There are several things I learned while there or wish I had known before I went to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.  Here are the Top Twelve:

1. Most any day, an Express Pass is necessary. 

   This is especially true if you have young children whose capacity for waiting is limited.  Several days the wait would have been 30-60 minutes on a lot of rides.

2. Staying at a Universal property hotel gives all in the room a key card.  This card is your express pass. 

   When you consider that an express pass is $50.00 a day per person, the cost of the hotel room looks a lot better!  We got a stay four and play more package that gave us the room, 2 7day passes, and a card key for all to be an express pass. 

3. Take a lanyard to hang around your neck and hold your ticket and room card.

   There is a reason that most every shop in the park sells these.  You have to show your room card/express pass at every ride, so you are constantly pulling this out of your pocket. 

4. If you stay at one of the property hotels, you can purchase souvenirs and have them sent to your room.

   If you are not staying on property, you can still make purchases and have them sent to wait for you at the park exit.  Either way, no need to carry this stuff around.  You have to ask for this though, because the shops did not automatically offer this. 

5. The parks have a meal deal that is relatively inexpensive. 

     For around $20 per day, an adult can eat as much as they want at designated restaurants.  I think kids were about $10.  There were stands all through the park selling this deal.  We did not do this deal because we planned to eat in our rooms.  We took a cooler and kept milk, sandwich fixings, etc. in our room.  We carried waters in one backpack and juice coolers.  About the only thing we bought in the park was the occasional large, soft pretzel. 

6. Free lockers that use your fingerprint are available at the rides where you cannot carry anything on.

   There are also large lockers at the front of the park that you can rent for the day.  Good for putting sandwiches in an insulated cooler or anything else you want handy, but don’t want to go to the room to get.

7. The best ticket deal is done online and you must purchase it 2 days in advance.

     Go online to Universal’s official site.  For $90, your ticket is good for both parks for seven days.  You can park hop as much as you want.  The seven day count begins the first day you use it.  When you get to the park, you will see the electronic ticketing and you can pick up your ticket.  YOU MUST HAVE YOUR CONFIRMATION NUMBER FROM THE PURCHASE.

8. Tickets can not be transferred from person-to-person. 

   Unless it is a very busy day, you will be keyed to your ticket by a fingerprint.  So, don’t plan on switching off tickets or giving them to someone else to use any days you didn’t use. 

9. If you stay on property, talk to the concierge frequently. 

     If you are going to eat at a restaurant or or go anywhere, ask for information, they will frequently give you discount coupons or priority seating cards. 

10. Wal-Mart sells neck coolers and they really work!

     I found these bandanas hanging near sporting goods.  You soak them in cool water for about three minutes and tie them around your neck.  Yes, they look dorky, but they work.  They only problem is that out of the five I bought, one of them didn’t have a good seam and so it leaked the little beads and felt slimey. 

11. The Pteranodon ride in Islands of Adventure does not have an express line. 

     If your kids want to ride this, go there first at the park’s opening.  Even at closing, the lines for this were long.  Wait times were up to 60 minutes. 

12.  Have fun above all and save the souvenirs to the end!

     Don’t wear yourself out.  Go back to your rooms, take a nap.  Spend time at a pool.  Don’t exhaust yourself at the parks.  And handle the munchkins’ shopping requests by setting a limit and waiting till the last day.  Even my fourteen-year-old changed her mind multiple times until the last day.  Bring home a good souvenir and fun memories.


I really am enjoying this vacation.  I just think that this post needs that initial disclaimer. 

I have this little problem with motion sickness.  Okay, it is a big problem.  At least when it comes to amusement park rides.  I get car sick too, but usually only if I am focusing on small details or trying to read something. 

Until this vacation, my most memorable motion sick moment was when my younger daughter was about three and we were on a half-day fishing boat expedition in Florida.  While the rest of my family was enjoying the fishing, my daughter and I sat on the outside bench, mid-boat, while I periodically ran to the rail to heave. 

Okay, not a pretty picture.  But what made it memorable was the woman sitting beside me who felt she had the perfect captive audience to question about adoption issues.  For those of you who don’t know me, my younger daughter is Chinese.  So, in between trips to the rail, I get asked things like this:

What happened to her real parents?

How did she learn to speak English? ( No, I’m not making that up)

Don’t the Chinese (Insert any inappropriate comment in front of a three-year-old here)?

Okay, maybe that is still my most memorable motion sick moment.  I really don’t know why I didn’t just redirect my heaving at that point.  I am older now and over being that nice….

But, back to now.  My dear one really enjoyed the Hulk roller coaster.  Really.  So, despite my motion sick moments, ones that included even the Jimmy Neutron ride, he urged my to try it.  After all, it didn’t go backwards like the Mummy, a move guaranteed to make me nauseous.  He saw my fear, not of nausea, but of the whole upside down thing.  “It is the smoothest coaster I’ve ever been on,” he cajoled.  “You’ll like it.”

Famous last words. 

I thought about my first post on this blog and the whole idea of taking risks.  Surely, I could overcome my fear and ride a roller coaster that turns me upside down.  Finally, after many urgings, a “puppy-dog” face, and a slight guilt over my published status stating I was going to take risks, I agreed.

He was right about the smoothest coaster part.  It is an awesome coaster.

He was WAY wrong about the motion sick factor. 


I have now ridden the Hulk. 

I will never ride the Hulk again.

After all, in some sense I have ridden it twice: THE FIRST and THE LAST TIME.


Jonah 2:10

And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry [land].






Today is our third day at Universal Studios in Orlando.  It has been a blast. We have all had fun.  We are all getting along.  Even in our room where there are four of us and we are stepping all over each other and our stuff, peace and fun reign.  Coordinating three families has actually been easy once we all got here.

Best parts of the trip so far:

My grandson, age 5, as we returned to the hotel for the evening, “JAWS was awesome.”  This after he cowered through most of the ride.  He later kept his mom and stepdad up late asking what had happened to the people in the sinking boat….

My granddaughter, age 5, after returning to the hotel, “Grandma, I met Princess Fiona (SHREK) and she talked to me!”

My dear one, age unmentioned, over the phone, “The Hulk was great.”  Said in breathless tones while announcing they were going to ride again.  And again.  And again.  

My daughter and son-in-law, watching Isaac enjoy the rides, beaming.  More beaming later after they returned from a date night, the anniversary of their first date a year ago.  HE remembered.  They went to the Hard Rock, snuck in two rides on the Hulk and went to see a movie (like they did for their first date minus the Hard Rock and the Hulk.).  More beaming when they returned to pick up Isaac.

My older son, the one who works for the number one Beatles Tribute Band in the World, aka THE RETURN, after being given a private tour of the John Lennon Room at the Hard Rock, totally in Awe.

My younger son, straddling two beds over a sleeping little sister, doing his Tom Cruise impersonation, i.e. jumping up and down, saying Mummy, Hulk, Dueling Dragons.

My younger daughter having fun with her parents, not watching TV, hanging out with her older brother and the neice and nephew equally, and not being too embarrassed by her parents. 

Me with both grandchildren on the E.T. ride.  Pure joy.  Listening to their awe-struck voices as we left and they commented that E.T. said goodbye to them (using their names). 

This quiet moment in the hotel room with everyone gone….

I feel blessed. 

Psalm 115: 15

Ye [are] blessed of the LORD which made heaven and earth.

In the next few days, I will depart for a family vacation.  Ahead is the promise of fun-filled days of sun, water, amusement park rides, and happy grandchildren discovering the wonder of it all.  Right now is the crashing reality of a dirty house, laundry that needs to be done, shopping for shorts and swimsuits, finding the house/dog sitter, unfinished work assignments, and planning, planning, and more planning.  And not nearly enough time to do it all.

When my children were young, there was more frenetic activity but less complications.  We vacationed when we wanted to since homeschooling gave us a freedom from traditional schedules.  There was also the advantage of only Bill and I making the decisions.  Only our family’s schedule to consider.  Of course, there was no way that any vacation with young children can actually be called uncomplicated.

However, if you compare it to family vacations with grown children, it is a whole different set of problems.  Adult children have their own lives and schedules.  College classes have different start/stop times, different breaks than high school.  Jobs require planning and permission to leave.  The choices of destination are carefully considered to include everyone’s desires.  If there are young children involved, it changes the complexion of the trip.  My oldest daughter and I about went crazy trying to work out the logistics, meet everyone’s budget, find the best situation for everyone.  Even with all our efforts, it still might not be the whole family together. 

Overall, the rewards are great.  Anytime you can get your family all on the same page, spending time together, having fun, it’s worth any hassle involved.  If your adult children want to spend the time with you still, something is right.  There won’t always be a time when these things will work out.  Life gets more complicated when children establish their own families. 

Life goes on.  Children grow.  Keep the relationships strong no matter what it takes.  And, if they are still all little, don’t forget, they grow up. 

 Ecclesiastes 3:1

To every [thing there is] a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: