Thursday, October 13, 2016

Our VIP Universal Orlando weekend at Family Forward

As reported previously, we spent a few days at Disneyworld and Universal Orlando.  It was truly a magical, Last Hurrah type of vacation, and we now officially need a vacation after our vacation.  And now we are back home at the mundane muggle school, where they don't teach Potions, but Science.

It was our first time at Family Forward and Universal Orlando, and because of that, I'll write about/review Universal and Family Forward in this post, and I'll go back and talk about our Disney experience in another post.

DISCLOSURE:  As part of the Family Forward Conference Experience, I received discounted and free VIP experiences, food vouchers, and souvenirs from the conference and its sponsors as an enticement to write about them. My opinions and ideas about those experiences, and the decision to write about them remain my own.  I value my integrity, and you should too.

First things first-- this is the video when AA found out he was not going to his grandmother's but instead going to Universal.  Pretty awesome!  And talk about your #universalmoments!


The arcade at the corner of Stan Lee Blvd
and Yancy Street (where The Thing grew up)
The signage at Universal was in general excellent!

One of the best things about the Family Forward Conference was the VIP treatment we received.  As part of the conference, we had two private parties in the parks.

On Thursday night, to kick off the conference, we had a private after-hours dessert party on Marvel SuperHero Island, with free access to 4 or 5 different Marvel rides, including The Incredible Hulk Rollercoaster, Spiderman, Dr. Doom, and a couple of other attractions.

We were able to do a few rides before the threat of Tornados/Bad weather drove us inside the cafe where the party was.  Inside we had some fabulous desserts, and there was an attached arcade. where we played lots of video games while waiting for the weather to abate. (Strangely, the arcade had a KISS pinball game, not the Incredible Hulk or Spiderman or Xmen, which is what I would have expected.)

The pinball machine I expected to
see at Marvel Superhero Island

The Bear meets Cap at Universal Orlando

There were also photo opportunities with costumed characters, including Spidey, Rogue, Captain America, and Wolverine.  Those were all lots of fun to do.

All in all a great first foray into the world of Universal.  The only thing other than the weather that marred it a little is that I was dissuaded from riding the new Hulk Coaster by the sample seats on the outside of the ride.  I sat in one of them, and I couldn't buckle it.  So it seemed it would just be futile to go on it.  Fortunately all was not lost, because on Saturday, we took a VIP tour, and I learned that there were some modified seats on the inside.  I was able to fit in the modified seat no problem!  (And overall, there was only one ride that I was not able to go on.)

Here's me sad with the warning:

#toomuchbulkforthehulk I'm sad to say that it doesn't look like I'll be able to fit on the Hulk ride. I am the wrong shape for it. I'll try again when I get the VIP tour on Saturday And see if I can ( apparently a couple of the seats are actually larger than others ). On the plus side, I ate much healthier than I normally would have at the dessert party. #superherofamily #familyforward #thehulk

Me at the 1950's themed Continental resort.
The next day (Friday) we had a delicious Honey Bunches of Oats breakfast, along with some Minion characters that came for the ride.  We then did a Family Forward workshop in the morning (mostly geared around building family and community) and  then after that-- we had a pool party at the Universal Cabana Beach Bay Resort.  They have two pools and a lazy river with a great 1950's theme.  It was a little bit like stepping into a dream of 1950's style Las Vegas.  We had some fun family time in the lazy river, and on the water slides and the pools.

While there we got a special blogger preview about the still being built water park  that is coming to Universal Orlando, Volcano Bay.  It's going to be a doozy!

There are going to be two 108 foot straight down water drops  a giant wave pool, water slides, and lots more.
Here's a view of the Volcano being built along with the plan below.  It is expected to open Summer 2017!

And here's the promo video:

That night we spent having dinner with some new found friends at the Hard Rock Cafe. The Kitchen restaurant. The dinner was spectacular, as were a couple of the roaming magicians.  One in particular really knocked the socks off the kids.  He was great.

The next day we had a special breakfast at Antojito's, followed by our VIP tour.  At Universal, you can purchase a VIP tour that basically lets you skip almost all of the lines.  It's expensive, it's an add-on of about $190 per person.  But for that, you get special behind the scenes access, almost no wait on rides (some of which can have an hour plus wait normally) and more.  Find out more about the VIP Experience

We had never been to Universal before, and I was blown away by the technology that they use for their rides.  A lot of them have 3D simulations that make Disney rides seem positively quaint.  And the speedy and adventurous rides are great, and much faster than either typical amusement park rides or Disney rides.  As mentioned above, for a bigger guy like me, I was always worried about getting into the seats.  There were really only two rides I couldn't go on despite wanting to.  But it was a downside, especially since one of them was the Harry Potter castle ride.  Hopefully next time we go, I'll have lost a little weight or they'll have modified the rides so that I can go on them.  My family reported they were amazing.

My son channeling The Boy Who Lived.
We absolutely loved the theming at many of the areas, but the Simpson's Springfield, the Dr. Seuss land, and Harry Potter's World (both London and Hogsmead) were spectacular.   I also really liked Comics World, where Dick Tracy, Betty Boop, and lots of other people from the Funny Pages were on display.

Being selected at Olivanders
My son is particularly into Harry Potter, and we spent a lot of time in both worlds.  They sell interactive wands that allow you to do magic at various windows, and that was something we both had a great time at.  Perhaps my favorite attraction of all was Olivander's Wand shop, where they do a 10 minute interactive presentation (using a variety of live actor's playing Olivander)  One lucky Wizard gets selected, and then gets to try out a wand, and gets "Fitted" for a wand by the man himself.  It's really an intimate moment for 10-15 people, and it felt really special.

It only took four tries (and 3 Olivanders) for my son to get selected.  It was truly a memorable moment.  Afterwards, you have to buy the wand (and anybody can always buy a wand)  They have over 50 styles of wands available!)

Blue Man Group
We spent the next two days exploring the parks, and hanging out with the Family Forward crew.  There were lots more great moments, including fine dining (The sushi and food at The CowFish was amazing!), a fantastic show experience at Blue Man Group, and meeting so many other great bloggers and their families.

They have tons of hotels onsite.  Our hotel was the Loews Royal Pacific, and it was so convenient to the parks, and to the dining.  There were free water taxis that you took you everywhere you wanted to go, or you could also walk.  Although we only used it the very last day, our hotel had a very nice pool as well!

 I highly recommend Universal as a family destination, and if you are a blogger,  I think that Family Forward is a great way to see it.

Let me know your favorite parts in the comments!

Universal Orlando and Family Forward gave us a  truly beautiful outlook.

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