Category Archives: January Orlando Trip 2016

The Hard Rock Hotel Review

Well, seeing as I returned from Orlando about two months ago, this review is only slightly overdue.  I stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel for almost one week and really enjoyed my stay.  I’ll organize this review by walking through the main parts of the hotel.


The lobby of the hotel has a seating area which is sometimes used for groups or events, so seating in the lobby is limited when a company has a breakfast.  The lobby also has a huge television screen with older music videos playing on it 24/7.  I liked the television screen 99% of the time, but when we were about to get on our shuttle at 6:45am in the morning the rock music was a little over the top.  But it fits the theme of the hotel very well.

But, I did not spend more than half an hour in the lobby each day so I should probably switch to talking about the room now.  IMG_3532My room faced the pool and the parks which was neat because we could see one of the roller coasters running at Universal all the time.  The full length mirror in the room had lines and names of celebrities to show how tall certain celebrities were.  I stood up to the mirror and no surprise was shorter than many of them but it was a unique feature I had never seen in a hotel before.  The beds and pillows were comfy and I slept well after long days.

IMG_3535We ate at the Kitchen restaurant three times during the week.  We were too tired to walk to CityWalk but the Kitchen was a great choice.  All three nights we had fantastic meals and awesome waiters.  I would highly recommend the cornbread, but the pretzel rolls were tasty as well.  Some at my table tried Alligator Tail, but I was not adventurous IMG_3536enough to try it.  They said it did not taste bad and sort of tasted like chicken so maybe next time I will try it…but probably not.

Emack and Bolio’s ice cream, which is right next to the Kitchen on the ground floor, has delicious ice cream.  I had high expectations but they were met with my ice cream and hot fudge that night.  I previously highlighted my love affair with their room service chocolate chip pancakes so I won’t talk about that again but I highly recommend room service at the Hard Rock.

The hotel is a little challenging to navigate as the first floor is technically the ground floor so when you are in the elevator and press 1, you go down to the ground floor where the Kitchen is and not the lobby.  There are stairs nearby though so you can get to the lobby easily.  IMG_3553And each nook of the hotel has rock artifacts with either costumes from famous singers (like the one from Lady Gaga below) or guitars and it is fun to walk around and explore the different props.

Most of the crowd was either older guests or young couples with very young children.  The Hard Rock was not overflowing with families but that was probably due to that it was January and most children don’t still have winter break from school then.



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Legoland Orlando

In retrospect, I wish I had taken more than two photos at Legoland.  However, I was enjoying the tour and focused on learning as much as I could since I had no previous Legoland knowledge.  Legoland is huge!  I am not sure how it compares to some of the other theme parks we visited in terms of size but it definitely was larger than we had all expected.  All of the rides were so well designed and thought out for kids.  The rides are very interactive-the Kid Power Towers require kids to pull themselves up to the top before dropping and at Boating School, they get to steer the boat.

We did not get to see the water park as it was closed the day we were there in January nor did we see the section of Cypress Gardens which is still intact.  Hopefully I can go back and see both of these.  Cypress Gardens was a classic Florida theme park and I believe only part IMG_3746of the gardens section remains, but I may be incorrect on that.

Legoland is similar to Magic Kingdom in that every part of the park has a theme and is very immersive.
The two photos I took were in Miniland which is where they have Lego models of cities all around the world.  I took a photo of the Kennedy Space Center models, as I had visited Kennedy Space Center in 2009.  I also took a photo of the Washington D.C. area because DC
is one of the cities I like because I think is most manageable.  I found the crew boat awesome as well which actually had the rowers rowing around the small area of water.

Some random thoughts from my whirlwind tour through the land of Legos:

  • A live water ski show happens each day the park is open and sounded really neat.
  • Each of the Model Citizens (which is what Legoland calls their employees) has a mini figure that they can trade with kids.  The mini figures are little Legoland characters and are really cute.
  • Apple fries are a popular park treat.  The shop with them looked amazing but unfortunately, it was not open when we were there.

IMG_3745We were in the park as the park opened and enjoyed seeing children run ahead of their parents to rides or to take a photo with a Legoland model of a character from the Legoland movie.  This was the only park that we did not get to go on any rides, sadly.  But the majority of our visit did take place before the park opened and we were on a tight schedule to drive back to Orlando.


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Legoland Hotel

On one of the days in Orlando, we woke up early and drove just over an hour to get to Legoland.   I supposedly have been to Legoland in California before but don’t really remember it at all so I was looking forward to seeing Legoland in Florida.  Everyone on the trip agreed that Legoland as well as the Legoland Hotel really exceeded our expectations.

IMG_3744.JPGThe hotel is amazing.  Everything is very kid friendly from the check in counter (at a lower height so that kids can see over it) to the elevators (which have a disco ball and play Dancing Queen when the doors close).  However, we all really enjoyed the party elevator and are not considered “kids” anymore.  We saw a standard hotel room as well as a suite so I have included a few photos of those rooms.  Each room has a treasure chest and when you check in, the children get a code so that they can open the chest and complete different activities.

The hotel has Lego building classes and is a very short walk away from the park, making it convenient for families to walk over after grabbing breakfast.  The hotel only opened last May with the park having opened in 2011.  If you have young kids who enjoy Legos, I would highly recommend taking a visit to Legoland and staying at the hotel.  I will write more about the park in another post.


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The Hogwarts Express

One of the things I had been most looking forward to in Universal was taking the Hogwarts Express between the Universal Studios Park and Islands of Adventure.  This post is going to be a bit photo heavy, but I think it’s good.  So first, the outside of King’s Cross Station is a bit smaller (actually a lot smaller) than the King’s Cross Station in London, which I walked by this past summer.  The outside of the Tube station though has the exact same Underground sign and other signage that they have in London.  Inside the station there is even a sign saying “Park your prams here” and pram is the word for stroller over there.  It really feels like you are in London and not Florida for a minute.  If only the train workers in this section had British accents too…

When you first enter, you have to stand in a line (of course) and eventually make your way up to the train workers who make sure that you have the double park ticket.  You cannot ride the Hogwarts Express unless you bought the pass that covers both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.  But, if you get to this point and only have the one park pass you can always pay to upgrade to the other pass within King’s Cross.  This double park Harry Potter thing was genius for getting people to visit both parks.   I should also point out that the King’s Cross station is in Universal and takes you from Diagon Alley to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade over in Islands of Adventure.  You can ride the train the other way as well, but I did not do that this trip.

Continuing in another line which moves fairly quickly, you wind you way around and eventually see a cool illusion affect that shows the people in front of you walking through the wall of platform 9 and 3/4.  I took a photo of it, but it did not do the effect justice.

Finally we got to the platform!  The whole process only took about 15 minutes and was in peak afternoon times but in January so I am not sure how long it would take if you visited during the summer.  As you can see in the first photo though, the lines could really wind around.  I took a selfie with the 9 3/4 platform sign to commemorate getting on the train to go to Hogwarts for the first time.  The platform is fairly large.  I would say probably a few hundred people fit on every train ride.  And then you have to wait for the train to return with people from Hogsmeade.  When we got on, people were not very good about going to the assigned cabin they were supposed to but it was all sorted out.

I didn’t take any photos during the actual train ride but the different effects were really cool.  The train ride was short…maybe five minutes long.  The only thing is I wish they had given me a free chocolate frog or something on the train ride.  Even though the ride warns against motion sickness, I didn’t think it was really that bad at all.  I was sitting forward though and it might have been worse if you were riding backwards and looking out the “window.”


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Hotel Hopping: Cabana Bay and Portofino

In order to better understand all of the Loews Universal hotels, we hopped from one to the other to see what they looked like and learn a little about them.  One of the first ones we went to was the Cabana Bay Beach Resort.  This is the newest resort on Universal property and is in the value category or is similar to the Disney All Star hotels.  Cabana Bay is themed to be like the 50’s and 60’s vacations families took together.  The main dining area is a diner with big TV screens that play old TV commercials that I had never seen before, but which many people probably would recognize who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s.  The hotel was very clean and the lobby had a large amount of seating space.   Although I did not get to see a sample room, what I saw of the hotel was very nice.  The hotel reminded me of the Jetsons Cartoon with the theming a bit.  The Cabana Bay sign below actually won an award and is neat to see when it is dark outside.  We were there at 6:30am to see the sign in the dark and I think it was worth it.

The second Loews Universal property we saw was the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.  This hotel is themed to be similar to an Italian village and is really nice.  This hotel is more in the deluxe category of hotels compared to Cabana Bay.  We got to hear two singers at night from the balcony and I was psyched when I recognized one of the songs the man sang, “O Sole Mio.”  Families were sitting outside listening to the two singers sing even though it was a chilly night.  We also saw the hotel during the day.  Both hotels have shops, but the Portofino has fancier restaurants.  The Portofino also has a Gelateria which is a major plus in my mind.  The Portofino definitely did not seem like a traditional hotel, whereas, Cabana Bay did but that is because of the theming and it was made to be that way.

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Room Service!

IMG_3571Each morning we actually got to order room service from the Hard Rock for breakfast which was lovely.  The restaurant did not open in time for us to have breakfast there so we were allowed to order room service each morning.  I usually
got the kid’s chocolate chip pancakes as IMG_3882well as cereal but the last day I tried the yogurt parfait instead of the pancakes and cereal.  The chocolate chip pancakes were some of the best chocolate chip pancakes I have ever had.  They did forget the chocolate chips one morning, which I was not too happy about, but the rest of the mornings were great!

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SeaWorld Part 2

So in the last post, I talked about Discovery Cove and that is only one of SeaWorld’s three main areas in Orlando.  After seeing the beautiful Discovery Cove, we shuttled over to Aquatica, the water park. IMG_3784 I was not surprised that we only encountered about 10 people at the water park who were not employees.  It hadn’t even reached 55 degrees yet that day!  I don’t know how they were going on the water rides but there were no lines so that part must have been nice if you could tolerate the cold water.  They were also running from ride to ride, probably to stay warm.  I would’ve needed a wetsuit and not a bikini to go in the water on that day!  IMG_3778One ride at Aquatica involves going through one of the tanks with fish in it and I wish it had been warmer for us to try that ride.  Aquatica has a great system (similar to Disney Magic Bands) where you can buy a wristband and use that as your way to pay for items and get around all day.  Perfect item for a water park especially as no one wants to carry around cash.  Aquatica also had awesome rentable storage containers that you could lock and attach to your beach chair to store valuables in.  So, you could put your phone in there and not have to worry about walking all the way back to a locker to look at your messages after a ride.

We then went over to SeaWorld and ate at Sharks Underwater Grill, which is similar to eating at The Seas at Walt Disney World. IMG_3788 I got the seat closest to the tank with the sharks and fish in it, which was neat because I got to watch them all swim by. IMG_3796 However, it was a bit distracting to focus on anything else during the lunch when I had sharks swimming by me, so I am not sure how much I remember from what everyone said, haha.  I had salmon for lunch here.  The restaurant is definitely the more upscale place to eat in the park, as the other places are quick service or typical park food.

Then we walked around the park and had a little backstage tour where we saw SeaWorld’s rehabilitation center for the animals which was very neat.  We learned so much about SeaWorld’s rescue mission and saw some of the turtles and other animals they have rescued.  IMG_3830

We then went into the dolphin show right before it started and found an empty bench even though the show was packed.  It was a great show, but very short…maybe 10 minutes long.

The show also had a few birds in it and one of them managed to fly away from where it was supposed to be and into the crowd right in front of us which was funny.  The trainer was right behind the fly away guy and quickly picked him up, but not before a few people got a little scared and scooted over or stood up from the bench to move away.

Next, we traveled many miles to Antarctica to see the penguins.  The guy on the right on his tummy in the first photo is a good example to show how exhausted we all felt after this amazing and busy week.

We had to go through the ride line and then separated off from the main attraction line to just see the penguins and avoid the twisty turny ride.  I found it really interesting that there was no glass between the penguins and us.  The positive to this is that we could see the penguins very well.  The negative to this was that we could also smell the penguins very well.  Penguins do not exactly smell like fresh flowers in case you were wondering.  We only stood in the building for a few minutes before exiting due to the smell and because we were cold.

At this point, it was time for a snack break of cotton candy.  A few of us also decided to head over to the kid’s area.  The kid’s area is in the way back of the park and takes forever to get to especially when you are tired from walking around.  We went on the kid’s roller coaster which was funny.  I think all the kids were probably wondering why four teenage girls in business clothes were getting on the kid’s coaster but oh well.  Unlike the Disney roller coasters, there were literally no other adults on the ride with us.

We got to see all of SeaWorld Orlando’s properties in one packed day before heading back to the Hard Rock Hotel.  My favorite part of the great day was definitely seeing the rehab center and the animals there.


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