So much for a daily play-by-play! I can not believe how busy last week was. I did find time every day to do a small photo dump to Instagram, but I never checked my email, blogged, or did any other maintenance of my digital life which means today is going to be FAN-FREAKIN-TASTIC! 900 emails, here I come!
I think I’ll need to break down our trip into several blog posts so I’m really sorry to those of you who couldn’t give two flying craps about our trip. Hopefully by next week I’ll have it all out of my system if you just want to stay away another 7 days. But! If you’re curious about it or thinking about making your own similar trip (even to Disney, a lot of this would relate to that as well), you’ll love these next 7 days!
I’m going to start by telling you some of the things that “made” the trip, or at least made it significantly easier/better. Some of the things we planned, some we didn’t and just lucked upon. Also? I may add random photos throughout just to show them off since I can’t provide perfect context for everything. Like this great photo!
The Hotel: Cabana Bay
We decided early on to stay on site as many of you told us that and it was the best advice. It allowed us to get a package deal which, overall, definitely made the cost of the on-site hotel a lot less different that just comparing it’s per night to the cost of another per night elsewhere. But it gave us access to the shuttles to get us to/from and this turned out to be KEY because it allowed us to go early, take a mid-day break, and return again later. The days we did this we were able to miss the peak line times. If we had been in our own car and staying in a hotel a little further away, this would have been a headache and we would have just been stuck there all day. But this hotel also gave us that hour-early entrance to Hogsmeade and this was my FAVORITE part of the trip. That hour early meant we could A) Practice our spells without long lines or crowds at each spot, B) Ride the rides we loved without any wait, C) Get tons of pictures without crowds in them and D) Get on the earliest train over to Diagon Alley to be there when it opened to enjoy the same low-crowd benefits there.
But – on top of all of the conveniences it offered – the hotel itself was great. We had a suite which we really needed with 3 adults and 2 kids. There were two great pools, one with a water slide and one with a lazy river and EVERY NIGHT they showed movies by the pool. This turned out to be the perfect end to every day, letting the kids swim and watch part of a movie (we never finished them) while we swam some nights, and other nights just got took a beer (from our own fridge) in a plastic cup out to the pool to relax at the end of the day. If we go back again (our dream would be to go back again in 3 years) we’ll stay in the same place, we loved it.
We would have not had as easy of a time planning moment to moment without the Universal Studios App. It was GREAT. It showed you wait times that were pretty accurate, show times, and gave you walking directions WITH PHOTOS to get from any point. My favorite thing was that you could make a restaurant or a show or a ride a “favorite” and then look at those all at once. After day 03 I made a list of favorites of all of the things everyone wanted to make sure they did the last few days and we just pulled up that list constantly to see what wait times were the shortest etc. I highly recommend the App!
The Battery Pack
However, make sure you tell your phone to only keep the location services going when you’re using the app, and then make sure the close the app every time you’re done with it because it drains the HELL out of your iPhone battery. I was already draining batteries quickly with the constant taking of photos, so I had to really watch the app. But this is why I’m so grateful I had the battery pack I bought for Donnie’s Ironman in September. This is the one we used and it charges two phones at once. I carry it in a kind “hard” pencil pouch that I found during school supply season for $1. It’s not a box, but it’s not a bag, it provides some protection but isn’t too heavy. It’s big enough that you could even plug in the phone to charge and put it back in the container for awhile. Donnie and I would have been in trouble every day without that charging pack.
The Wand Bag
Wesley took this photo outside of the Leaky Cauldron and you’ll notice I’m carrying two bags. I planned this, but it turned out to be perfect for reasons I didn’t predict. I knew I wanted to carry my purse because it’s quick/easy access to my Nikon and my wallet and it has zipper pouches where I was able to keep things like the kids tickets at quick grab. (You have to have the tickets to get between the parks using the Hogwarts Express.) But the bag slung over my back, I mainly carried that for the battery pack. That battery pack wouldn’t fit in my purse with everything else, so I decided to bring this bag too. I stopped carrying that bag a long time ago because it’s not really easy access. It hangs over your packs so you basically have to take it off to get stuff out of it because the zippers are at a slant and if you try to do it while wearing it, stuff falls out. BUT! It would be perfect for the battery pack and I could just wear it and not think about it.
You can see it a little better in this picture. But you know what it turned out to be perfect for? FIVE WANDS. You really only wanted/needed your wands in the HP parts of both parks, but throwing them in a backpack or a purse might cause them to get damaged. The tips are sensitive (although we took two to Olivander’s for “repair” and they “repair” them at no cost/trouble) so you don’t really want them getting slammed around too much. I was so grateful for that bag after we bought our wands! It was the perfect size and kept the wands safe and easy to retrieve when the need arose.
Universal gives you these flimsy tickets to use for every day of your trip and I knew on day 01 that they’d be worse for the wear by the end of the 7 days. So, Donnie and I bought lanyards to carry those and our room keys in because you have to have your room key for early access to Hogsmeade. I kept the kids stuff in my purse because it wouldn’t all fit in the lanyard, but for the most part, those lanyards made things much easier. You obviously wouldn’t have to buy them there, but I thought it was a great souvenir.
You can see us both wearing them here, on the Hogwarts Express. He got Spiderman, I got Ravenclaw. Nikki ended up using her souvenir money to buy a Ravenclaw one too, but I only let her keep her souvenir gift card in there and her room key, those admission tickets were so flimsy and IMPORTANT I wanted to keep them on me at all times!
Souvenir Gift Cards
We gave the kids their souvenir money on Universal Gift Cards and didn’t give it to them until day 03. This way they were in charge of spending, keeping up with the money. And if it seemed like an impulse buy we thought they’d regret, we’d step in. We did that with Wes who insisted that he was DYING for this little Universal Studios Waist Bag – made him wait a whole day – and he still bought it and it’s his favorite thing from the trip! They both picked out an assortment of things from different places in the parks. The cards were perfect because it wasn’t cash, but it still kept them in budget without us having to think about it.
That’s a good round-up of the things we did that made the trip a lot better in ways we might or might not have anticipated. I’ll do more round-ups throughout the week of things you don’t want to miss in the Wizarding Worlds (the secret treasures, so to speak) and hidden costs you don’t expect. I hope this isn’t too boring for most of you!
Now! To the grindstone!