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Trip Report What I learned during a week in Orlando at Universal and Legoland

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Just spent a week in Orlando with our 7 year old grandson and his parents. We stayed at the Marriott Cypress Harbor in a 2 bedroom unit with a complete kitchen. We’ve stayed at many Marriott resorts but Cypress Harbor is one of the best. There are three large heated pools and so many things for kids to do that our grandson preferred the resort to the theme parks.

The first day after arrival was spent at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. We paid $5 extra for preferred parking ($20) but as best I can figure, this just puts you on the same level as the parks so you don’t have to use the escalators in the parking garage. According to the experts on the web, that particular Monday was supposed to be a less crowded day. We arrived at the opening time and tried to do everything. As we entered we noticed that most folks seemed to be headed straight ahead or to the left, so we went to the right. For the first hour, we found no lines at the attractions along our route. After the first hour or so, we realized that we made a mistake by not purchasing the Express Pass. We still were able to see everything but had to wait around 20 minutes at some of the attractions. The wait at Harry Potter‘s Forbidden Journey around 1pm was just over an hour (can’t use Express Pass for this one). Butterbeer is delicious, although pricey at $11 if you keep the plastic mug. It’s available frozen or regular and we decided the frozen was better. Harry Potter and Spiderman were our favorite attractions except for our grandson who found some attractions including Harry Potter a bit too intense. Despite not liking the Harry Potter attraction, our grandson insisted on going home with a magic wand, a variety of which can be purchased for $30 as you exit the attraction. We ate at Mythos Restaurant for lunch. The food was very good and the price was what I expected for a nice restaurant at a theme park, about $10-18 for entrees. We finished everything around 4pm and headed back to Cypress Harbor.

The second day was dedicated to Legoland. Getting there took 45 minutes. There are lots of discounts to Legoland available on the web so do a search before you go. We bought tickets a month ago using a McDonald’s promo code and got two child tickets free. That’s a $130 saving for a family of four. Legoland is definitely for the little ones, probably those 12 and under. There are oodles of rides and attractions for little kids. Teenagers will probably be bored with most of rides. There are a couple of roller coasters, but that’s about it for thrill rides. Legoland is located on the old Cypress Garden site and the gardens are still there and they are beautiful! The southern belles that use to parade about the old Cypress Gardens are now full size lego figures. There is still a ski show but it now involves pirates. The most surprising thing I found was the cost of food. It was reasonable! We had lunch at the pizza buffet which includes a salad bar, pasta bar, and many kinds of pizza. Price (including unlimited drink) was $10.99 for adults and $6.99 for kids. The only rides that had waits (about 20 minutes) were the boats and large cars. If you are planning a trip to Orlando with small children, this park is a must do. We’ve taken our grandson to all the other parks in the Orlando area and this is his favorite. Another tip: Consider the Senior Garden Pass if you are 60+ and will visit more than once in a year. It’s only $10 more than regular admission, is good for a year and includes free parking. However, you must visit the park Monday – Friday only with the Garden Pass. Not good on weekends.

We’re back to Universal Studios on the third day. This time we had ordered the Express Pass on line before arriving. Pick up at the kiosk was quick and easy. As the Express Pass is good only once for each attraction, we didn’t use it for the first hour or so as there were no lines. My grandson’s favorite was ET so we had to do it several times. My favorite was the Rip Ride Rockit which was the best roller coaster I’ve ever been on. Tip: even if you’re in a group, use the singles line. We were on in less than 15 minutes when the regular line was over one hour. My grandson really liked “Men in Black” and we all enjoyed Shrek 4-D. We had pretty much seen it all by 5:00 so we headed back to Cypress Harbor.

Our fourth day started with a swim and activities at Cypress Harbor, then a late lunch at Emeril’s, then to a 6pm performance of Blue Man Group. Emeril’s is kinda pricey but there is a special 3 course lunch for $22 that is a bargain. The bread pudding was described by my daughter as the best ever. The theatre for Blue Man Group is just a short walk from Emeril’s and we had time to kill so we strolled about the shops in the area and played a game of miniature golf before heading to the theatre. Blue Man Group is quite entertaining and appropriate for all ages. My daughter was chosen from the audience for the Twinkie segment and our grandson couldn’t believe his mom was the star of that 15 minute segment. Tip: Be aware that the first four rows are issued ponchos . . . enough said.

Our remaining two days were spent mostly at Cypress Harbor; swimming, boating, biking, and relaxing. We ate at area restaurants at least once a day and the only one worth noting is a chain Italian restaurant named Bravo. Excellent food and reasonable prices.

Additional tip: The price for the Express Pass at Universal varies greatly depending on the demand. If you plan to purchase it, buy it early as the price can go up. Also, you might use the price of the Express Pass as a gauge of how crowded a park will be each day. I think it’s safe to assume that the park will be less crowded on a day when the Express Pass is $19 versus a day when the pass is $69.

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