After 2 years of a global pandemic, we were VERY READY for an actual vacation once all of us were fully vaccinated. We had planned and paid for a Universal Studios trip for April 2020, which didn’t happen. So, when the money was refunded to us, I stuck it in a special account just waiting for the day that I could re-book a vacation.
Once Jack was finally vaccinated, I started thinking about the trip again… and this time thought it would be super fun to have it the week of Jack’s 10th birthday. So, that’s what we did! I mean, double-digits is a big deal so we went for it, took a week of work and school and escaped to Florida!
When previously visiting Universal Studios, we stayed at the Lowes Royal Pacific Resort. It is an on-site hotel and we stayed there in both 2010 and 2017 (you can read about our 2017 trip here). Since we were going ‘all out’ for Jack’s birthday trip, I looked into the Hard Rock Hotel. The Hard Rock is also an on-site resort but a little fancier than the Royal Pacific.
Just for funsies, I put in all the specifications for our dream vacation – arriving on a Sunday, leaving on a Friday, adding in park-to-park hopper tickets for 4 days (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) and also upgrading to the Rock Royalty Floor (more on that later)… and it ended up being just about $10 more than was sitting in our vacation money refund account!
Thoughts on the Hard Rock Hotel
We loved the Hard Rock hotel! Our room was great with a king-sized bed and a fold out couch bed for Jack. It was within walking distance to Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure. It also had some great food options at the hotel – in fact we ate at The Kitchen twice we liked it so much. They are currently doing some work to the outside of the hotel, including repainting and re-roofing the hotel. However, we were not bothered by noise during our stay. The pool was huge and had a slide that Jack LOVED.
Thoughts on the Hard Rock Royalty Floor and Lounge
By upgrading to “Rock Royalty” level, we had our room on the private seventh floor (you need a special key to access it). The main upgrade was that you have access to their exclusive Rock Royalty lounge for the whole length of your stay. The lounge had complimentary coffee, a fancy latte making machine, teas, sodas and water available for us to grab any time throughout the day.
Also, they had the following schedule
- 7:00 am – 10:00 am: Continental breakfast
- 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm: Afternoon re-charge (snacks)
- 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm: Evening Reception with appetizers, beer & wine
- 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm: Bed Time Snacks (dessert)
Everything was included in the cost of our room, and for our family it was totally worth it. Each morning, we would have coffee and breakfast in the Rock Royalty lounge before leaving the hotel. They had a huge assortment of food, including: oatmeal cups, cereal, fruit, hard boiled eggs, bagels, the hugest and most fantastic donuts you’ve ever seen, pastries, juice, milk, and coffee.
We stopped by the evening reception once and had a nice snack of egg rolls, sushi, cheese and crackers.
Every night we made it a point to stop by for dessert too! My favorites were when they had the gourmet cupcakes, which were insanely delicious. They also had different cookies, tarts and sweets each night and really mixed it up so that you didn’t get bored with their offerings.
While it was a higher cost to stay on the Rock Royalty floor, it was absolutely worth it to us. To be able to walk directly from our room to the lounge in our comfy clothes before getting ready was a great way for us to start each day. Also, it took the time and decision-making out of figuring out breakfast at the park each day. And frankly, I need my coffee ASAP.
Our Universal Studios Park Plan
We had four park days, and this is the schedule that worked for us:
- Monday: Universal Studios all day, Mardi Gras parade at night
- Tuesday: Start day at Universal Studios and go over to Islands of Adventure after lunch (take the Hogwarts Express)
- Wednesday: Islands of Adventure all day, Mardi Gras parade at night
- Thursday: All favorite rides at both parks AND all water rides
Universal Studios celebrates Mardi Gras from February 5–April 24, 2022. Note: All the Mardi Gras stuff is only at Universal Studios though and not Islands of Adventure. We enjoyed the parade so much that we did it again later in the week. Jack was obsessed with catching all the beads!
One of the benefits of staying at an on-site hotel was that your room key serves as an express pass. For both parks, you can bypass the ride lines and go into an express pass line instead. This saves us SO MUCH TIME and allowed us to hit a ton of rides, rather than standing in line all day long. At the time we went, only two of the newest rides didn’t have the express pass line.
We also found the Universal App handy. You can access a map of rides to see if any were closed/delayed and it also shows you the minutes of the regular lines. So, if the regular line is 60+ minutes, we could expect the express line to be about 10 minutes. If the regular line was short, the express line was basically nonexistent.
Our Favorite Universal Studios Food
Favorite Food in the Park: Three Broomsticks and Finnegan’s Bar and Grill
We ate a lot of Fish and Chips on our vacation! We love Finnegan’s Bar and Grill, it’s a fun little Irish pub, and we all had fish and chips TWICE there during our trip. We also ate at the Three Broomsticks, where our fish and chips benefited from some butterbeer.
Favorite Snack in the Park: Butterbeer
Obviously! We had both the cold butterbeer and the frozen butterbeer and the frozen was our favorite this time.
Favorite Food at City Walk: Bigfire
Bigfire is located in City Walk just outside the parks and they use open fire cooking on all their food. One afternoon I went online and made some quick reservations over there for dinner and OHMYGOSH it was the best meal of the trip. The fire baked bread, steaks and side vegetables were all so good they basically had to roll me out of there when we were done!
Favorite Dessert at City Walk: Milkshakes at The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
I mean… YUM!
All the Universal Studios Outfits
I shared these on my February Style post, but they deserve a spot here too. I brought a denim jacket for the plane rides also also when it would get a little chilly at night. To keep my skirts roller-coaster safe with no wardrobe malfunctions, I have a pair of lightweight bike shorts underneath. For shoes, I stuck with my comfortable Rothy’s sneakers and my Birkenstocks.
All in all, we had an absolutely wonderful vacation and I’d love to do it all over again.