Quick Shop Guide: My Universal Studios Trip Must Haves

25 May

My last post on our Universal Studio’s Orlando trip pretty much just covered all the fun we got ourselves into on the trip (find it here). I also wanted to throw together some of those items that made my life so much easier… which brings me to this quick shop guide. This can work for a theme park trip of your own, or really any sort of travel where you will be doing a bunch of walking and don’t want to haul a bunch of crap.

#1 Comfy Shoes
Duh. Right? Obviously if you are going to be running around all day long you are going to need comfortable shoes to get through the day. Everyone has their own comfort level though… so here is what worked for me:

Source: DSW.com


For water ride days: Skechers Reggae Haystack Sport Sandal, $40
I’ve had a pair of Tevas for more than 20 years and was planning to take them with me…but I couldn’t find them when I was packing. So, I made a quick trip to DSW and grabbed this exact pair of ‘sport sandals’ for $40. I was nervous breaking them in on days where I’d be walking 7 – 10 miles, but they were GREAT and super comfortable to wear. They also had a little arch support because the foot bed had a ‘flexible and shock absorbing rubber traction sole’. All in all, I was very happy with both the price point and the comfort of these.

For regular days: Toms Classic Slip-On, $30
I have a bunch of pairs of Toms, so I brought some with me knowing that I’d probably end up ruining them. They actually still looked great at the end of the week, so a big win for Toms! I find Tom’s classic slip-on’s very comfy, but they don’t offer a ton of support if you need it. I like how they look good with skirts, dresses, shorts and jeans and are super lightweight and breathable. If you are new to Toms, I suggest going by Nordstrom Rack and picking a cheap pair instead of buying them full price elsewhere.

#2 A Smaller Purse Situation
Running around the park, I wanted to be as hands-free as possible but still needed to carry around a few things. On water ride days, I left my cellphone in the room (which is why I don’t have any pictures) and used just a fanny pack. On regular days, I used a little cross-body bag that fit my iPhone, chapstick, SPF and my mini wallet. Our travel agent provided us with our lanyards, which we used for our room key, park ticket and express passes.

Source: fitletic.com


Fanny Pack: Fitletic Bold Runners Pouch, $27
I bought a fitletic running belt years ago and use it to hold my phone, license and keys when I go out for runs. It’s great because it is waterproof, comfortable and kind of cute. If I were buying one specifically for the theme parks, I would chose a larger version like the one I linked to. It’s $27 and has two pouches to separate your phone from your other stuff. Genius!

Cross-Body Purse: Cross-Body Bag with Tassel from Amazon, $21.95
I bought mine at South Moon Under last fall and use it ALL THE TIME. Mine is no longer in stock, but I found a cool one on Amazon for $22 that comes in 6 different colors.

Source: Amazon.com


Mini Wallet: MEKU wallet, $9
In order to pare down my stuff enough to fit it into a fanny pack or mini cross-body bag, I had to take my wallet down to the bare basics. This mini wallet is perfect for traveling and I’ve had it for over a year now. It’s only $9 and totally worth it!

#3 FREE Water All Day, Every Day

Source: Amazon.com


Water Bottle: Brita Sport Water Filter Bottle, $7
When you are running around a theme park all day in 90 degree heat, you need to be sure to keep yourself hydrated. Universal Studios sells cups that you can use to refill sodas all day, but we were trying to keep the calories under control. I’d much rather splurge on a marshmallow milkshake than soda all day! You can buy bottled water, but that also adds up when you have three thirsty people walking in the heat. I’ve had this Brita Sport Water Filter bottle for a few years and it’s great. It filters the water for you and also has a hook where you can attach a carabineer (to then hook on your husband’s belt loop…). Everywhere in the park will give you free ice and water, so we kept hydrated for a grand total of $0.

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Our Family Vacation: Universal Studios Orlando

23 May

I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post. Every time I go to upload the pictures and start typing, I find something else that I need to do. We had SUCH a wonderful time on our trip to Universal Studios that I don’t want to admit that it’s over. But… I do want to tell you all about it!

We took Jack to Disney World when he was three (you can read all about it here Disney World: What Worked and What Didn’t) and I remember saying back then that as soon as Jack was tall enough to ride the good rides, we were going to plan a trip for Universal Studios. Don’t get me wrong, Disney World was GREAT for a three year old, because Jack was a fanatic about Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Jake and the Pirates at that time.

However, now that he’s five years old… we knew Universal Studios would be a hit.

First off, he LOVES roller coasters and is tall enough to ride all but the super crazy ones that go upside-down. He is also super familiar with a ton of Universal characters, including: the Minions, Shrek, X-men, Spiderman, E.T., Dr. Seuss, the Transformers, Harry Potter, etc. Basically, every corner we turned around the park was a HOLY MOLY moment for him. Of course, Travis and I also love Universal Studios, so having Jack as excited about it as us was super fun! Oh, and he’s at that super cool age where he isn’t quite sure if the dinosaurs on the Jurassic Park ride are remote control or real.

Where we Stayed
We decided to stay at an on-site hotel, the Lowes Royal Pacific Resort, for a few reasons. Travis and I had stayed there 7 years ago and loved it. The hotel is beautiful, the pool is amazing and it is about a 10 minute walk to the parks. On our first visit, we decided that the perk of getting Express Passes was a total deal breaker for any return visits. The Express Pass lets you go into a separate short line for the majority of the rides, so we knew that if we ever came back with a kid that it would make the visit so much easier for all of us.

Returning to the Royal Pacific as a family was a great decision. They provided a shuttle service from the airport, so we didn’t have to worry about bringing a car seat. They have the pool and also a water park splash zone for kids, which Jack loved. Also, having those Express Passes means that we barely waited in any lines the entire time we were there. The only time we had to wait in a line longer than 5 minutes was for one of the newest Harry Potter rides. So yeah, it was a fantastic choice!

What we Did
We arrived in Florida on a Sunday evening, with just enough time to go to dinner and settle into our room. We didn’t bother waking up early to take advantage of the ‘early park hours’ we could do through our hotel. Instead, we lazed around each morning and had a light breakfast. On Monday, we spent the day at Universal Orlando. We petered out early and enjoyed some pool time that night.

We did make it a point to get Jack a wand at Ollivanders on our first day so that he could use it throughout our trip. He had been asking for one on a daily basis the entire month leading up to the trip, so he was so excited to pick one out for himself. He thought it was super cool how he could ‘use magic’ to make things happen in the windows around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.

Then, on Tuesday, we hit up Islands of Adventure. This is where Jack’s head exploded when he met his hero… Spiderman! Jack told him that he loved his ride and Spiderman pulled him in for a hug!

We also met the Cat in the Hat, Thing 1 and Thing 2:

We stayed at the park a little later that night, but still didn’t shut the place down. We DID have an amazing dessert at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. Mine was the Marshmallow Crisp milkshake and it had vanilla ice cream, rice krispies and marshmallow fluff blended in it. It was topped with fresh whipped cream, a rice krispies treat and a super-sized marshmallow.

It was worth every calorie!

On Wednesday, we decided to dress for water rides and spent most of the day getting totally soaked. Jack could not stop laughing every time we ended up splashed so much we were wringing out our clothes. I left my phone in the room so that it wouldn’t get wet, so I don’t have any pictures at all. It was kind of nice being technology-free for a bit.

On our last day, Thursday, we hit up water rides in the morning and then came back to the room to change into dry clothes around lunchtime. After drying off and filling our bellies, we went back to the parks and closed them down that night. We actually ended up on a Harry Potter ride as park closed at 9:00 and as we walked out caught the fireworks presentation. It was the perfect ending to an absolutely phenomenal vacation!

Tips & Tricks

  • If you are planning to buy a wand, do it the first day so that you can get your money’s worth out of it. Also, for Jack we set expectations that the wand was his one treat… so he wasn’t begging for something every time we walked by a store.
  • Dress wisely. It was 90 – 95 degrees when we visited, so Travis and Jack wore wicking shirts each day with either swim trunks or cargo shorts. I stuck with easy dresses, or a combo of a swimsuit and skirt. We also slathered on SPF each morning before leaving our room and re-applied throughout the day.
  • Go as ‘hands free’ as possible. I had it down to a super small cross-body bag or fanny pack each day. I’ll do a post later this week on some shopping trips!
  • If you love something, go back! We ended up visiting CowFish for dinner two times on our trip, because it was so darn good. We also went by the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium twice. No regrets here!
  • Wear comfy shoes! We walked SO MUCH. I actually wore my FitBit so that I could track our steps and we did 3 miles (Sunday), 5.5 miles (Monday), 6.1 miles (Tuesday), 8.3 miles (Wednesday) and 9.7 miles (Thursday)!

So yeah, all in all we had a super wonderful trip and I wish I could hit rewind and do it all over again!

Are you a Universal Studios Orlando lover? What is your favorite part of the parks? Do you have any questions about our trip?

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Running Fun: Old Bay 5k

22 May

I like to do one 5k a month, so since I hadn’t done one since the Super Run in April, I was clicking around online last week trying to find one to add to my schedule. That is how I came across the Old Bay 5k, which is basically the most Maryland run in all the land.

You know that Marylander’s are weird about crabs, our flag, and Old Bay… so as a proud Marylander, I immediately called my brother and we both registered ASAP. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to wear my Maryland flag leggings. Here I am with Jason in front of some inflatable Old Bay containers…

The race was not scenic at all – considering we just ran through an office park type area – however, when we ran by the McCormick Spice Factory the air was full of whatever spice they were grinding at the moment.  So, that was pretty cool.

There was also a Mascot race after we finished, which was adorable:

The best part of the whole event was the goodie bags! In addition to a race shirt, we each got a HUGE Old Bay Tin that was full of all those different spices:

I LOVE the tin and I’m currently undecided on whether to keep it on my kitchen counter to store cookies, or to put it in my den to hold fire-starters next to my fireplace. What would you do with it?

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Countess Von Nibbles

18 May

Living in the country certainly has its perks.

After 10 years of townhouse living, I no longer have to see my neighbors on a regular basis because we have a couple acres between us. My husband gets his dream garage for all his crap and stays out of my garage. Our neighbor puts on a practically professional fireworks display each year for Independence Day. And we have our own fire pit behind our house so that I can enjoy homemade s’mores all year long.

One of the BEST perks though is the animals.

No, not the mailbox spiders. The dozen or so deer that like to hang out in our back yard. The two fat bunnies that bounce and run by our driveway. The red cardinals that swoop around when I drive by. And BEST of all… Countess Von Nibbles:

My husband calls him Mr. Munchie and Jack decided his name is Groundhoggy…but I feel like Countess Von Nibbles has a bit of je ne sais quoi that works perfectly for my fat, nibbly friend.

At this point, the Countess has basically destroyed my welcome mat. In a few more days, I’m going to drag it down and place it next to the groundhog hole so that he/she can have their own welcome mat to nibble on when he/she feels a bit peckish.

Until then, I’ll enjoy the cuteness of this little face. And those adorable ears.

Long live Countess Von Nibbles!

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