Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Friday, May 12, 2017
After our few nights in Las Vegas it was time to drive back to L.A for a couple of more days of fun before flying home. After breakfast we packed our bags and jumped in the car for our 4 hour drive back to L.A. We decided to stay in a different part of L.A from the start of our trip to be closer to the attractions we had on our schedule.
Day 16 - Back to L.A
As we had tickets for Universal Studios the next day we had booked into the Hilton Universal City directly across from the studios. This would save us an early start and driving in the morning traffic.
As it was late afternoon when we checked in we had a browse around the hotel, dinner and made plans for our Universal Studio visit the next day. We spoke to the concierge on whether they had any tips for us and he gave us a "cheat sheet" that was invaluable! We followed it to the letter and had an amazing experience, short wait times for rides and the best seats in the house for all the shows we watched. I'll share them with you below. I also got the official Universal Studio app on my phone (similar to the Disneyland one) which told us opening hours, ride waiting times, a map of the park etc. I definitely recommend getting it.
Day 17 - Universal Studios
We had purchased our Universal Studio (1 Day General Admission) tickets from home before our trip. We knew we wanted to fit in one more theme park before coming home. Also Universal Studios is quite different to Disneyland/California Adventure Park as it is a lot smaller and the rides are a lot more visual/simulated and you have to wear 3D glasses for the experience. There is also a Backlot Tour which shows movie special effects and live shows to go to. It was amazing to see the recreation of the Harry Potter World and the Simpson's World especially.
Every detail was the same. So much fun to see!
Now we followed the concierge's "cheat sheet" and it really allowed us to move through the park methodically and not be zigzagging back and forth between rides.
Here is how our day went......
After breakfast we walked the 5 mins across the road to Universal Studios. As we had pre purchased our tickets online we were entitled to Early Park Admission. This allowed us 1 hour in the park before the Theme Park opens to the public. As The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is so popular this world is the only place open for the first hour so you can get through it all before the crowds come in. Well worth getting your tickets early!
We got there about 30 mins before opening time and like Disneyland they opened the gates 15 minutes before the official opening time and you were allowed inside the park and then held at another checkpoint until the park opened. Everyone then headed to Harry Potter World.
The Flight of the Hippogrith was Noah's favourite ride. He rode it 10 times in a row at the end of the day! A really fun little rollercoaster. Simon, Finn and Jasper went on the Forbidden Journey rollercoaster and all came off looking very shaken! It took them until the end of the day to get their courage up to ride again!
It was fun to watch everyone wandering around in their cloaks and buying wands and other Harry Potter paraphernalia. There was even a shop that did cloak fittings. You could really immerse yourself in the Hogwarts world! We didn't try the Butterbeer but heard it was a sweet, kind of butterscotch concoction, it seemed very popular.
After we finished up at Harry Potter world we headed towards the Backlot Tour. This is a fun ride around the studio with some amazing 3 D experiences along the way with King Kong and the Fast & Furious guys. It takes about an hour. Some of it is boring info about the studio but other bits are great and it's definitely worth doing. You should have seen the boys faces when Jaws popped up!
Next up was The Simpsons Ride + Springfield.
This ride was a virtual rollercoaster and fun for the whole family, we then wandered through Springfield, getting a photo with the Simpsons and checking out all the different places before buying a humongous donut from the Kwikimart ;)
We then headed down the 3 lots of escalators to the bottom lot where we rode a few more rides. Noah and I sat out The Mummy ride as he was too little but we all did The Transformers ride and finished off the lower lot getting soaked on The Jurassic Park ride. This ride ended with a 84 foot drop down a waterfall! We were front row and had the best view, Finn was on the far left hand side and got wet the most so don't sit there if you don't want to get soaked!
Next on our list was the Despicable Me ride, this took a while to get started. Too much chat on the screens before the ride although the kids loved it. They got to meet all the characters from the movie too. I even have a little video of Simon doing a little dance with Gru. Embarrassing! ;)
Of course after the ride you have to go via a gift shop full of all things Minion plus a bakery selling sweet Minion treats. Jasper loved his cupcake and Noah couldn't wait to get stuck into his candy apple. It was so big we all helped him finish it off! There was a little water park opposite the Minion ride, if we had known we would have brought the boys swim gear so they could have had a play.
It was quite a hot day so we were looking for a rest inside somewhere and decided to go and see the Special Effects Show. Follow the tips below as we did and you will end up with the best seats in the house. Front and centre and close to the action! Jasper was especially taken with the Special Effect when a stuntman lit himself on fire and walked towards the audience.
After this show we went and met Shrek and went on his 3D ride/show. We also bumped into SpongeBob, Scooby Doo and Shaggy.
Finn then convinced Simon and Jasper to walk through the Walking Dead attraction. They all said it was super scary and Jasper had to do half of it with his eyes closed, walking tucked into Simon. Thankfully there were no nightmares afterwards!
We were starving by this time and wanted to find a sandwich or salad or something semi healthy to eat but we found a lot of the restaurants closed a good 2 and a half hours before the park did. I don't know why?! So we ended up with more burgers, fries and hotdogs! Followed by a Minion fairy floss chaser. We were all well and truly ready for some fruit and veggies after our holiday! ;)
By this time we had been on every ride, seen every attraction, met all the characters and had about an hour to go before the park closed. We asked the boys which rides they wanted to do again and they all chose to go back to the rollercoasters in Harry Potter world. Finn and Jasper rode the scary Forbidden Journey again and then we all went on Noah's favourite the Flight of the Hippogriff over and over and over again. As it was the end of the day the attendants let us stay on the ride if there was no one lining up for our carriage. This was a great way to end the day and we walked out knowing we had done everything in Universal Studios.
We then walked back to the hotel. It was another full day!
Day 18 - L.A - our flight home.
Our last day of the trip was here and as our flight wasn't until 10.30pm we had the whole day ahead of us. We didn't feel like anymore sightseeing and we were all ready for an easy day. We had accumulated another suitcase full of stuff so after breakfast I did all our packing and organising and was thankful that we had brought that extra suitcase at Walmart!
It was such a nice day that we decided to spend a few hours by the pool. The Hilton had a great pool area with lots of cabanas, grass and space to chill out in. They also had the most amazing spa that was huge and as there was no one else around we had the pool area to ourselves. It was good for the boys to run around, swim and tire themselves out before the long flight ahead.
Later that afternoon we loaded up the minivan with our suitcases and headed to the airport to drop off our rental car and check in for our flight. Everything went smoothly and the boys slept the majority of the flight home. I love those night flights! We arrived home on Saturday morning at 6.30am.
I had to laugh as during the holiday I was accidently dressing the boys the same. Jasper would dress himself as would Finn, I would pull out clothes for Noah and so many times they would be dressed identically. I had the ultimate giggle on the flight home as everyone had their black trackpants on but I thought they all had different coloured jumpers. You can imagine our faces when they all pulled out grey jackets! They even all had black sneakers on. Too funny!
Luckily I had a green cardigan on so I wasn't matching too :)
(photo taken after the flight home)
Well that's a wrap on our California Trip, it really was the ultimate family holiday for us and it was eveything that we had dreamt of. I hope I answered your questions and gave you some tips and ideas if you're planning a trip to California.
The Cheat Sheet for Universal Studios is below.......
Universal Cheat Sheet
1) Enter the park and move directly to Harry Potter – Start with the Flight of the Hippogrith – an outdoor rollercoaster. There’s a wicker basket obstructing the front view so it isn’t advantageous to wait for a front car, unless you’re really tall. Just take the first available seat and enjoy.
2) Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – The great thing about this attraction is that every seat is a front row seat. This is a well designed motion simulator hybrid. Waiting in line, you feel like you’re attending Hogwarts, so long wait times are not terrible.
2A) Finish up visiting Harry Potter world by catching the 3 shows (Tri Wizard Spirit Rally, the Frog Choir and Olivander’s Wand experience) and visiting the gift shops / butter beer carts (I recommend the frozen version).
3) Next up, the world famous Back Lot Studio Tour. When being directed where to stand, request tram 3. You’ll see stars on the ground and make your way to a star closest to the street so when you enter, you’ll have a right sided seat. Action happens on the left and right, but you want to avoid a middle seat, as you’ll be sacrificing a lot of close up fun.
4) After the tour, take a two minute walk over to Simpsons The Ride – Mid way through your line, a Krusty worker will send you up, down, or across. Tell this person, you’d like to go across. The next worker will ask how many in your group. Tell that person specifically ‘I want car 5 or 6’, and they’ll send you into a corresponding line. When you go into a ride room, you’ll see 4 seats in the front and 4 seats in the back. Make sure the shorter statured humans get the front row, as they didn’t elevate the back row, so a shorter person is looking at the back of someone’s head if placed in the back.
5) Once you’ve completed the Simpsons, make your way down to the lower lot and start with Transformers. This is similar to the Simpsons in design, but it’s easy and worth it to wait a cycle or two for the front row (Maximum of 4 seats). This ride offers a single rider line – if you’re willing to separate from your mate, it saves a lot of time.
6) Next take a quick walk over to The Mummy, a high speed indoor roller coaster similar to Space Mountain at Disney. It’s easy and worth it to wait a cycle or two for the front row (Maximum of 4 seats). This ride offers a single rider line – if you’re willing to separate from your mate, it saves a lot of time.
7) Finish the lower lot with Jurassic Park, a water ride with an 80 foot drop at the end. This is a must to get a front row seat as it opens with a spectacular entrance into the park that is truly hampered if you’re looking at someone’s head. If you come on a day when the park is open after dark, do the rides twice (In light and in dark.)
8) Make your way back to the upper lot and journey over to Despicable Me, a motion simulator similar to the Simpsons ride, but less aggressive. For the best seats in the house, go to lines 1, 3, or 5 as long as they have a few people in them. When the doors open up, everyone moves all the way to the left, so if there’s a few people ahead of you, you’ll get a more center view.
9) From Despicable Me, walk over to Shrek 4D. This is well designed 4D show where there’s no bad seat in the house. It’s 20 minutes in an air conditioned chamber so it’s ideal when you’re looking for a breather.
10) *Throughout the day, check the display boards to see the performances time for the 3 shows and fit them in when convenient for you. With Animal Actors and Special Effects, arrive 20 minutes prior to get a good seat. Front row is best in my opinion. With Water World, when you’re facing the stage / pool, you’ll see 3 sections (Left, Center, and Right). You want to sit Left, closest to Center, by the tower. There are green and silver seats. If you want to get wet, sit Green (Protect your electronics), if you want to stay dray, sit Silver. If you purchased a Front of Line pass, look for the show times with a * next to them. (They have special behind the scenes for the FOL pass holders.)
11) If you’re looking to get your spook on, make your way through the Walking Dead, horror maze. This walk through attraction is best visited earlier rather than later in the day, as the ‘Walkers / Zombies’ have more energy at the beginning of their ‘shift’.
Check the display boards in the park for wait times and if need be, feel free to adjust the order of entertainment. Have a great time.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Wow! Las Vegas you really are a party town!
Now Las Vegas isn't somewhere I would necessarily think of going on my family holiday but we were so close to it, Simon had never been and wanted to check it out and there were enough kid friendly activities available for us to include it in our road trip.
Day 13 - Las Vegas
After leaving Palm Springs and detouring through the Joshua Tree National Park we drove towards Las Vegas. We drove some of the way on the legendary Route 66 and through some amazing scenery with a mix of desert and mountains.
We arrived in Las Vegas in the afternoon and checked straight into our hotel. Simon had chosen the MGM Grand for us to stay at as he is a boxing enthusiast and had always wanted to stay here plus we were also right in the midst of the action on the Vegas Strip.
OMG walking into the MGM Grand on a Saturday afternoon was an eye opener! Lots of people in town for bucks + hens weekends and everyone was in party mode. I also noticed the smoke straight away, obviously Las Vegas smoking laws are different to ours in Australia and people were smoking inside everywhere! It was funny to walk the kids through the middle of a casino to get to the elevators to our rooms but there were lots of other families about and our younger 2 boys were oblivious to the party atmosphere around them. Although Simon, Finn and I found it very entertaining!
After settling into our room we decided to wander downstairs and check out the rest of the hotel, find somewhere to have dinner and go directly across the road to have a browse through the New York New York casino. Each casino has their own section of restaurants, shops and attractions and it's fun to duck in and out of the different ones. The boys loved the World of Chocolate and the magic shop at New York New York. They also have a rollercoaster but we ran out of time to try it. It's kind of wonderful to see these recreations of different cities all plonked along side each other.
We went up to the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental to see the champagne vending machine and grab a bottle. You pay your money to Reception and they give you a gold "Moet" coin to use.
It's a fun way to get a drink!
Also the view from the 23rd floor at night of the Vegas lights is beautiful.
We then headed back to the MGM Grand for dinner and bed. Simon headed downstairs later that night for a beer and to try his luck on the Blackjack tables.
When in Vegas! ;)
Day 14 - Las Vegas
After breakfast we decided to head out and explore some of the other hotels along the strip.
The Vegas Strip is long and the casinos/hotels are quite spread out. We didn't want to walk for miles in the sun with the kids so as the MGM Grand owns a few hotels along the Strip we could park for free at their parking stations so it was easier to jump in the car and stop.
We stopped for a gondola ride at The Venetian and did both the inside and outside ride. It's amazing to see the recreation of Venice inside the hotel! Minus the pigeons in St Mark's Square ;)
Only 4 people per gondola so Finn sat this one out.
We had lunch at Ceaser's Palace and then drove through Old Vegas, I loved seeing the old faded signs, vintage cars, the motels and wedding chapels. We then drove over to check out the Fremont Street Experience. Lot's of buskers, spruikers, casinos and a scary looking flying fox experience. Simon and Finn made enquiries about this but it was all booked out so something you would have to book in advance. We then drove to the other end of the Strip to check out the Las Vegas sign. There is usually a line to get a photo in front of the sign, we lined up for about 15 minutes. It was fun to watch the wedding photos happening in front of the sign and the people taking endless selfies while the long line looks on :) After another full day we headed back to the hotel for dinner and bed.
Day 15 - Las Vegas
We headed out to do some shopping as Finn had some shops he wanted to visit. We then drove past the Mayweather Boxing gym for Simon and Finn to check it out and for them to grab a photo in front of it. There is usually no public access inside the gym but Simon got talking to one of the boxers as he was heading inside and he invited Simon and Finn inside to see the gym and watch some of the fighters train. They were stoked! It was one of those right place, right time experiences.
A huge thrill for the boxing fans in the family.
The day was quite hot so we decided to head back to our hotel and spend the afternoon by the pool. Only hotel guests are allowed in the pool area and can use one of 4 pools, 3 whirlpools and a lazy river. There are bars, a snack area and lots of lifeguards dotted around the place.
It was a nice way to spend the rest of the afternoon and we had to try out some of the frozen margaritas while we were relaxing!
If we had more time we would have considered a visit to the Grand Canyon but we gave it a miss this time.
Things to see in Las Vegas.......
Lion and boxing ring at the MGM Grand
Gondolas at The Venetian
Shark Reef and beach at Mandalay Bay
Big Apple Coaster at New York, New York
Circus Shows at Circus Circus
Ride the lift to the top of the Paris Hotel and watch the Bellagio water show
Insanity at The Stratosphere
Champagne Vending Machine - 23rd floor Mandarin Oriental
Las Vegas sign photo