Welcome to Springfield – in the heart of Universal Studios

Welcome to Springfield – in the heart of Universal Studios

Welcome to Springfield

In the heart of Universal Studios

Harry Potter is not the only world into which you can be immersed on a visit to Universal Orlando® Resort, you know? You also have the opportunity to take a stroll into the heart of Springfield, the little slice of satirical small-town America that’s home to The Simpsons – as well as an ever-growing ensemble of memorably hilarious characters.

For more than 27 years have the inhabitants of the iconic town been entertaining the world with their adventures and misdemeanours, with few fictional towns having the level of impact on popular culture that Springfield has enjoyed.

Which is why the Universal recreation of the town is such a joy to behold, and a section of the resort that you simply must not miss.

Located in the Universal Studios® Park, Springfield has been built up adjacent to the lake. For those who visited the park in the early years, this is where the old set of Amity Island (from Jaws), used to be; Springfield coming to full fruition back in 2013.

And while there may be a touch of nostalgic pathos for the passing of the Amity setting, the way in which Springfield has been meticulously created is simply joyous – an area that just makes you smile from the moment you stroll into Fast Food Boulevard.

The Simpsons Ride

As is the case with all the different themed zones, at its heart there’s a ride to experience. In this case it’s The Simpsons Ride; which first replaced the old Back to the Future ride in 2008. And has subsequently had a more immersive upgrade; bringing the entire Springfield backdrop and cast of characters into the experience.

In keeping with the caustic humour of the show, the ride is set around the premise that you (along with Homer and family) are about to take a ride at Krustyland (on the less-than-quality designs of Krusty the Clown); albeit with a looming shadow of dastardly sabotage.

Similar to other rides in the park, it’s a mix of simulation and motion as you are thrust headlong into an colourful, turbulent, and all-immersive version of the animated world in which they live.

It’s a family ride and one of the favourites for this author’s two kids (13 and 11 at the time). It’s hugely entertaining, funny and offers plenty of thrills, excitement, and a dose of the unexpected.

However, it is kind of full on – so if you do suffer from motion sickness, the mix of motion and immersive animation can make the more sensitive stomach a little queasy.

But a highly-recommended experience none the less.

The Town Itself

OK, so it’s not a full town, of course – but what the Springfield zone does do, quite brilliantly, is bring some of the town’s iconic landmarks to life; while managing to recreate the slightly anarchic humour of the show.

Fast Food Boulevard is a nod to the gently satiric take on America’s disposal culture, and the obsession of Homer et al with junk food snacking. However, the quality is perfectly fine and a lot of fun (particularly for Simpson’s enthusiasts); allowing you to indulge on some genuine Duff beer, Bumblebee man tacos, or Homer’s favourite, Lard Lad Donuts.

Personal Highlights

The Simpson’s Ride is brilliant; and one of my own personal highlights of the entire Universal experience. But as a fan of the show for many years, just to wander through the area is a huge thrill.

And it appeals not only to fans of the show. My wife has never been a particular fan, but the cleanliness, calm, the beautifully detailed set, and the overriding sense of fun around the Springfield area, meant that she too loved it.

For me, however, there is simply something wonderful about the chance to see and visit:

Moe’s Tavern – an amazing replica of the iconic bar and a chance to enjoy a Flaming Moe (or Homer, depending on where your loyalty lies)

Krusty Burger – another recreation of the show’s take on the classic burger joint

Kwik-E-Mart – a fully functioning shop, designed in the guise of Apu’s convenience store

The Android’s Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop – Otherwise known as the shop owned and operated by Comic Book Guy

Duff Brewery – When you can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff

Harry Potter is not the only world into which you can be immersed on a visit to Universal Orlando® Resort, you know? You also have the opportunity to take a stroll into the heart of Springfield, the little slice of satirical small-town America that’s home to The Simpsons – as well as an ever-growing ensemble of memorably hilarious characters.

For more than 27 years have the inhabitants of the iconic town been entertaining the world with their adventures and misdemeanours, with few fictional towns having the level of impact on popular culture that Springfield has enjoyed.

Which is why the Universal recreation of the town is such a joy to behold, and a section of the resort that you simply must not miss.

Located in the Universal Studios® Park, Springfield has been built up adjacent to the lake. For those who visited the park in the early years, this is where the old set of Amity Island (from Jaws), used to be; Springfield coming to full fruition back in 2013.

And while there may be a touch of nostalgic pathos for the passing of the Amity setting, the way in which Springfield has been meticulously created is simply joyous – an area that just makes you smile from the moment you stroll into Fast Food Boulevard.

The Simpsons Ride

As is the case with all the different themed zones, at its heart there’s a ride to experience. In this case it’s The Simpsons Ride; which first replaced the old Back to the Future ride in 2008. And has subsequently had a more immersive upgrade; bringing the entire Springfield backdrop and cast of characters into the experience.

In keeping with the caustic humour of the show, the ride is set around the premise that you (along with Homer and family) are about to take a ride at Krustyland (on the less-than-quality designs of Krusty the Clown); albeit with a looming shadow of dastardly sabotage.

Similar to other rides in the park, it’s a mix of simulation and motion as you are thrust headlong into an colourful, turbulent, and all-immersive version of the animated world in which they live.

It’s a family ride and one of the favourites for this author’s two kids (13 and 11 at the time). It’s hugely entertaining, funny and offers plenty of thrills, excitement, and a dose of the unexpected.

However, it is kind of full on – so if you do suffer from motion sickness, the mix of motion and immersive animation can make the more sensitive stomach a little queasy.

But a highly-recommended experience none the less.

The Town Itself

OK, so it’s not a full town, of course – but what the Springfield zone does do, quite brilliantly, is bring some of the town’s iconic landmarks to life; while managing to recreate the slightly anarchic humour of the show.

Fast Food Boulevard is a nod to the gently satiric take on America’s disposal culture, and the obsession of Homer et al with junk food snacking. However, the quality is perfectly fine and a lot of fun (particularly for Simpson’s enthusiasts); allowing you to indulge on some genuine Duff beer, Bumblebee man tacos, or Homer’s favourite, Lard Lad Donuts.

Personal Highlights

The Simpson’s Ride is brilliant; and one of my own personal highlights of the entire Universal experience. But as a fan of the show for many years, just to wander through the area is a huge thrill.

And it appeals not only to fans of the show. My wife has never been a particular fan, but the cleanliness, calm, the beautifully detailed set, and the overriding sense of fun around the Springfield area, meant that she too loved it.

For me, however, there is simply something wonderful about the chance to see and visit:

Moe’s Tavern – an amazing replica of the iconic bar and a chance to enjoy a Flaming Moe (or Homer, depending on where your loyalty lies)

Krusty Burger – another recreation of the show’s take on the classic burger joint

Kwik-E-Mart – a fully functioning shop, designed in the guise of Apu’s convenience store

The Android’s Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop – Otherwise known as the shop owned and operated by Comic Book Guy

Duff Brewery – When you can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff

Rides Then Relax | Luxury Twin Centre Florida Holiday

Rides Then Relax | Luxury Twin Centre Florida Holiday

Rides and Relaxation | Luxury Twin Centre Florida Holidays

Enjoy the best of Disney, Universal and the Gulf Coast in one luxury family holiday

The Holiday

The following is a sample itinerary and put together to give you some ideas of the type of luxury multi-centre holidays we’ve had the pleasure in arranging for former clients.

A way to sample the very best of Disney, Universal and the stunning resort at the exclusive Long Boat Key. Naturally, there are many, many other destinations and ways to enjoy Florida and all its attractions.

The resorts all blend a sense of fun with elegant luxury, and are based on some of the favourite spots our clients have enjoyed over the past 12 months. Which also happen to feature high on our own personal favourites list.

Flights: Direct Flights are available from the UK courtesy of Virgin / Delta and British Airways / American Airlines. 

Total Duration: 14 nights

1. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Upon arrival at Orlando International Airport, don’t stress about car hire and driving to your hotel. Allow Disney’s Magical Express to meet you outside the arrivals hall and take you to your resort hotel: the magnificent Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. One of the Deluxe range of hotels, this is a firm family favourite, offering sumptuous rooms, wonderful leisure facilities, swimming pools and fantastic dining.

What’s more, you’re in the heart of the Walt Disney World resort, and straight into your holiday.

Includes:

  • 5 Nights in a Family room with Pool View
  • Free Airport Transfer from Orlando Airport to hotel
  • Disney Dining Plan, which includes:1 quick-service meal, 1 table-service meal & 1 snack per guest, every day.
  • Disney’s Ultimate Ticket for each guest, allowing: unlimited access to all 6 main theme parks, access to golf course, 1 round of miniature golf per person per day, use of Fastpass+ to pre-book times on your favourite rides (up to 60 prior to leaving UK as a resort guest), FREE Memory Maker (allowing access to all official photos taken in the parks from action shots on the rides, to character photos etc – gate price currently $169)
  • Additional hours in the theme park

2. Car Hire

You probably won’t need a car while at Disney, and you may not want one at Universal either. So, the choice would be yours. Either collect a car on your last or penultimate day at Disney, keeping it for the duration of your holiday (pickup at Disney, return to airport). OR, get a pre-arranged transfer from Disney to your Universal Resort, picking up a car on your last day at the resort and retaining for the duration of your holiday.

 

3. Hard Rock Hotel® at Universal Orlando®

Your next resort let’s you take in the amazing parks at Universal Orlando Resort. While indulging yourself at a simply wonderful hotel. A personal favourite, you can find out what we really think about the place by taking a look here. But for now, here’s the breakdown of what’s included:

  • 2 Nights in Pool View Family Room
  • 2 Park Bonus Ticket for each guest, allowing: unlimited access to Universal Studios® and Universal’s Islands of Adventure®, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™
  • Complimentary Universal Express™ passes for each guest, allowing you express access to the rides in the parks, avoiding the long queues (Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey™, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™, & Pteranodon Flyers® not included in Express pass use)
  • Early entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – meaning you get to the rides an hour before the general public.
  • Access to Universal’s City Walk® entertainment area
  • Complimentary gift delivery service on purchases made in the resort and theme parks directly to your room
  • 5 Minute walk to the entry gate of Universal Studios®
 

4. The Resort at Long Boat Key

Take a two-hour drive south-west of Orlando and find yourself in the lap of sultry, sunny luxury. The Resort at Long Boat Key is one of the finest family destinations along the Gulf Coast. Beautiful rooms no more than a few footsteps from the soft white sand of your private stretch of beach, and the deep blue water of the Gulf of Mexico. Offering:

  • 7 Nights in Family Room
  • The only 4 Diamond Award Beachside Resort in Sarasota
  • Fine and casual dining choices
  • Watersports
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Spa
  • Swimming pools
  • Short drive to the simply beautiful St Armand’s Circle area.
  • Easy access to downtown Sarasota, Sarasota Marina and the selection of arts, culture, and dining available.
 

Summary

The resorts and associated items above is a sample of the delights you can enjoy on a luxury multi-centre holiday in Florida. Each of the hotels offering amazing accommodation, luxurious surroundings, entertainment, dining and all the other trappings you could ask for a memorable family holiday. A week in the heart of the attraction action at Disney and Universal, each hotel offering the perfect respite from busy days in the parks. And then a week of total wind down on the coast.

It should be noted that this is a higher-end holiday for those in search of a hassle-free break, on a higher budget, at some of Florida’s best family resorts. Prices will vary throughout the year and with direct flights, full-sized car plus all attraction tickets and transfers included, a family of 4 (based on 2 adults and children ages 7 & 10) can expect to pay anywhere between £8,500 to £11,000*.

Naturally there are plenty of amazing Orlando-Beach combination holidays available to meet style, desires and budgets. Why not get in touch if you’d like to enquire.

 

*Prices used as a guide only. For an accurate price based on people travelling, ages, availability and time of travel, please enquire through our contact page.

Interested?

If you’d like to enquire about a holiday similar to this, or about any other Florida holiday, then please get in touch via our enquiries page, clicking the button below.

Staying at the Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando

Staying at the Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando

All You Need to Know About Staying at the Hard Rock Hotel® at Universal Orlando®

I’ve been fortunate to have visited Florida and the Orlando area in particular, on a fair number of occasions over the years; each time finding something new to experience and enjoy. 

The most recent visit, a family holiday with my wife and two sons (aged 11 & 13) over the Easter break, afforded us the very great pleasure of a four nights at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort. A new experience – and most certainly something new to enjoy. 

*SPOILER ALERT*

The rest of this article is going to gush enthusiastically about the hotel and resort as a whole. Without wishing to give the game away, this is one of the very best hotel resorts we’ve had the pleasure of staying at as a family. 

From location, to good eating, entertainment and attractions for all, beautiful rooms and the added Universal bonuses (See below) Hard Rock ticked every box. 

Read on to get the full low down on this amazing holiday destination. 




Hard Rock at Universal Holiday - Pool Area
Water taxi between Hard Rock and Universal

In the past we’ve stayed at a variety of different accommodation types around the Orlando area – from motels to hotels, villas to apartments. Different rooms, different resorts, different budgets. 

From the moment we stepped into the cool (in both senses of the word) lobby, taking in the plush seating area, the stylish dark stone floor and the accompanying rock and roll soundtrack from the video wall, we knew that we had landed upon something a bit special. 

 

The Key Attractions

The Hard Rock Hotel plays hard on the rock’n’roll theme, from the constant backdrop of music (although never overbearing) and the live music at poolside, to the memorabilia adorning the walls and the little touches in your rooms – our kids particularly liked the mirror with height markers so you can compare yourself to famous rock stars. My eldest son is currently as tall as Madonna! 

And Michael Jackson is over 6 foot tall! Who Knew?

However, this is not some cheesy theme hotel. Hard Rock is upper 4 star class and, while the vibe is laid back cool, there’s a distinct and altogether appealing sense of refinement to the venue. And nowhere is this more heavily felt than at poolside. 

pool side drinks at hard rock hotel orlando

The Pool

Set out in lagoon style, the pool itself is a favourite for adults and kids alike. Big enough for the large volume of guests, it’s perfect for dipping into after a day (or even a few hours) in the theme parks. 

One note, which might be a small negative for some, is that the pool is fairly shallow. Those who want to take the plunge and go for a good swim might be out of luck as the pool doesn’t go much higher than waist height.

However, don’t let this very minor issue put you off. The pool and the surrounding area is really quite beautiful. And for the kids there’s a flume style slide that brings additional interest. 

The main reason most, ourselves included, stay at a resort hotel at Universal is because of the theme parks. But some down time by the pool really ought to be built into your time at the resort – it makes for a much more relaxing way to enjoy and experience the parks. 

Along one side of the zero entry pool there’s a beach area, replete with soft white sand that brushes up to waterside. Overall, the area is stylishly laid out around the pool, with the tropical vibe aided by tall palm trees that offer some gratefully received natural shade. 

Sun Beds

Our first couple of days at the resort coincided with the end of the Easter / Spring Break period. And, as such, the hotel was busy. This meant that there were a lot of guests poolside throughout the day. 

However, although crowded we did find that there was just about enough sun beds to go around. That said, it was the early birds who tended to get hold of the best located beds. 

Overall though, the pool is well tended to try and accommodate everyone and to ensure as best as possible that all guests get to luxuriate in the surroundings. And for those who adopt the classic old tactic of draping towels over beds at the crack of dawn to ‘reserve’ their spot for later in the day, the hotel has a sign up indicating that any bed (or group of beds) left unattended for more than 30 mins MAY have the towels removed – putting them back into open play

view from hard rock hotel walkway to Universal studios

The view from Hard Rock Hotel walkway to Universal Studios

Cabanas

For the full pampered experience at pool side, there are a range of cabanas available to hire for the day. Dependent on when you visit the prices can range from around $90 to, more typically, around $200 for a day.

If you do feel like splashing out on a bit of luxury for the day then you’ll get:

Your very own shaded cabana, which you can enclose for further seclusion if required

A ceiling fan to keep you cool

A refrigerator

Flat screen TV 

Your own sun loungers, table and chairs

Personal waiter for the day

The Staff

It might be a bit of a generalisation to say so, but the staff all appeared to be pretty young. BUT THAT’S NOT A BAD THING.

To a person we found them extremely helpful, friendly and fun – all with that laid back, ever so slightly cool vibe the resort constantly strives for. Whether on reception, concierge, in the Kitchen Bar & Grill, the store or a pool side, everyone seemed happy to help and made for a very positive attitude throughout. 

At pool side, there was waiter service from your sun loungers, with food and drink from the Beach Bar available throughout the day.

Now, as anyone who’s visited the States before will know, US service culture is very much geared around tipping. So it’s worth noting that the waiter service at pool side actually adds a service charge to the bill (18%) meaning you don’t have to add any more gratuity when the check arrives. Your take on this, I suppose, will depend on your overall view when it comes to tipping. All I’ll say is that tipping is very much a way of life in the US service industry and fairly standard in these types of holiday resorts.

And as I’ve mentioned, my own personal experience was that the service was very good throughout.

hard rock web banner

Your Room Key

When you check in, each guest staying in the room is issued with their own room key. It’s a smart card and can be used across the entire Universal Orlando resort. 

You’ll need your room key to claim your Universal Express® Pass (see below) when you arrive at the hotel and you’ll also need to have it with you when using the early morning entry to the parks. NOTE: Each guest should have their own room key with them for early entry, although we found as a family that, as long as the family had at least one between them then that sufficed – but might be worth having them all together just to be on the safe side. 

When on site you can use your room key to charge items to your room. And, by on site, I mean, across the whole Universal Orlando Resort. Obviously, for this facility to be active you need to put a credit card onto the system at reception upon check-in. And you can control which of the room keys can be used (For example, if you don’t want the kids charging things to the room you can exclude their key cards from the facility). 

Once set up you can charge food and drink from the hotel bars, restaurants and shops. In addition, you can use your key to charge any food, drink, memorabilia or other shop purchase within each theme park to your room – meaning you don’t need to carry cash around with you if you don’t want to. 

Furthermore, you can also charge any meal or bar bill you have within Universal City Walk® area to your room as well. 

TIP: If you are going to use this facility, and it can be really convenient to do so – it pays to keep a record of what you are spending so you’re not hit with a surprise at the end of your stay. 

Universal Globe at Orlando

At the Entrance to Universal Orlando Resort

Complimentary Delivery Service

One service we found particularly useful was the delivery service from shops to room. 

Basically, if you buy gifts or other merchandise at a shop within the theme parks, as a guest of the hotel you can have your purchases delivered direct to your room, at no extra charge. Which saves carrying things around when you’re hitting the rides. 

We used this service a few times throughout our stay and it worked perfectly. 

My son, a huge Marvel fan, made a dent in his birthday money on books and comics at the Marvel store in Universal’s Islands of Adventure®, having them sent to the room so he didn’t risk ruining them as we went on the next great rollercoaster. Similarly, both of my sons were keen to buy some treats from Honeydukes sweet shop in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ with temptation to eat them all at once removed by the delivery service. 

When you buy in a shop, present your room key and provide your details and the items will be delivered the next day to your room. 

Car Parking

If you’re renting a car during your stay, there is ample car parking space at the hotel. HOWEVER, please note that there is a daily charge for parking which you need to factor into your costings. 

Car Parking is $25 per day (plus tax).

If you are staying at Hard Rock Hotel for the duration of your holiday consider whether a car is needed (or at least whether it is needed for the entire duration). There are bus services that run to other attractions such as Wet’n’Wild and SeaWorld. 

On the other side of the coin, you may feel that you are a little more restricted if you don’t have a car and would like to venture off site for a while. Our personal choice was to have a car, bite the bullet on cost and have the freedom to drive off when we wanted. Just factor it in when booking. 

Entry and exit from the car park is controlled by your room key – swiped at the barrier. 

New to driving in the USA? You can find out some basic tips for getting around by car in Florida, with our drivers guide here.

Dining

There are a few options for food and drink on site when staying at the Hard Rock Hotel. 

Palm Restaurant – fine dining in a cool, modern setting. It’s a mix of different dining styles from classic American to Italian and offers a range of dining choices to meet most palettes, including signature lobster and steak dishes. 

Kitchen Bar & Grill – a laid back family friendly restaurant offering some really good quality food and drink. Burgers, flatbreads, pizzas and salads are all on the menu, as well as a choice of breakfast options in the morning. 

Beach Bar – a range of food and drinks for a poolside indulgence. Bar meals, snacks, soft drinks, beers and cocktails all available at a pool side table or ordered directly to your sun lounger. 

Emack & Bolio’s Marketplace – Convenience store | Coffee Shop | Snack Bar | Ice Cream Parlour | Cake Shop. This is a cool little store area to grab a pre-theme park snack or something to keep you going through the day. From Starbuck’s Coffee to award-winning ice cream and even a bowl of cornflakes or fresh croissant for breakfast. This was a very useful and well used part of the hotel on our stay. 

Velvet Bar –  For a slightly more over-21s vibe, the velvet bar is a cool hangout for cocktails, wine and music. 

Universal’s City Walk® – Don’t forget, you’re also only a 5 minute walk from the multitude of bars, restaurants, clubs and venues of the City Walk, with a range of different places to eat, drink and be merry. Family themed and adult oriented are on the doorstep including Jimmy Buffet’s Margarittaville and the iconic Hard Rock Cafe (the largest of its kind in the world). Don’t forget, you can charge bills to your room from City Walk venues. This place tends to get busy at night. 

Hard Rock Cafe Orlando

Hard Rock Cafe Orlando

To The Theme Parks

Of course, if you’re staying at the Hard Rock Hotel (or any of the other Universal resort hotels) then you’re going to be wanting to visit the parks themselves. 

Now I love Disney and will always have a soft spot for the place. But Universal Orlando is absolutely spectacular and one of those places that, as a family or couple, should simply rank as a MUST VISIT. 

And when you’re staying at Hard Rock then you are right on the doorstep of all the action. The hotel resort is a 5 minute walk from pool area to the entrance of Universal Studios®. 

Frankly, it doesn’t get any closer, or easier to gain access to the parks. 

This is particularly useful when taking advantage of the early entry to the theme parks – 1 hour before the general public – as you only have a short walk to the gate. 

It also means that you can easily leave the park for a rest and a swim back at the hotel during the day before returning for more shows and rides. 

I would strongly recommend that you sort out your Universal tickets before you leave the UK. Without doubt in my opinion, you need a multi-access ticket such as the Universal 2 or 3 Park Bonus Ticket (2 park = Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure, 3 park = these 2 PLUS Wet’n’Wild). They represent far and away the best value and complete versatility as you can come and go from the parks as often as you please during opening hours. If you want to add parks such as SeaWorld or Busch Gardens to your plans then the Orlando FlexTicket might be the way to go, offering the same come and go as you please deal across all the parks. 



Early Entry

As a Hard Rock Hotel guest you have the opportunity to enter the parks 1 hour earlier than the general public. This can be a big PLUS when it comes to enjoying the Harry Potter rides. 

Why?

Because these rides are NOT part of the Universal Express pass, meaning you have to join the regular line. 

At present Universal control entry to the early hour in a fairly specific way. 

ALL entry is via Universal Studios.

Islands of Adventure do not open their turnstiles early. Once in Universal you will need to show your room key to prove you are allowed entry and then everyone is directed in the same direction – towards  Diagon Alley™. 

If you want to get over the ‘other’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ at Islands of Adventure then you need to do so by catching the Howarts Express™ from King’s Cross Station (platform 9 3/4, naturally!). 

I would advise everyone to do this, at least once. It’s really rather wonderful. 

BIG TIP: If you plan to arrive in the early hour for the Escape from Gringott’s Ride, then I would advise that you get to the park at least 15 minutes before the opening time – you might hear this referred to as the ‘rope drop’. This ride is pretty much the only thing open at Universal Studios in the early hour and everyone is heading for it, meaning if you aren’t there at opening, then you can expect a hefty queue. 

Universal Express Pass

The Universal Express pass is the resort’s fast track / queue-busting service on the rides. 

And it is is a complimentary offering to ALL guests staying at Hard Rock Hotel (as well as Loews Royal Pacific Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel). 

In my view, this is just about the MOST VALUABLE incentives for staying at the resort. 

At the height of the season, the theme parks can get extremely crowded. Which means some very long waiting times for the best rides. Add into the mix high temperatures and humidity and queuing can be long, tiring and a real time-eater on your holiday. 

This is where the Express Pass can dramatically help. 

Express Passes can significantly reduce your queuing time – which enormously enhances your enjoyment of the parks. 

How it works

On the rides you will see 2 lines (possibly 3 as some have a single rider lane as well). One is the regular lane, the other is the Express Pass lane. Each guest will have a personalised Express Pass (with photo ID on the back) which is bar coded. At the entry point, a park attendant will scan your pass and let you through. 

PLEASE NOTE: Universal Express does not eliminate queues completely. BUT, it does dramatically reduce the time. On our visit, we worked out that a ride with a 60 minute wait time in the regular line was meant a wait of no more than 15 minutes on the Express line. Of course, it’s not an exact science and waits will vary from time to time. But the Express line is always a huge saver in comparison – in our experience. 

Remember, there are a few rides which do not accept Universal Express:

Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey™

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™ 

Pteranodon Flyers® 

TIP: on the Harry Potter rides which do NOT use Universal Express, if you don’t mind splitting up your party to experience the rides (i.e. not necessarily ride all in same carriage) then you can join the single rider lane which is often a shorter queue. As a rule we did not do this as we liked being on the ride all together. 

 

 

The Hard Rock Club Rooms

As with most resorts of similar standard there are a wide range of room standards from which to choose. At lead in level you have your standard Garden View Room (2 Queen Beds) followed by a Pool View Room. 

There’s also a range of suites you can go for if you want to splash out on some real rock’n’roll style; with 2 bedroom deluxue and family suites available.

And then we have Level 7 – the Hard Rock Club Level. 

You can upgrade your room to the 7th floor of the hotel (the top floor) and take advantage of one of the 95 exclusive club rooms. 

What does this mean?

  • Double or King-Sized Rooms with garden or pool view
  • Option of Connecting Rooms which can be good for families.
  • Unlimited Use of the Fitness
  • Access to the Exclusive ‘Club 7’ Lounge

And, while this might sound like a level of opulence too far, the reality is that often, for families – particularly with older kids and teenagers – the club room option can represent excellent value.

Why?

Because your club lounge access provides you with:

  • Complimentary continental breakfast – selection of fruits, cereals, pastries, juices, tea and coffee etc. 
  • Afternoon snacks – crisps, doritos etc
  • Evening hors d’oeuvres – anything from cheese and biscuits, chicken wings, satays, cheese balls etc
  • Sweets and other treats at nights – from cakes, ice-creams, cookies etc
  • Complimentary coffee, tea, and soft drinks – all day
  • Complimentary beer and wine in the evening
  • Discount on Cabanas

Given that much of the day will be used in the parks, these perks can be terrific value when compared to paying for snacks, food and beverages throughout the day. 

 

 

Book a Club Level Room at Hard Rock Hotel Orlando

Upgrade to a club level room from as little as £45 extra per night

Excellent value for families

Conclusion

Staying at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando is one of the highlights of our numerous trips to the region. With its close proximity to the theme parks, the super cool style of the hotel itself and the numerous added value bonuses that come with staying on-site, it’s an amazing way to experience the best of Universal if you’re a family, couple or group of friends. 

From the fantastic pool area to the complimentary Universal Express, this is a holiday that perfectly blends the excitement of the parks and the amazing rides, with comfort, quality and pure laid back rock’n’roll. 

Based on my own personal experience, and the smiles of glee from kids, wife and me, this is a hotel I’d urge anyone to sample if they can. 

Benefits of Staying at Universal Orlando® Resort

Benefits of Staying at Universal Orlando® Resort

When planning a holiday to Universal Orlando® Resort a major consideration for many is whether or not to stay at an on-site resort hotel for all or part of their visit. 

For those uninitiated into the ways of Universal, there are currently 4 official on-site resort hotels, divided into 3 categories:

 

Premier

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

Hard Rock Hotel® at Universal Orlando®

Preferred

Loews Royal Pacific Hotel

Prime Value

Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort

In addition, from Spring 2016 there’s going to be further choice with the opening of a 5th Resort site with the sumptuous looking Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, which will fall into the Preferred category. 

Each hotel will have its attractions and benefits, according to taste, wishes and, of course, budget. But if you are looking to attain the most benefit from a stay on-site at Universal then it is to the Hard Rock, Pacific Royal and Portofino Bay resorts which I would heartily recommend; offering as they do, some features which can bring added joy to your holiday and indeed, offer some real value alongside the stunning locations. 

On my last visit to Orlando my family and I opted to stay, for a small portion of the holiday, at the Loews Royal Pacific hotel. It was a wonderful experience and has tempted us back to Universal this year – albeit this time to stay at Hard Rock. 

And here are a few of the reasons why:

Early Entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™

The facility for guests to enter the theme parks an hour earlier than the general (off-site) visitors to Universal can be a major benefit when it comes to the enjoyment to be had on the rides and attractions. 

 

This is particularly so during peak seasons – typically the school holidays, Easter and any time from mid-June to early-September. 

Universal is one of the premier destinations for family holidays anywhere in the world so logic tell you that, more often than not, when you are visiting, so will lots and lots of other people. Having that extra hour to get to the rides in advance of the masses, therefore, can be huge.

This is no more evident than when experiencing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™. As you might expect, this is just about the most popular (and as a result, crowded) part of the 2 main theme parks (in fact, it links both parks together). And, with no Universal Express™ (more about this below) facility available for this part of Universal, it means everyone has to join the main queues. And they can get long – very long. 

However, as a hotel guest at Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay or Hard Rock Hotel means you can get the jump on everyone by arriving an hour earlier than the majority. Get there as the gate opens and make your way to the Harry Potter attraction you most want to experience and you can enjoy the ride with minimal queue time, giving you the rest of the day to experience the remainder of the park. 

Which can be painless and fun because of:

Complimentary Universal Express™ Passes For All Guests

Guests staying at Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Portofino Bay or Hard Rock Hotel are all entitled to complimentary Universal Express™ Passes for the entire duration of their stay at the resort. And by entire duration I mean: from the moment you arrive until the end of the day in which you’re scheduled to leave. 

I cannot stress enough how much of a benefit this facility can be. 

For those who don’t know, the Express Pass allows you to skip the main queues on most of the rides and attractions within both Universal’s Islands of Adventure® and Universal Studios®. With this pass you join your own special queue for Express Pass holders which will be considerably shorter than the main line. Considerably shorter – think 5-10 mins instead of 45-60 as a rule of thumb.

But surely everyone would get a Universal Express™ Ticket?

You’d think so, but no. For 2 very good reasons. 

First, unlike with Disney’s Fastpass+ system, this is NOT A FREE SERVICE. Universal charge for Express passes and the price of a pass for 1 day at the park can be as much as $89 per person (NOT INCLUDING THE TICKET REQUIRED TO ENTER UNIVERSAL ITSELF). 

Second, the number of Express passes issued each day is limited to ensure that they retain their time-saving value. 

To re-iterate the point: if you stay on-site you all have complimentary Universal Express passes for the entirety of your stay. Off-Site residents would need to pay up to $89 per day for the same benefit. 

And believe me, when the crowds are building on all those big rides you want to experience, this is a mighty big benefit indeed. 

NOTE: The Universal Express passes are NOT entry tickets to the parks themselves. You still have to purchase Universal Orlando tickets to get into the parks. For UK holidaymakers, I’d recommend the 2 or 3 Park Bonus Tickets or, if you are adding SeaWorld to the holiday plans, the Orlando Flex Ticket as best value and most versatile options. 

Buy Universal Orlando Tickets Online

Location, Location, Location

It’s an obvious point, I suppose, but if you are staying on-site, you cannot be better located to enjoy all the attractions, entertainment, rides and facilities. 

As a guest at Loews Portofio Bay, Royal Pacific or the Hard Rock Hotel you are no more than a short, and pleasant, walk from the two main theme parks – Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. This means, if you have purchased a Universal ticket such as the 2 or 3 park bonus ticket or the Orlando Flex ticket, you can come and go from the rides as often as you wish each and every day, with the ability to head back to your hotel for a chill out, swim or afternoon nap, as it suits. 

Additionally, you are within an easy walk of Universal’s CityWalk® – the delightful entertainment area which offers a range of attractions, eating and drinking venues and is a great way to spend an evening. 

Staying at a Universal resort hotel puts you in the heart of the action, a combination of easy access to all that you wish to experience while offering peaceful havens in the hotels themselves to relax, unwind and bring the pace down a few notches, when required. 

 

The one thing Orlando doesn’t lack when it comes to accommodation, is choice. From the villas around Kissimmee and Davenport to the hotels, apartments and resorts of International, there is a huge variety of top class accommodation to suit styles, tastes, needs and budget. 

But if all or part of your holiday is going to be based around Universal Orlando Resort, then I can only suggest that you give due consideration to the benefits of staying at a resort hotel. From convenience, comfort and all-round fun, they are really hard to beat. .

Universal Orlando Holidays

To enquire about the best holiday deals to Universal Orlando, get in touch through our online enquiry form. Full ABTA protected holidays available throughout the year including flights, accommodation, car hire and theme park tickets. 

Or, if you want to book online, you can follow the ad below to find the best rates with Booking.com

 

Discovering Sanibel Island – Florida’s Island Paradise

Discovering Sanibel Island – Florida’s Island Paradise

Sanibel Island Holidays sunset

C/o Patricia Farrell on Flickr

Heading out onto Sanibel Island and you feel the gears go down a notch.

The pace of life is slower on this idyllic stretch of land just off Florida’s Western Gulf Coast. As you might expect there’s a distinctly tropical Floridian feel to this small island paradise (and it’s smaller sister Captiva, lying adjacent). The gentle tide of the Gulf laps against stretches of soft white sand, rich for one of the islands more popular pastimes – shelling – while the arching branches of the palm trees slowly stir on a languid breeze. A million miles from the hectic pace of Orlando (or, more accurately, 160 miles away) this is the other, peaceful, chilled out side of Florida – a place to visit to unwind, kick-back, chill out and all those other phrases of similar meaning. To settle down under a parasol with a good book, to stroll barefoot along the sand, watch spectacular sunsets over the sea and take in the stunning surroundings and vibrant wildlife that packs itself into this beautiful small island.

Getting There

Aerial Shot of Sanibel Island

©ERIC SALARD via Flickr

Sanibel Island is located on the south-west region of Florida’s Gulf Coast, some 20 miles from downtown Fort Myers (12 from the Fort Myers Beach area). You can reach the island by car, taking I-75 to Exit 131 (the Daniels Parkway) and from there by heading onto the Sanibel Causeway (a toll required of $6) – the spectacular bridge highway which connects the island to the mainland. For those flying into the area the nearest airport is the Southwest Florida International Airport near Fort Myers. You can’t fly direct to this airport from the UK but connections are pretty easy – typically via New York, Atlanta or Charlotte (North Carolina) – served by all the usual airlines (BA, Virgin, Delta, American, United etc). Those travelling from further afield Tampa airport is about a 2.5 hour drive to the North while Miami is a similar distance to the South.

Sanibel Island Lighthouse

© Pat (Cletch) Williams via Flickr

The Lighthouse

One of the more prominent landmarks on the island, the Sanibel Lighthouse – or Point Ybel Light – has been a feature of Sanibel since it was erected in 1884. Located on the eastern tip of the island the lighthouse is a 98 foot tall iron skeleton tower and is, quite literally, a beacon of the island – appearing in the background of many a tourist’s photos.

J.N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary

Named after prominent cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling the sanctuary achieved national refuge status in 1976 to protect one of the nation’s largest mangrove ecosystems and, in the decades that have followed, it’s become a hugely popular place to visit for lovers of wildlife – particularly those who can’t miss a bit of bird watching. With its huge array of birdlife, with migratory birds finding their way here through the year – especially during the winter months of December to March – Ding Darling is a real haven for those looking to sample a bit of natural world America. Within the refuge there are plenty of trails to walk, ride and cycle around, taking in the sumptuous natural beauty and allowing you to get close to the diverse flora and fauna around and about.

The Sanibel Stoop

One of Sanibel’s most popular things to do on the sugar white beaches is to partake in a spot of shelling. With some stunning shells of manifold colours washing up onto the shores of the island, it has become a spot renowned for those looking to collect a few mementos of their stay. So why the ‘Stoop’? Well, that’s the name given to the bent-over, knees bent posture that you’ll see from the beach dwellers as they line the sea shore, sometimes in their hundreds, searching for their prized pastell coloured shells.

Sport & Sea Life

It might be a chilled out kind of place but there’s still plenty to do for those who are looking for a bit more of an active time of things. From golf at the South Seas Island Resort to a range of water sports at the beaches as well as plenty of opportunities to get out on the sea itself with charter sailing, leisure cruises and deep sea fishing excursions all available. And there’s even the chance to head on down to Key West for the day with rides on the popular Key West Express boat trip.

Sanibel Island Beach

© Jeremy T. Hetzel via Flickr

Sanibel Island Sunset

©Jeremy T. Hetzel on Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Of course, if you’re just looking for a bit of time to kick back, relax and indulge a little bit on your holiday then there’s plenty of that as well. It might only be a small island but there’s plenty of choice between fine and casual dining, with, as you might expect, some excellent options for those who are looking to sample some of the local seafood choices.

Staying on the Island

While there’s not a huge selection of places to stay on Sanibel (it’s on little, after all) there are hotels and self-catering options to meet most budgets. From RV and Camp Sites to budget inns and a smattering of apartment and condos to rent all the way to some of the wonderfully located beach front hotels such as the West Wind Inn or the more pampered luxury of Sanibel Harbour Marriot Hotel & Spa or the Sundial Resort & Spa.  

 

 

Take Me Down to Panama City

Take Me Down to Panama City

Panama City Beach Florida Travel Service For many Brits thinking about resorts along Florida’s idyllic Gulf Coast their minds will turn to those along the western seaboard: to Clearwater & St Pete’s, Sarasota, Naples or Fort Myers; maybe to the Keys way down in the South.

But take a peak northwards, let your eyes drift up the map and around the panhandle and you’ll likely see the name Panama City, nestling away in that little North-West stretch that we, on this side of the pond, have tended to ignore. It’s not really been out of ignorance, you understand, more out of practicality.

Over the years we’ve drawn to the attractions of Orlando, the glamour or Miami and appeal of the Keys and our routes to the state have reflected this. Those other Gulf resorts have benefited from European tourism by their proximity; it’s a fairly easy drive out to Clearwater from Orlando, for example.

It helps of course, that these resorts are beautiful destinations; from their long stretches of white sandy beach, the warm waters of the Gulf and the variety of eating, dining and accommodation on offer.

That said, however, if you are looking for an alternative place to visit then maybe it’s time to look a little north and discover the delights of Panama City. And, by the way, while it might not be the primary ‘go-to’ resort for British tourists adding a bit of beach to their theme park trip, we’re NOT talking about a sleepy little undiscovered town here. Panama City is a fully developed, lively and hugely popular American holiday resort that can offer entertainment and seaside fun for all ages. Its long (27 mile) stretch of white sand beach is the rival to many other resorts on the Gulf Coast (yes Panama City is still on the Gulf) while the town itself thrives on a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, bars and entertainment. Like Daytona over on the Atlantic Coast, Panama City Beach comes alive during Spring Break season (late Feb-late March) as thousands of students from across the US descend upon the town for a week of party-time as they let off steam on their annual jaunts away from their campuses. If you fancy joining in the late night, hard partying revelry – if that’s your thing – then give it a try. On the other hand, if it’s a more traditional chilled out beach holiday that you want to experience, whether as a family or a couple, then PCB has plenty to offer, including: [su_spacer size=”30″]

  1. A range of stunning beach side / gulf view restaurants
  2. Accommodation to match your budget from stunning beach front condos to family friendly hotels and apartments
  3. 27 miles of stunning white beaches with the warm, azure waters of the gulf lapping against the shore
  4. Boutique shopping at Pier Park with a range of cafes, ice cream parlours and restaurants
  5. Catamaran rides out to Shell Island for some amazing snorkelling and diving opportunities
  6. Amazing wildlife in the wetlands and conservation areas from tropical birds to the occasional alligator
  7. Waterpark fun at Shipwreck Island with its 65 foot Pirates Plunge
  8. On-shore or deep sea fishing excursions available right on the doorstep.

As for accessibility, well if you want to head out on a bit of a road trip from central Florida it’s about a 5 and a half hour drive – albeit a very pleasant drive through some beautiful Floridian country if you want to make a day of it. However, there is now an easy access way to get the area via flight links to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), located just 10 minutes from town. With flights from Delta Airlines available you can pretty easily add this destination to your itinerary or head straight there from one of Delta’s hubs.

To find out more about a holiday (either stand-alone or twinned with another destination) why not drop us a line here…

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