Scooby Doo, Sand and Starbucks...our first trip to Universal **updated 4/15**

Discussion in 'Universal Studios Trip Reports' started by prairiesarah, Mar 25, 2018.

  1. prairiesarah

    prairiesarah Mouseketeer

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    We just got back a week ago from our trip to Universal and had a most wonderful time. I was very appreciative of all the great info on here which helped make our trip a success. So thought it was time to start on a trip report and share a bit about our experience.


    Who - DH, DS 12 and I

    When - March 9th to 13th Portifino Bay Resort
    March 13th to 15th North Port, FL visiting family
    March 15th to 16th Royal Pacific Resort

    Friday, March 9th
    After a very nice (and direct which was a bonus - thank you WESTJET :worship:) flight to Orlando, we arrived right after 2pm. We had to clear customs which was a first for us at MCO, as we have typically flown through MSP which meant we cleared customs there. Line ups were not bad that day, but used our NEXUS cards which expedited us through the line a bit. After using the computer kiosks, we had our printed declarations to the agent only to be sent to secondary screening. We weren't sure what this was about but I could only assume it was because we answered yes to the question about whether we had been around/handling cattle. We had to wait for someone to collect our luggage, only to go up to answer a few questions and for the agents there to realize what question we had answered yes to and that it was because we are dairy farmers. They thought it was because we were claiming that we had food in our luggage. Once that was cleared up they sent our luggage through the X-ray machine barely looking on it and we were on our way.


    After the nice little monorail ride, we headed out to the Alamo area on the A side garage. I had already done everything online so we were able to just to out and pick up our car and head out. Got to the Intermediate SUV line to find no vehicles.... After a loop back to find an agent, we were redirected to the Full Size SUV line for a free upgrade and picked out a nice grey Nissan Rogue, narrowly missing out on a cherry red version much to my son's chagrin as my inlaws had a cherry red minivan last trip and it became a "thing" in our family to always gets a cherry red vehicle if possible. The Nissan Rogue was on our list of potentials for a next vehicle so was very nice to have a chance to drive one for a week and see how we liked it (which I did, very nice to drive, very comfortable, DS says the space in the backseat was good, only downside was the trunk space, which *just* fit three average size suitcases - anything more would have obscured the view).


    Loaded up the car and I stripped off my sweater because I was in Florida and even at about 20 degrees (celsuis) it was 30 degrees (celsius) warmer than when we left home that morning. I travelled prepared in a sleeveless shirt, jeans, sweater and flip flops, so off went the sweater and I was ready for warm weather! Got DH set up with our first destination on his phone - Target for a couple food items. Got out of the airport, missed the first exit we were supposed to take, only to realize he forgot to hit start on the route and didn't notice we were supposed to exit... After we got that straightened out and rerouted, we found our way to Target, only to realize I hadn’t thought to search for a Super Target, and we ended up at a regular Target with no grocery section. Got out of the car and went in anyway. DS is still wearing a thick hoodie and DH wearing his fleece vest in spite of 20ish degree (celsius) weather. Both responded they were fine when I asked if they were too hot. Target was a bit of a bust aside from a Dh having a good eye and noticing they had the new album that was just released that day that we wanted, so picked that up and reset SIRI to take us to Publix just down the road. Quick stop and Publix for water, K-cups (because I’m picky about my coffee and like it strong not the coffee water that is standard in hotels), milk, cereal, yogurt and a couple snacks. We had already decided to eat breakfast in the room mainly because neither DH or I are much for a big breakfast so seemed like a waste of time and $ to go searching for breakfast each am. (I have to say it was so nice to have a Keurig in the room (plus my purchased cream in the fridge) so I could get up and just make a cup of coffee and not have to go searching for one.)

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    Next stop, Portofino Bay Resort. Pulled up to Portofino Bay Resort and loved it at first sight. Someone on here mentioned the scent in the lobby and I have to agree that it just smells wonderful. I don’t know what it is, but it had a very distinctive scent. After a quick stop at check in (surprisingly short in spite of the line), we were on our way to our room. Thankfully we had bell services help us find our room and take our stuff since adding the bag of groceries and case of water, it made it just a bit too much to handle ourselves. I say thankfully because it would have been hard to find our room that first time on our own between elevators and the trek across the piazza. I was glad I had done a bit of research and had requested West Wing. We had a garden view room on the 4th floor which did look out over the pool, but mostly at the palm tree in front of our room. It was a perfect location for us with DS who loves to swim. The building entrance was essentially right at the boat dock and very easy access to the Beach Pool. The room was just lovely and beds very comfortable. I liked that it had two chairs at the desk/table which was great for us for breakfast in the am, plus a nice chair for sitting in by the window.

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    By this time we were all starving (would have been around 6pm, but with a time change and the flight we basically missed lunch so this was a lunch/dinner combo meal). We headed down to Sal’s for supper. DS got a Salvatore’s (minus the mushrooms), I got a Green and White (minus the bacon) and DH got a BBQ chicken plus we got a side of mozza sticks. The pizza was a good value in my opinion, but definitely could have gotten a large and shared with DH instead of a small each. All three were excellent and I really like the lightly dressed arugula on mine. The mozza sticks were really good and had a decent side of marinara sauce but I thought it was a small portion for the price (5 smallish mozza sticks for $5.99).

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    After supper was time to stretch our legs after travelling all day, so decided to walk up to the parks and go into US for an hour or two. That is a really nice walk - path is very nice, felt very safe too. There is often talk on here of how far out Portofino Bay Resort is, but we never found it that far. I timed it one evening and even at what I would consider a saunter (wearing flip flops), it took us 12 minutes to walk and DH and DS do not walk that fast. After a quick stop at Guest Services to upgrade our tickets to Seasonal Passes, we did a loop around the park. It was definitely pretty magical seeing Diagon Alley for the first time at night and the Gringott’s Dragon blowing fire was spectacular. Went through Knockturn Alley and that was very cool and definitely a bit spooky at night. We didn’t go on any rides but did check out the big store at the entrance where my DS first found the gigantic Scooby Doo stuffy which I knew immediately was not a matter of if, but when he was going to cave and buy it.

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    After a lovely walk back to the hotel, and a stop for gelato for DS and DH and Starbucks for me at the hotel, we wandered around a bit checking out the Beach and Villa pools, then back to the room to relax. It was a perfect start to our vacation.

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  2. prairiesarah

    prairiesarah Mouseketeer

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    Saturday March 10th

    After a not too early start and some cereal, yogurt and coffee in the room, we headed out via boat to IOA. Managed to get there about half way thru the early entry hour and crowds were light. Did a counter clockwise circle of the park starting in Seuss Landing riding the train, then off to Hogsmeade. DS and I rode the Flight of the Hippogriff and I was a bit surprised by the intensity of the ride, but enjoyed it. DS went to try and go on Forbidden Journey (which I already knew was a no go for me), but it wasn’t open yet due to some technical difficulties. So, DS rode the Flight of the Hippogriff about 5 more times in a row with never more than a 5 minute wait thanks to the early time of day and Express Pass. The crowds definitely started increasing in the time were there.

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    Continued on to Jurassic Park where we all rode The Jurassic Park River Adventure, then DS and I went on for a second time. The Raptor Encounter had opened by this time, so we went and got in line. The raptor trainer was awesome and was a great interaction. Very funny show/experience. We all love the Jurassic Park movies so really enjoyed this. They were great about taking photos with phones/cameras as well as had a PhotoPass photographer there.

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    By this time we were all hungry and I had Thunder Falls on my list of places I’d like to try. We got there before the lunch rush and had minimal wait. This was a great option for us as I eat mainly vegetarian (with a little bit of fish occasionally). DS was thrilled to get a turkey leg for lunch which he desperately had wanted last trip with his Grandma and Grandpa but they didn’t eat in the parks, so I let him splurge a bit and get it along with corn and potatoes. DH had the Rottisserie Chicken Combo with potatoes and corn. I had a lunch of the “sides”, black beans, potatoes, corn (side note, the yellow rice and roasted tomato soup are not vegetarian as they use chicken stock). Food was delicious, except the milkshakes which neither DH or DS were impressed with as they were clearly a mix and not real dairy which tends to give DH stomach problems so he ended up not drinking his. We really should have asked for an alternate beverage for the combo meals.

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    After lunch DH and DS went on Kong which had multiple problems while they were on and kept getting stopped. Both decided it was a one and done ride. Since I wasn’t up for rides yet post lunch, DS did a continuous loop of the Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges going on it probably half a dozen times and getting SOAKED and loving every minute of it. I spent that time trying to decide whether I wanted to pay for a token to soak him even more. By that time, I was ok for rides again and had to take one for the team and go on Ripsaw Falls which was fun, but someone paid to run the water cannons and drenched me. Thankfully it was warm so I dried fairly quick. After a couple spins on Spiderman for DS we headed back to the hotel for some downtime and swimming. DH gets migraines from perfumes so being constantly barraged with that all morning, he typically ends up in bed by the afternoon to sleep it off. DS and I went down to the pool where he happily swam while I relaxed. We really enjoyed the giant Connect 4 game poolside and played that several times.

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    By early evening we were ready for dinner, so looked over the menu’s for Citywalk and decided to walk down and try out Margaritaville. With preferred seating for staying onsite we waited about 10 minutes to get in. I found out from looking at their website that they have a special menu with their Gluten Free and Vegetarian options that can be requested which was great. I was able to order a Roast Corn and Black Bean Taco which was not on the regular menu which as fantastic - so much filling that I could barely pick up the tacos, but completely delicious. We had shared the pretzels for an appetizer which were good. DH had the fish tacos which he enjoyed. DS had the fish and chips which were a disappointment - just fish sticks which looked like they came out of a box and really not a very good portion for the price.

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    After supper we thought about mini golf, but the line up was huge, so decided to go earlier in the day another day. Had a chance to check out a couple stores and to get the Starbucks Universal You Are Here Mug I had been coveting. (Note if anyone else collects these - parks and Citywalk have the Universal version, hotels only carry the Orlando and Florida versions).

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    Last stop for the night was for gelato for DH and DS at the hotel and again Starbucks for me.

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  4. ckmiles

    ckmiles Mouseketeer

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    Enjoying following along! Great pictures. Cant wait to read more!
     
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  5. Stargazer9

    Stargazer9 Loves Universal and Disney

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    Awesome report! Following along!
     
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  6. schumigirl

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

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    Yay......you’ve started your trip report Sarah.........

    Some lovely pictures there and sounds like you had a good few days........we love Sals pizza too and yep, they’re a good size............

    Looking for more.......:)
     
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  7. mjhtvchick

    mjhtvchick DIS Veteran

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    Looking forward to reading along your trip report! Helping to keep up my excitement for our May trip!

    I will be buying that mug, for sure!
     
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  8. prairiesarah

    prairiesarah Mouseketeer

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    Thanks for following along :flower1:. I am really enjoying reminiscing about my trip and thinking about what we'd like to do for our next one. We definitely got a good taste of Universal but there is so much more we'd like to see/do so trying to figure out about another trip in the next year before our Annual Passes expire.
     
  9. prairiesarah

    prairiesarah Mouseketeer

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    Thanks for following along - I love my Starbucks You Are Here Mugs. I was tempted by the Florida version too as it was mainly pink and that's my favourite colour but I restrained myself and just got the Universal one. Maybe next trip : ).
     
  10. pattyw

    pattyw DIS Veteran

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    Sounds like a great start! I've wanted to do the raptor meet for a long time- every time we go by there's a huge line! And I have to get the Starbucks mug!
     
  11. mjhtvchick

    mjhtvchick DIS Veteran

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    haha - I already have the Florida one and an old Orlando one along with a few from Disney and other cities - a bit obsessed!! :blush:
     
  12. SonyaShay

    SonyaShay Hufflepuff

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    joining in! can't wait to read more!
     
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  13. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

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    Reading along also and can’t wait to hear more about your trip!
     
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  14. bobbie68

    bobbie68 DIS Veteran

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    Hi thanks for sharing:thumbsup2 I love reading other people enjoying Uni so much. This is getting me excited for our June trip. Glad you had a great time!
     
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  15. prairiesarah

    prairiesarah Mouseketeer

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    Sunday, March 11th

    One thing I was not even thinking about when we booked our trip was the time change - thankfully DH’s second cousin (who we were visiting a couple of days later) mentioned something when we were messaging about plans. Where we live, we don’t follow Daylight Savings Time so the time never changes. So Sunday morning we were up a bit later than I would have liked because of that and ended up at the gates of IOA at almost exactly 9am with a huge crowd. Veered to the far left and ended up not being too terrible of a wait (10ish minutes). We did much the same as the previous day, walked through Seuss Landing, no rides, but stopping to make DH retake a photo of DS and I with the truffula trees since the one he took the previous day cut me off at the ankles…. Let DS pick what he wanted to do. He bought postcards at Owl Press, rode Flight of the Hippogriff, he and DH went on Forbidden Journey and I tagged along to see the queue then ducked out before the ride. Then a couple times around Jurassic Park River Adventure picking up a nice black Jurrassic Park hoodie for DS in the store. Then a few more trips on Popeye and Bluto’s.

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    We were all hungry by then and planning for Volcano Bay that afternoon as it was supposed to be the warmest day of our trip. And honestly even coming from the frozen north and subzero temperatures at home, most of the days being 20 c/68 f, it just wasn’t quite as warm as I’d like for swimming. It was no problem for DS, but just wasn’t enough heat for me to get in the pool. This was the one day I was sure was going to be warm enough for me to want to swim.

    On our way out of the parks, we made a slight detour into IOA Trading Company so DS could bring Scooby Doo home. I knew there wasn’t a chance we were going home without him and he had decided to spend some of the money he brought with him on it. After he made his purchase, we headed off to Citywalk for lunch and I suggested Bread Box because I knew it would have something that would appeal to each of us. I had the Veggie (hot), DH had the Turkey minus bacon (hot) both with tater tots, DS had the Ham and Brie (cold) minus brie plus lettuce with fries. The Veggie was probably the best vegetarian sandwich I’ve ever had. The filling was incredibly delicious, but was particularly impressed with how fresh the bread was. You wouldn’t think that would be something to be concerned about with a sandwich restaurant but I am always surprised at how often breads/buns for sandwiches at restaurants are less than fresh. Anyway all three were fantastic and I quite enjoyed the tater tots as a side even though they aren’t something I’d typically eat. I was glad they were accommodating to my son’s request for no brie and the girl taking our order asked if he’d like something instead of it, so he asked for lettuce. The order came quite quickly and was delivered right to our table.

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    After lunch we walked back to the hotel, and DS and I packed up a bag and headed off to Volcano Bay while DH slept off today’s perfume induced headache. Of course we made a stop at Starbucks en route to the bus stop since we *had to* walk right by it… Bus ride was fairly quick with one stop at Hard Rock Hotel, then right to Volcano Bay. We were the only ones on the bus at that time of day.

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    In retrospect, I really wish we had just allocated the whole day to Volcano Bay and definitely will next time. We were there for about 3 to 4 hours and didn’t even touch what is there. The park is beautiful and really feels like you are transported to a tropical oasis. We did the lazy river a few times, DS spent time in the wave pool while I relaxed in the water near the edge, we went on the Fast Fearless River several times which was really, really fun and pretty intense. I can see why they make everyone wear life jackets. I consider myself a fairly strong swimmer and couldn’t imagine going around without one. DS went on the Taniwha tubes while I sat and watched as I am honestly a wimp about fast rides. Just as he came down for the second time and as I was psyching myself up to go on it with him, DH appeared. He had been trying to text me, but of course my phone was in our bag in a locker. He was taking one last lap of the park and if he hadn’t found us, he was going to head back to the hotel. I honestly have no idea how he found us in that park, but so glad he did! He went on the slides with DS a bit, then we took him on the Fearless River. By then it was around 4:30pm and we decided to head back to the hotel to get ahead of the crowd leaving at park closing. We also thought we’d probably get back for another visit sometime during our trip, but that unfortunately never happened because the weather didn’t cooperate the next day which was our only real option for it. We got DS and milkshake and made our way back to the hotel. Didn’t try any of the other food, but looked like they had some good options which I’d like to try next next time. As we left we had a short wait for the bus, then direct back to Portofino Bay.

    Side note about Volcano Bay - I was talking with BIL the other night at a family dinner and they were asking about Volcano Bay as it was being built when he and his girlfriend were in Orlando January 2017. I told him how much the kids would enjoy it and we figured sometime we’d go on a trip together again and rent a cabana for the day cost permitting and just let the kids slide/swim all day while we relaxed. If we knew what days during our trip we wanted to allocate to Volcano Bay, I would also definitely consider a split stay with a night or two at Cabana Bay. I think the convenience of the entrance for the hotel right into the park would be great and I like the vibe of the hotel from what I have seen online so would like to try it. Although not sure I would for the whole trip as I do really like the deluxe hotels and the express pass was awesome to have.

    My one request for our trip was a few hours offsite for some shopping with no complaining. DH and DS obliged me on that, so after we got cleaned up post waterpark, we got in the car and headed first over to Target by Mall and Millennia so I could pick up a couple of things I needed, plus a bottle of wine to take to our family we were going to see. As we were turning in, DH and DS spotted Krispy Kreme. Since we’ve never had one, decided to go to Target, then made our way over to Krispy Kreme. It was really neat seeing all the donuts being made, but I was under impressed with the donuts and DH definitely lost on the donut lottery. I tried the original and it was fine, it was really fresh and hot, but not being a super big donut fan, I was expecting more from the hype around the brand. DH asked for sour cream glazed (which is his favourite donut), but the tray was mislabeled (as we found out once we were in the car and heading down the road) and he got blueberry sour cream glazed. There was some cursing about the blueberries. DS loved his, but he’s 12 and hasn’t met sugar he doesn’t like.

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    After that we headed over the Prime Outlets just a few minutes away. I had no luck and it was kind of a waste of time for us. I am sure some people love it (must be given all the bags being packed out of there). I did think it was a true outlet mall, at least from the stores I went into, in that it was discount stock, not special lines of products for the outlet mall like you find some places. I had a specific list of things I was looking for so we did a quick tour, then headed off for super. We were wanting Mexican/Tex Mex and enjoyed a dinner at Chuy’s in Kissimee last trip, so decided to go to the location on International Drive near Universal. It was 8pm at this point and it was still super busy, but after a 10 minute or so wait, we got in. Dinner was excellent - I had the Vegetarian Combo which was fantastic, DS had beef taco’s and DH had some sort of combo plate. Dinner was a really good value - three entrees and we were around $40 including tip (didn’t have any drinks aside from water as none of us drink soda, DH and I don’t drink alcohol and after being in the sun all afternoon we all just wanted water).


    After dinner, we were all ready to relax, so headed back to the hotel with a quick stop for me to get an iced latte at Starbucks, then back to the room for the evening.


    Coming up next….. the $18 milkshake and the highlight of our trip…
     

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  16. prairiesarah

    prairiesarah Mouseketeer

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    Thanks Bobbie! Wanted to say I really appreciated your report of your time at Volcano Bay - we didn't have near enough time there, but it definitely gave me a good idea of what to expect and also what we'll want to plan for next time!
     
  17. prairiesarah

    prairiesarah Mouseketeer

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    I definitely recommend taking the time for the raptor meet sometime. It was super, super fun interaction and "show". We were there right around the time they opened and didn't have that long of a wait, maybe 10 to 15 minutes.
     
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  18. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

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    Such a super report and great pictures!

    I’m still in for this read
     
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  19. schumigirl

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

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    Super day!!!!

    I have that Scooby too.......

    I`m with you on the outlet centre........I don't think it`s worth visiting anymore.......I did get a Coach bag once, but that was it.......really enjoying reading about your trip!!
     
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  20. bobbie68

    bobbie68 DIS Veteran

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    Your're welcome and I am so glad it helped. Great that you have a game plan for next time. We will be heading back there a couple of days in June. Enjoying more of your report!
     
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  21. bobbie68

    bobbie68 DIS Veteran

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    Hi we did the same thing. We got there when it was going to open and didn't wait more than 10-15 minutes. It was our first time and really liked it.
     
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