Michelle went to Universal Studios Orlando this past month during all the COVID-19 Pandemic protocols. She returned with some great information for everyone curious about visiting Orlando theme parks at this time. Join me as we hear what she has to say:
Learn more about Universal Studios in my post linked here. If you would like me to handle booking and planning your Orlando theme park vacation, please fill out my travel questionnaire here.
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If you love military Florida theme park deals like me, this is the place for you! I’ll discuss the ticket discount, where to stay, how to plan your theme park days, and I have a fun Universal Video Recap of our trip as well if you would like to get a feel for the park and location of our hotel. Let’s get started!
Universal Studios offers U.S. military and DoD civilians a significant discount on their tickets. You can purchase them at your Travel and Leisure office on base, but the cool thing about these tickets is that the sponsor does not have to be with you at the park entrance like they do at Disney World. The tickets you buy at the military base are already activated and ready to use. You can instantly load them into the Universal App and start seeing wait times and park maps.
The tickets are about $180 for a 4-day, 2- park voucher. That is the price you would pay for a 1-day, 2-park ticket at regular price! These tickets expire at the end of whatever year you buy them. We bought ours in April 2019, so they expired December 2019. You can choose your 2 parks out of these three: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay. If Harry Potter is a big deal to you, you’ll want both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. The Hogwarts Train ride takes you from Islands of Adventure to the Universal Studios to reach Diagon Alley, so they check your tickets when you get off the train. If beating the heat with water rides is priority, you’ll want to choose Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay.
I called the Universal Resort trip advising center first, just to check their pricing for military discounted tickets and resort lodging. It doesn’t come close to buying accommodations on your own. The price they gave me made the resort stay about $300 per night. Your best bet, if your priority is price, is to buy your Universal tickets at your nearest military base and book a hotel on Universal Blvd with a bus shuttle.
We stayed at Residence Inn Universal Blvd and loved it! You can use the government discount code to book at a discounted rate. This hotel has a full, complimentary breakfast and a kitchen in each room so we were able to eat dinner in the hotel some nights instead of at the park. In this area, there is also a DoubleTree, Extended Stay, Hyatt Place, Best Western Plus, Holiday Inn, and Fairfield Inn. These hotels range from $80-$200 per night.
If you don’t mind a short drive, and parking in the Universal parking deck, AFVclub.com is the way to go for both a clean, nice stay and cost efficiency. AFVclub offers week-long vacation stays all over the world, with the bulk of lodging located around Florida theme parks. For an entire week, Club Wyndham Cypress Palms costs $350 on Armed Forces Vacation Club, which is available to active and retired military and DoD civilians. This club has a large pool, gym, full, condo style rooms, and is 15 minutes from Disney.
Growing up, Universal was our annual summer vacation, and we stayed in AFVclubs all over Orlando and Kissimmee. I loved them all, just make sure the TripAdvisor reviews are positive, and you should be good to go! Most of these stays are offered only by booking a full week, but many of them are only the cost of a 2-night hotel stay. We went to Universal last minute, so AFVclub was booked, but it is always my first choice in Florida.
Transportation to the Park
Since several hotels use the same shuttle bus, getting a seat can be tricky. You sign up the day before for the time you want to leave, and they check for your name before allowing you to board the bus. Signing up the day you arrive can be a little tricky if you arrive later than the shuttle desk stays open. Also, the shuttle has very few stops that take you from the park back to your hotel in the evening. So if you don’t make the cut for the time you are waiting for, you may be stuck waiting an hour and half for the next bus home.
We took the shuttle the first day, but then decided it was well worth the effort to just walk the 15 minute, sidewalk stroll into Universal. We were able to get to the park earlier this way, arriving ahead of the crowd. The walk from the hotels that I mentioned earlier do cross a major road, but there is a crosswalk and it is no effort at all. I would only suggest carrying your little ones or making sure they are strapped into their strollers.
When to go?
Obviously, when kids are in school is always the best time to visit theme parks for lower wait times. However, we visited last Easter weekend when many kids were out of school, and Universal nor Islands of Adventure were really that crowded. We rode everything we wanted to in two days, then just re-rode our favorites on the third day. You can definitely get through both of the main parks in 2 days. We ended up just not using the 4th day that was on our ticket.
I hope this helps with your Universal Orlando vacation planning! Writing about our trip makes me want to go as soon as it opens back up! Here’s a quick video of our trip to Universal and Islands of Adventure Orlando:
Being stationed in Savannah, Georgia has been so much fun this year! The city is lively, beautiful, and full of community. As an Army and Coast Guard town, Savannah businesses are so generous to show their gratitude in forms of discounts and even free tickets! Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Savannah as a military family:
As a national state park, Fort Pulaski is free to all military and their dependents. Tours are offered every few hours and cannon demonstrations are given on the weekends. The cannons are actually really fun to watch! Volunteers dress in Civil War attire and put on a full show.
This is one of the most in-tact forts in the southeast. It was defeated fairly quickly by the Union Army with their superior rifle cannon. When it later became a prisoner-of-war camp, the troops rebuilt the bombed portion so it’s almost perfect now.
Fort Pulaski could take 1 to 3 hours to explore. If you decide to participate in a tour, it will be longer, but more insightful than just looking around on your own. If you decide to visit in the summer, take the trail to the left of the parking lot and check out the Cockspur Island “beach.” It’s basically a channel, but many people fish and watch cargo ships sail by. We like to play Frisbee or soccer on this beach because there’s no sunbathers to accidentally hit!
Tybee Island Lighthouse Museum
At the north shore of Tybee, the famous lighthouse stands tall, proud, and ready for you to climb. Until the late 1900s, this museum was an active Coast Guard station, which is why Coast Guard families get one free ticket. For example, when I went, my husband was not with me so they gave me the free ticket. This museum closes at 5pm, so plan accordingly. Give yourself about 1 hour to 1.5 hours to climb the lighthouse, view the old lighthouse keeper living quarters, and explore the Tybee museum across the street. You’ll enjoy learning about the history of Tybee’s “hay-day,” but I’m pretty sure kids will just care about climbing the lighthouse.
Savannah Theatre at 222 Bull Street
The Savannah Theatre keeps a donation running that allows all active duty military and their dependents to enjoy their performances for free! If you are in town for Christmas, come see their famous annual “Christmas Tradition” show. It’s so festive and will really get you into the Christmas spirit! They will be performing Mama Mia at the beginning of next year, which is sure to be a hit as well.
Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity, even if you are visiting for a short time. These are regular $37 tickets, and their performers are incredible.
Hunter Army Airfield MWR and Ticket and Leisure Office
The closest base to Savannah is Hunter Army Airfield. Ft. Stewart is a bigger base, but it’s a good 50 minutes from Savannah. The MWR at Hunter Army has paddle boards, canoes, boats, and even RV spots to rent. Stop by the Ticket and Leisure Office, which is located at the Exchange, to get a list of several discounted tickets to local attractions. Savannah boat and trolley tours were the ones that stood out the most to me, but they have many more that may appeal to you!
HAAF Outdoor Equipment Rental/Checkout Centers Bldg 8454, Stratofortress Road, Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, GA 31409-5000
I hope you enjoy your visit in Savannah! If you have any questions, feel free to DM me on Instagram: @katiewentthere
A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take advantage of the 2018 Military Salute Disney tickets. I hope this post will fill you in on a few military opportunities concerning Walt Disney World Orlando. Feel free to view the table of contents below and scroll straight to the information you are searching for.
Although it changes every year, Disney has 5- day park hopper tickets available to active duty military for $246. They also offer 4-Day tickets for $226, but what’s $20 more at this point? That’s the price of a 2-day base ticket at the gate. 2018 is also the first year that Disney offers this deal to DOD civilians as well.
One military member or DOD civilian can activate 6 tickets. People accompanying the service member do not have to be dependents. You can purchase these tickets at the travel and leisure office at many of the military installations, although our base in Savannah only had 2 passes left when we bought ours. You purchase the vouchers on base and exchange them for a Disney pass at the ticket booth of the first park you visit.
The tickets will expire on December 19th of the year they were purchased. For example, we only bought our tickets a month ago, but they will expire this December 19, 2018. So, if you want to go next year, 2019, you have to wait until January to purchase them. There are no longer black-out dates for military salute tickets, so you can split up the days and use them however you want within the year.
When to Go
If you can, try to go during October, January, or February when most kids are in school. Weekdays are an amazing time to go because, 1. Resort stays are cheaper, and 2. The park is much less crowded. We went to Epcot on Friday, and it did not get crowded until 1pm. You may be able to ride everything in the park and explore every country by 2pm like we did.
Try to get to the park at least 30 minutes before it opens to go ahead and knock out your favorite rides while the lines are low. Even on Sunday, we were able to ride most attractions at Magic Kingdom before noon. I’m not sure why. I’m guessing because it’s tough to get out the door early with little ones, but I don’t have any yet so that’s just a guess.
Eating at Disney
Food prices are not terrible at Disney food kiosks. It’s the drinks that get you. Bring bottled water and refill it at fountains all over the park. In Magic Kingdom, go to Sleepy Hollow Refreshments in Liberty Square before 12:00 and enjoy a ham, egg, and cheese waffle sandwich for $8.99.
Here is a budget eating schedule option while at the Disney Parks:
Breakfast before the park (eggs, cereal, muffins, fruit, etc.)
Light Lunch in the park and a shared coffee or coke for some extra energy (trust me, you’ll need it)
Snacks in your backpack (tuna pouches and crackers, trail mix, fruit, granola)
Late Dinner after you shut down the park at any restaurant still open on the way back to the hotel. Weird tip, the Speedway gas station when you leave the Magic Kingdom parking lot has a 24/7 food bar with hot sandwiches, salads, etc.
It is not necessary to avoid all food at the park of course, as most kiosk food is only like $10-$15. We just found that it was much easier to get on rides during times that everyone else was eating
Saving so much on park tickets and lodging may allow you to splurge a little on special dinners or character events. Contact Sarah Lawrence to book any extra fun activities that you would like to do while at Disney World. You can enjoy a dinner-date at the happiest place on earth, and end the evening watching fireworks together. You may could even pack a wrinkle free dress in your backpack to change into for cute pictures. Or if you are staying on Disney property, you can just go get ready at the resort and come back.
Lodging for Disney Parks
Disney has several resorts to choose from. They vary from luxury resorts all the way to Fort Wilderness campgrounds. Shades of Green is a resort especially for U.S. military and their families as well as DOD civilians. From the looks of their website, Shades of Green is pretty booked for the rest of the year so be sure to plan ahead if you want to go in 2019.
During the holidays, prices jump up to about double, except if you book nights during the week. Weekday prices are very affordable and worth it for the dining options, transportation, character fun, and no parking fees ($25/day)! Prices are different per night depending on your military rank. E-1 though E-6 is the cheapest and officers and DOD civilians have the highest rates. I’ve noticed that the availability calendar is a little difficult to navigate, so it is probably easier to call about available dates.
They offer a food package deal, which can include breakfast and/or dinner at their Garden Buffet into your nightly rate, but I’m not sure if it is useful as most mealtimes will be spent at the parks. If Shades of Green is booked, the Disney Animation Resort, Movie Resort, and Sports Resort are often around the same price. But once again, plan ahead for next year. If you are a loyal Marriott Member like myself, Marriottalso has a Westin on Disney property that will shuttle you to Epcot and Magic Kingdom and is included in Extra Magic Hours.
Orlando does have hotels that are cheaper than staying on Disney’s property, but the convenience factor is a major benefit of lodging with Disney. Parking adds up for one thing. We spent $75 alone in parking while staying off the Disney property. Also, Disney resort visitors get the privilege of EMC (Extra Magic Hours), as mentioned above for the Westin, at certain parks. Check the days you are going and see which parks you can go early or state late in.
One military and DOD perk that many don’t know about isArmed Forces Vacation Club. They offer condos and hotels from well-known companies like Wyndham Resorts for a super low price. There are several hotels in Kissimmee, Florida for $349 for 7 nights. Our favorite resort for the parks is Club Whyndam Cypress Palms that is only a 15 minute drive from Magic Kingdom. The only catch is that each stay is usually Friday-Friday or Sunday-Sunday, so you have to be willing to take a full week of leave or just forfeit a few nights. But for just $50 a night, you may just want to book the week and stay for 4 nights or so. This option is great if you are going to Orlando with a larger group as most of these resorts offer 2 bedrooms, a pullout couch, and a full kitchen.
Staying at Disney or at a hotel with breakfast and a Disney shuttle would be my first two recommendations, followed by Armed Forces Vacation Club.
Best T-Shirts for Cute Disney Pictures
My favorite company for great Disney tees isLLama Wrangler . I found this company on Instagram and immediately reached out. I have scoured Etsy and just cannot find tees that I really like. However, Llama Wrangler’s owner and designer, Adam, puts his passion for Disney and art in each of his designs. Just like the Mickey faces are hidden all over Disney World for you to seek out during your trip, the LLama Wranglerlogo is hidden in each t-shirt design, which I think is super fun and creative. My favorite design is the Up Movie themed Adventure shirt as Up is my and my husband’s favorite love story.
You can use my discount code: “KatieLovesLlamaTees” at checkout for 15% off of your entire order.
I reached out to work with Llama Wrangler as I loved the designs they offered. These shirts were gifted to me in exchange for my honest review.
I hope this post helped you in planning your next Disney World adventure. Honestly if you live within driving distance, I can’t think of an easier vacation for military families than Orlando theme parks. They are a blast, easy to plan, and incredibly affordable.
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