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15 Top Tips and Tricks for Visiting Theme Parks

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I have visited many theme parks, thankfully without enduring massive queues or spending a fortune. Check out my top tips for visiting theme parks and maybe you can too.

 

 

1. Book your tickets in advance

This may sound obvious but booking tickets in advance is one of the top tips for visiting theme parks! Tickets are ALWAYS dearer at the entrance to a theme park and you don’t have to queue! Attraction Tickets Direct have the LOWEST theme park ticket rates on the web, with free delivery and no credit card fees.😎 

Attraction Tickets Direct also offer many combination tickets that are not available to buy at the gate. You may get 2 days for the price of 1, or get discounted tickets to multiple theme parks, that are only available on their website. If you prefer to book by phone or are confused about what tickets to buy, why not call the expert staff in Attraction Tickets Direct’s Dublin office. They are open from 9am-9pm, 7 days a week, call free on 1800 936 640. All they sell is theme park tickets and hotels, so they know all the theme parks inside out!

 

 

 

2. Research, research research.

I can’t stress this enough. You WON’T be able to go on every ride, no matter how fit you are, or how small the theme park is. Check the height and or age restrictions before you go, so you can rule out rides that are not applicable for your children. Not only will this save you time, but by preparing your kids in advance you may avoid any upset, if they are too small to go on a top attraction. Mark the attractions that are ‘must see’ and go for them first. Check the times of shows or parades and decide what you want to see. Rides are usually quieter during parades, so bear that in mind if the parade is repeated and take advantage.

top tips for visiting theme parks

 

3. Parking tips:

Before you decide to drive, check the price of the parking. In some cases it can be exorbitant. It may be quicker and cheaper to take a shuttle bus to the park. If you do decide to drive, take note of where you parked. You will probably arrive at the park early, when the car park may be somewhat empty. Leaving however is a different story, so if you don’t know you where you parked your car, you could be in for a long night!

 

4. Bring supplies.

If there are water rides, bring swim suits and if you don’t want to get wet bring a poncho. A waterproof casing for your phone is also a good idea, as is a powerbank for your phone. You will probably take hundreds of pictures so you will want to re-charge it. Bring snacks, they will come in handy when you are waiting in line for a long time, and will be a lot cheaper than buying snacks in the park. A lightweight back pack is ideal as sunglasses and phones are not allowed on some of the fast rollercoasters. Most parks have lockers available, take advantage of this rather than carrying a bag around all day. If travelling during the summer time – don’t forget your sunscreen!

tips for visiting theme parks

 

5. Arrange a meeting place if you get lost.

Hopefully this won’t happen, but having a meeting place pre-arranged will alleviate some of the stress, if you manage to get separated from your friends of family. Remember there will be rides that only some of the family will go on, and on some occasions the rides finish in a completely different place to where they started from. Having a meeting place is essential.

 

6. Plan your route.

Don’t follow the herd. Most people tend to turn right when they go into a theme park. Why not go anti-clockwise or go to the rear of the park and work your way towards the entrance. Another good option is to go straight for the rides that you really want to go on. The most popular rides will have the longest queues, so go on them first when you have more energy and don’t mind queueing. This is a much better than standing in line for an hour at 5pm with exhausted children!

tips for visiting theme parks

 

7. Check out fast passes / fast track

Fast track passes vary from park to park. Disneyland Paris for instance has a great ‘free’ fast pass system. You simply go to a ride and get a time slot for later that day, then come back to a shorter queue. Other theme parks are not so good, or indeed free.

Fast pass tickets in some parks can be a Godsend if you are travelling during peak season, and if you want to go on the most popular rollercoasters. If however, you happen to be travelling off peak and/or you have small children who are unable to go on the big rides, they may be a waste of money. Fast passes in many parks are only valid on the top attractions, many of which are unsuitable for small children. Make sure you check each park for their individual offering.

 

 

8. Use the single rider lanes

There may be one or two people in your group who want to try the fast coasters. Make use of the single lanes where there is usually little or no queue. It may mean that you wont be able to sit next to your partner, but you may be seated in the row behind them, and if that means saving a half hour in the queue, it might be worth it!

tips for visiting portaventura

 

9. Use the baby swap.

The baby swap facility is not available in all theme parks, but if you see it – take advantage. They are used primarily for people who are travelling with a small child. You all queue together, one person stays with the baby in a room at the top of the queue, while the other goes on the ride. When your partner is finished the ride, you simply swap places.

 

10. Go at night time

Not only are queues way shorter at night-time, but many parks offer discounted tickets for evening visits. You may also catch a parade or fireworks display.

tips for visiting theme parks

 

11. Bring ID

This is one of the top tips for visiting theme parks in America. You have to have picture identification if you want to buy alcohol, regardless of what age you are in America. A nice cold beer after an exhilarating (or terrifying) ride might be needed, so make sure you bring ID with you.

 

12. Consider staying in one of the theme park hotels for a few nights.

Many theme parks including Universal Studios, Disney World and Port Aventura, have hotels on site. These can be handy if you are planning on spending a lot of time in these particular parks. You will usually have early access to the park before the general public, so you can go on top attractions without large queues. It can also be handy at night time for dining options, and for easy access to the park for firework displays, parades or shows.

tips for visiting universal studios

 

13. Check the shows are in English

We got caught out in Disneyland Paris when we queued for 45 minutes for the French version of Frozen! Many shows in theme parks are shown in different languages. Make sure the show you are planning your day around, is the English version. Sometimes there is a small icon on the park guide showing which language the show is in, failing that, check in with the information centre beforehand.

 

14. Pre-purchase Disney’s Fast Pass+ and Memory Maker.

Disney’s Fast Pass+ allows you to pre-book your favourite rides and attractions online before you go. This is automatically included with Disney tickets purchased through Attraction Tickets Direct. Similarly Disney’s ‘memory maker’ which normally costs $199 is free if you buy your Disney tickets through Attraction Tickets Direct. This allows you to keep ALL photographs that are taken of you in the park.

tips for visiting theme parks - disneyworld

 

15. Download the App

Many theme parks have their own free apps with tips for visiting theme parks, as well as wait times for rides, showtimes and availability in restaurants. Download the app before you go.

 

So they are my top tips for visiting theme parks. If you have any to add, just comment in the box below I would love to hear them.  This post was sponsored by Attraction Tickets Direct but all views, as always, are my own.

 

Like this post? You may like:

 

The best tickets to buy for PortAventura

The best tickets to buy in Orlando

10 things to know about Universal Orlando before you book

New attractions at SeaWorld, Busch Gardens & Aquatica 

Book a Disney hotel & park tickets for 2020 and dine for free with drinks

 

Sarah

 

 

 

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios

Harry Potter Universal Studios Travel Expert

Even if you have never watched the Harry Potter movies, you will still be blown away by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. It is is one of the best theme park experiences I have ever had. Don’t miss it.

 

Harry Potter fans need to be prepared for sensory overload, but even if you are not a fan, you can not help but love the whole Harry Potter at Universal Studios experience. There are two Harry Potter rides, the Forbidden Journey at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Escape from Gringotts in Universal Studios. A third ride is due in June 2019. You need tickets to both parks to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter properly.

 

What to see in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Take a stroll through the streets of London and wander through Kings Cross station in Universal Studios, walk through the ‘magic wall’ to platform 9 and 3/4 and board the Hogwarts express to Hogsmeade. The train journey itself is fantastic, it is the same as the one Harry took in the movie. You have a different experience on the return journey too, so make sure you make a return journey.  

You have a choice of visiting Hogwarts castle and not taking the simulator ride if that suits your party. Hogsmeade itself is fantastic, you can try some butter bear, have some ‘toad in the hole’ at the Leaky Cauldron or send a postcard home with a real Hogsmeade postmark.

Although the Forbidden Journey ride is one of the best, it might not be suitable for younger children as it is a mainly dark ride and has a minimum height requirement of 48 inches. Harry plays quidditch and needless to say you feel like you really are on that broomstick! Like most of the rides at Universal they have a child swap facility. If the parents want to ride but cant leave the kids alone, one parent can wait in the child swap area with their child and they wont have to queue again.

harry potter at universal studios

The newest attraction is Escape from Gringotts in Diagon Alley. I loved exploring Diagon Alley and all it’s magical shops and characters. Like Hogsmeade, the detail is incredible, it’s so like the movie, its uncanny.

Make sure you go to Ollivanders, where they randomly choose a child from the audience to receive a wand. It’s the same way that Harry got his wand, or should I say the wand chose him! You can also buy a wand in the shop afterwards. They are beautifully made and presented in a box with the official Ollivanders bag, a really nice gift around ($30 or so) to bring home. My 6 year old son was very impressed and it was brought into school to show his teacher!

harry potter at universal studios

If you have kids with you, I would recommend getting an interactive wand. They come supplied with a map with locations of where it works in Diagon Alley. After taking a stroll around the area then venture into Gringotts bank and see the animatronic Goblins in the great hall. Enter the lift to take you down 10 imaginary miles for your rollercoaster ride. You help Harry, Hermione and Ron escape from Gringotts. The effects are amazing but be careful. If you get motion sickness at all,  it can be hard on the tummy. It is mainly a dark ride and the minimum height is 42 inches. Remember the child swap facility is available so if the kids are too small you can still enjoy the ride.

Within the whole Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the simulator rides are only part of the experience. The Hogwarts Express train, Diagon Alley and of course Hogwarts are worth the trip on their own.

harry potter at universal studios

Are the queues long at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios?

This is a question I am often asked. Unfortunately there really is no simple answer. Generally speaking peak times, July / August, Christmas and Easter are the busiest, but otherwise you shouldn’t have to queue too long. If you are lucky enough to stay at one of Universal’s Hotels you can enter the park an hour before official opening time and this is a huge advantage, especially in the busy season. Unlike the other rides at Universal Studios, express passes are not valid for Harry Potter so staying at one of their Hotels is one of the only ways to avoid large queues. See my other blogpost on where to stay in Orlando for more details.

 

Get the best tickets for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios here.

 

Like this post? You might like:

The Best Rides in Universal Studios, Orlando.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

Travel

October Mid Term Break at Universal Studios Cabana Bay Resort Orlando, 2ad & 2ch from €2316

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Early access to three amazing theme parks, staying in top quality accommodation and free entrance to some of Orlando’s best night life – spend the October Mid Term Break at Universal Studios Cabana Bay Resort!

 

I was fortunate to stay in one of Universal Studios’ hotels a few years ago. I felt like a VIP most of the time, to be able to access the parks early, to have free entrance into the nightclubs and when I bought anything in any of the shops, it was delivered back to my room free of charge! Universal Studios have five hotels in Orlando, varying from three to five star. If you fancy staying in one of their luxury hotels, you also get a free Universal Express Unlimited pass, worth up to $89 per person, per day. This allows you to skip the regular lines at participating rides and attractions at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Island of Adventure. You can see offers on all Universal Studios’ hotels here.

universal studios cabana bay resort

Universal Studios now have three parks, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and their newly opened waterpark, Volcano Bay. Whether you are a massive movie fan or want exhilarating rollercoaster rides, Universal Studios offers both in abundance. My personal favourite is the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™.  Even if you have never seen the movies, you cant help but be blown away by the attention to detail and the technology behind the scenes. Board the Hogwarts Express from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure and visit Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, trust me you will not be disappointed. There are lots of cool simulator rides too, Transformers, Despicable Me and Spiderman are just some of the favourites. If you are visiting during the Summer, try some of the water rides at the Islands of Adventure or better still visit the brand new waterpark, Volcano Bay. For more details check out my blog on Universal Studios.

universal studios cabana bay resort

I found this amazing deal staying in Universal Studios Cabana Bay Resort. I stayed in this hotel and loved it. Although only rated three star, I would say it probably deserves a four star rating. It’s cool retro design resembles beach resorts from the fifties but with a modern twist. The standard rooms are spacious but they also have large family suites that sleep six, with a privacy partition and a kitchenette.

universal studios cabana bay resort

The facilities on site are pretty cool too. There are two swimming pools, a lazy river and a large water slide so it might be hard to get the kids to actually leave the pool area! If you fancy chilling out after a day at the parks, you can rent a private cabana for up to six people. It comes with a phone so you can order pizza and have it delivered! The onsite food court has a cool diner offering all the American classics and in keeping with its retro theme, they even have a ten lane bowling alley and an arcade!

universal studios cabana bay resort

If staying in Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort wasn’t enough you also get early park admission to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, complimentary shuttle buses to Universal Orlando® Theme Parks, Universal CityWalk®, Volcano Bay®, SeaWorld®, and Aquatica™, resort-wide charging privileges with your room key, complimentary delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the resort to the hotel and my personal favourite, Universal Orlando® character appearances in the hotel.

universal studios cabana bay resort

Fly from Dublin to Orlando and enjoy a seven night stay in the Cabana Bay Beach Resort from only €579 over the October Bank holiday weekend, based on 2 adults and 2 children sharing. If you want to travel during the Summer months? Prices in June are only €529 per person! If you want to stay longer just talk to the dedicated staff in American Sky and they will tailor make a holiday to suit you.

 

Click here for more details:

 

Prices are correct at the time of issue but are subject to change. This post was sponsored by American Sky but all views, as always, are my own.

 

Sarah

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Orlando Family Offer, 9th May, 2ad & 2ch, €465 per person!

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For most families Orlando is THE bucket list destination. Lets face it the magic starts as soon as you tell your kids you are going to Disney World!

 

With over 12 theme parks and four waterparks you are literally spoilt for choice! From Disney World, to Universal Studios, simulator rides to rollercoasters, water slides to dolphin swims, the choice is endless.  Lets not forget how much is accessible from Orlando too. Visit the Kennedy Space centre, shop till you drop in the outlets, or chill out one some of Florida’s amazing beaches. Suffice to say there is something here for everyone. For more info on Orlando you can read my blog here.Orlando family offer

I found a great Orlando family offer with Sunway Holidays. Book early, save yourself a fortune! Fly from Dublin on the 9th of May and spend seven nights at the newly renovated Rosen Inn at Pointe Orlando, for only €435 per person based on 2 adults and 2 children. This hotel is located in the heart of Orlando on International Drive, close to theme parks, restaurants and night life and also offers free shuttle to Universal Studios. Facilities include 3 swimming pools, children’s playground, restaurant, sports bar and video games room! Highly rated on tripadvisor and awarded a certificate of excellence, this is a great choice for a fun filled holiday. Price include flights, taxes, baggage and seven nights hotel accommodation. If you want to extend your stay talk to the Sunway team, add on more nights in Orlando, a few days at the beach or even a Caribbean cruise – the choice is yours!

 

Prices are correct at the time of issue but are subject to change. This post was sponsored by Sunway Holidays but all views as always are my own 🙂

 

Click here for more details:

 

Sarah

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The Best Places To Stop On The Pacific Coast Highway

California girl

A California road trip is one of the best coastal drives in the world and for me it has always been a bucket list holiday. It was everything I had hoped it would be and a lot more. Check out the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway and make sure you get it right!

 

I can’t stress how important it is to plan it in advance. For those who have heard people saying not to plan it – please ignore them! Well that is unless you have no time constraints and a pocketful of money. Most of us have two – three weeks, so use your time wisely! I have left out numerous places, but these are my recommendations on the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway, based on a two – three week trip. I also have a separate post – top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway so make sure you check that one out too. I hope they help you with your travel plans!

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

1. San Francisco

For most people this is where you will start your journey, try to allow four days if possible. Bike the bridge, see Alcatraz (book online beforehand), walk Fisherman’s wharf and check out Union Square and the Castro district. I stayed at the Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf. They are ideally situated only minutes from the Wharf, Lombard Street ( crooked street) and on the cable car route to Union Square. For more info on San Francisco you can read my blog here.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

2. Monterey or Carmel

This is a tough choice as they are very close to each other, so you will probably only chose to say in one. If travelling with kids I would choose Monterey. The aquarium there is one of the best I have seen and the town is very family friendly. I stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel. It is a fantastic hotel in the centre of the town with excellent facilities and sea-views. It also has an excellent happy hour from 3 – 6. Not only are drinks half price but so are their delicious light bites. A nice glass of Californian wine and a plate of Monterey Bay Calamari will only set you back $12! They also have an excellent kids menu in the restaurant, even at breakfast time. Monterey has some lovely walks and bike paths along the seafront, and it even has it’s own Fisherman’s Wharf.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

Carmel is more authentic and if travelling as a couple, this would be my choice. You will love strolling around the pretty streets and stumbling upon local shops and art galleries, selling upmarket souvenirs. If you happen to be staying in Monterey, pop in for lunch or even a coffee, there is something special about Carmel by the Sea. If you have time, try lunch at Clint Eastwood’s (a former Mayor of Carmel ) Mission Ranch.  If you are a golf fan, take a spin to nearby Pebble Beach, they have numerous dining options and some quite reasonably priced.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

3. Cambria or San Luis Obispo

Another tough choice but it really depends what you are looking for.  Cambria’s quaint town is full of art and antique shops and has a country feel to it. It is generally quiet and everything pretty much shuts down at 9pm so if you are looking for nightlife, don’t stay here! It is the gateway to the Big Sur and the mountainous scenery is a welcome break from the coast road. I liked it because it was a total contrast to the other places we had stopped in, and it was beside Hearst Castle. This was a total surprise to me and well worth a visit. Sitting on 250,000 acres it is so hard to believe that this was once a private house.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

I stayed at the Cambria Pines Lodge. The country style hotel with old furniture and quirky gardens make it utterly charming.  Visit the elephant seal rookery in San Simeon and witness hundreds of seals playing. Stop by Sebastian’s café  for lunch afterwards. It is one of those places that is a post office, a grocery store, a wine tasting emporium and a café! Trust me, their subs ( and wine ) are amazing!

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

San Luis Obispo is a college town and offers much more night life and upmarket shopping than Cambria. You will find everything from high street stores to theatres as well as some terrific wine bars. It is a good distance from the coast, about a 20 minute drive, so don’t expect the beach at your doorstep.

 

4. Santa Barbara

This was one of my favourite towns. It is the kind of place I would like to retire to ( in my dreams!). The fact that Rob Lowe happens to live here might have something to do with that! In fact numerous celebrities have houses here, including  Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise. There isn’t actually much to see but it has such a relaxed feel that you can’t help but chill out. I stayed here for two nights and loved it, (incidentally I found one night was sufficient in Monterey and Cambria). There are no billboards allowed, only pretty shops and upmarket restaurants. Go wine tasting in one of the numerous wine bars, sample some of California’s best restaurants or chill out on the beach. I stayed in the Harbor View Inn which is ideally located across the road from the beach. Try Bouchon for lunch or dinner, its a fantastic French brasserie – but make sure you book in advance.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

5. Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a bustling city but with a beach resort feel. We stayed at the fabulous Palihouse Hotel. This luxury boutique hotel is situated on a quiet residential street yet only one block from the heart of the city. The rooms are so spacious, equipped with walk in wardrobes, fully fitted kitchens and round baths. It doesn’t have a swimming pool but if like me, you plan on spending most of your days visiting LA and the surrounding area, this shouldn’t matter. The Santa Monica pier has a fun fair with a rollercoaster and big wheel and although a little tacky, it is a great family friendly resort.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

The main hub of the city is the pedestrianised 3rd Street Promenade. It is full of shops and dining options and is a nice place for an evening stroll. Make sure you try the Misfit bar and restaurant for contemporary American cuisine, situated just off the 3rd Street Promenade. If travelling with kids, you will have to do lunch as they are not allowed in after 6pm. Although not as pretty as Santa Barbara, it is a launchpad to stay in when visiting LA. There are plenty of public transport options. If you don’t want to drive into LA, the hop on hop off bus is a good choice which will bring you to all the nearby beaches as well as Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Universal Studios.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

6. Los Angeles

I chose to stay in Santa Monica when visiting LA. However, if you want to stay central, West Hollywood (or WeHo as the locals say) is probably your best bet. This two mile radius is home to the Sunset Strip and full of upmarket hotels, designer shops and the latest celebrity hangouts. You can easily pop down to the walk of fame, Beverly Hills and see all the highlights of LA from there. Treat yourself to lunch at Spago in Beverly Hills. Although a two star Michelin restaurant, the prices do not reflect this. It is exceptional value for such amazing food and the atmosphere is electric – I would highly recommend it.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

Make sure you visit the California Science Centre. It is free to enter and you could easily spend the day there. It is amazing to see the space shuttle, Endeavour  – make sure you book in advance, its only a $2 charge. If travelling with kids, visit Universal Studios which is home to rides such as Harry Potter, Transformers, Minions and Jurassic Park. You should be able to see this in one day. Disneyland however has two parks, so you would need to allow two days to see it properly.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

7. Last Stop – Beach!

Driving south from LA you will come across numerous beach towns. Huntington beach is a good choice for college students, Laguna beach is the upmarket choice for families and couples, and San Diego, the most popular option, is suitable for everyone. I stayed at the Bahia Resort Hotel on Mission beach. It is a great family friendly hotel with excellent facilities and friendly staff. You can rent numerous boats at reasonable prices, visit their luxury sister hotel, the Catamaran by steam boat, or chill out in one of their cabanas by the beach. My kids highlight was watching movies at night in the heated swimming pool! Draft is a good choice for drinks or dinner (American style) and offers the best view to watch the sunset. Mission beach on the whole is a little tacky though..

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

If you want a nice upmarket beach resort try Coronado Bay or La Jolla. Take in happy hour from 3 – 6  in Peohe’s Coronado, overlooking the bay. Like many good hotels and restaurants in California they offer half price drinks and bites during happy hour. San Diego is home to a world famous Zoo, Legoland, Seaworld, the USS Midway museum and some of California’s best beaches. There are lots to see and do in San Diego, so make sure you allow yourself enough time to see it!

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

Well if you managed to read all of that I am impressed. As you can see there is so much to do, you do need to plan! I am a travel expert and I still felt it necessary to contact umpteen travel agent friends, and read numerous travel blogs for recommendations. Queue to thank our Irish – Californian girl Kristin Skinner from American Holidays for all her advice! 

I hope you liked my choices on the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway. If I have left out any of your favourites, please comment below – I would love to hear them.

 

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Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

Travel

Orlando, Easter 2017, 2ad & 2ch, Flights & Hotel €2440!

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Book now for Easter 2017 and plan a holiday to the best family holiday destination in the world – Orlando!

With twelve theme parks, four waterparks and a host of other activities on International Drive, you will be spoilt for choice of things to do in Orlando. Take the kids to the Magic Kingdom, enjoy the parades, the fireworks and let them meet their favourite characters. Enjoy the amazing simulator rides at Universal Studios and experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it will take your breath away. For the dare devils amongst you try the world famous roller coaster rides and slide down the tallest water slides in one of the aquaparks. Shop till you drop at the Premium Outlet Mall or swim with the dolphins at the stunning Discovery Cove. I can’t stress enough how much there is to do here. It’s an amazing holiday for adults and kids and that’s what makes it such a good family holiday destination – there is something for everyone! Check out my blog on Orlando by clicking here.

Universal Orlando, Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert

Easter is an ideal time to travel, its not as hot as the summer months and I’ve chosen dates at the start of the Irish Easter holidays, these are earlier than the US holidays so hopefully it wont be as busy in the theme parks.

Fly from Dublin on the 10th of April and spend 10 nights at the Rosen Inn International for only €2440 for 2 adults and 2 children. This hotel is in a great location on International Drive and gets great reviews on tripadvisor.  You can choose to extend your stay in Orlando or spend a few nights at the beach, but either way you should book now before the airfares increase – which they definitely will!

TOP TIP:  

There are a range of flight options with this deal to Orlando that vary in price. Some connections are better than others, I have priced this holiday based on flights with American Airlines with one stop in Philadelphia. There are cheaper options available with two stops, so try to select the one with the best connections and the least flying time. For the best prices on theme park tickets and plenty of other things to do in Orlando please click here.

Click here to book:

 

All prices are correct at time of issue but are subject to availability.

Sarah

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Orlando 29th Dec, flights & hotel, 8 Nights €699!

IOA_Universal_Orlando

Fancy ringing in the new year in style? No where does it better than Orlando, amazing fireworks, long lasting celebrations and balmy weather… tempted?

Orlando is one place that will definitely guarantee you a holiday full of fun. There are over twelve theme parks and four water parks to choose from as well as numerous entertainment facilities on International Drive, you will literally be spoilt for choice. The biggest surprise for me was that Orlando is not just for kids, most of the theme parks are great for adults too. It’s not all about Mickey Mouse and roller coasters. My favourite theme park is  Universal Studios, the Harry Potter experience is amazing and the simulator rides are remarkable. And if thats not enough you have the Florida Mall and the Premium Outlets on your doorstep with plenty of bargains waiting to be snapped up! Read my blog on Orlando for more information.

This fantastic offer includes flights with Virgin Atlantic on the 29th of December and 8 nights in the Ramada Gateway Hotel, based on two adults and two children sharing. This accommodation receives good reviews on trip advisor and is centrally located. You can choose to stay longer or upgrade your accommodation but bear in mind there is so much to do in Orlando you won’t spend too much time in your hotel.  This price includes all taxes and charges based on four sharing, supplement for 2 sharing is only €100 per person.

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Sarah

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Destinations

Orlando – Where to stay

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Before you book your accommodation you need to ask yourself, do you want a hotel or a home, and do you want to rent a car.

If you are going to spend most of your time in Walt Disney World then maybe one of their Hotels or a nice Home in Lake Buena Vista would be most suitable. If on other hand you are visiting most of the other Theme Parks then International Drive is ideal. There are plenty of great value Motels here and  there is a regular bus service (I-Ride) to all of the main attractions and shopping malls, so car hire is not required. There are plenty of  bars, restaurants and lively nightlife, so if you want to be in the hart of the action, then I-Drive is for you.

My favourite theme park is Universal Studios so given the choice I would stay at one of their hotels. They have four hotels of varying standards so they have one to suit every budget. One of the main advantages is that you are allowed to enter the park one hour before opening, fantastic for the Harry Potter Rides. The Cabana Bay Resort is their three star hotel but to be honest its more like a four star. Its 50s retro style gives you the feeling you have walked on to the set of Grease. They have a bowling alley upstairs and a real diner downstairs. In fact I’m told the reason it is not rated four star is that the diner is self service.   I thought it was a great family hotel, really spacious rooms with a kitchenette, which saves on the cost of dining out. There is a large family pool with a lazy river, slides and a jacuzzi, open till late every night, a fab way to relax after a long day at the park.

Tom ten city breaks for families

Depending on your budget, there are also three luxury hotels which, not only allow early access to the park, but where you receive a complimentary express pass ticket. Express pass tickets are fantastic, particularly in high season, the queue should be no more than 15 minutes on any ride.  Note the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is excluded from the express pass.  You  can also buy these passes at the gate but they only sell a limited number and they cost $89!

My personal favourite was the five star Portofino hotel, its such a contrast from the busy Theme Parks. Designed by Steven Spielberg, it is an exact replica of the jet set Italian Resort. Sitting at one of the lake side cafes, sipping a latte, listening to the Tenors singing, you almost forget where you are. The rooms are very spacious and beautifully furnished and the service is what you would expect of a five star hotel. It is suitable for families and couples as there are three swimming pools. You can choose from the lively family pool with slides and waterfalls, the quiet pool, or the fantastic spa. You can also avail of the free water taxi straight to Universal Studios, it’s such a nice touch.

Portofino hotel

If, however, you fancy a livelier setting then the Hard Rock Hotel is for you. However bear in mind, you can’t get away from the music, it’s everywhere, even under water in the swimming pool.  It is also a five star hotel so you can expect the same excellent service but for me it lacked the grandeur of the Portofino.  There is also another choice, Lowes Royal Pacific Resort, another themed hotel, this time like a Pacific Island. I felt it was a little dated and more like a four star but then it less expensive to stay there than the others and the cost of drinks and meals  are reasonable too. It is one of their luxury hotels and you will still receive a complimentary express pass, so this is an excellent choice if you want to keep the costs down.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

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My Stay At Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida

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Universal Studios is my favourite theme park in Orlando. They have 3 parks, Universal Studios, Islands of adventure and the newly opened Volcano Bay.

 

I’m a bit of a movie buff anyway so I was mesmerised looking at the film sets and loved taking photos with all my favourite characters. The simulator rides are amazing. I think it’s safe to say that there are rides for everyone to enjoy. Some have height restrictions but there are enough rides to keep the small kids happy too.

You really feel like the ‘Transformers’ character, Optimus Prime is throwing you up in the air on the Transformers ride, the technology is mindblowing. Dispicable Me, Spiderman and the Simpsons are fantastic too. You are seated in what appears to be a small car, but they feel like rollercoaster rides. I should mention that if you are a Simpsons fan, there is a whole area dedicated to them. You can have a drink at Moes Tavern, try a Krusty Burger or just hang out and meet some characters.

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If Rollercoasters are your thing, there are plenty. Although I don’t particularly like being scared to death for fun, I did go on a few for research purposes! The Hulk goes upside down 7 times, I don’t know how I managed it, but I did it.

I preferred the water rides in Islands of Adventure. There are several, and they area a great way to cool down during the heat of the day. Some are more daring than others, like Dudley do-Rights Ripsaw Falls, which is really a rollercoaster on water! For a great fun family ride try Popeye and Blutos Bilge-Rat barges, ride the white water rapids but beware you will get drenched! Since my visit Universal Studios have opened a dedicated water park called Volcano Bay, I guess I’ll have to go back and try that one out!

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There are so many great rides in both Universal Studios parks, but for me the pièce de la resistance is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even if you have never watched the Harry Potter movies, you cannot help but be amazed at the technology and the attention to detail. There are now two rides, one in each park, but you can go between the two on the Hogwarts Express Train. It is not just about the rides though. You visit Hogwarts Castle, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, you would easily spend a whole day there! Make sure you go to Olivanders and buy a wand. They are beautifully made and presented in a box, a really nice gift ($35) to bring home. See my detailed blogpost on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter by clicking here .

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Like most of the rides at Universal Studios, there is a child swap facility. If both parents want to ride, but can’t leave the kids alone, one parent can wait in the child swap area and they won’t have to stand in line again. Speaking of queues, these can be quite long during peak season and around school holidays.

I recommend buying an express pass to save yourself queuing time. Generally speaking  with an express pass you shouldn’t have to queue for longer than 20 minutes. Alternatively if you stay at one of Universal’s luxury hotels, you get the express pass for free. You also avail of early access to the Parks, one hour before opening time which is a huge advantage especially if you’re visiting Harry Potter. Incidentally the only area the express pass isn’t accepted is on the Harry Potter rides, so staying at one of Universal’s Hotels is the only way to avoid long queues there, by availing of the early access to the park.(See my other blogpost on where to stay in Orlando by clicking here)  In low season queues are much shorter and express passes should not be necessary.

Universal Studios

Located next to Universal Studios is City Walk. This is a huge area with bars and restaurants and a few shops too. Remember if you are planning on having a drink, you must bring age identification with you. Even if you think you couldn’t possibly be asked, you will! There were people aged over 50 refused alcohol because they had no identification with them, so don’t say you haven’t been warned! Keep your park entrance ticket, as this allows you free into the bars and night-clubs without charge.

I was genuinely surprised at the quality of the food here and throughout the park in general. The biggest Hard Rock Cafe in the  world is here and there are also some really nice restaurants too. I loved Vivo Italian Kitchen and Antojitos authentic Mexican. They make the guacamole at the table beside you and you can choose how much garlic and spice you like – it’s a nice touch.  Dare I say it, but I liked the Karaoke bar too! Rising Star is not like the tacky karaoke bars you might find abroad. You sing with a live band and backing singers, and the talent is really good!

So whether you want rollercoasters, simulator rides, movie memorabilia or some great night life – don’t miss a visit to Universal Studios, Orlando!

 

For the lowest price ticket options visit Attraction Tickets Direct.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

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