Spring Break 2017 with Coaster-Loving Teens, Hard Rock Hotel 4/16 - 4/20

Discussion in 'Universal Studios Trip Reports' started by DisneyMomKB, Apr 21, 2017.

  1. DisneyMomKB

    DisneyMomKB Earning My Ears

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2014
    Messages:
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    Introductions and Preliminary Planning


    Hi everyone. Long-time lurker, very infrequent poster here. I’m writing this Trip Report as a Thank You to the many, many posters who helped me plan and execute a phenomenal Universal Studios Spring Break at the Hard Rock Hotel over 4 nights with 3 teens, 2 adults, and 1 ton of fun! A special shout out to Schumigirl, Macraven, and Pcstang, whose posts and replies could veritably be assembled into the unofficial Universal Orlando Book of Knowledge. Thank you all, for your generosity in time and information-sharing! I hope this helps pay-it-forward for a few other eager Universal newbies or planning obsessives out there.


    Warning: this is a words-only report. If you’re a picture person, feel free to move along. If I waited to post until I figured out how to add pictures to my trip reports, our tale would age for a few years, so this will have to suffice for now. I’m off to a business trip on Sunday, so I have two days to wrap up my thoughts. Pictures would put me over the edge. Sorry!


    By means of introduction, I’m the ringleader, Karen, a long-time Disney fanatic in Western New York who has reared a family of Disney fans. We love our Disney Vacation Club membership, Disney Cruises, Disney resorts beyond Orlando, and we are hoping to plan our first trip to Europe around Disneyland Paris’s 25th Anniversary. BUT…. we also enjoy making the occasional DVC point trade or sale and branching out to Royal Caribbean Cruises and non-Disney Theme Parks. Around our crazy sports, dance, and music competition schedule, we had only 5 possible days for Spring Break, so we voted on Universal Studios for a short Spring Break trip. Participants on this trip include: myself, my husband Jim, who tolerates my Disney addiction and is especially happy on our non-Disney trips, our 15-year-old DS (a long distance runner), 13-year-old DD (a competitive dancer), and 16-year-old Dear Nephew (a 2nd degree black belt and regular on our family trips). These kids were trained and prepared for the test of endurance I had planned for them. :-)


    We have had some experience at Universal, having tacked on 2-night stays at Royal Pacific Resort to the end of Disney trips back in November 2008 and August 2013. We thought a 4-night focus would more than double the fun of the experience, and we were right. During our past trips, we faced a range of constricting strollers or height restrictions or youngster ride fears that never allowed us to enjoy all of the rides together, and we all missed some of the top experiences. With that in the past, we decided to stay at Hard Rock Hotel (I would have preferred Portofino Bay, but with three teens, there was no debate… not to mention, proximity to the parks was a plus), splurge on Club Level (I am a breakfast skipper personally, but these dang kids somehow keep requiring food…), and be ready to hit the parks each morning before park opening and put our Early Entry and Express Passes to the test.


    My initial plan came together on Black Friday 2016. I booked our Club Level standard room, flights for Easter week (ouch to the prices, so we ended up going down late on Easter Sunday and returning late on Thursday night, for a total of 4 nights/4 days), ordered 4-day park-to-park tickets, and started mapping out a plan. Ironically, if you were planning a Disney April trip starting on Thanksgiving, you would have already missed out on most of the top dining experiences and would need to immediately start strategizing your Fast Pass schedule planning. (I personally kinda like that aspect of Disney…) But if you’re planning a Universal April trip starting on Thanksgiving, once you have a hotel, flights, and theme park tickets, you’re kinda dead in the water until 30-45 days before your trip. So…. Fast forward to New Year’s Day when I could no longer control the urge to plan…


    With 3 ½ months until the trip, I bought a membership to Touring Plans for access to their Universal touring plans, (I know, I know, but for sufferers of true Chronic Planning Syndrome, this helps…) mapped out a sketchy daily plan that frustratingly could not be planned precisely to the minute because so much information was still unavailable, and started massively trolling the Universal boards for tips, hints, help, links to some awesome websites, and ideas for experiences we haven’t previously done. From there, I came up with this.


    Sunday 4/16: Book Tony Hinds for transportation from MCO to Hard Rock Hotel, arrive around 11pm. Check in, unpack, prep backpack and tickets for morning, sleep.


    Monday 4/17: Breakfast at 7am at the Club, Early Entry – be in line by 7:25, Rides until lunch at 11:30 then Lombard’s for Cinematic Spectacular Meal (do as lunch instead of dinner, based upon 2013 experience of not enjoying the dinner so close to the desserts), afternoon break at the hotel, evening snacks at the Club, back to the parks by 7pm and to Lombard’s for dessert and evening show at 8pm.


    Tuesday 4/18: Breakfast at 7am at the Club, Early Entry – be in line by 7:25, Rides until lunch at 11:30 then Three Broomsticks Great Feast, afternoon break at the hotel, change into swim clothes and return to Islands of Adventure for the three major water rides, return to the hotel for a swim, dinner snacks at the Club, Blue Man Group at 9pm – front row poncho zone.


    Wednesday 4/19: Breakfast at 7am at the Club, Early Entry – be in line by 7:25, Rides until lunch at 10:30 then Superstar Character Breakfast, more rides, afternoon break at the hotel, back to the parks by 5pm and to VIP Parade viewing, then rides until closing.


    Thursday 4/20: Breakfast at 7am at the Club, Early Entry – be in line by 7:25, Rides until 10:30 then back to Hotel to pack up/check out, 11:30 lunch at Bubba Gump’s, then back to parks until 3:45, to Hard Rock Hotel by 4:00 for Tony Hinds pick up at 4:30.


    So, that was the plan mapped out on New Year’s Day, long before park hours, early entry, and dining reservations opened up. Stay tuned to see how we executed on that plan!
     
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  2. DisneyMomKB

    DisneyMomKB Earning My Ears

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2014
    Messages:
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    Pre-Planning Details 1 of 3: Hotel Room and Blue Man Group

    Here are a few specifics I found helpful, or challenging, or interesting as I worked through laying the foundation for The Plan. Topics include: Hotel Room, Blue Man Group, Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience, Superstar Character Breakfast, and Lanyards. I'm sharing lots of details because I would have loved this info while planning my trip and hope someone else will find this useful.


    Hard Rock Hotel Room Selection.


    Once we settled on Hard Rock Hotel for the benefit of the teens, we belabored the decision between: Club Level Standard Room for the snacks – but only 375 sq ft for 5, or Deluxe Room for the size – up to 500 sq ft for 5, but no snacks. The cost variance was only $100 more for Club vs Deluxe for 4 nights, so that made it feel like Club was only $25 more per day. I could have built spreadsheets of pros and cons for weeks regarding this all-critical decision, but my husband eventually insisted we just lock in and stop talking about it, so, since he is NOT a breakfast skipper like I am, we went with the Club Level room. I booked a Club Level Standard Room. But what I REALLY pined for was: Deluxe Club Level.

    Due to the power of Internet searching, I learned that there truly are a few Deluxe Club Level rooms, but you had to call HRH directly to request them.. Here’s the scoop: there are 4 Deluxe rooms on the 7th floor. As of Spring 2017, they will not book them for you as a room class, but you can request them while speaking to a Team Member at the hotel. If you are lucky enough and they have one available on your check-in day, your request may be granted, but you’ll have to pay an upcharge of $50 per night. I put in that request in January and checked in on it one more time before our arrival day.

    That was our final egg hunt of Easter: would we receive an upgraded room or not? It seemed highly unlikely, given our 11pm arrival. We checked in and I asked if we had been granted a Deluxe Room or not. After much ado, I was told no, there were no Deluxe Rooms available. Our Team Member said she was really trying to find one for us, but they were hard to identify in inventory and there just wasn’t one. To help offset the disappointment, they would be happy to add a rollaway bed free of charge. We gladly accepted her generosity and headed up to our room.

    Which turned out to be: Room 7101, a gorgeous Deluxe Room with 500 glorious square feet of living space that easily and comfortably accommodated all 5 of us, and allowed each teen to have his or her own bed: one on a queen, one on the fold out couch, and one on the rollaway – which was still delivered free of charge. Also, the extra closet nook area allowed for additional privacy with 3 guys and 2 gals getting dressed and ready for the day each morning. Thank you, Hard Rock Hotel! What a great room, right next to Frank Sinatra’s portrait and a short walk to the elevators and Club Room. We really felt like Rock Royalty. Well, I didn’t know or like any of the rock music that blared all week, but the kids assured me they felt like Rock Royalty.


    Blue Man Group Seat Selection.


    For one of our ‘special events’ we decided it would be fun to see the Blue Man Group and settled on the Tuesday 9pm show. This was one of the few items I could already purchase and plan while still 3 months out, but I didn’t lock in immediately as I couldn’t decide between Poncho Seats or Premium Seats. I studied various posts about how messy the poncho seat sections really can be, how much better it is to see the full array of the show from farther back, I downloaded seating charts to estimate the size of the gap between the Poncho and Premium sections because at 5 feet 2 inches, I regularly have that last-minute-arrival super tall guy show up and sit between me and any kind of view of the stage. Hmmm, did I want to get banana mush all over me? Would I need to pack extra shoes to accommodate the desire to view the show up close? I could have built spreadsheets of pros and cons for weeks regarding this all-critical decision, but my husband eventually insisted we just lock in and stop talking about it, so, since he does NOT mind getting covered in banana mush like I do, we went with the Poncho Seats, and what the heck, front row.

    And what a great choice that turned out to be! We had the best time ever at the show, in the 5 center seats of row AA. I’m pretty sure I bought the first 5 tickets to this showing, since I’m that aggressive planner… We knew not to show up late. So we didn’t. We knew we had a slim chance of scoring a Blue Man Group painting. And we did! My nephew was awarded with one of the paintings made by the crazy opening drumming through paint sequence. And yes, we got covered with banana mush, and a bit of Jell-O mold. And maybe some spit up Captain Crunch cereal. And possibly some chewed up marshmallows. But, the ponchos fully protected us, and it was more fun than we could imagine. So, if anyone is fearful of the front row and/or the poncho zone, don’t be. Even a fussy, fuddy-duddy, hates-that-most-modern-day-rides-spit-water-on-me kind of gal such as myself had a blast in the messy front row. Plus, most people in the poncho zone didn’t get anything on them at all, we were just really, truly in the line of fire. If you’d rather sit near the back, do that too, because everyone in the theater enjoyed the show. Well, I didn’t conduct a statistically valid survey of all of them personally, but it sure seemed obvious that everyone had a great time! Just do this, you won’t regret it.
     
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  4. DisneyMomKB

    DisneyMomKB Earning My Ears

    Joined:
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    Messages:
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    Pre-Planning Details 2 of 3: Specialty Dining


    Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience.

    You may have noticed that I mentioned we had experienced this offering in August 2013. I would rate our then-experience as a 7/10. Our meal was okay, our service was mediocre and very slow, we were booked at the then-earliest time of 4:45 but didn’t finish our meal until 6:30, and even so, when we returned at 8pm, we still weren’t ready for dessert, which was fine because most of the desserts were not to our liking. More on the fru-fru miniature side, less on the tasty chocolate or fruity side. Before you asked how I scooted this poorly-described activity all the way up to promising 7 out of 10, that’s because our view of the show and our ability to sit in great seats and have an excellent view of the show were totally worth it, to us, moving that score up by more than the meal experience alone. We’ve done plenty of Disney dessert experiences, which are much pricier for the desserts and firework view, only (though yes, their desserts are usually much better).

    Therefore, even with a clear memory of our last mediocre dining experience, we decided to do it again. Eyes wide open, especially with an array of recent bad reviews online to support the validity of our first lackluster experience. But this time, instead of eating an early dinner leading into an over-stuffed dessert bar, we decided to arrange for a lunch-time meal (our theme park plan is always to stay ahead of the crowds and start lunch by 11:45, start dinner by 5:15), and we would return at 8pm raring to go for the desserts and to grab a great seat for the show.

    But, the nice people at Universal Dining did not think my plan was a great idea. It took several calls in order to get an agreement to book our Dining Experience for lunch time. My first call, the agent said the dinner time was for 5pm – 8pm only. My next call, the supervisor I asked for said it could possibly be done, but with a $20 per person additional fee. Huh?!? My next call, a different supervisor said it would be no problem to book the Dining Experience at lunch, and return later to the Dessert/Show portion. At that moment, I ordered the meal experience for the 5 of us, and booked an 11:30 lunch. Yay. Exactly what we wanted.

    Moral of the Story: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

    You’re right, I probably owe credit to Aesop or some other famed idiom author for that one. But it holds true. If you think something is highly likely to be possible, you’ll probably find the great employee to help you make it a reality if you don’t accept the first, second, or even third NO you hear.

    Meanwhile, this year’s experience? We rated it a 9/10. Having lunch when we were ravenous from a morning of hard touring was great. The restaurant was dead, our seat location was optimal, our server was highly attentive, the food was terrific, everyone got something they loved – steak, mahi mahi, and shrimp scampi, and it took only about an hour from start to finish. We came back at 7:45 to try to get a good seat for the dessert show, recalling that in 2013 this event was very crowded. Well, there was no rush for a good seat and they didn’t open the gate until 8:00. It was poorly attended compared to 2013, but the dessert quality better met our needs. We ate our weight in chocolate covered strawberries and enjoyed the brownies, plus sampled the remaining variety of cookies and raspberry-covered unidentifiable cake. (We snatched the raspberries, abandoned the cake…) This time, there was sparkling cider, which was a huge hit with our group. We ate, rested our feet, moseyed over to join the few other families starting to take seats, and then enjoyed the show. All in all, a solid A from our group this time around.

    This experience is not for everyone. We like this kind of offering and worked it into our plans to our satisfaction; our philosophy was: Disney would charge $39.99 for a nice dessert experience, only. So, we were happy to hand over $44.99 per person for a good lunch, a moderate dessert experience, and good seats for the show. I told the kids they had to eat a theme-park equivalent of $20 per person in snacks and drinks to make me feel good, and they outdid themselves on chocolate-covered strawberries alone, lol. Now that we’ve done it twice, we probably wouldn’t sign up again, but we haven’t regretted it either time, so far.

    Addendum: I noticed today while fact-checking my meal names that there is now a notice on the website stating that seating begins at 3pm. Uh-oh. That may well be my fault… Though we did notice a few other families using the special menu for the Dining Experience during the lunch hour, when we dined. I sure hope this continues to work.


    Superstar Character Breakfast.

    Planning this breakfast required significant more tenacity than dinner… And in the end, I wish the plans hadn’t worked out. Basically, this experience is offered on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, yet as early as January 2017, their website was offering it on two special Wednesdays: 4/12 and 4/19. Using my special talent for understanding theme park seasonality, ok, it’s the same talent anyone reading on this board has, I deduced that this was because the two weeks surrounding Easter were going to be pretty darned busy, so they were opening up this experience for an additional day, assuming they could make a few additional bucks.

    While I may have deduced that clever reasoning, not one single employee on the Universal Dining Line had drawn that conclusion. Every time I called to book a time, they told me it was an I.T. error because they never, ever, not ever have this experience on Wednesday. (My apologies to IT Departments everywhere for their accusation…) One supervisor even committed to me that she would contact IT and have them take down those erroneous Wednesday offerings on their website. Meanwhile, since you already know I’m a Chronic Planning Syndrome sufferer, I kept track of it, and those pesky Wednesdays continued to be offered. And since our schedule would only allow for this experience on Wednesday 4/19, I kept calling, and kept trying to book it, only to be told I was wrong. Oh yeah, and the IT Department had made a mistake. Nope, it never occurred to any employee that maybe I was right, and the IT Department was right, and each and every employee in the Dining Call Center was wrong… Oh, and no, I don’t have an incessant need to be right…. :-) Just don’t ask my husband for his opinion on that topic…

    So then it finally happened. On my umpteenth call to Universal Dining on March 25th, just three weeks before our trip, when I called to secure that breakfast on Wednesday 4/19, waaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh (that’s the sound of angels singing), I finally found someone who believed that there would be a breakfast that day, and worked with her supervisor to secure a reservation for us at the last possible seating (so we could maximize time on attractions…). And NOW, my plan was coming together. Man, these Universal people do not make it easy for planners, but, with some perseverance and willingness to stalk their website and call center, you too can make all your planning dreams come true. When I asked the Dining Team Member to transfer me to a supervisor, I let her know it was only so I could rave about her masterful talents. Funny enough, the supervisor I was put through to said he had helped her coordinate the whole thing, so she was working hard behind the scenes to ensure there really was a breakfast that day, and make sure we had great seats at the time we wanted. He assured me that she would be rewarded from their internal rewards program from the compliments I had passed along. Since I had most assuredly griped about more than a few people in the making of this reservation, I thought it only fair that I sing praises where praises were due!

    Now you’re dying to know how our Superstar Character Breakfast experience went, aren’t you? Well, it about a 3/10. And all 3 points were earned by the character doubling as Squidward and then Gru. He rocked. He deserves an Emmy, a Tony, and an Oscar, and maybe even a Grammy, but I can’t tell because you know, they don’t speak so I couldn’t assess his vocal tone, but if he could earn a Grammy, he’d be in very elite company of only 12 other talented performers who have earned the coveted EGOT status (which Hamilton phenomenon Lin-Manuel Miranda just missed out on at this year’s Oscar’s, but I bet he’ll get it someday). Okay, maybe I’m overselling this Squidward/Gru, but I can’t come up with much else good to say about our Superstar Character Breakfast.

    The eggs were from powder or from the poorest caliber pre-fab egg blend mix. The sausage and bacon were just ok. The pancakes were bouncy so my nephew warned me not to eat them. The pastries were edible if… if you cut a circle around the center fruit-filled core and ate only that circle of food, discarding the other pastry-like portion. I can’t comment on the potatoes because they were always 10 minutes away from coming out of the oven, for the entire time we were there. We are not fussy food people, heck, we even convinced ourselves to go back to the Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience and liked it the second time, but this breakfast would have been better if BJ’s or Sam’s Club had catered it from their pre-packaged muffin and hard-boiled egg collection.

    Our waitress was wonderful, but all she had to do was bring us drinks. The characters were cute and fine. Poor Dora and Diego wandered around gaining no interest from any of the families. Spongebob and Squidward were better received. When they took their break and reemerged as four new characters, it was obvious that the very tall Squidward had evolved into the equally tall Gru, but the petite Dora, Diego, and Spongebob came back out as Kevin the Minion and two bunnies that not one single person in the restaurant appeared to have ever heard of. I’ll have to google “Hop” later. I just felt bad that if Dora and Diego changed into Unknown Bunny and Even Lesser Known Bunny, those two kids are gonna get a complex from their time spent as Universal characters. Because Spongebob/Kevin and Squidward/Gru were where it was all happening.

    Meanwhile, part of the deal was supposed to include one picture per person that their photographer would arrange for and you just had to pick out later. There was only one photographer for the entire breakfast, and she would show up when Unknown Bunny was at our table. It took an act of congress to locate her when Gru was at our table. To our sheer delight, he kept us entertained the entire time, so it was worth the wait. Almost. Cuz we never actually bothered to go look at our pictures and pick them out. We had enough of our own pics from our time waiting for their photographer to show up that it didn’t seem worth it from a quick cost benefit analysis of our time later in the day.

    Moral of the Story: Be careful what you wish for.

    My 7th grade daughter just read the short story “The Monkey’s Paw” as part of her Common Core Curriculum, which you probably all remember from middle school, and she’s been writing essays on that theme: Be careful what you wish for. We like to point out examples in our day-to-day lives, so this was a good teachable moment, as they say. I worked so hard to score this reservation, and then it transmogrified into the one, big, flaming dud of our trip. Sure, it wasn’t as bad as making a really, really awful wish on your magical Monkey’s Paw leading to deathly outcomes for your dearest loved ones, but it was not worth $34.99 per person when factoring in food, characters, pictures (even if we had picked them up) or VIP Location for the parade (yeah, our fault, because we never made it to that either, as the kids were kind of jaded from the breakfast so I had to agree to skip the parade if I was going to get any cooperation for the rest of the trip).

    Your mileage may vary. Of course, if you have young kids who are still watching Dora and Diego and have ever heard of the movie Hop that we’ve never heard of, you are already 4 out of 8 characters ahead of us! The 4 characters we wanted to see, we enjoyed, but with the low quality food and general sense of waste of time, I wish we had skipped this one. With my final tie-in to the Be Careful What You Wish For my final theme tie-in, this could also be because they were off their game a bit with a Wednesday experience. Maybe this overall experience is simply amazing on their regularly scheduled Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. However, my family? We will never give it another try to find out.
     
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  5. DisneyMomKB

    DisneyMomKB Earning My Ears

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2014
    Messages:
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    Pre-Planning Details 3 of 3: Lanyards


    Lanyards.

    This is just a shameless plug of support for the dozens of folks who have responded to questions of: how do I manage all my tickets at Universal? The correct answer is: use a lanyard. I’ve secretly long mocked lanyards. I’ve never worn one. I couldn’t imagine wearing one and maybe even, dare I say, hated them. I thought they would slow me down or strangle me on a ride. But, after piecing together that failure to purchase lanyards for the gang would make me de facto transporter of 5 room keys, 5 theme park tickets, and 5 express passes? Well, that was at least 12 more cards than I wanted to be hauling around, so I only need to read “Buy a lanyard” 13 or 14 times before I got with the program!

    If you’ve been holding out on lanyards for any of a variety of your personal reasons or general lanyard prejudices, stop that silliness right now. Lanyards are cool. Lanyards are fun. Lanyards are helpful. Lanyards are practical. Lanyards will force your teenagers into having to be responsible for their own room key, theme park ticket, and express pass! Plus, as an added bonus, you can just tuck them into your shirt so they won’t strangle you on a ride.

    We ordered lanyards from the Universal website several weeks before our trip. One for each Hogwart’s house, plus a Minion and Kong version for anyone who didn’t want to play our Harry Potter game. The Hogwart’s lanyards were particularly fun. We are quick walkers - especially during early entry - and one day my daughter overheard another girl tell her mother, “Keep up, we’re getting passed by a Slytherin!” (Duh!) From a practical perspective, it was so handy to have the cards all together for each individual. While waiting in line for the Hogwart’s Express, I’d encourage (my husband might say, I’d order): take out your middle card, the theme park card with your signature on it, have it ready. Invariably, some nearby family would thank me for pointing out what they needed to have ready for that attraction, and we’d encourage them to get a handy-dandy lanyard…

    One bonus tip of lanyard wisdom: not all of the Universal-branded lanyards order online came with the clear plastic pouch to hold the tickets. I realized that while ordering the lanyards, so I simultaneously ordered a set of 10 plastic cards on Amazon for something like $4. My daughter, who fancies herself an even better planner and organizer than I am, decided to use one plastic pouch for each of her three cards. Her system worked very effectively, as evidenced by the fact that I had to yell at her the least, about which card to use and when. :-)

    I hope that all of you who are speculating that the new Volcano Bay virtual queue and Tapu Tapu system will yield an overall new wristband program for all of Universal are completely correct. That would significantly improve ticket management, though it may bring about the untimely demise of the lanyard…


    Next up: Day-by-Day Adventures and Lessons Learned, Monday through Thursday
     
  6. jagafen

    jagafen Robo needs his own Bat-Light

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2007
    Messages:
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    Loving it so far! We'll be toting our teen to the HR/club in June as well!
     
  7. DisneyMomKB

    DisneyMomKB Earning My Ears

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2014
    Messages:
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    Monday, April 17. Crowd Levels: 9 out of 10

    Monday Morning got off to a bumpy start, basically because it was 11:30 Sunday night by the time we settled in to our room, unpacked, completed night-time routines, laid out Monday outfits, put umpteen tickets and cards into lanyard plastic pouches, and so on. So, with lights out at 1am, no one appreciated my cheerful 6am wake up call, so I generously extended their sleep time to 6:30am. Sleep is what we do at home, people! Rise and shine!

    With apologies to any neighbors who may have overheard my, um, “coaxing” – we were off to the Club Room for breakfast at 7:05am. What an awesome group of individuals who supported that service! Absolutely wonderful staff. Truly, everyone on the hotel team was amazing, but this group earns extra gold stars. They treated every family who entered like royalty. We enjoyed the light breakfast offerings every morning. My family has no problem starting our day off with some sugar… Other families seemed to find healthier options.

    We pulled out by 7:20 to walk to Islands of Adventure. For the entire duration of our trip, Early Entry was scheduled for Islands of Adventure. This was a disappointment because during my March planning phase, the old Universal website was showing Early Entry at both parks for the week before and the week after Easter, but upon conversion to their new website, they revoked Early Entry at Universal Studios for our week, though it was still available for the week leading up to Easter. So, Islands of Adventure it would be for us, for 4 days in a row. I didn’t know that Forbidden Journey would hold our attention for 4 days of Early Entry…

    A note about Early Entry timing. At Disney, I would arrive at any park generally 60 minutes but certainly no later than 45 minutes before opening, be that standard opening or Extra Magic Hours. However, Universal Orlando is quite a bit more laid back than that. Whether we arrived at the turnstiles at 7:25, 7:30, or 7:35, we were generally in the same vicinity about 12-15 people back in the line, which was fine by us, as we are fast enough walkers to make up for it on the long walk to Hogsmeade in order to be on a very early ride ahead of the masses, if not first ride of the day. One day there were fewer, longer queues, so we asked an employee if they would be opening more turnstiles, and he directed us to another turnstile that would also be opening but somehow no one was standing there, so we moved up in line status considerably with that one friendly question. If you absolutely want to be first at the turnstile, arrive by 7:15. If you want to be First Family of the day, it seemed that matching thematic shirts and arrival by 7:05-7:10 would be helpful. My group was too old for that type of selection process, but there did seem to be a trend of cute kids, matching family shirts, and at least one child needed to be old enough to read the park opening script. We didn’t hear or see anyone older than age 11 open the park for our 4 days.

    For Day 1, our goal was absolutely Forbidden Journey. We were guided to through the park by the staff, held up our room keys for proof of Early Entry privileges (thank you, lanyards!), we zigged and zagged and made great time to arrive within the first few dozen folks of the day. We were prepared for the lockers, so we zoomed in to start the locker rental process. As previously stated, I’m 5’2”. Somehow, I managed to score a top row locker about 93% of the time. This first locker experience, I valiantly headed in alone, but reaching the locker was more of a workout than I wanted at 7:56am. Thank goodness my DS and DN are both over 6’ tall, as I often put them to use cramming the heavy, water bottle and sunblock-filled backpack into that unreachable crevice. After that first locker rental, I always took one of the boys with me. I noticed quite a few short ladies such as myself lamenting that they always got the tallest lockers. Height must somehow be genetically coded into our fingerprints, and the Universal locker programming team is aware of this and having some fun at our expense…

    Here’s how our Early Entry time was spent:

    Forbidden Journey – in and out by 8:12
    Dragon Challenge – done by 8:22 (one side, only)
    Flight of the Hippogriff – done by 8:32 (never to be done again, ouch!)
    Hogwart’s Express – in line by 8:35​

    I use the word “line” loosely as it relates to the Hogwart’s Express. It’s more like a general amoeba-shaped crowd. I was not prepared for what to expect at this entrance, though I knew from the internet helpers that I wanted to be in line by 8:40ish in order to be on the first train of the day, heading to battle more lines at Gringott’s. We used this process to maneuver our way from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley on 3 out of 4 of our early entry days, and had it down to a science by the third try. Yes, third time’s a charm. If you’re interested in the details, read on.
    • Head to Hogsmeade station by 8:35/8:40.
    • Approach the Team Members who are manning the station.
    • They will ask you to wait on the rocks so as not to block the walkway, and warn you that the station doesn’t open until 9:00.
    • You can choose the rocky area across the walk way or right next to the employees. We always chose: closer to the employees.
    • They will neither confirm nor deny reports that the station generally starts ticketing at 8:45.
    • At some random time between 8:40 – 8:45, they will either move the entire group forward in an amoeba formation, or they will announce that folks need to queue up in the gated area. We saw it 2 different ways over our 3 days.
    • Stay sharp, or you will lose 20-30 spots in line just because there was no solid process to follow.
    • Then they will re-scan your park-to-park ticket and finger print, and you’ll be on your way to the real queue, where there will be actual lines that will make you much more comfortable than that amoeba thing that just happened.
    • Once you’re upstairs, it’ll be normal queueing practices. They line you up in groups as close to 8 as they can manage, and when the train comes, you’ll board with the group of 6, 7, or 8 you’ve been waiting with.
    • Note: if the train is there when you arrive this early and then it pulls out with no one on board, it is not really leaving. It is backing up so it can later pull in and still give you your Kodak Moment of seeing the train arrive at the station.
    • One tip: Our first two times, we were so good at managing this queue experience that we were in the first or second passenger car. On our first trip, we thought that this was great! We were high-fiving our masterful planning. Until we exited the train and we were at the tail end of the queue. By the third time, we knew to hang back just a bit during the amoeba phase of the queue. We let about 15 people get ahead of us, which put us closer to the middle of the train and we were far better positioned for the mad dash to Gringott’s.
    So, we arrived at King’s Cross Station by about 9:05 and we merged in with the crowds entering Universal Studios from the front of the park for their regular entrance, all three times with a slight advantage. Your mileage may vary. Given we wanted to enjoy Early Entry at IoA and desired a Day 1 Potter Morning, we felt it was worth it to use 35 minutes of park time for Hogsmeade, 25 minutes for transportation to US, and then be poised for an ahead-of-the-pack morning at US, where we were having lunch at 11:30 anyhow.

    The Gringott’s line was long, but fascinating and well done. It always kept moving, and any time it seemed like a slow-down was about to occur, they opened a new pathway and the lines continued to progress.

    The ride itself was simply remarkable. For 3 out of 5 of us, it was theeee favorite experience of the vacation. My two crazy kids preferred Rip Ride Rockit but said Gringott’s was a close second. Sorry, J.K. Rowling…

    Our morning continued like this:

    Gringott's – in by 9:08 and out by 9:35
    Enjoying Diagon Alley – at least 15 minutes
    The Mummy – walk on, done by 10:00
    Jimmy Fallon – walk on, done by 10:20
    Rip Ride Rockit – The boys did it three, maybe four times while
    Guest Services – My daughter and I traded in our on-line proof of purchase for Cinematic Dining, Superstar Breakfast, and Blue Man Group for our real tickets​

    Three words about Guest Services: HIRE MORE EMPLOYEES.

    This was our worst line of the week, and we were only the second family waiting when we joined the queue. But, everyone already at a window was apparently having a nightmarish situation to resolve, as the line did. not. move. I wish I had had any idea where the Will Call Kiosks were, as they must have been more efficient than Guest Services. We were super frustrated, and not alone in that category; we got to know a few other families in line and appreciated that we really couldn’t complain too much, as we just needed to trade vouchers for tickets. One woman bought 5 tickets at an on-site hotel the night before, but no one noticed that all 5 printed with the same number, so the turnstile would allow only 1 of them in… I’d have preferred not to wait 20 minutes to trade 3 vouchers for 25 real tickets, but when we walked out with loot in hand, the line was now well out the door with at least a dozen families waiting. It was about 11:00 by now. I hope those nice families were out of line and could start enjoying their day by 1pm…

    If you need Guest Services for something simple, you might want to try harder than I did to find those self-serve kiosks… I bet it’ll be time well spent.

    By the time we met up with the boys, it was 11:10. We strolled over to the Flying Fish show and enjoyed the juggling and gymnastics, then it was time for our Cinematic Dining Lunch. I’ve already commented enough on that. We loved using the meal experience for lunch.

    By 12:45 we were back out to rides, and crowd levels were extreme! But, Express Pass was amazing.

    Between 12:45 – 3:00, we accomplished:

    Men in Black
    Men in Black again, since my daughter beat the boys and they needed to redeem themselves
    The Simpsons
    E.T.
    Walk to Islands of Adventure
    The Hulk
    The Hulk, again
    Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
    Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, again, since we thought it was freakishly short and something must have gone wrong… But no, it was just a freakishly short ride…
    The Hulk, again​

    Are you sensing a trend here? I tried to get the kids to scoot into Shrek when we were over at US, but they would rather walk a bazillion additional steps to get to the next coaster. The Minions, with a much longer wait time, stood no chance of being selected by my kids. Not with the promise of a walk-on at The Hulk. So while I had detailed plans to accomplish everything, I relinquished some of the decision-making to their desire to ride every coaster as many times as possible.

    We walked back to Hard Rock Hotel. That walkway seemed a LOT longer on the walk back, with our newly sore feet, but we were back to our room within 15 minutes. Everyone was going to rest for 15 minutes then change into swimsuits, but no afternoon swim. Turns out, 5.5 hours of sleep was not enough to fuel an entire theme park day! I finally had to wake everyone up at 6:45 to encourage them to run to the Club and grab a snack, so we could head back to the park for the Dessert Bar / Show Seating.

    The Cinematic Spectacular was a great ending to our first day. We returned to HRH, prepped for Tuesday, and everyone got a great night’s sleep and already had strong opinions about what we should be doing first thing Tuesday morning.
     
  8. angryduck71

    angryduck71 DIS Veteran

    Joined:
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    Messages:
    739
    My son LOVED Hop back in the day. James Marsden is in it. I was lucky enough to meet him at a charity event. I asked him to video a message for my son which he kindly did. I told him my son LOVED Hop and watched it a million times. James took my hand and said, "I'm truly sorry." So, yeah, that's all you really need to know about Hop. :)
     
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  9. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2003
    Messages:
    85,798
    Such an enjoyable read !!

    So nice you are walking us through before trip, the planning and now johnny on the spot park time

    Sounds like you all were having fun


    You are doing a swell in sharing with us

    At this point consider your self a pro of the darkside
    You'll be answering questions to all the newbies!

    Totally agree with you on the superstar breakfast
    The only character breakfast I do is the minionions one
    At rpr, order off the menu and be entertained by Gru and a minion




    Thanks for the shout out......
     
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  10. k1koala

    k1koala Mouseketeer

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Messages:
    292
    Your report is awesome and so helpful for us who have never been! You have some great tips that Im sure will help, and I am saving to remember this summer. Thank you so much!!
     
  11. ChipDale

    ChipDale Earning My Ears

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2000
    Messages:
    63
    Wonderful reporting! I didn't know about the Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience, now I have to go check it out. :D Thanks for the Early Entry tips - can't wait to read more!
     
  12. schumigirl

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

    Joined:
    May 15, 2007
    Messages:
    12,195
    Really enjoyed reading your report.........very detailed and will definitely help folks with plenty of things there.......

    Glad you had such a good trip and yep, I agree.......sleep when you get home!

    Thanks for taking the time to write it.......and another thanks for the mention........appreciate it.......:)
     
  13. DisneyMomKB

    DisneyMomKB Earning My Ears

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2014
    Messages:
    22
    Tuesday, April 18. Crowd Levels: Predicted 9 / Actual 6 out of 10

    Hi again. I’m now away in the middle of a business trip but snuck in some time to fondly recall what I was doing last Tuesday, which was significantly more fun than what I was doing THIS Tuesday…

    Thanks so much to the folks posting comments. Glad to think someone might benefit from some of our antics, and just continue to be appreciative of all the pros who previously took time to share their experiences so we were poised to Vacation Like We Mean It, as they say. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to do, but each day was enhanced by tricks and tips we learned on this Universal board!

    When last we left off Monday night, the opinionated teens in our room were falling asleep with visions of roller coasters dancing in their heads… That exuberance was short-lived and did not make getting them out of bed any easier on Tuesday morning. Alarms may have started ringing at 6:15, but it was closer to 6:40 before anyone stirred. They were still in the Club by 7:05 and we were on our way to the parks by 7:20.

    A word about the walkway between HRH and the Theme Parks: it was Wednesday before we really found the a better way to do it, and Thursday before we found the best way. We walked out toward the water taxi the first few mornings, always missing the taxi by a moment, we would then take the longest possible walking path. If you come out by the pool, you cut off some of that walk. But the morning we wised up and came out by the pool, we couldn’t cut through the pool area at 7:20am. It worked for us on afternoon returns from the parks or back to the parks. Plus, there was a butterfly garden that served as an additional shortcut, which we finally figured out on Thursday. Now, we’re the family that absolutely stinks at navigating subways in any city that has them, so we should have sought better advice than figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B on our own. There are probably dozens of posts dedicated to this very topic that I never researched, but you might want to do your feet a favor and study the maps or ask around – people smarter than my family will likely know the tricks and tips of helping you avoid shin splints while on vacation!

    Even with our long walk, we were in line by 7:35, only about 15 people back at the shortest turnstile line of our arrival, and ready to go with our lanyard/ticket system. The kids were now wide awake and fully cognizant of their rollercoaster plan, so once they opened the gates, we were in motion to meet at Dragon Challenge.

    Here’s how our morning went. Oh, but first, a disclaimer, by now, my husband and I had loosened enough precious brain cells on Monday’s rides that we were sitting out most of the coaster rides the kids were indulging in. This meant, we were sitting out a lot of rides, but, it was nice to see the kids so excited and, not too awful to have a few moments to ourselves. Now here we go:

    Early Entry at Islands of Adventure, and all the way to Hogsmeade before 8am:

    Dragon Challenge – first ride, front row blue
    Dragon Challenge – front row red
    Dragon Challenge – front row blue
    Dragon Challenge – red, again
    Attempt Hogwart’s Express – in line by 8:42, but…
    Remember when I said there was no exact set plan for starting the ticketing and they could put the process in motion pretty much at any time so stay sharp? We did not even have a chance to stay sharp.
    By 8:42 on this day, the line/amoeba was already way too long, so we changed plans and decided to stay in IoA for the day.​

    We regrouped quickly and headed over to the growing queue at the Jurassic rope drop on the bridge, so we could start the mad dash to King Kong. The rope drop was well-managed; I was impressed with the crowd control and the politeness/positivity of the other folks in line. We engaged in nice conversations with people around us. My husband even commented that at Universal, we saw far fewer melt-downs and miserable families per hour than we might have seen on a typical Disney vacation. We hazarded a guess that the lower volume of very young park-goers probably played into that…

    From 9 – 10:45 we proudly accomplished the following:

    King Kong – despite mixed reviews, we LOVED this!
    Spiderman – a perennial favorite
    Doctor Doom’s Fearfall – still seems like they could zip you up and down one more time…
    Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, again, for that additional zip
    The Hulk
    The Hulk, again
    The Cat in the Hat – despite the stink eye I was getting from two boys…
    One Fish, Two Fish – OMG, I got completely soaked on this ride, still, good family fun. Well, I probably would have rated it more fun minus the dampness…
    High in the Sky Seuss Trolley – Best views of the park, we took some great pictures!​

    At 10:45 we headed to Three Broomsticks for the Great Feast, picking up Coke and Sprite along the way for those of us who are not fond of Potter beverages. Yes, that sounds early for lunch, but we were working hard during these early entry mornings, so we were more than ready to eat by then. And eat, we did! Wow! We absolutely loved the Feast. We ordered for 5, so we paid for the additional person upcharge. In retrospect, the original Feast for Four was probably more than enough – even for our full adult-sized party of 5, and each of us overate a bit to feel like we weren’t “wasting” some of the feast. The feast caused only one minor squabble amongst us: it came with 3 chicken breasts and 2 wings, and we’re a mostly white meat kind of family, so my husband and I took one for the team, and made sure all the kids were satisfied. Actually, my husband took 2 for the team, as I was more than content with the corn, potatoes, and best broccoli I’ve ever eaten, as there couldn’t have been anything healthy about that delicious veggie by the time they had Great Feasted it up!

    After lunch, my husband headed back to the room, and the kids took in two more rides on the Dragon Challenge, and they had planned a train ride to Universal Studios, but the afternoon wait time was too long for our taste, posted at around 45 minutes, so we walked to US and the boys enjoyed three more rides on Rip Ride Rockit, before we walked back to the hotel. My daughter was still intimidated by the Rockit, despite the boys’ attempts at bribery, coaxing, and good-spirited name calling. At least, I tried to convince her it was good-spirited name calling, while repaying their earlier stink back eye to the boys, in a silent, motherly death threat to leave her alone…

    The kids really loved the flexibility to hop from park to park and ride the shortest lines for their favorite coasters. As we walked from IoA to US, I pointed out the Toothsome Chocolate Factory and regaled them with stories I’d read on the internet about the legendary milkshakes inside. But, we were all still too full from the Feast, so we put it on the list for another time. Though the kids did point out it was somewhat evil of me to taunt and tantalize them then leave them hanging. It became a running gag of the week. Every time we walked by, someone would say “Looook, there’s the home of the amazing milkshakes WE’RE never gonna get…” Consider this some foreshadowing for tomorrow…

    Back at the hotel, we took an hour break, swung by the Club to sample some chips, cookies, and sodas, then put on swimsuits, Keens, cover ups, and – you’re probably thinking we headed to the pool. But you’d be wrong. We walked back to IoA for water rides! As a general rule of thumb, I’m categorically opposed to water rides, especially while donning traditional theme park attire (shorts/t-shirts). My family has only once gotten me on Splash Mountain and, even with a protective poncho, to say I was miserable for the next hour or so of our touring is an understatement. I will come up with just about any excuse to not have to participate in water-based theme park attractions. Therefore, I had never done any of the Universal water rides. But, the kids wanted to do them all, and we compromised that if I could change into swim attire, I’d join them.

    We were solely focused on water rides, and here’s what we did, after dropping off our backpack at The Hulk, which we’d ridden enough times by now to know that the locker is a 2-hour locker opportunity, and even though we were possibly not supposed to then sneak off to ride water riders while our backpack enjoyed the comfort of dryness at our favorite locker complex, that’s what we did. I don’t break many rules, but this one was worth it… Hint, hint.

    Hulk – Just so we wouldn’t feel guilty about using his locker station…
    Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges – we laughed the entire way, but if I thought I was wet after One Fish, Two Fish, I was very mistaken; NOW we were totally soaked
    Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls – great build up to the final cascade!
    Jurassic Park River Adventure – also fun, and glad I finally did it
    Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls – in order to retrieve my son’s lost hat… so we might as well ride…​

    About that hat… So, when we got to Dudley Do Right the first time, my son surmised that his hat might not make it through the journey, so he was going to try to hold it, and I, the great wisdom-filled matriarch of the family said, “Oh, let me take it for you, I’ll put it right under me so it won’t get lost.” Famous last words for the hat, because while it stayed safe under my tush, the whole “don’t bend your knees” scooching in and scooching out business on this ride prompted me to forget about the hat. Until my son asked for it while we were walking to Jurassic River Adventure. Ooops. Somehow, my son never again trusted me with his hat for the rest of the week. But, I was pretty sure I was not the first person ever to leave something on that ride, so after our River Adventure we trekked back to see if Dudley had a lost and found process. The Dudley Team Member manning the Express Pass line made a quick call inside, and lo and behold, my son’s hat was waiting for him inside. The kids returned for another ride, while I tried to find some warmth from the sun, not long after, they emerged victorious with the hat. Great job, Universal, on maintaining a good lost and found process! Minus two points for me…

    The four water rides took less than an hour to experience, and we were so glad to have true swimwear on, once we realized the depth and breadth of the wet factor. While there were “People Dryers” all over the place at all three water rides, we had used one just once years ago at Sea World San Diego when my son desperately wanted to see the Shamu Show from the Splash Zone. Then, the sun went down and the chill of nighttime San Diego convinced us to drop five bucks for a People Dryer. As we watched the huddled masses yearning to dry their shirts, socks, and sneaker insoles (ew!) near the Dudley exit, it instantly brought back the memory of the stench of the Sea World People Dryer, and we were glad for our swimwear and Keens. The wind had picked up and it was getting quite cool since we were rather soaking wet, so we headed back to the hotel for a dip in the hot tubs, before returning to our room for Club snacks and to prep for our Blue Man Group evening.

    You already know that we LOVED Blue Man Group, and if you’re smart, which you clearly are, ’cuz you’ve found the Universal message boards on the DIS, then you’re already thinking about getting tickets for your next trip to Universal.

    After Blue Man, were back to the room by 10:45, and I think the kids were all asleep by 11:00. My apologies to the HRH Staff for the possible tiniest puddle of orange paint that my nephew’s Blue Man artwork gently dripped onto the carpet until we realized we should probably sacrifice a towel to put under it while it dried for the next two days before he transported it home…
     
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  14. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2003
    Messages:
    85,798
    I love hearing back from those home from
    The vacation

    You did the parks good!!!!

    Water rides and being prepared for them makes it all sweeter to you can really enjoy them

    Your post was a delight and a fun read

    Now I need ton reread it again

    Wish I was there to see all the fun you had!
     
  15. ChipDale

    ChipDale Earning My Ears

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2000
    Messages:
    63
    LOL, I feel the same way that you do about getting wet (in street clothes) on rides. :D Smart move on wearing the swim gear! Sounds like another FUN day! Thank you for taking the time from your business trip to share with us, looking forward to reading more! :)
     
  16. k1koala

    k1koala Mouseketeer

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2011
    Messages:
    292
    can i please ask what you did with your cover-ups? im assuming you didnt wear them on the rides? do they have like little cubbies to keep them??
    Thanks! This sounds like a great plan for us on our upcoming 1st trip, and now Im excited!!!
     
  17. Lisa0620

    Lisa0620 Mouseketeer

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2009
    Messages:
    372
    I'm really loving your report, great writing and so informative. We're also staying with teenagers at Hard Rock on our upcoming trip, but have been waffling about club level. Did you end up having to pay the extra $ per night for the deluxe club room? Do you think the front desk really didn't realize you had already been assigned a deluxe room at check-in or were they trying to surprise you? I also wondered about Jimmy Fallon being a walk on at 10 am, had you booked a return time at park opening for then or did you just walk on with EP? We were there the week it opened and it was always a mob scene, sounds like it's really died down. (And the superstar breakfast was comically painful to read about, sounds like it could use a reboot!)
     
  18. ChipDale

    ChipDale Earning My Ears

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2000
    Messages:
    63
    Re: The Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience:

    I went to the Universal website and clicked to purchase - I can choose the date, but it didn't offer a choice of time. Is calling to Universal Dining the only way to get a specified reservation time? How did you get your tickets and do you just present the ticket when you go to eat your meal? (I'm asking because we'd probably skip the meal portion and just use the tickets for the dessert and reserved seating for the show. At $45 per person, that's less than half the cost of the special reserved dessert parties that Disneyland offers and to us it's worth it for the reserved seating.) Thank you in advance for any help you can give me! :)
     
  19. nouvellefleur

    nouvellefleur Earning My Ears

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    I love that you broke this down!
     
  20. DisneyMomKB

    DisneyMomKB Earning My Ears

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2014
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    22

    Hi k1koala. You will love your trip!!! Yay! To give you more details than you wanted on what we wore, here goes:

    We made sure that everything we wore over to the parks that day was water-ride friendly. So the boys wore swim trunks, swim shirts, and Keens. The girls wore swimsuits, swim shirts, and cotton shorts that we were willing to get soaked. I also had a white lacey cover-up that I wore over to the parks with me, but in the end, I thought I might get turned away for looking too much like I thought I was at a true water park, so I left that in our locker, back at the Hulk.

    We took no phones, cameras, nothing, to the water rides. Just us, our lanyards, that darned hat that I forget to tell my son to leave in the locker, and a desire to get soaked! There were no cubbies at the rides, like we see at our local small-scale water parks / theme parks. Just the free locker near Hulk, or the paid lockers nearer to the water rides. The boys were fully dry by the time we left the park. My daughter and I put our soaking wet cotton shorts into a grocery store bag in the backpack and changed into a round of dry cotton shorts that were awaiting our return to the locker, which got damp from our wet suits, but still, better than being fully soaked. This worked out really well for us, as I generally poo-poo anything that causes me to get this wet. As an aside, I wish I hadn't worn mascara onto the rides, but I have darned blonde eyelashes and personally think I look ridiculous without it, but my so-called waterproof mascara smeared all over and really stung my eyes, since we had nothing with us to dry off.

    Good luck with your planning!!!
     
  21. DisneyMomKB

    DisneyMomKB Earning My Ears

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2014
    Messages:
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    Hi Lisa0620 - Thanks for reading along. Perfect choice for teenagers at Hard Rock! And, I know the waffling feeling about Club Level... In the end, we more than got our money's worth out of what was a $100 per day upgrade in food and beverage consumption alone, but the value of having that extra space in the club itself (where the kids really did just hang out sometimes) was another "priceless" bonus.

    As for the Deluxe Room, no, we were pleasantly surprised that we were never charged the $50/night upcharge for the Club-Deluxe room. Our room receipt merely indicated "Room Accommodation" with our original price for the standard club room. I really didn't get the sense that the check-in staff was trying to surprise us, because she seemed so befuddled by my request and kept us waiting for a very long time at 11pm. Or, she's a gifted actress! I kinda got the sense that they just have a few of these rooms and because they are not specifically noted as such, not all of the employees know them intimately. We were thrilled to have been assigned to 7101, either way. Fingers crossed, if you're hoping for the same.

    As for Jimmy Fallon, at 10am it was not just a total walk on, but I felt like there were several attraction Team Members out front trying to drum up interest in the ride. Again, at that hour, most folks were still back in Diagon Alley, but we were absolutely solicited to come in when we walked by and thought, what the heck. We barely had time to sit before our yellow ticket was called, and then we had one quick pre-show to view, then the show. I'm not sure if that's a standard Express Pass experience, but we flew through it, soup to nuts, no more than 20 minutes, max, with no pre-booked return time. Hope that helps!
     
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