Good Morning! Or maybe I should say Merry Morning! Yes, it is that time in the Morris Household where I have put up the Christmas Tree. No, you haven’t misread the calendar! We have only barely passed the first week of November, but since we will be traveling almost two weeks during December, I want to enjoy my tree as long as I can! Of course, that meant a much SMALLER tree and an artificial tree at that!
And even though I am not able to put up the customary tree in my office again this year, I am not letting the Grinch steal my Christmas spirit! Instead, I plan on facing the Grinch head-on and letting him know in person that I plan on having a marvelous Christmas! Yes, I will be visiting the famous Grinch himself during the holiday season and can’t wait to get some pictures of him!
While this will be not much more than a long weekend trip, it will be a much more laid-back trip than normal for us. It will just be the three of us with no real plan at all. (and for those who know me know, that is a full-on torture!) I have a short list of people I want to grab a picture of/with (and that includes you, Grinch!), a few rides we want to experience, but mainly I want to enjoy the atmosphere of what has quickly become one of my favorite Christmas spots! Universal!
While Disney still has the Fantasy of Christmas, Universal has the Christmas Magic! It has that spark I missed once the Osborne Lights were taken down, without the seizure-causing blinkediness. (yes, that is a word…I just made it up! And anyone who had seen the Osborne Lights know what I mean!) You can’t walk around Universal Studios at night, without getting that Christmasy feeling.
And let’s not forget the sights from Seuses High in the Sky Trolley at night! Universal’s Islands of Adventure is no slouch when it comes to lights either! (Probably would be a good view from VelociCoaster if I kept my eyes open!)
We are also going to try a long weekend at a new Christmas spot for us, Dollywood. I’ve only been there twice. Both were years apart and the last one was over 6 years ago, and NEVER at Christmas time! I’m told I am in for a treat. The hours are a little different than I am accustomed to for a theme park in the winter. I am used to early closing times, but while we are there, Dollywood will open at 11 am and close at 9 pm. Since darkness will occur around the 5:30 time frame, half the day will be in darkness! I can’t wait to see the lights!
I bet you can’t tell that lights are my favorite part of Christmas! Even more than gifts! This is why, on our final trip, a very short one-nighter to Jacksonville trip to visit Mayo Clinic, we will take a trip to the beach to see the Christmas lights around the entertainment district! They are spectacular! We discovered them by accident last year, and it will be the highlight of our short visit this year!
As we move into my favorite time of year, I want to take this time to Thank each and every one of you who are reading this blog. Whether you have reached out to me to have me help you plan a trip or not. Whether we know each other or not. If you are here because you want to know more about Disney, Universal, Cruising, Accessible Travel, or just my crazy family; Thank you!
I can't believe it's been a whole two months since my last blog post! After over a year of clockwork weekly updates, I've been MIA – and I can't blame it on my age! Life simply picked up pace and took an unexpected detour.
My sincerest thanks for your patience during my hiatus. In this errant interval, my son's team clinched a silver medal at the Georgia State Special Olympic Softball games, and our family embarked on a magical expedition to Universal Studios, marking our youngest granddaughters' entrée into the whimsical universe of Harry Potter.
The pace of these past few months has gifted me with hindsight - to treasure the small yet significant moments. Witnessing my son's teammates rally each other, exhibit empathy when faced with a harsh call for their opponent, and channel an indomitable spirit despite a hard-earned defeat in the finale showed me the incredible young men they're evolving into. Their special needs didn’t outshine their special spirits - they reminded us grown-ups how things should be done!
The wholesome joy in my 8-year-old granddaughter's eyes as she 'cast' her first spell, "out-magicking" her older sister was a sight to behold. The ensuing protectiveness over her wand, as if guarding a treasure, and the endless wonderment she displayed at every sight was invaluable.
My 10-year-old granddaughter, a voracious reader, walked through the corridors of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley in awe and surpassed even her own imagination. She found the nuances that the movies missed and the books harbored, and it was an enchanting moment I hold dear.
These are memories I'll cherish always. As I age, and my vision becomes hazier, such experiences gain more depth and color. They're reminders of the brilliance of life and our world, gifts that should never be taken for granted. These golden moments, the essence of our travels, outweigh any souvenir. Traveling is, after all, about cherishing the unique nuances that bind and distinguish us, not just a hunt for the best souvenir.
You're probably wondering, "How do I go about it?" The secret lies in nurturing a habit of gratitude. Some take to journaling, others seek out and savor the moments that make us human and celebrate our unique differences. After all, isn't that the essence of why we travelt? To explore the unfamiliar, to appreciate varying cultures, and to uncover the beautiful paradox of how our diverse natures bring us closer together?
As we gear up for the holiday season, I extend a heartfelt 'Thank You' to my clients, family, and friends who've unwaveringly stood by me! On the horizon, we have a rare journey to Dollywood – a trip 9 years in the making – and I can’t wait to see the changes it holds for our evolving family. Looking into next year, the goal is to try to cruise more and continue our journey of discovery. I invite you all to tag along for the spectacle! And feel free to chime in with your suggested destinations for our next expedition!
For all the Super Planners, like myself, out there, Universal trips may not require as much detailed planning as say, Disney. But worry not, there are still tons of details we can peg to keep us joyfully busy! Let me walk you through how I plan - from the bare necessities to the intricate nuances allowing us not to just 'wing it'.
Securing our Travel Dates
First, we start with the essentials - deciding when we're going and where we're staying. Our paid in full date was yesterday and if you’re anything like me, you know that’s cause for celebration, because it means it’s REAL!
Charting out the Fun Stuff
Now, comes the fun stuff - planning where we're eating and what we're going to focus on during this trip. While most might bask in spontaneity, I confess - I hate to waste time. I relish moments spent observing people and soaking in the vibrant atmosphere. But loathe to find ourselves in a ‘Where to next?’ loop. I believe in a sensible ‘plan of attack’.
There’s no ‘turn-by-turn’ itinerary, but an itinerary nonetheless. One that lists potential pit-stops for much-needed break times and nifty markers noting essential spots in each park area. As a Super Planner catering specially to Special Needs families, these spots serve as oasis within the desert of endless excitement.
Tackling Universal’s Enigma: Variable Park Hours
But there's a hiccup. Universal still hasn't listed park hours for our dates! It might seem minor to some, but for us Super Planners, it's an integral piece of the puzzle. This becomes even more crucial considering Universal Studios closes early five nights a week for Halloween Horror Nights, and without knowing which park has early admission, our planning gets doubly tripped up!
Briefing about the Essentials
As our trip materializes, we would be sharing basics on the working of the Express Pass, which I highly recommend. We also schedule our timings to be in line for Early Park Admissions, including time to leave the resort, which varies based on your preferred arrival method - Water Taxi, Garden Walk or bus.
Adding a Twist: Our Trip Themes
Every trip has its ‘theme’. Sometimes it’s a fun challenge – like seeing how many times we can ride VelociCoaster in a day. Sometimes, it's a day-long immersion into a magical world - visiting The Wizarding World in the same sequence as Harry in the first book. This just adds an extra dash of fun tailored to our unique likings.
Planning for Variety
This trip is a potpourri of different ages and first-timers, which makes it a fresh adventure. Our itinerary ensures everyone gets a taste of their favorites, with plenty of 'break times' and flagged areas for all the 'must-have' Universal snacks.
For the Harry Potter fans in our group, I make sure to highlight the intriguing and lesser-known details within the Wizarding World. It’s always a treat watching them engage, learn and use their wands!
Each evening promises a different culinary delight. I save reminders about departure times from the park to ensure minimal waiting times for our dinner reservations. Plus, there's always the hope that we might squeeze in an extra ride after!
A Few Last Tidbits
As Super Planners, it's important to remember to avail the option of sending your packages back to the resort to lighten your load. And definitely, do not forget to grab your last-minute souvenirs!
Lastly, the unseen planning also matters - how are you travelling to Universal? Are there any special needs to cater? Pets to be cared for? Already sorted time away from work? These are all elements to consider.
So, fellow Super Planners, that's how I break down the chaos of planning a Universal trip into a neat plan. Leave no stone unturned and experience Universal in its full glory!
How do YOU plan? Are you a 'wing-it' type? A super-planner? Or maybe somewhere in between? I find most people are super planners on their first trip, then a bit more relaxed on subsequent trips. Of course, some think that Universal is soo much smaller than Disney so it has to be much easier to plan and do no planning at all, and only see a small portion of what they could have seen, so they spend much more time planning their next trip.
Either way, having a knowledgable Travel Professional on your side can be a very helpful thing when you have that silly question pop up and have no idea that it was a 'thing', much less something you needed to know! (Maybe this would be a good subject for a blog...hmm). If you are ready to have a Travel Professional on your side to help you plan that next (or maybe your first) visit to Universal Orlando, contact me via my calendly and we can get started!
Although fall hasn't quite arrived here in Georgia, school is back in session and we're already feeling the heat of over a hundred degrees. It's the perfect time to start thinking about winter break trips! In fact, many people have already taken advantage of early discounts and secured their trips to popular destinations like Disney and Universal for Fall break.
Winter break trips are going fast, with resorts still trying to make up for lost revenue due to the pandemic. While there are still some affordable options, hidden costs can quickly add up and take away from your vacation experience.
Today we have the honor of a beautiful guest blogger! While she is not technically family, I almost feel like she is! It seems like only yesterday Her Mom and Dad were anxiously planning her arrival! Can it really be almost 12 years ago? She and her grandparents gave me the honor of planning their first trip to Universal this past June.
Below is her short, sweet, and practically unedited review of her trip. Enjoy!
Discover the magic of 'staying premium!'
Now, before you skip ahead, let's dive into an aspect of your Universal Orlando trip that could save you a pretty penny. Believe it or not, staying premium can save a family of four upwards of $400 on a four-day vacation! Intrigued? Let's explore how.
Don't Forget the Butterbeer Ice Cream!
Wonderful, Delicious, Refreshing Butterbeer!
What is your favorite?
The first time I visited The Wizarding World I tried the Frozen variety. While it was refreshing, it wasn’t as frozen as I thought it would be. I was expecting more of a slushy consistency, and it was more of a slightly melted slushy consistency. In all honesty, that could have been due to the fact that it was in excess of 90 degrees out, and my husband had walked a long way to find where he had ‘left’ us. But I wasn’t impressed.
Don't try to do it All in One Day!
Ever thought you could do Universal Orlando in a single day? Well, we did too. Back in 2016, we gave it a shot. Came in the morning, dashed through the park, and left at night, feeling pretty smug -- like we’d done it all, seen it all. Boy, were we off the mark!
Have Souvenirs Sent to Resort!
Here is another one of my favorites! I love to shop! I hate to carry around bags in a theme park! Lugging around purchases is not my idea of fun. And what are you supposed to do with them when you ride? You could always rent a locker, but that could get expensive, especially if you shop like me. (ahem). Plus, with two parks, you’d have to get a locker in each park (or at least I would.)
The magic of Universal Orlando stretches beyond the thrill of the rides and the allure of wizarding worlds. As you forge unforgettable memories, remember, your journey involves quite a bit of walking. That’s right, traversing Universal's 541 acres requires dedication, stamina, and most importantly, comfortable shoes.
Most of the content is written by people at JMorris Travel. Every once in a while we will have a guest blogger, usually it is part of our 'family'.Always with a nod to Family Travel!