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

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

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Clever Christmas Shopping With Hawkins Bazaar

Is there really any need for the Christmas rush?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the last minute dash into town to grab the last few presents, it’s part of the final countdown. What I’m not happy about is the lack of time to mooch around the shops at a leisurely pace and buy things as I go, that seriously kills my budget! Or then there’s getting to Christmas eve and having a niggling doubt that I’ve forgotten to buy for one of my 2 children (once you get past 2 kids, it’s easy to overlook one! Or that just me?)I (try) to stick to a budget for each of my boys, all exactly the same and this in its self is a whole maths game as I write down what I’ve bought and tot up the numbers, sibling equality is a HUGE thing for me, as it always was for my parents.

I (try) to stick to a budget for each of my boys, spending exactly the same of each of them which, in its self is a whole maths game as I write down what I’ve bought and tot up the numbers. Sibling equality is a HUGE thing for me, as it always was for my parents. And guess what! I’ve found a much seasier way of saving time, making sure you’ve got the spending all fair and square AND no child is going to wake up on Christmas morning eyeballing their brothers stocking fillers while they sit peeling their satsuma, muttering “worst Christmas ever” under their breaths.

(Should probably add, that’s never happened and that my boys haven’t been brought up to be like that, but it’s still something I’m conscious of)

Why Choose Hawkins Bazaar?

So anyway, that thing I’m hinting at is a Hawkins Bazaar pre-filled stockings. I’ve had a gander at the teenage boys and young boys sets and am feeling very smug right now that I’m well on my way to completing my shopping, giving me more time for Christmas movies and finding a new set of sparkly heels to dance away the festive season.

Weighing in at £25 each and filled with over £50 worth of stocking fillers it’s a no-brainer really. This shop has been my go-to for stocking fillers for many years, so I was fairly confident at taking the plunge and letting them choose what would be suitable for my requirements. In the past, I’ve spent time trying to find the best offers and make the biggest savings. Buying a pre filled stocking, with double the value contents saves all that bother.

What’s Inside?

The Teenager boys (14 plus) stocking came with some great little presents which were perfect for my Marvel loving boys as well as a few thing I wouldn’t have considered buying but actually, I think they would like. I forget about getting toys now they’re older, but in reality, I think they’d quite like the silly little things like the wind-up zombie and model plane kit. Chalk mug, mmmm, not sure I’m looking forward to seeing what they write on these!

Is there really any need for the Christmas rush? The Hawkins Bazaar pre-filled stockings made my Christmas shopping a breeze.

As for the boy’s 3 plus stocking, this is just what I would’ve bought, I’m not keen on the tattoos, have you ever tried to get those things off? but it’s not about what I like, is it! Great to see some old favourites in there too. No childhood is complete without watching a wooden, fluffy haired bird pecking his way down a metal pole. Same goes for the collapsing toy and I’m sensing some Christmas day races with these glider kits!

Is there really any need for the Christmas rush? The Hawkins Bazaar pre-filled stockings made my Christmas shopping a breeze.

Actually feeling REALLY smug right now, that was such an easy a way to get a start on the Christmas shopping! Next stop, sparkly shoes

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Reviewing the Mercedes C-Class Saloon, The Challenge Is On….

I love a challenge, it keeps life interesting and gives you something to aim for. Luckily I’m not too competitive so if I don’t succeed then it’s all down to experience with very few tears and minimum sulks.  So how does that  fit into a review of the latest Mercedes C-class saloon you ask?

My challenge was to see how it fared as a family car.


Now as challenges go, this was pretty luxurious; a high-end, top of the range car with all the mod cons a gadget loving mum could wish for. Pretty lush as challenges go, I totes admit. My only worry was the abundance of older gentlemen I’d seen driving around my Devon roads, it’s retirement central down here, which has a big baring on my observation so I did have a niggling doubt it wouldn’t suit our needs completely.

So there lay my challenge…. would a Mercedes C-Class Saloon suit a mum, teenager, tween and toddler.  We cover the whole age range right now so this was going to be a thorough test!

First Impressions

Ok, this is serious eye candy. End of. The front styling catches your eye straight away, it’s a long car but don’t for one minute let that put you off. (Keep reading and you’ll find out why.) There’s no mistaking the Mercedes quality as soon as you see it. Stepping in side, you’re greeted by a cockpit feel as you sink into the leather seats. My toddler was straight in the back, having a gander, the door depth meant no problems asserting his independence a making his own way into his seat. Time saver and toddler tantrum diverter all in one manageable lump!

Would I recommend the Mercedes C-Class as a family car? I tested it out over a long weekend with a toddler, tween and teenage. Find out how I got on.

Gadgets Galore!

First off was to get my seating position right. At 5’3″ I needed to notch the seat up and forward quite a bit. The controls are on the door and really easy to get the hang of, as well as those I’ve just mentioned, you can also adjust the depth of the seat which I could pull it back so it rested at the back of my knees supporting my thighs and still giving me plenty of room to move my lower legs. Next was to adjust the steering wheel height so I could see over the dash without it obstructing my view. Then we were good to go! Nearly.

Would I recommend the Mercedes C-Class as a family car? I tested it out over a long weekend with a toddler, tween and teenage. Find out how I got on.

There’s a central touchpad which controls the tablet style screen which sits in the centre dash and gives everything you need at the click of a button; radio, telephone, navigation and car settings such a colour and brightness of the ambient lighting. (I chose a cool blue which radiated from a lighting strip on the door to light up the door controls without being a distraction which was sooooooo chillaxing while driving in the dark.)

So with the toddler strapped into to his seat via the isofix settings, teenager commanding front seat position, tween reluctantly sitting in the back, Radio 1 selected, I’m cool like that <cough, cough>  directions set and temperature adjusted it was ready to drive.

The Drive

You select your (automatic) automatic gears  from a stick (is that the correct term?) just behind the steering wheel. A simple up for reverse and down to drive then push the button in the park. Theres no hand break so it’s foot on the accelerator and go.

Smooth was the word for the journey, smooth with bells on!

You can barely feel the gear changes and it gets up to speed in no time. We started in comfort mode but as we hit the twisty Devon lanes it was time to test it out in sport mode. The suspension dropped slightly and my god did it handle the corners superbly. I’ve never driven anything which felt so in control of the road. Barely touching the accelerator, every turn and brake gave the most comfortable car ride I have ever had. The toddler dropped off without so much as a murmur and the leg room was ample for my leggy 12-year-old.

Would I recommend the Mercedes C-Class as a family car? I tested it out over a long weekend with a toddler, tween and teenage. Find out how I got on.
Now anyone who’s had the pleasure of driving the narrow lanes going out of Beer and Branscombe in East Devon will understand my apprehension of taking a sparkly new, larger car on a jolly down roads where you often have to stop and reserve into a dug out pull ins. But I needed to see how this car would handle every situation I might find myself in, and this is where the reversing camera came into it’s own.

Would I recommend the Mercedes C-Class as a family car? I tested it out over a long weekend with a toddler, tween and teenage. Find out how I got on.
With guide lines helping you adjust your turn and giving you a much better view of what’s behind you than looking over your shoulder could ever do, I had no problem reversing to let traffic through. The same went for parking. Nothing phased me and that was where the real joy of having a large family car didn’t compromise on the possible difficulty you’d face in everyday situations.

And as a Family car?

I like to avoid any cries of I haven’t got any room, any whinging really, but the leg room thing is a concern, and the leg room in the back seats and passenger seat of the Mercedes C-Class was spot on. Comfort was at a premium with temperature adjustments for each passenger and scuff marks from the toddler’s feet on the back of the front seats immediately wipeable thanks the hard plastic back.

The doors open wide enough to get a toddler or baby into a car seat without any difficulty and if attaching via an isofix in the front seat, the air bag is automatically disabled. The isofix connections allow you to use the outer and middle seats so there’s plenty of options for positioning. It really passed the toddler test on several levels/

What really surprised me though, was the size of the boot. I managed a weekly shop and a pushchair with ease and hand bags / changing bag sat on the floor by my toddlers feet. The boot shuts by the touch of a button on the inner edge and opens via the key so no getting your hands dirty too.

Been there, done that, got the smudge marks on my face.

Avoiding dirty hands is a bonus, believe me!

Would I recommend the Mercedes C-Class as a family car? I tested it out over a long weekend with a toddler, tween and teenage. Find out how I got on.
School picks up were a dream. With the boys having no hesitation at being seen in such a cool looking car, I was able to find and park in a spot at the busy school road thanks to the parking assist. The stereo is crystal clear too, so with a Spotify playlist set up on my iPhone, I linked it to the media settings using the touchpad and we were off. There’s also 2 usb changing points as well as the cigarette lighter style charging point so plenty of places to keep devices topped up on long journeys.

Volume and telephone answer and hang up buttons are on the steering wheel but you can also select the stereo volume from a dial in the centre. With everything to hand it meant all my attention was on the road. I didn’t find the information screen a distraction, incase you’re wondering, as you can change radio channels with your left hand on the touchpad at a position which doesn’t feel at all restrictive.

As an added extra, we were lucky to have the sun make an appearance during our weekend testing out the Mercedes so I opened  up the panoramic sunroof  and let the fresh air in. It’s probably the closest I’d like to get to a soft top while still appreciating all that nature has to offer while driving!

Is It Fuel Efficient?

This is a big car, so I naturally thought I’d pay the price in fuel. Wrong! The information panel records how much you’ve used and relays it in a graph style and as you drive the information panel shows how much you’re using. I cruised along at 50 – 60 mph on the A roads & 70 mph on the motorway with an average fuel consumption of 80 mpg. You do see if dive down to the 30 mpg mark when knocking the accelerator into touch to get up steep hills and over taking but generally it sat at the 80 mark.  As a money savvy mum those stats made me smile.

And the bad……

Ok, I’ll level with you. I wanted to find a fault to make this a full and honest review so I dug deep and found it. Yes it, Just 1. There’s no rear wiper. For the best part of 2o minutes on the second day I tried every control and consulted the car manual to find where the bloody thing was. The back window needed clearing of morning dew and despite the large side mirrors giving me a clear view of what was behind, (which I noticed drop down when in reverse so you can a good view of everything around, so cool!)  I still wanted that window cleared.

Then I flicked on the rear demister and hey presto, problem solved! So no, there’s no bad points. I lied.

The Mercedes C-Class In A Nutshell

I’ll go as far to say that this has been one of the most enjoyable cars I’ve ever driven. It’s comfortable for all passengers, the drive is unbelievably smooth, it corners like a dream and it’ll get you out of trouble taking over the odd tractor or cyclist. Once behind the wheel you don’t feel like you’re driving a big car and with all the seat adjustments you can comfortably  manage long journeys with ease.

It looks good, it feels good and I felt safe. So would I suggest it as a family car?

Does a bear……….

Would I recommend the Mercedes C-Class as a family car? I tested it out over a long weekend with a toddler, tween and teenage. Find out how I got on.

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What Are Your Family Car Journey Milestones?

So many memories are made while travelling in a car. wiz back some 30 odd years and I can still transport myself back to the front seat of our Ford Cortina driving down the motorway at night from Up North to stay with our relies in Devon, Lionel Richie and Genesis playing away as I nattered away to my dad while mum sat in the back holding my brother and my sister slept. Car safety was a little hit and miss back then, but it’s a warm fuzzy memory which I treasure. Only ever topped by the lights which we thought were shaped liked boats at Granada Services in exeter and then the total excitement on the decent of the hill in my grandparents village. Yeah……. car journey nostalgia, love it.

I’m the kind of mum who’s always doing that “I remember when” thing to my boys. I had an awesome childhood and would love it of they looked back and reminisced like I do when they’re parents/uncles/any significant adult. So it’s got me thinking about some one the most memorable car journeys we’ve shared and I think the ones which stick the most are the ones I taken them on myself. Such as the first swimming lessons in a nearby private pool. A mere 10 minute journey, they were quite momental.

I was a late learner driver you see so as soon as I passed my test, I booked up simply because I now had the means to get them there rather than rely on others for lifts. Each Monday night we pilled into our Vauxhall Astra which always coincided with Phenomena being played on the radio and as we (ok, it was just me) sang loudly and badly, the boys pleading with me to stop through their giggles. I still try it now and then to raise a smile from my now nonchalant teens. Funny how even a groan of “seriously mum, can you just stop it now”  is enough conversation to keep me happy these days. simple things.

oh and another milestone has to be the first time I took my nervous and excited 11 year old to meet his friends in town where he walk around on HIS OWN for a few hours while I sat nervously in a coffee shop. Sure, he’d been out and about in the village plenty of times with his buddies but for a small village boy, who’d just started secondary school, this was a big moment, for us both. The whole journey was spent with me checking he had arranged the right meeting place, where I was going to pick him up and trying to hide my angst.

Seems like I did the right thing though as Family Lives author Suzie Hayman, who suggests Playing the “what if…” game allows you to voice concerns and then listen and coach them through coping mechanisms, so you can trust them to behave sensibly. Rather than the do and don’t rule of making sure they are ok on their own. It’s still a technique that pops up every now and then.

The ultimate car journey milestone in any parent’s log book has got to be the first journey home from hospital. I can vaguely remember all three of mine. My youngest being the clearest as I was taken aback completely by the look of sheer utter love and shock in my older boy’s faces. while I stared at them they stared at their brother. a huge tear jerker on a proud mum moment. As Suzy Haymen explains,

babies aren’t even sure at this stage where they end and you begin which is why they investigate their own hands, fingers and toes with as much curiosity as the bits of you they can reach. But they recognise your voice and show a preference for it, and want to be held and rocked and to hear you. Safety comes first in a car however so they need to be strapped into that seat, but keep a hands-on close connection and sing and talk to them on the trip home and go back to cuddling and holding as soon as you can.

Turns out my boy would go on to HATE every car journey which followed as he wanted nothing more than being held and so car journeys for the first 12 months were so what limited. If you’re in the same boat then one thing which helped was a change in car seat. Speaking of which, if you’re about to create your own car journey milestones then The Graco Milestone car seat will see you through them all being suitable from birth to 12 years. I’ve got through 4 already so finding one which lasts would’ve saved me a fortune!

What are your car sear milestones? mine has to be the car journeys to swmming lessons and the first rides home with my new babies from the hospital  read more here to see if you have any similar ones.

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Time To Fess Up How I Chose My Boy Names

I’m always intrigued as to how people choose their children’s names, I put a huge amount of thought in my choice of baby boy names (which I always found harder than girls. Not great when you’ve had to do it 3 times!) Having such a traditional name myself, I always fancied something a little different, something which had a meaning and one they wouldn’t share with other children.

When pregnant with my first son, Jordi, I envisioned a surfy, cool dude. A kind of laid back, carefree sort of boy. So chose a name inspired by an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and cemented by a football player. (It was nearly 17 years ago, age really did define my choices)   .  Coupled with a middle name poached from my dad, he had the choice of a more conventional one should he so wish. It couldn’t have been more fitting as the hair grew longer and skateboarding and surfing became his love. Almost as if I’d glanced into the future.

how did you choose you baby boys name?

Then second time round I kept coming back to one of my all time favourites. A family name already belonging to an American relative. Completely unusual to the unknowing ear but utterly apparent to anyone who knew my grandmother’s maiden name. It was going to be Kynan and nothing else, a tribute to my mum’s family and following a tradition to share names with our relies across the pond. Again, I gave him a slightly more known middle name, this time with a nod to my dad’s middle name. I’d lost my maiden name so I felt I needed to keep a little of my dad somewhere.

how did you choose you baby boy name?

So I guess the million dollar question is “do my boys like their unusual names?” after all, they’re stuck with them. And the answer is yes and no. Fact of the matter is, no matter how hard you think things through you can never guarantee to getting it right. Years of having to answer to various names as teachers struggled to remember them, then loving the fact that they were the only ones in the school with those names.

Which takes me right up to where I was some 2 or so years ago, right back to choosing baby names. Do I go traditional this time being older and wiser? Or should I stick with the unconventional? I’ve started something I shouldn’t really stop. But that’s the most difficult thing when you’re choosing names 2nd, 3rd or what ever time around. Really you’ve got to keep going, siblings will find any reason to throw a ‘why did you do this to me’ stick about. I did it once or twice as I yearned to be called something more way-out, forever envious of the Psyche who sat mysteriously with her mysterious and unspellable name at the end the table in my media studies lessons. While I, Alison, sat within poking distance of Nicola, Marie and Brian.

But then I thought, it just as name, and as long as he can spell it, I can say it and my family don’t scoff at it. I’ll just go with something I like. Something which makes me smile when I say it out loud, a name which doesn’t define him and leaves the book open to follow what ever route into the world he should take.

My bonkers, happy little Ronnie.

So tell me, how did you choose your children’s names? Was it a joint decision, names in a hat or did you name them after someone famous? I was named after Ali McGraw, apparently.

Not too bad a namesake I guess.

How did you choose your boy names? Does a name really matter or define who they'll be? read how I chose mine

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