Markel Family Summer Vacation–Wrap-Up

Sometimes, when I look back on our vacation, even though it was only just over a month ago, I can hardly believe it happened. For everything that went wrong on the first true summer vacation we took three years ago, something went right on this one. It was a dream come true…as close to a perfect vacation as I can imagine. Here’s one last look at all the fun we had:

  • Day One–The first day of our trip was mostly spent in the car. We drove through part of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia (for what seemed like an eternity!), and Florida to reach our destination of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort in Orlando. We did have time for a swim in one of the hotel’s amazing pools after we got checked into our amazing room!
  • Day Two–On the second day of our trip, we made some dreams come true with a visit to Legoland! After a fun day at the park, we enjoyed more pool time when we got back to the hotel.
  • Day Three–The third day of our vacation was busy, busy, busy! We were up super early to view SpaceX launch from the roof of the hotel parking garage. We then spent the day at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure. We especially enjoyed visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter…both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. From start to finish, it was the most amazing day ever!
  • Day Four–After our busy day at Universal, we needed the fourth day of our trip to recover, so Ryan rented a cabana at the hotel, and we spent the day by the pool, playing games, building sandcastles, and swimming.
  • Day Five–The final day of our vacation meant more time in the car, but we also got to stop and talk a walk on the beach and visitĀ Castillo de San Marcos before another seemingly never-ending drive back through Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

I am so thankful we had this opportunity as a family. I know that we don’t have too many chances like this left before the children venture forth and begin their adult lives, and I hope that we will all remember this trip together as one of the most fun times we’ve ever had!

Legoland

You may have thought I had run out of things to say about our summer vacation, but I have one last big thing to share before I wrap the whole trip up…our visit to Legoland Florida!

Going to Legoland has been a dream of the children’s, especially Turkey, ever since they first heard about it years ago. I thought going to the Legoland Discovery Center in Chicago was going to be as close as we were going to get, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to be able to save up and get tickets for us to go last month! (Hint…if you’re planning such a trip, there are coupons out there, particularly in Lego catalogs, the children’s Lego magazine, and occasionally with purchases directly from Lego…they can save you quite a bit of money!)

Legoland is a theme park, but everything is done on a smaller scale than places like Universal or Disney. What does that mean exactly? The park itself is smaller, so it’s easier to get from one end to the other, and the rides themselves are on a smaller scale. There are roller coasters, but they’re not as intimidating as most, and many of them have height requirements that allow even a little gal like Chickadee to ride (she went on her very first roller coaster at Legoland!). And, of course, the whole places is done in Lego, from the Lego-themed stores (Turkey was able to get a Lego brick keychain engraved with his name at one!), to the characters on the rides to the commitment to sustainability (which I thought was really cool!).

There are giant builds everywhere! Some are part of rides, others just fit the decor of the park:

They have an ingenious queuing system that allows children to play in a separate area while their parents wait in line. When it’s your turn, your child can simply join you from there!

We loved the Egyptian area…especially the pyramid builders using a Lego instruction manual to complete their task!

Legoland sits on the property of the former Cypress Gardens. They still have a few homages to that theme park, and the famous banyan tree is still there…it’s unbelievable in person! Also, watch out for alligators!

One of the highlights of our visit was the water ski show. Not only was it clever, it was also a new experience for us, and a lot of fun to watch! We had a great time cheering on Miss Miranda Valentine and her guards as they took on Captain Brickbeard and his pirates. If you sit in front, you will get wet, but on a hot June day, I can’t say our drenching was unwelcome!

The Star Wars Miniland was amazing:

But not as amazing as the replicas of famous locations from around Florida (including Kennedy Space Center, Daytona, Orlando, and Miami), and the US (New York City, Washington D.C. and Las Vegas were featured), in the main Miniland!

Legoland is known for their apple fries. We didn’t have a chance to try them, but I wish we had, because we saw lots of people with them, and they looked delicious!

We ended our day when the afternoon rain storm began. We didn’t hit all the rides we wanted to (although we did go on a fair number of the roller coasters), but we saw almost everything we had planned on seeing. I’m so glad this was a dream I was able to make come true!

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 plusĀ 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!

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!