How to have a Universally good time in Orlando: a conversation with Shae about her recent trip



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Welcome & Wellness


Barbara: Welcome, Shae! You just returned from Orlando and an amazing trip to Universal Studios. First let's talk about what aspect of wellness you think this trip helped you with.

Shae: It was really important for my youngest son and my husband to re-form a bond because my son is special needs. Sam works out of town, and he's gone all the time. So they needed to reconnect as father and son. That was was really important, and they were able to do this on the trip. And then of course the exercise! Walking 60 miles in four days means I don't have to exercise for at least four years. So I think I'm good.


Planning


Barbara: You've got it covered! Let's talk about planning your trip. Talk about your family a little bit and that dynamic, and then the reason for the trip.

Shae: The reason for the trip was: we have eight kids as you know, and Lincoln has really been struggling through 2020. We've had some pretty significant behavioral issues that are just popping up with all of this unknown. Everybody's mental health has kind of gone crazy, but it really affected him in school. But he did really well in 2021 for the school year. And he tried very hard. My husband and I wanted to reward him, and so we took him on a trip special just for him and with mom and dad, so all of us could go enjoy each other's company. And that's why we chose it. We originally were going to do Disney, but then after looking over lots of information that you had sent us--because you're fabulous at sending information--we decided that maybe Disney wasn't a great fit. So we started looking at Universal and I'm really happy that we did. We’ve been to Disney and I personally love Disney, but the Universal experience was completely different. All in good ways. And it was more for his age group; you don’t see as many little tiny kids, and the rides were more grown up. They were more fitting to an older child. So we really enjoyed that.


Barbara: Oh, that is great. I love your reason for going.


Shae: My other kids don’t love it! But sometimes that one child just needs to know that they are super important right now.


Flights

Barbara: Talk about the flights. Was there anything specific that you noticed was unexpected, or was everything just expected and normal?


Shae: The flights were pretty normal. I mean, we've still got the COVID restrictions on flights and stuff like that, but I didn't notice anything that stood out other than my husband has pre-check and Lincoln's ticket was under him. So they got to go right through security. I had to take off the shoes and go through the whole thing. That's normal when I fly with Sam; he always takes advantage of his pre-check. Everything was just normal as expected.


Car rental


Barbara: OK. Once you landed, then you went to pick up a rental car. Tell me about the rental car experience. I've been talking a little bit lately about how difficult it is to get rental cars these days and how it's kind of an issue. So tell us about that.


Shae: We weren't expecting issues because we're just so used to just popping in, grabbing our car and going. And that definitely wasn't the case. I'm not sure if it's because we traveled over a holiday weekend or what it was, but we waited for over two hours to get our rental car. And they only had two staff members that were checking people out. The rental car itself was fine, but the employees were really rude to people that were waiting in line. I also imagine that because all the people in line were frustrated, they probably weren't being kind either.

Barbara: That's a little disappointing and frustrating, especially right at the beginning of your vacation where you've just landed and you're just excited about being there.


Shae: We didn't get there till midnight. So by the time we got to our hotel, it was three o'clock in the morning. It was just a really exhausting time to be standing in line when you're hungry, you're tired. You just were on a five-hour flight. No, it didn't like break my trip, but it was a little bit discouraging to be like, okay, now we have to wait in line for forever. But at least they weren't out of cars.


The stay


Barbara: That’s definitely a bright spot! So after that you drove to the resort. Let’s talk about the resort. It was called the Universal Loews Royal Pacific. Tell us why you decided on that resort.


Shae: It's very close to Universal. They actually have a water shuttle that is free to anybody that stays inside their hotels. And you can go right over to the to the Universal Studios parks; there are two different parks. You can also just walk over to the adventure park if you want. The shuttle was a really fun experience cause my little guy loves water and he thought it was really fun that he could sit on this boat, and have them pull the horn. They color the water and it's green. They have palm trees and sand; it was really beautiful. We really liked that.

The resort itself has quite a few restaurants. There's one in particular called Jake's Cowboy. That one, you have to go downstairs and put your name on a list, and they tell you how long it will be.


The other restaurants are like where you have your breakfast buffet, and more Asian food. The breakfast buffet is pretty standard; it’s $25 per person. But if you order just regular breakfast, maybe an omelet and a side of bacon and orange juice, it's going to be like $36. So it's more cost-effective for you to do the buffet. All of the food was really good.

And the pool was great. They have poolside services where you can order their full menu from a restaurant. The staff was really friendly, like super-duper, amazingly friendly. I really enjoyed the hotel that we chose. We literally chose it just because it said waterfront view, which was a pool.




The fun

Barbara: One of the big selling points for that resort is that because they're a Universal property, they give you some really great perks when you stay there. Let's talk about that and your experience in the parks.


Shae: One perk is obviously the water shuttle. I know it seems so frivolous, but that was something that was really enjoyed by my family. And on the way home, you don't have to walk that extra mile to get back to your hotel. Although when you do walk to or from the park, it's a really beautiful walk. The other perk is the Fast Pass. I don't understand how anybody could go to the park without a fast pass. And the last perk is early admission into the park, which I will just be a hundred percent honest: was useless. You can get early into the park, but none of the rides are open. And it’s only one park, not the Universal Adventures with Harry Potter.


Barbara: So that is good for people to know. If you're getting one of their resorts just for the early admission, then it’s not worth it.


Shae: No, it wasn’t. The fast passes they sold in the park for that weekend specifically, they were selling them for $300 per person per day.


Barbara: Crazy. The fact that you paid a little bit more for the hotel was well worth the money that you would have spent in either shuttling back and forth, if you had been staying off site somewhere, or in driving and parking at the resort, and definitely saved on the fast pass.

Tell us about the parks and your favorite things you did, and how you managed the parks. Did you start when they open and go all day, or did you take breaks?


Shae: We didn't really know what to expect. We’ve been to Disney, but we haven't been to anything like this. We had heard that a lot of them were the screen rides, and I thought it would be kind of boring. And then we went and got on the mummy ride. Oh my gosh. So fun. It was such an amazing ride. We just kept going through the park and everything that we rode was pretty amazing.



Over in Harry Potter World, Diagon Alley was really fun. Of course we bought the wand and the robes and we did everything. They don't really have characters. We got a wand, a sorting hat, a Dobby, and lots of stuff. If you want it to be a budget friendly trip, stay out of Harry Potter land.


Barbara: I agree. They do such an amazing job.


Shae: They really do. And the butterbeer was delicious. On the train ride, which is actually really cool, they've got this little visual window and it looks like you're on the train ride over to over to Hogwarts. It was a really fun experience. The line to get onto the train. Your fast pass does work for portions of it, but you're still in line for a very long time. Then we got over to Hogwarts and that's where like the whole city is there, and they did a wonderful job of making it look like you’re really in Harry Potter. My son loved the castle ride. I think we went on it four or five times, which again, if you don't have the fast pass, you won't be doing that.


Barbara: Clarify the fast pass. At Disney, there are only certain rides that the fast pass works on. Is it the same at Universal?


Shae: It works on everything except for the new velociraptor ride and a couple of others. The Hagrid ride with a motorcycle and the side cart, which was personally my favorite ride, in the entire park, took us four days to get on it.


A trick to use the virtual fast pass

I can tell you some tricks that we learned from staff to get on it. On the fourth day we followed what the person said and we rode it twice.


The sneaky thing is the at beginning of the park. When the park opens early, a lot of people will run to the Adventure park to get in line, but those people are still going to be in line for about two hours. They told us don't even bother don't do it, just get the app on the phone, the same as Disney has. Then you go in and then you click the Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Ride. You click the virtual pass and then eventually it will open. And when it opens and it shows you times, don't pick the first time and don't pick the last time, pick one in the middle.

You just keep doing it. And my husband and I both did it at the same time. We both got a time. And so we went on it twice, but be prepared; you're still gonna wait in a pretty long line. We waited about 1 ½ hours the first time, and then later in the evening, about 20 minutes.


Final thoughts


Barbara: That is great. I’m so glad you had a great time. Give us some final thoughts, anything that you would do the same or differently, or recommendations for other people.


Shae: I think the one thing that I would do differently is I probably wouldn't rent a car. We didn't use it at all. We drove from the airport to the hotel and then from the hotel back to the airport, that was it. Our original expectation was that we were going to drive down to the beach and we just never did that. We did go to Volcano Bay, which was included. So we did all three parks. Volcano bay looks amazing and it's wonderful, but I was really greatly disappointed with Volcano Bay. And I probably will never go back there. They have virtual lines, and the terrible thing is, is when you're in a virtual line, you can't get in another virtual line. So it's one at a time and there's literally nothing to do while you're waiting while you're waiting. So you can't go on any of the other water slides. We just went in the lazy river. I mean, it looks really cool, and it's really amazing. The water slides that we did go on were super fun once when you actually got to go on them, but it wasn't a great experience for me and it wasn't worth it.


Also, I think that part should sell Dr. Scholls that go in your shoes. They should sell those at the park. You're going to want those and some ibuprofen just to get you through your day.

One thing that I really did love and I forgot to mention was a restaurant inside of the park. It was in Adventure Land. It was Egyptian style. We just happened to get in there without a reservation, which is really dumb luck. The restaurant opens at 11 o'clock and they were so booked. We happened to be one of the first ones in line. And the food was really, really, really great. And we sat inside, but the view of the whole park was amazing. It was over the water.


Barbara: Sounds amazing. Well, it's good to talk to you as always, Shae. Thank you so much for telling us all about your experience at Universal!