Monday, May 1, 2017

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 4; Wrapping up!

The previous post from this trip can be viewed HERE.

We were all up somewhat early so we could pack up and drop everything off at the bell service, since we were checking out today.  We all took one last prolonged look at our room and stated that this would most definitely not be our last time staying at Portofino Bay; it was unanimous that we all loved it!

We checked out and made our way to the boat launch one more time, and, within a couple of minutes, our chariot on water arrived.  It was a quiet, peaceful trip to CityWalk, even though we weren’t on the first boat in.  At CityWalk, we took our time to look around.  That was the theme of today – since we had seen most of Universal’s attractions, today was more of a down day to just enjoy.

We were just a little ways back in the line to enter.  We were still able to make it to Gringott’s by around 8:10.  We stopped in the queue line to grab some pics of the atrium before heading in for one more ride of this awesome attraction.

After Gringott’s, we enjoyed Diagon Alley for a little bit while we waited for the Hogwarts Express to start running.

Right at around 9:00, we made our way to the station and, after a slight wait at the turnstiles, pretty much walked on the train for our ride over to Hogsmeade.

We immediately made a beeline for Dueling Dragons and hopped on the blue coaster so Sheri could experience that one too.  After Dragons, we headed over to the Three Broomsticks for breakfast (research!!).  I got the Continental breakfast with lots of fruit, while the others got an assortment of meals (pancake meal, American breakfast, etc.)  The theming in here easily rivals some of the best theming that you’ll see in restaurants at their competition to the south!

We left Hogsmeade and checked out the line for a pic with a velociraptor, but it was around 45 minutes, so we opted out…still, we had to get pics in the area…I call this “Jurassic Pic” (grroooaaaannnnn)

We then made an executive decision to right the Hogwarts Express one more time and then say goodbye to Springfield…besides, I had to get a beer at Moe’s Tavern!!!  Another near walk-on for the train, and we were back in Universal Studios a few minutes later.  We slowly strolled around, and I stopped to mention to a particular wizard outside the Leaky Cauldron that he was a perfect wizard (natural beard, amazing personality).

We made our way around to Springfield and into Moe’s, with a huge smile on my face.  It was quiet, and, with the Flaming Moe’s being popular drinks, we were okay with the boys up at the bar.  We ponied up and ordered two Duffs.  Sheri and I both counted to three for the chimes of, “CAN WE GET A FLAMING MOE?  CAN WE GET A FLAMING MOE? CAN WE GET A FLAMING…”  Sure – I wanted to see one anyway.

Our bartender was sarcastic as heck…absolutely awesome!  This pic sums it up:

I wanted to stay for another hour or so to soak it in a little longer, but the other three ganged up on me and threw me out, despite my protests that they needed me to get home.  We still had a couple of items left on our plan (Terminator, in particular), but we decided to call it a trip and make our way out so we had time to eat.  As we left, we had to take advantage of one final character experience:

The boys had no idea who Woody Woodpecker was, but I saw a lot of his cartoons growing up.

The boat ride back to Portofino Bay was calming, yet it was over far too soon.  We hopped off and watched it cast off for CityWalk one last time before heading to the main area.  We decided to test out Trattoria del Porto for lunch.  We opened the door, and I stopped in my tracks...

I found myself staring at my friends, Deb Wills and Linda Eckworth, who were seated about 20 feet to our right in the only occupied table in the restaurant.

Deb’s face had to mirror mine!  It was a combination of shock, surprise, and happiness as we both recognized each other.  There was one other person seated at the table with her back to us, but I knew already that it was Beci Mahnken, founder of MEI-Travel.  Sheri saw my face and looked over their way; she recognized Deb immediately.  The boys, however, had thought that we were losing it.  Deb jumped up (I think she scared Linda and Beci), while we started making our way to their table.  I had not seen the three of them since the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  For those who don’t know, Deb is a 25+ year breast cancer survivor and a major fundraiser for the Avon Walk.  I was on the running team that raised money for her efforts for three of its 5-year existence.  Beci is one of the reasons I contemplated becoming a travel planner, and I have the utmost in respect for her.  We all started talking a mile a minute, and I was in full-on A.D.D. mode as Beci was asking us about our thoughts of Universal while Deb, a fellow oenophile with a strong attraction to Napa Valley, was talking to us about wine fridges and upcoming trips to Northern California.

We could have talked with them for an hour, but they were there for a business meeting in addition to lunch, so we let them get back to their meeting while we were seated.

It was a pretty restaurant, albeit a quiet one with most people in the parks.

The boys were gearing up for the flight home (sigh)

We didn’t eat anything heavy since we ate breakfast in the parks only 2-3 hours before, so we finished up pretty quickly.  After paying, the other three headed out while I went back to say goodbye to Beci, Deb, and Linda - and to finish answering a question that I know I only half-answered earlier (ahh, the joys of being A.D.D.).  I headed out to meet up with the rest of the Mushfam, feeling really good that our paths had crossed again.  About an hour later, Deb texted me lamenting that we didn’t get a picture!

We had about a half-hour before the car was scheduled to pick us up, so we grabbed our luggage from bell service and looked around the lobby for a bit longer to pass the time.  Right on time, our driver arrived, and, after a quick ride to Sanford, our vacation was essentially over.

We definitely will be visiting Universal again!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 3: Smorgasbord Day! Part 3

Need to read what happened before?  Click here.

It was about 4:30, and, if I wanted to have more than a couple of minutes to check out Cabana Bay, I had to get going.  I bid Sheri adieu and headed to the main lobby to see what options I had for transportation.

Of course, I had to grab a couple of pics on the way.

When I arrived at the lobby, I found out that the car was only to the parks and the premium resorts; to take a car to Cabana Bay, it would have cost $12.95.  I balked at that.  I remembered that there are also buses that go around all the properties; however, I was informed that those buses didn’t start until 6:00.  I went into planning mode and decided to head back out to the ramp and grab a boat to City Walk.  From there, I could see what it was like as a guest leaving the park and trying to get to the hotel.  The boat ride was quick … from the ramp, I’ll admit that it was a bit of a hike to get to the parking garage area where those staying at Cabana Bay caught the bus.  Luckily, there was one waiting there when I arrived, and it still had some standing room available.  I held on, and we were off on our 5-7 minute bus ride to the resort.

When we arrived, I immediately commented to myself that it definitely wasn’t Portofino Bay.  I had to remember that Portofino was the resort’s flagship, just as the Grand Floridian is the flagship resort of Walt Disney World…and I’m perfectly fine staying at Pop Century or one of the All Star resorts.  I kicked myself for being a snob and started to look around at what the resort had to offer.

I knew that I couldn’t stay for very long, because I had to reverse the trek (bus to CityWalk, walk to boat launch, boat to Portofino, walk to the room) and get ready, and it was already nearing 5:30.

While I didn’t go into any of the actual rooms or suites, I definitely got a feel for what this resort was like.  I’ll admit that it was difficult not to compare it to Portofino Bay (no boat service – only a bus; the Express Pass is not a benefit of staying here; a food court as the primary meal location; etc.), and I struggled a bit trying to ascertain how I would qualify the resort.  Later on during the trip, I saw someone I have come to know over the years who is an expert in the travel industry, and I asked her about what she level she qualified the resort at, and her immediate reply was “Value!”  I knew I had ranked it at a level comparable to the All Star resorts at Disney World, but I was unsure if it was at the same level as a Disney World Value or not (was it Value, Value “+” or Value “-”?).   It is a beautiful resort with a lot of activities to keep families entertained.  If people are looking for a resort and are on a budget, then I can easily recommend Cabana Bay without hesitation – especially during quieter times when the Express Pass might not be needed much.

I knew I had to get back to my room in order to keep the peace, and luck was on my side as a bus was waiting when I made it to the loading area.  I reversed my route and was able to be ready for our Mama Della’s reservation with about 45 seconds to spare.

We walked in, and, wouldn’t you know it, “Mama” herself was there to greet us and walk us to our table!!!  The storyline is that you are at Mama’s Home in Italy, and the d├ęcor fits this perfectly.  Our server, Erick, introduced himself, and we immediately liked him.  Aaron talked us into ordering the calamari fritti for an appetizer, and Sheri didn’t have to do much talking to convince me to order a bottle of Pinot Grigio.  The calamari was excellent – even Eric commented that it wasn’t bad (which is saying something for him).  We completely forgot to get a picture of the appetizer (sorry!).

For our entrees, Eric went the traditional route and ordered lasagna.  I opted for the Frutti de Mare, and Sheri and Aaron went with the special…pan seared scallops and crab meat on a bed of risotto.

While we were waiting for the food to arrive, we had a great family conversation – we talked about all sorts of things.  No phones were out, except to grab a picture or two of the food.  We also had Nino Cuomo stroll by; he stopped at every table with his guitar and performed requests.  We gave the option to him…something romantic for Sheri and me (and to make the boys squirm).  I wish I could remember the name of it, but he performed it beautifully.

And then…the food…

Scallops and Crab meat...WOW!!!

Another picture of the scallops

Frutti de Mare

Lasagna - sorry about it being out of focus

I asked the boys to give me one word to describe their meal:  Aaron went with “Authentic”.  Eric came up with “Lasagnalicious!”

Oh, man…all of the dishes were worth the price, in our opinions!  They were awesome!

We ordered the pistachio and chocolate chip cannoli for dessert; I almost sought out Mama to kiss her.  The entire meal was absolutely awesome.

We strolled around the harbor area, stopping to hear the live music at the Thirsty Fish.  It had been a great family day, and we were ready to turn in for the night.  The boys were asleep within a few minutes, while Sheri watched a little television.  I turned to my stack of papers to grade and went to town on them for about 40 minutes before needing a break.  To avoid waking anyone up, I decided to grab my camera and grab some night shots of the resort.  As beautiful as Portofino Bay is during the day, it becomes an altogether different sort of beautiful at night.  This, my friends, has easily become one of my favorite resorts to stay at.  I think of it as "elegance without any corresponding stuffiness."

You can make out the Hard Rock Hotel in the left-center of the picture, but I was zoomed in all the way for the picture

I finally turned in around 11:00.  Tomorrow was the dreaded check-out day and the flight home; still, we had a few hours to have some more fun!

The last day can be viewed HERE.