The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com

Universal Orlando & Disney Vacation

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My first thought upon waking the next morning was coffee.

I had loaded my Starbucks app with $100 before the trip, and I was ready to start charging. I opened my iPad and searched for Starbucks near us. There was one in our hotel, but I had seen it the night before. It wasn’t a real Starbucks, but rather a kiosk within the hotel’s pizza/sandwich/snack bar. I don’t trust those. I wanted a proper store. I found another promising one on the map and told my phone to take us there. After a five minute drive, Robot Woman instructed me to turn into another hotel.

Damn! Foiled again! I want a real Starbucks!

I picked another Starbucks from the map. Robot Woman led me into a parking garage.

Gah!! Stupid!

I could see that I was going to have to have a real difficult talk with Robot Woman after the holiday. I gave up on her and shut her down. We would have to abide the pseudo-Starbucks they slung at our hotel. I got back on Rt 535 and started heading back towards the Hilton. It was a 3-lane road, and I was in the left lane. I was bitching to Handan about the utter lack of proper Starbucks stores when I saw the sign off to my right.

“STARBUCKS!” I screamed, and jerked the wheel to the right, cutting across all lanes of traffic. Handan screamed and started praying in Turkish as our Camry careened towards the narrow driveway.

“YES! Yesyesyesyesyes!” I was thrilled, Handan was terrified, but we would have our proper coffee!

Oh, and what a Starbucks! I’ve been in countless stores in almost every state and in several other countries, but the Starbucks located at 13401 Blue Heron Beach Drive in Orlando is the best I’ve ever encountered. The friendly crew is anchored by Scott on the register, the most outgoing and hilarious barista I’ve met, and by Lisa on the Espresso machine. From the first day, they made us feel like locals. On our second visit and all the rest thereafter, Scott remembered my name and our order. That’s customer service! Are you reading this, Starbucks Corporate Headquarters? Give Scott, Lisa and the crew a bonus. Or a medal. Or a medal wrapped in cash. Do something, dammit! Good baristas don’t just grow on palm trees!

We were caffeinated and ready for action. I loaded the family into the car, and we lit out for Universal Orlando.

*****

Universal Orlando has three theme parks: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. We had a 3-day 2-park (park-to-park) pass which was for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Volcano Bay is a water park, but none of us wanted to spend a day at a water park, and anyway, by the time we arrived to the parking lots each day, Volcano Bay was already at capacity. We would spend the first day at Islands of Adventure, the second at Universal Studios and the third again at Islands of Adventure.

Enough of my ham-fisted prose. Let’s see some pictures!

The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com
The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com
The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com
The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com

Islands of Adventure was overwhelming that first morning. The sights, the sounds, the crowds and the heat! Oh, the heat. I hadn’t hydrated enough that morning. Within a half hour, my head started to pound. But there was so much to see and do! It was an assault on the senses, but not in a bad way.

Universal gets big points for having a lot of water features sprinkled around the park that double as cooling stations.

The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com
The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com

The first ride that Handan wanted to go on was a pretty standard flume ride that ended in a steep drop and a big splash near a pedestrian overpass. I volunteered to hold Handan’s bag and Barish’s phone while they took the ride. I camped out on the bridge and trained my lens on the drop. We paid extra for fast-passes that would let us cut the lines, but since I couldn’t see the line from the bridge, I had no idea how long it would take until Handan and Barish came barreling down into the pool. I decided to take photos of every log until I caught them. I was taking burst photos, so about 300 photos later, I finally got them.

You can’t see it zoomed out like this, but one person is screaming for joy, and the other looks a little unsure. I call this the “Oh, shit” moment.

The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com

Let’s crop in and take a closer look.

The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com

One scream of pure joy. One scream of primal fear.

The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com

Let’s take a closer look.

The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com

Barish can use that photo for emotional blackmail against his mother for taking him on that ride πŸ™‚

But just when you think it’s over…

The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com
The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com
The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com
The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com

Somebody loved that ride, and somebody hated it.

They were soaked like bilge rats. The human dryer did little to help, but Handan enjoyed it all the same.

The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com
The Navages' Universal Studios and Disney Holiday | Orlando theme parks review: Universal Studios vs Disney World | Hilton Buena Vista Palace review | The best Starbucks shop in Orlando | Orlando theme parks and attractions | Hotels in Orlando | TheNavagePatch.com

Moving on…

Click on ‘Next’ below to continue.

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15 Comments

  1. Great vacation report!!! Kept my attention all the way through page 6. You are a great story teller, Loved Handan’s happy face.

  2. Well, aside from the disaster of the hotel it seems like a pretty great vacation. πŸ™‚ I love the photos of Handan – the joy! πŸ™‚ I am sure that her happines was contagious to all the folks around.

  3. I am not one to go on ‘themed’ holidays and I will be honest and hesitated to open your post, but, MAN! I am glad I did open it! It looks like you all had such a fun time! I sure know what the hotels from hell are all about. been to many of them! Your photos are really fun. The pelican one looks just like a painting!
    You will need a holiday to get over your holiday now!
    Cheers!

  4. The joy on Handan’s face alone is reason to go back! Also, not many people can be that hot and sweaty and still take a great picture like she can! I agree that Universal is more fun than Disney but the attention to detail at both places is amazing! I think you could go back over and over again and still see new things. I really enjoyed reading your story and not once did I think about sneaking out the back door! Lol! I’m glad you had a good vacation!

    1. Thank you so much, Giselle! You’re right about the detail at both parks – the engineering and artistry are breathtaking! And yes, I’d go back just to see the joy on Handan’s face!

  5. i am going to say this again greg you should write novels, i either was laughing my butt off or was grinning from ear to ear or nodding my head and handan you should be the poster child of smiling joyfully, you were making me go aww at every photo, and barish don’t be upset at the teasing because my face looks exactly like your face did on every ride i get on and if y’all want to ever go again, go in january nothing like leaving in snow up to your butt and swimming in the pool in fla on the same day and of course it’s 5 degrees cooler lol i love, love this post xx ps the pics were amazing

    1. Chris, I will one of these days. Just need to find a little more time! πŸ™‚
      Yes, if we ever go again, it won’t be high summer. I imagine it would be really enjoyable with cooler temps and fewer people!

  6. You are a great writer. If you ever write a book, please let me know, I would definitely buy it. I live in Florida and love it. But I’m on the other coast. A lot less commercial and more about nature. If you do come in the winter it will be cooler but with a lot more people also. Still it’s manageable.
    It must be great to be with such an enthusiastic partner by your side. Your son looks like a fine young man also. Your family is what a great family is all about. Thanks for the blog.

    1. Thank you so much, Marcia! I hear nothing but good things about Florida’s west coast. I think I’ll take the family there for a vacation in the near future. I know Handan doesn’t want to stay in CT forever (neither do I, for that matter), and the Florida climate suits her just fine, as it reminds her of Izmir. Maybe we’ll end up down there for good one of these years!

  7. I loved every minute of reading this Greg, I was 5 minutes late for a meeting too, just in case you wanted to know :D. And seeing Handan smile from ear to ear in almost every photo. Ah man so worth it!!!!