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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Pre-made meals. Too good to be true?

Before I go away for an extended period (as in more than a weekend), I try to empty the house of all food that could spoil and wreck havoc. That means there are slim pickings the day before we leave and even less upon return. I’ve always thought about making a batch of chili or other freezer meal that I could thaw when I get back, but um, that hasn’t worked out thus far. It’s the thought that counts, right?

This time, though, I was proactive and started researching a few delivery services that specialize in pre-made meals. Because as much as I love my Plated boxes, I knew I wasn’t going to be in any shape to whip up a fancy dinner after 20 hours in the car. Unfortunately, 95% of said services don’t deliver to my area.

With persistence, I stumbled upon GoReadyMade, a company that lets you choose the meals you want while leaving them the dirty work. And, lucky for me – there was a Groupon* that came with a significant discount. This first box included eight meals for $35 (regular price $79.92).

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Milla was so excited to check things out

What I Loved

The Plan – There are several options to fit every need – anywhere from 4-10 meals per delivery.

The Schedule – Pick the delivery days that are best for you and skip the ones that aren’t.

The Options – Select different recipes or all of the same – there are so many choices. Dishes include yummy concoctions like cauliflower mac & cheese, smoky chicken fajitas (pictured below), and sirloin steak with peppercorn sauce.

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The Ease – Many of the meals take less than 5 minutes to heat in the microwave. Just dig in!

The Taste – The dishes were wonderfully seasoned and bursting with flavor. Also, not salty.

The Rewards – You can earn credits when you invite friends to join the service.

What I Didn’t Love

The Calories – Many of the meals are upwards of 700 calories. I try to keep my meals (especially dinner) around 400 calories, so I ended up splitting up several of the meals into two portions and adding a side salad or extra veggie to my plate.

The Size – The meals are advertised as enough for one adult or 1-2 children. The tortellini with tomato sauce was barely enough to keep a toddler full (even my husband remarked on this!), yet had a whopping 750 calories.

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#stillhungry

The Inconsistency – I ordered two portions of the cauliflower mac & cheese, and while one container was nearly full, the other one was only half full. It was disappointing that they weren’t evenly distributed.

The Price – Understandably, you’re going to pay more for convenience, but at this rate, I could pick up burgers and fries for around the same nutritional value and a lot less cash.

Bottom Line: I think there is huge potential for this service, but it just wasn’t for me. While I did like a lot of the features, the calories and price weighed heavily in my stomach. This purchase served as a trial for a long-term solution of incorporating healthy, cost-effective pre-made meals into a weekly rotation. Unfortunately, this service will not be “the one” and the search to give myself a cooking break continues.

 

*Groupon may not be available in all areas and may be subject to change after this posting. Check your local deals for more info!

When in Denver

It’s cold and snowy outside, but pretty toasty inside. Reminds me of my trip to Denver in December when the temperatures dipped down into the 5s at night and the roads were blanketed with a sparkly coat of snow each morning. What a fabulous trip filled with amazing friends and delicious foods. It might come as a shock, but Colorado is known for more than just “kale.” (At least that’s how they refer to it in the Netflix Series “The Ranch.”)

The following are some of the best restaurants I visited in the Mile High City.

Old Major

This quaint eatery serves farm inspired American dishes that are sure to satisfy any craving. While I was there, I was lucky enough to meet the General Manager, Gene Fereda, and talk with him for a few minutes during the busy dinner shift.

Let the Beet Drop (cocktail)

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A yummy mix of gin, beet juice, lime, and simple syrup, garnished with a sprig of basil. This is such a fun cocktail, and it has to be healthy if it has fresh beets, right?! Definitely a creative way to start the meal.

Nose to Tail (entrée)

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Dinner was a hard pick because I wanted about five different things on the menu. I finally settled on the Nose to Tail because it sounded the most interesting and I honestly thought it would be cool to say “I tried pig ear.”

This meal is one of the best I’ve had in my life. The sausage, pork belly, crispy pig ears, and pork shoulder ragù were bursting with flavor. I also loved the gnocchi with perfectly seasoned turnip and carrot puree. Have you ever eaten something so good that you didn’t want the experience to end? Like, you know you only have so much left on your plate, but you wish that more would just materialize? That’s how I would describe this meal.

And pig ear? Well, it’s freakin’ delicious.

Bacon Peanut Toffee (dessert)

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The perfect combo of salty sweet. This was a surprise dessert for my birthday dinner that arrived alongside a glass of champagne. A fabulous end to a wonderful meal and experience.

Bottom Line: This restaurant lands at the top of my list for freshness, quality, and excellent service. If you’re in the area of Tejon Street, this is one place you’ll want to check out.

Voodoo Donut

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I’ll be honest, when it comes to donuts I don’t like anything crazy. I could, however, demolish about a dozen glazed in less than 5 minutes. So, even though I was at one of the most famous bakeries in the country known for their crazy concoctions and trademark voodoo donut, I still went with the glazed. And you know what? It was really, really yummy and I don’t regret a thing.

Bottom Line: If you’re in an area that has a Voodoo Donut Shop, stop in to awe at the funk displays, treat yourself to a specialty donut, and snap a photo with that pink box. You’ll be glad you did.

Snooze: an A.M. Eatery

Let’s just say that there wasn’t anything on the menu I didn’t want to try, but after much internal debating, I landed with a meal that has been my favorite for almost 20 years now – eggs benedict.

Benny Duo

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I feel like this restaurant caters to indecisive people, such as myself. I ended up choosing two different styles of eggs benedict – Ham Benedict III, which was the safer classic option, and Bella! Bella! Benny, the daring choice complete with prosciutto, Taleggio cheese, on ciabatta with cream cheese hollandaise with balsamic glaze. Both were completely delicious and I was so full that I couldn’t even finish my neat little stack of hash browns!

Bottom Line: If this place opened in NY, I would be the happiest little foodie on the planet. I would also probably weigh about 25 more pounds, but that’s another story. If you’re big into breakfast, and you live in or are traveling to Colorado, California, Arizona or Texas, make a plan to stop here. You won’t be disappointed.

Denver Biscuit Co.

When I found out we were going here for our last meal, I was ecstatic! There are few foods I love more than traditional biscuits and sausage gravy.

Biscuits & Gravy

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My first thought was “is this going to be enough?” Then the platter came. My next thought? “Oh shit.” All jokes aside, this meal was seriously delicious. The biscuit was perfectly flaky, soft, and squishy in all the right places. The gravy was creamy, savory, and very generously ladled over the biscuit. And, of course I had to top it with a fried egg. I just wanted to keep eating and eating, but my stomach pumped the breaks before I could clear my plate.

Bottom Line: Denver Biscuit Co is the bee’s knees. Everything on the menu is HUGE, but you’ll want to finish it anyway because it’s so damn good. It’s also pretty cool that the property is co-owned by two other companies – Atomic Cowboy bar and Fat Sully’s Pizza. That means if you want beer with your breakfast, you’re having beer with your breakfast. No qualms about that!

So, if you’re out and about in Denver, and aren’t sure where to grab a bite, check out some of these great places. It’s always fun to eat at a new place. Many of the little hole-in-the-wall places pack a big punch and have a lot to offer.

Until the next adventure…

Happy Eating!