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.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 3: Smorgasbord Day! Part 2

The first part of the day can be found HERE.

We stumbled outside from the Forbidden Journey that lasted Forever and felt the sun hit us; it seemed like eons since we had last seen the sun, and we soaked it in.  With the free passes in hand, we all agreed to use it for an attraction that doesn’t offer the Express Pass – yep, we were heading to Gringotts!  Before we headed to the station, though, we stopped to watch the frog choir croak a song.  After we had seen enough, we went through the turnstiles and were queued up for the Hogwarts Express in no time at all.  The lines were small, and we were able to have a compartment to ourselves.  As soon as we sat down, we all started the “it’s such a beautiful wall!!!” talk (check out the previous day's blog posts).  We enjoyed the air conditioning while we saw new hidden “Easter eggs” in the attraction (and again cringed at “Hermione”).  We also saw Voldemo…well…just to be safe…we saw He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in the distance.  I think we all agree that we liked the Islands-to-Studios version a bit better than the other direction's version, though both are really good!

We exited the Express and decided that, since it was right around 11:00, we’d do lunch first before the throngs descended upon the restaurants.  We took a “when in Rome” mentality and went straight for the Leaky Cauldron.  The food was good; nothing to write home about, but we were still glad we ate there and soaked in the atmosphere.  To let the food settle, we opted to hold off a bit before riding Gringotts, so we toured Diagon Alley.

As you could see, we spent quite a bit of time in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes...

All we ask for is an occasional smile from the boys...

Around noon, we went down Knockturn Alley and looked around Borgin & Burkes for a few minutes before exiting out onto Horizont Alley (say it fast…then think about the name of the area.  Yes, this is the actual name of the street). I mapped out a couple of locations for us to visit after we got done with Gringotts.  We made our way over to Gringotts, stored our stuff in a locker, and flew through the queue line which had a posted standby time of 30 minutes.  We were in the very back for this ride through, and there’s one part where the back section seems to tower over everyone else.  I think we all liked the back row the best, though I would still recommend trying to get the front row or two for your first ride.  We exited and grabbed our stuff from the locker – we were experts at the lockers by this time.

After Gringotts, I had an ulterior motive in mind and set a plan in action.  I had us look around a magic shop or two for a couple of minutes, making sure that we had Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor within eyesight.  I was going to lobby the rest of the Mushfam that we were having a great time and that we should celebrate by having some ice cream!  I knew that the only thing I needed to do was mention this to the boys, and they would be on-board.  Sheri would be outnumbered 3-1, and, though her vote usually has a 400% weighting taken into account, I didn’t think she’d put up much of a fight on this one.  As we looked at the flavor choices, I let them in on my ulterior motive: I wanted to get several flavors and have all of us taste and rate them.  My plan was to then record our review and send it to the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast as they had a debate going on regarding the best flavor.  Since the cones had two scoops, we could select two different flavors.  I got the strawberry peanut butter and the apple crumble, while Sheri got the sticky toffee pudding and the salted caramel blondie.  Aaron got a combination of what Sheri and I got (I couldn’t remember), and Eric opted for the soft-serve Butterbeer!

To hear our review, please head to This site...our review is about 3:40 in.  Lee, Tracey, Darren, and Hunter had a little fun at my expense – it was definitely deserved, as, for the life of me, I couldn’t get “salted caramel blondie” out even if my life depended on it, and I ended up calling it the wrong name the entire time – give it a listen for a good laugh.  FYI: the UUOP is a well-done podcast, and it’s my go-to for updated Universal Orlando news every week.  If you're looking to add a little Universal Orlando flavor to your lists of podcasts, I’m sure they’d love to have you subscribe!! They have a really good overview of the Universal Orlando Resort in Episode 212 - for those of you thinking of heading to the resort for the first time, you'll definitely want to download that one and listen to it.

With the ice cream consumed and the debate concluded (GO APPLE CRUMBLE!!), we walked around Diagon Alley for a bit longer. We timed it just right to see some of Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees perform a couple of songs:

I saw that the line at Ollivanders’s was non-existent, so we hopped in and were in a wand room with no wait at all.  I submitted an actual wait of 1 minute to, fully expecting their stats whiz, Fred Hazelton, to consider this and any future time submitted by me to be invalid.  We all really enjoyed the show that we saw; the wizard we had did a great job with the selection!

Apologies for the blurriness...we were in-transit to the show room

After Ollivander’s we grudgingly left Diagon Alley and decided to head back over to Springfield to see if the Simpsons ride was running, since we missed it the previous day.  It was!  We flashed our Express Pass at the entrance, and, while it didn’t get us on the attraction immediately (we merged in with the rest quite a bit before the actual pre-show rooms), it probably knocked the 30 minute wait down to around 15 minutes.  Being a Simpsons fan, I was loving the short clips they had airing on the televisions in the line.

The Back Side of Krusty!!!  (Sorry…I had to)

We all LOVED This ride – the boys are old enough to get most of the jokes now, and Sheri has developed a tolerance for the show, so she had an idea of what was going on.  After yesterday and today, this land is easily my non-Potter favorite land.  I could have spent even longer in there, but Sheri dragged me out – I started to tell her that she had to promise to come back so we could….and she finished my sentence: “so we can have some Duff beer in Moe’s…I already knew that was coming.”

Man, I love that woman!

On our way out, we saw the Optimus Prime photo op going on…that was sooooooo flippin’ cool (I know, it’s not in the traditional travel agent vernacular, but it was really flippin’ cool!) and contemplated getting in line for a pic.  We were heading out of the parks for the day, and it was right at 2:00.  Nice!

We took the boat back to Portofino Bay and decided to chill for a while.  I had some research that I wanted to do – I had visited all of the hotels but one…Cabana Bay!  The boys wanted to swim, so they got ready while I worked on logistics on how to enjoy some family time at the pool, get to Cabana Bay, get back, and ready for our 6:45 reservation at Mama Della’s Ristorante located at our hotel.  Before we got to our room, though, we decided to do a little bit of touring of the resort:

We got everything we needed and headed to the West Wing of Portofino Bay (yes, we made Presidential jokes on the way).  We found a table with an umbrella vacant and grabbed a seat.  We then shooed the boys into the water and grabbed the cocktail menu at the Splendido Bar and Grill!

I went with Pina Colada……….come on…….you know you want to sing it……(“GETTING CAUGHT IN THE RAIN!”), and Sheri – I can’t remember what it was that she got, but she liked it!  We downed our drinks and relaxed for a while.  I knew that there were bocce ball courts nearby, and I tried to convince everyone to trust me and move to another pool area; there was some resistance, but the boys immediately started playing as soon as they saw the open court.