Day 8: Transfer to Universal (Hard Rock Hotel and USF)
We ended our Disney stay with a bang by having brunch at Homecomin’. I don’t think my family would’ve forgiven me if we skipped Homecomin’. After checking out of our room, we left our luggage with Bell Services before walking over to DS. I would’ve liked an earlier ADR than our 10am so that we could’ve eaten first and then checked out of the Hilton (therefore avoiding having to deal with leaving our luggage at Bell Services) but alas, staying at a non-Disney hotel put me at a disadvantage when booking ADRs. I was lucky to have gotten even the 10am ADR and it was only due to TP’s Reservation Finder (thank you!).
Moonshine Mash (Watermelon-infused moonshine, fresh watermelon, lime juice and simple syrup)
Fried Chicken & Doughnuts
Braised Short Ribs with a side of mac and cheese
Hallelujah Biscuit (Open-faced biscuit topped with Chef Art’s famous fried chicken, two over easy eggs, pimento cheese, pecan-smoked bacon and smothered in sawmill gravy)
Hush Puppy Benedict (Chef Art’s spin on the classic, with house made hush puppy cakes topped with fried chicken tenders, poached eggs, griddled country ham and pimento hollandaise)
And what I was most looking forward to: Mini iced doughnuts piled with pecans, bacon and drizzled with house-made caramel!
Sadly, we had to pass up on dessert (goodbye hummingbird cake!). We walked around DS a bit and picked up a few last minute items from World of Disney and the Star Wars shop. We then returned to the Hilton, picked up our luggage, and Lyfted over to Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel.
Pros of the Hard Rock Hotel:
- Easy and scenic walk to USF/Citywalk/IOA.
- Unlimited Express Passes were provided for our entire stay at no extra charge. 5 days of Unlimited EP for a 4 night stay. Sweet.
- The Deluxe Queen Room had a good amount of space. We had 2 Queen beds (DH reported they were more comfortable than the Hilton beds but not as good as the Dolphin ones) in addition to a pull-out sofa. There was also an alcove where the closet and 2 waist-high shelves shelves were. That area could’ve technically been an additional dressing area. In addition, we had a long table/dresser to also store stuff on/in.
- The pool was decent but we forgot to try the slide. The kids reported that they could sort of hear the music underwater
- On-site Emack & Bolio’s ice cream!
- Really cool decor and rock memorabilia throughout the hotel
- A chance to borrow various Fender guitars. However, we were too scared about our own clumsiness to try. But you could if you wanted to! There isn’t a fee if you return it unharmed but they make you put a $1000 deposit or something like that when you borrow it.
Cons of the Hard Rock Hotel:
- Just ok pizza from the grab and go spot, Emack & Bolio’s Marketplace. I didn’t really scope out the sandwiches in detail but the food options looked pretty basic.
- Price. I paid considerably more for the Hard Rock than when we stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific in 2019. But then again, that was 3 years ago and we had had a standard room. I tried out the Deluxe Queen this time because I was scared that my family would find a standard room cramped after we had spent a week in a junior suite. Next time, I may try the standard room as I had read that the Hard Rock’s standard rooms are bigger than their counterpart at the Loews Royal Pacific (which felt CRAMPED with 5 people and a rollaway bed).
- Lack of a drying line in the shower. It made it difficult to dry our swimsuits since the 5 of us were already maximizing the use of any towel racks with wet towels.
After storing our luggage at yet another Bell Services, we walked over to USF. We arrived a bit after 1pm and headed to the photo store at the front of the park to activate my Universal Photo Package. I had originally purchased a 3 day package (as the website only showed 1 and 3 day packages) but when I was at the photo store, I saw that there was a 5 and 30 day package! I explained to the team member that those options hadn’t been available online and asked if I could pay the price difference to upgrade to the 5 day package. Since the prices for the packages are different purchased beforehand vs while in the parks, he very nicely just upgraded me to a 5 day without charging me anything extra. Universal MAGIC!!! This was a super great way to start our Universal vacation!
Since our EP worked for every attraction at USF, we browsed the park at a leisurely pace. We spent quite a long time at the main gift shop at the front of USF before proceeding to Despicable Me and Transformers. Sadly, the Mummy ride was still closed for refurbishment. We then spent some time laughing at the Hello Kitty versions of famous movies.
I was also sad to have missed the Summer Tribute store that had showcased items from Jaws and Back to the Future. We then made a stop at the Darkroom on Hollywood Blvd to take pictures that were included with our photo package. As we made our way to the Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone, we made a stop at Central Park Crepes.
Cookies and Cream Crepes
After that delicious snack/late lunch, we attempted to ride E.T. Adventure but the attraction broke down shortly after we got on line. After waiting a few minutes, we decided to leave. On our way out, we took photos at the Toy Closet before riding Woody’s Coaster. We then proceeded to the Simpsons area to ride the Simpsons Ride and laugh at the items in the Simpsons gift shop. By this time, we were exhausted from the heat so we returned to the Hard Rock, where our room was ready. We unpacked and I briefly contemplated walking over to Citywalk to pick up a pie from Red Oven Pizza for my family but I was just too tired. So we made do with the basic cheese pizza from the hotel counter service. Not memorable but it served its purpose. Plus, DS10 and I had some Emack & Bolio ice cream!
Mint Chocolate Ice Cream with Oreo Pieces
That capped off our first night at Universal.
Day 9: IOA
Early Entry at IOA started at 8am and we arrived at the gates about 10-15 min before then. When team members let us in, we headed straight towards Hogsmeade with most of the crowd. We got on line for Hagrid’s Motorbike (as EP doesn’t work for this ride or the VelociCoaster) and we wound our way through a very long queue that started in the Lost Continent. We did not finish with Hagrid’s till about 10:15am so that sort of sucked. DH and DD13 went ahead to ride the VelociCoaster while the rest of us tried to explore the very crowded Hogsmeade. DS10 decided to forego doing the wand spells that morning (my kids had brought their interactive wands from 2019 with them). He also wanted to wait to ride both FJ and FotH with his sister. So we just explored the shops while waiting for DH and DD13 to return. While waiting, I had my first Frozen Butterbeer of this trip.
Once DH and DD13 finished with the VelociCoaster, the kids used the EPs to ride FJ and I then rode FotH with both of them.
I have to admit, although I love the ease of using EPs at Universal as opposed to managing LLs at Disney, the bag restrictions on many Universal rides was annoying. I also hated that I often had to wait on line after attractions to link my ride photos. On one hand, Disney makes obtaining your photos much simpler (either via a simple tap with the MB or it happens “automatically”). On the other hand, a lot of the “automatic” Disney ride photos did not work for us this year, requiring me to fill out many Missing Photos forms online.
After finishing with all of the HP rides in IOA, we ate at the Three Broomsticks.
Mushroom Pie Platter and Chicken Fingers
Spareribs Platter, Fish and Chips, Butterbeer Ice Cream, Hog’s Head Brew, and Pumpkin Fizz
On our way out of the Three Broomsticks, DH made a stop at the Hog’s Head and tried the Dragon Scale beer also.
After lunch, we continued on in a counterclockwise direction and rode JPRA and spent a bit of time at the JP Discovery Center. After Kong, I cooled off with a Banana Slush from the Mess Tent.
Then onward to riding Spider-Man and the Seuss Trolley. We took AC breaks in the infrequent shops as we walked through the classic cartoon area, Marvel area, and then Seuss Landing. It really felt like there were large spots in the parks where there weren’t any shops/AC areas to duck into to escape from the heat. I find that Disney is generally better at that but I’m pretty sure I’m biased. We were all pretty tired and hot so interest in rides was at a low point. We skipped most of the Seuss rides but I requested that we ride the Trolley in the sky as we had skipped it during 2019. Plus, I figured it should be a relaxing and somewhat cooling ride. After Seuss Landing, we exited to head to our 5pm ADR at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium.
Confetti (Vanilla Ice Cream, Confetti Cake, Vanilla Buttercream Frosting, Rainbow Sprinkles, and Whipped Topping)
Cookie Jar (Vanilla Ice Cream, Oreo, Oatmeal, and Chocolate Chip Cookies, Whipped Topping)
Espresso Buzzzz (Coffee Ice Cream, Espresso, Chocolate Espresso Beans, Whipped topping, Maraschino Cherry), It also had some kind of cookies on top.
Unfortunately, my pictures of the food were pretty dark and blurry due to the lighting inside. We had the Pork Belly Sliders, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Truffle Fries, Pub It Up Burger, Fork & Knife Grilled Rib Eye Steak Sandwich, NY Strip Steak, and Waffles. I also bought the following treats from the adjoining gift shop:
Assorted macarons, Pink Himalayan Salt Chocolate Bacon, and a Salted Caramel Apple Pie Lollipop
Tomorrow: Volcano Bay!