Making Memories At Universal Orlando Resort

This is my final post sharing our holiday to Orlando staying at Universal Resort and I’m ending on a big one! You’ve read all about the amazing accommodation, The Royal Pacific Resort and benefits of staying onsight. And I’ve written about how to do Universal with a preschooler now here’s everything you ever wanted to know about all three of their theme parks and City Walk. Starting with the newest, Volcano Bay. A water park with gumption!

Volcano Bay

Bearing in mind the boys and I are total water babies when it comes to holidays, you can pretty much guarantee that most of our time will be taken up in water of some sort, so spending the day swimming, splashing and on the thrills and spills of the water rides kicked off our break perfectly.

As with all the theme parks, staying in a Universal Orlando resort meant we had free transport to all the parks. While Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida were only a 10 minutes walk or water taxi ride from our hotel, Volcano Bay was a short bus ride away, or the Shrek bus as the youngest called it.

Now I need you to think of the downside of water parks;  endless queues at the rides right? Only Volcano Bay has tackled that problem by supplying all their guests with a TapuTapu a waterproof watch-like device which holds your place in a virtual line for one attraction at a time.

This is my last post on my holiday to Orlando staying at Universal Resort and I'm sharing everything you need know about their theme parks

Volcano Bay

Once inside, we headed to the lockers and changing rooms then found a spot to camp down on the beach area. With free loungers and life vests you only need a towel really, you can also pay for everything via their app so you can leave your valuables locked away. the boys and I headed straight into the water where the mighty Krakatau volcano is the centrepiece. It’s the hub of the park with various water slides, sand, wave machines, it really gives a holiday vibe of a Pacific isle rather than a water park.

The eldest teen soon disappeared, never to be seen for a couple of hours as he went on as many solo rides as he could (and possibly avoid babysitting duties?!) So the rest of us took a walk around the park which caters for all ages. We all rode the lazy river, an all-ages ride in rubber rings through gentle rapids and waterfalls. But the bulk of our time ended up in the kiddies splash areas and trying to prize the 3-year old away from the rides and splash areas was nigh on impossible. He loved having the independence of going down the slides himself.

Universal Studios Florida

Day 2 was all about getting up close and personal with the characters from our favourite movies, we started with a very intense day zipping through queues with the fast pass which you get automatically as a guest staying in a Universal Resort hotel and is well worth the upgrade if you aren’t.

Here, we got to dance with the minions in Despicable Me after a 3D ride helping Gru and the girls. One thing which I loved about all the rides was even the queues were entertaining and interactive.

We were lucky to  spend one of the days with fellow blogger Cornish Mum Steph and her family, which meant the boys were able to go on all the major rides and I got to see their faces when they got off; beams which were impossible to fake or hide summed it up.

During our post theme park chat they both decided that the Hollywood RipRide Rocket was their favourite, while I could’ve spent all my time in Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Your senses go into overdrive here as you take everything. Even the shop windows come alive, and the giant fire-breathing dragon was something else, our little preschooler still talks about it now.

Even more amazing is the ride on the Hogwarts Express between theme parks, everything is so real it’s hard not to imagine you’re heading off to a term at Hogwarts as you look out of the window. I could harp on about how breathtaking this area is all day, and how amazing Butter Beer tastes. But it really is something you need to experience yourself. Although I did managed to capture a snippet of the ride on camera.

While the boys got their kicks on the roller coasters, there was no hanging around waiting for me luckily, with all various shows and street performances going on all around. I even got to join in with a singing contest (not sure I could call it singing, more shouting) with a group of cappella singers on the streets of New York.( I live streamed this on Instagram so you may have caught it?)

Best part of this park for me was walking through the different themed city areas of London, Hollywood and New York, the rides here are only a small part of the whole experience.

Islands of Adventure

Our days of getting up close a personal to all the movies and movie stars didn’t end in Universal Studios as we soon found out at Islands of Adventure! I’d say the teenagers probably prefer this park out of the 3 with it’s ultimate rollercoaster The Incredible Hulk, full on experience at Skull Island and my favourote, Harry Potters Forbidden Journey.

Along with even more of Harry Potter, you also get to see Marvel characters come to life on the streets of Marvel Super Hero Island. It was here that my 3 year old got a meet and greet with his idol Spiderman, a total heart-melting moment seeing him totally in the superhero zone.

Even walking around the Jurassic Park area was an experience, right down to the fossils embedded in the walkways and dinosaurs hiding in the bushes. The older kids got their water ride fix here while the youngest and I took a slower aerial view of the park on a Pteradon Fliers and ran around Camp Jurassic.

This is my last post on my holiday to Orlando staying at Universal Resort and I'm sharing everything you need know about their theme parks

CityWalk

You can’t reach Universal Studios or Islands Of Adventure without passing through City walk, and  although not a theme park per say, it was pure entertainment with its many bars, clubs and shops.It was great to see the security and bag checks at every entrance. It’s sad that this is the type of world we live in now, where you need extra levels of security to feel safe and be able to relax at big public areas like this. Nonetheless, I felt much happier having to go through this each time we visited.

We dined out in the new Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savoury Feast Kitchen, The NBC Sports Bar, The CowFish and The Hard Rock Cafe. Food was utterly amazing, with a good choice for all of us, including me as a vegetarian and portion sizes – wow! We left every restaurant with a carry home of some sort. Special mention has to be the milkshakes in The Toothsome Emporium, probably not the best choice of drinks for the teens as they struggled to make a dent in their meals.

You can order child’s meals in all the restaurants we went to at a fairly decent price, not sure I’d call them child portions mind! They’d have been fine for me to be honest.

Universal Resort Orlando In a Nutshell….

Totally and utterly amazeballs for all ages and all genders. The quality exceeded our expectations and left us speechless on many occasions. Go prepared with your camera, comfy shoes (wear trainers, it’s a lot of walking!) and get there early. My best advice is to start at the back of the park and get the big rides done asap then plan the rest of your day taking your time and don’t rush around from one area to the next. There are so many hidden extras and doing your research on the internet really helps. Little things like how to get the interactive cauldren to move in Diagon Alley, to spotting Kreacher the House Elf peaking through the window as well as the real-life characters popping up everywhere.

This is my last post on my holiday to Orlando staying at Universal Resort and I'm sharing everything you need know about their theme parks

This was one of those holidays which we hope to do again one day, but even if we don’t, the memories we made will last a lifetime and for anyone wondering if it’s do able as a single parent, or with children of any age or gender.

 It totally is. 

This is my last post on my holiday to Orlando staying at Universal Resort and I'm sharing everything you need know about their theme parks

Universal Citywalk at Night

Disclaimer

This is a collaborative post between Mumsnet Bloggers Network and Universal Resort Orlando

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The Reality of Being a Single Parent Working From Home.

I’ve always had dreams. At primary school, I thought I’d be famous as my best friend and I made up our own shows and performed for the school, I dabbled with the idea of being in a successful rock band but my bad attitude and teenage laziness meant I only ever learnt 4 songs on the bass guitar. It sort of came back in college when I strived to be the next Annie Leibovitz, but I was never really that good at channelling one particular talent, like many teens I was easily distracted by friends and boyfriends.

Yet that all changed when I became a mum, something inside kick-started an ambitious streak, suddenly I needed to prove to myself and my son that I could be a good mum and have a career. It was never about not enjoying just being a mum, far from it. It was the making of me and gave me a determination and focus which had always been lacking.

I also knew that I needed to provide for my family as much as my husband, that the days of him going out to work while I stayed home and kept the house clean and kids entertained was just not possible if I wanted to have holidays and a home big enough for a few more kids. It needed to be a team effort.

For a while it worked perfectly for a while, I finished my degree and found the perfect job which allowed me to be around for my boys and a stepping stone to a career I’d been aiming for, at that point, as a working mum I did have it all. My husband and I tag parented, and for a while, it worked

Then things changed; meant my marriage crumbled beyond repair and now I was stepping into a whole new world as a working single mum, my optimism became my drive telling me I could still do this.

While on the outside I probably appear to have it all. I can work from the comfort of my desk at home, I have the freedom to drop off and pick up my youngest son from preschool and change my working hours as and when needed. The reality is very different.

That ambition I mentioned, it’s very much still there. More than ever in fact. Now I’m doing this all on my own, it’s all down to me to earn enough to make sure they don’t miss out simply because things didn’t work out between their dad and I.

It’s not so easy when you don’t have a husband coming home at the end of the day to take over with the kids while I complete work deadlines. I can’t get up early in the morning to go for a run with the dog while the kids are still asleep, freeing up precious work time later when they’re all at school. Life as a single working mum is all about juggling and careful time management. Just as it was when I was married, but now I don’t have a backup partner.

The reality of being a single parent, working from home is –

about using your free time constructively to catch up on work and housework while still maintaining a personal life.

It’s about grabbing every free minute of the day and night to reply to emails, or making phone calls. working while cooking, walking the dog, standing in a super maket queue and walking up to pre school.

It’s about working late and getting up early. Working while watching TV just so you know what the rest of Facebook is talking about so you feel you’re in touch with reality.

It’s all about balance; giving your children undivided attention while resisting work and not fretting about getting it done. Something which I often get wrong.

But on the flip side, I don’t have a husband coming home in a bad mood after a bad day at work, I don’t have the worry of being home at certain times to cook dinner. If the boys and I are out for the day in the holidays there’s not rush to get back. I don’t have someone moaning that I’m working in the evening,  unaware that I don’t have the luxury of just stepping out the door to go to work in the morning without making sure the kids are sorted for the day and coming home to relax. That stress is gone.

Plus I get every other weekend, while my kids are with their dad, to catch up on work if need be.

And while I often wonder if my life might be easier if I went out to work every day, at set times and not bring my work home with me, I wouldn’t be following my ambition and I wouldn’t have the flexibility like I do now.

Plus, my kid’s won’t be living at home forever.

So while I perfect the single, work from home, mum lifestyle, it is only temporary.

And I wouldn’t change it for a thing.

The reality of being a single parent, working from home is about It's about grabbing every free minute of the day & night to meet deadlines

 

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This Is How I’m Helping My Kids Through A Divorce

It’s been quite some time since I wrote about my separation, to be honest I’ve never been more uncomfortable sharing something so personal and there are still aspects I will keep to myself. But there are also some things which I wanted to share, things I’ve leant and never expected to feel. No one can truly prepare you for what lies ahead, everyone’s story is different. Yet there are things, or rather, situations which most people experience but never really tell you.

You will have to use every core of your emotions to put your children first

Right from the start I wanted to make my divorce as pain-free for my kids. They were entering a whole new lifestyle which had never been predicted. One day they were looking forward to a future with a mum & dad; A wedding day with all the family, mum and dad on the top table, not a step parents in sight and weekends doing family stuff, always in their own house. Holidays would carry on as normal and when they left home they’d come back to mum and dads for Sunday roasts.

All the things they’d taken for granted suddenly swept away.

I know how that feels, I’m a child of divorce too and that whole uncertainty of what life is going to be like is pretty scary, especially when you haven’t got a lifetime of experience and adult reasoning to rationalise things.

So one thing I had to do was put myself in their shoes, this meant sending myself right back to how I felt all those years ago, not a nice memory to try relive, I might have been 19 but divorce is hard on kids no matter what age . Yet if the boys and I were to come out of this storm unscathed, they had to come first and I had to try and remember how the whole thing felt. 

You will have to learn to be fake happy

I never want to wave them off to spend time with their dad, I want them with me. I want life as normal as possible, I want a noisy house, clutter everywhere, weekends spent driving them around to friends, early wake up calls from my toddler and pizza on the sofa on a Saturday.

My boys want to see their dad.

So with a fake smile and over jolly voice I open the door, lump in my throat, and watch them leave. The silence when they go is deafening and not something you ever get use to. But my kids need and want  to see their dad and so they should. That’s me, once again, using every core of my emotions to put their needs first and not be selfish. What went on between him & I is no business of theirs and who am I to dictate whether they see him or not? 

divorce is tough on everyone & if I'm going to make sure my kids come through it unscathed, there's a few things i need to do
You will have to encourage a good relationship with step parents & family

While we’ve not quite crossed this path yet, there have been new partners. I’ve been very careful not to ask too many questions or quiz them when they return home after a weekend with their dad. I wanted to, believe me, but I know that they’ll feel like their loyalty is being tested. My way of coping with the times away from them is to not think about it, not pry and try not to moan about what they have or haven’t done, eaten or watched.

What I don’t know what hurt me or ignorance is bliss

There are moments when I want to pick up the phone and yell what do you think you’re doing to my ex husband and his family. But truth be told, I never agreed with their ways when we were together, as if they’re going to give a stuff what I think now. I remind myself I have to beg to differ. And when a new girlfriend is on the scene I will have to be positive, sharing my kids was never something I bargained on, but if they have a good relationship with her, their dad will be happy and with any luck, together they’ll pu our kids needs first. 

Put simply, I need to set an example and not bitch.

You can’t dis their other parent in front of them

Now that was and still is a hard one. Slagging off my ex, their dad, to the kids is dangerous to say the least. While I might feel better getting a few things off my chest, I’m also aware it can totally back fire and make them more protective of him, they’ll also get to see a not-so-nice side to me. On the other hand I could end up totally trashing their relationship with their father & causing some serious issues. My children have a right to a life with 2 parents, whether I like it or not, and I can’t jeopardise or control how that pans out. Friends and my family are my go to’s for a bloody good moan, not my kids.

Instead I only say good things, I don’t want my kids growing up being scared to talk about dad in front of me and luckily my family are doing exactly the same. Fake smiles and words all round, we’re getting quite good at pretending!

And the good? There’s always a silver lining

Going through a divorce makes you look for any and every inch of positivity. I’m not perfect,  I’ve had my moments where it’s stressed me, upset me and battered me back and blue emotionally. It’s during those times when I’ve had to dig deep to find the positives in what I’m doing.

And there is, it’s called resilience and optimism – looking ahead to a happy future.

Our house is much calmer and my kids know it, I just need to remind them. I’m also showing them that you don’t have to accept a situation which feels wrong, you can make changes, however hard they might be and sometimes you have to do things which scare you to see the long term benefits.  They’ve whitnessed me stepping into the unknown as life as a single parent and being a much more relaxed, happier person because of it. Divorce is never the easy way out, it takes a whole heap of guts to admit something isn’t right. Staying is much easier. 

I came out of my parents divorce alright and I know that my boys’ll be building up resilience to any future emotional wobbles. I’m teaching them they can handle anything, they might not feel that way now, but one day, I’m hoping they’ll look back and realise they handled it pretty bloody amazingly and can take on any future emotional upheaval with the same gumption. 

And Finally, I’m also teaching them that there is no normal when it comes to family, everyone is different, and in a world where difference is not getting a good rap right now, I think that’s a pretty good lesson to learn.

divorce is tough on everyone & if I'm going to make sure my kids come through it unscathed, there's a few things i need to do

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Child maintenance options: Which one is right for you?

When you separate with your children’s / child’s father or mother, so many factors come into play. Such as how often they’ll visit the other parent, will you stay in the family home and how will you manage childcare if you’re working. One thing which is essential in establishing from the start, though, is child maintenance; it offers regular support for single parents raising their child without their partner regardless of what situation the relationship ended.

In the UK, over half a million children benefit from child maintenance and if you are considering setting up such an arrangement it’s worth looking into your options. Here are some of the most common ones when arranging child maintenance. It’s not always a one size fits all.

Family based arrangement 

This is a child maintenance arrangement which is organised by the parents looking for flexibility and avoiding having to go to court.

It’s best if the two parents meet at a time suitable for both, to discuss their financial situations and to decide how much money their child needs on an everyday basis. This should factor in costs such as accommodation, clothing, school uniform, school trips, after school activities and groceries – these costs will vary depending on the age of your child so it’s a good idea to write out a list of exactly what is being spent.

You can then either split the difference of these costs, then the partner not living with the child transfers this money on a monthly basis or you can base it on a means tested basis. It’s a good idea to calculate how much would be expected to be paid if you were to take on a statutory child maintenance arrangement and base the costs around this. For more on what to include in a family based arrangement, take a look at the Child Maintenance Options website.

Statutory child maintenance 

This arrangement is there for parents who cannot come to an agreement or if there is no contact with the partner no longer living with the child. Statutory child maintenance is arranged through the Child Maintenance Service and will require parents using the service to pay a fee of £20 and percentage fees for collecting the money owed.

However, these fees can help encourage a difficult partner to make their payments regularly, and the Child Maintenance Service can also track down the parent if you do not know their whereabouts after separating and also issue enforcement charges for those who do not pay their child maintenance on time or in full. This fee removes negotiation between the parents and instead the Child Maintenance Service will decide how much the other parent pays based on their income and situation. This is sometimes the better option where domestic violence was evident too.

If you have particularly low income, you can also claim child tax credit  from the Government that is dependent on your circumstances. You can read more about these child benefit options here, as well as discovering how to apply for them.

It’s all quite a mine field but there is plenty of support site out there to help navigate these early months. Check out Gingerbread, which is a fabulous website for single parents.

 

Disclaimer

This is a collaborative post 

 

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5 things I’ve learnt as a single parent 

If I’m honest, this whole single parent title still doesn’t feel real. I know  that I am one, but I try hard to not to let it define me or what I do. I just get on with being me, mum to three amazing boys. It is tough at times; you can’t make plans at the drop of a hat knowing you’ve got a partner or husband around to hold the fort. Far from it tbh, any occasion which requires childcare takes careful consideration and planning.

On the plus side, you know you do have certain times where you do have a day or night sans kiddos and this is where you really get a taste of a valuable life skill;

I time manage like a pro

I know that for the next month at least, I have definite days where I’m child free and I use those days wisely. These are the snippets of my week where I schedule the pants out of every hour to get as much as I can done. On the flip side, my weekend day with my boys are precious. Week days are spent running errands, working my butt off to keep the wolf from the door, keeping on top the housework, making sure the kids are doing homework and carring out their chores while I get the sole pleasure of any house maintenance which doesn’t require a professional.

In a nutshell, my week is chuffing, great, supersized busy with sparkles on . My planner in my co pilot and  off days just aint happening.

There are some valuable life skills I've learnt since becoming a single parent, here's 5 of them;

I roll with the punches

From the outside, I probably look like I’m occasionally lacking in emotions. (aka Cold-Hearted-Bitch) taking situations at face value, assessing the damage & rocking on. My close friends and family will tell you otherwise. But what I do have to do is be very careful not to let stress define my parenting. I compartmentalise those tricky situations and deal with them in my own time, putting them aside while I do mum stuff. If a drama doesn’t seem worth the effort I don’t give it the time of day. I’ve been through immense emotional stress, hit rock bottom and that’s my gauge. I know I can roll with the little punches as I’ve hardened up to the little stresses and as sole carer I can’t afford to give in and crumble.

I don’t feel guilty taking my mum hat off

Don’t get me wrong, I’m always a mum and even on my child free days I’m thinking about my kids. But I’ve learnt not to feel guilty when I’m not with them. That one took a lot of soul searching and long phone calls from my go-to family and friends, but I got there. Tough love (from them) wise words, hugs, tea and sympathy got me to a position where I know I need a me-time recharge for the week ahead and fun times to ease the responsibility.  I make use of every minute I’m away from them and when it’s pick up time, I;m straight back into my mum role. It’s also given me the confidence to let go little, my kids are safe and happy with their dad, and I that’s all that matters.

I’m a budget queen

Being good with your money is a must whatever your relationship status, but when you’re on your own and you have mouths to feed, children to clothe and entertain as well as a house to run, every penny counts.
Not having 2 wages coming in is completely pants but in some ways it’s actually easier managing your finances as a single parent. I have complete control of the finances. I know exactly what’s going in and out. Every silver lining and all that jazz.
I’ve learnt to rein in the impulsive spending sessions, and when I do splurge. I budget the rest of the month. And I’ve had to learn to say no. It kills me when the kids ask for things I know I can’t afford, I’ve had to drag out that tough love again and again and bargain with alternatives.
When I first took on this whole new adventure I sat down and went through all my outgoings with a fine tooth comb. I changed electricity suppliers, got rid of insurances I didn’t need. Switched to a water meter and set up a buffer account to handle emergencies. I also listened to the advice of other single parents.

There are some valuable life skills I've learnt since becoming a single parent, here's 5 of them;

I am stronger, braver, smarter than I think

Wise words from Mr Pooh. Sometimes that chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff knows his stuff when he utters those little words of wisdom. Being a single parent has taught me that I’m stronger than I thought I was. The thought of running the helm single handed once terrified me.

How will I cope at the end of the day, when my energy is at its lowest, my patience is waning and I have no one coming through the door to share the load?

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s tough. There are days when the sofa has a magnetic pull so strong I have to fight every urge to curl up and hide from my duties. But that’s simply not an option. When those times hit, I dust myself down, push through the wall of ‘I can’t do this’ and get on with it.

I’m stronger than I think.

On the really tough days I pop a pizza in the oven, justify the lack of fresh, nutrition with a few slices of cucumber & chopped pepper on the side and we eat.

I ask for help, something which I was never very good at before. But I got brave to admitting I need help for the simple reason that I can’t let things slip, especially my health.  Sick days are not an option, I’ve just got to get on with it and look after my body and mind in the best possible way; I eat healthy, I keep fit and I practice mindfulness.

I’ve braver than I think!

And I stop beating myself up that I’m failing at this single parenting lark.

My house is clean, the bailiffs aren’t knocking on the door, my boys are happy, healthy and I haven’t hit the social services radar. I’m not doing too bad in the grand scheme of things, time to have few words with my self and see the glass as half full.

Seriously lady, you’re wiser than you think!

There are some valuable life skills I've learnt since becoming a single parent, here's 5 of them;

 

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