This is a summary of our trip for our family of four - DH, DD15, DD12 and me. This was our 7th trip in nine years and our first in two years. We went to Maui last year and absolutely loved it. Because there are other places that we want to go this is likely our last Orlando visit for quite a while especially since DH does not like amusement parks and he spent most of this trip at the hotels while I took our daughters to the parks. As a result, I spent more on this trip than I normally would have to try to pack as much in as possible.
Part 1 – Universal Orlando Resort and then Caribe Royale Orlando Resort
Since this report is too long, here are the highlights:
Hard Rock Hotel
- Love the five minute walk to the parks
- Love Express Passes since they eliminate the need to plan every second of your day
- Love the Kids’ Suite
- Had a bad experience at the pool bar but the manager made it right
- Great meal at The Kitchen
- Loved ice cream cones at Emack & Bolio’s
- Club Level – drinks were good, having to show a driver’s license for every drink was annoying, breakfast was good, evening appetizers were not enough for a meal. Club hours were too limited. It was often closed when we wanted to get something
- Weather was a bit too cool for swimming but the hot tub was enjoyable
- Parks were much more crowded than they have been during the 3rd week of March
- Loved Hulk at night
- Loved the Hogwarts projection show
- Disliked the Fast & Furious ride
- Found more photographers and photo booths than we have in the past.
- Loved Volcano Bay, especially the Aqua Coaster
- Mardi Gras parade is still really fun
- Weather was cloudy and cool (low to mid 60s) for most of our visit. The one sort of rainy day kept the crowds down and was the most enjoyable day.
- Prices have really gone up. For example chocolate frogs are now $12 each
Day 1 (3/16/19) - Travel and Volcano Bay
We left NYC on an 8:05 am flight out of JFK and landed at MCO early at 10:45 am. We arrived at the Hard Rock before noon. Everything about our morning went smoothly.
We made it Volcano Bay by 1:00 pm. We made reservations (60 minute wait) for the Krakatau Aqua Coaster and had with lunch. DD15 and I ate at Bambu. DD15 had the quinoa edamame burger and I had the Mahi sandwich. DD12 picked up carne asada tacos at the Feasting Frog. The food was excellent but at Bambu they messed up our order so we had to return the veggie burger since it was covered in mayo when it was not supposed to be. The service was very slow. We were the only ones in line and it took 5 to10 minutes to get food. The food was excellent however.
The rides were amazing - especially Krakatau Aqua Coaster (the acceleration on the uphill portions was exciting), Honu and Ika Moana of Honu Ika Moana. TeAwa The Fearless River was a huge hit since we thought this was another entrance for the lazy river but were quickly told to put on life jackets. This was one of my favorite parts of the day. We loved the waves in the river. The water was also warm which was nice because the temperatures had started to fall by this point.
We hiked up over 200 steps to the Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides. We did not realize that these were drop slides until we got up there. DD12 decided not to ride. I rode and was scared silly but at least the ride ends in a pool so it does not hurt. DD15 was the only one to ride Ko’okiri Body Plunge and she did that twice because it was so much fun. We loved the raft rides. My DDs did both of the Ohyah and Ohno Drop Slides and said they were fun while I was checking on DH who stayed at the hotel.
Waturi Beach was closed for the day so we did not get to experience that.
We absolutely loved our afternoon there. Due to the weather forecast it was not that crowded. The forecast had been for rain but it did not start raining until we got on the shuttle bus to return to the hotel. It was in the high 70s with some sun so the weather was good. The park is beautiful and the staff was extremely friendly. We found that the TapuTapus worked well.
My only complaint was the completely insufficient shower facilities. Only one locker room was open and that locker room only had three showers for all of the women in the park. A 30 minute wait for a quick shower was a bit annoying.
We will definitely be going back since we loved it there.
https://imgur.com/a/9VmTTsD - This about 1:00pm on Saturday afternoon. Notice how there are hardly any people around.
We stayed in the Future Rock Star suite on the club level at HRH. It was our first visit in the renovated rooms. We have stayed in the kids’ suite five times before. The decor was fun (especially the lights over the kids’ beds) but we miss the table in the kids’ room. We also stayed on the club level - we don’t normally do that. The drinks were good but the hours seemed really limited. We enjoyed breakfast. It would be hard to make a meal out of the evening appetizers. They were very strict about requiring an ID to get a drink. They said it was not to confirm age rather it was to make sure that people were not sharing room keys.
https://imgur.com/a/Yj40yHt - Kids’ Suite pictures
Dinner - Since we had a busy day we wanted something easy for dinner so we chose the pool bar at HRH. We have eaten there during past trips and like it. Because the weather had turned rainy and chilly it was only about a quarter full. Despite that it took forever. It took 10 minutes to see the waiter for the first time. We ordered drinks and dinner. Another 20 minutes passed and we still did not even have waters. Our waiter said that he gave them to another table by mistake. I went over to bar to get the drinks from our waiter who was talking with another waiter. He finally brought the waters and my wine over but not DH’s drink. Another 10 minutes passed and there was still no drink for DH. I went back over to the bar and complained in a polite but insistent way. A couple of minutes later there was still no drink for DH but a manager came over and apologized and offered to pay for our dinner. Normally I would not accept that but a 45 minute wait for drinks in a not crowded restaurant in an extremely expensive hotel is unacceptable. About 10 minutes later we finally got our food. DH gave up on his Margarita. We had considered going to the parks but it was after 8:00 pm by this point so we gave up. An annoying situation was made up by the apology and the free dinner. We had ice cream from Emack & Bolio’s and it was fantastic.
Day 2 (3/17/19) - Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (“IOA”)
Only Universal Studios had early admission during our stay. We walked to the park and arrived around 8:05 am. There was a modest line to get in but it moved quickly and we were in the park within about 5 minutes. It was cloudy and cool (in the low 60s for a high).
We love the Harry Potter areas of the park.
We rode Gringotts with about a 20 minute wait. We did some spells. Since it often has a wait even with Express Passes we rode Despicable Me with about a 5 minute wait. Next we rode Mummy. After that we rode Hogwarts Express (“HEX”) back to IOA. DH met us and we had lunch. All except DD12 picked up lunch at “Doc” Sugrue’s. DD12 got chicken tenders at Fire-Eater’s. Each line was about 20 minutes long. The food was good but not exceptional.
We only go to the parks during the third week in March. The parks were significantly more crowded than they have ever been for our visits. For example usually there is no wait in Hog’s Head pub for butter bear. This time there were about 20 people in line. We wound up getting some frozen butter bear from a cart with about a 10 minute wait.
In the afternoon we rode Caro-Seuss-el, Jurassic Park, HRRR x2, Dr. Doom, Spider-Man, Hulk x2, and Popeye (it was cold so there were very few riders so it was not that much fun). We strategically placed our ponchos so we did not get that wet. We went back to HRH to spend time in the pool (DDs) and hot tub (me). The wine from the club level was appreciated.
For dinner we ate at The Kitchen at the HRH and it was wonderful. The service was perfect. We went back to US. We rode Despicable Me. We had a lovely meet with Snowdiz and watched the Mardi Gras parade with her. The DDs caught a ton of beads. We went back to Diagon Alley after the parade and got butter beer ice cream.
Day 3 (3/18/19) - Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (“IOA”)
The park was arriving just as went downstairs so we took that. We started the day at Gringotts with about a 15 minute wait. We took the HEX back to IOA. We rode FJoHP standby with less than a 20 minute wait. The pictures were down so the attendant led us right back to the front of the line to ride again. The cameras still were not working but at least we got a second ride. The longest wait of our trip was Hippogriff (43 minute wait with EP due to breakdown). We met up with DH to ride Spider-Man. DD12 and I had lunch at Circus McGurkus because DD12 really wanted to eat there. My salad (Tropical Grilled Chicken Salad Combo) was excellent. It was not listed on the menu but I knew to ask for it. DH and DD15 ate at Thunder Falls Terrace.
After lunch we rode Cat in the Hat, MIB, Simpson’s, ET (this ride is looking tired), took some pictures in the ET photo booth and rode the Jimmy Fallon ride. DH went back to the hotel. The DDs and I rode HRRR. After that it was back to the hotel for more pool time in the chilly weather and more “free” drinks from the club level.
We had dinner at Cowfish with only a 15 minute wait. The food was excellent. The DDs and I rode Hulk for the first time at night. It was a totally different experience and we loved it. After that we went to watch the projection show on Hogwarts for the first time. That was really amazing. Once again we had Emack & Bolio’s ice cream for dessert.
Hogwarts Projection Show
Day 4 (3/19/19) - Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (“IOA”) and transfer to Caribe Royale
It was a somewhat rainy day. We thought this was going to be disappointing but it wound up working in our favor because it did not rain that much and the crowds were much lower. Once again we started with Gringotts which had less than a 10 minute wait. DD15 bought a Fluffy puppet that we had shipped to the front of the park. We did some spells in Diagon Alley. We took the HEX back to IOA. Because it was cold we tried the warm butter beer (from Hog’s Head Pub with no wait). That was delicious. I like it better than the frozen butter beer. We rode FJoHP standby with about a 10-15 minute wait (cameras still were not working). DD12 bought some candy (also sent to the front of the park).
We rode Kong in the standby line for the first time. A scare actor really startled DD12. The ride skipped the outside part due to the rain. We rode the Seuss Trolley that had a relatively long wait (about 20 minutes) because they were only running one side.
We rode HEX back to US. We ate lunch in the Simpsons food court. The turkey sandwich was quite good. DD12 wanted to ride the Simpson’s Ride. DD15 and I went to ride MIB but it was down. We waited for DD12 to get off Simpsons. DD12 won the Marge Simpson doll that she wanted. By this time MIB was back up so we rode that twice.
We rode Fast & Furious for the first time ever. We had EP but I think that line was longer than standby. When the lines merged and everyone was packed into very small spaces with long waits I felt very uncomfortable. The actual ride was mildly interesting for me but it was one and done for me.
We rode Transformers. For me it is basically the same ride as Spider-Man but much rougher. So much so that it made me feel a bit nauseous. The DDs went to ride HRRR while I went to pick up our pictures from the photo plan (I had purchased a Black Friday special that came with prints including a poster). I had to go to a special location to pick up the poster. While I waited I noticed that they had automated photo booths with fun backgrounds.
The DDs headed over to IOA so DD12 could ride Ripsaw Falls. I met up with them to head over to Hogsmeade. The DDs rode FJoHP one last time. I skipped it this time. I waited for them on the benches near Ollivanders and unfortunately dropped my new umbrella there and did not realize it until we were back at the hotel.
Hotel - Caribe Royale
It was time to leave so that we could move to our next hotel, Caribe Royale. It is a very affordable hotel with two bedroom villas near WDW. This was our fourth stay. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that they have completely renovated the units. The best part was the completely redesigned bathroom. For everything else the layout was the same, just now everything was brand new. The only slight issue was that the new paint was causing the front door to stick. We had to body slam it to get the door open. We had a good, if unmemorable meal at the hotel restaurant, Tropicale.
Day 5 (3/20/19) – Rest day
We went up to The Villages to spend the day with my parents. It was a great, relaxing day.
Part 2 (WDW) will follow in a few days…