Your place for magical tips, tricks, and advice!



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Having been good theme park tourists and getting to bed before 1am on the night of our arrival, my travel partner and I woke up early the next day ready to hit the theme parks. Universal offers early entry to the Universal Studios park to guests staying on site. This offers a fantastic chance to see Diagon Alley prior to heavy crowds and long wait times hit the attractions in the area. With this knowledge in mind we packed up and headed out…to Islands of Adventure. I am still not sure why we walked to the wrong park! My only excuse was that we chose to walk (very easy) from the resort and IOA is closer to Royal Pacific than Universal Studios. Once we realized our mistake we ran to Universal and made it in plenty of time.

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Now here is a very important tip. I usually just visit Universal as a day guest and as a travel agent I work very hard to ensure my clients do not make any mistakes or have any hassles on their trips. One thing I always remind them of is that Universal is not Disney. Your room key is not your key to the world card. Though you can charge things to your room, your key is not your park pass or dining plan. It is simply a key. You have to pick up your tickets at your hotel ticket desk. This is clearly outlined in your package when you book, but often it is hard to remember to do this for a Disney vet. It also does not help that the check in staff doesn’t really remind you to visit the ticket desk. So, needless to say we arrived at the park, swiped our room keys and were promptly denied entrance! It was a rookie mistake and one simply remedied at guest services, but annoying none the less! I think Universal needs to do two things here. 1. They need to train their staff to ask guests at check in if they have tickets or a meal plan and then direct them to the appropriate area to retrieve these items. 2. They need to make your key card your access card a la Disney. As a guest I was carrying a park ticket, a room key, my credit cards, and an express pass. That is a lot of superfluous items. Anyhow, having left ample time we got into the park and headed to Diagon Alley.

The only clue you have that you are approaching Diagon Alley is a few British flags, a plain looking train station, a brick wall and the legendary Knight Bus. There are not big signs or cast members telling you where to go. Was this off putting…not in the least! It is part of the story! Diagon Alley is a well hidden area. It is for wizards only! Once you slip behind the brick wall you are transported into another world in a way that no theme park has quite yet achieved.

 

The inconspicuous entrance to Diagon Alley

The inconspicuous entrance to Diagon Alley

Knight Bus

Knight Bus

Follow the little streets through the shops, peer into the windows, listen to the sounds. You are in a different world. If you take a wrong turn you will end up on knockturn alley, the dark and devious side street where black magic may be taking place.

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The crown jewel of the area is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. The bank is at the end of the street and topped with a fire breathing Dragon. Enter through the bank where goblin tellers look so real you swear they are breathing. Head down the elevator to the center of the earth and into your ride vehicle to visit your vault. This ride is a 3D almost roller coaster, real life movie, totally all encompassing experience. This ride is a must do. As a resort guest you have to take advantage of the extra hour in the park to ride this attraction without a wait, but Universal Express is not available on this attraction or Harry Potty and the Forbidden Journey at Island of Adventure.

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After riding the attraction, peeking around the area and of course drinking a butter beer, we head to platform 9 and 3/4! Walking into the train station you will feel as though you are in any train station until you see people go through the wall to get to the Hogwarts Express. You watch what seems like guests in front of you head to a solid wall and then like magic, go through the wall! Amazing!

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We headed into our cabin, which is directly out of the movie, and took our seats. Then the magic began. The scenes we passed were incredible but what was happening in the corridors of the train was even more amazing! Death eaters, Harry and his gang, the treat trolley…they all passed by! This is no ordinary mode of transportation. This is an attraction. The only hang up is if you want to ride you need a park to park ticket. Definitely worth it.

We were dropped off in Hogsmeade and did some shopping. I have ridden Forbidden Journey before and it does not agree with my stomach so we skipped that and headed to do some other rides.

We rode cat in the hat, Jurassic Park (My Favorite), Blutos Bilge Rat Barges, and Dudley Do Right and were soaking wet. The water rides at Universal are serious. We decided to head back and change. Our room is about 10-15 minutes from any point in the park! We headed back and got changed.

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The afternoon brought rides on Spiderman, Transformers, and minion mayhem. I love all of these rides, especially transformers. They are very fun and very incredible experiences. We also saw Shrek 4D, visited Springfield and the home of the Simpsons. It was a fantastic day until the rain came and washed us out. Oh well, we ended up having dinner at the resort.

Jakes American Bar in Royal Pacific is a great place for a casual bite. We got the homemade pretzel rods to start and these were spectacular. So spectacular in fact I had to look back at my photos to see what my entree was. I ordered the peach bbq rotisserie chicken which was good but not memorable, clearly. Then for dessert we got the churro bread pudding. Let me say that again. Churro. Bread. Pudding. Wow! The meal was excellent and the service was incredible. A would highly suggest this restaurant to hotel guests as it is a great break from the Asian inspired meals found at the other eateries in the hotel.

All in all it was a fantastic, albeit wet, day at the park! Keep reading on over the next few days as I take you from Universal to Walt Disney World and then aboard the Disney Wonder to set sail for Halloween on the high seas!

Universal or Bust

Oct 21, 2014 Author: jhayes | Filed under: Trip Report, Universal Orlando

The dust has settled from my most recent trip to Orlando. My bags are finally unpacked, gifts have been given to their recipients and the credit card statements are rolling in. However, I have this really cool blog where I get to share with you the experience that was my two week trip. My trip spanned 6 theme parks, 3 resort hotels, 2 beautiful islands, and 1 cruise ship. I am going to take you through the highlights of each day in pictures and dialog in hopes that you can enjoy my trip second hand and perhaps offer some great ideas to a trip you may be planning! What, you are not planning a trip? Now is a great time to start thinking about it with the holidays coming up, winter and spring vacations not too far down the line and for those of us up north the winter weather starting to sneak in! Any how I digress. The first stop on my trip was to Universal Orlando!

I arrived in Orlando late in the evening on September 28. A little behind schedule with my friend in tow we gathered our bags and collected our rental car. Off we went, or so I thought. Apparently, the people who rented the car I was in prior to me had an issue with the car. Someone mistakenly assigned me (lucky as always) to this vehicle. I was not let out of the gate for another hour while they figured out the issue. The company did upgrade my vehicle, but lost time is always a misfortune.

It took me about 20 minutes to arrive at Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal. Royal Pacific is a big, beautiful hotel with lots of great story and themeing. The room was well appointed and kind of brings the Polynesian resort to mind. Very south pacific and the feeling that a lot of great travelers have been through these parts before.

Standard Room at Royal Pacific

Standard Room at Royal Pacific

We settled into our room and realized we were very hungry. It was late, but luckily Universal is home to one of the best night life areas in Orlando! City Walk! We decided to head over and grab a bite before bed. We wanted to ensure we were up early as Universal Resort guests get early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter; Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. Before heading out we stopped off at the express pass booth in the hotel lobby. Express pass is basically front of the line access. You get it for free when staying at Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay, or Hard Rock Hotel on Universal Property. You can buy this option as well if staying off site. This is perhaps the biggest perk to staying on site. We walked on pretty much every ride. We did not wait once. Granted, we were visiting during the slow season but as Disney fans can attest too the slow season can still bring huge crowds.

Express pass booth

Express pass booth

 

Royal Pacific

Royal Pacific

We decided to take the water taxi to City Walk. The water taxi services the 3 deluxe resorts on property but does not service Cabana Bay, Universals value resort. The water taxi is comfortable and comes every few minutes to deliver guests to City Walk which also happens to be the gateway to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, the two theme parks that make up Universal Orlando. We decided a burger and a Margarita were a great way to start a vacation. Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville was the perfect choice. Parrotheads near and far should check this place out. Very fun, great live music, awesome decor, and good food! I went with the classic margaraita and of course a cheeseburger and paradise (I like mine with lettuce and tomato, heinz 57 and french fried potatoes!) It was very good but oh my god, it was expensive. Think Disney charges a lot for food? It was nearly $70 for the two of us to have a drink each and a burger. Yikes!  Universal does offer a meal plan but it is not a savings. It is more of a convenience.  After dinner and some light shopping it was off to bed. Tomorrow we had an early meeting with Harry Potter!

Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville

Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville

Stay tuned to find out how day two went. As always if you are interested in booking a Universal Vacation Package contact me Jess@Pixievacations.com to learn how I can plan you a great get away and provide you with some spending money to boot!

 

 

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If you love the idea of a deluxe resort stay but aren’t quite sure you want to spend the money Coronado Springs offers a great alternative. Coronado is categorized as a Moderate resorts, but it is much more closely related to a deluxe resort in many ways.

The most important thing to keep in mind when booking a stay at Coronado is that it is huge. This is one resort where paying for a preferred room that is closer to El Centro (the main building) is probably an idea to consider.  An internal shuttle system of golf carts is available to help guests move  around the expansive property.

There are three distinct areas of Coronado Springs; The Ranchos, the cabanas and the casitas. Each area is  unique and offers its own pros and cons. I enjoy the casitas as I find it to be close to the main building and has a lovely quiet pool. However, this area is pretty far from the dig site which is the feature pool. It all really depends on how you wish to vacation. Take a look at this map to get an idea of the lay of the land!

Coronado Springs is closest to Epcot and Hollywood Studios and offers service to all theme parks by bus. There is also ample parking for cars if you happen to be driving.

El Centro is the main building and home to the resort check in and concierge. You will also find quite a few dining, recreation and shopping options inside this building.

1. Cafe Rix offers grab and go items, coffee, smoothies, and snacks

2. The Pepper Market offers hot food options in an open air market style setting.

3. Maya Grill is a sit down restaurant with a Mexican style food.

4. Panchitos is the gift shop where you can also find light groceries and care items.

5. Rix Lounge is open daily from 5pm-2am for drinks, entertainment and light food

6. The Laguna Bar is right outside El Centro and open daily for waterside drinks

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The Dig Site is the main pool area complete with Mayan Pyramid, jaguar  slide, the largest hot tub on property. In this area you will also find:

1. A children s playground

2. A children s pool/splash area

3. Siestas Cantina pool side bar and quick service location

4. Iguana Arcade

5. Beach Volley Ball and table tennis

There is also a quiet pool located in each area of the resort.

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Guests will also find a health club, laundry facilities, a salon, and room service available for their use. This is the only moderate resort that offers a health club. La Vida Health club, laundry facilities and the salon can all be found in the Casitas area of the resort.

The guest rooms are very well appointed and have a clean elegant look to them. Dark furniture complements the bright white bed linens. The sink area is easily separated from the main room by dark wood pocket doors which is a huge leap up from the other moderate resorts which offer a curtain instead of the doors.

All rooms offer two queen beds or one king bed.

Coronado Springs offers a concierge level for the first time at a moderate resort. These rooms are available in Cabanas 9B and provide guests with a concierge lounge offering continental breakfast, midday snacks, and evening cheese and wine for an additional fee. They also offer a dedicated check in and concierge, and turn down service. These rooms will be listed as Business Class rooms.

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It is import to note that Coronado Springs offers a convention center and is often booked for business use.

This resort is a wonderful choice for a budget minded traveler who has more elaborate tastes. It remains elegant and tasteful without sacrificing its ability to be family friendly.

Go ahead and give Coronado a try!

It’s Party Time! (Almost)

Jul 29, 2014 Author: jhayes | Filed under: Family Fun, Magic Kingdom, Planning Tips

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Summer is coming to a close; sad but true. Back to school commercials are on TV, The sun is setting a little earlier each day, and Disney is ramping up for the most exciting season of all; Autumn! Sure, Christmas is great with all the lights and snow on Main Street, but nothing beats fall in my book.

Fall not only brings slightly cooler air and thinner crowds but two wonderful events start to take place: Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. I am going to give you some tips and tricks for getting the most out of these events!

Epcot Food and Wine Festival

September 19-November 10, 2014

The Food and Wine Festival occurs daily and is FREE with admission to Epcot

Most of the festivities take place around World Showcase, but do not miss out on visiting the festival center in Future World. During this daily event, you will be able to stroll along the lagoon and enjoy tapas size eats from around the globe.  Savory dishes, sweet desserts, and creative drinks will be on the menu throughout the showcase. It is a fun way to jet around the world without leaving central Florida. Here are a few tips!

1. You can use your dining plan snack credits on many items throughout the festival. This is a good option!

2. You may also purchase a gift card wristband which comes in quite handy if you are an offer property guest without a magic band for room charges. This way you are not digging through your pockets for money or credit cards.

3. Take a look at the schedule ahead of time! There are lots of star chefs and wonderful demos that you may not want to miss.

4. I do not think you need dining reservations for the day you are planning to Food and Wine. There is so much great food and budget prices and often an evening ADR is a waste of money and dining credits when you have spent the day munching around the world!

5. Check out the Eat to the Beat Concert Series. There are lots of fun bands to listen to and it is a wonderful time!

 

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

Select nights in September and October.

Get your costume on and get ready for what is hands down the best way in the world to celebrate the season. This is a hard ticketed event meaning that you need to purchase and event ticket to attend. Costumes are allowed but not required. The party is from 7pm-midnight on the days it is available, however you can enter the park at 4pm with your party ticket.

Party nights include lots of special entertainment such as Mickey’s Not So Scary Boo to You parade, Happy Hallowishes Fire Works, Special Meet and Greets, Trick or Treating, Dance parties, and of course all the attractions are open with minimal waits!

 

Here are a few tips for the Halloween Party

1. Get a times guide upon entering to see all there is to offer!

2. Dress in light costumes. I have seen people in big heavy costumes and they must be so uncomfortable. Remember, there is still a lot of walking!

3. If you can, see the later parade as it will be less crowded than the first showing.

4. The fireworks show is the best of the whole year. Make an effort to see it!

5. My favorite place to trick or treat is the trail that runs from Fanstasyland Station to Tomorrowland! Lots of candy stops!

 

Have a happy fall!

 

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Boy do I have a fantastic deal for all NEW CLIENTS wanting to go to Disney last minute! For all packages ($2,000 or higher not including air fare) booked between August 8, 2014 – September 8, 2014 who travel by September 27, 2014 (arrival date), you will get a $50 Disney gift card plus a Disney autograph book for each child traveling with you. Email me at Jess@pixievacations.com today for more info!

There are also some great savings between now and years end including free dining and room and ticket discounts. These savings are going fast so if you want in now is the time!

FREE DINING IS BACK!

May 2, 2014 Author: jhayes | Filed under: Deals and Discounts, Dining plan, Planning Tips
Free-Dining
Everyone’s favorite offer is back! Disney Visa Card holders can book now. If you don’t have a Disney Visa, you can book on Wednesday!
Request a quote now for top priority when the offer goes public!
Booking Dates for this offer are between May 7 – August 8, 2014. Disney Visa Card Holders will be able to book beginning May 2, 2014* (with immediate deposit required on the Disney Visa.)
Those staying in Value Resorts will get a free Quick Service Dining Plan, Moderate and Deluxe Resorts get free Plus Disney Dining. All plans can be upgraded from Basic to Plus and Plus to Deluxe.
Numbers of rooms allocated for this discount are limited.
To receive free dining you must be purchase a resort package with a minimum of 3 night stay and 2 day park ticket.
*Here are the travel arrival dates:*
*August 31-October 3* *October 26- November 1* *November 9-November 20* *December 12-December 23*
The following resorts are excluded:All-Star Movies, Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter, Grand Floridian Villas, Fort Wilderness Campsites, Art of Animation Little Mermaid Rooms and all 3 Bedroom Villas.
*A Room Only Discount will also be available for travel between 8/16 – 10/3.*

Don’t forget when you book your Disney vacation package with me you will get a gift card bonus with a value up to $200 as well!Email me Jess@Pixievacations.com for more info or follow this

link for a free no obligation quote!

How to Travel with a Non-Disney Fan!

Mar 30, 2014 Author: jhayes | Filed under: Uncategorized

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As many of us know Disney is not just for kids. There is so much to do if you are over the age of 21 which is why Disney is constantly the most popular vacation destination in the world! You and I both know how awesome Disney is, but if you are like me you have traveled with a less than enthusiastic party member. How do you handle this?? This week I am sharing a wonderful post I came across on this very subject!

Let me introduce the author: Valerie writes for The Ladies of Comicazi – a pop culture and lifestyle blog for all ladies (and guys too) who love reading, crafts, cooking, and getting involved with the community surrounding their local comic shop.  When Valerie isn’t spending hours making peanut-butter cookies that look like Fozzie Bear, she can be found working out to the Phineas and Ferb classic “Squirrels in my Pants.”

If you love everything comic book, pop culture, and good honest humor you must read this blog!!!

So, without further ado, please go give this article a read. Here is the link to this article I fell head over heals for! 

Summer Discounts Have Arrived

Mar 17, 2014 Author: jhayes | Filed under: Deals and Discounts, Uncategorized

 

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Summer travelers are you ready to book your 2014 Walt Disney World vacation? Today you can do so and save money! Here is the deal:

Book now through June 6 2014 for stays June 15-August 26

Stay up to five nights and get up to 30% off of your room rate

Stay 6 nights or more and get up to 35 % off of your room rate

Add tickets of at least 6 days to your reservation and those will be discounted too!

Here is the icing on the Mickey Cupcake; if you book with me you will not travel empty handed!

Reservations $1500-1999 will get a $10 gift card (2 Mickey bars…woo hoo!)

Reservations $2000-299 will get a $25 gift card (Lunch at Be our Guest!)

Reservations $3000-3999 will get a $50 gift card (Dinner at Ohana…pass the bread pudding!)

Reservations $4000-4999 will get a $75 gift card (Dooney wristlet !)

Reservations $5000 and over will get a $100 gift card (shopping spree!!!)

 

To book with me simply email me Jess@pixievacations.com and let me know:

Travel dates

Number of adults and number of kids plus their ages

Which resort you want

What type of tickets you want and if you want a dining plan

You can also fill out the quote request form at the top of the page!

 

 

 

 

Wilderness Lodge Pin Sheet

Mar 3, 2014 Author: jhayes | Filed under: Resort Info

Wilderness lodge

 

Resort Name: Wilderness Lodge

Resort Category: Deluxe

Resort Area: Magic Kingdom

Transportation: Boat to Magic Kingdom, Bus to all other parks and Downtown Disney

Table Service Restaurants: Whispering Canyon, Artist Point

Quick Service Restaurant: Roaring Forks

Bar/Lounge: Trout Pass Pool Bar, Territory Lounge

Recreation: Walking paths, 2 pools, bike  and boat rentals, arcade, children’s activities

Notes: This is an affordable Deluxe Level option. A very easy walk to Fort Wilderness for additional entertainment and recreation. Make sure to check out the wonderful geyser!

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The best thing about being a Disney Travel Planner is helping families plan magical getaways at no charge to them while also earning a living. The second best thing is that I can pass on some of that pixie dust to you! If you refer your friends, family, people at your zumba class, or even your second cousins best friends grandmother to use my service it could mean $25 gift card to you! Here is how my referral program works.

1. Send me an email with the subject  “referral” to Jess@Pixievacations.com

2. Include your name and mailing address

3. I will send you a referral kit that includes business cards with your referral information on them!

4. When your friends book a trip worth $2500 or more you will get $25 in gift cards upon their travel completion! You can choose a  Disney Gift Card or a Visa Gift Card!

What an easy way to earn some extra spending money for your next trip!

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