TR: Without the Mouse, Round 2. Flexpasses, Lego & a villa *Final Update Oct 14*

Discussion in 'Universal Studios Trip Reports' started by coastgirl, Feb 9, 2013.

  1. DryCreek

    DryCreek Peter Pan (never grows up)

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    Depending on where you're located (East Coast/Central/West) it may not be that much more for you to look into Disneyland as an option. With only two parks located within walking distance of each other (closer than the walk between IoA/US) and tons of reasonable, decent lodging just across the street, a DL trip can be had for about half of an onsite stay at WDW. Of course, you'd have to trade off the cost of tickets if you are coming from the East side of the U.S. or Canada, but there are often sales that can get you pretty cheaply into LAX or SNA. Last year we stayed at the Best Western Plus Park Place Inn. It was right across the street from the park entrance. It was a five minute walk from our room at the back of the hotel to the center plaza between the two parks. Three minutes of that time was waiting for the light to cross Harbor Avenue. In fact, it was a shorter walk than what we had the first time we stayed at the Alligator Bayou rooms of the POR to the main lobby and bus stop. That may be an option to get your Disney fix in four days and not break the bank!
     
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  3. coastgirl

    coastgirl DIS Veteran

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    Mad Eye...cool. I think my dh could pull that off. Yeah, I want to see the expansion too, it sounds like the Gringott's ride is going to be fabulous, but it'll have to wait a few years.

    I go for "fine time either way". Hey, it's Florida, and people have put a lot of effort into making you happy. ::yes::

    We really enjoy water rides, but didn't do that one on our first trip. Will make sure to hit it this time, thanks for the recommendation. It was February, after all, and the first week at least it was cool. (Like, May or June at home!) We really enjoyed "Journey to Atlantis" at Seaworld, besides FJ that was probably our favourite ride of the trip.

    I much prefer true off season--like warmth but not melting heat, and hate crowds--but with ds in middle school now I don't feel good taking him out for more than a few days of class time. Our first trip with the kids was May/June and we just turned into little puddles of Canuck. So the August heat isn't my first choice, but I hope the crowds will be thinner at least, as so many US schools go back in August. Plus because we have the luxury of time, I don't plan for long days full of must-dos.

    I haven't done much research on DL, but it sounds in many ways to be a nice alternative. We haven't yet made it to CA, and we will someday I suppose, but it's nice to see it's more "doable". It must be weird, because I understand the parks are similar and different at the same time...if you've been to both, it could be a little confusing!

    As far as our planning goes, it looks like we'll probably buy one set of APs to Sea World and IoA, to test that out...it's pretty much a wash on cost if it covers our parking. Also we want to "Dine with Shamu" and we can get a discount on that with the SW AP. (The AAA discount isn't as good at SW.)

    Legoland plans are up in the air. We are definitely going. Ds would revolt if I took that away. (We have thousands and thousands of dollars of Lego all over the house. He has two of those eight-bin toy storage racks, all filled with Lego. Several other containers with different organizational functions. Plus two big rubbermaid totes. He dabbles with video games and other toys but he's been a Lego freak since he was about 6. It's now into the realm of "socially inappropriate" for his age and he doesn't talk to his peers about it! :scared: But it's not going away any time soon!)

    Anyway, the issue with Legoland is our pup, Miss Adorable. The Legoland kennel is "not staffed". "Not staffed", how does that even work for little critters in searing heat? The building is a/c I know that much, but I guess that means there is no access to outdoor runs. Is it like a bigger version of park lockers, put in your coins, drop the "parcel" and walk away with a key? I am very uncomfortable with the idea that there's no one keeping an eye on her if we are to be away for several hours. Just read a TR that someone had spent about 9 hrs in the park with their kids, and that could totally be my kids. So we are looking for options for the pup. Maybe a doggie daycare in Winter Haven (prefer not to leave her "all the way back" in Orlando). But not having any luck finding something. So the best we've come up with is that dh will drop me and the kids at the park and spend the day driving around with the dog. I don't love that option either. And I don't know how many tickets to buy. Sigh.

    Oh...hey, I just thought of something. I have a friend who lives in Orlando, we have already arranged to spend time with her and her family. Maybe Feliz would be happier spending the day there. She has two German Shepherds (each of whom has a head that weighs more than my whole dog), and Feliz is very shy...so she might hate that. But even if she spends the day hiding in her crate there, she might be better off than the alternatives. Hmm. :scratchin

    22 weeks today! Tomorrow makes it exactly 5 months! Next week is March break here, and it kills me to see everyone else flying off to warmer climes, but my son especially is looking forward to doing nothing for a week. (Middle school is hard!) And it'll be less crowded in August! :goodvibes
     
  4. DryCreek

    DryCreek Peter Pan (never grows up)

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    I would encourage you to look into DL. It was good to go there again after not having been there for 20 years. The last time we were there, our son was very young (4 or 5?), and we were having to deal with the crowds for the opening of Mickey's Toon Town. It's hard to believe it was that long ago!

    The greatest part about it is that you feel that you know the place, but there are intriguing little twists in the layout. The whole New Orleans Square area is really great, and the subtle differences between the rides make it refreshing and exciting like the first few times you visited WDW's Magic Kingdom. The California Adventure park is pretty good, not to the level of EPCOT, but well worth the visit. And now, with the construction ended for the new Buena Vista Street and Carsland, it should be wayyy better than when we visited during construction. I must say, their version of The Pirates of the Caribbean is measurably better. I also think that the Matterhorn Bobsleds ride makes up for the lack of a TTA and a useful attraction in the old Carousel Of Progress building.

    To top it off, the nice King bed semi-suite room we had was a bargain. My wife has a frequent-stayers type account with Best Western, so a direct call to the hotel yielded us a great rate of only $79 per evening! Included a free continental breakfast too.
     
  5. coastgirl

    coastgirl DIS Veteran

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    Just got Legoland tickets for $22, not sure why!

    So I am posting this deal all over the internet I'm so excited about it.:cheer2: So you may have already read my excited little rant. :)

    We were talking over breakfast about Legoland, and whether dh will come with us or not. So I started looking at tickets again. We have a loyalty program in Canada called AirMiles (which allowed me to purchase our flights for this trip). They had a link to a discount for the tickets. Through February it had a buy-an-adult-get-a-child-free 1-day pass deal--but this morning that offer had disappeared. :confused3 But the adult tickets were a good deal, and I could still get the adult+kid deal through a different link...If dh goes, we need three adult tickets plus one kid.

    So, I put two adult tickets in the cart for $58 each, and got ready to get them. Well! The price once they were in my basket was $22 per adult! I have no idea why.

    Once I saw it I adjusted my plan, and got 3 adult tickets and one kid through that link, for $127, all in. The cheapest I was previously able to get in a number of searches and discount combos was $224 (and I don't think that included tax, now that I think about it).

    I purchased while signed into my AirMiles account, but I logged out to see if I could do it without being logged in (i.e., if others could do it without an AirMiles account), and it seemed to pull me through the same way, and the price still came out to $22 per adult. So, fingers crossed, give it a go if you are interested.

    https://secure4.gatewayticketing.com...nd=LandingPage

    So now that the tickets are so cheap, it's worth it to have a ticket for dh, even if it's so we can do an "adult swap" and I can go sit in the car with the dog for a while! But we had a look at the park video and park map together, and I think dh is in. It's NOT a thrilling park and it's heavily weighted to little kids, but with a couple of Lego fans, I think we'll have a lot to do. I'm also looking forward to seeing what's left of the old Cypress Gardens.

    That's my exciting morning, saving $100 for no apparent reason. :cool1:
     
  6. coastgirl

    coastgirl DIS Veteran

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    Sounds neat, DryCreek, and you got a good deal to boot!
     
  7. DryCreek

    DryCreek Peter Pan (never grows up)

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    It was fun. Oh, and as usual, I did all of my pre-trip planning through DisBoards!
    lots of good information out there, provided by helpful people.
    The one thing that doesn't surprise me is how passionate folks are on this board when it comes to their favorite park(s).
    When looking for Disneyland info, they certainly like the compactness of their two parks over the more spread-out layout of WDW. And here, on the Universal site, it seems that the most prolific posters enjoy US/IoA over WDW.
    This is good, because they can bring your attention to the little nuances and differences that make their favorite park(s) special to them.

    Since I have only been to US once (in 2006, for only about 8 hours), I cannot pick an absolute favorite yet.

    I will admit that WDW vacation planning has its strong points. Since I am the one that has to do ALL of the vacation planning, I like that I can do all of my advance purchases at one stop. I get Park Admission, Lodging, Meal Plans, and airport R/T transportation taken care of with just the usual "Magic Your Way" plan. I also like the feeling of total immersion while there. I skip watching TV (even though I'm a news addict) and usually allow my e-mail and voicemail to go unanswered.

    It looks like we should be able to get the same level of isolation/immersion during our upcoming US/IoA trip in May. Except for maybe one quick pedestrian jaunt offsite to get necessary supplies (Blue Moon), we won't be leaving the property! Too bad they probably won't have Shiner Black available in Florida.
     
  8. Nancy for Disney

    Nancy for Disney DIS Veteran

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    What a great deal! I still don't think we would do LegoLand. For some reason I have no interest.

     
  9. braddillman

    braddillman Mouseketeer

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    Just did the math for my own trip (11 days), and decided on 4 flexpass/flexpass+, 1 preferred annual pass to universal, and 1 annual pass to SW+Aquatica(+BG). It's within $20, so if I save that on my 10% savings then it's breakeven.

    My reasoning is that if the parking is paid in advance (like the parks with flexpass) then we can just decide to go in for a couple of hours, or drop by one park on a whim. I won't be pressured to make sure I get my $15 worth of parking. :rotfl:

    Based on that, I'd advise you to do the same, but it's your choice.
     
  10. coastgirl

    coastgirl DIS Veteran

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    I know, there's a lot less planning to do--but then that's not such a bad thing, as I already spend waaaaaay too much time puttering 'round the net thinking about this trip! :surfweb:

    Ooo, Nancy, there's a fabulous trip planning utility over at the Dibb...you could spend LOTS of time playing with that!! http://www.thedibb.co.uk/forums/planner.php

    I also have the added complication of being a "foreigner"...add to my planning list getting new passports for everyone, and some banking work to get the best value out of our dollars.

    So Blue Moon is beer? Is there much in the way of craft beer around? Not something we've spent a lot of time on in Fl. The only time I really like American beer :duck: is when it's really hot and I'm thirsty. So haven't explored much in Fl. Dh loves a good microbrew, though.

    Brad, I have to say, I was reading in your TR where you said that the AP with parking helped you to relax a bit--not feel like you had to get your money's worth out of that $15 daily fee. I know it may not seem like a lot, given what we've spent just to get there, but I totally get that. (I mentioned I was "thrifty" right? :rolleyes1) Also it's not something that adds value...I'd much rather spend $15 on a round of butterbeer. (Paying for parking is kind of like replacing your furnace or something--necessary, yes, fun, no.) So we are doing the same thing, 1 set of APs for Universal parks/SW, then Flexpasses for the rest of us.

    Speaking of being a foreigner, I am waiting another week or so to buy our tickets--we applied for a US$ credit card, as I am sick to death of paying exchange over and over again. I have a client who paid me in US$ recently so I am hoarding that for our trip!

    Got the kids' and my passport photos done yesterday! We are appropriately sullen in the photos. I was trying to explain to the kids why we're not allowed to smile in passport photos. Ds thinks it's because looking at happy pleasant people might get customs officers to trust people more when they should be suspicious. I think it's because customs officers never, ever see happy people, so they wouldn't recognize us otherwise! :( Dh is on his own, I will bring in the completed apps next week but he's got to get his self to the photo desk at costco and look sullen for them.:mad:
     
  11. braddillman

    braddillman Mouseketeer

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    BTW if you have a costco card it works there, we did it last time. They sell wine, beer, steak, bottled water, breakfast stuff, frozen stuff, everything you need.

    It's here, about 1/2 hour from where you're staying (I think):

    https://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&cid=13580901207505620277&q=Costco&iwloc=A&gl=US&hl=en

    It's less than 10 minutes from SeaWorld, and it's just like a costco here (well, except for the liquor).

    BTW for frugal people, if you get the executive membership (around $120 I think?) you save 2% on purchases, paid yearly. BUT, if your 2% saved is less than $120, they refund your membership. So - that's essentially free, and therefore cheaper than regular membership.
     
  12. coastgirl

    coastgirl DIS Veteran

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    Dh already has Costco in Orlando bookmarked for himself, and we have the exec membership too. Great minds think alike. :teeth: Yeah, we've been to Costco in Fl and other states while travelling. We actually really enjoy going to grocery stores while abroad. (Weird, I know.) It's amazing what a slice of life a Costco (or a Tesco, or a Piggly Wiggly) can be.
     
  13. coastgirl

    coastgirl DIS Veteran

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    Well, a good day of progress for me. Yesterday we got the US$ credit card I was waiting for, so today I put it to use.

    Got flexpasses for the kids and myself at Undercover Tourist. Nice little mousesavers discount on that.

    Went to Seaworld.com to buy an AP for dh. Checked out and THEN read "AP is valid from date of purchase for one year". WHA??? I thought it was standard that a ticket's validity period starts at first use. So, I panicked. I don't know that we are going back inside a year, it's unlikely, but it's always a possibility, and who wants to let an AP languish for 4 months? So I immediately called up Seaworld and got a great customer service rep. She cancelled the purchase for me but STILL booked "Dine with Shamu" for us with the AP discount, seeing as she knew it was my intent to have the pass. Dinner for the four of us, and the "behind the scenes" interaction with the trainers, up close with the whales, for $111. :dance3: That's a pretty sweet deal.

    This is also a great test case for the US$ credit card. In the past if I book something in a different currency and cancel it, I end up paying 6% or more for nothing--the card company adds a 3% exchange fee when I buy something (e.g., I pay $103 dollars for something that's $100), then if they refund me, they keep 3% on the way back (a $100 refund comes back at $97)--six dollars for nothing. But this time it didn't cost me anything, because the purchase and the refund stay in US$. (I have to pay my cc bill in US, but I have a client who pays that way, so I've just put it aside.) And that, boys and girls, is the end of the math lesson.:teacher:

    Then as I had committed to a date for DwS, I went over to WDW Dine and booked our ADR for 'Ohana. Got my first pick, going for a late breakfast/brunch at 10:30.

    Next stop universal.com for the US AP for dh. Disappointed to see the price was more than I expected, so I posted to the US/IoA forum to ask if anyone had noticed the price increase. Well, there hadn't been an increase, I had just been reading the FL resident AP price. :( But one kind soul posted a reply to my post with a code for a discount--which got me $25 off the AP! (Which brought it down to only $5 more than that Fl res price.)

    I tell you, there is good karma flowing all over us today. And, I love the dis. :disrocks:

    All I need now is the SW AP for dh, and we will get that the week we leave, I've already put it into my calendar so I don't forget. Add to that the great deal we already got for Legoland. And the kindness of strangers, in the form of a SW parking pass for our first visit given me by a kind dis'er who couldn't use it--you know who you are. :flower3:
     
  14. Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina

    Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina DIS Veteran

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    Yay for being able to book DWS now with the AP discount :cool1:, and being able to delay the purchase of the AP itself . Love that SW customer service!! :thumbsup2
     
  15. Nancy for Disney

    Nancy for Disney DIS Veteran

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    Glad you got the good karma and the annual pass thing is working out for you. Happy planning.
     
  16. coastgirl

    coastgirl DIS Veteran

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    Thanks! Yep, the customer service was great. Last trip Seaworld was kind of an "add on", we didn't know much about it, and it was on the flexpass with Aquatica, so we kind of just...gave it a go. We had some great fun there--seeing all the animals and shows, and "Journey to Atlantis" is pretty much our favourite ride now. This trip I am looking forward to planning more days there and getting to know the park better.

    The other thing I got done last week was got our passport applications in, hurrah! Honestly, we just had renewals, but the whole process is still quite a to-do--I'd almost rather do my taxes (almost!). I ended up waiting 40 minutes at the passport office, and was ready to take out the woman ahead of me in line who was so unprepared, and spent 30 minutes with an agent without even getting her forms submitted. Honestly! You didn't know you needed references? Your dh didn't sign his form? :rolleyes2: Of course when I got to the wicket everything was in perfect order, right down to the colour coded binder clips I used to keep everyone's apps together. But then, we're all planners here, so I'm sure you have the same colour coded binder clips! :rotfl: We should get our new passports by the middle of April, plenty of time.

    Oh, Nancy, just scrolling through and you're making me jealous...our tickers look the same but yours is so much closer!! :sad: And your Hedwig is bigger than mine!! :snooty:
     
  17. indimom

    indimom Are We There Yet?

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    You've got Hedwig-envy... :lmao: Don't worry, I've got the little Hedwig too. ::yes::
    And, I almost cried when we changed our dates and he flew backward to the beginning of my ticker. :blush:
    You're plans look like they are coming along well! It'll be here before you know it!
     
  18. coastgirl

    coastgirl DIS Veteran

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    You're still closer though. But time is starting to speed up it seems. Can't wait to get actual tickets...I expect next week, Undercover Tourist is fab.

    Going through a guidebook this morning trying to expand our ride repetoire--we are chickens pretty much, so I think we were a little blind to the possibilities.

    So, Universal veterans, what would you recommend for a family for whom Atlantis is the pinnacle of fun? Ds and I enjoyed FJ but dh and dd found it a bit athletic, though we will do it together on this trip (and ds and I will do it often)...dh also got sea-sick on the Simpsons, so he's not the most adventurous that way. We liked Splash and Big Thunder at MK, but have never done Tower of Terror or (what's the name of the one with the Yeti at AK?) or anything like that. Space Mtn seems like it was always closed when we were there.
     
  19. coastgirl

    coastgirl DIS Veteran

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    :woohoo: I :lovestruc Undercovertourist. Just got the three flexpasses in the mail, about 10 days after I ordered them. :banana: I should print out the Legoland tickets and the US AP for dh, I have them electronically. It's way more fun to have actual tickets. :hyper:
     
  20. indimom

    indimom Are We There Yet?

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    I just noticed my bad grammer in that post. Should have been "your" not "you're". Now, I'm annoyed. lol.

    Sorry, I'm not much help with the ride recommendations, but I may be able to help a bit with the motion sickness. 3/4 of us suffer from motion sickness. DH, DD and I use Dramamine/Bonine daily on our theme parks vacations and it works very well.

    DH still has trouble with rides like Simpsons and Mission:Space even with the meds. He can get through them, but he doesn't like them and he has to take a few minutes to recover afterward. DH and DD avoid true spinning rides like the teacups and storm force accelatron. I can manage it with meds as long as we don't spin the car too fast.

    We also space out the wilder rides because motion sickness can be cumulative. Take no chances is our motto because once it hits, motion sickness can ruin an entire day.

    Good Luck with your planning. Universal/IOA definitely have the wilder rides so that's probably where you'll need the most advice.

    I don't find the Yeti to be that wild, but there is a backward portion that gets to some people. It's slightly uphill as you go backward, so it can feel a bit like an inversion to some folks. I read that before we rode it the first time and thought, "how can that be?" Then, I rode it, and I understood immediately what they were talking about, it sort of gives tht impression. Beyond that and the initial higher climb, I consider it no worse than Thunder Mt.
    I also think ToT is not bad. But, if your kids are touchy about the sensation of falling, I would avoid it. DS said he liked it (when he first rode it at 5), but was a bit skittish of elevators after that ride.:rolleyes2 Bad mom.

    Oh, and Dr. Dooms Fearfall at IOA made DD cry when she was 11. If she had known what to expect, she probably would have been okay. But, since it shoots you off, and she was smaller sized, when we hit the peak of the ride, she lifted out of her seat and free-floated for a second. Scared the life out of her. :faint: I felt really bad about that one. :worried:

    Hope you get some more good tips from everyone else. Sorry I couldn't help more. Happy Planning!
     
  21. braddillman

    braddillman Mouseketeer

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    For rides, JP River Adventure? It's very gentle and I love the themeing. My son and I are coaster chickens and we have no problem - just tighten your stomach muscles as you begin to drop, like a jet fighter pilot would, it's a pretty short time anyway. More gentle than disney jungle cruise, except for the drop.

    The high-in-the-sky Suess trolley-train-ride is fun, too, shouldn't trigger motion sickness.

    But in thinking this through, most of the IoA/USF rides could be a problem.
     

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