Oh, The Places We’ll Go! From the “stars” to the “sea”: Universal, SeaWorld & beyond - Spring 2016


SeaWorld Platinum Passholder
Sep 12, 2008
A huge to everyone reading along.....I am always grateful for those who choose to spend their leisure time perusing our vacation memories. We are officially one week back from our most recent adventures in Orlando, so its high time a report gets (finally) underway . I certainly can’t say that we are settled in and organized yet (we are now in the midst of some minor home renovations, so life is more chaotic now than before we left!) but we’re coming along. It’s a process, albeit often a slow one.

For those of you who may have missed my pre-trip report, you can read about what transpired in the months before this vacation here:


I am not going to re-hash the past.....the PTR details everything quite well, so for any new readers, I suggest you crack yourself open a cold diet Pepsi, find yourself a comfy chair, and start there. Those that already have the background covered, we shall waste no more time before jumping right in.

Some introductions for any new friends who are joining us:

We are Steve (44), Gina (42) and Jake (20).

A little background on who we are.....

Steve just got a promotion earlier this year, and is now a Manufacturing Engineering Technician for an auto parts manufacturer. Jake just completed his post-secondary education in the weeks prior to our trip, and has accepted a job as a Child & Youth Worker (Weekend Supervisor) at a local group home for at-risk male youth. I am the Office Manager for an insurance and financial planning firm. We all also have at least one “side” job (in Jake and I’s case, we have two!) which helps to fund our vacation addiction. Or would that be ‘obsession’? Either way, it sure helps make sure that our Florida vacations have become a regular indulgence: three times in 2015, and this year, twice (10 days in the spring, and a full two weeks just for Steve and I in mid-to-late October).

As a general rule, I thrive on planning our southern getaways and that’s A-OK with my boys: if they were in charge of planning a family vacation, we’d be going to an all-inclusive and only finding out about it the night before . They love sports, theme parks, big thrills and food. I am more of an “experiences” kind of gal....as I told a friend last night, as a general rule I don’t like to be shaken, spun, dropped, startled, dangled, surprised, or perched at precarious heights. I also don’t like loud noises (cue the yawns, LOL!). But somehow, we always manage to find that perfect mix of things to do that satisfies everyone’s vacation wish list. The Disboards contributors and my awesome Florida friends are always a big part in my planning successes. Thanks to the many other trip reports here on the boards, I often come off as a genius in my fellows' eyes. These reports can be the most excellent way to share some pretty nifty ideas.

This specific vacation was Orlando trip #10 for Steve and I (number 8 for Jake, who didn’t come with us two of our three vacations in 2015) .... and it just felt “significant” for some reason. Well, for multiple reasons actually.
  • It was our 10th trip to Florida ... double digits, baby! I certainly could not have seen that milestone coming when we were planning our first (and supposedly "once in a lifetime") Orlando expedition in 2009.
  • It was most likely our last trip as a family for quite some time, now that Jake has graduated college and secured himself full-time employment.
  • We were celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary on this getaway (May 1st ).
  • We were celebrating Jake’s graduation (where on earth did his childhood go? ).
When the initial plans were put in place, it was anticipated to be a very simple, basic, budget trip (after all, our Canadian dollar is still in the toilet and the exchange sits at 30% or worse)......but since coming home from our Christmas vacation in late December, the itinerary grew more and more fantabulous with each passing week. Much of that was directly a result from the most wonderful, amazing, and generous gifts from very special friends.......and to those very incredible folks, all three of us send you our heartfelt thanks. There were many, MANY times we raised a glass in their honour over the course of our trip : we never lost sight of how many incredible experiences were a direct result of their unbelievable kindness. Our initially "basic" trip was nothing short of EPIC.

Over the pages and posts to come, I will detail our adventures at SeaWorld, Aquatica, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, CityWalk, and in St. Petersburg. You will hear all about our stay at our home-away-from-home, the Sheraton Vistana Resort, as well as our experiences at our park-and-fly hotel in Buffalo and our two-night stay at the Residence Inn SeaWorld. There will be mini golf, shopping, a baseball game, a behind-the-scenes tour, and a dolphin cruise.

There will be food porn .

There will be minions! :teeth:

There will also be the end of the dolphin tale.....but not until much, much later ;).

You will hear about our high points and an honest review of the things that didn't go quite as planned. There will be pictures and prices.....and hopefully, lots of questions, comments and other input from you, my readers.

So with that, I declare this trip report officially open! More to come soon!

PS....a big thanks to @dsmom who has recently re-awakened my love of all things Dr. Seuss ....hence the inspiration for the thread title :goodvibes.
  • Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina

    SeaWorld Platinum Passholder
    Sep 12, 2008
    Wahoo! great start Gina! So excited to see the special things you guys did.

    I'll sit back and be ready to read more. Thank you!
    Welcome, Lynne!! I am so glad you are along for the read! :banana:

    I am first to reply!!!!!! That has never happened!

    Ok I posted then my face dropped as I realized I was beaten :mad:
    Hey....you were pretty darn close ;). Lynne's a toughie to keep up with, LOL :teeth:! Welcome!

    Looking forward to reading along. We will be have our first stay at the Sheraton Vistana very soon so hope it lived up to your previous experiences.
    Welcome, welcome! :goodvibes

    We had another excellent stay at SVR....not perfect, unfortunately (more on that coming up!) but awesome nonetheless. I think you will love the resort....its my favourite place to stay in Orlando! I will be anxious to know what you think of it after your trip.


    You're going to make us wait for the stuffed dolphin story aren't ya? ;)
    Welcome, my friend :).

    The mystery of the dolphin stuffie will be, unfortunately, be dragged out almost to the very end of this TR just by nature of the fact that he won it on the very last full day of the trip. But I shall share the story for sure......eventually :laughing:.

    Woohoo! Can't wait -- I am so "IN"!!

    Maria :upsidedow
    Wahoo! Maria is here! :cheer2: Welcome aboard!
    Yay!!!! :cheer2:Great start to your report! :thumbsup2 Looking forward to hearing all about your trip, Gina! ::yes::
    Glad to have you along, as always! :goodvibes

    Checking in!

    And away we goooo....
    Welcome, my fellow Canuck :goodvibes. It is never the same without you! Did the trailer get a name yet?

    Hooray! I'm so glad you started - can't wait to read more.
    Thanks iona! Glad to have you with us! :cutie:
    Sit back....let's beginpopcorn::
    Ah, the Entertainment Committee has officially surfaced! I am so glad you're here....but of course, I don't even need to tell you that ;).

    Woohoo! Excited to hear about how it all panned out... and for FOOD PORN!
    Hi tortilla24, glad to have you! :goodvibes I hope your trip plans are coming along well.....not long for you now!

    I'm along for the ride!!! Your trip reports are always spectacular! Can't wait to read along.
    Thanks, my friend. So happy to have you join in once again! :)

    I second the motion about how great your TRs always are. They are a great way to learn. :thumbsup2 I'm in! :jumping1:
    Thank you so much, that's very high praise :blush:. Welcome aboard, and I hope you enjoy this report as much as the others!


    DIS Veteran
    Feb 7, 2008
    YAY! Can't wait to read about your trip! We leave on June 1 for our Orlando vacation and as you, we are sadly realizing this may be one of the last times the four of us will vacation together as DS22 is looking on to grad school.


    SeaWorld Platinum Passholder
    Sep 12, 2008
    Saturday, April 23rd:

    We dragged ourselves out of bed at the crack of dawn to embark on the customary pre-vacation house cleaning and final round of laundry. Thankfully, like most of our Orlando departure days, it didn’t take much to get my boys rising and shining…..they were pretty agreeable to an early start so we could be on the road before lunch time. We opted to employ the divide-and-conquer philosophy…..I washed/disinfected/dusted, Steve vacuumed and handled the luggage, and Jake just did whatever random jobs he was assigned. We wanted to be out the door and in the car by noon, and we beat it by an hour. Go Team! :cheer2:

    We stopped at Tim Hortons for lunch (another departure day tradition…..it would be 10 days before we savoured another cup of the world’s best coffee in the signature brown cups :drinking1), made a quick stop at my mom’s house as we passed through her city to deliver her a coffee and muffin and give her one last round of hugs (we had taken her out for dinner and shopping the night before, and I knew she would appreciate one last little visit before we left for Buffalo), then we began our 3+ hour commute down (initially) the 401 :drive:. Arriving at Pickering, we hopped on the 407 toll highway, which is always a tough pill to swallow (travelling that road can be Expensive with a capital E) until this view greets you:

    At that moment the cost didn’t seem so terrible when compared with the congested, construction-riddled lanes of the 401. Sometimes it’s worth a few extra bucks to make the drive a lot more efficient ::yes::.

    We arrived at the Queenston/Lewiston border crossing and were pleased to see that there was a very short line to clear customs. This time, I made note of the time that we initially stopped the Journey…..and from the first stop to driving off into New York State, it was a whopping 4 minutes . Seriously :worship:. The border guard asked the standard questions…..where are you from, where are you going, when will you be returning, how much money are you carrying…..and we were waved through.

    I love smooth starts :teeth:.

    We took note of the temperature as we rolled into Buffalo. Spring really hadn’t yet sprung in our neck of the woods, and most of the trees were still leaf-less on that April 23rd. We hoped that while we were away, the warmer weather would finally find its way northward and the trees would be leafy and green by the time we arrived home. Sadly, they weren’t…..in fact, my mom was happy to let us know (during our regular evening chats) that not only did it not get any warmer after we left, it somehow managed to get colder (and even snow flurried more than once :cold:). Bah, humbug!

    We pulled into the Days Hotel under sunny, crisp skies and checked in to our room. Those of you who have read my past reports know that it has been unofficially declared the Days Disaster on our previous two stays in October and December, and this park-and-fly package was extended to us at no charge as a customer service gesture by Kevin V., the Vice President of the property. We were warmly welcomed by the front desk staff on our arrival, and the Front Desk Manager, Brian, did come out to say hello and shake my hand (we have chatted by email several times before and after our three visits to this hotel in 2015, and he said he was eager to put a face to a name), which I thought was very personable of him. He was a genuinely nice guy and I desperately hoped I wouldn’t have yet another round of complaints to throw in his direction by the time we left on the shuttle the following morning! :rolleyes1

    We checked into our room…..a clean, basic and (so far!) quiet two-queen suite on the 3rd floor.

    The accommodations here are nowhere near elegant, but for a park and fly, all we really require is clean, quiet and reasonably comfy. The price was also right ($89, and payable in Canadian funds) should we have been paying out of pocket. We all agreed we would not allow past experiences to colour our opinion of this stay…..past sins were forgiven, and we were starting with a clean slate. Time would tell if we would consider this property for our October trip as well.

    After checking in and picking up all the items from the front desk that we had shipped to the hotel in advance of our arrival…..which I felt horrible about, as they packed the tiny items in HUGE boxes for which the desk staff must have cursed me (seriously, 4 t-shirts each packed in their own large box :eek: ….WHY?!?! :confused3) we decided to head to the Walden Galleria in search of dinner. We had a new experience in the plans for tonight……assuming, of course, that we could get a table.

    10 trips later, we are STILL trying something new!

    The Cheesecake Factory is coming up next :surfweb:.
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    SeaWorld Platinum Passholder
    Sep 12, 2008
    YAY! Can't wait to read about your trip! We leave on June 1 for our Orlando vacation and as you, we are sadly realizing this may be one of the last times the four of us will vacation together as DS22 is looking on to grad school.
    Welcome pattyw! Your trip is coming up soooo soon! You must be getting excited! :banana:

    Glad to have you along on this trip report, at least from now until you depart (and hopefully afterward, too!). It sure does make the trips very special ... and a little emotional.... when the family dynamics start changing. You tend to treasure and savour those wonderful moments even more.

    Got my Diet Pepsi and my comfy chair. I'm ready!
    My favourite beverage! :teeth:

    So glad to have you along. So many friends joining in, this is going to be FUN! :woohoo: