KONG IS COMING.

As Donald Trump would say, it was a yuge week of King Kong news over at the Universal Orlando Resort. As theme park merchandise fanatics, we loved that a whole bunch of new merch arrived for the upcoming Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction. Then, Universal dropped a bombshell with their reveal of the incredible ride vehicles along with a couple other tasty tidbits: This would be Universal’s first trackless ride system, and the vehicles would be “driven” by one of five characters. While Universal hasn’t released an official opening of the attraction yet, we have a sneaking suspicion we may hear something around the time the Syfy show Face Off features an entire episode (the season finale no less) dedicated to creating characters for the attraction. Stay tuned Wednesday, March 30th at 9PM EST on Syfy.

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Universal’s Kong is almost here, but Disney has Avatar and Star Wars in the near future…. (photo by Matt Cleary)

# 5 – SeaWorld Admits to Ordering Employees to Spy on Animal Rights Groups

Readers of the SATURDAY SIX may remember one of  last year’s annual Turkeys of the Year awards went to a SeaWorld employee who was caught spying on the animal rights group PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). At the time, SeaWorld management was shocked, SHOCKED at this behavior and put out the story that the employee had gone rogue. Fast forward to this month and during another disastrous investor’s conference, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby admitted that employees did go undercover in animal rights groups and, more importantly, did so per order of the company.

Believe it or not this was the most “wow” SeaWorld story of the week until the atomic bomb the company dropped Thursday morning announcing they were ending the breeding of Killer Whales and will also be ending all the theatrical shows featuring orcas (to be replaced by exhibits).

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Disguised as famous YouTube personality Tim Tracker, Shamu himself was able to go completely unnoticed within the PeTA ranks. (photo by Michael Sheehy)

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The Basics: Planning A Trip to Universal Orlando for Disney Veterans

by on March 18, 2016

gringotts dragonThis is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

Even the most ardent Disney fans have become aware that there exists ANOTHER theme park complex in Central Florida that people visit from time to time, and some of you have probably even considered popping over there for a bit to see what it’s all about. Gatorland aside, however, let me tell you about Universal Orlando, which is yet another top notch theme park experience that you should consider. This article will hopefully provide you with some guidance as a first timer to help you get the most out of the experience.

Let me get this out there at the outset: I realize that there exists this whole “Disney vs. Universal” rivalry that exists in the fan community. I’m not really trying to steer anyone towards one park or the other, I’m just trying to provide enough objective information to help Disney fans that are considering going to Universal make an informed decision and plan for the best trip possible. Because I am writing this for those that are familiar with Disney, however, some comparison of the two is a useful way to go about it, as it provides some context. I’m sure some of the more passionate folks on either end of the issue will take some of these thoughts as a shot across the bow. Just know that I’m a fan of both places, I have annual passes at both places, and I’m honestly doing my best to be as fair as possible. Please keep that in mind before you fire off your scathing email or comment! So, without further ado, let’s jump in!

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The Future of Universal Orlando (2016-2017 edition)

by on March 13, 2016

One of the most exciting aspects of a Universal Orlando vacation – besides all the thrill rides and the ever-more-expanding selection of butterbeer products, that is – is the constantly changing nature of the resort; with $500 million being poured into all three domestic Universal parks each and every year by parent company Comcast, there’s bound to be a few new additions practically every time you turn around.

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While terribly exciting, this can also make planning your next sojourn terribly frustrating. When is the optimal time to visit? What will give you the best bang for your vacationing buck? Will there ever be a time when construction walls won’t dot the landscape as far as the eye can see? (That one’s for your picky Aunt Millie.)

While we can’t definitively answer questions that are so inherently subjective to both your and your family’s desires, we can sketch out the next several developments that will be popping up over the course of the next two summers.

Enjoy, and please let us know when you think you’ll next be slipping past all those bulldozers and cranes.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Unique Burgers at the Orlando Parks and Resorts

by on March 12, 2016

This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Unique Burgers at the Orlando Parks and Resorts. When it comes to Disney and Universal, hamburgers as ubiquitous to a guest’s experience as gift shops and lines. They are everywhere, and most of them aren’t that good. However, in the last several years some restaurants have upped their burger game. Today we are going to look at some of the most unique, unusual, and great tasting* burgers on property. So sit back, put that ketchup bottle down, and let’s begin our countdown starting with…

# 6 – Volcano Burger (Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville)

If we learned anything over the last year it’s that Fritos can make just about anything better. Taco Bell’s Beefy Fritos Burritos are surprisingly good, and Frito Pie is reason enough to check SeaWorld’s Bands, Brew, and BBQ event. Over in Universal CityWalk, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville uses a liberal amount of Fritos in their tasty Volcano Burger. It has more than a little kick, but the combination of chili and Fritos works great, if not messy.

Topped with our volcano chili, lava cheese sauce, pickled jalapeños, guacamole, and Fritos corn chips. $14.99

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Volcano Burger at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Of course when you’re talking about Margaritaville and burgers we do have the mention the iconic Cheeseburger in Paradise. It is a “normal” burger compared to the rest on this list, but it is also an iconic one. Eating a Cheeseburger in Paradise out on Margaritaville’s Porch of Indecision on a gorgeous Florida day, as the song it is named after plays on the speakers above, is one of those things in life that makes a good day great.

Our signature burger topped with American cheese, lettuce, sliced tomato, pickles, and paradise island sauce. $13.99

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Cheeseburger in Paradise. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 5 – Old World Bavarian Burger (ESPN Club)

Over the years Your Humble Author has been quite critical of the ESPN Club at Disney’s BoardWalk, but something surprising has happened slowly over time… the restaurant has greatly improved. Now it just so happens to be a spot within walking distance of some truly exceptional venues on Disney property, but there’s certainly no shame in stopping in to try ESPN’s menu, especially if there’s a game on you’re looking to catch. Our recommendation in the burger arena is the Old World Bavarian Burger. Who needs Biergarten with this German meal in a bun? The potato latke would be a good appetizer by itself, and the mustard “emulsion” (whatever that means) was truly fantastic.  The ESPN Club is now worth going out of your way to check out, whoda thunk it?

Grilled sausage, potato latke, smoked bacon kapusta, and lager-infused mustard emulsion on a toasted butter bun $18.00

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Old World Bavarian Burger at ESPN Club. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Old World Bavarian Burger. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Universal Crowd Calendar Report – February 21 to 27, 2016

by on March 10, 2016

How Crowded Was Universal Orlando Last Week?

How Crowded Was Universal Orlando Last Week?

Crowds at Universal Orlando followed the pattern predicted by the Universal Crowd Calendar during the last week of February. The crowd levels we observed each day zig-zagged above and below the predicted crowd level. Poor weather in Central Florida kept crowds really low on Wednesday.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Universal Orlando Resort Crowd Report:

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Universal Crowd Calendar Report – February 28 to March 5, 2016

by on March 9, 2016

How Crowded Was Universal Orlando Last Week?

How Crowded Was Universal Orlando Last Week?

Last week, crowds at Universal Orlando Resort were the lowest we have seen since early January. Only Saturday hit a resort-wide crowd level above ‘3’ on our scale and Islands of Adventure saw six out of seven days hit a crowd level of ‘2’ or lower. Guests of Universal Orlando were treated to some of the lowest wait times we are likely to see in 2016.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Universal Orlando Resort Crowd Report:

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