By Allison Tibaldi, Taking the Kids Contributor
DAY ONE — Orlando — Recently, my college-aged son Alec and I embarked upon the mother of all parent/teen vacations. We are both keen for new travel experiences and this trip would combine two that were novel for both of us.
When you book a Royal Caribbean cruise that departs out of Florida, you can visit Universal Orlando Resort before or after your time at sea. This two-for-one holiday seemed tailor-made for my family, as I had never taken my kids to any of the Orlando theme parks. My husband and I consider vacations an opportunity to experience as much authentic local color as possible, but our kids are not always keen on cultural immersions. I have nothing against a certain black-eared mouse or young British wizard, but I never felt these attractions merited all the cost and hassle. But piggybacking a visit to Universal on to our cruise made economical and practical sense.
Royal Caribbean vacationers may stay at one of three Universal Orlando on-site hotels. Choose between the elegant Italian-style Loews Portofino Bay, the hipster Hard Rock or the South Pacific-inspired Loews Royal Pacific, where we stayed. The Royal Pacific Resort is a large property with lush, manicured grounds, Polynesian décor and a tropical oasis vibe. I relished my early morning swim in the massive lagoon pool, without another swimmer in sight. A fourth on-site hotel is nearing completion and is accepting reservations for early 2014. The Cabana Bay Beach Resort will feature a 50’s theme, moderate prices and a wealth of recreational options.
I highly recommend staying at one of the on-site properties whether you have booked with Royal Caribbean or not. Guests of these hotels get free Universal Express Unlimited ride access, so you can skip the regular lines. We took it up a notch and went for VIP Experience, with a guide taking us through the park. Our guide was privy to back entrances, semi-secret passageways and insider information, so we never waited for a ride. It costs nearly $200 per person, but if your time is limited, this premium service may be well worth the cost.
Another benefit for on-site hotel guests is the ability to enter the ultra-popular The Wizarding World of Harry Potter a full hour before it opens to the general public. As it resembles Times Square at rush hour during regular hours, Harry Potter fans are advised to sacrifice some shut-eye and get there early.
It is a snap to reach the theme park and Universal CityWalk, with its 20-screen movie theater and multitude of dining and entertainment options, from all of the Universal Orlando Resort hotels. Stroll the pleasant floral-lined walkways or hop on the free water taxi. Either way, you’ll get where you want to go in minutes, making a car-rental unnecessary.
As I am not much for rides and roller coasters, stay tuned for my son’s post and video on his experience at Universal.