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Universal Orlando Vacation Help

Universal Orlando: I may give advice about this area on here, but I need some help this time!

From Nick Markham
Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:34 AM
So, I plan to go to Florida for UO, IOA, SWO, and BGT from July 20-27. Here are some questions:

1) Is the Loews Portofino Bay too adult-ish for a family vacation?

2) Are the restaurants at the Royal Pacific for families with picky eaters?

3) Due To the draw of fans to WWOHP, is most of IOA and USF pretty empty?

4) How busy does WWOHP get for the hour early hotel guest entrance?

5) Do you have to book your vacation on to get into the early entrance for hotel guests or can you book a resort hotel on another site like Travelocity and just use your room key?

6) Would any of you suggest a meal deal package for any of the parks I would be visiting?

7) Would you have to absolutely love water parks to go to Aquatica or Wet 'N' Wild?

8) Which is better: Wet 'N' Wild or Aquatica?

Thanks for any help to answers for any of the above questions!

Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Sunny D
Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:38 PM
I just got back from a week at Universal Orlando and stayed at the Portofino Bay. I absolutely loved the Portofino and think it would be ok for kids. There's two great pools- one main pool with a large water slide that's pretty crowded with kids and one relatively private terrace pool great for adults. Food options are wonderful as well. I think if your family has picky eaters, it may be better to stay at the Portofino as opposed to the Royal Pacific because they have more straight forward Italian "American" food. We ate a few times at Sal's Deli and they had great pizza and paninis for relatively reasonable prices.

For overall ambience I was actually more impressed by the Royal Pacific than the Portofino. I was expecting to be amazed by the landscape of the Portofino and while it was nice, it didn't have wow factor. I guess I expected more of a traditional convention hotel from Royal Pacific and was impressed by the level of detail throughout the hotel. I didn't see any of the hotel rooms though.

You can book the hotel through any 3rd party and still get express privileges by just showing your hotel key. We were down there prior to the grand opening of the WWOHP so I can't comment on how the crowds will be now that the world is open to everyone. When we were there the world was crowded by 8 AM (people were boarding the water taxis by 7:30 and we definitely felt that every hotel guest was in attendance at the park by 8 AM.

We spent 3.5 days at Universal Studios and IOA, 1/2 a day at Aquatica and 1.5 days at Seaworld and felt like we saw everything. I would suggest getting to Aquatica early. We arrived around 8:45 to a completely empty park and rode every ride 2-3 times without ever waiting in line. Moderate lines started forming by 11 AM and by 1 PM the park was really crowded. I suggest getting there early also to claim a spot in the shade. I love water parks but I think a half day is good enough at Aquatica. Hit the water slides early and then spend time later in the day at the lazy+rapid rivers and wave pools. I thought overall that Aquatica was very clean and that the staff worked really hard to maintain the park as a fun, clean, family oriented park that wasn't necessarily designed for adrenaline junkies. We got a one-meal pass at the Banana Beach cookout and thought the food was pretty good- burgers/hotdogs/pulledpork/corn/scalloped potatos. I'm not sure if the all day meal pass is worth it unless you have kids who want to get drinks all day.

I thought it was hard to see all the shows at Seaworld in one day without it getting repetitive (and hot- I knew Orlando would be hot but wow, I was dying in the 95-100 degree weather at SW). We saw Believe, Blue Horizons and Pets Ahoy on our full day there and Allure, Clyde and Seamore take Pirate Island and the Clyde and Seamore evening parody show on our half day after the morning at Aquatica. I recommend all the shows, especially the Seamore parody show. Rollercoaster wise, we didn't go on Kraken or Journey to Atlantis. I was disappointed by Manta but I think its just because I don't enjoy the sensation of lying on my belly on a coaster. It was a pretty smooth ride and had a great queue- I just don't find that I can get fully oriented while lying on my abdomen.

At IOA and Universal I would suggest not getting a meal deal as the meal options are quite limited. I think the food at City Walk is better than anything in the parks and makes for a nice break from the action. I was surprised that I liked the food at NBA City and Bubba Gump the most. Latin Quarter was pretty good but had potential to be great and the food at Margaritaville was semi-disappointing overall. There wasn't anything I would consider gourmet though (I didn't try Emeril's as I was trying to keep my budget down).

At Seaworld it seemed like the meal deal was a good choice (Voyager's had solid bbq) and the value of the deal depends on your personal values (practically speaking one person could get the all-day meal deal and get several rounds of food for the entire family as theres no strict enforcement of the rules but I think thats not quite right to do)

Hope this helps.

From Sunny D
Posted June 22, 2010 at 1:06 PM
I also thought that the hotel deals on the Loews website for extended stays (especially 6-7 nights) were better than anything I found on the travel websites (and I'm an impulsive kayak, orbitz, etc user).

From Pyra Dong
Posted June 22, 2010 at 2:47 PM
So far... USF has been empty-ish. I'm not saying it's dead... but the lines have been kind to someone like me who twitches beyond a 45-minute wait. (The RRR roller coaster still had the longest wait over all) So you can spend the whole day and ride everything.

Unfortunately, I can't speak for IOA's wait times yet.

As for water parks, I've never been a water lover (hello? PYRA? FIRE?) but you can definitely HAVE MAD FUN at either park. I think Wet n Wild has a bit more thrilling rides, but i love Aquatica more because it's more chill AND has some thrill rides. plus it's a very, very pretty park. I vote for Aquatica!!!!

From Hermione Potter
Posted June 22, 2010 at 5:30 PM
If you want to eat at the three broomsticks the meal deal isn't good there so it wouldn't be worth it.
Also, I vote Aquatica hands down. It's much cleaner and still has decent rides. (The dolphin slide is not worth it though - you go too fast to see them.)

From Nick Markham
Posted June 22, 2010 at 5:43 PM
Thanks everyone for the help, especially Sunny D. All of your answers have been perfect and will help us out so much! It still sounds like a debate between Royal Pacific and Portofino for my family (I totally want Portofino, but the rest aren't so sure). But it sounds like we'll go with Aquatica since my mom's friend is getting us (incredibly) free airline tickets (she is a flight attendant) as well as free tickets to Aquatica, Sea World, and Busch!

I am also glad the food at NBA City is good as I am an avid NBA fan! I don't think the heat will bother me as much since we are hitting 85 degrees down here in Utah in the early morning, nearing 100 by noon!

And lastly, is the Express Pass lane open on HRRR yet? Thanks everyone!

From Frank Forrester
Posted June 22, 2010 at 6:13 PM
The Express Line for HRRR isn't open yet.
You will notice a difference between the temperatures you are used to and what it will feel like in Florida. Florida like a lot of the south has a very Humid Heat and it will drain you a lot quicker then you think. It can be 90 and feel like it is over 100 degrees. You are used to a dry heat and believe me when they say drink plenty of fluids they mean it. I have grown up with it here in Virginia and have met people from the mid-west that aren't prepared for the humidity and are shock how quickly they get drained of all energy.

From James Rao
Posted June 23, 2010 at 4:27 AM
1) Is the Loews Portofino Bay too adult-ish for a family vacation? No, but why pay the extra? Royal Pacific or Hard Rock, that's the way to go for families.

2) Are the restaurants at the Royal Pacific for families with picky eaters? With Citywalk a five minute walk away, does it matter?

3) Due To the draw of fans to WWOHP, is most of IOA and USF pretty empty? Dunno as I haven't been since WWOHP opened.

4) How busy does WWOHP get for the hour early hotel guest entrance? Dunno as I haven't been since WWOHP opened.

5) Do you have to book your vacation on to get into the early entrance for hotel guests or can you book a resort hotel on another site like Travelocity and just use your room key? As long as you stay on site, no matter where you book your reservation, you can use your room key as an Express Pass.

6) Would any of you suggest a meal deal package for any of the parks I would be visiting? Not unless you only like fast food - and with so many fine eating establishments, why lock yourself in to endless days of chicken nuggets and burgers?

7) Would you have to absolutely love water parks to go to Aquatica or Wet 'N' Wild? If you don't like water parks, just use your resort pool. All three of the onsite hotels have great pools.

8) Which is better: Wet 'N' Wild or Aquatica? Aquatica is newer, cleaner, and more family friendly. Wet 'N' Wild is a bit more thrilling. However, I would probably go to Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon instead.

From Tony Duda
Posted June 23, 2010 at 3:04 PM
6 isn't true at Busch Tampa. If you will be there all day, it looks like a good deal. Steaks, ribs, chicken as well as the fast food stuff. As much as you want as long as you keep going through the line.

From Nick Markham
Posted June 23, 2010 at 3:25 PM
So we have booked Loews Portofino Bay. Two questions:

Does it offer complimentary shuttle service between the hotel and airport?

EDIT: Found my answer to the other!

From Melissa Donahue
Posted June 25, 2010 at 9:27 AM
Nick - I just got off the phone with Universal, and no, they don't provide a shuttle service to and from the airport. The sales rep recommended Mears shuttle. I have the toll-free number if you want it. (I head down to Portofino next week, and I was trying to figure out the same thing!)

From Kristin A
Posted June 25, 2010 at 12:47 PM
This was going to be my next question here as well. I was thinking of taking a taxi from the airport instead of Mears. That way we can quickly get to the hotel instead of waiting for the bus. Has anybody else done this? How much is the taxi? I was thinking around $40. Thanks!

From Melissa Donahue
Posted June 25, 2010 at 1:05 PM
Kristin - My husband & I have cabbed it from the airport to both Disney & Universal property in past years, and I recall it being closer to $50-60 one way. I'm sure Mears is cheaper per person, but you will most likely have to make additional stops at other resorts on your way. For convenience purposes, the taxi is the way to go, but it's more expensive.

From Nick Markham
Posted June 27, 2010 at 7:20 AM
I've checked on Mears and both of what is said above is true: It is cheaper per person ($24.99 round trip), and you do make stops at other resorts. However, that could be my favorite part, as I always hope my resort is last so I can see what other cool ones look like.

I mean lets say, for some crazy reason, everyone else on board is at Disney. Then you would get to see what all of those hotels look like before heading to Universal (probably won't be that extreme, but you never know)

Anyway a couple questions:

Will Quick Queue passes for both Busch and Ea World be of great help?

Has anyone ever experienced the $10 Busch Gardens Shuttles the park owns that transports guests at Orlando area hotels to BGT? Is it a good service?

What shows are worth viewing at the parks?

And lastly, will Universal 360 be running when I'm there?

From April C
Posted June 27, 2010 at 10:27 AM
I can only answer a few of your questions.

I would definitely suggest not missing the Horror Make-Up Show, especially if you're able to go either the 22nd/23rd/24th (my favorite actor and who I think is the best works these days and it's always guaranteed to be a great show), that's even better. Beetlejuice is pretty good as well, I suppose. Not my favorite, but still decent.

Universal 360 will be running while you're here. I believe it finishes up sometime in August.

From Kristin A
Posted June 27, 2010 at 12:46 PM
I called Mears taxi service, and she said from the airport to our hotel (Royal Pacific) is about $33. We plan to take a taxi now rather than the shuttle, because I don't want to stop at other resorts. We are flying in and will only get a half day to explore US that day, so we want to do as much as possible to make the ticket worth it. But if you have time to explore, it's always fun to see other resorts!

From Nick Markham
Posted June 28, 2010 at 7:05 PM
Thanks April, your answers help a bunch! Also' I am thinking of doing Aquatica in the morning of one day and then Wet n' Wild from 5 PM that day to closing since Aquatica will be free for us and the Wet n Wild admission is cut to $20 for half day attendance. Plus we will already be in our swim suits! So what do you think?

From C Schmuck
Posted June 28, 2010 at 8:55 PM
Taxi to USF is $40-45. Depending on number of people, this is a better deal than $24 pp for mears. Nothing against Mears, except that they require a return at least 3 or 4 hours before your flight. considering its a 20+ minute drive, you can spend at least another hour or two by taking taxi.

From Nick Markham
Posted June 29, 2010 at 7:53 AM
^Thanks, but still, is a Taxi 40 dollars round trip? Plus it is generally smaller than Mears transportation which would not work out for our larger group, and one should be at the airport a couple hours before flight to get through security and have time to find a seat to wait in and get a snack.

But I see your point. I would probably take a taxi if I went alone, but being almost 15, that won't be happening anytime soon. ;D

From Brady Allen
Posted June 30, 2010 at 5:03 PM
We take Mears every time we go to Universal for HHNs. There are multiple Mears vans so sometimes you ride with people to other resorts and sometimes you by yourself. Since you have a family I'd say you would have. You own van. It seems that we went to Universals hotels first before we went to off property sites. The drivers are extremely friendly and recommended things for us to do. They also give you a pick up time at your hotel to go back to the airport so you do not have to worry about calling a cab.

From Nick Markham
Posted July 1, 2010 at 9:01 AM
^It sounds like Mears will work out great!

Also, how strictly does Universal, Sea World, and Busch enforce their loose items in lockers rule as my sister is diabetic and has to have her bag with her at all times? Would they let her on with it if we explained?

From Nick Markham
Posted July 4, 2010 at 12:32 PM
Okay, I've decided to give some time before my trip for anyone to post anything they would want me to take pictures of to put on TPI!

From more WWOHP to the new coaster coming along at Busch, you can ask to see anything at the following areas, and I will post pictures as soon as possible:

-Loew's Portofino Bay
-Universal Studios Florida
-Islands of Adventure
-Wet n' Wild Orlando
-Sea World Orlando
-Busch Gardens Tampa

So let's hear what you guys (and girls) want to see!

From Adam Nodjomian
Posted July 4, 2010 at 2:41 PM
If you could get some pics of the inside of the Three Broomsticks and the queue for dragon challenge that would be great. I haven't really seen these anywhere.

From Nick Markham
Posted July 14, 2010 at 6:42 PM
Well, it has been awhile, but anyone have anything to say about the Busch Gardens Meal Deal as well as the if the tours there are worth going to.? Just one week until I am on a plane to Orlando!

From Tony Duda
Posted July 14, 2010 at 6:56 PM
Busch Tampa has a meal deal, free dining with a full priced 1 day ticket. It's all you can eat at most places (except baby backed ribs) as long as you go through the line for a entree platter. No stocking up and no sharing. Their web site has details.

From Nick Markham
Posted July 16, 2010 at 3:21 PM
One last minute emergency: We know are going to be arriving via Tampa International Airport, and while I thought it was only 45 minutes away like Busch Gardens, it is actual over 1 hr 30 min! Any knowledge about transportation to and from the airport and our hotel, Portofino Bay? This is urgent!!!

From Melissa Donahue
Posted July 16, 2010 at 3:29 PM
Does Mears Shuttle go out that far? I'd check their website. Otherwise, that's going to be one expensive cab ride.

From Nick Markham
Posted July 19, 2010 at 10:28 AM
Okay, well one last happy and excited post in this thread from me before I start a new one for the trip which I hope I will be able to consistently update on vacation.

First off, we have found a way to arrive to the Orlando International Airport helping out as far as expensive transportation from Tampa. This brings along more good news of having one more day in Orlando meaning one more day of coverage for you guys!

Other than that, I hope to be able to post pictures and trip reports as often as possible, even if they are just short little updates.

Here is the itinerary I've come up with that I think will work well, especially since we will have either Express Passes or Quick Queue passes for all parks except Aquatica. Also, might need help on a couple days deciding the best possible park.

Tuesday: Arrive/Check-In (Anyone know good cheap hotels around MCO in case we can't add a night onto Portofino Bay?)

Wednesday: USF or IOA?

Thursday: USF or IOA?

Friday-Tuesday: USF, IOA, BGT, SWO, Aquatica, (Wet n' Wild possibly) (how would any of you suggest I balance this out)

Wednesday: Depart/Check-Out

Any help here TPI'ers!?

From Michael Smith
Posted July 19, 2010 at 11:40 AM
"Also, how strictly does Universal, Sea World, and Busch enforce their loose items in lockers rule as my sister is diabetic and has to have her bag with her at all times? Would they let her on with it if we explained?"

From my experience they are pretty strict with this rule on the attractions that require it. I've never been in your sister's situation though. I'm not sure what kind of bag it is.. if it is a fanny pack they may allow it, if they can even see it, since it is secured to your waist. Anything bigger and they would probably make you use the lockers outside of the ride. If you are worried about not being able to get into the locker quickly in an emergency, then they would probably make you do a "child swap" with the bag.

From Nick Markham
Posted July 19, 2010 at 7:47 PM
^Well, let's hope they don't try that seeing as to how we have laws that protect her from that. Plus, she rode all of the coasters in SFMM, Lagoon, and Knott's Berry Farm with no problem. It is a small enough bag and she is a small enough person! :)

Can't believe this, but our flight has now moved from leaving at 7:00 PM to 6:45 AM!! I think I will be so excited, though, that waking up early should be no problem!

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