Going to Universal Studios FL? You NEED an Annual Pass!

I’ve been wanting to do a write-up on Universal for ages. My husband and I love it there, and I mean LOVE in every sense of the word. We’ve gone 1-2x a year since 2014 and it’s like our second home….1,000 miles away. Sometimes we drive and other times fly (they both have their benefits), but we always end up spending a good chunk of our vacation time in the sunshine state.

Actually, in four days, we’ll be on a plane headed back. I just can’t live without frozen Butterbeer and few dozen rides on The Mummy.

img_20170709_210735_9878806268746293551537.jpg

This is, hands down, my FAVORITE ride!

In the past, only Florida residents were able to invest in an Annual Pass. But, not this year! Get this: for less than the price of a 2-park 3-day ticket*, you can get access for the ENTIRE year. Sign me up and take my money!

The Preferred Pass**

This one right here is your ticket to fun. It’s the mid-tier annual pass that gives you a year of access to both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

screenshot_20180729-184959_instagram1540169222249651531.jpg

The Perks:

  • 10% off all restaurants, photos, and select merchandise
  • 15% off at Hard Rock Cafe
  • 20% off Blueman Group & City Walk Party Pass
  • $3.00 off Admission at AMC Universal Cineplex 20
  • Free self-parking (after your first visit; a $22.00 savings each visit)
  • And so, so much more

Be aware that Universal Express or Express Unlimited passes need to be purchased separately at each visit.

Is a Universal Express Pass upgrade worth the price?

Universal Express grants you one-time front of the line access for each ride, while Universal Express Unlimited lets you go again and again until you toss all that carnival food you just ate. (Sorry, not sorry for the visual.)

The first time we went, we were novices. I was shocked by the prices; a 2-park 1-day base ticket will set you back $170*, so we decided to forgo the upgraded Universal Express passes, which were almost the same price as the tickets.

Oh, what a rookie mistake. We ended up standing in some lines for over an hour in the hot sun. It sucked a lot of the joy out of the day and I left with a mean sunburn.

screenshot_20180703-154305_samsung health7235714649860679560..jpg

That step count, though…

If you want a truly enjoyable experience, it’s ESSENTIAL to splurge for the Express Unlimited pass, even just for one day of your stay. Imagine all of the rides you could take if you weren’t standing in line all day. We always get our money’s worth. Last month we went on every ride at least twice (some as many as 25! Not joking.), spent over 11 hours walking around, and racked up almost 30,000 steps. Per day.

Now go out and get your annual pass. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
*Ticket prices change almost daily. Please visit Universal’s site for up-to-date pricing.
**Other pass options available, visit Universal for more details.

Hey, I’m still here…

This post is months overdue, but it’s been a challenge to find the right words (even for a writer). Recently, I’ve been struggling with some things – both physically and mentally – and I just felt that if I couldn’t get my shit together, how could I possibly offer fitness or lifestyle advice with any semblance of authenticity?

So far my husband and I have had a summer full of beautiful experiences. We’ve traveled to California and Florida, camped in Upstate New York, rode our jet-ski around the Statue of Liberty, and went to the drive-in on at least three different occasions. We installed a hot tub in our backyard, put the final touches on our basement gym, and planned a few future renovations. I also perfected a cookie recipe, developed a matcha addiction, and have read over ten enlightening books since the beginning of May.

img_20180427_112642_6713370814715177444510.jpg

Anyone else think of Full House when you see this?

Most people would think “wow, she’s living the dream!” am I right? Well, even with all of that good stuff, I’ve still felt empty, drained, unhappy, and stressed. I’ve had bouts of anxiety about being 28 years old without any real career direction or goals. I’ve struggled to do simple things like laundry. I’ve failed at so many fitness and nutrition programs. And don’t get me started on being too tired.

img_20180425_131936_7986043640839039226408.jpg

Poolside in Rancho Mirage, CA

You see, there was no way in hell I could encourage someone to spend 2% of their day working out when I couldn’t even spend 1% washing the freakin dishes. I would have told myself off.

img_20180527_110921_9957654335652293381707.jpg

Roughin’ in on a camping trip in Upstate NY

It’s so easy to look at social media and see all of the good things, the fun. When you’re feeling down, it looks like everyone else is having the time of their lives. Meanwhile, the black cloud is following me on every adventure and delightful moment. That, in itself, is so draining. But social media isn’t really meant to show the other side of things. Who really wants to stare at Debbie Downer all day?

img_20180706_110151_0502329748495773935845.jpg

Fresh-squeezed orange juice in Miami, FL

So here I am telling you that nothing is ever going to be perfect. A picture is worth a thousand words, but how many are actually true? If you’re struggling with something too, know you’re not alone. Just keep swimming, keep on keeping on, keep trying to find something good in every day. It will get better.

img_20180616_171453_5389151713337903204902.jpg

Lady Liberty herself. Look – no people!

If you need some extra encouragement, check out the Finding the Balance series I posted earlier in the year.

Look for me on Mondays again – I’ve got some catching up to do.

Peace, Love, Zen
DS

Dining in the Dark

To me, Montreal is one of the most magically beautiful places on the East Coast. The old-timey buildings, cobblestone roads, and wrought iron fences make it look like a page straight out of a storybook. It’s also one of the few places where I can practice the six years of French I have under my belt.

20180305_19515836299675.png

First visit to Montreal in 2012!

Last year a coworker told me about a restaurant he went to in Montreal – O.Noir, where you dine completely in the dark, served by wait staff who are visually impaired.

The idea is two-fold – gain an understanding of what it’s like to be blind AND experience heightened senses of taste and smell, while mindfully eating your food. This definitely piqued my interest.

I haven’t made it back to Montreal, but two weeks ago my husband and I spent a long weekend in Toronto. Lo and behold, I noticed a restaurant called O.Noir a few blocks away from our hotel. I was stoked and made reservations as soon as I could!

The Restaurant

We almost walked right past the restaurant. It was easy to overlook the awning with the O.Noir logo over a set of steps leading down to a cellar of sorts. Of course! To be completely in the dark, it would make sense to have a space without windows.

20180218_2035321918882285.jpg

The wall in the waiting room.

We were immediately greeted by a woman who heard us coming and offered to take our coats. At check-in, we were given menus (in the light!) and then recited our orders to the server. After, we were led into the pitch black dining room, holding right hand to right shoulder. Finally, we were seated, offered bread, and served our drinks.

The Food

We both started off with two refreshing glasses of pineapple juice. The shared starter was a “surprise meat.” I’m still not completely sure what it was, but I’m going with a seasoned sausage over rice. It was tasty. For a main dish, I had the shrimp risotto with mushrooms and garlic. It was so delicious. I made sure to slowly swirl the food around in my mouth so I could taste all of the flavors. It almost reminded me of wine tasting. For dessert, my husband and I split fruit sorbet, which was very citrusy and topped with chunks of pineapple.

The Experience

Well, let’s just say that I didn’t expect anything other than loving the visit to O.Noir. Never in a million years, did I think that I would have a small panic attack from being in the dark. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.

20180218_1333082045217442.jpg

Earlier that day.

As soon as we were led into the dining room, I started feeling something in my chest – like a tiny ball of fear. Nothing worse than walking through a dark maze at a haunted house. That feeling quickly spread over my entire body as we were seated. I broke out into a cold sweat and could hardly catch my breath. “I don’t think I can do this,” I gasped and felt for my husband’s hand. He asked if I wanted to leave. I did, but I definitely didn’t want to chicken out and ruin the entire experience. After all, I was the one who wanted to do this!

He was able to calm me down by having me feel my surroundings, so I would know that I wasn’t as enclosed as I felt. I kept sipping the cool juice, did some deep breathing, and reminded myself that we were doing something fun and once in a lifetime.

After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, I was able to semi-relax and begin to enjoy the experience. But I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was when I could see the light again.

The bottom line: This was one of the most expensive meals I’ve ever eaten, and I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of it. (Check the sites below for a list of prices.) It’s worth mentioning that I have a newfound appreciation and respect for those who are visually impaired – whether they were born blind or lost their sight later in life. I don’t think we can truly appreciate what we have until we’ve lost it – senses included. As always, I encourage you to try new things and see for yourself. And, I don’t want to be biased, but I do have to mention that the Montreal menu looks more enticing!

For more information on O.Noir, visit their Montreal or Toronto sites.