Universal - it's not just for kids or thrill seekers!
When I won park tickets to Universal, I have to admit, I was thinking, "this isn't the best fit for me".
I planned a long weekend trip for my husband and I, both in our mid 50's. I worried some of the experiences might not be relevant to us since I don't like rides and I don't like crowds - boy was I wrong!
We spent 3 days hopping from park to park and enjoyed every minute! The complex is split into 3 amusement parks and a public area known as City Walk. The parks include Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure (affectionately known to the die-hards as IOA) and Universal's Volcano Bay.
The parks have many immersive experiences - even beyond the infamous Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I mentioned that I don't like rides, well, what is fantastic about both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure is that they allow non riders to walk in line. Why would I want to wait in line without riding you ask… well, the line is half the fun! The sites along the way create a story and some are simply marvelous to view! And when you get to the front of the line, it is very easy to walk a few steps to the exit or visit a family room to wait for your riding companion. It's great for child swap or adults who don't like to ride like myself. I skipped some of the thrill rides this way but still felt very much a part of the adventure. And honestly, there were only about 5 rides in total that I didn't want to ride.
More about the lines… we had Express Passes because we stayed at a Universal Studios Resort (Portofino - keep reading for my review of the hotel). An Express Pass allows you to go on a shorter line (think TSA pre-check). We did not wait in line for more than 15 minutes for any ride with the exception of Haggrids Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, where we waited 70 minutes because it doesn't offer Express Pass lines. I HIGHLY recommend Express Passes; they are priceless if you want to save time and since we were only there for a short weekend, we were thankful to not have to wait in long lines and sacrifice experiences. Express Passes are offered as a perk if you stay at Loews Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel or Loews Royal Pacific. They can also be purchased when you buy your tickets or at the parks - note: they can sell out.
Beyond the rides, there is plenty to experience at the parks. We met Popeye, dined at the Welcome Center of Jurrasic Park among the dinosaurs and got up close to some death eaters in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (okay, admittedly, I didn't know what a death eater was until I looked it up, but it was cool nonetheless!) Bourne Spectacular is a stunt show with incredible visuals utilizing technology in a way that was well beyond what I have ever seen in a stunt show. Poseidon's Fury was also really cool and surprisingly entertaining beyond expectations, my favorite part was that it was so inclusive, an experience truly for everyone.
We stayed at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando. I choose this hotel because it includes Express Passes and offers easy access to Universal Studio's and Islands of Adventure via water taxi (about 5 minutes) and a bus ride to Volcano Bay (about 15 minutes). We also made use of the Garden Walk, a path between the parks and the hotel. It is a very nice stroll and we were able to visit the other hotels along the way which was nice. Hard Rock Hotel at Universal would have been my second choice, again based mainly on location and perks, with Loews Royal Pacific a close third choice. Universal properties also come with other perks such as early admission to certain parks on certain days. We didn't utilize this perk (getting to the parks one hour early was not enough motivation for me to get up early!).
I almost skipped Volcano Bay entirely, the only thing I dislike more than a thrill ride is a water park! In the interest of research for my clients, we headed over there for half a day and again, I was pleasantly surprised! The park was clean, the walkways were constantly being sprayed with water so our feet weren't burning on the ground, lockers were easily accessible (a fee of $6) and the system to wait in line is fantastic! They provide a wrist band when you enter that you scan at the ride and it tells you the wait time and alerts you when to return so you don't have to stand in line. You are free to walk around and enjoy other areas of the park until it is your turn, amazing! We sat at the beach on lounge chairs and relaxed, so much better than standing in line on a hot day!
I actually ended up going on some of the water rides! The popular ride is the Aqua Coaster. I was terrified to go but so glad I did! There are 7 drops, which gave me serious anxiety, but I can honestly say it wasn't scary, it was really fun! If it wasn't a 70 minute wait, I would have gone again!
If you are looking for something fresh and new for a weekend getaway - Universal Studios Florida is a great choice - no matter your age! You too can be pleasantly surprised!
*side note - there weren't many lines during our trip which may have been a result of our timing- immediately following a hurricane! The parks had been closed Wednesday and Thursday, re-opening on Friday. We arrived Saturday morning to beautiful weather, fewer crowds, and no sign of hurricane damage (credit to the staff at Universal for a quick and efficient clean up).
Travel insurance is something people groan about all the time!
Since the cost of the insurance is based on the total cost of the trip (and your age), it is usually quoted last and a forgotten expense. So try to remember to include insurance in the vacation budget!
Why Would I Need It?
How much will it cost?
The cost of a policy is determined by age, level of coverage and cost of trip. There is no one size fits all when it comes to insurance coverage for a trip. For example, a domestic vacation may not require the medical benefits that you want with an international trip. There are many choices of policies, so ask an insurance professional which plan is right for you.
Can I wait to buy it?
Generally speaking, if you want a pre-existing condition waiver included in the policy, you will need to purchase within 7-14 days of initial payment on your trip. Otherwise, you may purchase a policy up to 1 day prior to departure. It is in your best interest to purchase the policy as soon as possible so that the coverage begins before an emergency takes place. Again, each plan is different so be sure to know the specific terms of the policy you are considering.
What is Cancel For Any Reason?
Some companies offer cancel for any reason as an optional benefit. This type of coverage adds to the cost of the policy and you should check the reimbursement percentage, it can start at a mere 50%. If you think that you may cancel for a reason not typically covered (think Zika scare a few years ago) then definitely consider looking into this option.
Which Travel Insurance Companies do you recommend?
There are several reputable travel insurance companies available to you. I personally work closely with Travel Guard and Allianz.
The most important benefit of travel insurance is peace of mind. It's tough to relax and fully enjoy your vacation if you're worried about hurricanes, getting sick, losing your passport or missing your flight. Choosing an insurance policy is a personal matter, everyone's needs are different and there is a policy for every need. I am happy to answer questions or refer you to a trusted partner who can help.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the vaccination card. Until there is one centralized way to present proof of vaccination, that card is going to be very valuable. The card provides information regarding which vaccine you received, when to return for your second dose and serves as proof of vaccination.
Here are answers to some of the FAQ's I have been hearing:
1. Should I laminate my card?
Apparently some of the large office supply stores started advertising that they will laminate the card for free. This is actually NOT recommended since there may be additional information like booster shot details that need to be documented on that card. Instead, you can consider using a plastic sleeve to protect the paper.
2. Will there be a vaccination passport?
It is expected that there will be some type of vaccination passport to help with travel, however, right now there is no one, centralized app or website to upload your vaccination information. Some airlines have made it possible to upload the information into the app along with boarding passes. CLEAR has also included a digital upload feature for its members. We need to wait and see if there will be a unified approach to the proof of vaccination in the coming months.
If you are a NY resident, Governor Cuomo announced the new Excelsior App, in which New Yorkers can show proof of vaccination or a negative covid test for entrance into participating theaters, stadiums, arenas, and other events. Learn more about the Excelsior App here: https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/excelsior-pass
3. What if I lose or damage my card?
The card is pretty important right now so it's best to keep it with your other important documents. It is recommended that you take a photo of front and back to have a copy. If you do lose it or it becomes damaged, try returning to the site you received the vaccine and ask if they can reissue one. Additionally, most states are asking administers to record who receives the shot, so check with your state if they have a database. I live in NY, as per the NYSDOH guidance, vaccinations are registered with NYSIIS/CIR which a physician can access.
Keep those vaccination cards safe!
I love working with seniors! I thoroughly enjoy guiding clients through the planning process, from finding the right destination to organizing the logistics to hearing about the trip upon their return. I am a strong advocate for my clients when it comes to price, quality and service. Trust and building lasting relationships along with continuing education are all extremely important to my business.