spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 2: Islands of Adventure

This picture about sums it up…


The Adventure Begins…

There are a variety of ways to get to Universal Resort from WDW.  This page on Mousesavers.com details them nicely.  We took the option of the Mears shuttle.  I called about a week ahead of time to reserve 4 RT fares, which were payable to the driver in cash.  The agent told me that morning pickups happen every 30 minutes at the :20 and :50 minute marks.  Evening pickups would be on the quarter hour, in a designated area near the regular taxi stand.  A Mears shuttle picked us up from Art of Animation at 8:15 on the dot- we lucked out and got a private van.  We paid the driver for the round-trips, and he gave us vouchers for the evening ride.  It took about 20-25 minutes to get there, so we were at the gates about 10 minutes before the park opened at 9am.  We were only about 10 families back, so in a great position to book it to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter- Hogsmeade as fast as possible.  DH grabbed a map to orient himself and we went over the plan for the day. Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment »

Disney Pre-trip Report: let’s go to WDW! Yes, again.

There are countless resources out there to help you plan a Disney trip- guides help you decide what time of year to go, provide in-depth reviews of all the parks/rides/hotels/restaurants, and help you save as much money as possible before and during your trip.  I could do that too, but I won’t.  Why reinvent the wheel?  I’ll provide a list of my favorite planning websites at the end of this post, so you can check them out at your leisure.  I completely understand if you skip ahead to that list, abandon this post, and get sucked into a Disney-planning-whirlwind.  Just come back eventually!

planning ecard

Welcome back!

My posts about Disney will amount to a Pre-Trip Report.  Some of you who hang out on message boards may be familiar with Trip Reports.  They chronicle a trip from beginning to end: where they went, what they did, what they ate, etc.  This trend has a life all its own, with some reports being focused just on rides, and some just on food- Dining Reports!

A Pre-Trip Report then, details all the planning that goes into the Trip itself.  Since planning is half the fun, I figured I’d do “live” Pre-Trip Report as I plan, and then an actual Trip Report after we get back.  Here we go!

people trap

Walt Disney World 2015: Pre-Trip Report

Cast of Characters:

Me: Disneyholic and planner extraordinaire, 6 trips to the World, 2 Disney Cruises, 1 trip to Disneyland, 1 stay at Aulani

DD: tween daughter, Disneyholic planner-in-training, 4 trips to the World (1 in utero!), 2 Disney Cruises, 1 trip to Disneyland, 1 stay at Aulani

DH: husband, happy to leave the vacation planning to me, 1 trip to the World, 1 stay at Aulani, 1 Disney Cruise

DS: toddler son, loves the characters, 1 stay at Aulani, 1 Disney Cruise

My Disney history begins at age 2, with a visit to the World.  There is photographic evidence of my terrified crying when confronted with a 7 foot tall Pig from The Three Little Pigs.  Little?! I think not.  I’m pretty sure it was the Fiddler Pig, but I’m not certain as I’ve blocked the memory due to trauma. We went to the World again when I was 9, and I really got into this Disney Thing. I especially loved the World Showcase at Epcot (my favorite Park), and vowed to one day take my family there.  Other trips followed: I visited WDW twice more, and went on a Disney cruise, too.

Back in 2008, I took my family (just me, DD, and DH at the time) to WDW.  We stayed for 2 weeks.  It was my husband’s first time, and I wanted him to get the full experience: he explored all the Parks, played golf, had a revelatory meal at Le Cellier, and gradually became Disney-fied.  It was SO fun.  Of course, as soon as we came back I wanted to plan another trip!  But I wanted other Disney experiences as well.  Since that family trip in 2008, I took my DD to Disneyland in 2009, we had a stay at Aulani in 2012 for my birthday, and did a Disney Cruise to Alaska in 2013.

So, why go again?  Especially, why would we travel all the way to Florida from Hawaii to Disney World (there are NO direct flights to Orlando [MCO] from HNL, by the way) when we could fly nonstop to LAX in 5 hours and see Disneyland?  Well, Disneyland doesn’t have Epcot, which is my favorite park.  Nor does it have Animal Kingdom Lodge, the most amazing hotel ever.  And because the Resort is so huge (50 square miles!), once you are in the Disney Bubble, you are super immersed in the magic.  There’s nothing else like passing beneath the Walt Disney World: Where Dreams Come True sign and knowing you are in for a ton of fun!

wdw sign

I really enjoyed Disneyland and plan to go back, especially to see Cars Land, but my son’s first Disney Parks experience has to be at Disney World, period.  And it has to be next year!

There are a few reasons that 2015 is the right year for our next Disney trip:

  • DS will be 4 years old, and I firmly believe that my children should get to go to Disney World before they are 5 years old (DD was 3 on her first trip).
  • I really want to see Barack Obama be the “star” of the Hall of Presidents, and that will only be true until 2016.
  • DD will be graduating from middle school, and we won’t be able to have her miss a few days of school here and there as easily when she is in high school.
  • We have to move out of our current apartment in the summer of 2015. I know we will need a break from all the moving preparations/life changes.
  • It’s been 7 years since I’ve seen IllumiNations.
  • New Fantasyland, including the Beast’s Castle and Be Our Guest restaurant- Beauty & the Beast is my favorite Disney movie.
  • I’m interested in seeing how the MagicBands and FP+ affect my planning.
  • First non-Disney reason: I STILL haven’t gotten to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure.
  • Second non-Disney reason: Jurassic Park is my favorite movie in the world, and I love the ride at Islands of Adventure, too.

So, we’ve established that we’re going in 2015….but when in 2015?  Well…I still don’t know!  Right now there are several factors “on the table” and they won’t be resolved for a few months.  I do know that it’ll be late July-early August or during the school Fall Break in October.  The trip will be a minimum of 9 days, not including travel.

Pros and Cons for late July-early August:

Pros Cons
fewer months to wait HOT
fewer attractions down for refurbishment crowded
no missed school days more expensive
celebrate DD’s middle school graduation
celebrate wedding anniversary

 Pros and Cons for October:

Pros Cons
better weather more months to wait
lower crowds more stuff down for refurbishment
lower prices 1-2 missed school days
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party nothing to personally celebrate

I know that with my itinerary planning, the HOT and crowded stuff can be mitigated. It’s all about well-timed breaks. Though it kills me, I really can’t do much more than hope I can start planning in earnest by February. I do already have a hotel reservation for late July, though 🙂 Some of those rooms in high season go fast!  Gotta plan ahead.

The view from our Savanna View room at Animal Kingdom Lodge

The view from our Savanna View room at Animal Kingdom Lodge

List of oft-visited planning sites:

See ya real soon!

1 Comment »

Theme Park Planning- Universal Islands of Adventure

You may have glommed onto the fact that I LOVE Disney, and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in one of my favorite places on Earth.  I’ve had the pleasure of introducing my daughter and husband to Disney World, and next time we go it’ll be my son’s first trip, wee!

For reasons I’ll go into in future Disney trip planning posts, we always stay on-site at the Resort hotels.  I like to arrive in Orlando, get on a Disney Magical Express bus, arrive at my Disney resort hotel, experience the magic, and only leave Disney property to go back to the airport.  I stay in the “Disney Bubble,” you see.

Those are indeed, matching shirts.

Those are indeed matching shirts.  It’s all part of being a Disney dork.


But…..there’s a little phenomenon that you may have heard of.  It’s a series of books about a boy wizard

My sister and I are both avid readers, and I started reading the Harry Potter series at her suggestion.  I absolutely loved the books and was very excited when I heard that Universal Resort Orlando was building the magical village of Hogsmeade, as part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  It opened in summer 2010, and I have been plotting to go ever since.  I have, however, limited us to a 1-day visit, so as not to lose valuable Disney Time.  And, I’ve scheduled this as Theme Park Day 1 of our vacation, so we don’t really get into the Disney Bubble until after this day is over.  

So, ride along with me (on a Firebolt, perhaps?) as I plan our visit to Universal Islands of Adventure (IoA) next year.

islands of adventure logo

What, I’m planning a 1-day visit 11 months in advance?  Yes, YES I AM.  I haven’t been to Universal since 2001, and much has changed.  So, it’s time to read up.  I’ll be learning as I post, so I would love to hear any tips or tricks you have come across as well.

First, a quick description of the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.  There are 3 separate Parks: Wet ‘n Wild Waterpark, Universal Studios Florida, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

1. Wet ‘n Wild Waterpark looks like a fun day for people who like spending the entire day in a waterpark.  I am not that type of person, so we didn’t consider visiting this park.  I’m sure it’s great, though- we had fun at the Boardwalk area of Hershey Park, because that water park is incorporated into the rest of the park as opposed to on its own.

2. The headliner rides at Universal Studios Florida include Transformers: The Ride 3D, Revenge of the Mummy, MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack, The Simpsons Ride, E.T. Adventure, and many quality shows.  None of the characters these rides are based on are my cup of tea, so it was easy to rule out this park when I first started to think about taking some time outside the Disney bubble to go to Universal.  Life threw a serious curveball at my plans with the very recent opening of another section of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter– this time they’ve built Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.  The Escape from Gringotts ride looks AMAZING, as does the ride on the Hogwarts Express.  Unfortunately, if we want to see both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, we would need Park-to-Park Admission tickets, which cost significantly more than the 1-day 1-Park tickets I was planning to get.  We’d be paying the premium on the park tickets simply to see Diagon Alley, since as I mentioned, the other rides in this park don’t appeal to us.  Plus, I don’t want to try to visit both parks in the 1 day I’ve allotted.  So after a lot of thought, we’re sticking with just Islands of Adventure for Hogsmeade on this trip, and plan to see Diagon Alley on a future trip.

3. That brings us to the glory that is a theme park that contains both Hogwarts Castle AND Jurassic Park.  At Hogsmeade, we’ll ride the Forbidden Journey, take the Dragon Challenge, soar on Flight of the Hippogriff, and have a wand choose us at Ollivander’s.  And we can’t forget the butterbeer!

Also available as Frozen Butterbeer!  Does not contain alcohol :)

Also available as Frozen Butterbeer! Does not contain actual  alcohol 🙂

You guys, Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time.  So, the River Adventure ride is a must-do.  And since my son is too small to ride, he can visit the Camp Jurassic play area, and ride the Pteranodon Flyers with dad or big sis as I ride the River Adventure as many times as humanly possible.

A vacation almost 4 years in the making!

A vacation almost 5 years in the making!

Other fun areas of the park include Seuss Landing and Marvel Super Hero Island, home of the incredible Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride.  I’m pretty excited for my husband to ride Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, since he is a connoisseur of log flume rides, thank you very much.  And I’m sure it will be very refreshing to get completely soaked on Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.

OK, here’s my park strategy to hopefully avoid lines and maximize park time:

  • We need to know the park hours, and looking at August 2014, IoA is consistently opening at 9am daily throughout the summer.  It’s important to know that Universal Resort hotel guests get a 1-hour head start into the parks ahead of the general public, which means they’ll be in at 8am, with many guests heading immediately to the Hogsmeade section of the park.  In order to have a chance of riding Harry Potter rides in the morning, we need to be at the entrance gate by no later than 8:30.  They occasionally let general public guests in 10-15 minutes before “official” opening, so we’ll want to be ready to go at the gate!
  • We’re traveling to IoA from our Disney Resort on a Mears Shuttle, since we’re not renting a car while in Florida and I don’t think the 1-hour head start is worth the huge premium for a Universal Resort Hotel for just 1 day, though guests do get Front-of-the-Line access with the Universal Express-Unlimited benefit as described in the link above.  Note: You can also purchase this benefit as a non-resort park guest, but since we’re not looking to ride The Hulk or other thrill rides I don’t think we need it.  They say to leave 30-60 minutes for the shuttle ride, since the van picks up guests at up to 3 Disney resorts before heading out to IoA.  This means we’re look at leaving at around 7:30am for the 9am park opening.  The Mears shuttle picks up at all Disney Resorts, and they charge $19 round-trip for transportation to/from Universal for adults, with kids costing a little less.  You can’t book this trip online, you have to call 407-423-5566.
  • When we get to the park, we’ll go right to Wizarding World, then do a crazy zig-zag around to the different lands and rides, in order to do the wet rides during the hottest part of the day, and carefully mix in kid activities and rest breaks.  My hope is that many of the day guests will leave during the afternoon downpour that is typical of a summer in Florida.  We’ll see if that bears out, and if so, spend more time exploring the Hogsmeade area with fewer crowds in the evening before leaving.
  • After we’re done in the park, we’ll go over to CityWalk, the dining/entertainment complex between the 2 Parks, and have dinner at Moe’s, which is my favorite Mexican food chain.  Locals: the only one on Oahu is at Pearlridge.
  • Then we’ll get back on the Mears Shuttle, head back to our Disney Resort….and immerse ourselves in the bubble once again, ahhhhhh 🙂
I'm printing this sucker out for my binder!

I’m printing this sucker out for my binder!


My spreadsheet section for Universal includes Budget categories for park tix, transportation, food, souvenirs, and misc (depending on how hot or tired we are, we might need to rent a stroller for my son).  For souvenirs, we’ll for sure buy one of the official photos they take of you on a ride or at the entrance, a photo frame for said photo, a wand from Ollivander’s for my daughter, the obligatory T-shirt for my husband, and something fun for the little guy.  And, most importantly, my magnet!

Ooooh, I can’t wait!

1 Comment »