Midnight Departures and Hoping for Sunshine - a January 2016 TR - Completed 2/1

Discussion in 'Universal Studios Trip Reports' started by pepperandchips, Jan 11, 2016.

  1. pepperandchips

    pepperandchips [melinda]

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    Hello all and welcome! I am trying my hand at a trip report for a short trip we are taking this week to enjoy the long weekend (Martin Luther King Day, for my non-US friends). I started a trip report in the past for a Disney vacation but I got overwhelmed with the length of the trip and abandoned it. So this will be my first real trip report! Please feel free to say hello if you've stopped in to check out my progress.

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    I'll start with introductions - my name is Melinda, and I'm from the greater metro Atlanta area. I usually travel with a combination of my mom, sister, and live-in partner (I'll call him "R" or "Boo" here to protect his privacy). This time it's just me and the Boo.

    My Orlando travel addiction started in 2013 when I caught a tv special about the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. I started planning a trip for the 2014 Epcot Food and Wine Festival and by the spring of 2014, I'd lost control. I've visited Disney 11 times between May 2014 and December 2015 for trips of varying lengths. (The curse of the AP!) Now we're on year 2 of Disney annual passes, and looking to add Universal Power Passes to our list of growing Orlando temptations.

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    I haven't been to Universal since around 1992 - I was a small child then and have little memory of anything other than E.T. and being upset I couldn't ride Back to the Future. R and his sister went to Universal in Summer 2014, and he loved it. Since then, R's seen all of the Harry Potter movies and is looking forward to experiencing the Wizarding World with some perspective from the films. I'm looking forward to just taking everything in as an adult. We got to chatting in the fall and decided MLK weekend would be a good time for us to visit Universal.

    Thus far, the plans are a little more shadowy than I'm used to (coming from the universe of crazy Disney planning), but we're planning to leave around midnight or 1:00 AM on Thursday, January 14th. We'll drive through the night and check in at Portofino Bay early Thursday morning before hitting the parks.

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    My must-dos are Cowfish, visiting Teak, The Kitchen at Hard Rock, and butterbeer. I'd also like to check out Cabana Bay and maybe grab a meal at the Bayliner Diner. I'm trying to make an effort to go with the flow, soak up the atmosphere, and not run us both ragged. I am looking forward to Express Pass to help with that ambition.

    Please say hello and feel free to give any advice you see fit!

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    Cheers!
    Melinda
     
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  2. schumigirl

    schumigirl It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts

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    Nice start!!

    You have some good food choices in there......Cowfish and Teak were two places we really enjoyed, Teak we have been going there for years and standard is always high for food and service. Depending on when you go, it can get really noisy if they have live music on......really loud.......

    I would really love to be able to see everything for the first time again.............looking forward to reading about your trip.....:thumbsup2
     
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  4. pepperandchips

    pepperandchips [melinda]

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    Thank you, Carole! I just finished your 2015 trip report and it was really helpful in sealing the deal on some of my "must-do" restaurants and attractions. I'm glad you'll be reading along! You and Tom looked like you had such a nice trip - it really made me want to stay at RPR as I think it's more our "style", but we just couldn't beat the deal we got at Portofino. Both hotels look lovely and I'm sure we'll be back, so maybe next time ::yes::
     
  5. Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina

    Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina DIS Veteran

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    I'm in!! You sound like you have an AWESOME trip planned!! I can't wait to see your photos and hear about your adventures. Still a long 102 days to go for me.

    Don't forget to add a Big Pink Donut to your must-do's. And Butterbeer ice cream from Florean Fortescue's. You'll need something to give you some energy with all the walking you'll be doing :) .
     
  6. pepperandchips

    pepperandchips [melinda]

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    Yay! So glad to have you here, Gina. Your trip reports have made the waiting so much harder (but raised my excitement levels through the roof)!

    My "want to do" makes my "must do" list VERY long so I just hit the high notes (wasn't sure if I was only talking to myself anyhow when I was writing the first post). I also want to get over to Jake's at Royal Pacific, grab a big pink donut, try the tacos from Bumble Bee Man in Springfield, sample the blondie ice cream at Florean Fortescue's parlor (can likely convince the boo to share that and a butterbeer soft serve), catch dueling pianos at Pat O'Brien's, eat something from Three Broomsticks and see the ambience in Leaky Cauldron, and try Duff beer. I don't know how much food and drink we can enjoy over just 4.5 days so some of these may carry over to next time!

    Work today is going to be painful... Got almost all the way packed except toiletries and items I'll need today and tomorrow. I'm probably annoying heck out of poor R who must've heard "I'm so excited" about 100 times this week. But... I'M SO EXCITED! :hyper:
     
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  7. Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina

    Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina DIS Veteran

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    You will be amazed at how much stomach capacity a human adult has .... just ask my guys :rotfl: . Eat, drink and be as merry as your appetite will allow!

    Let that excitement loose, girlfriend :thumbsup2. YOLO!
     
  8. schumigirl

    schumigirl It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts

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    Aww glad you enjoyed reading it......it did drag on a bit! We did have an amazing time and loved every second of it.....

    You'll be happy at Portofino.......it is nice.....you'll be onsite and that is worth its weight in gold...even during a quiet time we wouldn't be without EP.......and yes, I'm sure you'll be back to Universal again too.........it's very addictive ::yes::
     
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  9. pepperandchips

    pepperandchips [melinda]

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    We made it to Orlando in record time - about 6 hours with two brief stops. Had a fast food breakfast and checked in at Portofino. Can you believe our room was ready at 7:00 AM? "Garden" view is an awesome view of the beach pool. Disney would be charging us extra for this view! Hoping it's quiet enough for naps later. Quite near the boat dock and I am in LOVE with the theming here. Simply cannot believe we got the deal we got on this room - I'd be lucky to score a Disney moderate at this price (I've paid similar rates at the Swolphin but never had a room nearly this spacious). We're off to early entry at Diagon Alley. EEEEeeee!
     
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  10. schumigirl

    schumigirl It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts

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    Glad you're happy with the room and resort...........enjoy DA and the rest of your trip........:thumbsup2
     
  11. Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina

    Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina DIS Veteran

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    Woohoo! Glad you made it safely and speedily and got a great room! :banana: Even nicer to be able to check in to your room so early :thumbsup2 .

    Have an awesome time, wish I were there! :goodvibes

    (PS...how's the weather? We had another snow storm overnight :cold:)
     
  12. pepperandchips

    pepperandchips [melinda]

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    Gina, it is 68F/20C, sunny, and gorgeous! We are sitting on the outdoor patio of NBC sports grill & brew in our shirt sleeves soaking up the sun (you'd be happy too, @schumigirl the lizard lady!!) Already saw both directions of hogwarts express, FJ, and Gringotts. It's fair to say we're having a blast!!!

    Can't get a photo to upload but will try again when we get back to the hotel to rest.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2016
  13. schumigirl

    schumigirl It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts

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    The lizard comment really made me laugh..........my boys do honestly tell me that's what I'm like!!

    Glad you're having a blast :thumbsup2
     
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  14. pepperandchips

    pepperandchips [melinda]

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  15. pepperandchips

    pepperandchips [melinda]

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    That was our blue sky view at City Walk at lunch today!
     
  16. pepperandchips

    pepperandchips [melinda]

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    [​IMG]

    This morning was rainy and nasty weather but blue sky opened up around lunch time :sunny:
     
  17. pepperandchips

    pepperandchips [melinda]

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    Checking out this morning and heading to the parks for a couple of hours before heading north to Atlanta to resume life in the real world... I love Universal and have had such a great time! I can't wait to start my trip report in earnest.
     
  18. schumigirl

    schumigirl It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts

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    Aww....glad you had such a good time......looking forward to reading all about it.......
     
  19. Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina

    Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina DIS Veteran

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    Nooooooo! It's not over already!! :sad:

    I can't wait to read all about your adventures, though! Safe travels home!
     
  20. pepperandchips

    pepperandchips [melinda]

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    Last bits of the pre-trip report...

    January 12 - day before leaving

    I woke up this morning and was SO EXCITED that we were leaving the next day. R and I have been trying to get up early and go for a walk every day, but it has been so cold in Atlanta (for us, not for my international friends) the past few weeks that we've been getting ready for work early instead and going for a walk after we come home a bit earlier. This morning we got up early but instead of going for a walk or going to the office early I packed my suitcase, except for my toiletries and other items I'd need prior to leaving. The whole day at the office was agony. Fortunately schumigirl and Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina stopped by to provide some encouragement.

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    This is our usual view on our walks...


    I started brainstorming some last minute things we might want to bring and remembered that the refrigerators at Loew's Hotels are minibars rather than proper refrigerators. I started panicking because we don't have a plastic cooler - almost bought one for same day delivery on Amazon but talked myself out of it and decided a soft side cooler bag will do the job. After all, I am just wanting to keep some sodas cool, not like I'm going to get salmonella if they warm up.


    I got home quite late from work - I had a meeting on the other side of town and didn't make it home until about 8:30. We made stir fry for dinner, watched a couple episodes of Jeopardy, and I hit the disboards for a few minutes. I also checked out the menus for some of the restaurant locations at Portofino - I can't believe how high some of the drink prices are! I thought Disney was expensive, but yeesh! $15.00 for a cocktail at some places. Made a mental note to pick up some bourbon on the way home from work, and pack mixers and plastic cups. I read a few more tips online about the Universal resorts before konking out for the night. Both of us slept fitfully (probably because I was still so excited!).

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    Homemade stir fry... Not quite the Orlando food porn but it was good!


    January 13 - departure day!

    Woke up this morning ready to face my last day at work before vacation. I love my job but I do adversarial work, so generally the people that I speak to outside my office aren't very happy with me. Today was no different and I had an especially challenging morning at work. I'd already planned a lunch date with a coworker and we wanted to leave the office for an unhealthy but delicious meal and some gossip away from the ever-present ears. R and I have been trying to eat healthier through the workweek so the lunch date was a special treat.

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    Our home city - Atlanta skyline

    I'd already thrown most of my toiletries into travel bags as I got ready that morning, so I just made some notes throughout the day of last things to pack. I always like to bring an air freshener plug in so that I have a "scent" associated with the memory of the trip. (I also travel with a plug in that has a night light so I don't bump into things if I have to wake in the night). I wanted to pack lighter for this trip but the weather report basically dictated that I bring one of every variety of garment! Lows in the 40s and highs in the 70s, both rain and sun. We were hoping for some warmer, sunny days so that we could enjoy the beautiful pools at Portofino, so I went ahead and brought some swimsuits as well. Maybe the hot tubs, at the very minimum.

    By about 4:00 this afternoon I was a ball of nerves, ready to leave and counting down the minutes until an appropriate time to leave the office (and at the same time desperately trying to finish a last few tasks before going out of town). R had a late meeting this evening, so I knew I'd be on my own for the early hours after work and hoped to squeeze in a nice long nap. We like driving through the night to avoid any traffic and to really maximize the time of our arrival day without having to pay for an extra night at a hotel. We take turns driving - it's about a 6 hour drive from Atlanta to Orlando if you don't stop too many times on the way in, so we usually each only have to drive about 3 hours. This would be our first time taking the turnpike all the way to I-4 as we usually take 429 and come in to Walt Disney World from the west rather than via I-4.

    I got home a little earlier than usual from work, even after stopping to get some bourbon and sparkling waters for the trip. I was too excited to get a long nap, but I did sleep for about an hour and a half. R got home about 9:00 and packed his bag. I wasn't very hungry but kept thinking of all the wonderful restaurants I wanted to try in Orlando. I settled on fruit and yogurt for dinner. Not very thrilling. While R took a nap I read some more trip reports on the disboards and put the final few things in bags. I had received a new piece of luggage for Christmas so it was a challenge to get both our suitcases in the trunk... As I said, I had to overpack due to the climate swings predicted... :duck:We ended up leaving Atlanta behind around 12:30 AM. It was about 32F/1C when we left, so we were really happy to see the temperature gauge on my car go up to about 50F/10C by the time we reached Orlando.

    We made better time than ever (about six hours) and we were starving when we hit Orlando. We decided to look for a Chick-fil-A for breakfast and arrived just a few minutes before they opened at 6:30. We both polished off a spicy chicken biscuit and decided that it was close enough to 7:00 and that we should go check in and print our express passes, hoping that our room would be ready by the time we needed a nap this afternoon. I only slept about three hours total Wednesday night but I was full of energy and excitement to experience universal!!!

    :yay:

    Check-in and first impressions of Portofino Bay coming up next...
     
  21. schumigirl

    schumigirl It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts

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    That is a nice walk! Waiting for a trip to start always seems to make time go slow........

    You did make good time on your journey...........6 hours isn't too bad a journey to drive, especially since it's just the two of you to think about.........

    It's funny, I stop myself at times from commenting how cheap we find things in Orlando and cocktails are one of them........$15 is ok to us to pay for cocktails......it's a bargain to what we would pay for a "good" hotel cocktail over here........but when I told an American friend we paid $90 plus 20% tip for 3 drinks each one night she thought we needed our heads examined........lol........

    I did smile at your having to overpack due to climate swings predicted.........lol.......that's a good excuse.....

    Looking forward to reading more.......
     

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