Lebeau Family Trip Report 2019: Portofino Bay, Mardis Gras and Birthday Fun - Completed


Apr 2, 2008
Hi I am enjoying your report. I was so glad to hear you enjoyed the evening appetizers at Portofino. Portofino is still my family's favorite resort and club level. Every time we go to another one we compare it.

My family pretty much likes the same type of vacations so that works well. Liv and I tend to stay off some rides due to getting headaches or a bit of motion sickness, which stinks cause we like them all.

I love Minion Mayhem and always do that first if we aren't starting EE at DA.

I thought your pool view was very nice. We were in the wing near the lounge and it was great for the lounge but the view wasn't that good. I do love those bathrooms with the separate bath and shower.

Everyone looks like they are having a great time. Look forward to reading more.
Thanks for the kind words.

Our family's preferences are split. Josie and I get bored easily by "relaxing" vacations. Mindy and Kara don't like to go-go-go. We used to go to Disney which worked out well for Josie and I but Mindy and Kara were quickly overwhelmed. Universal has provided us with a balance and flexibility that makes everyone happy.

Couldn't agree with you more about what a great hotel Portofino Bay is. I think Mindy would have traded the view for being closer to the club lounge. But really, we were only a five minute walk. It wasn't a big deal.


Apr 2, 2008

The Adventure Begins

As I mentioned previously, I have always viewed this year’s trip as a continuation of last year’s summer vacation. We employed the same Annual Passes and photo package for both trips. Our previous vacation ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. Mindy really wanted to ride the Jurassic Park River Adventure. Ideally, she wanted us all to ride it as a family but the kids had reservations.

In order to motivate the girls, we bought them some big stuffed animals in exchange for boarding the boats for a dino cruise. Long story short, the kids didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Mindy was a little miffed when things didn’t work as as she hoped and for the last nine months the kids have been reminded that they still owe her a ride. With that in mind, we wanted to check off the River Adventure relatively early in the trip to avoid running out of time again.

But first, we had to fuel up. As we did every day, we had breakfast at the Portofino Club. The menu was more or less the same with slight variations. This morning, the potato dish was a hash-brown similar to what you’d get at McDonald’s or the frozen food section of your local grocery store. The ones at the bottom had absorbed a lot of grease but the ones on top were relatively edible. The kids loved them.

Mindy had been walking quite a bit to prepare for the trip. She was mildly obsessed with her daily step count. And by “mildly” I mean completely obsessed. Hitting her steps really wasn’t going to be an issue at Universal, but Mindy still wanted to keep up with her daily walks. So she decided that rather than riding the water taxi to the park, she was going to hoof it.

Josie was frequently Mindy’s walking buddy at home. She decided to accompany her mom on her trek. Kara was less enthusiastic about the plan. The typical park day was already more walking than she was accustomed to, so the water taxi seemed like a good idea to her. I rode the boat with Kara while Mindy and Josie hiked the trail.

We met up at the docks and marched over to the park entrance where I once again pretended not to have Josie’s pass. This joke got funnier (for me) every time I did it. Josie was less amused which only made added fuel to the dad joke fire. While Mindy made her morning potty break, I ran into Guest Services and got Kara a birthday button. She was very excited to let everyone know she was celebrating her 10th birthday.
Make Mine Marvel

We didn’t have much of a plan for the day beyond hitting up Jurassic Park. Josie wanted to spend some time in Cartoon Lagoon doing the photo ops. Beyond that, we were going to go where the day took us. When we reached the fork in the road at the end of Port of Entry, we made our way into Marvel Superhero Island.

On previous trips, we spent the majority of our time on the Studios side of the parks. We have neglected Islands of Adventure a bit. Josie and I spent a little time here last year, but Kara still hadn’t experienced a lot of attractions including a couple of kid-friendly rides that were right up her alley.

With that in mind, our first stop of the day was Storm Force Accelatron (aka the X-Men themed teacups). Mindy can’t handle spinning rides, so she sat this one out.

The ride attendant noticed Kara’s button and clarified the pronunciation of her name. Before the ride started, she made an announcement that Kara was celebrating her birthday today. It was very nice and Kara ate up the attention. There would be countless birthday wishes to follow. I would say the majority of Universal team members we interacted with made a point to wish Kara a happy birthday.

(If these pictures convey a sense of motion in the background I want to point out that is just the focus on my cell phone camera. These pictures were snapped prior to the ride starting because we follow safety rules unlike some people we encountered.)

During our Disney World days, the girls enjoyed the teacups ride. Specifically they liked turning the wheel as fast as possible trying to make daddy dizzy. I would play up my distress while also turning the wheel to make the teacup spin. A few years later, not much has changed. They still had a blast trying to torture their dad in a spinning ride.

The girls had so much fun, they decided to ride it again. Mindy debated riding The Incredible Hulk Coaster while we took another turn on the not-teacups. I held on to her stuff so she could walk right through the metal detectors. Once she was safely through the Express Pass checkpoint, we joined Storm in the battle against Magneto or whatever is supposed to be happening during that ride.

After two rides, we decided to give Storm Force a rest. We waited for Mindy outside of the Hulk. While we were waiting, Kara decided to try out the test seats. We didn’t have to wait long for Mindy to join us.
Her final verdict on the Hulk was similar to my own. It’s a great coaster, but maybe a bit too thrilling for us. I would consider riding it again, but neither of us is in any hurry to do so. Maybe some day when the kids are ready for seats that actually move.

With half of the attractions in Superhero Island under our belts, we decided to take on The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. On our way, we saw a team member with a sign directing guests to the Spider-Man meet and greet. In the past, we have always visited Captain America but we hadn’t gotten around to seeing ol’ Webhead yet. So that was a priority for me.

Teaming-Up With Spidey

There was a modest wait to see Spider-Man, but only a few minutes. I decided to take the opportunity to snap a picture of the Spider-Man facade across the way. It wasn’t a very good picture because my view was obstructed by a tree.

Josie decided to photobomb me by jumping up in front of my camera. She was unsuccessful, so I took another picture allowing her to time her jump just right. She was pretty proud of herself.

As expected, the Spider-Man meet and greet was worth the wait. Spidey spent a lot of time talking to everyone and cracking lots of jokes. He noticed Kara’s birthday button and directed a lot of his questions to her, but she kind of clammed up a little. She doesn’t know Marvel characters all that well and wasn’t sure how to answer Spidey when he asked her who her favorite superhero was.

He asked Kara about the creature on her shirt. “Is that a cat and a unicorn? A Unikitty?” She nodded. “That’s cool. She must be one of the X-Men, right?” When it was time to take our picture he said, “Come on over, Fantastic Four” and then he said “Cheese” all by himself when the picture was taken. “It’s okay if you’re lactose intolerant,” he quipped. “You were born that way. You didn’t have a choice.”

Afterwards, Spidey signed his name on a little card with space left for us to collect other autographs if we so desired. I imagine a lot of little superhero fans enjoy the free souvenir, but one Marvel meet and greet was all I would subject the girls too.

The stand-by line for Spider-Man was sizable, so we were glad to have Express Pass. There was a bit of a hold-up at the facial recognition checkpoint but once that was sorted out we were able to walk right on. We were seated in the back this time, so we were barely visible in the ride photo. Kara is just an arm behind someone’s head. As always, we enjoyed swinging through the streets of New York with Spidey.

Cartoon Lagoon Antics

We followed-up our superheroics with some cartoony photo ops. Sometimes I think the girls have more fun goofing off than they do riding rides. Cartoon Lagoon gives them lots of opportunities to interact with over-sized props.

The girls posed as dogs in Spike’s doghouse. Mindy got in on this one using her lanyard as a leash.

Kara hopped on Broom-Hilda’s broom for this one. The witch has crash-landed and can be heard muttering from the bushes. The girls have no idea who most of these comic strip characters are and they don’t really care. They have come to know some of them (Betty Boop and Popeye) through their experiences at Universal. Others are just funny characters to them. It really doesn’t matter.

I grew up reading the funny pages in the 80’s. But that concept is lost on my kids. They have never had a newspaper delivered to the house much less pulled out the comics. Even having read a lot of the comic strips this land is based on, my memories are pretty vague on a lot of them. I had to Google the name of the witch for example.

The kids did the mushroom pizza gag last year. But they posed for it again this year. Any chance to pretend to be nauseous.

When I took this picture I thought it was a stack of coins. But looking at it closer now, it appears to be used word balloons. I guess that makes more sense. I always wondered why there was a stack of coins there.

Josie likes the ones where she gets to look annoyed with her sister. She has mastered the teenage eye roll.
Here are a few more poses from our time in Toon Lagoon.

Next: Jurassic Park?


Apr 2, 2008

At long last, Jurassic Park!

On our way to Jurassic Park we passed Skull Island: Reign of Kong. I asked if anyone was interested in riding. They said they would if I wanted to, but no one seemed enthusiastic about the idea. The wait time was on the long side so I figured there would be a decent wait even with Express Pass. The queue is dark and narrow and the girls don’t handle that combination well so I decided to skip Kong for now.

Once we entered Jurassic Park, we headed straight for the River Adventure. There was no backing out now. With Express Pass we were able to walk on to the ride. Right onto the front row of the boat. This was worrisome because the girls didn’t want to get wet. I had experienced Jurassic Park a couple of times in the past and never gotten more than a light spray of water. But then again, I never sat in the front of the boat before either.

There wasn’t much we could do about it. I suppose we could have asked to be seated further back, but we didn’t want to be that family. So we strapped in for what we hoped would be a fun and relatively dry adventure. Josie, who has never liked dinosaurs, was immediately wary of the entire enterprise but Mindy and Kara were having fun.

As a dad, I am obligated to annoy my children as much as possible. So I kept assuring Josie that this was a gentle cruise through the sections of the park featuring vegetarian dinosaurs and that nothing could possibly go wrong. “Well, that doesn’t seem right,” I observed when the boat went off course. She was not amused. Not remotely.

The ride had just reopened after its annual refurbishment and the dinos were looking pretty good. The T-Rex at the end is always a showstopper and the final plunge did not disappoint.

It did, however, drench us. Seconds after this picture was snapped a tidal wave of water was dropped directly on the front row. I think everyone behind us got wet too, but we were soaked.

Kara actually loved the whole thing. She would definitely ride again. Mindy enjoyed it as well, but maybe not as much as Kara. Josie didn’t hate it. At least I don’t think she did. She might say otherwise, but I think she’d ride again if everyone else wanted to.

Of course the ride exits through a gift shop which very conveniently sells beach towels just in case you got drenched during your river adventure. On a warmer day, that wouldn’t be a problem. But it was just chilly enough that we decided to buy each of the girls a beach towel to dry off.

Kara wanted to visit the Jurassic Park Discovery Center. We had watched a few videos on YouTube and she noticed that they had a dinosaur egg nursery. So she wanted to check that out. The girls were drawn immediately to the nursery where you can run diagnostic tests on incubated dinosaur eggs.

Everything in the Discovery Center is twenty years old, but the effects mostly hold up. Kids can take the eggs and place them in a slot for scanning. Then they adjust dials and push buttons resulting in different reports flashing on the screen. The girls were excited when there X-rays revealed baby dinosaurs inside their eggs. I think they knew this was all fake, but from their reaction I wasn’t 100% sure.

The whole time they were playing around with the eggs, I was keeping an eye on the incubator. I knew that sooner or later an egg would hatch. Unfortunately, I suspected it might be a while. Soon after we arrived I watched the scientists clear away broken shell from the last hatched egg, Then they put a new egg in the empty slot and waited and waited.

Eventually the egg started hatching. They made an announcement before the show started and kids came running from all over the center to watch. I make a point of letting kids get in front of me, so you’ll see the tops of heads in my video above. After the egg hatches, the scientist removes the egg and does a little demonstration with the baby dinosaur. All the kids, mine included, were eating it up.

By the time the hatching show had ended, we had spent about 20 minutes in the Discovery Center and everyone had dried off from the boat ride. The kids were starting to get hungry, so I suggested grabbing lunch at Cowfish. Mindy and the girls have never turned down an opportunity to eat at Cowfish and they weren’t about to start now. So we made our way to the front of the park.

Super-people on Parade

As we passed through Marvel Superhero Island, they were clearing the central pathway. I knew that had to mean the superheroes were coming through on their motorcycles which I had never seen before. So I pulled over to the side to get a good look as Spidey and the X-Men rode on by (Captain America had already passed on foot.)

The whole procession took less than five minutes. It may have taken longer to clear the street than it did for the superheroes to ride by, but I thought it was a pretty cool way for them to make their entrances and exits. The girls, who were thinking about lunch more than mutants, weren’t as impressed as I was.

Lunch at Cowfish

When we go to Universal, certain things are a given. Cowfish has been a family favorite since we “discovered” it a couple of years ago. Leading up to a trip, all three of the girls will rank Cowfish highly as one of their must-dos. Since I knew we were going to eat there eventually, I figured why not get it in early.

It was just a little after noon and we were seated immediately. Considering it was lunchtime, the place was pretty empty. I don’t suppose a lot of people leave the parks for lunch, but they don’t know what they are missing out on.

Every time we have ever eaten at Cowfish, Mindy has ordered the same thing, the All-American Bacon Double Cheeseburgooshi. She likes it so much she has never been tempted by anything else on the restaurant’s large and eclectic menu. The burgooshi did not disappoint. I am sure we will be back in the future and Mindy will order this dish again.

The kids always order the Bento Boxes. Technically Josie is too old to qualify for the kids’ menu, but no one has ever raised a fuss over it. The customizable kids’ meal lets kids choose from several picky-eater-friendly options. Josie always gets mac and cheese, fries and edamame. It comes with “dessert sushi” (a crisp rice treat with a Swedish fish on top).

The Bento Box also includes a temporary tattoo which the kids always apply at the table. It’s funny the little things that get them excited.

I wanted to try something new but I wasn’t feeling quite brave enough to sample real sushi. So I ordered the Taste Explosion Roll which our waitress confirmed was her favorite thing on the menu.

It’s very similar to Mindy’s Cheeseburgooshi in that it contains angus beef and applewood bacon. But rather than the flavor profile of a Big Mac, the Taste Explosion Roll has a little kick thanks to jalapeños and spicy mayo. The heat is tempered by a cashew cilantro pesto, pepperjack cheese and a Roma tomato. All in all, it was very flavorful.

We were all happy with our lunch choices which were filling without weighing us down. The prices are reasonable for a sit-down restaurant especially when you factor in our Annual Passholder discount. Unfortunately for me, I somehow left my pass behind when I used it for the discount. I’m not sure if our waitress forgot to give it to me or I just didn’t take it out when she returned the bill. Either way, I walked out of there without it making this the second trip in a row in which I lost my pass.

Pool Time at Portofino

One of the deciding factors in our choice of hotels was the pool. Of all the hotel pools we have enjoyed in Orlando, the Beach Pool at Portofino Bay was our favorite. We spent quite a lot of time there during our trip last year and expected to do the same this time. However, it turns out it was significantly colder in April than it was last June.

If I remember correctly it was somewhere in the mid-sixties that day which wasn’t freezing. But once you had been in the pool, you definitely felt a chill when you got out in the open air. The kids wanted to do the waterslide, but once each was all Mindy and I could handle. Kara went down the slide a couple of times by herself or with Josie.

On the upside, we had the pool almost entirely too ourselves.

Eventually we ended up in the hot tub which was plenty warm and relaxing. But once you had adjusted to that temperature, there was no going back to the regular pool.

The girls could have spent more time there than we did, but the weather was supposed to warm up as the week went on so we promised to bring them back.

Next: Suess Landing and Hogsmeade
  • lebeau

    Apr 2, 2008

    After a dip in the hotel pool, we were ready to return to Islands of Adventure. The kids wanted to spend some time in Seuss Landing and we were hoping to take in the projection show on Hogwart’s Castle. Our opportunities to do so would be somewhat limited due to other plans we had made. But before we could go back to the park, there was some business to attend to.

    Ooops!, I Did It Again…

    Whenever we left the room, I would quickly account for all 4 passes and room keys. Only this time, there were only three passes. Mine was missing. I realized I must have left it at Cowfish when I used it for a discount at lunch. It was a good thing I noticed. I would have to get it replaced before we went to the park.

    We were going to get dinner at the Portofino Club so I planned to stop at the Vacation Planning desk right outside. The girls went inside to start eating. Every time we passed the desk, there were people standing there buying tickets, adding options or just asking a bunch of questions. I was frequently surprised by the lack of planning. The people standing in front of me didn’t seem to be aware that Universal included multiple parks.

    Eventually, I got tired of waiting on this family to complete their transaction so I went into the club and gulped down dinner. The entree was jerk chicken which was tasty, but I was too distracted to take a picture. Josie took a photo of her plate instead.

    Two rolls and some coconut rice. This is fairly typical of how Josie eats. Lots of white food and starches. The girls aren’t the most adventurous eaters, so they didn’t exactly fill up on the Caribbean-inspired dishes but there was enough that they didn’t leave hungry either.

    After a quick plate of food, I went back out to the desk where they were able to replace my pass without much of a fuss.

    Once again we split up with Kara and I taking the water taxi to the park and Mindy and Josie walking the trail.

    There is often a line at Voodoo Donuts both to get into the place and to sit on the donut throne outside. The kids always want to get a picture, but they never want to wait for the opportunity to do so. There was no one on the throne when we arrived in CityWalk, so we stopped for a sweet photo op.

    Seuss Landing

    The projection show was scheduled to start “at dusk”. We weren’t sure exactly what that meant but the sun was starting to set so we figured we should make our way towards Hogsmeade if we wanted to check it out. The kids also wanted to spend some time in Seuss Landing. The rides in this land are pretty simple, but the girls like them. And you can’t beat the colorful environment.

    We lined up for the Cat in the Hat dark ride. When the ride attendant saw Kara’s birthday button he made an extremely elaborate announcement singing a very Seussian birthday song. I don’t remember any of the words but it was jam packed with rhyming nonsense. Kara ate it up because she loves that sort of thing. Josie would have been mortified.

    Everyone enjoyed the Cat in the Hat. It’s a modest attraction, but it’s grown on me over multiple visits. I wouldn’t mind if Universal added more dark rides like this one and E.T.

    The Crowded World of Harry Potter

    We marched through the Lost Continent to the entrance to Hogsmeade. It was immediately obvious that this was where the Spring Break crowds were hanging out. The place was packed!

    In the past, we have spent a lot of time hanging out in the Harry Potter-themed lands. This year, the Wizarding World was constantly crowded so we ended up spending more time in the parts of the parks we had previously neglected. That suited us just fine.

    Our primary objective for our visit to Hogsmeade was to check out the Flight of the Hippogriff. Last year, Josie and I had ridden in without Mindy and Kara. It was a bit short and tame for Josie, but we thought it would be right up Kara’s alley. As expected, the mild thrills were perfect for our timid rider. The twists, turns and drops were just the right size for her. Kara loved it and the rest of us enjoyed experiencing the ride with her.

    Another goal for the trip was to have Kara be chosen for the wand show at Olivander’s. Josie, who hates that sort of thing, was chosen on our very first visit to Universal and Kara has been wanting to participate in the show ever since. We explained to her that there was no guarantee of being chosen, but we hoped that her birthday button would increase her chances.

    Alas, she was not picked this time around. It’s a relatively short show and entertaining enough that we don’t mind repeat viewings. We told Kara we’d keep trying as often as she wanted.

    My recollection was that the projection show generally started at 8:00 when we visited last summer. If that had been the case, we figured we had just enough time to watch the show and hightail it back to the hotel before they stopped serving desserts at the club. It would be close, but we thought we could make it.

    I verified with a team member what time “dusk” was considered to be. It seems the show starts a little later in April than it does in June which makes sense I guess. With an 8:20 start, there was no way we would make it back to the club by 9:00. I asked the girls whether they wanted to see the show or get back in time for desserts at the club. To my surprised, they were more interested in the desserts. Perhaps I should have seen that coming.

    Retreating to Desserts

    With that decided, we turned around and started heading back to the front gate. We had enough time that we could stop and enjoy our surroundings on the way out.

    On the boat ride home, I speculated as to what desserts might be offered. It seemed to me that we hadn’t had a cheesecake yet. I figured that had to be on the rotation. And I knew from watching YouTube videos that one of the desserts was a cannoli, so I thought there was a pretty good shot tonight would be the night.

    Turns out I was right on both counts. The kids had watched the YouTube video with the cannoli and they were looking forward to trying it out, so I’m glad we didn’t miss it. Josie really liked the cream-filled dessert, but it wasn’t one of Kara’s favorite. The cheesecake was strawberry. It was all delicious.

    Next: A little rain never hurt anyone


    Apr 2, 2008

    A Walk to the Park

    At some point in the afternoon, I had to pick up bracelets for the parade at Universal Studios. The pick-ups didn’t start until 11:00 so we weren’t in any particular hurry. The day started, as all days did, at the Portofino Club for breakfast.

    This was probably Josie’s favorite breakfast plate of the trip. No one in our family cared for the sausage links served at the club, but the bacon was crisp and tasty. The girls preferred the hash browns to the breakfast potatoes and double chocolate chip was Josie’s favorite muffin. So this was a home run for her.

    It was a bit cool out with a good chance of showers. We were basically winging it. Our only objective was to secure our parade bracelets during the window they were available.

    Mindy and Josie wanted to continue their daily habit of walking to the parks instead of taking the water taxi. Kara reluctantly agreed to try it out partially to make her mom happy but also to see the butterfly garden along the trail.

    The walking path is beautifully landscaped. As much as I enjoy the laid back boat ride to and from Portofino Bay, it’s worth checking out the trail at least once.

    You’re bound to do a lot of walking at Universal whether you take the water taxis or not, so I am not exactly clamoring to get in additional steps. But the walking path is a very relaxing, enjoyable way to start the day.

    The Serious Business of Souvenirs

    As far as the kids are concerned, nothing is more important on vacation than picking the right souvenirs. Both girls have spring birthdays and relatives made sure to send birthday money in time for them to buy themselves something nice on our trip. When Mom and Dad are paying, trinkets can be picked out on a whim. But when the kids are spending their own money, they put a lot more thought into their selections.

    After a couple of days of window shopping, Josie had settled on a pair of Simpsons dolls in the Funko Pop! style. They had the entire family available in several gift shops. Josie had enough money to pick up one and a half dolls, so we kicked in a little extra so she could pick two. She decided on Homer and Marge. Her actual birthday was still a couple weeks away so I formed a plan to pick up Bart and Lisa (and maybe Maggie) later in the trip when she wasn’t around.
    This put some pressure on Kara for reasons I don’t understand. Since Josie had already found something she liked, Kara felt like the clock was ticking for her to do the same.

    Fun With Green Screens

    Since our last trip, Universal added a fun new option to take pictures in front of green screens. Kara had really been looking forward to trying this out. Her enthusiasm comes through the pictures.

    The set-up is pretty straight forward. There are two self-serve stations with four poses each. One of the poses is a passholder exclusive. The picture shows up on a screen and suggests a pose with outlines you can follow. Then it snaps a picture and moves on to the next one.

    In a matter of minutes, we had cycled through all eight poses. Since we already had a photo package, we loaded them on to our account.

    Staying Dry with Autobots

    It started raining shortly after we arrived at the park. The rain picked up pretty quickly as we approached Transformers. This is no one’s favorite ride. Mindy and Kara typically sit it out. But since it was close, we decided to duck in and wait out the bad weather.

    As I am writing this report, it’s been six weeks since our vacation ended. There is no way I would remember enough to write-up detailed reports without creating some kind of record. I accomplish this by constantly snapping pictures. I take pictures of every single attraction we experience. A lot of time, I know the picture won’t turn out at all. I am only taking it to remind myself later of what we did.

    That was the purpose of these pictures in the Transformers queue. The color is off because there were sirens and alarms going off as part of the storyline. Something about bad robots. I don’t understand what is supposed to be happening in Transformers, but I don’t really care either.
    I’m pretty sure Josie is telling me not to use these pictures in the trip report. Ha!

    The rain had drawn a lot of people into Transformers since it is an indoor ride. With ExpressPass, our wait wasn’t very long. But the kids enjoyed checking out the dials, knobs and switches we usually walk past when we ride this one.

    The ride itself was okay. It confirmed Mindy’s opinion that she should continue skipping it except as a very expensive umbrella. Given the similarities to Spider-Man, it’s amazing to me how much more we enjoy the older attraction to the newer addition.

    Window Shopping in Diagon Alley

    We considered running over to the Monster Make-Up Show to dodge the rain for another 20 minutes or so, but it was starting to let up. Kara’s souvenir money was burning a hole in her pocket and she wanted to check out the stuffed animal store in Diagon Alley. So we headed over that way.

    Unfortunately, as was the case all week, the Harry Potter land was jam packed with guests. The girls brought their wands with them for a little spell casting, but it was just too crowded.

    We stopped at one window and waited our turn to cast a spell only to have three little boys push their way to the front and monopolize the spell. They were too young to know what they were doing and their parent wasn’t interested in helping them or asking them to step aside. The girls decided it just wasn’t worth it, so we put the wands away.

    We took a chance on the Olivander’s show to see if we would have better luck in Diagon Alley than we did at the one in Hogsmeade. We were towards the front of the line and there weren’t a lot of kids in our group, so I felt like Kara had a pretty decent shot of being chosen.

    Before the show, a team member named Fallon chatted with us as we waited our turn. She noticed Kara’s birthday button and asked what her favorite ride was. Kara answered that it was the Jimmy Fallon ride which is how we found out the team member’s name. She pointed to her name tag and talked with Kara about the ride some more.

    Fallon said one of her favorite things about Race Through New York was Hashtag the Panda. We said we keep missing Hashtag every time we ride and that last time he came out as soon as it was our turn to ride. Fallon told us a lot of times, after Hashtag makes his appearance in the lobby he will go downstairs so we should look for him there.

    We had sort of hoped that Kara’s birthday button would catch the attention of the wand master before the show, but no such luck. Another kid got chosen which Kara was fine with. She understood it’s just random luck. After the show was over, the wand master stopped Kara as we exited for a little one-on-one chat. Mindy thinks he noticed the button too late.

    Given the crowds in the alleys, the stores were surprisingly empty. We spent some time window shopping, but neither of the girls found anything they wanted to spend their souvenir money on. Eventually we ended up in the Sugarplum’s Sweet Shop. The kids picked out some snacks, but we left Diagon Alley to find a less crowded place to eat them.

    The outdoor seating was all wet from the rain, so we ended up in Richter Burger which was busy but still had plenty of empty tables because it’s huge. Mindy wasn’t too happy with the idea of taking a table at a restaurant we weren’t eating at, but to my mind it was all owned by Universal and we were spending plenty of money. If we wanted to sit down at an empty table to enjoy our overpriced snacks, I figured we were justified in doing so.

    At Olivander’s Fallon had listed all the different forms of Butterbeer available. When she mentioned Butterbeer fudge, she got Mindy’s attention. I had read some pretty lukewarm reviews of the stuff, but I knew better than to shut Mindy down when she was excited about something. Instead, I suggested getting more than one flavor. She ended up buying the Butterbeer fudge and some chocolate peanut butter.

    The Butterbeer fudge wasn’t bad, but it has a strange waxy texture. I ended up finishing it because no one else especially liked it. The peanut butter fudge was a hit though.

    Josie ordered a witch hat cupcake which was a standard chocolate cupcake with a chocolate-coated ice cream cone turned upside down for decoration. Cupcakes at Universal tend to be a bit on the dry side and this one was no different in my opinion, but Josie enjoyed it.

    Kara got a caramel apple because she had recently had her braces removed and she was allowed to eat them again. For ease of eating, she had the girl at the counter slice the apple which ended up taking a really long time. But in the end, it was probably worth the wait. Those things can quickly turn into a sticky mess if you don’t cut them first.

    Post-snack, we made our way to the front of the park. En route, Kara caught sight of Beetlejuice hanging around outside of Mel’s Diner of all places. The Ghost With the Most never seems to settle in one location for very long. Beetlejuice was the last of my must-do meet and greets so I queued up for a picture.
    For a half a second, Kara was with me. But when she saw him up close, she decided Beetlejuice was too scary and she stepped out of line. There was only one other group in front of me, so I didn’t have to wait long.

    Just before Mindy snapped our picture, Beetlejuice turned around to yell at some noisy kids behind us. Then he turned to me and deadpanned “Kids today, amIright?” I have to give Beetlejuice credit. He was every bit as animated as you would expect him to be. His antics were a lot of fun to watch.

    On our way out, I ran over to the Studio Audience Center to pick up the bracelets that would allow us to participate in tonight’s Mardi Gras parade. They had me sign in and gave me some very general instructions about where and when to check in when we came back. Then we headed back to the hotel room to get ready.

    An Afternoon Break

    We had a little time to kill before we had to check in, so I took the girls down to the pool for a while. Our previous pool break was a bit on the chilly side, but it was a little warmer today. It was still cool enough that the beach pool was sparsely populated, but we didn’t have it all to ourselves either.

    One of the reasons we chose to return to Portofino Bay over checking out the Hard Rock Hotel was that Josie liked the deep end of the Beach Pool. We spend a lot of our pool time going around the ruins. From that vantage point, I saw a family of little people having fun in the shallower part of the pool.

    My immediate reaction was “That guy looks an awful lot like Warwick Davis.” Then I looked away because I didn’t want to be caught staring at a family of little people trying to enjoy their vacation. And what was wrong with me thinking all little people look like Warwick Davis anyway?

    Next: Laissez les bons temps rouler
  • lebeau

    Apr 2, 2008
    Hi! I just wanted to thank you for another great trip report!
    Thanks for the kind words and thanks for reading along! Writing the reports is a way of extending the vacation experience for me. It feels like our tip lasted months instead of just a week. Having people come along for the ride vicariously just makes it that much better. And I hope it helps some people plan their own trips. I know I feel our vacations have been enhanced by the trip reports I have read here.


    Apr 2, 2008

    A Race Against Time

    When I picked up the bracelets for the parade float, I had been instructed to check in at the Barney courtyard no later than 6:00. The Club started serving hot entrees at 5:00 so we figured we had just enough time to grab a quick bite before we left. I stressed that we would have to eat fast because we could lose our spot on the float if we checked in late.

    The theme for dinner was Mexican and the main dish was a chicken enchilada. It was probably the tastiest meal we ate at the club. The enchiladas were going fast. If we had more time, I could have eaten more of them, but the serving dish was emptied and we didn’t have time to wait for it to be refilled.

    I had to be careful how hard I pushed. Mindy gets irritable when I attempt to enforce any kind of schedule but we were operating under a deadline here. Rushing meal time was a surefire way to make her cranky. At one point, she commented that she wasn’t sure why we were going out of our way for a parade she wasn’t all that interested in. I let that one slide and hoped that the parade would be worth it.

    There was some debate over whether or not we had time to wait for the water taxis. We made it to the dock around 5:20. Mindy and Josie had established that walking was faster than taking the boats, but Kara wasn’t eager to walk again having walked to the park once already.

    We asked security how long they thought it would be before the next boat came around. They estimated one would be by within the next ten minutes. That would be tight, but it was doable as long as there wasn’t a long wait to get into the park.

    Just then, a boat turned the corner and pulled up to the docks.

    Everyone was relieved because it looked like we would make it to check-in on time. There was still the potential for a delay that would push us off schedule, but we had built in a reasonable amount of time.
    A long time ago on a Disney World trip, Kara had pouted about having to sit next to me on a boat ride to or from Port Orleans. She was tired and cranky and she’s never lived it down. So Mindy took a picture of her happily sitting next to me on this boat ride.

    Pre-Parade Fun

    We made it to the Barney Courtyard with minutes to spare. That is not something I ever expected to say. When we arrived, Mindy and I were handed clipboards with waivers to fill out promising we wouldn’t sue Universal if any of us should fall of the parade float. We were assigned to the Insect Float which didn’t exactly thrill the bug-averse girls.

    By 6:00 we were all set for the parade. But they didn’t actually need us until 6:30 so we were told we could wander for a bit. I suspect that I was given less than accurate info at the Studio Audience Center. It sure seemed like 6:30 was the actual check-in time. Later on, I found some information that seemed to confirm this. Oh well.

    Kara wanted to spend some time in the KidZone anyway. Since we were already there, we decided to swing by Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster. Kara absolutely loves this kiddie coaster. The thrill level is exactly where she likes it. Josie, as you can probably tell, thinks the coaster is pretty lame but she was willing to ride it once.
    After that, I took Kara through for a second-ride through. She laughs through the whole minute-long ride. It’s a very simple amusement park coaster, but we always have fun riding it.

    Last year, the Curious George playground was a pleasant surprise. We spent a lot more time in Curious George than I would have guessed. This year, Kara wanted to go back. Josie agreed on the condition that she didn’t have to get her hair wet in the splash zone.

    We made our way carefully past the water sprays into the Ball Factory.

    Mindy likes Curious George because she can sit on a bench while I take the girls for a while. I like it because I can more or less let them run around. Unlike some of the other pay areas, it’s easy to keep an eye on your kids without having to chase them up and down chutes and ladders.

    We had just enough time in the Ball Factory. Right around the time they were starting to lose interest, it was time for us to check in for the parade.

    Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

    Once we checked back in, things happened pretty quickly. Everyone was asked to gather in the Barney Courtyard according to their respective parade floats. One by one, our leaders (“bead captains”) led us to the backstage area.

    We weren’t allowed to take any pictures backstage but honestly it wasn’t all that exciting. Aside from seeing all the parade floats lined up, most of what we saw were warehouses and production facilities.

    With only thirty minutes until the parade started, Yuri, our bead captain, handed out our uniforms and loaded us onto the float. She showed us where the beads were located and the preferred techniques for throwing them to guests without causing injuries. Then a photographer came by and took pictures before the parade got underway.

    Yuri was very sweet and attentive. She spent a little extra time with our family because this was our first time in the parade and we were from out of town. Most of the float riders were Orlando locals which makes sense since you have to be an annual passholder to reserve a spot. During the parade, she was constantly refilling our supply of beads.

    Throwing beads to strangers turned out to be a lot more fun than I was expecting. These people really wanted their beads! You would pick someone out from the crowd and really do your best to get a strand of beads to them. I generally tried to make eye contact with someone to make sure they were ready to receive the colorful beads I was tossing.

    The difficulty level varied along the parade route. Sometimes the crowd was allowed right next to the floats and other times they were more distant. When you were able to get beads to someone who really seemed to want them, it was strangely rewarding. They were just so happy!

    When the parade was over, Kara immediately asked if we could do it again. We had been selected to participate on the last night of Mardi Gras, but I wasn’t sure if we would want to do it more than once. But all of us had a blast and we were looking forward to riding on another float in a couple of days.

    Dessert Party at the Club

    The parade ended with just enough time for us to get back to the Portofino Club for dessert. In case you hadn’t noticed, the kids really enjoyed the nightly sweet treats. Tonight saw the return of strawberry cheesecake with a delicious chocolate tart and both flavors of cookies; chocolate chip and white chocolate chip.

    By the time we got to the Club, they were starting to wind down desserts. You would expect the staff to be in clean-up mode, but they noticed Kara’s birthday button and decided to do something special to end the day. They came out with a special dessert plate for her decorated with candles and confetti.

    It was a very sweet (literally) gesture on the part of the club staff and a perfect way to end a very memorable night.

    Next: I go solo


    Apr 2, 2008

    Morning in Portofino

    Before we went our separate ways, we all went to breakfast at the club. I had stopped taking food pictures by this point because there wasn’t a lot of variation in the breakfast offering. I typically had scrambled eggs, maybe some fruit and a muffin. Coffee was my primary concern.

    Josie takes her role as my back-up photographer pretty seriously so she continued taking pictures of most of her food plates. But she’s a picky eater which is why a lot of the plates pictured are pretty sparse. Any day they had double chocolate chip muffins, Josie was happy.

    We don’t have pictures of Kara’s plates, but she had baked beans every morning. Mindy ate a lot of oatmeal because she had been on a low carb diet all year and hadn’t had oatmeal in months.

    During breakfast, I spotted the family we saw at the pool the day before. You know, the one where the dad resembled Warwick Davis. Once again, I did my best not to stare.

    After breakfast, the girls wanted drinks from Starbucks. Afterwards, they were just going to hang out. Josie wanted to have lunch at Fast Food Blvd again. She was craving her favorite chicken and waffles sandwich. But the girls didn’t have any burning desire to get to the parks before lunch time.

    I asked if anyone would mind if I visited the parks by myself. No one objected. I know them well enough to know they needed a break. They know me well enough to know I needed to keep going. We all knew that splitting up was the best way to keep everyone happy.

    The point of this kind of vacation is to spend time with your family. But there are definitely advantages to flying solo. I didn’t have to worry about anyone’s preferences but my own. I could go wherever I wanted spending as much or as little time as I pleased. I decided to spend a little time exploring as I made my way to the water taxi.

    We had spent quite a bit of time at the family-friendly Beach Pool, but I had never visited the Villa Pool despite its close proximity. Since I didn’t have anywhere I had to be, I dropped in and took a few pictures.

    The focus of the Villa Pool is quiet relaxation. There are hammocks, a bocce ball court and cornhole bag-tosses. It definitely seems like a great place to unwind if that was your thing.

    My thing was getting to the parks and experiencing some of the attractions I was less likely to do when the kids were with me.

    Wandering Through the Port of Entry

    At some point in the afternoon, I was going to meet the girls for lunch at Universal Studios. But I decided to start my morning off at Islands of Adventure. It was a beautiful day. The sky was clear. It was warm, but not oppressively hot.

    I took my time in Port of Entry. It’s such a beautifully themed area, but we rarely take the time to enjoy it. Early in the day, we’re rushing towards the attractions and on our way out we are too tired to explore. With no pressing obligations, I stopped into some of the shops. I made a mental note that the Simpsons dolls Josie wanted were available here.


    The first stop on my tour was Marvel Superhero Island. The park was pretty busy, but rides weren’t a major priority. I planned to squeeze a few in when the wait times weren’t bad. But mostly I was just taking in the sights. As a comic book fan, there were a lot of little details for me to revel in.

    Spider-Man looked busy. With Express Pass, I probably wouldn’t have waited very long to ride, but I decided to pass it up this time. Instead, I made my way back to Dr. Doom’s Fearfall. Mindy rode this one last year, but I had yet to experience it myself.

    The name “Fearfall” creates certain expectations. From a distance, Dr. Doom looks like a typical freefall attraction. But it’s not. Rides like Tower of Terror generate thrills with fast drops that hit you in the pit of your stomach, Dr. Doom does the opposite. It shoots riders quickly into the air and then lowers them down gently.

    It’s a pretty weird inversion of a theme park standard, but I enjoyed it. It was strangely relaxing for a thrill ride. When it was over, I texted Josie to tell her that it wasn’t scary at all. She texted back that she still wasn’t riding it despite the fact her mom really wanted her to.

    The ride exits into the Villains Arcade which my kids would love. Guests walk past Dr. Doom’s throne where he used to do meet and greets. Apparently, this location was too inefficient and Dr. Doom started meeting guests out on the street with all the other heroes and villains. It’s a shame they can’t open the gate and let guests experience sitting in the Latverian throne. It’s more plush than I would have expected.

    The arcade is themed like a hideout for the Marvel baddies. It’s pretty standard for a Universal arcade with banners depicting some of Marvel’s most memorable villains. I think the kids might give Dr. Doom’s Fearfall a try if they knew it emptied into this place.

    Hammer Time

    Some people are critical of Marvel Superhero Island because it isn’t as immersive as the Harry Potter lands. Instead of creating a realistic version of a New York populated by superheroes, the land is inspired by comic book art. That meant a lot of two-dimensional cardboard cutouts which makes a certain kind of sense if you are thinking in terms of sequential art.

    Twenty years after the opening of Islands of Adventure, the bar has been raised on theme park immersion. I suspect if a Marvel-themed land was being designed today, it would be a lot less cartoony and more inspired by the cinematic designs. But the current land is very reflective of the way Marvel comics were viewed in the 1990’s.

    here is still a surprising amount of detail if you take the time to look for it. One thing I had missed on previous trips was Thor’s hammer sticking in the window of Captain America’s Diner. You can see it from the outside looking in.

    Inside the restaurant, you can see Mjolnir as a giant 3-D prop lined right across from the cut-out of Thor who has hurled it through the window. Pretty cool, right?

    I have yet to eat at the Captain America Diner. Reviews tell me there are better places to have a meal insider the parks. But I do enjoy the wall-to-wall Avengers.

    Scouting Toon Lagoon

    Most of my time in Toon Lagoon is spent following the kids as they race from one photo op to the next. Since I was on my own, I was able to slow down a bit and take in the sights.

    The transition from comic books to comic strips is a pretty easy one. We’re still looking at a lot of colorful, mostly two-dimensional decorations. Superhero Island benefits from pop culture relevance. Only old folks like me will feel nostalgic for the Sunday funnies featured in Toon Lagoon.

    The problem with Toon Lagoon isn’t the musty intellectual property (although that is a factor). Even if you’re not familiar with the larger-than-life characters featured in the land, it’s still visually appealing.

    Toon Lagoon features two terrific water rides. On a super-hot Florida summer day, Dudley Do Right and Popeye’s Bilge Rat Barges are can’t-miss fun. But if you’re not in the mood to get soaked to the bone, there’s not much else to do. The land used to feature a show, but that theater has sat unused except for special events.

    I wasn’t planning to get wet today, but I decided to check out the Bilge Rat Barges anyway.

    Next: Popeye, Potter and Pets
  • macraven

    Proud Redhead
    Apr 21, 2003
    Tell Josie she is the best “back up “ photographer and will give you a run for the money someday...


    DIS Veteran
    Dec 30, 2010
    Great report so far!! I think I know what happened with the possible Warwick Davis sighting....but I won't spoil the story:scared1:


    It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts
    May 15, 2007
    All caught up......

    Your pictures are fabulous, and show the parks and hotels well...…and you can really see how much fun you are having.....and yes, splitting up is sometimes a good idea in a group...….keeps everyone happy.

    We love Cowfish and I agree, folks miss out with some lovely places in Citywalk by not leaving the parks...….

    And oh yes.....water rides on hot days are the best!!!


    Apr 2, 2008
    All caught up......

    Your pictures are fabulous, and show the parks and hotels well...…and you can really see how much fun you are having.....and yes, splitting up is sometimes a good idea in a group...….keeps everyone happy.

    We love Cowfish and I agree, folks miss out with some lovely places in Citywalk by not leaving the parks...….

    And oh yes.....water rides on hot days are the best!!!
    Thanks! That means a lot coming from you given the quality of the photos in your trip report. I just snap a lot of pictures on my phone figuring at least some of them will turn out. I always end up wishing I had taken more. Even the junk pictures are useful when it comes to reconstructing events for the trip report. It's how I take notes.

    I do think the fact that everyone is having fun comes through in the pics. And the fact we can split up is part of the reason we all have smiles on our faces. We have just recently begun discussions about possibly going back to that other place. You know the one. But I have serious reservations. It's just so much more stressful! I don't know. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad now that the kids are older? Josie has begun pushing for it because she says she doesn't remember as much from our Disney trips.

    Lynne G

    DIS Veteran
    Mar 29, 2009
    Such a fun report. Enjoying it. And have a kid, that's a couple months shy of being an adult, that has always been a picky eater. Hence why we have never eaten at Cowfish, or tried other restaurants.

    Following on.

    The 3 wet rides in IOA are a summer morning fun time for us. Then we go back wet, enjoy some pool time. And then change and go to the parks to ride and see the rest of the day

    And since my kids are adult and almost an adult, I've met them in the parks, later in the day, as I like going solo, as an early riser.


    Apr 2, 2008
    Such a fun report. Enjoying it. And have a kid, that's a couple months shy of being an adult, that has always been a picky eater. Hence why we have never eaten at Cowfish, or tried other restaurants.

    Following on.

    The 3 wet rides in IOA are a summer morning fun time for us. Then we go back wet, enjoy some pool time. And then change and go to the parks to ride and see the rest of the day

    And since my kids are adult and almost an adult, I've met them in the parks, later in the day, as I like going solo, as an early riser.
    Thanks so much. Glad you are enjoying the report!

    The menu at Cowfish is surprisingly robust. We're not sushi eaters and the kids can be picky. But there are so many choices I don't think anyone should be intimidated by the fusion concept. We have eaten there several times and never been disappointed.

    The IOA water rides are definitely meant for Florida summers. The one time we rode Dudley Doo Right it was a hot summer day and even though we were all soaked, the summer sun dried us off in no time. Spring wasn't the best time of year for the River Adventure and Popeye, but we wanted to make sure we got them in this time because we're not sure when we will be back. Having taken three consecutive Universal vacations, we may take a little break before we go back again.

    I love the family time, but the solo stuff is pretty great too. It's liberating not to have to worry about what anyone else does or doesn't want to do and to be able to just follow your on whims where they take you. Being able to combine both family time and solo adventures into one trip gives you the best of both worlds.


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