A Room of My Own! - September 14-17, 2019 - PTR/TR

thepicklebee

Mouseketeer
Joined
Jun 29, 2016
Greetings everyone! Thanks for stopping by my current PTR which will become my Trip Report once I return!

My name is Erin. I live in the Mid-Atlantic area with my family and am a professional book peddler and amateur foodie (You can follow my adventures on Instagram: ReadEatRead). I’m married with a 13 year old kiddo (Eek! Teenager!) and we last visited Universal in 2016.

http://instagr.am/p/BLhGnkZgLq9/
Every year in September I have to attend a conference for work in Orlando (although there was a random year in Dallas once but was a disaster and wasn’t repeated) and I usually tack on a few Disney days to the trip.

Last year at the conference, some of my colleagues and I talked about how fun a few days at Universal would be – mostly because we are book people and Harry Potter fueled our business for many years. A month or two before the registration for the conference, a few of us decided to go for it and three of us are going down on Saturday before our conference begins on Tuesday.

I’ll be honest, I’m wary of spending so much time with these work friends – but I have been to Universal before and have no problem going off on my own for solo adventures if I need a break, so I’m not terribly worried about it.

When I came to Universal last with my family, we stayed at Royal Pacific but budget friendly was really the name of the game for this trip, and that wasn’t in the cards. Cabana Bay and Aventura were the options that I was comfortable with and I spent a great deal of time debating between the two.

I really liked the pool at Cabana Bay from the pictures that I had seen, and I thought it would be great to float around the lazy river if I needed a park break. However, the theming isn’t my favorite.

Aventura looks lovely to me. I love a more clean line look and I think that the entire resort feels more “adult” in a way that appeals to me. I thought that the food and bar options were a better fit for work colleagues traveling together and for me solo. I also rationalized that I could always pool hop if I felt so inclined.

Clearly, Aventura won the internal debate. Fortunately, the other travelers agreed and we are all booked. I’m greedily looking forward to 3 nights in a hotel alone. There is something positively blissful about it to me! Of course I start to miss my family when I’m away, but we all need some recharge time now and then, and I’m super excited for that to be at Universal this trip!
 

christophfam

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jun 11, 2002
I’m in also! I’m currently booked at Adventura for two nights before my RPR stay in October. I’ll be interested to see what you thought of it! Don’t forget Strongwater Tavern is just a short walk away. I know I won’t :drinking1
 
  • thepicklebee

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jun 29, 2016
    I’m in also! I’m currently booked at Adventura for two nights before my RPR stay in October. I’ll be interested to see what you thought of it! Don’t forget Strongwater Tavern is just a short walk away. I know I won’t :drinking1
    I am looking forward to hitting up Strongwater! The ceviche options look amazing and I mean, booze!

    I’ve never stayed anywhere that didn’t have the boat so I figure I’ll try the bus but worst case can always take the boat to SF and walk to Aventura from there.
     

    christophfam

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 11, 2002
    The bus is fine (I took it when I stayed at CB) but the boat is just soo relaxing and you don’t have to deal with the citywalk security and walkways. If walking to the boat doesn’t add a lot of extra steps, I’ll be taking the boat.
     
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    PoohIsHome

    Wizard momma living in a muggle world.
    Joined
    Sep 5, 2013
    Love going with my guys, but solo time sounds like so much fun!!
     
  • pepperandchips

    [melinda]
    Joined
    Mar 16, 2014
    Three nights in a hotel alone sounds like a wonderful recharge - you’re my kinda gal! Can’t wait to read along. I hope you have a great time!!!
     

    thepicklebee

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jun 29, 2016
    Thanks so much for following along!

    As a Disney person, the idea of no planning is a strange concept, but I actually really like that quality about Universal. I am a big time foodie, so I do spend some time looking at food options and reading other people’s trip reports to get some ideas about must eat places.

    I know that on my must have list are ice cream from Florean Fortescue, ceviche from Strong Water Tavern, and the Korean BBQ Tacos from Bumblebee Man Tacos. I welcome all suggestions, so free to hit me with them!

    I will be flying into Orlando on Saturday morning, arriving at MCO at 11:11 am . I have a military promotional ticket that’s a 4 day Park to Park so I can hit the parks as soon as I arrive and even Tuesday morning before my conference starts should I desire. This is a trip without Express Pass, as I have stayed at the hotels that included it before, but I’m not worried about it since I can either single rider or opt to bypass something if the line is longer than I want.

    Halloween Horror Nights is something that I have never desired to go to as I am a BIG TIME CHICKEN!! I don’t love horror movies, and being scared is definitely not my favorite thing. However, I succumbed to peer pressure and will be going to HHN on Sunday. Eek! While it may be lame to some, I did watch the Tim Tracker media day walkthrough of the houses to prepare me for what I was getting myself into. I think there are definitely some houses I can handle, and I’m a little more excited about going.

    Hurry up Saturday!
     

    thepicklebee

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jun 29, 2016
    Travel & Day 1, Part One

    My flight out was scheduled for 7 am but I found myself wide awake at 3:45. Why? Heavens knows, but I gave in to not being able to sleep at about 4:15 and made myself a cup of coffee before I started getting ready.

    I mentioned before that I am meeting up with some work colleagues for this trip before. The day before we were supposed to leave I was talking with one of them and he mentioned that his husband (who is also coming) has been having some chronic pain issues and he thought maybe we should do a day of express pass to make it easier on him. I took a look and saw we could book a throwaway at Royal Pacific for about the same cost as one day of Express Pass so that was an obvious choice. We also ended up getting Express Pass for HHN.

    I live in a fairly rural area and our airport is small with only flights to two hubs, but it’s super convenient for traveling. I got there at 6:15 for a 7 am flight, and was on the plane by 6:35. I did have a mild moment of worry because while I tend to under pack, I didn’t want to count on being able to laundry since I had a packed schedule this trip, and my bag was HEAVY. I held my breath...
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    Pshew. Skin of my teeth. My husband is flying down to meet me on Friday (for some Disney time) so I will be able to shed some weight into his bag.

    My flights were on time and relatively uneventful. I cannot sleep on planes so I was content to read some of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest release and to watch an episode of the Great British Bake Off.

    I arrived at MCO, took a Lyft from the airport to Aventura. My room wasn’t ready, and I dropped my bag off to bell service and headed off towards Royal Pacific to “check in” there.

    Now... I don’t know that there is a Universal equivalent term for pixie dust, but I got an amazing pixie dust moment. Once I made my way to the lobby, I was chatting with the front desk employee checking me in when she tells me, “we do have a special offer today...” and proceeded to offer me a hospitality suite instead of a guest room with beds for $99. Yes. $99. Not additional. I would be getting a significant refund. UMMMM YES! 2 Days of Express Passes for 3 of us for $111 total?! Amazing! I was super excited, and because we weren’t going to be using the beds anyway, it didn’t matter to us on the least. (They offered to provide roll aways and it does have a sleeper sofa, in case you’re wondering.

    I got our Express passes and set off to meet up with my traveling companions for the day.
     
  • schumigirl

    It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts
    Joined
    May 15, 2007
    Erin, congrats on the Hospitality Suite......it is beautiful........you’ll enjoy your time in there......

    And hope you enjoy Strong Water......our favourite bar anywhere....... :thumbsup2
     

    thepicklebee

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jun 29, 2016
    My companions for the day had been in line for Hagrid’s most of the morning and by the time I met up with them, we were all ready for lunch.

    I am fairly laid back and let them pick the place, which boiled down to the qualifier of first one they saw, and we ended up at Confisco Grille. Our server let us know that they had some new menu items and to feel free to ask questions. I opted for the Chilled Tuna Noodle Bowl.

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    This was incredible. It was fresh with all the right sweet and sour notes you’d expect. The tuna was good and the radish added a nice bite and texture. The one misstep to me was the addition of some sliced avocado that didn’t fit the dish texturally or in flavor profile, but seemed added because everyone is avocado obsessed lately. It was also a bargain at $15, in my opinion.

    We headed back to Hogsmeade to spend some time letting out our inner witch and wizard, riding Forbidden Journey, and strolling through Honeydukes. We hopped onboard the Hogwarts Express towards Diagon Alley and escaped from Gringotts. I also introduced everyone to the glory that is Frozen Butterbeer.

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    We rode a few other things around the park, but my early wake up time was definitely starting to catch up to me, and I still had to stop at the front desk for keys and luggage, so I headed back around 6:30.

    My room had been ready for a few hours so it took only moments to get the keys and retrieve my (very heavy) bag. I was beat, so I opted to pick up something to eat from the Urban Pantry, Aventura's main food option. I didn't really think about it and opted for the Tuna Poke Bowl. Yes, I ate tuna twice in one day. Oops. But it was delicious and very filling.
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    I hit the bed and I think I was asleep in minutes. We were going to set out early in the morning and it had been a long day for me.

    A few comments about Aventura...

    The hotel is definitely a bit sterile feeling in the public spaces. The bars are all very modern and white. I feel the entire place is just lacking in color infusions. That being said, the rooms are amazing. I really love the clean and modern feel of the guest rooms here. I dislike carpet and furniture that seems old and this has none of that. The shower is also large and gorgeous. It was also room 957 which was the phone exchange where I grew up. It may be the first time ever I had no difficulty remembering my room number.

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    thepicklebee

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jun 29, 2016
    Day 2
    I knew that today was going to be a long day - spending the morning and early afternoon in the parks and the HHN that evening. We planned to grab a quick breakfast from Urban Pantry and then head into the parks. I am not much of a breakfast eater, and grabbed a bagel - which was a surprisingly difficult task as there were no employees stationed at that counter and everyone seemed confused as to who was supposed to be working there. Eventually, I obtained my bagel and some cream cheese, which was completely unremarkable and I didn't bother to take a pic of it.
    While all the food I had from here was good, the speed of service leaves something to be desired. When you place an order, you get a device to put on your table, and someone delivers it to you. It took every bit of 15 minutes for my colleagues to get their breakfast that morning, which can really increase your time you spend eating what you expect to be a quick meal.

    On the bright side, there is a Starbucks in the lobby that is efficient and, well, just what you expect from a Starbucks minus mobile ordering. They do take payment via the app, even though you can't order using it. I am not a Pumpkin Spice Latte kind of a gal, but I do love the new Pumpkin Creme Cold Brew. It's just a hint of fall in an iced coffee, and is thoroughly delicious.

    Our mission for today was pretty clear cut - hit as many attractions as possible! I am a person that does feel like Universal is a bit simulator heavy, but there are still many that I really enjoy. We started the day at Islands of Adventure, hitting the Hulk, Spiderman, Jurassic Park, and Hogsmeade before taking the Hogwarts Express over to USF. We skipped the water rides because none of us desired to be soaking wet, and I have never gotten THAT wet on the Jurassic Park ride. Fortunately, that held true this trip.

    We arrived at Diagon Alley and rode Gringott's twice before deciding that we were all ready for lunch. We opted to eat at The Leaky Cauldron to get the full Harry Potter experience. I have eaten at Three Broomsticks before, so I was ready to try the alternative. I didn't have a huge appetite, so I opted for the Kids Meal Fish and Chips with a Pumpkin Juice.
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    Pumpkin Juice is my favorite of all the Wizarding World beverages, and it was every bit as good as I remembered. The fish and chips... well. They were okay. The fish was actually quite good, but the chips weren't very hot and had no crispness to them at all. I don't care for tartar sauce, but did taste it and it was unremarkable - just like any typical tartar sauce.

    After lunch, we continued hitting all the attractions that captured our interest (and some that didn't). It was my first time riding the Jimmy Fallon ride and it was a complete "Meh" for me. For some reason, we had skipped the Mummy when I was last here with my family and I really enjoyed that as well.

    We kept at it until about 3 pm when we decided to head back to the hotel to relax a bit before heading to HHN. I managed a quick nap and then got ready to meet up with everyone at CityWalk.

    We decided that since we were only going to do HHN for one night, that we would buy the Express Pass for it. This was a smart decision, as I'm sure y'all already know. This was also one of the reasons that we went back to the hotel for a bit instead of getting a jumpstart with the Stay and Scream.

    We opted to split some pizzas from Red Oven Pizza because we weren't sure what our options would be during HHN and the rest of them didn't want to waste time eating once we were in. I love brick oven pizza, and frequent one at home often. This one... it was unremarkable. I enjoyed the beer more than the pizza, and I don't even really like beer. Oh well, you win some you lose some.

    I was REALLY nervous about HHN. I don't love haunted houses, and I was concerned it was going to be way too much for me. Overall, it ended up being less scary than I had anticipated. With the Express Pass we were able to go to all of the houses that night. Did I enjoy any of them? I appreciated the nostalgia of Ghostbusters because I loved that movie growing up. The detail in Us and Stranger Things is definitely awesome. But I still don't like to be scared! I also felt rushed through, and like I couldn't really just experience certain scenes because we had to keep moving. I realize that they have a huge mass of people to move through, but I also know that there was a lot that I didn't get to appreciate because we were moving so quickly.

    I also am a sucker for themed drinkware and happily purchased the refillable drink cup that was Ghostbusters themed and light up.

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    The cup is $13.99 and then you can get refills of the specialty drinks for $9.99. I tried three different specialty drinks and question if there was really any alcohol in them, but they were all fruity and tasty regardless. You can opt for beer as well, but as I said - not much of a beer person.

    We finished up at just shy of midnight and called it a night.

    This day we used the bus to and from CityWalk. I neglected to mention that I walked back to the resort the day before, just to see how long it was. It's about 1.25 miles, and is an easy walk - but is not for everyone since sometimes the last thing you feel like doing after a long day at the parks is adding on another mile. The buses were great, we had little to no wait, and the ride was about 10 minutes give or take. The downside to the bus in the morning was the mass of people at security at CityWalk, but it only required a brief delay. I definitely preferred boat transportation though, and decided to try my hand at walking to Sapphire Falls the next day.
     

    schumigirl

    It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts
    Joined
    May 15, 2007
    You did have a busy day!

    I loved to hear of your HHN experience....it’s always interesting to hear a first timer impression........we love being scared, but it’s not for everyone.

    Never tried Red Oven, didn’t appeal much......Sal’s is so much better! But I’m sorry you didn’t like your meal.

    The houses for us are decent, but could be better......not our favourite year, but I agree Ghostbusters for the nostalgia is amazing......and not scary......which is a whole other story.......lol......

    I’m hoping you loved your visit to Sapphire....... :wave2:
     

    DLo

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 14, 2006
    Just found your report and following along . Looking forward to reading more
     

    Amber Rush

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Sep 11, 2017
    You are describing my ideal vacation! A bed to myself and a few friends to ride all the attractions with! Sounds wonderful. . .
     

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