It’s that time again, off-topic lovers! More food and fun from Universal Orlando Resort during our February/March Florida trip this year. This time, after pricing up the options, we got annual passes for just a bit more than the 2-park, park-to-park passes for our trip. SOLD! 🙂 That means we just have to go back for a single day in the next 15 months to come out ahead and admission is free every day after that. Pretty cool. And with the new Hagrid coaster opening in June, well, it’s pretty much guaranteed. Anyway, below you’ll find a report on the rides and sights and stay and, especially, the food. Here’s the Islands of Adventure lighthouse from our first night for your enjoyment!
We ate at some new places and some old places this time. I’ve got pictures from some, others you’ll get to enjoy through the glory of text! Huzzah!
As an aside, we had lunch at the Albany airport and tried the Chick-Fil-A there for the first time. Typical Chick-Fil-A, which is to say yummy. And busy.
Anyway…this was our third trip to the Resort and we stayed at our third hotel. This time we stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific, it was the first time it was available when I was booking the stay. Generally it’s the cheapest of the deluxe hotels, the ones that come with unlimited express, so it seems to go fast. It’s pretty close to CityWalk if you want to walk instead of taking the available water taxi, too. Not as close as the Hard Rock, but closer than Portofino Bay. You come out quite close to Islands of Adventure, so we sort of picked which end of CityWalk we wanted and chose walking or water taxi based on that, since the water taxi puts you down by Universal Studios. We still haven’t figured out what to do for our feet to avoid blisters, so we mixed up walking and water taxi rides to limit the non-park walking. Tried Body Glide on our feet this time and I also brought my running shoes instead of everyday shoes. Neither worked. Got non-cotton socks and moleskin for our next trip, already 🙂
The hotel was nice enough, although the check in experience could be clearer. OK, what I really mean is the parking to check in experience. Is it that hard to put up a sign for where to park while you check in as do most hotels? Instead you basically ignore ‘don’t park here!’ signs and park near the entrance to check in. Our room was, save one more hallway, as far as possible from the walkways/water taxis, so that wasn’t ideal. Maybe now that we’re annual pass holders we’ll get better rooms? 😉 The real glitch was that, for unfathomable reasons, there was no couch in our room. Just a bed and a desk chair. Weird. I texted reception and they offered to move us, but we’d already started to unpack and didn’t want to bother (I sort of thought it would be easy enough for them to bring us a couch, I mean, they got one out). I asked if we could at least get some comfy chairs or something and, indeed, when we got back from dinner there were two chairs and a little table. Not ideal, but we were mostly using the room for sleeping, so, whatever. The bed was really comfortable, which was nice. Same weird sliding vault door separating the sink room from the toilet/shower stall room as at Sapphire Falls. Despite the fact that the hotel rooms were recently renovated, there was noticeable water damage around the shower which has a glass door closure. These are just a mistake. Every hotel I’ve ever stayed at with one instead of a simple, cheap curtain has water damage and the floor is always flooded when you finish showering. The shower itself was nice with both a regular fixed showerhead and a handheld one that was really nice on the back after a day of walking the parks.
This trip we arrived on Saturday afternoon and planned Sunday and Monday at the parks before heading to my Mom’s on Tuesday. After settling in we took the water taxi to CityWalk and the ticketing booths outside Universal Studios to get our annual passes. That done, we meandered into that park to look for a lanyard for me before we got dinner. We decided to hit up Antojitos in CityWalk for dinner.
We had a good meal here last time and were really pleased with our meals again. That’s the chimichanga my wife got. She liked it. I loved the steak I got last time with the churrasco, but didn’t quite want that much food, so I got carne fajitas. The steak was once again an A+. I’m not sure what people are ordering that have a problem with Antojitos, everything we’ve had is pretty good. I’m not going to get into an “authentic” debate, despite the full name being Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food. I even like the guac that came with it and I don’t care much for guac. The tableside fresh guac that people rave about probably is as fantastic as they say.
I did have issues with the side of black beans I got to try to fiber up my day a bit. They weren’t really very good. No, strike that. They were flavored with something that I just didn’t care for, I think. I ended up dumping in random toppings for my fajitas with them to eat most of them, but wouldn’t get them again. I would totally get the fajitas again. Nothing extraordinary, but the steak was great.
Afterwards there was just about time for one ride and I decided to finally scratch that itch and got in line for the Incredible Hulk coaster. I thought I was being smart getting in the single rider line instead of bothering with the Express Pass line. This was a mistake. While the single rider wasn’t quite as long, I should have done Express. I had plenty of time to enjoy the theming in the queue, that’s for sure. I ended up about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way back in the car but finally made it on. And it was freaking amazing. Blew me away (I’m just a so-so coaster fan, so this, one of the best in Florida, but not like super bonkers wow amazing, was pretty much the max for me). 0-40 in 2 seconds launch? Oh yeah. Then you just feel like you’re either looping or rolling the rest of the time. Long time riders say it’s not as smooth as it was when it was new, although better after it was rebuilt, but it felt pretty smooth to my question mark of a back. With the park closing we stopped into Toothsome for a bit of dessert. I lined up for a sundae while my wife picked up some macarons in the shop. I opted for the S’mores sundae that was pretty good and bigger than I expected. We shared it and then called it a night. That lighthouse shot above is from our water taxi ride back to the hotel.
On Sunday we didn’t bother to get up early enough for early admission so we got into the parks without much delay. Other than hordes of roving dance team girls, the days we were there weren’t terribly busy (rated ‘moderate’ by Orlando Informer’s crowd calendar), but we did take advantage of our Express Passes most of the time, especially since we’ve seen most of the queues already. Honestly, at this point other than meals, I won’t be able to pin down what we did when. So let me go through what we ate and then sum up other things we did. We decided to try breakfast at The Three Broomsticks this time, instead of the Leaky Cauldron. This was more or less a mistake. Don’t forget to click on smaller pictures to see them enlarged.
The place is neat, no doubt. And pretty empty when we were there. The food was fine, too. My wife went for the porridge breakfast and I got the adventurous American breakfast. We added some juice and waters.
The fruit, sadly, was not very good. Simply out of season. The oatmeal was decent and absolutely blazing hot. This is the only advantage over the Leaky Cauldron I can think of. They don’t have the porridge there.
The main problem is one that I just cannot wrap my head around. See if you can spot it in this closeup:
Do you see it? Put yourself mentally in one of those chairs. When you sit down you’re barely off the floor and the table is practically in your face. What on EARTH were they thinking here? A lot of tables have these travesties of chairs on one side and a bench on the other. The bench is totally normal! Crazy. We ended up trying to sit in these stupid chairs and then moving elsewhere and sitting side by side on a bench. They had some bigger booths with just benches that EVERYONE, including us, kept walking over to in order to sit there and feel normal, but they all had ‘reserved’ signs on them, despite no one ever using them. I’m not kidding when I say I would probably not eat in here again just because of these stupid chairs.
People seem to love Bread Box Handcrafted Sandwiches out in CityWalk and it seemed like a good time to try it for lunch. It was…fine. My wife tried the egg salad platter and I got the buffalo chicken platter. The egg salad was OK, but an odd choice to put it on pumpernickel apparently.
Mine was fine, nothing to write home about. The tots are a fun side option here. I guess compared to typical theme park food, this is a decent alternative. Better than the ridiculously overrated Earl of Sandwich, that’s for sure.
Dinner on Sunday was at the NBC Sports Grill & Brew, again in CityWalk. Just looking to keep it simple and the reviews are pretty positive. We had a 5- or 10-minute wait, which was fine. My wife wasn’t looking for much and got a caesar salad and a side of corn bread (she loves the stuff, me, not so much). I just got a simple burger…literally the Simple Burger…cheese, lettuce, tomato on a bun. Came with fries. It hit the spot. Waitress was really nice.
Before heading back to the hotel, I saw the short line at Voodoo Doughnut and we decided to splurge.
We just got two each, as hard as it was to limit ourselves. We both got an apple fritter (hot from the oven) and I went for the Portland Cream (“raised yeast shell filled with Bavarian cream and topped with chocolate and two eyeballs, representing the vision of the great city of Portland“) and my wife got, I’m pretty sure without having a clue as to the reference, the ODB (“raised yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting, Oreo cookies, and peanut butter“). The fritters were stashed away and the others were dessert at the hotel.
Yeah, they’re good. Very good. I had my fritter for breakfast before we got rolling the next morning and it was really good, too. Lunch on Monday was back at the Leaky Cauldron and we got pretty much the same thing we got last time we had lunch there in 2016, the specialty chicken sandwich and the fish and chips. I got the Tongue Tying Lemon Squash to drink this time, though. It was really good, not too sweet fresh lemonade. Great choice. And, let me be clear, I don’t care if the fish and chips isn’t the same/as good as what you get at the local chip shop in England, it’s really good for a theme park 🙂 Oh, and I added on a chocolate potted cream for us to share for dessert. Wow! One of the best things we had the whole trip. Definitely getting that again. Orlando Informer has a decent picture and describes it accurately: This rich, thick chocolate cream is chocolate heaven in an adorable glass jar. The chocolate cream is dark chocolate with a heavy-yet-whipped consistency. While this dessert would be monotonous on its own, the dab of whipped cream and the candied cherry, along with a drizzle of cherry syrup, add some simple variety.
Lastly, we had dinner at Toothsome. To get seated slightly quicker, we were willing to sit outside, which was OK at first, but as the temperatures continued to drop and the breeze kept kicking up, was really a touch too chilly by the time we finished. The outside area has canvas walls and they have pretty strong space heaters, but when the heaters were off it was nippy. My wife tried the Forest Mushroom flatbread with mushrooms, goat cheese, caramelized onions, arugula, and white truffle oil, while I went crazy with the cheddar bacon burger, which was fine. The flatbread was OK, but a bit hard to eat due to lacking space to hold onto it anywhere, plus she picked off a lot of arugula. You have to really like arugula given how much they put on. Too cold and stuffed for a shake, yet again, we were done eating for the day.
Our final meal was the super fantastic breakfast buffet at The Kitchen in the Hard Rock. Not to be missed, if you can manage it. And other than some drinks and a pretzel or whatever, that’s the eating portion of the Resort visit. Didn’t make it to Florean Fortescues for ice cream. No massive shakes. Based on lackluster reviews, skipped the Mardi Gras snacks.
As for the rest, in summary fashion:
- I rode Hulk a second time, this time taking the Team Member’s advice on lines and going Express, then, when you have the option, getting into the front row line and rode there. Wow. Super fun in the front row. Had to wait to disembark this time as it seems like the TMs were cleaning up a protein spill two cars ahead of us. Definitely my favorite ride of the trip.
- Did Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit once. It is so much harsher than Hulk. However, I DID manage to get the secret songs menu to work and was able to do The Temples of Syrinx!
- E.T. Adventure is just terrible. I’m sorry, it just is. I get the nostalgia and, yes, I’ll go on it again. But it’s terrible 🙂
- We took time to at least walk back through Curious George Playland a bit, just to see all that. We also sort of got lost near Poseidon, maybe it’s an area for service dog walking? Not sure, it was weird. (In retrospect, I think this is where the entrance to the Sinbad stunt show used to be)
- Did Men In Black Alien Attack and I think I got my high score, an embarrassing 184,000 or so, mostly from the 100,000 bonus. I’ll do better next time 🙂 Got to remember the tricks.
- Still love Escape from Gringotts. Still prefer it to Forbidden Journey.
- Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees bring it e-v-e-r-y time. Hope to catch the Christmas edition at some point.
- Arrived at just the right time for the Tales of Beedle the Bard and…got stuck with the Fountain of Fair Fortune again. Ugh. 🙂 Want to see the Three Brothers.
- Did the Hogwarts Express in both directions again…London to Hogsmeade for the win, not even close.
- Waved and blew a raspberry as we skipped Fast & Furious.
- Revenge of the Mummy is still awesome.
- Raced right by Jimmy Fallon.
- Skipped the confusing Transformers.
- Mostly because I figure eventually it has to be ripped out, I dragged us on Shrek 4-D. It wasn’t great. But it’s not THAT bad. Is it?
- Spent some time in Seuss Landing, did The Cat in the Hat again, rode the Caro-Seuss-el for the first time, and did the High in the Sky Suess Trolley Train Ride, but this time we got the ABC side instead of the Sneetches side!
- Did Poseidon’s Fury again just to enjoy an attraction with a TM host and because it also seems like a target for replacement.
- Dragged my poor wife on Flight of the Hippogriff, mistakenly thinking it was really mild…it’s not extreme, but I wouldn’t call it mild. It’s a fun little family coaster with some fast bits.
- Rode Skull Island: Reign of Kong again. It’s not amazing, but it’s fun enough when the wait’s not extreme. Enjoyed the animatronic more from the left side than I did from the right last time.
- Spider-Man is still fun, although I’m not sure it’s still my favorite. The Mummy and Hulk are nipping at his webby heels.
- I also popped onto (up on?) Doctor Doom’s Fearfall for the first time, despite my very real fear of heights. It’s a short ride with basically one quick thrill, but what a thrill it is. Dang. I got a kick out of it and will do it again.
- We stood with the crowd to watch the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle. Man is this dumb. I’m sorry, but there’s crowds lined up to squish together to watch it. What a m’eh. Post-middle aged TM getting people to line up out of the walkway for it, summed it up: “Yep, that’s it.” when someone was overhead asking “Is it over?” Snooze. Watch it on YouTube and be done with it.
- We didn’t make it to the Cinematic Celebration, but will next time. We did watch the Mardi Gras parade, though, I opted for that since that’s not going on all the time. We also got to watch the entertainers…entertaining…while we waited for Shrek.
- We skipped Mythos this time (because they seem to have gotten rid of the falafel burger my wife loved), but we walked around it for some great photos, it’s themed amazingly well
- I really do love the theming of Port of Entry in Islands of Adventure
- My purchasing this trip revolved almost entirely around pins as I randomly decided to start collecting some. Sure…”some”.
- My wife got a rather smaller selection 🙂
- A couple of treats: decided to get a pumpkin juice to try (it’s still in the fridge, so far unopened).
- Got another chocolate frog and, at 2, have just a few less cards than Ron Weasley.
- Picked up a nice Globus Mundi luggage tag to replace the mangled one on my computer bag.
- Got one of each of the four choices from Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment stand. A strong word of warning for those hoping to bring these home like me, the tops are NOT tight enough to rely on. I put them on as tight as I could and then put them in a ziplock to get to my Mom’s, then taped them on carefully (avoiding taping the labels) and put them back in a bag for the flight. This worked fine. Ranked by preference: Draught of Peace (berries with a delicious, noticeable nip of cherry) far and away the best, then Fire Protection Potion and Elixir to Induce Euphoria (nice and have a ‘real’ vs ‘candy/artificial’ taste to them (think Japanese candy quality)) and finally Babbling Beverage Mixture (fruit punch), which is the only one I would not get again, it tasted super artificial. Any of the first three are nice and refreshing.
- Got some macarons (DELICIOUS) and Penelope’s Peanut Butter Drizzle chocolate caramel popcorn (nothing to write home about, but glad to see new items!) from Toothsome. The macarons I got were (left to right):
- black forest – scrumptious with a nice cherry filling layer
- vanilla bean – yummy, but not exciting
- chocolate – it’s chocolate, it was tasty
- king cake – not sure what this was going for, forgettable, but figured it was limited time for Mardi Gras
- cookies and cream – pretty good
- peanut butter and jelly – yum
- They had hot butterbeer for the first time during our visit so one afternoon we popped into a quiet Hogshead Pub for one each of hot and frozen butterbeer. We tried regular on an earlier trip and were underwhelmed and I downright didn’t care for the fudge. The hot was far and away our favorite as we split the two drinks. Seriously, find a way to sell this in stores. I’d totally have it in place of cocoa. The frozen was OK and might hit the spot more on a really hot Florida day, but it was thickly slushy and a bit hard to drink and, as you can see, the foam got sort of chunky and weird. It was OK, but second best. The hot, on the right, was smooth and creamy and delicious on a coolish February day. The topping does sort of break down and incorporate into the drink, though.
That’s all and that’s plenty. We had fun and I can’t wait to go back and use our annual passes again. If you haven’t ever been, I urge you to give it a try. The Adventure Begins!