Universal Resort Vacation:
Every summer we look forward to a family vacation that will win the approval of all three of our children. Last year, we decided to go to Disney World – with a three year old. We saw pictures of cute babies in strollers, so we were convinced that it would be possible to get through a trip like that successfully. (On the other hand, if anything can go wrong, the Pallaci Family will make sure that it does.) Disney was a fun time, but the blistering heat and suffocating humidity made our August trip an even split of perfection and hell. But, hey, each year is a learning experience, and it gives us the opportunity to take new information and adjust our approach. For instance, we planned our trip for this year for July. Just a handful of days make all the difference.
Another thing that we changed this time around was deciding to stay at a connected resort. After last year, we learned that ending the day at a park by trekking back to our car and driving to a hotel was brutal. BRU. TAL. It’s hot, your legs hardly work anymore, and the kids are exhausted. We thought saving some money would be all worth it in the end. Ah, to be young and full of hope. Well, no more! Gone are the days of schlepping to some nationwide hotel with our hopes and dreams in tatters! We learned our lesson, and we aren’t looking back.
This year, we knew we were heading to Universal in Orlando, so that narrowed our hotel search significantly: Universal has 7 on-site resort hotels. Honestly, any resort would do, but, for us, Loew’s Sapphire Falls Resort was a no-brainer. Let me tell you why:
First, it’s affordable, but it’s also beautiful! Waterfalls, lush greenery, and the Caribbean theme just scream “vacation.” The rooms and common areas are alive with tropical colors and décor. There are even ruins located around the resort that go above and beyond to sell the atmosphere of the resort. It was so fun walking to the pool and finding a sphere-shaped room with aged “ruins” in the center of a spiral staircase! Speaking of the pool, the lounge chairs are stationed on sand, which makes you feel like you’re on a sandy beach. The Florida heat does its part in selling the illusion.) Even if we weren’t going to Universal, this resort would be one I’d happily stay at just because it made us feel like we were worlds away. Believe me, when you see this place, your blood pressure starts to go down.
Water Taxis, Buses and Walk-Ways
When we first pulled up to the portcullis to leave our car with valet, I smiled as our car was driven away for safe-keeping for the next 4 days. We literally didn’t need, or want, to drive for 4 days! I can’t even tell you how freeing that is. Everything we needed was literally provided by the resort, so buh-bye, car! On top of that, the water taxi port was right on the other side of our room window. We walked a few yards, hopped on a water taxi and we were dropped off right in the middle of Universal’s City Walk. Since you don’t need a ticket to access Universal’s City Walk, we spent our first evening shopping and having dinner at one of the awesome restaurants there. No car required! Water taxis show up about every 15 minutes, so the wait is incredibly manageable – especially if you consider that you don’t have to deal with walking in from a parking lot. If it rained, the water taxis shut down, but there are other options. Bus shuttles and even rickshaws cart guests to the main entrance of City Walk. We took a bus one day, and appreciated the convenience; however, it’s not as timely as the water taxis, since the shuttles stop at other resorts. We used a walkway on our way back one day, and we loved the scenic route and darting geckos. It’s great to have so many options for gaining access to your hotel and the park! When you have a group of tired kids, knowing that you can get to where you need to be without a hassle is such a relief!
If room service and water taxis aren’t enough to spoil you, having two amazing restaurants right outside of your door will do it. We went to Amatista Cookhouse for breakfast and dinner during our stay and had such nice experiences. For breakfast, they offer a large buffet with a nice range of breakfast staples, but we opted to order off of the menu. Mainly because I saw that they have Heirloom Tomato Benedict, and I can’t say no to poached eggs. On the night that we went for dinner, we opted to sit outside, and my hair suffered the wrath of Florida’s humidity. I just couldn’t resist outdoor dining and an ice cold beer. The restaurant that really blew me away was Strong Water Tavern. The menu and décor, like the hotel, are Caribbean inspired, which means that their rum options are prime. The service, drink recommendations, and tapas style dishes just made our night. My only regret was discovering this restaurant at the end of our stay! One more thing to consider is that you may want to have a glass (or two) of liquid courage before heading into the park – with your kids and mega crowds – for several hours, and guess what? You can, because you don’t have to drive! Thanks, water taxi. Regardless of the reason, you’ll be grateful that these restaurants are right there at your fingertips.
Staying at a Universal Resort affords you various perks, like a card that's linked directly to your credit card. Sure, this could be a bad thing if you happen to have someone in your group that thinks it’s reasonable to purchase a $50 sweatshirt on the hottest day of year, but I digress. The convenience still saved us so many headaches. Basically, any location in the park and resort that has a register accepts this form of payment. This means that when you want a water bottle or big ticket item, you don’t have to search through your bag or wallet, just show the bar code from the card (we kept ours on lanyards around our necks), and you’re off. Speaking of purchases and perks, any register will take your purchases from you and send them directly to your hotel room within several hours. Remember that heavy, ridiculously hot sweatshirt that I mentioned earlier? Yup, it went into a bag, we gave our room info, and it was sent over so that we didn’t have to lug it around the (hot, hot) park for the day! As a mom who gets stuck playing the role of pack mule for the family, I absolutely appreciate this service. My hands were free to take pictures, hold hands, and grab a Duff Beer without going through the typical bag balancing act. Oh, and let’s not forget what it’s like to have bags while taking your toddler to the bathroom. Exactly.
Listen, at the end of the day, if you’re visiting Florida to go to Universal, chances are that you need a hotel. I’m only trying to tell you that you should seriously, seriously consider staying at one of their resorts. You can find a resort hotel that cover a range of prices, but the big picture stays the same: convenience matters, and time is money. Even if you could find a cheaper hotel elsewhere, consider the time you’re spending on traveling, parking, walking, searching, listening to griping from your exhausted children, etc., etc.. Do yourself a favor and start out ahead of the game, because, let’s face it, so much can go wrong on a vacation. I don’t even want to open old wounds by giving you examples, but let’s just say that I’m speaking from experience. I hope that this has helped out when considered staying at a Universal Resort.
Best of luck and remember to enjoy!
** If you'd like to plan a visit from the Pallaci clan to your place of business, shoot me an email and I'll get back to you!