Pre-Thanksgiving Universal Studios Orlando Trip Report and Review

Pre-Thanksgiving Universal Studios Orlando Trip Report and Review

Universal Studios Orlando Trip Report and Review

We were thrilled to spend a few days (pre-Thanksgiving) at the Universal Studios Orlando Resort. Visiting the second iteration of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley at the Universal Studios Theme Park was our primary objective.

Islands of Adventure in Orlando

Islands of Adventure

A few year ago, we visited the Hogsmeade area at Islands Of Adventure. At that time, we were impressed and delighted by the first phase of the Harry Potter themed lands. Family vacations to Europe, a Southwest USA road trip, and of course, Walt Disney World excursions had delayed a return to Universal. We were anxious to experience the second phase of the Harry Potter attractions. Guess what? The wait was worth it!

Loews Royal Pacific

Outstanding and beyond my expectations pretty much sums up my impressions of not only Diagon Alley, but the overall experience of our second stay on Universal property. Since I was pleased with our prior stay at the Loews Royal Pacific resort, we chose to stay a second time for a variety of factors: the ability to have the Universal Express Pass included as part of our guest experience at the hotel, the extremely convenient location, and the charm we found there a few years ago.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Studios Orlando

Loews Royal Pacific

The Royal Pacific has recently undergone refurbishment, and based on some chatter in the Theme Park blogosphere, maybe to mixed reviews. For me, the renovation was more than adequate with clean and comfortable rooms. Certainly, the modern/contemporary decor can be construed as somewhat mismatched to the Pacific Island theme. Although not comparable to the theming at many Walt Disney World resorts, it’s still a nice room in a well-designed and pleasant resort. I would not only recommend the Loews Royal Pacific to others, I would certainly consider staying there again. Twice charmed at this point!

CityWalk at Universal Studios Orlando

CityWalk at Universal Studios Orlando

The convenience of being able to obtain an Express Pass shortly after checking in might only be second to the incredibly pleasant walk along a beautifully landscaped waterway towards the Theme Parks. In about 10 minutes, the entrance to CityWalk interrupts the path, and then it’s only a short jaunt to Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios, with Islands of Adventure being first along the left-hand side.


The shopping and dining area called CityWalk is cool, but for me, pales in comparison to even the pre-Disney Springs (aka Downtown Disney) area at Walt Disney World. CityWalk is long on food and drink options, but significantly short on charm, with one new exception, the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen.

Instant Data for CityWalk Universal Studios. Opening 1999.

Up Next: steampunk theming and Diagon Alley rocks it

Share your thoughts on a Universal Studios Orlando stay!

The Holiday Aesthetic at Walt Disney World

The Holiday Aesthetic at Walt Disney World

Only a few short days until New Year’s Eve, and I’m already exhausted from the seemingly never-ending holiday preparations. Additionally, I am struggling with keeping my immune system from crashing given that everyone around me (including my wife!) has been or is getting sick. It generally isn’t Christmas for me unless I have some sort of upper respiratory ailment. 😉

This time of year, however, does provide me with an opportunity to reflect upon something I am going to term as the Holiday Aesthetic at the Disney Parks.

Cinderella's Castle is adorned with Dream Lights during the holiday season.

Dream Lights on Cinderella’s Castle

Holiday Aesthetic at Walt Disney World

Having experienced a dozen or so excursions to WDW during the holiday season, including one at Disneyland, I am keenly aware that the look and feel of the parks and resorts is strikingly different from November through early January.

WDW Holiday Aesthetic. Main Street is decked out in garlands and wreaths during the holiday season at WDW.

Garlands and wreaths on Main Street, Magic Kingdom.

Aesthetic as a noun indicates the presence of a set of principles governing the idea of beauty at a given time and place or underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist.

Aesthetic as an adjective apparently can refer to the study of the mind and emotions as they are related to a sense of beauty or the appreciation of beauty.

From my perspective, the Disney Holiday Aesthetic can and should be inclusive of both definitions.

At Disney's Wilderness Lodge, the Christmas tree is stands tall in the resort's lobby.

Christmas Tree at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

There can be no doubt that from their inception in the 1950’s, every design detail related to Disney Parks and Resorts around the globe has been planned from a specific set of principles. Those initial principles are very clearly Walt’s. It might be debated as to how much of those principles remain as the Disney company has moved past the millennium, but that is a topic for another day.

A gingerbread carousel greets guests at Disney's Beach Club resort.

Whimsical Gingerbread Carousel at Disney’s Beach Club

The specifics of the look and feel of the Disney Parks and Resorts has been studied and extensively written about in various mediums for decades. Frequently, these musings make mention of individual perceptions and emotions as they relate to the appreciation of architectural design and seasonal decor.

Mickey's Very Merry Christmastime Parade at Walt Disney World

Holiday Parade

I am a Behavior Analyst and concerned with human behavior that is objective as well as measurable. For this reason, The Holiday Aesthetic of WDW for me is difficult to operationalize. However, I am keenly aware that it is something tangible that has always affected me in a visceral manner.

Biergarten in Epcot's Germany pavilion is a great place for a holiday meal

Enjoy a holiday meal at Biergarten

Here are a few more visually represented quintessential examples of the Disney Holiday Aesthetic from my perspective.

The Magic Kingdom is bedecked with holiday decor.

The Magic Kingdom’s Holiday Decor

During the holidays, Port Orleans French Quarter adds gorgeous decor.

Port Orleans French Quarter

Christmas Tree at Disney's Grand Floridian resort.

The Grand Floridian’s Tree

Now you can save on MVMCP Tickets: Save $7 on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party ticket!

What are your favorite holiday decorations at the WDW Parks and Resorts?

The Kyber Crystal Corner: An Initial Look at Rogue One

The Kyber Crystal Corner: An Initial Look at Rogue One

An Initial Look at Rogue One with No Spoilers

My first viewing experience of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story occurred earlier this week. With family in tow, we arrived early enough to be the first viewers let in the theater. Hey, I like my choice of seats!

First Viewing

For most of its fandom, the reactions related to the entire Star Wars saga on film has been an evolutionary process. After all, multiple viewings are often needed to fully comprehend the merits of each movie. And its shortcomings. Sometimes, delving in to those hit or misses, takes time.

Overall opinions and perceptions of each Star Wars film may also go through several transformations. I can personally attest to that. And although that can be said for any film in the history of cinema, Star Wars remains unique. Arguably, the Star Wars film saga might be considered the first in cinema history that created an environment necessitating multiple viewings across time for its devoted fan base.

Therefore, it is impossible for me to provide a comprehensive review a few short days after first experiencing Rogue One. I think many will agree that multiple viewings of the Star Wars films is a strongly reinforcing stimulus — personally and socially.

First Thoughts on Rogue One

Rogue One is an excellent addition to the Star Wars film saga. Of course, I must admit that my strong bias towards the Star Wars universe would make it difficult to find any movie on this topic less than satisfying or enjoyable. Furthermore, the year-long anticipation of this stand-alone film, along with the repeated viewings of trailers and featurettes, definitely pushes me toward a positive response.

That being said, it really is an extremely well-made and exciting movie.

Gareth Edwards and the Disney/Lucasfilm team have created a Star Wars story that can stand on its own as a wartime science-fiction adventure. It also is a stunningly effective piece that fits snugly into the other chapters of the saga. Being able to successfully deliver a film whose initial storyline began as the brief preamble to Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope forty (40!!) years ago is impressive.

It is certainly a film that has a more “adult” tone to it, but in reality that isn’t necessarily a revolutionary aspect to a Star Wars film. Since the more adolescent representations of the Star Wars story seen in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the Star Wars film universe has decidedly become more “adult” in tone and presentation.

Rogue One


Rogue One introduces a new set of characters that are solid supplements to the saga. Other than Jyn Erso, and similar to the prequel films, the exploration of their individual attributes, histories, and motives are somewhat thin. This doesn’t detract from the film as a whole, since the objective of the storyline does not require extensive storytelling in this way. It does more than a satisfactory job at explaining what is motivating Jyn and that’s what matters.

A great new droid character, K-2SO, makes his appearance in Rogue One. His presence and his “personality” is a significant addition to the sagas trio of established droid characters.

Trying hard not to sound redundant or utilizing clichéd adjectives, it is difficult to not describe the visual effects and the cinematography of this film as being outstanding. As the weeks go by, I will expound further upon these subjects.

The film is somewhat long on exposition at the start, but once it shifts into the middle act, Rogue One is an exhilarating experience. Similar to what I stated shortly after my first experience of The Force Awakens, Rogue One has met my expectations and exceeded them on several levels.

I will be seeing Rogue One again within the next week to experience it from a perspective that differs from the excitement of the initial viewing. This will allow me to develop additional responses that I will periodically provide in this forum.

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The Kyber Crystal Corner: Why Star Wars?

The Kyber Crystal Corner: Why Star Wars?

Why Discuss Star Wars?

Star Wars is my childhood.

I was nine years old in 1977. Moving forward from that year and the first viewing of Episode IV, Star Wars is an anchoring stimulus and theme to my life story.

Mark Hamill in the Legends of the Force parade at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Mark Hamill

Star Wars has been a part of my life for decades. By following me through those decades, Star Wars has also become part of my son’s life. Truly the definition of a modern day myth and fable that is being passed generationally.

Star Wars

Star Wars Musings

Overused and clichéd musings about Star Wars and its meaning abound. Some thoughtful and well done, others less so. Thousands of discussions and  interpretations in print and other media exist related to Star Wars, its impact on culture and society, and its influences.

Star Wars Musings

Inclusive to these articles you will find a diverse range of topics. Individual and group passions found as center points of these discussions include: political overtones, film-making, genre specific, toys, fandom, homages, influences, Lucas, Disney, symbolism, music, visual effects and CGI, art, collectibles, the original trilogy versus the prequels, characters, expanded universe, new canon, the droids, spoilers, trailers, books and comics, animated series, and so on. Interesting reading for many fans!

Star Wars Meaning

For me (and so many others), Star Wars is all about the magic, the characters, the mythology, the philosophy, the film-making, the filmmakers, The Force, the music, the collectibles, and most of all, Hope.

Legends of the Force at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2014 for Star Wars Weekend.

Legends of The Force

Future posts on this site may include some or no specifics to any of the topics listed above. It is my desire that my submissions will reflect the meaning of Star Wars as it has impacted my past, present, and possibly my future.

Additionally, I will be looking forward towards the future of the Star Wars saga. Whatever it may be. Follow along and we’ll explore the Star Wars universe together!

And now that I’ve seen Rogue One, I’ll be back with a review very soon. 🙂

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Why is Star Wars important to you? Share in the comments below.

Disney Dialogue: The Disney Bubble at Walt Disney World

Disney Dialogue: The Disney Bubble at Walt Disney World

The Disney Bubble

Frequently, people talk about the Disney Bubble that occurs when you are on property at the Walt Disney World Resort. It’s a phenomenon that means different things for different people.

Disney Dialogue columnist talks about the Disney Bubble at Walt Disney World

A Barrier between WDW and the Real World

My conceptualization and perceptions of the Disney Bubble has transformed over the past 20 years. Before multiple trips per year were the norm for me and my family, the Disney Bubble represented a tenuous and delicate barrier between the magic and the real world.

Grand Floridian

The Grand Floridian transports guests to the Victorian era

The Looming Dread of Departure Day

Being in the Bubble was often fraught with some sort of nagging anxiety —  almost from the moment I entered property at the beginning of the visit —  and lasted until the day of departure. It was an overwhelming sense knowing that once departure day arrived, I would not be able to predict how long it would be until a return visit.

Art of Animation

Escape from reality

Given that anxiety, there was often the feeling that every single second spent on property required conscious effort and superhuman physical stamina to experience everything. Unfortunately, as we all know, packing too much in causes exhaustion and that causes a decrease in the ability to absorb, experience, and appreciate the magic.

Our exhaused child decides to take a nap on the sidewalk inside the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

Nic during his first visit to WDW.

WDW Means “Home”

By having the privilege of being able to visit Walt Disney World multiple times per year under all different types of circumstances and lengths of stay, the phenomenon of the Disney Bubble has significantly lessened in its anxious overtones.

Port Orleans French Quarter immerses guests in the Disney Bubble

Port Orleans French Quarter is quaint and calming

Now, the Disney Bubble represents home. I‘ve adapted to spending time away from the resort without all that previous anxiety. And yet, I experience an extraordinary sense of peace and contentment as soon as I physically enter the resort. I actually breathe a sigh of contentment every time I arrive on property.

WDW Welcome Sign

Feels like home!

There is no longer the overwhelming sense of foreboding related to the eventuality of departure. Instead, I embrace a much more relaxed approach and appreciation for all the details and experiences. Is there anything better than the first several hours upon arrival for a stay of any duration?!

Guest admires view at Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Villas

Michael stops to take in his resort view from an Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani villa.

Given this transformation of the Disney Bubble for me, I have been able to slow down and savor each and every moment to its fullest. Still I am keenly aware of my past feelings.

Helping Others with a Dream WDW Visit

This gives me pause when I consider the millions of others who are visiting the resort, potentially for their first and only time. How do people manage their emotions and expectations when this is the case?

Cinderella's Castle

Cinderella’s Castle is a welcoming sight!

This makes me want to assist anyone planning a visit. I want to help others emotionally maximize their dream trip, regardless of economic, physical, or developmental limitations.

Yes, it’s a lofty objective. And there are hundreds of other incredibly passionate and talented folks out there working every day to make this happen. I am just a small drop in a very large bucket, but hopefully, my wife and I will be able to contribute to this goal, even if it’s in a small way through The Castle Concierge.

What does the Disney bubble mean to you? Should WDW visits be measured by how much you see and do?

Let’s start a dialogue!