Posts Tagged ‘Universal’

SATURDAY SIX: 6 Reasons We Love Universal’s SAPPHIRE FALLS RESORT

by on March 4, 2017

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 (Royal Pacific 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.

Sapphire Falls lobby. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Lobby chandelier. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Lobby. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Outlets.

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The Best of the Best Week Ever 2016

by on December 22, 2016

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.

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Gifts for a Theme Park Vacationer

by on December 19, 2016

Christmas Minnie Ears

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.

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As Annual Pass Prices Increase, Theme Parks Add Perks

by on September 18, 2016

Not too long ago we saw Walt Disney World drastically change their annual pass structure adding new features and a wide variety of blackout dates. Universal Orlando has followed suit. They also recently announced new annual pass features like early park admission. Universal has also rolled out a new seasonal annual pass which is the most budget friendly but also has the most blackout dates, and the least amount of perks.

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Universal Orlando loves their AP Holders – photo from Universal Orlando

It’s not all bad news, however, Besides adding features to the annual passes themselves, all of the major theme parks offer various perks and benefits throughout the year. It seems as though this year there are more perks than ever before–perhaps this is because the prices are higher than they’ve ever been. Some guests who are on vacation are purchasing an annual pass rather than a multi-day ticket, even if they’re only going to visit once in a given year. For locals like me it is often seen as a mandatory purchase in order to do Orlando living right.

Let’s take a look at some of the really fun benefits and perks that are being offered to annual pass holders at each of the major theme parks. It is important to note that for the purposes of this blog post I will not be discussing the features that are already included in your annual pass such as free parking, but rather I will focus on different, added-on perks that are offered throughout the year.

Walt Disney World

Perhaps the Walt Disney World Resort faces the greatest of expectations. Because of their four theme parks vs. two at Universal Orlando and one theme park plus water park at SeaWorld Orlando, the Walt Disney World annual passes are the most expensive. This typically raises the expectations of consumers, creating stronger desires for more bang for their buck.

©Rikki Niblett

©Rikki Niblett

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What you need to know about security procedures at Orlando’s theme parks

by on August 17, 2016

Orlando’s theme parks have enjoyed a decades long reputation for providing a clean and safe environment for all guests. Over the years the theme parks’ security procedures have evolved, adding layers and new processes. In the past few months we’ve seen a significant change to all the major theme parks’ procedures. In hopes of helping you prepare for your visit, I’ve laid out some of the security measures you can expect to encounter.

Keep in mind, there are multiple layers of security at all the parks. There are efforts that go unseen and procedures we don’t know about. Additionally, out of respect for the theme parks, their staff members, and their security, I won’t go beyond what is already shared with the public and easily seen when visiting the parks.

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Walt Disney World – Four Main Theme Parks

The Most Magical Place on Earth can’t hold such a title without having some solid security procedures in place. At the beginning of the year it was standard that all of Orlando’s theme parks conduct a bag check on any guest who had any bag of any kind, including strollers. Then a few months ago all three of Orlando’s major theme park destinations installed metal detectors at the security checkpoint. The rollout process and ramp up period varied for each destination.

Walt Disney World has proceeded with using their metal detectors for random checks. Although every single guest will go through a more-thorough-than-ever bag screening process, not every guest is asked to go through a metal detector. After the bag screening guests are selected at random to go through the detectors.

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The metal detectors are off to the side and are manned by a group of Security Cast Members. I have been selected multiple times. Each time the Cast Members have been very courteous and it has only added a minute or two to my ability to get to the park entrance. You may also notice law enforcement personnel at a few posts throughout the front entrance area, as well.

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Disney’s official park rules can be found here. Some of the highlights include statements that all persons, bags, parcels, and clothing are subject to screening, as well as stating that they reserve the right to not allow any item they deem inappropriate into the premises.

Guest that do not have bags have a separate area they can go through to bypass the bag screening area, but they are still subject to random metal detector screenings.

Of all the theme parks, you will most likely find that Walt Disney World’s screen process takes the least amount of time. Still if you arrive to the parks right around their opening time, be prepared for an extensive line at the checkpoints. It’s one of the reasons that we recommend arriving 30-60 minutes before any park’s opening time.

Disney Water Parks and Disney Springs

Currently, there are no metal detectors at Disney’s two water parks nor Disney Springs. At the water parks there is a bag screening, though not very extensive. There is no screening at Disney Springs, though there is a strong security and law enforcement presence.

Universal Orlando

Here you will find the most extensive screening process–and perhaps the most talked about process. Every guest will go through metal detector and all bags go through an x-ray machine. When you first approach the security checkpoint it really does resemble being at the airport. This security checkpoint is for all guests regardless of if you are visiting the theme parks or just CityWalk.

I have a slight concern with the location of this checkpoint, though it is difficult to think of an alternative location. During peak time, especially first thing in the morning, this domed area is extremely crowded. It can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience and when that feels like a bad bottle neck situation.

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Universal Team Members who park in the main parking structure must also go through the same screening area, though they have a dedicated separate lane. A few friends of mine that go through this process on a daily basis have expressed concerns with some of the interactions they’ve encountered with Security personnel, as well as encounters they’ve observed with guests.  I have had mostly good experiences, though there have been some rare occasion to the contrary.

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Dani’s Best Week Ever August 4, 2016: Reign of Kong, Off Kilter, Emeril’s Happy Hour and SeaWorld

by on August 4, 2016

The pendulum is always swinging. Just two weeks ago I truly had one of my best weeks ever! This one was decidedly less so. But I am an optimist and try to make the best of each situation. It also helps that I live in Orlando and have annual passes to all three major theme park destinations, plus I have a great collection of friends in my life. So when the air conditioning went out for four days in my house, I did what needed to be done and enjoyed Orlando life while waiting for my house to become livable again.

Thankfully this week marked new and exciting adventures at Islands of Adventure, and new fun offerings at SeaWorld as well. Come with me as I face the Reign of Kong, contemplate facing my ultimate fears with the Incredible Hulk, enjoy live music from the beloved Off Kilter, and take a quick stroll around SeaWorld enjoying the most affordable snacks and drinks in any Orlando theme park!

Beautiful signage - photo by Brandon Glover

Beautiful signage – photo by Brandon Glover

Off Kilter and Dancing at CityWalk

Saturday early morning I awoke to a hot and humid house. Goodbye air conditioning, hello discomfort and an expensive repair. I couldn’t get it taken care of over the weekend so I did what any reasonable adult would do, make plans with friends and head for Universal Orlando!

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Dani’s Best Week Ever June 9, 2016: Live Entertainment at Universal Studios Florida

by on June 9, 2016

Many fans of Universal Orlando have been focusing on rides lately, with good reason. Skull Island: Reign of Kong has done Team Member previews and it appears soft openings could happen any day now. The Incredible Hulk roller coaster has been testing for a few weeks and should reopen very soon. And two more rides are under construction: Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon and Fast and Furious Supercharged. However, Universal Orlando has debuted new entertainment at both its parks, especially at Universal Studios, throughout the past year.

These shows take place out along the streets and aren’t meant to be main attractions. However they add atmosphere and entertainment in easily accessible ways. I enjoy these additions because they don’t require much advance planning, you can easily walk up at show time and have a great vantage point.

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I ventured out to Universal Studios Florida to enjoy as many live performances as possible. Turns out you can pack a whole lot of fun into just a few hours when your focus is on live entertainment. For someone like me who is apprehensive toward thrill rides, this is a refreshing reminder that there is still lots to enjoy at Universal Orlando even if you’re not that into rides.

As seems to be typical for my weekend theme park visits, I arrived later than I hoped. I decided to take my doggy (#DodgertheDog) to try out Universal Orlando’s Kennel Services. Getting to the parking for the kennel is very easy. It is in the lower back corner of the parking structure, part of the Jaws section.

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Checking in took about ten minutes, as is standard for any kennel service I needed to provide proof that Dodger’s vaccinations were up to date. The form is themed to Hollywood, the pets are called actors and the pet owners are agents. The cost is $15.00 for the day (no discounts available) and the great thing is the kennel is open two hours after park closing, giving agents plenty of time to enjoy the parks.

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Universal Orlando Photo Update, June 6, 2016

by on June 7, 2016

Welcome back to another Universal Orlando Photo Update! We’re in the middle of a very exciting time here at the resort, with two attractions opening up in the coming weeks and a brand new resort hotel not too far behind. We’ll start this week’s update with a look at Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium before taking a trip around Universal Studios Florida and a look at some smaller updates, including Fast and Furious: Supercharged and the Hello Kitty Store. Over at Islands of Adventure we’ve got a short look at The Incredible Hulk as well as some new information about Skull Island: Reign of Kong. Then we’ll close our update out with some shots of the nearly completed Sapphire Falls as well as next year’s Volcano Bay. All that and much more, so let’s get started!

Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium

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Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen is Universal’s latest restaurant concept, opening this fall. It replaces the former NBA City concept and is currently undergoing a complete makeover to turn the form basketball restaurant into a chocolate factory.

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The giant windows are leftover from NBA City and will again afford guests a great view of the CityWalk lagoon.

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Dani’s Best Week Ever February 18, 2016: Universal Mardi Gras

by on February 18, 2016

Ed – You already know Best Week Ever, but we have some new Best Week Ever authors. Why limit who can describe having the best week ever when you have two wonderful ladies who can do it? Welcome, Dani!

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Best Week Ever. I am excited to share the BWE spotlight and take you along on my adventures through all of Orlando’s theme parks. I’ve spent my entire life in Orlando and have always had a passion for travel and tourism. By day I work in the hotel industry, by nights and weekends I roam throughout Central Florida enjoying all there is to offer.

Enough with the introductions, laissez le bon temps rouler (let the good times roll!) it’s time for my first visit to Universal Mardi Gras for 2016, the first of many I can assure you. I visited on Sunday, Valentine’s Day, ready to meet up with some great folks and check out some Barenaked Ladies (the band of course!) However, the night before Miss Diana Ross graced the Universal Mardi Gras stage and drew quite the crowd. I read horror stories on Twitter about the parking garage during the mass exodus after the concert being backed up and disorganized, leaving guests stuck in traffic for an hour. A game plan was in order.

A taste of things to come, a popular and crowded Universal Mardi Gras

A taste of things to come, a popular and crowded Universal Mardi Gras

I decided I would rather spend a little bit of money to valet park at one of the on-site hotels and enjoy a nice drink and an appetizer at one of the hotel restaurants in order to reduce the cost of valet parking. To be certain of my options I called up the hotel (407-503-2000) and the friendly operator explained that valet parking is validated at The Palm Restaurant, Velvet Lounge, and The Kitchen. Valet parking is not free when you dine here, but reduced from $23 to $5. Since The Palm and Velvet Lounge don’t open until 5pm, I decided upon The Kitchen (open from 7:00 AM – 10:00 PM).

If you are a local or are driving in from an area hotel, prepare for traffic, especially from 2:00 PM onward. Mardi Gras takes places on the weekends, so that in itself makes it busier. Couple that with much of the festivities taking place in the afternoon and evening, plus some decent headlining concerts, and you’ve got a recipe for traffic congestion. That’s exactly what we found on our way, coming from the Northeast side of the Orlando area. We took a back way, Conroy Road to Vineland Road, which leads to Universal Blvd.

Pulling up to the hotel was a breeze. I told the bellman we were coming in for some food and drink at The Kitchen and confirmed that by doing so we could get the valet parking validated. The outside entrance of the Hard Rock Hotel is beautiful, the inside lobby however has never really impressed me. Still the resort has an irresistible energy.

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The lesser known rides at Universal Orlando

by on January 27, 2016

It’s clear that Universal Orlando has cornered the market on thrilling, exhilarating rides. When you want exciting experiences, Universal Orlando is the clear choice. But there is more to Universal than thrill rides, and we often overlook the smaller, more minor attractions here. Especially with the closure of two of Universal Studio’s minor attractions: Disaster! and Twister Ride It Out! (both names ending in exclamation points I might add), it can be easy to forget the small collection of less thrilling rides.

Kang and Kodo’s Twirl ‘n’ Hurl

It seems that the spinner style ride is a must-have when building a theme park. It all started with the iconic Dumbo the Flying Elephant in Disneyland in 1955. Ever since that time it has become a staple of theme parks to have at least one of this type of ride in its line-up.

At Universal Orlando two spinner rides are offered, both with a little added touch. Twirl and Hurl came onto the scene when the World Expo area received a makeover courtesy of The Simpsons. After The Simpsons Ride took over for Back to the Future, the turf of the Simpsons was expanded to include multiple eateries, midway games, and this spinner ride.

Pay close attention to the signage throughout the ride’s queue and exit, as well as the audio messaging. I love the names of the ride vehicles, each flying saucer has a unique, pun laden name such as Mai Tai Fighter or Ronald Ray-gun. Additionally, the extra touch here are the targets around the circumference of the ride. As you spin through the air aim, your vehicle up or down to line up with the targets of varying heights. If you line it up just right you’ll cause the targets to spin accompanied by silly sound effects.

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