Harry Potter, Dinosaurs and Superheroes: A Disney-loving family’s foray to Universal Studios

Harry Potter, Dinosaurs and Superheroes: A Disney-loving family’s foray to Universal Studios

I admit it. I felt like a traitor. I was raised as a Disney fan in a family that is slightly Disney crazy. But then my daughter became a Harry Potter fan and I knew a trip to Universal Studios Orlando was in our future. We finally made it recently and it was well worth it.

We stayed on property during our visit which is highly recommended. Like Disney, guests staying at the Universal resorts get into one of the Harry Potter sections an hour earlier than everyone else. If you are visiting during a busy time it’s worth getting out of bed a bit earlier to avoid some of the worst of the lines. Universal has four resorts currently open, Cabana Bay, Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay and the Hard Rock Hotel. A 5th hotel, Sapphire Falls, opens later this year.

Of these hotels, all but Cabana Bay, the value resort,  and the new Sapphire Falls include the Express Pass feature (more on that later).

Two different Harry Potter “lands” are incorporated into the two theme parks. In Universal Studios, Diagon Alley, the London base for the books’ wizards, is a fully immersive experience that goes beyond the typical ride based attractions to incorporate restaurants, shops, shows and, of course, butterbeer. Diagon Alley’s main ride, Escape from Gringotts, takes riders into the wizard bank, complete with the trolls who run it,

and on a high-speed race to get Harry, Ron and Hermione away from Voldemort. When you’ve had your fill of Diagon Alley, be sure to take the Hogwarts Express train to Islands of Adventure. On the train, you will ride with Harry, Ron and Hermione to Hogwarts but watch out for Dementors! The ride is different each way, so make sure to ride it both to and from Universal Studios. You can only ride Hogwarts Express if you have a park-to- park pass though.

In Islands of Adventure, the second Universal park, visitors find Hogsmeade, the town where the wizarding school Hogwarts is located. There you can journey through Hogwarts and compete in a match of quidditch, the wizard game. The ride’s line winds through Hogwarts itself going through the dining hall, green house and even Dumbledore’s office. Warning: the ride is intense, I mean very intense, so if you are prone to motion sickness think twice. Dueling Dragons, a family coaster, is a tamer, less intense ride in Hogsmeade. Both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade have a location for Olivanders, a shop where you can purchase your own magical wands. At Ollivander’s, you can go through a wand selection process and one person out of every group gets to have their wand selected by the wand itself. It’s a fun process but can have a long line for the show. Visit the Diagon Alley location where the line is typically shorter than the Hogsmeade location.

If Harry Potter isn’t your thing, maybe the Minions, Shrek, Transformers or the Simpsons are. Each of these favorites has one or more interactive rides or experiences. Minion Mayhem in particular is sure to please everyone in the group. Over at Islands of Adventure, your family’s favorite superheroes and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park find their home. The youngest (and shortest) members of your party will love the Pteranadon Flyers were they can hang glide through the treetops, but be sure to get there early as the lines can get long. A revamped Hulk coaster comes to Island of Adventures this Summer.

Which brings me to the lines. One thing that Universal is really lacking, in my opinion, is crowd management and how it handles wait times. Universal offers the option for the Express Pass in its attempt to manage its crowds. It works in a similar manner to Disney’s Fast Pass, letting you go through a shorter line than the regular queue. However, there are two HUGE differences between the Express Pass and Disney’s Fast Pass. The first is that you have to pay for it, and it’s expensive (almost as much as the cost of the ticket). If you stay at one of Universal’s premier or preferred resorts, the pass is included in the hotel rate. The second biggest difference from the Fast Pass is that it doesn’t work on the most popular rides. While we were visiting the wait times for both the Gringotts ride and Hogwarts ride were over 90 minutes, yet the Express Pass wasn’t valid on it. This is why the Early Admission benefit offered by all of the Universal resorts is so valuable. Visit these popular Harry Potter rides before the parks fill with people and then spend the rest of your day on the other rides with Express Pass and enjoying the shops and restaurants.

Overall, Universal Studios Orlando will definitely appeal to the movie lovers in your family. For a Harry Potter fan, it’s an absolute must do.

Several of Favorite Place Travel’s agents are certified Universal Studios Resort Specialists. Contact us today to learn more about the options to make the most out of your Universal Studios visit.

Tales from the High Seas: Favorite Place Travel’s Susan Glover Shares Her First Cruise Experience

Tales from the High Seas: Favorite Place Travel’s Susan Glover Shares Her First Cruise Experience

I was a reluctant cruiser. After years of traveling through the US and Europe “independently,” setting our own schedule, stopping when we want to stop, eating when we want to eat, left me with a bias against cruises.  Someone else having control of my schedule just isn’t my thing, I’d tell friends and clients alike. But earlier this year, our family was made an offer we couldn’t refuse and next thing we knew, we were booking our cabin on a Spring Break cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream.

We boarded the ship on Monday leaving Port Canaveral for our first stop in Nassau.  The ship’s lobby was gorgeous, very old Hollywood glamour, with a glass chandelier handmade in Italy, open ceilings and a touch of Disney with a bronze Admiral Donald Duck greeting passengers as they board.

Others had told me that the ships weren’t overly “Disneyfied” and that was true. Certainly, Disney was present in its décor, but subtly so.  The biggest Disney characteristic was in the service provided on board.  The staff was accommodating beyond words. Our wait staff, Gilbert and Christina, who remained with us every night despite rotating through the onboard restaurants, entertained the children along with providing impeccable wait service.  The spa esthetician was the best I’ve experienced.

My husband found the workings of the ship itself fascinating.  Never having travelled on such a large vessel, watching the crew “park” and secure the ship, was amazing itself.  Watching the ship approach Nassau from our verandah, first a lighthouse, than a slip of land, then the massive Atlantis complex raised excitement from everyone.  However, the most excitement for the day was swimming with the dolphins at the Blue Lagoon, one of ship excursions. After an hour with the dolphins and a few more spent snorkeling in the crystal blue lagoon, we were well on our way to becoming cruise converts.  Going to dinner and a show then waking up in Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, made us fully converted.

I would be remiss to not mention the Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab, the kids clubs for the younger kids onboard.  Our children chose to go for an hour or so each day after dinner.  During that time, my husband and I explored the ship’s adult areas.  My personal favorite was the swanky champagne lounge, complete with pink and silver décor and a bubble fixture and corset bar. While I think my husband probably preferred the sports bar, what was clear is that there was plenty to do without children on board.

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Champagne Bar

Perhaps the highlight of the trip, however, was Castaway Cay.  The morning began with the Castaway Cay 5K, crossing the island at my slow and other passengers much faster pace.  After the run, the beach provided plenty to do, from lounging to in-ocean waterslides and ropes area. The island itself has large family beach areas and adult beach area, bike trails and designated snorkeling areas.   Despite the cruise being completely booked, the island never felt crowded or cramped.  Snorkeling equipment and floats are available for rent.  Our favorite activities were swimming with the stingrays and snorkeling searching for the sunken “treasure” off the beach.

After 5 days onboard, I must admit that never once did I tire of having the schedule set for us.  There were dozens of activities scheduled each day, but we never once felt pressured to do any of them. They were options, not requirements.  As the person who typically makes the plans on vacations, it was refreshing to not have to worry about where we were going to dinner or what we were doing on a particular day.  Would I want to cruise for every vacation? Probably not. Will I do it again? Absolutely.

To book your trip or for more information, contact your favorite travel agent at Favorite Place Travel or call 404.409.4174.

Disney in the Extreme – Part 2 from Susan Glover with Favorite Place Travel

Disney in the Extreme – Part 2 from Susan Glover with Favorite Place Travel

From 32 to 2: A couples’ trip to Disney World

As many of you know, last December 32 of our family members came from near and far at Disney World for one week of family fun. It was fun, busy and full of crazy kids. Not too long after that trip, my husband and I had the opportunity to do something we hadn’t been able to do since our oldest daughter was born 8 years ago- sneak away, ALONE, just the two of us. So where did we go? To Disney World, of course!

WHAT? The first time in 8 years we have the chance for a “grown ups” only trip and we go to Disney World? Not Vegas, New York or New Orleans? Yes, Disney World is the perfect place for a couples get away. Prior to having kids, we had travelled to Disney World several times either alone or with couples. Our favorite time to visit was early Fall during the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival. Booths line EPCOT’s World Showcase offering culinary specialties, wine and beer selections from the featured countries as well as other countries and regions exclusive to the Festival. Wine and beer tastings take place daily, some for free and some for a nominal fee. While my personal favorite, dining experiences with world-renown chefs, feature either full meals or cheese or dessert specialties. (Last year’s festival featured dinners with Food Network’s Robert Irvine, Oprah’s personal chef Art Smith and Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmerman.) While some kids may be up for one or more of the dining experiences, the events as a whole are decidedly adult focused.
This trip, however, could not wait for the Food and Wine Festival, but still offered plenty to keep us occupied without kids. We were able to make those dining reservations we avoided when we visited with our kids and stroll around the World Showcase sampling beer and wine from host countries and not rushing from one ride to the next. We went to the dueling piano bar and had drinks after dinner and generally enjoyed each other’s company. Could we have done these things other places? Sure, but nowhere else are we also able to jump on Soarin’ after drinks in Great Britain; watch Fantasmic! after having tapas and wine and the Brown Derby; or see my husband drink a beer in Germany with a giant beer stein hat on his head!

Overall, our couples experience at Disney World was everything we remembered from our pre-kids days but even better, because we appreciated it even more now! We wouldn’t have picked another place to spend our first “solo” trip. To book your trip or for more information, contact your travel agent at sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com or sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com or call Susan at 708.479.4693 or Stacey at 404.409.4174.

Disney Dining Promotion is Available to Disney VISA Cardholders

Disney Dining Promotion is Available to Disney VISA Cardholders

Have you been waiting for the perfect time to plan your next, or **GASP**, first Disney vacation?

The Free Dining Promotion is the offer you’ve been waiting for!  It is now available to Disney Visa cardholders and it will be available to the general public on May 7th!

Does this promotion offer any real value to you?  YES!  The Regular Dining Plan is roughly $60/adult/day and roughly $21/child/day, so for a 3-night, 2 day stay for a family of 2 adults and 2 children, the Free Dining Promotion is a value of almost $500!

The travel dates for the promo are

8/31-10/3/14

10/26-11/1/14

11/9-11/20/14

12/12-12/23/14


A 3-night/2-day ticket is required.  Dining Plan is attached to your room nights, not the number of park ticket days.  Promotion is based on arrival date, so if you arrive on 10/3/14, for example, you would get Free Dining for the length of your stay.

Not valid at all resorts.  Value Resorts receive Quick-Service Dining but can upgrade to Plus Dining for a reduced fee.

Contact Favorite Place Travel for details and to secure your magical vacation! To book your trip or for more information, contact your travel agent at sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com or sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com or call Susan at 708.479.4693 or Stacey at 404.409.4174.

Disney In the Extreme Brought to You by Susan Glover with Favorite Place Travel

Disney In the Extreme Brought to You by Susan Glover with Favorite Place Travel

Disney in the Extreme –Part I Travelling with a Large Group

Everyone thinks of a trip to Disney World as a vacation for kids- maybe take the family a couple of times while the kids are little, check it off your family “to do” list and move on to the next thing. However for many of us who grew up in a “Disney family”, a trip to Disney World feels like coming home.  Over the recent holidays, that’s exactly what 32 members of my family did, we came “home”.

Travelling with 32 people, coupled with the Christmas craziness, led to an experience I like to think of as “Disney in the extreme”.  Travelling with a large group of people, let alone family, can remove any hope of relaxing right out of your vacation plans, but after a few of these trips, I’ve learned a few things that that can help you and your group have a great trip, maybe even with a little relaxation time too.

1. Pre-planning is a must. Start thinking about your group vacation at least 3-4 months ahead of time. Whether your trip is to Disney World or the beach or Ireland, when you are travelling with a large group of people, plans are imperative. Restaurants likely can’t take a large group as a walk-in at peak dinner hours, especially at Disney where restaurant reservations can be made up to 180 days ahead of time. Hotels fill up, especially at peak vacation times, and it’s much more difficult to “squeeze in” a large group versus a single family.

Families that play together, stay together

2. Discuss your expectations. It’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page. Will you all be travelling together all day, every day, or just meeting up for a few meals or activities during the week? Talking about everyone’s expectations ahead of time can save hurt feelings due to some members of your family having different ideas about what the vacation will be.

3. Don’t overplan. Yes, this tip seems to contradict #1, but really they balance each other out.  While you should have some plans set in stone, leave time to just “hang out” and enjoy each other’s company. Cousins really get to enjoy and get to know each other while playing in the pool. If you have cooking facilities, have dinner in one night where everyone can relax without the pressure of time or worrying about disrupting other guests.

Taking time to enjoy your family (or whomever your group may be) outside of the hustle and bustle of everyday life can lead to experiencing them in a whole different, relaxed light. Let us assist you in making your trip one full of a lifetime of memories.

To book your trip or for more information, contact your travel agent at sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com or sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com or call Susan at 708.479.4693 or Stacey at 404.409.4174.

Top 3 Ways to Make a Disney World Trip Affordable by Stacey Gross with Favorite Place Travel

Top 3 Ways to Make a Disney World Trip Affordable by Stacey Gross with Favorite Place Travel

Have you been waiting for the perfect time to take your kids on their first visit to Disney World?  Do you dream of visiting Disney World but are convinced it is out of your budget?

I have three opportunities to make your Disney World trip more affordable and get more BANG for your buck!

1.  Fall Room Offer
This offer must be booked by November 3, 2013 and is valid for travel November 10-November 22, 2013 and November 30-December 23, 2013.

You can receive 15%-30% off on select Disney Resorts in the Value, Moderate and Deluxe categories.

2.  Winter Room Offer
This offer must be booked by December 31, 2013 and is valid for travel  January 5-March 5, 2014 and March 14-April 12, 2014.

You can receive 20%-35% off on select Disney Resort in the Value, Moderate and Deluxe categories.

3. Stay, Play, and Dine Offer
This offer must be booked by December 31, 2013 and is valid for travel January 5-March 5, 2014.

You can save up to $600, based on a family of four on a 5-night, 6-day Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining at select Disney Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts.  Or you can save $400, based on a family of four, on a 5-night, 6-day Magic Your Way Package Plus Quick Service Dining at select Disney Value Resorts.

These three promotions are available right now, and you can always count on your agents at Favorite Place Travel to make sure you are taking advantage of the best deal for your family. To book your trip or for more information, contact your travel agent at sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com or sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com or call Susan at 708.479.4693 or Stacey at 404.409.4174.