The Unofficial Guide-Universal Orlando Book Review

Photo provided by

Photo provided by

I just love a good book, don’t you?  I’ve been a pretty voracious reader ever since I was tall enough to slide a library card across the librarian’s desk.  I’ll admit that I don’t seem to find as much time as I once did to devote to reading but I still love it.  Aside from actual travel, there’s no better way to explore new lands and experience new things than we do when we lose ourselves in a book.  Maybe I’ll do a post someday on my absolute favorite travel books….. (back in a sec, making a notation on my blog post to-do list…..).

Anyhoo, today I’m bringing you a quick review of The Unofficial Guide’s new travel tome on Universal Orlando, written by Seth Kubersky with Bob Sehlinger & Len Testa.  If you haven’t perused your local bookstore in the travel section, then you may not have come across The Unofficial Guide before.  There are many titles to choose from and one of the most comprehensive (re: thick and heavy) TUG’s out there is The Walt Disney World edition.  There is a new edition published yearly and it is an amazing resource in planning a Walt Disney World vacation.  The 2016 edition devotes a mere 70 pages to Universal Orlando; there is also a book titled “Beyond Disney: The Universal Guide to Universal Orlando, Sea World, and the Best of Central Florida” that is written by the same team.  These and several other books by these writers are available for purchase in most bookstores, and online in both paper and e-doc format.

As Universal Orlando has grown in size and scope, the writers decided to expand upon their previously written material to offer a more in-depth guide to the other big draw in Central FL.  I wanted to focus on a few of the pros/cons and my general impression of this guidebook.  I’ll start with the Cons first:

  1.  The biggest disappointment I have with this book is the lack of photos.  First let me say that I absolutely understand why photos are not included in this guide.  I believe the writers intend for you to be able to carry this book with you while touring if needed.  The addition of photos would add more pages, more pages equals more heft.  I totally get it.  But, I am a visual person; I learn information better when I can see it so not having any photos as a frame of reference is a little disappointing.  Can I search on Google Images or You Tube?  Sure, but if I’m feeling lazy or don’t have a computer or smart phone, I’m not going to do that.  Minor complaint, but a complaint nonetheless.  I’ll note that there are several drawings of property maps.
  2. As with any travel destination, Universal Orlando is not static; more so than any theme park in recent years, Universal Orlando is ALWAYS changing, always updating in its bid to stay current and exciting.  So, this is a problem that plagues every travel guide out there.  Despite being published in August, some of the information is already dated.  Again, this is a very minor issue that typically a few Google searches can correct (in terms of attraction closures, new attractions, etc.)

There’s very little I have to complain about with this guide.  Let’s get to some of the Pros:

  1. The size is right.  At 12 ounces and 8 inches tall/5 inches wide, there should be little problem in fitting this guide in your back pack or touring bag if you need it.
  2. The ride descriptions are easy to read and informative.  For example, here is a snapshot of the initial ride description for Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit:  USO Guide Ride Review  They give stars to indicate not only the popularity of the ride but they also break it down by age group.  I have a 4-year old so I know that our ride selection will be limited (as USO is pretty transparent about its suitability for the 8+ crowd).  With an attraction like Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, it’s pretty evident in the title that this will be one to skip with a young kiddo.  But, not all titles are as discernible so I appreciate the heads up so that I can better plan our touring beforehand (the height requirement in the description is a big help also).
  3. An honest review is important for any guide-book.  Granted, everyone is going to have an opinion that may not jibe with yours and services reviewed will have good and bad days so I guess you can take it or leave it.  But, I appreciate a guide-book that will tell me what to explore and what to avoid, particularly when it comes to food.  One of my favorite aspects of travel is dining.  I love reading dining reviews and planning my meals for a vacation.  As the designated cook extraordinaire in my household, I relish the opportunity to spend a week being showered with other’s delectables.  If a restaurant sucks, I want to know about it before I’m $20 into a dish my 4-year old could have made.  Here is an example of the book’s review for Moe’s Tavern:  Moe's Tavern Review  Again, the simple header gives you an idea of the value by telling you the average portion size and a grade.  You can read the full description but when you’re sitting on a bench with a screaming child and/or irritable hungry teens, it helps to have a short, bold reference to refer to quickly to help you make a decision.
  4. The last big pro I want to discuss are the touring plans.  What I believe makes this and the WDW Unofficial Guide truly stand out are the touring plans.  Simply put, they give you a step by step guide on how to spend your day in the theme park.  There’s an explanation in the books about how they developed these plans.  There are formulas, equations, perhaps some crystal ball gazing (not really), but it’s a basic predictor of how the crowds typically manifest during the day and gives you a guide to hopefully avoid standing in line.  Len Testa, a contributor to this book, runs the Touring Plans website (found here), which is another incredible resource in Disney/Universal vacation planning.  I will admit that I use this site in planning vacations both for myself and for my clients.  I believe the touring plans are an indispensable part of touring effectively and can attest to their helpfulness in moving through a park efficiently.

    Touring Plan 2

    One Day Touring Plan for Adults at Universal Studios.

Each touring plan has a map with numbered dots on top of the attractions listed in the order in which they suggest that you tour.  These maps are meant to be “clippable” for even easier portability but keep in mind that there are no perforations so either rip them out or get your scissors to work.

There is so much more to this book than can possibly be covered in a single blog post.  Bottom line, I believe this book is worth your time and cash when planning a Universal Orlando vacation.  I purchased the paperback version of this book for $13.49 from here.  As of this writing, it is listed for $13.27 so you never know with Amazon’s pricing; it could go up or down.

If you have any questions about this post or would like assistance in planning a Universal Orlando vacation, feel free to comment below and/or contact me at any time for more information!  You can find me on Facebook at Magical Vacations by Tracy or email at  You can also follow me on Instagram HERE.  See you soon!

Tracy PhotoTracy Hurdle is a work-at-home mother of one and a former social worker turned travel agent.  She’s always had a love of travel planning and couldn’t be happier at being given the opportunity to do so on a broader scale with families just like yours.

Shop Disney Parks App-Most Dangerous App Ever?

If you have an affinity for Disney merchandise and a smart phone, then the answer is “yes, it just might be”, at least in terms of your wallet.  Disney released the Shop Disney Parks app in mid-August for use on Android and Apple smart phones.  This free app is available in your device’s app store; I initially had a little difficulty downloading the app (an error message about the script) but was successful on the second try.  I thought I would run you through the basics and give you my opinion of its performance.

As the title of the app implies, this little online store gives you access to Disney Parks merchandise.  What I love about this app already is that it features products that I have not been able to find on the regular Disney Store website.  I’ve been working on my family’s costumes for this year’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.  We love the Haunted Mansion attraction and decided to dress in that theme for the party this year.  I was interested in purchasing the Ghost Host tees for my husband and I and was able to easily find the male version of that shirt on the Disney Store online.  However, the female Ghost Host shirt was missing from the site.  A quick Google search revealed the female shirt available for purchase on Amazon if you are a) a size Medium, and b) willing to shell out $65, of which I am neither.  Ebay didn’t fare much better so I was resigned to do without.  Much to my extreme delight, I immediately found the shirt I wanted on the Shop Disney Parks app in both the size I needed and at a much more reasonable price (by Disney merchandise standards, anyway).

When you open the app, you will see this screen:

Opening app screen

Opening app screen

It allows you to scroll down to see 4-5 featured items.  On the top left, you see the little magnifying glass search icon that allows you to enter your search terms.

Search screen

Search screen

For my purchase, I searched for “haunted mansion” items and received 141 options.  You can use the filter key to the top right if you’d like to narrow down your search but I actually scrolled through to check them all out.  When you select a clothing item, you can scroll down to select from the available colors and sizes.


This is where it gets cool.  The three blue buttons below the item allow for you to “Add to bag” which you will do if you have more shopping to do, “Order Now” if this is the only product you need, or “Find on Map.”  This is a really neat feature that I can’t wait to try when I’m at Disney World in October.  When you are in a Walt Disney World park, you may search for your item and then select “Find on Map” to see from which store this item can be purchased.  I’ve seen several posts about guests being so disappointed because they never found such and such after searching all of the stores on their visit.  This app should eliminate those issues.  Your kiddo suddenly has to have that Stitch plush?  Boom, find it on the app, and then use the map to track it down.  Screenshot_2015-08-25-12-31-09

Now, let’s get back to my experience using the app.  I selected my shirt and went to my shopping bag.  I was given the option to “review and purchase.”  At that point, I was instructed to sign in using my ‘My Disney Experience” account information.  You are given the opportunity to create an account if you don’t already have one.  Once you sign in, you can enter your shipping and payment information (or it will automatically enter for you if you have this info saved to your MDE account; you will be asked for your saved credit card’s security code).  The one bummer about this is the shipping.  There are no options to change shipping type (for expedited service, for instance) and there is no discount for purchasing a certain amount of product (like on the Disney Store online, in which you can often receive free shipping if you purchase at least $75 worth of merchandise).  Once you agree to the Merchandise Return Policy, you click the green “Purchase” button and you’re done!

Almost immediately after my purchase, I received my confirmation email.  Three days later, I received an email indicating my shirt had shipped and the tracking link so I could obsess about my package.  Five days after that, I had my shirt in my hands!  Not a bad turn around time if you ask me.  My package arrived in the typical brown, nondescript box.  The shirt itself was wrapped in cutie-patootie Disney tissue paper.  The box also contained a note thanking me for the purchase and the larger merchandise return form.  A separate shipping receipt was also included.  Overall, this was a super easy process and I was beyond excited to receive my shirt after previously thinking I would be missing out.

My cute little package all wrapped up in Disney tissue.

My cute little package all wrapped up in Disney tissue.

Thank you note

Thank you note

Return form

Return form

My shirt, My shirt!

My shirt, My shirt!

One last thing:  The other super cool feature that I can’t wait to try out is the barcode scanner.  On the home page of the app, you’ll notice at the top a small barcode. Screenshot_2015-08-25-09-09-54Once opened, this will allow you to scan an item you find in the park and purchase the item in the app.  Why is this useful? Have you ever been inside a park store and saw THE souvenir, but it was fragile, huge, or otherwise inappropriate for air travel?  This feature on the app will allow you to purchase THE souvenir and have it shipped directly to your home.  Bypass the awkward packing dilemma and get that baby on its way to you before you even leave Orlando.  Eureka!

My plan is to do a follow up to this article after my visit in October so that I can update you on both the “Find on Map” feature and the barcode scanner.  In the meantime, feel free to contact me at any time for more information or to assist you in booking your next vacation!  You can find me on Facebook at Magical Vacations by Tracy or email at  You can also follow me on Instagram HERE.  See you soon!

Tracy PhotoTracy Hurdle is a work-at-home mother of one and a former social worker turned travel agent.  She’s always had a love of travel planning and couldn’t be happier at being given the opportunity to do so on a broader scale with families just like yours.





LOVE DOING THINGS FROM YOUR PHONE!!!!!!mickey cell phone cover

Enter to Win a Disney LeSportSac bag from Picturing Disney!


Hey there Mouzies!

Just had to share this great new contest from my photoblog Picturing Disney and LeSportSac! The best part about it is that there will be 2 winners! The first winner will nab the awesome bag pictures above (Deluxe Everyday Bag with matching zip closure pouch and Ipo Charm)  and a second winner will get a cute Rectangular Cosmetic Bag (no charm)!

The contest is live now and you can ENTER HERE!

ARGH! Save your doubloons or join the crew at The Pirates League?

The Pirates League

Pirate flags decorate the walls of The Pirates League

If you didn’t know it was there it would be easy to walk right by The Pirates League. It is tucked away in the Magic Kingdom between Pirates of the Caribbean ride entrance and the gift shop. Even worse, while everyone seems to know about Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique with all their ball gowns and glitter, it seems that The Pirates League does a pretty good job of keeping a low profile. Just like with the princess counter-part, The Pirates League is a chance for kids to dress up, only here – it’s the pirate life for them. They can choose to add costumes or simply the face painting and accessories. But is it worth the money? Here are three reasons you should part with your doubloons for this experience.

Yo-ho, a pirate's life for me

The Pirates League offers options for boys who want to get dressed up but don’t want to spend their time in the castle with pixie dust!

1. Boys go to Disney too! This one should also include, not all girls want to be princesses all the time. Disney has absolutely cornered the market on the “Happily Ever After” princess tale. From meet and greets to meals to expensive makeovers at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. But for a long time that left boys feeling a little left out of all the dress up fun. Most boys I know love to dress up it’s just that most of them don’t want to dress up as Prince Charming – a black eye and a sword, now you are talking their language! The Pirates League gives them an escape from all the pink and glitter. Not to be forgotten are the little girls who want to sign up for the pirate’s life. There is the Empress package or the Mermaid package that gives them a makeover with pirate accessories necessary to go plunder the Magic Kingdom.

The Empress package

A great alternative for the girls who would rather be a pirate than a princess!

2. The Pirates Oath and your pirate name. Before you head back to get made over and join the crew – you have to pick out a pirate name. And in true pirate fashion – you must stick to the code. Based on your birthday and letters of your name you are given your new pirate name. Learn it because for as long as you are there, that is your name! Kids love getting their new name and the older ones will tend to remember their pirate name long after the experience is over. And to me that is what part of the Disney magic is all about – remembering those magical moments long after the vacation is over and “real life” has set in again. And the pirate oath is one of my favorite things that they do at The Pirates League. Once your new pirates makeover is complete, he or she will have to say the pirates oath (with the help of the veteran pirate who is initiating them to the crew). And since it is one big crew, of course all new pirates must be announced as having joined the crew – usually with the clanging of bells, some yelling and shouting and a whole lot of fanfare. (What do you expect, these are pirates after all!)

The pirates oath

Taking the Pirates Oath before being allowed to join the crew

3. The secret room. Again, pirates and their secrets! This is a closely guarded pirate secret, so secret in fact that the new members of the crew are not allowed into the secret room until they have said the oath and been welcomed to the crew. Now, what could a pirate keep in a secret room? Why – treasure of course! (And since it is Disney, a photographer too.) The treasure room is the prop room for the photo shoot at the end of your makeover. This is perhaps my favorite of all Disney photo spaces. Between the lighting and the treasure that lines the room, the photos do look like you have a plundering pirate worthy of the set of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Ready to take to the high seas

The pirate portrait in the secret treasure room. It doesn’t get much cooler than that!

And a bonus reason to love The Pirates League, the pirate makeovers won’t leave you feeling like your wallet has been plundered. Without a costume, the packages start at $29.95 + tax and go up to $39.95 + tax. Reservations can be made by calling 407-WDW-CREW and they accept reservations up to 180 days prior.

So next time you will be in the Magic Kingdom – consider checking out The Pirates League to have your pirates singing “Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho a Pirate’s Life for Me”.


mel-at-epcotAbout the Author:

Melissa Rhodes is a stay at home mom to two Disney addicts, one princess and one pirate. She is also a Disney Vacation Specialist with Magical Memories Travel, where she helps other families plan the Disney magic that she loves experiencing with her own family. Melissa made her first visit to Disney in 1978 and has made more than 50 trips since.

Melissa would love to help you plan your next Disney vacation. You can reach her at Magical Memories Travel at  703-688-2WDW or 1-888-908-7718 , ext 122.  When she is not dreaming about Disney, Melissa can be found at Mickey By Mel or on Facebook at

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More Disney Tattoos for you!

By Frances

I’ve come to the conclusion that Mouze Kateerz fans love Disney more than anyone else. Here are more photos from fans showing their love and dedication to the mouse.


I got this tattoo because I love all things Disney, especially Walt Disney World and Mickey Mouse! It reminds me a bit of Hidden Mickeys. Also, my fiance calls me Mickey. This is my favourite tattoo, because its Disney, something I will never get sick of! I can’t wait to get more Disney tattoos!
~ Michaela Diggins

mickey tattoo

This was my first Disney tattoo and I love it.  It was just a way for me to always have a little Disney magic with me.

I am currently having a half sleeve Disney tattoo designed for me but it’s been a work in progress.

I started out wanting a bunch of my favourite characters from the original feature length animated films but soon realized my arm isn’t that big and to be honest certain characters just don’t look good together.

No matter what design I end up with the tattoo will have my tattoo artists (who happens to be my husband) and my own artistic flair added.

Once I get it done this summer I will send you a picture.~ Lisa C.

alice tat    mickey balloons

The Alice in Wonderland is still in the works. I have to do it in sections and will be adding more scenes once she is done. Just thought Alice theme would make a great sleeve.
Mickey Balloons, the blue is for my grandson Tristen, red is for granddaughter Khloe and the purple for my youngest grand daughter Noelani. If we have more then I shall all more to my back.
Swirl design on my feet were my first Disney tats and thought that was a good way so show others my love for Disney. 
Tink on my leg. She represents me, she is sprinkling pixie dust and the stars in the dust, 5 in all are for each surrogate baby I had. ( I was a surrogate mother) The flowers were picked out by both of my daughters Brittany and Katy. 
Michele Subia
swirls      tink tat

Thank you for following Mouze Kateerz. We value your feedback.

Magical Vacations by Me LogoIf you are looking to book a magical vacation, please contact Magical Vacations by Me at 404-414-6198 or

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Disney Tattoos for You!

By Frances

Mouze Kateerz has had such great responses from post about the Disney tattoo that we are updating a post to bring you even more inspirations for your own.

mickey tattoo

My tattoo pays homage to my great love of Mickey, but that’s not all!  My children and husband’s initials are in there too!



I got mine after running the Disney Half Marathon and for my love of Disney. I saw this image on merchandise at Disney years before adding my own flair and getting it inked. ~ Angela Beadle.

tattoo    Tattoo

The Mickey head on my hand was my 15th wedding anniversary present this Feb! It is my “brand”…I have a passion for all things Disney and the Mouse!
The larger tattoo is very recent, I just got this one April 20th…it represents my love for Disney and my kids! I have 3 kids who’s names all begin with “C”…so each had their own icon here: Jiminy represents my oldest daughter Cricket (her real name), next is my daughter Camdyn with the pink Minnie bow (and pixie dust), and the castle for my son Castle Elias. There is even a “hidden mickey” in there!
~Casie Crowder, Sumter, SC


It’s my favorite Quote from Walt. Some hidden mickeys and all connected with a Dumbo hat.

Keep is in my handwriting. Moving is my moms handwriting. Forward is my late dads handwriting.

So special.  ~ Ellen Conner

Thank you for following Mouze Kateerz. We value your feedback.

Magical Vacations by Me LogoIf you are looking to book a magical vacation, please contact Magical Vacations by Me at 404-414-6198 or

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Mother’s Day Giveaway on Picturing Disney!


Coming soon over on my Photoblog is a great little Mother’s Day giveaway! This is a great way to pamper the lady in your life and I can attest to the great quality and scents from Walter & Rosie!

Enter to win 2 hand-crafted Disney inspired soaps (Whole New World and Pixie Dust scented) as well as a pair of adorable Polynesian-resort reminiscent tropical flower earrings!

The contests will run from 8am on Friday April 26th through 12am on May 2nd! Head on over to Picturing Disney Photoblog for more details!

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Send the special lady in your life some Disney magic this Mother’s Day!


Looking for a fun and unique way to send your favorite lady some Disney magic? Why not stop by the Picturing Disney Photoblog Etsy shop? Here you will find a nice range of 8×10 Disney pictures all taken by me! I enjoy natural light photography and barely edit my images so that they feel true and natural, like you have just stepped back into a virtual vacation! And if you are sending a photo gift send a note through an Etsy conversation and I will include a nice little gift tag with your order.  :)

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Besides photography (and if you get there early the last of the Disney-inspired candles that were on sale in the shop in February and March) you will also find downloadable graphics! Both feature different color options for the Disney quote and they can be printed at home, framed, and given to your favorite Disney-lovin-lady just in time for Mother’s Day!

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And just to make the deal sweeter for you! If you head on over to the Picturing Disney Facebook page any facebook followers can enter a code to get 10% off their entire Etsy order!


Getting through Orlando Security at the Airport

English: A TSA officer screens a piece of luggage.

By Amanda C.

I have very rarely given much thought about getting souvenirs through security at the MCO (Orlando International Airport), but as I am going “ OOOOO I’ve got to get one of those!” That one of those is a death star hot potato game. I was describing it at the ball park last night and one of the mom’s said “Good luck getting that through security. It sounds like it looks like a bomb.” I was like woooah hold up! A bomb? No way would I have thought of that. That got me to thinking of what the TSA must see go through the scanners and do they flip out seeing it going through in checked luggage and open your suitcase or do they go ehhh and let it go?
Some of those great souvenirs: From Pirates of the Caribbean: The dagger, scabbard, and ball and chain and the hook. From Star Wars: The Light Saber. From Frontierland: The 3 foot long hunting rifle and pistol. Tomorrowland: Buzz Light years ray gun.
I’m sure Universal and Sea World have some crazy souvenirs as well that would make a normal person go what the heck if it was seen in your luggage. So the question for you readers…. Has the TSA searched your luggage because of the goodies you stashed away?

thumb2 web-RayGun280709 - 005(2) toy-pirate-pistol-zoom lightsaber-300x300

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