Peanut Adventures, Issue 20 (MEGA Staycation Edition!)
Ok, first thing's first: I'm sorry I've been M.I.A. June has been... a whirlwind. I've had plenty of things to write about, but life has been... getting in the way. Not in a bad way. My job (the one that pays my bills) is in its peak months, we've had company or plans every weekend, holidays, birthdays... So writing took a back seat for a bit. But I'm back. July will be busy, too, but I'm here right now, and I can't wait to share one of the best weekends we've ever had: our June Staycation.
Mid-June is always an eventful time for our family: Ian's Bday and Father's Day are generally right on top of each other. Well in advance, I'd planned to treat our family to one of Sea World's Up-Close Tours in celebration of those momentous dates. Additionally, one of D's besties' bdays also falls around the same time; so when her family invited us to come celebrate with them at Universal? We got to have ourselves one heck of a staycation weekend.
Friday afternoon we arrived in a torrential downpour to check in for our first ever stay at the Loew's Portofino Bay Resort at Universal Orlando. The PB is one of Universal's premier resorts, and a stay there includes Unlimited Express Pass and access to the parks by shuttles or boat. The hotel has an Italian theme, which I would consider rather mature and sophisticated (reminds me of the Venetian in Vegas), but they do have some Minion-themed family suites for people looking for more kid-oriented experiences. Characters or not, D was in her element the moment we hit the lobby.
While waiting for friends, D sipped some non-alcoholic Limoncello and had me teach her chess (she so bougie). Once we'd gotten into our rooms and unpacked, the sun was back out (typical Florida) so we made a beeline for the resort pool. The downside to this pool was it was sort of confusing to find (the hotel is situated around a sort of harbor area, but you have to go up and down stairs and around buildings to find the pool... there could be better signage).
Sorry no pics at the pool (water + phone = no), but it's very similar to the main pool at Disney's Carribbean Beach resort, complete with water slide. But add a full sand beach (including sand in the bottom of the pool in places), and servers passing out free samples of smoothies.
After a few trips down the slide, we had to head back to the room to get ready for part 1 of Bella's Bday celebration: Marvel Character Dining at Universal Islands of Adventure. D got to rock her new Rogue costume.
We had a few minutes before our dining reservation, so we talked Maddie into riding Spiderman with us. I continue to be very impressed with the upgrades to that ride.
The dinner is inside the Fantastic 4 Cafe (that is quick service during the day, but shut down for this private dining in the evenings). We were seated pretty quickly, and once a server took our drink orders, we were free to visit the buffet as much as we wanted. I was pleasantly surprised by the food: there was an assortment of pizza types, but also chicken cutlets, salads, stuffed shells, breads, desserts, all sorts of goodies. And they were all pretty decent. The restaurant is relatively small, so character interactions are pretty casual. In theory there's an order to who comes when, but a lot of times characters will just visit at the table, or they will grab people and bring them to the middle of the restaurant for a photo op, or they will interact with each other... Casual. Which was fun. D's past experience with these characters was relatively limited: she loves Storm and Rogue, but the rest are dudes and D + male characters is always a crap shoot (she stood next to Spiderman for a photo op once, she's flat out refused the male x-men in the past).
Cyclops was the first character to arrive at the table. D chatted quite willingly, gave high fives, went in for the photo. Thus emerged the theme for D of the evening: "I don't pose."
Maddie & Bella were all about it, but every time a character tried to talk D into anything? "I DON'T POSE!" "NO, I DON'T DO THAT!" So here's a photo gallery of D refusing to pose.
Other than the posing thing, D had an absolute blast. She asked for a solo pic with Captain America. Rogue and Storm got lots of hugs. Wolverine got a high-five (huge for D, she was NOT having it the last time she saw him). The biggest surprise of the evening was when Spiderman got to our table, and D absolutely LAUNCHED herself out of her seat to go chat him up. Extensively. Spiderman was definitely the biggest hit of the night; all the girls just loved him.
D even got a few extra minutes with Rogue when she was walking around. No mom, still no posing.
After dinner (we were not remotely rushed at all), the only thing on my agenda was getting to see Hogwarts castle's light show. The light show essentially happens on loop from the time the sun goes down until park close, so rather than cramming in with all the people at the beginning, we took some quick spins on Dr Seuss rides (the Cat in the Hat, the train). I HIGHLY recommend riding the Seuss train during the Hogwarts night show; you have an excellent view. Once we'd seen a mass wave of people leave the Wizarding World, we hoofed it up to get in front of the castle.
It's short, but just like pretty much everything they've done at the Wizarding World, it gave me all sorts of feelings. There are beautiful light projections on the side of the castle (a segment for each of the four houses) and a few small fireworks, and then the whole castle is lit up. I know, it sounds underwhelming... but I still loved it. I'm not sure I'd plan a whole vacation around getting to see it, but it was certainly worth setting the time aside to check it out.
Voodoo Doughnuts opened recently in City Walk, so we'd decided we'd swing by and grab doughnuts on the way back to the boat to our hotel. The line for doughnuts.... y'all it was probably a 90 minute line. Nope. So back onto the boat we went and promised the kids we'd try again.
Saturday morning I somehow woke up before anyone else, so I snuck downstairs to Starbucks to grab coffees and breakfast sandwiches for my fam. We got dressed and made our way to the boat to see if, maybe, Voodoo Doughnuts might have a more reasonable line in the morning instead of at closing time.
There was still a line, but it was more like 15 minutes. Doable.
SUCCESS! We grabbed a dozen to share with everybody (and continue noshing on throughout the day).
Verdict? They're good. I don't think they're better than places like Donut King, but they have a fun variety. I don't know if I'd drag my tush to Citywalk just to have them, but they are good.
When I asked D what she wanted to do when we finally go back to Universal Studios, she had a short list. At the top of that list was to visit Hello Kitty.
D was also thrilled that she finally got to meet Poppy from Trolls.
D's second item on her Universal Checklist: Ride E.T.
We took a spin on Men In Black, rode Transformers, then headed to Diagon Alley to ride Gringott's. The ride got shut down while we were waiting, so we abandoned ship to get food. Then when we were in line for the Hogwarts Express, that shut down, too. So in desperation we ended up grabbing some sandwiches at the little deli near the entrance to the park. We hustled over to Islands of Adventure to catch the Dr Seuss storytelling show for the first time.
It is short, but it is so cute. Thing 2 came and sat with us during the show.
After the show, the girls got a special surprise: they were invited backstage to have a special meet with the Seuss characters. What followed was, without a doubt, one of the absolute best character experiences we've ever had.
All the girls were on their best behavior, all the characters were so fun. Nobody was rushed, they played, they laughed (we all did), and it was just one of the most magical things I've ever gotten to witness. So many hugs and cuddles and giggles.
We only really had time for one more activity before we needed to go get ready for the big Birthday dinner. D's only other item on her short list had been to go meet Blue the Velociraptor. Blue had a long line, and we wanted to show Maddie the Kong ride, so I asked D what she wanted to do. She looked at Blue with big weepy eyes (I'm not kidding, she was sniffling) and she said "ok I guess we can go ride Kong, but you promise we'll come back and see Blue next time, right?"
Our curse of breaking down rides continued as Kong stalled out the moment we were loaded on, but thankfully it only took a couple minutes to get back up and running.
Back to the hotel to get all fancy for a special birthday dinner at Mama Della's restaurant at the Portofino Bay.
The food, served family style, was absolutely incredible.
And Bella's cake, as always, was jaw-dropping.
Sunday morning, and we still had a full day of Father's Day fun ahead of us. Wake up, you two!
We made it to Sea World ahead of our friends, and D wanted to go do the Shark Encounter.
Twice. For the first time we noticed a display in there with some shark eggs that are backlit, and you can actually see the baby sharks inside squirming around. D was obsessed.
Mellie, Bella and family arrived right on time for us to finally catch the new Elmo Rocks show.
D managed to talk me into treating her to the Zoe plush in the gift shop before, and they've been inseparable ever since.
As always the cast and people who work on this show are truly exceptional, and D is always so excited to get to cuddle her Sesame Street friends.
We grabbed lunch at the Fajita spot near the theater. D and Mellie watched some World Cup together.
We headed over to Wild Arctic to see the seals and whales and such.
We headed through the steam bath that is a Florida summer afternoon to Pacific Point Preserve to do our Sea Lions Up Close tour.
We were taken to a roped off area of the Preserve by our tour guide where we learned about the care of the animals. We also learned the differences between seals and sea lions. The absolute highlight of the day for D was finding out it was SEA LION BABY SEASON and that a brand new pup had been born earlier that same morning. We found the baby nursing from its mommy and the whole group basked in the cuteness.
Then we were taken into the closed Sea Lion theater by one of the trainers to learn more. An important thing we learned is that Sea Lions' relationships with their trainers are built on YEARS of trust, because of this, they don't allow strangers to touch them. (so... they aren't the penguins lol). One of the stars of the show (a massive 700+ lb male named Foxy) was brought out by his main trainer. While our host talked about behaviors, we got to see the very special bond Foxy has with his trainer.
What a cutie. There are no words for just how HUGE this guy is when you stand up there next to him.
For the end of the tour, we all got to go back to the Pacific Point Preserve and have our own entire bucket of fish to feed the seals and sea lions (as you may remember from past issues, a favorite activity of our family).
That portion of the tour was hosted by another team member, this one specifically responsible for care and feeding of the animals. There were so many opportunities to ask questions and learn more, which is arguably the coolest part of these tours.
We'd all roasted to a crisp by that point, so we finally called it (not a moment too soon, my feet were D-O-N-E). Typical of us, to not actually RELAX on a staycation, but I wouldn't have changed a single thing. I'm just so grateful to our friends for helping us to have an absolute blast.