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A Magical Weekend at Disney and Universal Studios

We’re going to talk about everything you could possibly need to know about a weekend trip to Orlando, FL. Now, all this information is from the point of view of two people who are not Disney experts and do not travel here often. While there are people who do Disney at least once a year… that ain’t us and it will never be us. That being said, if you are a Disney fanatic don’t hate me for what I have to say. 

DISNEY: 

Our Plans for the Weekend:

We arrived at Orlando International Airport on Thursday evening at about 11pm. I’d booked a Mears Transportation Shuttle for us (our hotel did not participate in the Magical Express, but more on that later). Uber is an option and so are regular taxi’s but we found both to be a little more expensive than pre-booking Mears. Plus Mears is who provides all the transportation while on the Disney properties so we knew they could be trusted. For us, as two younger women we don’t generally tend to prefer Uber at night if we can manage without it. The shuttle from the airport took about 30min or so and we arrived at our hotel ready to sleep and get up for the next day. 

Friday morning we woke up at 8am to go to Hollywood Studios. As we were staying at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel, we had two options for transportation. 1. Take the ferry or 2. Walk. Both could take between 10-15min. We decided to be lazy and take the ferry which turned out to be a very nice ride. Hollywood Studios was open 10-7 so we arrived just after 10am and realized we had to wait in line at will call to collect our tickets. In this instance it is super helpful to have Disney Magicbands which you can buy online and connect using the My Disney Experience App. Having them means you can just tap your bracelet at the entrance and walk right on in. Unfortunately for us, our magic bands were ordered a little too late (2.5weeks in advance) and they did not arrive in our mailbox until Saturday (two days after our arrival at Disney). We spent our day wandering around the park, rode a couple of rides and had a couple of pickles…literally Asia’s favorite part of all the parks. After meandering through the park for a couple of hours, at around 2pm we left to head to Disney Springs for our reservations at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin. After eating, we wandered around and did some shopping and then ended the night at Wine Bar George

 

Friday evening in Disney Springs we were joined by my twin sister Kourtnee and her boyfriend Nick for the rest of our shenanigans. Saturday was planned for Magic Kingdom which opened at 9am and meant we had to be up a little earlier. With a 7am alarm set, we woke up, got dressed had some breakfast – mine consisting of oatmeal made in the hotel coffee maker and Asia’s consisting of a bagel and cream cheese from the quick cafe downstairs. Kourtnee and Nick met us at the hotel and together we set off on our Disney transportation bus to Magic Kingdom. The bus ride was quick, but as we weren’t staying at a fully Disney hotel, we weren’t dropped off at the gates. Our drop off point was the transportation center and from there we could take a bus, monorail, or ferry boat to the front entrance. Naturally we chose the bus because it had the shortest wait. The park entrance was magical along with the park itself. It was minimally decorated for Christmas even though it was about 85 degrees that day. Lines were not as long as they normally would be, and definitely not as long as they would be in the summer. Our longest wait was at space mountain at about 45min but we played Heads Up to pass the time. Around 3pm or so we were a bit pooped and knowing we had another full day ahead of us, we decided to head back to the hotel. From there we went to our favorite Trini food restaurant: Singh’s Roti Shop. If you love Caribbean food… this place is worth the uber ride for sure! Afterwards we spent a little more time in Disney Springs before turning in for the night. 

Our last day was filled with Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, but we’ll get to that a little later. Keep reading!

The Hotel:

We chose to stay at the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Hotel. It is on Disney property by a Marriott run hotel, which means we got the best of both worlds. We were able to get most of the Disney hotel perks as well as get the Bonvoy points using our Marriott Bonvoy credit card to book the hotel. Pro Tip: staying at a Marriott property while using our Marriott Bonvoy card gave us nights towards a higher status as well as 6x the points based on the money we spent while staying there. We like to use this card for travel hacking because the more nights and points we rack up, the more free nights and stays we can earn. The hotel was really very nice as well as all of the services (service at disney is second to none!). We had a standard king room on the 14th floor of the Dolphin Hotel and we couldn’t have been happier with it. The reason we booked here was for the price. While we would have loved to stay at a full on Disney property, they just weren’t in our budget for the weekend. If you are looking for a more budget friendly hotel, we would absolutely suggest staying here. As far as our suggestions on whether to stay at a Disney property or not, seeing the struggle Kourtnee and Nick had while staying off the property, it is definitely way more convenient to stay on the property. While we had free transportation anywhere on the Disney grounds, they had to Uber everywhere. Their hotel provided a shuttle to both Disney and Universal Studios, but the transportation started an hour AFTER the parks opened… which makes little sense. If you are visiting the Disney parks, stay at a Disney resort. If you are visiting Universal Studios, stay at one of their resorts. And if you intend to do both, stay at the one that will give you the most perks for your time. 

MUST HAVES: 

We ended up using just about everything we packed, but there were a few things we absolutely could not have done without. For a full list check out Packing for Disney

1. Body Glide for her: I don’t care if you are big or small, if you don’t have a thigh gap please purchase something for chaffing. You may not think you need it, but after walking all day with all kinds of things rubbing together, you’ll wish you had put some on. 

2. Under Armour Sports Mask: I know in our pictures these masks looked super bulky and big, but trust me when I say I am so happy we bought them. They weren’t hot at all… well that’s a relative statement because we would have been much more comfortable with nothing at all but that wasn’t an option. The material was great to sweat in, it didn’t bother our ears, and sat far enough away from our face that we could have full comfortable conversations. 

3. Hydroflask water bottles: You don’t have to get a Hydroflask, any insulated water bottle will do. No matter what you buy, it’ll save you a ton of money on buying bottles of water. We filled ours up with ice at the hotel and when we ran out of water hit up one of the many water fountains or even Starbucks for a tall cup of ice water. Bring a bottle. It’s necessary. 

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS: 

Sunday Funday. Filled with Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, the Mummy and everything in between. The real reason we went to Orlando. Well the real reason I went to Orlando. Don’t hate me, but I’ve never been a big Disney fan. I mean it’s a cool place, but not my favorite. You see, I’m a roller coaster fanatic and Disney literally has none of those. Universal Studios on the other hand is a place for those of us who love to ride full on roller coasters. Asia doesn’t happen to be one of those people… which is absolutely fine, but just a heads up you might want to bring a buddy with you if that’s the case. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure were both open 8-10. Fortunately, even though the opening time changed from when I checked it last, we happened to be on our way to arriving at the park at 8:10am so we got a good jump on the rides. We had to Uber from our hotel which was a nice 20min ride or so, no traffic since it was on a Sunday. The park wasn’t crowded at all, and the weather was much nicer… about 75 degrees, cloudy and breezy. 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

I fancy myself a die hard Potterhead so to me, this is literally the most magical place on earth. From the rides, to the butterbeer, to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, if you’re a fan you will feel completely immersed in everything you read in the books and saw in the movies. We wandered between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (using the Hogwart’s Express) marveling at the shops and the rides for hours. Pro Tip: If you want to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure get in the virtual line as soon as you enter the park so that you will be able to ride it twice in the day. It’s the best ride I have ever been on. Get your frozen butterbeer on either side (make sure it’s frozen because that’s the best way to have it) and a wand at Ollivander’s to try your hand at some spells around the park. 

When you’ve finished being an adrenaline junkie, which will take all day head over to City walk for a bite to eat. On our last night we chose to eat at Big Fire. We had drinks, ate appetizers, and ordered main courses while we rested our feet. Dessert was at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium where we enjoyed macarons and truffles of all flavors. A great ending to an amazing day and an even better weekend. 

Takeaways and Suggestions: 

There are a couple of things we have learned from this trip. First thing is, Asia does not like roller coasters, which is not a problem but can pose a little issue when choosing a trip like this. On this adventure, it wasn’t a big deal at all but be aware of what each park holds before you go. 
Travel during COVID is no joke. Be prepared to wear a mask everywhere and all the time unless you are eating. In the parks you are required to keep your mask on at all times unless sitting stationary for eating or drinking. There is also a requirement in the airport, on a plane, and in the common areas of the hotel. Buy yourself a comfortable mask and get well acquainted because it will be on your face constantly.
For us we realized that it seems Disney magic is best experienced as a child or with a child. Their excitement will be so much more fun than the little bit of excitement we had when we showed up. While we wanted to do this trip prior to children because Asia had never been, throughout the time she wished that we had a little one to share it with. 
Unless you have magical shoes, your feet will hurt regardless. I’m not saying to disregard comfort when choosing the perfect pair, but walking 10mi in one day will have your feet screaming at you whether you’re walking on clouds or not. Pace yourself and understand that there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about your feet hurting. Power through because it’s only for a couple of days!


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