All About Our Family Trip to Universal Studios Orlando

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.

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A Girls Weekend in NYC

A couple months ago, I was surprised with a bonus from work. Now typically, when there is extra money, I like to hoard it like Scrooge McDuck and put it in our savings account. If I could dive into it like a swimming pool and swim around it in, I totally would. But that sounds quite painful in reality. And dirty.

Anyways, at the time the Covid numbers were going down and we were starting to imagine a world where we could travel again. So, when this surprise money came, my husband encouraged me to do something fun just for me. Which honestly after almost 2 years of a pandemic seems quite decadent… something just for ME?! My first thought was that I could really use a girl’s weekend. And my second thought was that I REALLY want to get back out to NYC and see a show on Broadway.

New York City is only a few hours of a train ride from home, so it’s super easy to get up there and back. However, I haven’t made a visit to the “Big City” (as Jack calls it) since a work trip in 2017. I have NO IDEA how 5 years went by so quickly. Even worse, my last Broadway show was back in 2015.

So, I called up my friend Jenni and we booked ourselves a girl’s weekend.

Covid Safety Stuff:

Masks are required on the Amtrak train, unless you are actively eating or drinking. In order to enter any restaurant or the theater in NYC, we had to show our vaccination card and license. Every person who did a check really scrutinized them to make sure they matched. Masks were required indoors everywhere, including restaurants, stores, the museum and the theater. We wore them walking around outside too, because they kept our faces warm.

Hotel: The Row NYC

I wanted a hotel within walking distance to the show, so I opened a map of NYC and just clicked on all the hotel options. You would be surprised how many hotels only offer one bed in a room. However, I finally found The Row NYC with 2 full beds. It’s located at 700 8th Avenue and was less than a block from our theater. The room and bathroom was very small, but it was clean, convenient and not too pricey. The nightly rate was $133 and after taxes and fees and all that, it ended up costing $190 total.

Show: Moulin Rouge! The Musical

As I mentioned, the Al Hirschfeld Theater was just across the street from our hotel. It couldn’t have been more convenient. The theater was gorgeous and the sets were incredible. The one thing that I really like to splurge on is close seats, so we had seats in Row F in the Orchestra Left section. We were the perfect amount of close to see everything going on, but not so close that there was awkward eye contact and incoming saliva from the actors. The cost for the seats with tax and all the fees was $250 per person.

The show was AMAZING. So, so, so good. Aaron Tveit was absolutely magical in the role of Christian. His voice was flawless and his acting was so fantastic I really believed that he totally fell in love at first sight. The actress playing Satine was… not as great. Her singing voice was amazing, but her acting had room for improvement.

We’re pretty sure that she doesn’t know what consumption actually is – as she seemed to think it involved a pained appendix and a weird cough face that was way too similar to a cat coughing up a hairball. At one point, both Jenni and I sat in our seats shaking with silent laughter. And then after the show, I had tears streaming down my face because we were hysterically laughing and recreating her hack-hack-hack face.

Oh and I also loved Robyn Hurder who played Nini. This woman is literal FIRE with her dance moves and voice. Absolutely amazing. All in all, the show was fantastic and memorable and hilarious and the soundtrack has been playing on my Spotify ever since.

What Else We Did

When we arrived on Saturday, after checking into our hotel we walked around a bit. There was probably 6 inches or so of snow and slush on the ground, but thankfully we both dressed in layers with boots so our feet magically stayed dry. We wandered our way around a bit and I ended up stopping by the M&M’s store in Time Square to get Jack a little souvenir.

That night we wanted to stay pretty close to our hotel and theater, since we didn’t have a ton of time and it was cold and snowy. So, we made some last-minute reservations at Carmine’s and destroyed a gigantic loaf of Eggplant Parm and a mixing bowl full of broccoli.

Then, on Sunday we hit up a nearby diner (The Times Square Diner) for breakfast. The breakfast portions were plentiful and the coffee was strong enough to put hair on your chest – as all good diner coffee tends to be.

After breakfast, we packed up our stuff from our room, checked out and dropped our backpacks off at the hotel’s bag check. We walked through Central Park and I made high pitched noises at every cute dog I saw. There were also lots of families sledding, but I didn’t make any noises at them.

From there, we decided to go to The Met and tickets cost $25 each. We spent hours walking miles around the museum. Some of my favorite exhibits were the sarcophagus exhibit (I can’t find a link online), the In America: A Lexicon of Fashion exhibit where I wanted to go shopping.

The knit look from Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s line The Row called to me and I want to wear it from head to toe. I was also obsessed with this beautiful Carolina Herrera shirt and skirt set.

I saw some amazing paintings I remember from art class in college.

We also checked out the Inspiring Walt Disney exhibit, which I really liked but no photos were allowed.

Oh, and we ate again. This time we hit up a nearby pizza place called Serafina Fabulous Pizza where the restaurant was gorgeous, the pizza was delicious, but ohmygoodness the seating was squished. Jenni and I were at a little table for two in the mid corridor section and I swear every time someone walked by, they were centimeters from bumping into us.

From there we made our way back to the hotel to pick up our bags and then took an Uber to the train station. All in all, I think we were in town for about 30 hours or so and it was a cold but super fun girls weekend!

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National Harbor: Family Fun

Back in November, I shared that Travis and I spent a date weekend at the National Harbor. We had such a wonderful time that we decided to return with Jack once everyone was decorated for Christmas. I booked the same hotel (Hyatt Place National Harbor) and once again we ended up with a beautiful room overlooking the water.

We booked the same kind of room too – a king bed with a pull-out couch, so we had ample space for the three of us. On Saturday, we went to the Gumdrop Tavern, which was a fun holiday themed pop-up. We each got a delicious hot cocoa topped with marshmallows and sprinkles. We also got some snacks to take back to the room (totally don’t do this, it was CRAZY expensive for a couple bags of popcorn and cookies). The cocoa was great though!

Anyways, back to the room we went with our snacks and watched Christmas movies on TV. Then, at 5:30pm and had THE BEST view of the evening fireworks:

I mean… holy moly! I couldn’t have asked for a better or more comfortable seat to watch that show!

For dinner, we walked over to the Crab Cake Café for dinner. The food was good, but for the price of it I thought the ambiance was pretty terrible. It felt like a fast-food kind of place with sticky tables… but with $20 crab cakes. We grabbed some ice cream next door at Ben & Jerrys and then took it back to the room to enjoy in our pajamas while watching more Christmas movies.

On Sunday, we knew that breakfast at the hotel was going to be ‘meh’ at most, so I had made reservations for us to have brunch at Succotash. Our last brunch at Succotash in November had us basically swooning, so it was a surprise that our family meal was EVEN BETTER. We decided to do a big smorgasbord shared meal between the three of us and ordered: deviled eggs with bacon jam, pecan sticky buns, chicken & waffles, French toast, and two sides of bacon. And we destroyed it all. The three of us basically had to be rolled out of the restaurant.

From there, we decided to check out the Capital Wheel Ferris wheel. The wheel takes you 180 feet up and we could see Maryland, DC and Virginia from our gondola. It was closed in and temperature-controlled, so we didn’t freeze.

I’m so glad we had our little family overnight getaway back at the National Harbor. The decorations were beautiful, the room was comfortable, the fireworks were spectacular and the Succotash brunch was divine! Even just one night away is such a nice little refresh before we jump back into the craziness of the holidays.

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