Universal Studios Orlando Military & DoD Civilian Discount

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!

The Tickets

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.

harry potter world butter beer

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.

harry potter world diagon alley

Lodging

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.

universal studios dining

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.

islands of adventure spiderman ride

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.

club wyndham cypress palms orlando

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.

club wyndham cypress palms orlando

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.

Universal Studios Orlando Hotel Shuttle

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.

universal studios orlando fast and furious ride

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.

islands of adventure theme park orlando

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:

Universal Orlando with Katie

For information about Disney World planning for military and DoD civilians, check out this post: Walt Disney World Military Salute Discount Detailed Guide

Click here to see some of my favorite items to use while traveling and it will help keep this blog going as I am affiliated with Amazon!

Happy Travels,

Katie

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Quarantine Sanity: A Few things to Keep Sane Right Now

We are all having to alter our usual habits to accommodate to this time of social distancing. Here are a few things I have done to try to keep sane in hopes that you will find a few of these suggestions helpful as well!

Yoga Studio- Not Quite a Yogi, but Practicing!

make a yoga studio at home

I recently ordered 2 yoga mats for my husband and me, and luckily, they came in when everything started to shut down! I was skeptical to buy yoga mats online, but these were perfect. They are a little thicker than normal, so my knees are better padded on our hard floors. Plus, they also double as a workout mat for higher intensity workouts. One day, I decided to create yoga studio on our patio that I think may brighten your mood too! All I did was find plants (fake, I have no green thumb) and vases around the house, cleared the patio, and placed them all behind my yoga mat. Making a space especially for you somehow makes you feel like you’ve shown up to a studio for a workout class rather than the reality that you are still stuck at home. My sweet friend, Patricia, actually dropped a beautiful aloe plant by my house, which not only completed the plant wall, but it also is a plant I think I can actually keep alive.

make a yoga studio at home with plants
make a yoga studio at home

If you don’t have a patio, use your backyard! We can all use more sunlight lately, and stretching in the sun will surely brighten your mood! So far, my favorite yoga instructor on YouTube is Boho Beautiful but there are several instructors to choose from. I’ve also started doing Popsugar Fitness on YouTube, and those will get you sweating! They have easy, moderate, and tough workouts ranging from 20 to 60 minutes long. I like to fast forward and make sure a class has the intensity that I’m looking for before I actually commit to one.

Clearly I’m a work-in-progress

Get Creative with Indoor Content for Social Media

It’s not exactly easy to create photos and videos for a travel blog when you are staying inside 24/7. So I’ve gotten a little creative lately both indoors and around our building. The lighting in our place is very dark, so I try to either take photos in morning natural light, or outdoors around sunset. Another popular idea lately is to take pictures outside with a mirror, so it shows your reflection and the green trees behind you.

daylight photography girl with long red hair
daylight photography girl with long red hair

Now is the time to get creative with simple things that you are doing. Maybe you could photograph yourself watching your favorite streaming service with your fuzzy socks and coffee. People will engage if they can relate to you. Literally, right before quarantine occurred, I began working with an awesome T-shirt company named, Llama Wrangler. I reached out as soon as I saw their designs, and we began brainstorming. Luckily, I’ve been able to create indoor content for some of their designs, and am loving how they are turning out!

Disney plus and chill t shirt by llama wrangler cute disney tees
15% Off Discount Code: KatieLovesLlamaTees
Disney plus and chill t shirt by llama wrangler
15% Off Discount Code: KatieLovesLlamaTees
Up the movie t shirt
15% Off Discount Code: KatieLovesLlamaTees
Disney plus and chill cute tees
15% Off Discount Code: KatieLovesLlamaTees

If you are trying to sell products of your own, try creating content that people can relate to right now. Maybe your candles are helping you relax and read a book during quarantine. Or maybe your beauty products are keeping your face clear despite all the greasy snacking you’ve done lately. Show your followers that! Make it personal.

Head to the Roof

Also, if it’s possible, take your camera to the roof! If you live in an apartment, you can get some really cool sunset photos from the roof with the city skyline in the background. Next, I was thinking of maybe doing some rooftop yoga!

Rooftop picnic and sunset date
Rooftop picnic couples photography
Rooftop Photoshoot with beautiful couple

Launch a New Service!

This one is pretty exciting! After that 2 week slump of not knowing what to do while quarantined, I got an idea. Looking back, I remembered how anxious I was to first start traveling, and I want to help young travelers who feel the same way. I didn’t feel like I could reach out to a travel agent when I first began traveling because I knew I had to do it cheap, and they would not make any money from me. I needed Airbnbs, the cheapest flights possible, and I was too young to rent a car. So, I did research on my own, and made several mistakes along the way. If I just had some advice while planning, or someone who had been there before, planning my young, adventurous travels would have been less intimidating.

Travel planner Katie travel advisor

So this quarantine season, I launched travel planning video chats on my website. I know we won’t be traveling in the near future, but now I have this set up and ready to go for when the world is ready to travel once again.

Maybe that’s what you can do during this time! Online engagement is low and social media is weird right now. Why not take this time to be a little more “behind the scenes?” Reconstruct your Instagram like you’ve wanted to do for so long or fix those details on your website while it is not so visible to followers. If you’re up for it, make a list of all the ideas you’ve had and plow through writing blogs or creating vlogs at this time. Then, slowly announce and advertise your new content when people become more active on social media again. Maybe, you can finally look into creating that business you’ve been thinking about, but haven’t had the time to research on https://www.sba.gov/ .

Spa Days

Color street nails at home

Face masks, nail polish, and soothing lotions can really boost a mood! Recently, I’ve been using Bath and Body Works Stress Reliever lotion and just tried Color Street Nails for the first time this week. After a complete fail at painting my own nails through a girl’s night Zoom chat, I decided I needed a little assistance. Color Street is real polish that sticks onto your nail, and I bought a set from my friend, Carola, last week. It was fun to try, and definitely looked better than when I paint my own nails. I chose a beautiful solid blue that matches the sky. The tips began to chip a bit the 2nd day, but I believe that the glitter ones work better and last longer. I would definitely buy again for the price because, once again, they look way better than when I paint them myself. If you are careful and use both sides of one set, you potentially can get 2 uses out of one purchase, making them about $6 a wear.

Color Street Nails Nail polish at home
Color Street Nails Blue

Take some time to have a spa day soon. Maybe even invite friends to join you over a Zoom meeting. Do a green face mask together and look ridiculous! Paint nails together and chat while they dry. Whatever it is, just make sure you’re not neglecting yourself completely during this time. You will feel so much better if you just give yourself a little T.L.C.

Reading

Novel the Lights Out Club

O.K. I am not a reader, and I am learning that even when I have all the time in the world, I am still not a big reader. However, I do like an interesting book before bed, which is much better than staring at my phone’s blue light before falling asleep. Currently, I am reading The Lights Out Club by Emma Woodham, and I am a huge fan. It’s definitely girly, which I love, and tells of two childhood friends who reconnect over the summer, facing heartbreak, romance, and rebuilding a distanced friendship. Emma is currently writing a second book, and I am excited for the release of it this July!

So, if you are not a big reader, just pick one book, and make a point to read it at least before you go to bed. Start building some better habits while you can consciously focus on the changes you wish to make rather than having to juggle them on top of all the other obligations that will soon ramp up again.

I hope you are doing well and finding things that keep you sane and fill your cup during these indoor times filled with uncertainty. Comment below things you have found helpful while stuck at home lately. I’d love some suggestions!

Sincerely,

Katie

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Walt Disney World Military Salute Discounted Tickets Detailed Guide

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.

Today’s Topics:

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Disney Military Salute Tickets

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.

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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.

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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.

If it is just you and a friend or significant other, it might be fun to splurge one night and reserve dinner in the park ($20-$40ish per plate). 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. But if you are staying on Disney property, you could just go get ready at the hotel and come back.

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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 have a food package offered as a “special deal,” which can include breakfast and/or dinner at their Garden Buffet into your nightly rate. This seems to only be a deal if your nightly rate is higher than an enlisted rate. If you are E-1 to E-6, it is just about the same price as if you just bought the meals yourself. 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.

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) at certain parks. Check the days you are going and see which parks you can go early or state late in.

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One military and DOD perk that many don’t know about is Armed 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.

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Best T-Shirts for Cute Disney Pictures

My favorite company for great Disney tees is LLama 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 Wrangler logo 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.

Happy Travels,

Katie