We're off to see the Wizards - Our 1st Trip to US/IOA

Discussion in 'Universal Studios Trip Reports' started by aprilfoolwed, Dec 14, 2012.

  1. aprilfoolwed

    aprilfoolwed DIS Veteran

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    Hello!

    I thought I would start a trip report for our upcoming trip.

    A little about us...

    I'm a Children's Librarian who just returned to full-time work after nearly 11 years of being mostly a SAHM. I am loving my job, and doubly loving the extra income (which is allowing us to do fun things like surprise trips, but more about that later!).

    DH works as a department manager for a local college. We are slowing converting him to a theme park crazy like the rest of us!

    DD (11) is our middle school student. She is in the band, is a great artist, loves horses and is a super student! DS (9) is super intelligent, loves music and playing Legos. He sometimes struggles with an anxiety disorder which creeps in and tries to take away some of his fun. DS (6) is our spunky ball of energy! He loves life and is a super positive, life-loving little guy.

    This year has been filled with changed for our family. As I mentioned before, I returned to work this year, which was a HUGE adjustment for all of us. In addition, we also built our dream home this year. Because of the move, the kids all started new schools this year. All of these changes happened in September!

    Last year, I won 4 one-day passes to Universal through Coke Rewards. We hoped to be able to use them someday, but it wasn't looking likely with new jobs and a new house, and budget cuts at work (DH usually has a convention in Orlando that we piggyback on). Long story short, we ended up finding a great Cyber Monday deal on airfare and I was able to secure a few days off at work, so we're heading to Universal Studios January 7-12!
     
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  3. reelmom

    reelmom DIS Veteran

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    Congratulations on all the new stuff going on, including winning passes. You will love Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. I am excited to read about your trip.
     
  4. aprilfoolwed

    aprilfoolwed DIS Veteran

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    Thanks for reading, Reelmom!

    Since this trip is a surprise (at least for now) for the kids, planning has been harder than for most trips.

    We have our prize passes for US/IOA, but still need to buy passes for 4 other family members. Calling AAA tomorrow to see what their prices are like, but suspect we'll be using Undercover Tourist.

    We booked a house for our stay. We've stayed in both Windsor Hills and Emerald Island in the past, but this time we are trying out Rolling Hills (which is in that same area). We love having the space a house provides! At first, this seemed like a no-brainer - the house was very affordable and we don't mind driving from Kissimmee to Orlando every morning. However, the rental car prices have gone up so much in the past 3 weeks that we are probably breaking even now with a stay at a Universal hotel. In hindsight, we probably should have booked the hotel (and gotten the Express Pass included), but the house looks great.

    We did book our rental car tonight. We ended up going through BJ's Club - they gave us the best rate through Dollar Car Rental. We'll be getting a full-size (Taurus) for $250 inclusive. Three weeks ago, the same car was $100 less. :(

    We will be flying Allegiant. It's my first time flying since 1995, and the kids have never flown. New experience for all of us. We have driven from PA to FL for all of our past trips. Packing will be totally different for us this time. Usually we can take whatever we want!

    I am still working on how to tell the kids we are going. We want to surprise them on Christmas. I would like to either get together 13 clues (since there are 13 days until our trip from Christmas) or surprise them with a dessert at Christmas dinner that reveals our plans. Not sure the best way to do this yet!

    Packing is my main area of concern right now. We paid for 2 carryons and 2 suitcases with Allegiant. So that's all the space we have! Packing lists to come soon....
     
  5. reelmom

    reelmom DIS Veteran

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    Right now, Universal is offering a 2 day/2 park ticket with the 3rd day free. We ordered these for our summer trip. We were just planning on a relaxing vacation this June, doing SeaWorld and Aquatica only. We have Universal AP's but my Mom, niece and nephew do not. I saw this 3rd day free deal and bought their tickets. Now our relaxing vacation is jam packed much to my DH's dismay. We stayed in a condo last year about 20 minutes from the parks. We really enjoyed the space and having a kitchen saved us money.
     
  6. aprilfoolwed

    aprilfoolwed DIS Veteran

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    Both DH and I had a day off today, so we took a drive to the AAA office to pick up a Florida Tourbook and map. I also checked on the AAA prices for Universal tickets. They were the same price as the Undercover Tourist site (a little more than the Mousesavers link). In favor of not worrying about them coming in the mail at Christmas, we purchased them at the AAA office.

    The cashier was thrilled to hear that we were surprising the kids! She gave me a bunch of maps to wrap up for them. :)

    I also FINALLY (after years of looking) bought a "park bag." I've was able to see the eBags Piazza Day Bag in person and decided it would work well for our trip. So bought myself the blue one. :thumbsup2

    Now on to finalizing our luggage and creating our packing list...
     
  7. reelmom

    reelmom DIS Veteran

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    It always makes it official to have your tickets in hand. So exciting!! Yay for your park bag. Just a word of caution about park bags. They are not allowed on a lot of rides. The ones I can think of for now are Forbidden Journey, Men in Black, and The Mummy. They do have free lockers to store your stuff in. They are free for the time it takes to go through the queue and ride the ride. If you don't get back in time, I believe it is $3.00 to open your locker. I ended up using a "lovely" fanny pack. Fanny packs are allowed on those rides as long as they are small and have a 3 prong clasp.
     
  8. KristiMc

    KristiMc DIS Veteran

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    Looking forward to the rest of your report. We are surprising the kids on the last day of school with a trip to WDW. On our last day at the World we are going to surprise them with 2 days at Universal.
     
  9. skmoore07

    skmoore07 Earning My Ears

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    You can always go online and add more bags ahead of time...it will save you from having to pay more at the airport. Also, you may want to double check, but I believe each person gets to take on one free personal item, which can include a backpack our purse up to 7 x14x15.
     
  10. wiigirl

    wiigirl DIS Veteran

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    Looking foreward to your TR. :)
     
  11. Blessedw/boys

    Blessedw/boys Earning My Ears

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    Looking forward to your report, I have 3 boys around the same ages as your kids and I'm trying to decide between the 2 parks. Can't wait to see what you enjoy about each!
     
  12. aprilfoolwed

    aprilfoolwed DIS Veteran

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    We're in the final countdown now! 6 days until we leave!

    As an update, we told our kids about the trip on Christmas night. It was so much fun - both sets of grandparents (and one set of great-grandparents) were there to watch the kids get their clues.

    We ended up writing the letters to UNIVERSAL STUDIOS on index cards - and adding picture clues on the reverse of each card. The kids were given all the cards in an envelope that said they were getting one more gift, but they had to work together to figure out what it was.

    My DD (11) started to try to spell out DISNEY right away, and was a little stumped when I told her no. My middle DS (9) kept trying to figure out how the picture related to the letter (they didn't) and our youngest thought were were going to move again (he saw the picture clue of suitcases LOL). My DD figured it out quickly, and we asked her to give her brothers more time. They were stumped on the dates though - what a surprise to find out we were going in less than 14 days!

    DS (9) is a little nervous about the plane ride (which we knew he would be), so I am glad we told them ahead of time so he can get used to the idea. DD can't wait to get on the coasters! And DS (6) is so excited to just miss school. :)

    We started packing tonight - what a project!

    The forecast isn't looking wonderful for our trip. Warm temps, but rain for half of our time there. I am going to keep an eye on the forecast as we get closer, but we're just going to packplenty of ponchos!

    I am working the next 4 days, so I will have little time to get everything ready. Crunch time - but isn't it fun?????
     
  13. ProudMommyof2

    ProudMommyof2 DIS Veteran

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    Can't wait to hear about your adventures! We are planning our 1st trip to the darkside this April!
     
  14. reelmom

    reelmom DIS Veteran

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    It will be here fast, especially since you will be working the next few days. I am so excited for you. You are going to love Universal. We have 150 days until our trip and I can't wait.
     
  15. Nancy for Disney

    Nancy for Disney DIS Veteran

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    Trying to talk DH into a Universal Trip this summer. I was hoping for a WDW/Universal trip and staying at Windsor Hills. I am not sure I can be that close to Disney without actually going. I look forward to seeing how it works for. We have to get a condo as we have a family of 5 with 2 teens and a tween. Wee need our space. I am struggling with finding a condo near Universal. I really like the look of Windsor Hills. I guess what I am trying to say is please include a review of your condo experience in the TR. Have fun! ;)
     
  16. Metro West

    Metro West <font color=red>Proud Redhead<br><font color=blue> Moderator

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    OP...thanks for sharing your report so far but I warn you...

    We LOVE trip reports with pictures. So when you return home and are writing your trip report, make sure you include lots of pictures!
    :teeth:
     
  17. aprilfoolwed

    aprilfoolwed DIS Veteran

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    Hi everyone! Thanks for reading and for all of your replies.

    It's the night before vacation!!!!

    The bags are ALMOST packed. The tickets are in my brand new eBag piazza bag. And the plane leaves tomorrow morning at 10:10!

    The kids are really excited - I don't think they will sleep well tonight.

    @Nancy - I will certainly let you know how the house is! We are a family of 5 too, so we love staying in condos or houses rather than a hotel! Honestly, the house we are renting was less expensive than most of the condos in Windsor Hills that we priced. And you have your own pool!

    I will take lots of pictures! I am not sure how to upload them here, but I am sure I can figure it out!

    We have few actual plans on this trip. I am not used to not having a page full of ADRs and touring plans! I think we are going to hit the Studio on our first day, and then alternate between the parks. I'd like to eat at Mythos one day, but otherwise no dining plans.

    We are going to Dave & Busters in Orlando on Wednesday to meet up with a friend from college. That should be a good time too!

    Not sure how I am going to be with being so close to Mickey and not seeing him, but maybe we'll sneak in some time at DTD!

    I'll be reporting back soon!
     
  18. reelmom

    reelmom DIS Veteran

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    I hope you are having a fantastic time. I can't wait to hear about your trip.
     
  19. mycutiepatooties

    mycutiepatooties DIS Veteran

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    I'm excited to hear how your trip went!
     
  20. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead

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    waiting, hope you have pics....
     
  21. aprilfoolwed

    aprilfoolwed DIS Veteran

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    Hello! We just returned home today from our quick 5-day visit to Orlando. I have lots to share - including photos (if I can figure out how to do it!).

    I will start with Day One (Monday 1/7) - although there isn't much to tell.

    Our flight left PA around 10:00 AM, and with a slight delay (as the previous flight from FL arrived a little late). It was the first time the kids flew, and they were nervous and excited. Thankfully, we had a really uneventful flight and everything went well.

    Arrived at Sanford airport around 12:45, and we picked up our rental car (used Dollar/Thrifty). We stopped for lunch off of I-4, and then headed to Kissimmee to our rental home.

    We stayed here:

    Mickey's Manor

    The house was in the Rolling Hills subdivision. It was our first time staying in that neighborhood. The homes are a little older, and the community was not gated. That didn't seem to be an issue - there was not the traffic through there like in some of the bigger rental neighborhoods. We didn't even have any of those pizza menus slipped under the door.

    The house itself was well-appointed, although a little older and in need of some updates (carpet was a little worn). My biggest issue was that the house, while mostly clean, did have some areas that were not up to my standard of clean. The bedroom my DD used had a down comforter on the bed - and it was visibly dirty. The ceiling fan was filthy and the baseboards were very dusty. The microwave smelled of bacon and was greasy. Yuck! I did my best to clean with the few supplies we could find - but I was turned off by that (despite the rest of the house being quite nice).

    After unpacking (and doing some light cleaning), we went out to the Super Target to pick up some groceries and supplies. Our plan was to eat breakfast in the house each day, as well as packing snacks and drinks to take to the parks. It worked out wonderfully and I know we saved a ton of money each day by doing this.

    The kids asked to eat at the Golden Corral (not my choice at all), and it was as to be expected. :lmao: After dinner, we headed to Downtown Disney to do some window shopping. The kids enjoyed the dance party on the stage!

    We turned in early, as we were tired from traveling and had plans to be at Universal for rope drop the next day!
     

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