Islands of Adventure

My favorite part of Universal Islands of Adventure was, again, the Harry Potter area…this time The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade. But there’s a lot of other things to see and do there…let’s take a look.

Because we entered the Universal parks through the Universal Studios entrance, we didn’t get see the landmark at Islands of Adventure (a giant lighthouse) up close, but we did see it, appropriately enough, from across the water:

This park is split up into different “islands.” We missed the Port of Entry, but there aren’t any rides there, just places to eat. Adjacent to the first area is Seuss Landing, one of our favorite parts of the park. Yes, the rides are tame, and yes, it’s designed for the younger set, but it’s bright and colorful and just plain FUN!

On the other side of the entrance is Marvel Super Hero Island, where Turkey and Ladybug rode the Incredible Hulk Coaster, which was terrifying to me on several levels.

We mostly just walked around the rest of the areas, including Toon Lagoon, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Jurassic Park, and the Lost Continent. I think the only other ride we went on that wasn’t in Hogsmeade or Seuss Landing was the Storm Force Accelatron, a teacup-style ride in the Marvel area. We did enjoy seeing how each part of the park was different, though, and were impressed by all of the details!

That’s it for our time at Universal. I’ve never considered myself to be a big theme park person, but I will say that this was the most awesome vacation experience I’ve ever had, and if I had the opportunity to go back, I’d jump at the chance!

Universal Studios Florida

I already shared the details of my favorite part of Universal Studios Florida…The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. But now it’s time to take a look at the rest of the park!

Even before you go through the gates, there are notable locations, starting with the globe…everyone wants to get a picture there!

There’s also the famous Universal arch:

Inside, the park is divided into different neighborhoods. On our way to the King’s Cross station, we walked through Production Central (which was home to the one roller coaster the children wanted to go on that we didn’t get to), New York, and San Francisco:

Other than Diagon Alley, our favorite part of the park was Springfield: Home of the Simpsons. It was easy to imagine we were actually there…you know, if an animated fictional location was a real place!

Other than the KidZone, the only area we didn’t walk through was Hollywood, which is too bad, because there were a couple of things we would have liked to see there, but there just wasn’t time to do everything before it got dark, and then darker, and then was finally time to leave!

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at Islands of Adventure!

Cabana Bay Beach Resort

In case I somehow haven’t made it clear, we took the best vacation ever last month (and we really needed it!). Part of what made it so perfect was the resort at which we stayed. We weren’t supposed to stay in Orlando, much less at a Universal property, but sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you plan…and every once in a while, the unexpected is far superior to what you had planned! That was definitely the case here, because we ended up staying at what is my dream hotel…the Cabana Bay Beach Resort!

The whole resort is done in a 1950s/1960s theme…perfect for me, right? From the first moment I stepped through the doors into the lobby, I was in love. And I cried. Literally cried. It was just how I dreamed it, from the vintage luggage to the mosaic behind the front desk to the retro bar. I was completely overwhelmed by how gorgeous everything is! And while I was crying, I was also smiling so hard my face hurt, because it’s so amazing!

Just across the circle drive from the lobby is the Bayliner Diner, a huge room that has cozy round booths and giant TV screens playing old TV clips and retro commercials. Ryan and I split a sandwich our last night there, and it was delicious!

There are different types of buildings named after famous hotels of yesteryear, done in three different themes. We stayed in the Continental, which is modeled after the glamorous type of hotel that stars like Frank Sinatra popularized in movies (again, perfect!).

Our room was beyond amazing. We stayed in a family suite which was actually big enough for all of us, and came with a kitchenette. I loved all the retro touches, from the furniture to the artwork, and even to the toiletries in the bathroom! Speaking of bathrooms, Cabana Bay has an ingenious set-up, which places the toilet behind one door, the shower and a sink behind another, with a sink and full counter in between the two, and open to the bedroom. It was so nice being able to have different people doing different things without always having to wait in line!

Cabana Bay has two pools. The one closest to our building includes a lazy river. The other pool, which is surrounded on three sides by buildings representing mom-and-pop motels that were popular beachside, has a water slide plus cabanas you can rent for the day (we did!). Both have other amenities, as well, including poolside bars, pavilions for rent, sand play areas, outdoor games like ping-pong and ladder ball, and fire pits. On Saturday, there was even a poolside D.J.!

There are also great vintage-style signs everywhere…seriously, you can see why I say it’s just like I dreamed it!

And so many other great details throughout the resort, from the furniture and decor to the vintage cars parked out front!

Staying at Cabana Bay was a dream come true for me. If the architects and designers had looked directly into my brain when it was built, they couldn’t have created something I would like more. I had such a great time there that I almost didn’t want to come home, and I will always be thankful for the four blissful nights we spent there!

Sartorial Saturday–Thanks PUG!

Here’s one more look at the new dresses that Pinup Girl Clothing recently added to their Magic of Mary Blair collection and kindly sent to me. Out of the five dresses, there are three different styles in four-ish prints (the two plane prints are so different, I’m not sure how to count them!). Two of the styles (the Natalie Swing and the Audrey), were new additions to my wardrobe, and I love having some new options! If you asked me to pick a favorite, I don’t think I could, but I will say I love the way the Harley dress fits, and I also love having the clown print in my closet, because I didn’t have that one in any form before.

With the exception of the commuters print, I think I now own at least one version of each Mary Blair print that PUG has released. They are definitely some of my favorite items, and I love how cheerful I feel when I’m wearing any one of them! Thanks PUG, for making my closet a happier place!!!

Castillo de San Marcos

When we travel, I like to throw in a bit of history if possible. Our trip to Florida provided us with the opportunity to drive through St. Augustine, which is the oldest continuously occupied European-based settlement in the United States. It was founded by Spain in 1565, but also ruled by the British after the Seven Years’ War, and later the Confederacy, before reverting back to the United States following the Civil War.

There were two historic sites in St. Augustine at the top of my list…Fort Matanzas, which was built in 1742 to defend the city against British attack, and the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. (construction was completed in 1695!). We only had time to visit one (and we were there so early, neither location was open for tours), so we walked around Castillo de San Marcos, which is located on the Matanzas River, just across from the northern edge of Anastasia Island.

Even without going inside, the sense of history was undeniable. Seeing something that old, that served so many different governments in its history, is an unusual experience for me as a lifelong resident of the Midwest, and it was a thrilling visit!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter–Hogsmeade

I already shared how awesome the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley (located at Universal Studios Florida) is…today I’m taking a look at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade, located in Orlando’s other Universal theme park…Islands of Adventure.

Like its counterpart, Hogsmeade is a fantastic reproduction of the village from the books and movies. There is a train station which connects to Diagon Alley, familiar shops and restaurants, including Honeydukes and Three Broomsticks, an Owl Post, places to use your interactive wand, and just down the path, the crowning glory of the area…Hogwarts itself! You can meet students from Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang at the Triwizard Spirit Rally, and hear the frog choir sing (which sadly we missed). There are also two rides: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which takes place inside the school, and the Flight of the Hippogriff, which swoops past Hagrid’s hut.

After dark, Hogwarts lights up, and while we didn’t get to see it at the park, we could see it from our hotel room, and that’s also a fun attraction. This is another great way to get the experience of being a character from the Harry Potter story, and there’s plenty for the whole family to see and do (even Chickadee was able to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster!).