Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse!


Today is the big cheese’s birthday! How do you think he’s celebrating?

The Unofficial Guide-Universal Orlando Book Review

Photo provided by Amazon.com

Photo provided by Amazon.com

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 Amazon.com 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 tracy@magicalvacationsbyme.com.  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.

The Dark Side is not so dark afterall….

Be Universal

  We had gone through the process of picking a hotel and looking over and over the food choices and now it was time to pack the minivan and drive down. I think that is the true torture of any vacation for us waking up early and driving 7 and a half hours to the Magical Destinations of Central Florida. We were heading down with my sister and child who was 6 which added a new dynamic of not tall enough to ride certain things to our trip. We were determined this would be a fun experience for the 7 of us.

We arrived at Cabana Bay just after noon. The older kids took the younger one out to check out the pool while we checked in. The lobby was retro 60’s with the cute little chairs and funny looking tables. It’s a very large lobby with lots of natural light. Walking around talking to people was Lucille Ball. That was refreshing and rather funny as she sounded very much like the real deal. Check in is the same as at Disney, you wait in a line to go to a desk and speak with a pleasant person to get your room keys and information. We were surprised as a guest we had to pay to park our car. We asked our attendant about that and she explained that at all Lowe’s properties they charge for parking so to keep it universal they charged at Universal. That was a hit to the wallet right off the bat.

All checked in we rounded up the rug rats and back to the minivan to get to our room. We had one of the family suites in the Tower. Perfect since the 5 year old liked to run and this way he wouldn’t be running into the street or down stairs without one of us. cabana bay family suiteThe view to the left is what greeted us as we walked in. It was amazing and fresh. It was indeed a very retro look. The kids ran through checking the beds, sliding the doors for the separation and the bathroom. We always have to check out the bathroom. Again surprising as there’s the toilet has it’s own area and door closing it off from the the dressing area and then the tub and a sink are in their own area with a door so in all theories three people could be in different stages of getting ready at the same time.

Everything was thrown into the rooms and beds were claimed and we were flying out to get our tickets and head to Islands of Adventure for the afternoon. This was another difference than Disney. Cabana Bay only has bus transportation to the entrance of City Walk while the other three resorts also offer water taxi. With Disney you rarely get lucky to walk up to the bus stop and get right onto the bus, but that’s exactly what we did. Woohooo we were lucky! We spent our first afternoon in Islands of Adventure. Spiderman had an ally in my nephew and I since I was riding with him while the teenagers and my sister rode the Hulk a few times in a row.

The lines moved fairly quickly and we were able to accomplish many of the popular rides before they closed at 8pm. We were able to get our pictures taken with Megatron and Bumble Bee. Many of the attractions have photo booths at the end of them as Disney and you can purchase them individually or purchase a Universal Photo Pass. Family treasures for forever. We ended our first night with Men in Black and then dinner at Mel’s Drive-In and a half viewing of their nightly spectacular.


horror show

This was her happy place! Being chopped up :)

Something we found as our vacation rolled on. We weren’t dead on our feet exhausted as we moved through the two parks and City Walk. We attended shows and attractions all seemed to have good air conditioned que lines. As I mentioned in part one I have a drama major and we experienced the Horror Makeup Show more than once. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was AMAZING! But fair warning this is the most crowded area of the parks especially since the opening in both parks. The best drink also occurs in this area. BUTTER BEER!!! You can get it in a plastic cup (think red solo cup) or you can spend a little more and purchase an actual mug which can be refilled though not at a discounted price. This drink is better than any cola product you can give your child to help get them over the I didn’t get a nap and am getting crabby hump. A few sips and the nephew was wand fighting ready.

We made many happy memories as a family that we still talk about a year after the original vacation. The one that tends to send the teenagers into giggles is the fountain story. We were waiting for The Eight Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show to start so were out in front of it watching  the Mystic Fountain. This is an ingenious little time taker as the fountain spouts knowledge and jokes and occasionally squirts the smaller patrons standing to close. Well the boy (15 year old) decided to get a little feisty and made a smart comment and the fountain squirted at him and missed. Well the boy being a teenager says as we’re starting to head into the show ” HAHA You missed”. These words would later get him DiNozzo’ed in the back of the head, because the fountain proceeds to unleash all of it’s water in a huge spray and says “Teenager I never miss!” No he missed the teenager and drenched me!! Of course this is when the DiNozzo happened as the boy was doubled over in laughter along with the other kids. It is funny and we laugh.. Just be forwarned :)

Thank you for following the three part series!!!

DSCF9246Amanda Casey Travel Specialist

Planning Magical Vacations one guest at a time.



Soarin’ over California will close in January at EPCOT*


Soarin' over California, Epcot Soarin', Disney's Soarin', Disney's Soaring

Are you looking for reason to go to the Walt Disney World Resort?

Soarin’ over California is arguably one of the most popular attractions at EPCOT. It is not uncommon to have wait times that exceed an hour and a half. Rarely are you able to find last minute fast passes for the attraction. In March of 2015, Disney announced that they would be adding a third theater to help reduce the wait times. It is set to open in summer 2016. So in terms of Disney, that means sometime between June and September 2016. The two current theaters will get a full over haul. A new screen and sound system for each. If you look at google earth, you can see the new theater being built behind the Canadian Pavilion in World Showcase.

The film will also be refreshed to have a more global appeal. No official title has been given but it will include soarin’ over some of the most incredible places all over the world. It was rumored that in January 2014 is when the new Soarin’ scenes were filmed over the Walt Disney World Resort during the Marathon/Dopey Challenge Weekend.

All of these amazing experiences will take time to build and enhance. The back stage rumor mill is churning with dates that are all over the calendar; however, most are saying early January 2016 will be the end of Soarin’ Over California and it will reopen during summer 2016 with fan fare like only Disney can bring.

With the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights going away at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Soarin’ Over California leaving EPCOT, it is time to take that last minute trip to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. You could say good bye in one magical weekend.

If you would like more information please contact our friends at info@magicalvacationsbyme.com

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http://www.magicalvacationsbyme.com info@magicalvacationsbyme.com 404-414-6198

The Dark side……… Part 2

the dark side

So With Islands of Adventure sufficiently looked at and a map of how to tackle the park in their heads we clicked the link for Universal Studios itself. I know I heard Duh Duh DUHHHHHHH when I clicked it (at least in my head). At the time we started looking The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley had not opened though it was previewed all over the page. What we did see again had the oooh’s and aaahhh’s going with three Disneyfied teenagers.

Transformers!! Oh did we geek out on this as they fell in love with Bumble Bee in the original movies so that went on the must do list (not a coaster, but a simulation 3D ride), along with Revenge of the Mummy and Rip Rocket Roller Coaster. It was all about the coaster factor again I said I’d wave and wait in the kid swap area.

I saw ET Adventure and said yup this is the one I’d be torturing them with at this park. I have at least one at every park. By far the ride that got the most hooting and hollering was Men In Black Alien Attack. MIB-Universal2Who wouldn’t love to shoot Aliens in a car that spins on it’s own!!

When you think Universal Studios you think Hollywood and shows and with one drama major both in school and in life we took a peak at a few of the descriptions of shows. She spotted Horror Makeup Show lick split. Myself I noticed another blast from my childhood The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad. Sweet a couple of shows to get us out of one of Orlando’s sudden rain storm or crazy heat, because lets face it we’re in Florida and it’s going to rain at some point and it’s going to be warmer than home. The boy found Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Review and then asked me who the Blues Brothers were. I thought holy cow I’ve failed as a parent in not having my child sit down and watch this classic, score another Mom torture tool!!

Food is always a necessity with teenagers as if they are awake they are hungry. Click and a look at Universal Dining revealed amazingly food!! Burgers, dogs, pizza, the standard fair for quick service as at Disney. Happy teenagers! But along with those quick places I notice Margaritaville, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co and a place called Methos. Again a margaritavilleplace to get in out of the weather and into the a/c for something other than a burger and fries. At this point they were happy with thoughts of food and it was time to find a place to lay our heads. Being Disney experts we wanted a nice place but our expectations weren’t high as after all this was Universal and it couldn’t beat Disney.

There are 4 hotels on the Universal property : Cabana Bay, Lowe’s Royal Pacific, Lowe’s Portofino Bay and Hard Rock Hotel. Of course they ogled over Hard Rock and I being the Mom said “This is our budget” which at the time Hard Rock did not fall into. We looked at Portofino Bay and Royal Pacific next. Both beautiful resorts with amazing theming and within our budget. We looked at Cabana Bay last. We looked through the pictures of the resort 010-cabana-bay-beach-resort-entrance-lobby-1957-oiand the kids were like book it as the resort has a funky 50’s and 60’s theme with two pools and a lazy river!! “Mom Disney Value Resorts doesn’t have a lazy river!!” I didn’t tell them that there is a lazy river at the Yacht and Beach Club pool. They were sold and so was I. I kissed them goodnight and pulled out the credit card to book the vacation package with a few extra surprises. What’s a vacation without a few happy surprises?

To find out how our adventure to the dark side went stay tuned for part 3…..

mvbm dpi

Amanda Casey Travel Specialist

Planning Magical Vacations one guest at a time.



Going to the Dark Side……. part 1

the dark side

I’m a Disney fanatic and have gone to Disney for years. I’ve always said Universal was the Dark Side of Orlando. That was until those cute little kids that I took to Disney all the time said they wanted to try something new. (This was back when Fantasyland was still under construction). The Disney Geek in me cringed..Universal was never an option. Well given that the children asking were now 15 and 14 years old I could understand their need for a new adventure as “Disney is for babies, Mom” had been mentioned I decided to start doing some research.

So my little family and I sat down in front of the computer one night and went to the Universal Website. We were minion lovegreeted by Minions.. Sweet!! We love them!! We hit Universal Studios Orlando and The Wonderful World of Harry Potter greeted our eyes.. Sweet we love us some Harry Potter here in the house…(No Harry is not part of Disney though many people seem to think so). Rides..rides.. We need to know about the rides!!! Ok ya’ll breath and I clicked the rides and had to choose on of Universal Studios Orlando’s two parks : Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios… It was at this point after the clicking of Islands of Adventure (because it was on top) that the oohing and aaahing began.

Islands of Adventure has three roller coasters.. Teenagers love to see how many times they can get flipped upside down before tossing their cookies and this place had three of them! The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Dragon islands1234Challenge, which is two coasters racing against each other! I told them I’d wave at them from the Kid Swap areas my stomach does not like flipping as much as it used to. They laughed and called me old. I was actually ok with it.

Islands of Adventure also has The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade tucked away. This is where Dragon Challenge is as well as The Forbidden Journey. I will admit to Youtubing this one after they went to bed and decided my old self could do it at least once since it was Harry Potter related and if there was a revolt the restrooms didn’t look to far away on the map.

The boy saw that they had a Jurassic Park ride he loves dinosaurs and you get wet at the end of the ride. A win win since he likes to walk around in squishy clothes and shoes…That was when I saw names from my childhood: Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-rats Barges two more water rides… The Mom brain was already thinking do all of the other rides and end with these three rides so we weren’t in squishy shoes all day long to end up with pruned toes.

Another blast from the past…  The Cat in the Hat and Seuss Landing.. Now this is more my speed!!! This brought out the groans and them saying you are going to make us ride The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue fish aren’t you? My instant reply. Yup! I do the same at the Magic Kingdom with It’s a Small World. With Islands of Adventure sufficiently covered we clicked over to Universal Studios…..

Watch for the Dark Side Part 2 Universal Studios……

mvbm dpi

Amanda Casey Travel Specialist

Planning Magical Vacations one guest at a time.







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

Expectations for you and your travel agent

In the era of the internet there are a lot of savvy search engines and searchers. Everyone becomes a professional doctor & a professional travel agent because they can google it or book it through Expedia. Just as there is value in going to a doctor for an official diagnosis. There is value in going to a travel agent. Most travel agents become specialized in specific destinations. When they do, they have to spend a lot of time there, research the destination, try different experiences that they normally wouldn’t do all in the effort to be an expert. Most time there services are complimentary. Occasionally there is service fee for planning depending on the destination and the detail. Most Disney experts don’t charge for making dining reservations and setting your itinerary.

Before you contact a travel agent be sure to have a few specific things to give him or her:

1. The destination that you want to travel to. If you know of a resort that a friend stayed at that you would like priced out all the better.

2. Dates that you want to travel. Specific dates or month & # of nights. “Sometime in the fall” isn’t a good response. This could mean anytime September-November depending who you talk to.

3. A budget. Your idea of inexpensive and your agents idea of inexpensive could be off by a $1000. Know what you can afford to spend and adjust your want/need list to fit it.

4. Know who will be traveling with you. Vacation pricing can vary depending on the age of a child or # of adults.

Here are some things that you should expect from your travel agent:

1. To be knowledgeable about the destination.

2. To be professional. Return calls and emails in a timely manner. Within 24 hours unless it’s a holiday or weekend is acceptable.

3.To keep your information confidential. To only give information out that is necessary to third parties. To keep your credit card information in a secure database.

4. To make your vacation special.

Here are some things your travel agent should expect from you:

1. To Honor their time. Most agents are commission based. Don’t make up a dream vacation for them to plan if you don’t have the budget or any intention of taking it. If you would just like an idea of how much something would cost so you can plan for the future. Let them know up front. They will be able to give you a great over view vs. specific information.

2.To know that their magical powers have limits. They may be able to get you a table at Cinderella’s Royal Table at the last minute but if you show up at your resort at 6am because you drove through the night, they probably won’t be able to get house keeping to move any faster to get your room ready.

3. To be able to pay for your trip. They can only push back payments so far  before your vacation is cancelled. They don’t have control over cancellation policy.

If you would like complimentary travel planning services, Magical Vacations by Me offers it for their clients. Contact us to be put in touch with one of our amazing travel agents so they can help you plan your next magical vacation!

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Have a passion for writing?

Hey Howdy Hey!!! Have a passion for writing and looking for a blog to join? Mouze Kateerz is looking for new writers as we gear up to start posting new articles on September 1st! Our writers have a love for Disney and traveling. Looking for energetic new writing with possible perks that are still in the works for those who write on a regular basis for Mouze… If you are interested please contact us at Dreammaker1974@gmail.com with your name and email with a sampling of your writing on Disney, Universal or family vacationing and one of our Administrator’s will review it and be back in touch with you.

Happy writing!!

quill and ink

On your mark… get set…..



New staff members!! New Material!!!

Be on the lookout starting September 1st for new articles

Disney, Universal and who knows what else!!!


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