We did it! After a full year + a semester of pandemic online learning, Jack spent all of 4th grade back in the classroom. He started the year masked up, tested positive for COVID 2 ½ weeks into the school year, and was fully vaxxed by the end of 2021.
We made the executive decision to take a week off of school in February to go to Universal Studios for Jack’s 10th birthday and it was totally worth it. His teacher… was not my favorite. Grades have been up and down. Behavior notes have been up and down. But WE DID IT and today is the last day of 4th grade.
We are both looking forward to a summer with no homework. Because, there is plenty of time for that with 5th grade right around the corner.
Jack’s room has been updated many times over the past 10 years. First it was his nursery with a crib, then we changed to a toddler bed, then he went into a twin bed and finally we switched it out for a queen bed. The queen bed was pretty much unplanned. My parents had an extra bed they didn’t want, so we gave it a home since it’s only a matter of time before Jack grows into a giant like his dad.
However, I never actually painted his room. When we moved in, it was a blegh medium brown color. Two weeks later I went into early labor and Jack was in the NICU for a month. I didn’t want to paint the room and bring a brand new NICU baby home to lingering paint fumes. And then I guess I just got busy… for 10 years.
All this to say, it was overdue to finally spend a little time in Jack’s room!
There was wasted space next to Jack’s bed, because there was a heat vent on the floor that we didn’t want to block. There were a surprising amount of holes and dents in the walls from stuff that had been moved around over the years. Drywall anchors make quite a big hole when you yank them back out! Also, lots of just random marks from markers and pencils and whatever else happened in there when I wasn’t looking.
First step was to spackle all the holes. I like the kind that goes on pink and then fades to white once it’s completely dry. I let that dry overnight and then gave it a nice smooth sanding the following morning.
Then, comes the paint. I went with Behr Frittata which was a light cream with a hint of yellow. My goal was to make his room feel less like a cave and brighten it up a bit. It actually looks pretty similar to the original brownish color in these pictures, but in person it’s much more light and bright.
It took three coats of edging and 2 coats of rolling the walls to cover the old brown color. And WOW did it make a difference in making the room feel so much brighter and cleaner!
Before we get to the reveal, I also made a few little changes:
I rearranged the furniture to put Jack’s bed on the opposite wall.
I switched out the flimsy triangle block organizer with a more sturdy version that was inside Jack’s closet.
I’m thrilled with how Jack’s room turned out and he LOVES it too. I can’t get over how great the tie dye turned out and Jack loved it so much that he literally kissed it
The little yellow locker nightstand actually has a working lock, which was super thrilling for my treasure-hunter kiddo. The silly animals in glasses canvases were relocated to over the toy organizer. And the fluffy rug feels fantastic on your toes and brings in some more fun patterns!
And here’s a little “after” video:
The whole total of the change was about $300 between the paint, new rug and new nightstand. But Jack’s reaction to his new room was pretty much priceless!
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.
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.