Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Vacation, all I ever wanted?!?!?

My FAMILY and i just went on a 12 day vacation. We started out with our traditional week at Panama City Beach, FL and then continued on to Orlando to stay 4 nights at the Nickelodeon Hotel and got to Universal Orland's Islands of Adventure.
We laid pretty low at the Beach. Happily there was no oil on the beach (yet). We were all sort of waiting on the "next leg" of the vacation. We swam and spent a little time on the sand. We went to the outlet mall for a few hours in Destin. We went out to eat at Hammerhead Fred's one night. ( my daughter said that was one of her top three fun things of the trip! go figure!) The trip was mostly funded by my gracious parents so there was lots of quality grandparent time. We also had a smattering of (grown) cousins with us for the week we spent at the beach.
After a week of relaxation and a disagreement or two, we headed off to Orlando. We checked into our hotel late that afternoon and the kids were DELIGHTED that they had a sponge bob room! We were with my parents, so they got the bed room, kids got twin beds in the "kid" room and DH and i got to sleep on the pull out sofa in the tiny kitchen/living room combo. fun! fun!
We finally got unpacked and repacked into our room....(the room was a little tight for the 6 of us, but as I didn't want to fork over $200+ a night for a second room, I can take the cramped comfort for a few days). The kids were itching to go to the pools so we got them all ready.... only for the pools to be closed due to thunder and lightening. sigh.
Gran to the rescue! she took them to the on site arcade and got them arcade cards loaded with enough $ to keep them happy for a while.
We spent two full days at the hotel enjoying the shows and activities and the lovely water fun! I will say this....I had not seen any info on this hotel before our stay. A friend recommended it, actually several friends did. Here's what i have to say about it:
The room was clean. If there had only been 4 of us, or 2 adults and however many kids you may happen to have, the room would have been big enough. It was tight with 4 adults and 2 kids packed in there with only 1 bathroom! It needed a revolving door on it! someone was always in there and someone was always waiting!
We had numerous problems with our in room safe. Security had to come out at least 3 times. We didn't have a shower curtain liner until the last day. Our door malfunctioned...as in they had to come out and remove the entire handle/locking mech. and work on it. We could NEVER get the Internet to work in our room despite my DH being an ex IT guy and numerous calls to "the People" about it. I never had what it took to lug the laptop into a common area to see if the wireless would work. The web TV wouldn't work either the couple of times we tried. The vent fan in the bathroom didn't work (foggy mirror o'plenty) and the turntable in the micro didn't rotate (scorched popcorn anyone?). Also we left a bag and some towels at a pool to save our lounge chairs when we ran in for lunch...a thunder storm came up and they closed and "locked down" the pools. It took us a good 20 minutes to convince someone to let us get our stuff. That does not count the 5 min walk to and from the pool in the storm.

Now, the kids LOVED the pool area, the nightly entertainment (included in the cost of the stay) and the adults enjoyed the pool, etc. as well. The pool itself was clean, but the pool area IMO could have been cleaner. Maybe I am just overly sensitive to wet trash..but EWWWWWWW! We did get to meet several characters throughout the day(s) at scheduled meetings. (Maybe i am just a Disney girl at heart but i was a little disappointed that the characters did not autograph...their handlers had a stamp and stamped their names for you). Also, we went to a Character breakfast at the hotel which was nice, if a bit costly. (is $20 for a breakfast buffet too much???)

On Monday, after the opening weekend of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we went to Islands of Adventure. Now, let me tell you my son is almost 9, and a bit skittish of anything he deems "scary" and my daughter is 6 and afraid of almost nothing...neither of them have much experience with amusement parks, though we did do Disney about 18 months ago.

Both of the kids, especially our son, are big HP fans, as are we. Our "plan" was to get to the park early, hit WWofHP first and then see the rest of the park. (i had already scoped out the attractions and decided the "other" park was "too old" for our kids, and that the meal plan Universal offered was not for us at all. honestly i tried to be prepared!) As we enter the park, moments before "opening" we are ushered into a holding area for people wanting to see the WWofHP. I can tell this is not going to be good. It doesn't take us long to realize that there is a LINE just to get into that area of the park...and it is going to take us about THREE HOURS. (i did hear the many people stood in that line days earlier and NEVER made it in!!!) We decided that if we got out of line, we'd never make it in.....and then later found out if we'd just waited until later in the day...there would be no line!

Well, we waited maybe 2 hours before we got into Hogsmeade...and then another hour or so to get on the main ride that is located inside the Hogwarts castle. Once we finally got into the castle, it wasn't so bad to wait...things to look at, AC and all that. Our daughter was too short, son was too scared; so by the time we got to the ride it was me, my Dad and my DH. It was a pretty cool ride, but I don't think it was worth standing in line 3 hours for. Knowing I probably will never go back, maybe it was worth it, to say "been there, done that"....didn't buy the T shirt. ( I will also say that i don't do well with rides like soar'in at Disney, or IMAX movies...they make me a little sick, and at one point i did have to close my eyes ...i was feeling a little green!)
After that, there was a line for EVERYTHING! even to get into the stores. The kids, my mom, and I did manage to ride flight of the hippogriff, which was cool, and totally worth the maybe 10 mins we waited! There was an obscene line to get in Ollivander's wand shop, but they had a cart outside the castle and the kids and DH got wands there. Only $28.95....not as bad as I had expected! At this point, we were all HOT, HUNGRY and Cranky! the got the heck out of Hogsmeade! lol. You literally could not move. We had great plans to eat lunch at the 3 broomsticks...but there was just no way!

We went into Jurassic Park, the kids stood in line 45 mins. to ride a "kiddie" ride, and then we had lunch at Burger Digs...which was WAY too crowded...bad pick on our part...and then decided to ride the "water" rides since it looked like rain...and we were HOT!!!! I had been warned that the rides got you seriously wet, but i thought I didn't care at that point since i was so hot. We rode the two in "toon lagoon" and weren't just wet, we were drenched!!! literally wringing water out of ALL our clothes.

The kids had decided at this point they weren't interested in any of the Marvel Comic's rides...so we headed to Seuss Landing! I love Dr. Seuss as much as HP, so i was very excited to be in that area of the park, even if i was wet! We rode some rides, at dinner, and then headed over to watch a stunt show in the "lost continent" area. (FYI the meal plan is $20 per adult. It included a dessert and entree as often as you'd like to stand in the line. Both meals me and DH ate were slightly less than $10 each...so the meal plan would not have saved us any money. )
After the stunt show, which was cool, we ventured back to Hogsmeade to see if we could get into some shops. We did! We made it into Honeyduke's and Zonko's...which are connected, by only standing in a short line....we were able to walk around a bit more too and see some of the other things, though we did not wait in line for butterbeer or any of the other shops. We were very tired by the time we drug ourselves out of the park and back to our car. It was fun, but I have decided that I enjoy Disney more, and I also do NOT enjoy theme parks in the SUMMER!!! too hot! The fall is a much better time for me...even if the kids do have to miss some school!

* I will post more pictures tomorrow***

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