Songbird and the chickadees: the two-hotel, four park oddessy. Part I: Portofino Bay, Universal, Ci


Jewish American Princess
Aug 17, 1999
Cast of Characters

Songbird -- single mother extraordinaire, celebrating yet another birthday by indulging her every whim

Tinkerbell -- age 10, and "officially" an adult -- at least from a theme park point of view (though at 4'2" you have to wonder "what were they thinking?")

Cinderella -- a/k/a "Annie Warbucks" and "Eliza Thornberry", age 8.

Songbird and the chickadees have been Disneyworld fans since our first trip there together in August 1998. We have stayed at the Polynesian, Dixie Landings and Boardwalk. We've seen most of what Disney has to offer. So this time we decided to be a little more adventurous and see what Universal was all about. At first I was going to "just" do the Universal parks, but as I started to plan this adventure I realized I could not go all the way to Orlando and not see the Mouse. Unlike the previous trips, where the girls weren't in on the planning, this time I told them we were going about 2 months before the trip, so they could help me make decisions about how to spend our time.

Our trip began in the wee hours of Friday morning, february 16. The limo arrived at our house at 4:30 a.m. It was a royal blue limo, and the driver is a woman named Susan. She told the girls that the limo we were riding in had been used for a movie once. We drove to LaGuardia Airport. As we passed Shea Stadium the girls cheered -- I'm raising Mets fans, you know.

We had a quiet, uneventful flight. Occasionally the woman seated across the ailse from me would make a comment to me about Florida or Universal (she was reading Kelly Monaghan's book). When the plane landed, the woman asked Tinkerbell "Do you know so-and-so?" It seems that Lissa, and her son Daniel, are friendly with a man who is also one of my ex-husband's friends. Small world.

As promised, Tiffany Towncar was waiting for us when we arrived. Our driver, Ian, is originally from Liverpool, England. I love that accent! Ian drove us to Portofino Bay. Wow. Impressive hotel. Cinderella saw the fountain outside the main entrance and immediately thought about the fountains in Rome. Our room was ready, and we were expertly escorted upstairs by Janet. We were in the villa wing, kind of far from the main lobby and the harbor, but close to the beach pool and the villa pool. the room was huge and had two queen beds -- my kids liked the fact that the beds were high off the floor, but I kept looking for a stepladder and felt like Princess Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress every time I had to get into that bed. The girls were very impressed with the bathroom -- two sinks, a stall shower and a separate tub, and a shuttered window between the tub and the bedroom. No balcony, but we did have a view of the lawn and the lake (and Universal Blvd. just past the lawn.) Lots of little "extras", like a make-up mirror, blow dryer, minibar (yes, we did indulge -- frequently.)

We spent the afternoon at the beach pool. The girls were very impressed with the castle slide, the beach, the rocks, the playground area. Cinderella earned the nickname "Annie Warbucks" by singing all the songs from Annie --she did "Hard Knock Life" while lugging a bucket of sand across the beach.

My most embarassing moment -- I overheard a young woman tell her friend "I only want one child because then he or she won't have someone to fight with" as she was looking right at the chickadees fighting with each other. We did have quite a bit of sibling disagreement this trip, and it got on mom's nerves quite a bit. We also had a lot of whining and carrying on, more so than in previous trips, but we did have an good time overall (and we'll work on our behavior now that we're home again.)

Lunch from the poolside snack shop was great. A staff member took our order and brought the food down to the pool for us. I had grilled chicken, Tink had a hot dog and Cinderella had chicken fingers. We made the decision not to go to the park that night, but to start fresh in the morning.

I stopped at the concierge to buy our tickets and make reservations for dinner later in the weekend. And I asked about Cousin Brucie. Bruce Morrow, a/k/a "Cousin Brucie", is a fixture on New York Radio. I've been listening to him since I was Tink's age. On Wednesday, 2/14, he announced on his show that he'd been braodcasting from the Hard Rock Hotel on 2/16. So I asked the concierge at Portofino for information. The concierge called the concierge at Hard Rock, then told me: "Yes, he's broadcasting from the Hard Rock pool, but it's supposed to be hush hush." LOL, he told 1/2 of New York City where to find him!

For dinner, we took the boat over to Citiwalk, did some shopping and found our way into Nascar Cafe. They weren't honoring priority seating for hotel guests because of the upcoming race but our wait was only 30 minutes --- not bad for a holiday weekend. We played in the arcade until it was time to go upstairs. We sat right under one of the cars. The chickadees even got to start the "race".

Alas, by the time we finished eating, the chickadees were too tired to indulge mom with a trip over to Hard Rock (some other time, Cousin Brucie), so we went back to Portofino and to bed. the girls were amazed at the "turn-down service". Nice hotel.

On Saturday we ordered room service for breakfast, then headed out to the boat. the smell of smoke was heavy that morning due to the brush fires -- in fact I-4 was closed most of the time we were in Orlando because of the fires -- though after the first day I only smelled the smoke once or twice. (It's sad that those fires are burning out of control -- a bit of hard reality in an area that's devoted to fantasy.)

Our destination that morning was Islands of Adventure. Our frame of reference is WDW, and we couldn't help but draw comparisons. IOA is hipper, edgier, more exciting and adult than the Magic Kingdom (and the same can be said about Universal and MGM). We found the Universal parks to be just as much fun as Disney, but in a slightly different way -- anyone who has been to both will know what I mean. When we first went into the park, we saw the Hulk roller coaster. It seems to dominate the skyline. Cinderella was disappointed that she's not tall enough to ride -- until she actually saw the coaster. Tinkerbell hated the idea of the coaster from the moment I told her it has inversions -- and was even more frightened of it when she saw it. Cinderella wants to go back when she's older to ride Hulk and Dueling Dragons, but I doubt Tink will ever want to ride either coaster.

Our first stop was Popeye's barges. the girls were wearing bathing suits, and it was a good thing -- when they tell you that you will get soaking wet on the ride, BELIEVE THEM! You go so fast you hardly see the theming. The drop was hardly noticeable.

Next, since we were already wet, we did Dudley Do-Right. Cinderella loved making a joke out of Dudley's dressing room a/k/a the broom closet. We found this ride to be much like splash mountain but cornier and faster.

Next we saw characters. Rocky and Bulwinkle were going back stage, so we didn't get aphoto with them, but we did take pictures with Bluto, Popeye and Olive Oyl.

The day was a bit cool (temps in the low 70's) so the girls changed into dry clothes, but decided to wear their slide-on sandals instead of sneakers. This was how Cinderella got her nickname -- for the rest of the trip, she kept sliding out of her sandals, and we'd have to stop and wait for her to put her shoe back on.

After we changed we headed over to Seuss Landing, easily our favorite part of the park. Until this point we hadn't used Front of the Line Access, because the lines were short, but now the park was getting crowded, so out came the Portofino room key. Now I'm really spoiled, because we didn't have to wait on lines for almost all the rides! First we rode the Caro-seuss-el (I love the animals -- so Dr. Seuss!) and then visited the Cat in the Hat. This is very much like the Pooh ride in Magic Kingdom, only bouncier and with more spin. It shows the story with charm and humor. After that was One fish Two Fish, sort of like Dumbo but water skirts out at the riders. (No FOTL access for that ride, alas.)

Next we wandered into the Lost Continent, where I dragged the girls onto Poseidon. this was not a success. the girls felt it was too dark and ominous, and kept telling me they were scared the whole time we were in the attraction. Next Cinderella wanted to ride the Flying Unicorn, but it started to rain just as we were walking over there. We decided to call it a day. It stopped raining a few minutes later, and we walked back to Seuss landing. Stood on line and got great photos of the girls with the Grinch and with the Cat in the Hat. Proof that Songbird is not shy: just as the chickadees were about to see the Cat, a woman with 3 kids in tow tried to cut the line -- but Songbird made the woman go wait her turn.

It started to rain again when we were on the boat back to the hotel, but stopped just as we arrived. We hadn't had lunch, so we arodered an early dinner from room service and spent the evening watching t.v.

Sunday was my birthday. the day began on a sour note, since our wake up call never came (though we got up early anyhow.) A short time later John, the manager on duty, called and apologized, and offered us free breakfast for Monday morning. They do try hard to please you at Portofino. We ate cereal in the room and headed out to Universal. Our first ride of the day was ET. The girls were a bit nervous but absolutely loved the ride! Next it was photos with Scooby Do and Yogi Bear and Woody Woodpecker and his girlfriend, all wearing Mardi Gras beads. We had an early lunch at Mel's diner - hot dogs for the girls, a chilidog for me. Love the 1950's atmosphere -- especially the music. Then the girls got their faces painted (adorable!)and then it was on to the Woody Woodpecker roller coaster -- the girls loved it so much they rode it twice. Next was Men in Black, which the girls decided was "cooler" than Buzz Lightyear "because the aliens shoot back!" We lost, but enjoyed the ride anyhow. Next I convinced the girls to ride Back to the Future (one of my favorite movies!) they were scared, but a girl their own age told them it wasn't too scary. Still, Tink closed her eyes when the dinosaur appeared. After that the girls got hair wraps. they looked so cool!

As we walked towards Nickolodeon Studios we came across a mini parade -- the Marx Brothers and Marilyn Monroe -- and they were throwing Mardi Gras beads. the girls were entranced.

What can I say about our tour of Nick? Seems my girls knew the name of every show, the answer to every question the tour guide asked. I think they watch too much Nick! Anyhow, when we went to the game room, Cinderella was chosen to be one of the players. she had to dress like Eliza Thornberry (orange pigtail wig) and I had to dress like Eliza's sidekick Darwin (a monkey) and catch what she threw at me. We had fun, but Tink's nose was out of joint because when the mc asked Cinderella "who are you with?" she replied "my mom" and forgot to say "and my sister."

After that, we walked over to IOA and headed for Seuss Landing once more. We rode the carrousel and Cat in the Hat, then headed over to the Flying Unicorn -- which the girls decided was better than Woody Woodpecker. We walked trhough Jurrasic Park but didn't stop -- the girls don't like scary dinosaurs. Cinderella rode Dudley again. She wore a bathing suit and got very wet. Afterwards she was so cold that I had to buy a Betty Boop towel for her so that she could dry off before putting on her clothes again.

Until now I had not been able to convince the girls to ride Spiderman. But someone at dudley told cinderella that Spiderman was the best ride in the park. So we walked over to spderman, but the ride was "down." Oh, well. We ate dinner at Hard Rock, then walked back to Universal just in time for the Mardi Gras Parade. I didn't catch a thing, but the girls caught a lof of beads.

We didn't feel like waiting for the boat, so we walked back to Portofino Bay.

Here'a the link to the second half of the report:


[This message was edited by songbird on 02-21-01 at 10:58 PM.]
Mahalo for your report. It sounds like you had a great time with your girls and a good birthday! Think you'll be back?
Great report Songbird! I'm so glad your first trip to USO was a success.
Sounds like you had a great time! I would love to try out Portifino Bay. I haven't been to Universal or IOA yet, but you make it sound like a very worthwhile trip. Thanks Songbird! :)


sounds like fun!

<img src="" width=114 height=87 border=0>


Our Dreams Unlimited Travel Agents will assist you in booking the perfect Disney getaway, all at no extra cost to you. Get the most out of your vacation by letting us assist you with dining and park reservations, provide expert advice, answer any questions, and continuously search for discounts to ensure you get the best deal possible.


facebook twitter