Makes Me Happy

Be My Tour Guide!



So, if you’re new here let me tell you something: We don’t vacation. The last “vacation” we took – meaning a week gone elsewhere – was in 2009. We take long weekends here and there, usually surrounding races and rarely with all 5 of us, but we never take full-week type beach vacations. The main reason for this is because we spend so much money on racing and the training/gear that goes into that. If you’ll recall, we spent $1600 on race fees ALONE last year. That’s not including gear or travel expenses or coaching. AND – that was a light year. This year we have an Ironman which is about $700 just to register, not to mention the lodging and travel and coaching and gear that goes into training and prepping and participating in the Ironman.

Imagine what you spend on your annual family vacation? And we spend that on racing.

And we’re okay with that!

BUT! We do miss vacations. So, Donnie decided if we planned ahead and maybe went ahead and allocated some savings, we could take a vacation next year. And guess where he said we should go? THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER!

Now! We went to Disney in 2010 with Team in Training, but WWoHP was not open yet. We could see Hogwarts off the highway, but that was it. And we were only there for 5 days (and one day was racing) so even if WWoHP had been open, we probably wouldn’t have had time to go.

But next year – the week of July 14th to be precise – we will be going. We have already decided we’re probably not going to try to do Disney AND Universal Studios in one trip. We think that would be too much. (Unless you convince us otherwise.) But we need help! We do not do this and MAN there is tons of information available online. We think we want to stay on site, even if it’s more, because we want to take advantage of the early/late hours. We’d like to stay somewhere with a pool (they probably all have pools) so that we can take some “decompress days”. But really, we’re open to suggestions. We want to save money, but we also want to take advantage of some of the “package” deals that often cost the most money. This is going to be my 40th birthday extravaganza, so this is not the trip we’re wanting to scrimp on. I want to do any of the “Breakfast at 3 Broomsticks” or whatever else they offer. But we don’t want to just throw money at stupid stuff.

We also need to know what NON-Harry Potter stuff we should do.

So! Give me your tips! What did you love! What should we not waste money on? Where did you stay? Did it have a pool? How do the park tickets work. Can we get like – a 3 days pass – but use it non-consecutively? We’d like to go to the park one day, and then take one day decompressing at the hotel. Then go to the park again the next day. Donnie and I like different things about parks, but neither of us love them. Crowds make us crazy after awhile (hence they early/late hour necessity) so we’d like to go every other day. Have you ever done Disney and Universal in one trip? Is there a way to do it that won’t make you A) Crazy or B) Homeless?

GIVE US YOUR TRAVEL TIPS? And start the countdown. I’m going to turn 40 in the most amazing way imaginable!

19 thoughts on “Be My Tour Guide!”

  1. Ok, so I’m a bit of a Universal pro, since my brother works there (as the conductor of the knight bus, so you will probably run into him!) We’ve been there a bunch of times, and I would totally recommend staying on property if you can. We waited in line for about 10 minutes to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Jourmey during the early entrance time, and later on when the park was full open the line jumped to over an hour. Plus staying on site gets you unlimited Express passes at all but one of the hotels. Also a big, big plus to have on hand. Those two factors have made the biggest differences in our park experiences. If you decide to only stay at Universal for a few days while you’re visiting the park, there is a great neighborhood that is Disney adjacent called Windsor Hills that rents condos and houses. They all have pools, they have a great community pool and lots of playgrounds, and it’s about as close to Disney as you can get without staying on property. We go down a lot, and have done both parks, so please feel free to email me if you have any questions! The parks can be so much fun, but you spend so much money. I completely undersatnd why you want to plan out all of the deatails in advance!

  2. I don’t have actual advice from a “been there done that” perspective. But, I will say that my feeling on trips to Disney or Universal when done by people who don’t do them on a yearly or frequent basis is to try and do them all on site. When we finally take a Disney trip I want to experience all things Disney and for my kids to get that as well, because we are NOT the types to go every year. I want the towels folded into Mickey ears, I want the character breakfasts, I want to do all the things. Also, anyone like Amy Jo above who goes often and has behind the scenes access is someone I would definitely get to know. We had a friend who did go often take us to Animal Kingdom and it was awesome because he knew a ton of info.

  3. YES! When I did Disney with Team In Training, they put me on site so we got all of that stuff. It was amazing!!!!!!

  4. You are going to love it there! When I walked through the arch and saw Hogwarts I felt like I was home. Yes, I know I am a nerd. We went this past November. Anyway, we splurged and stayed on site at the Lowes Royal Pacific just so we could get the early admission and it was totally worth it. We had done everything in that part of Universal by lunchtime. The hotel was very nice and within walking distance of the park; there was also a boat we took back to the hotel after walking around the park. We were able to buy the park tickets in the lobby of the hotel and there were different packages. We were only going the one day so we didn’t have to get any ‘deal’ packages. There is a website called Undercover Tourist that sells them ahead of time and I think they have a pick up desk in the on site hotels. I’m pretty sure you can get the hotel and tickets in packages from Universal, too.
    Eating at Three Broomsticks is awesome! The food was tasty and the atmosphere was so cool. Everyone who works in the parks is completely into their roles. I had researched the trip and read several places to get in the line for Ollivanders Wand Shop first because the line moves so slowly. We stood there for maybe 10 minutes while everyone else flew past us to the big ride at Hogwarts. But later the line was miles long, so we were happy we had waited. I had the best time there and my only regret is that Diagon Alley wasn’t open yet. I am going to have to go back some day!
    Back to the hotel, we only stayed there for the part of the week we were going to Universal. Even if you aren’t checking in until that afternoon, they will give you the early admission and hold your luggage for you so it doesn’t have to stay in the hot car. They will do that on check out day as well. We checked out before going to the park, left our bags with them, had fun, then came back and loaded up the car. That way you don’t necessarily have to blow your whole vacation budget on that one hotel. We Just couldn’t afford to stay there the whole week.

  5. My 5 year old and I just went to Orlando this past May for 4 days and had a blast! We did Universal and Disney. From his viewpoint, Disney’s Hollywood Studios was the most fun, mainly because he got to see Darth Vader and the Storm Troopers. His least favorite was Universal, but we only went to Islands of Adventure…aka Harry Potter World, which was pre-Diagon Alley and was kind of a disappointment to both the son and I as it was more shopping and less entertainment. We’re more of a Star Wars family, though. My best advice is to get the Park Hopper option and, with youngish kids, you can definitely just do one day passes (because of height restrictions, scariness levels, and disinterest, we were only able to do about 1/3-1/2 of any of the parks). We’d go to one park as soon as it opened, go back to the hotel for lunch/naps, and then go to the other park until it closed.

    We stayed at Wyndam Lake Buena Vista, which is a part of the Disney resorts. It was great because there were free shuttles to all of the Disney places and, I think, a paid shuttle to Universal (we rented a car). Also the pool has a splash zone that was great; my son wanted to leave Magic Kingdom to go back to the pool!

  6. We just got back from WWofHP a couple weeks ago! It was a surprise for our 8 year old daughter, but the whole fan loved it. We stayed at Drury Orlando which is right next to Universal. The price for the hotel was amazingly cheap and included breakfast and dinner and even two drinks each. They have a shuttle that takes you to Universal, but we have a stroller and a baby so we drove in our own car and parked in Universal’s parking garage. Super easy. We did the HP part of the park per everyone’s suggestion, but actually found all the lines were shorter there later in the day. Eat at the 3 Broomsticks and get the Feast for 4…we couldnt even finish it and it kept us full all day! Oh, and the SpiderMan ride is also a cant miss.

  7. I went to the Disney World a few years when my sister and brother visited me from Japan. I have a really good guidebook that has been already highlighted and marked with several post-it notes. I know there are a lot of online resources, but when I travel, I like to go old school, the paper guidebook that I can carry everywhere with me. I have a spread sheet to organize the restaurant reservations in each day and each meal. If you want to eat at a sit-down restaurant, you want to go ahead and make a reservation NOW. If you change your mind later on, just cancel the reservation. I also have word documents I put together for each park in Disney to show what would be the things to do which are ranked and prioritized. We stayed in the hotel in Animal Kingdom. It is not a cheap hotel, but you can see animals hanging out from your own room. They have pool, and one of the best restaurants in the park there. I recommend to purchase meal plan with tickets. If you want me to email you the spreadsheet and word documents, let me know. I will send you those. I still have the guidebook too, so if you want to borrow that, let me know. I can bring it to you at the next book club. I am such a geek and nerd about vacation planning. I sometimes think the planning a vacation might be a part of a vacation for me πŸ˜€

  8. I have no travel tips but I just wanted to say “yay, that sounds fantastic!” because it does πŸ™‚ Everyone I know who has been to the Wizarding World says it is so much fun and totally worth the money.

  9. I’m a total nerd who loves reading about Disney planning processes (I haven’t been since I was a kid, but Manfriend and I will make it there someday!). Keep us posted on your plans! πŸ™‚



  11. Ohh, I’m so excited for you! We have done Disney the last five years and I guess you could do WDW and Universal the same trip, but it will be exhausting. We have only ever done WDW and plan on doing a Universal and HP trip by itself soon. We stay onsite for the transportation (free shuttle, no driving in that madness). Check Groupon and livingsocial. I’ve seen a couple places Universal adjacent running deals recently, that did the whole free shuttle to the parks and outlet malls, breakfast everyday. I think if you stay onsite at Universal though, you get some sort of a fastpass where you don’t ever wait in lines. I’m not 100% sure about that, but that’s what my cousin who went there said. Look for a groupon (or the like) for the Starwood Hotels. Ithink that is the one I saw that was right next to the park, as in some rooms had a view or the rides.

  12. I think staying on site would be a good idea. We stayed in “nearby” offsite hotels in Orlando when we went for the last shuttle launch. It was so crowded and so hard to get anywhere that we ended up going home a day early instead of going to any of the parks. We have spent one day at Disney when we were down for another launch. The fast passes would have been great if we’d known about them in time! We got one for the last ride on Splash Mountain. My husband is decidedly not an amusement park person.

  13. Staying on property is a great idea! They just opened a new resort called Cabana Bay that is more reasonably priced than their other hotels. They offer regular rooms and also suites. My brother and his family just stayed at this hotel for 4th of July weekend and loved it. It has two huge pools, one with a slide and a lazy river, bowling, an arcade, etc. You will def want the ability to get into the park early by staying on property, the lines for all the Harry Potter stuff get crazy. This way you can go in the morning, then once the crowds get crazy go back to the hotel and relax. You can buy multi day tickets, the more days the bigger the discount. You can get passes that you visit both parks each day or for a little less get multi day tickets that only let you visit one park. In order to take the Hogwarts Express and actually get off of it I believe you would need to ticket that allows you to enter both parks on the same day. If you like water parks I would also recommend Wet n’ Wild which is very close to Universal. I believe in the summer they have an evening pass that is cheaper but still gives you time to go on all the rides. My dad and my 13 year old son recently went to Gatorland (which is closer to Disney) and they loved it!

  14. We have done WDW and Universal 2 trips each place in that last few years. I would focus on one or the other. It can easily take a day at each park. (WDW has what 4 or 5 now?) we stayed on site and were able to take advantage of those in park perks too for staying onsite. Early hours was great and we’d go to whatever the open early park that morning go back and swim and rest mid day and then hit the late hours at the other park. 2 of your your kids are young enough where I don’t know if I’d do a meal plan or not, I never could justify the out of pocket money on that part. I can’t wait to see what you decide!

  15. I’ve found the Touring Plans blog to have tons of useful posts on planning for both Disney and Universal. Good luck!

  16. We have used Wendy at for the past few trips including disney, harry potter, and cruises. Amazing. We pay our down payment and then just pay as we can or have extra towards the balance we always book a year in advance. She is amazing to work with finding you the best deals helping you plan whats best for your family. She priced and showed us why and why nots of staying on universal property it was an amazing trip.

  17. Downtown Disney is really fun (and free, with free parking!) you can learn new dance moves, try free chocolate from Ghirardelli, go on a boat ride, and if you time it right, you can see the fireworks from the parks

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