Monday, September 26, 2011

Hard Rock Cafe Universal Studios Orlando

When you go to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure one stop you really want to make is the Hard Rock Cafe.  If you're even remotely in to music this is the best place to visit other than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  One step inside and you instantly feel the energy and adrenalin that permeates the rock universe.  Hard Rock is an "in your face" dining experience that the whole family will enjoy.  Whenever we go to Universal Studios we eat there more than any other of the fabulous restaurants.

Hard Rock has a commanding presence on the walkway between Universal and Islands of Adventure.  It overlooks the river that runs right down the middle of the vast Universal complex.  As you approach you're immediately attracted to the Roman Coliseum architecture with a pink Cadillac jammed right into the side of it.  When you enter you are greeted by one of the finest serving staffs I've ever encountered.  My family and I have been there dozens of times in recent years and the staff is always friendly and high speed.  Rock music is always playing and the atmosphere is vibrant without being oppressive.  The cafe is more like a museum with hundreds of pieces of rock memorabilia prominently displayed on the walls and ceilings.  The kids will love it and so will the parents.  There is an interactive wall on one side of the main bar where children of all ages can touch images and learn rock facts all night. 

There is a round full service bar in the middle of the cafe with a mezzanine floor accessible by stairs or elevator.  You can browse and wander all you like before, during, or after your meal.  High-Def TVs's are everywhere broadcasting various concerts by all the legendary bands.  We never have to wait long to be seated and are always greeted by a wait staff who always seems glad to be serving.  Either they hire real happy people or have a super training program (or both). 

The menu is large and varied.  You can choose from a full page of appetizers if you're in to that.  We have settled on the Hard Rock Nachos that come loaded with everything and you can also add meat, chicken, or pulled pork.  It's not a light dish so only order it if you think the whole family will eat it.  If you can't finish it take it back to your room.  (Note: Only the restaurants on City Walk let you take doggie bags.  The restaurants inside the parks don't allow it)  The menu has entrees, burgers, smokehouse, and sandwiches.  They also have sandwiches and salads with a few vegan ideas mixed in.  As a family we usually steer away from the entrees because they can get pricey when you're on a vacation budget but we always have tremendous burgers and there's a full kids menu to include the classic hot dog plate for the kid who eats nothing else!  When we go, if we avoid the high end platters and get an appetizer with nothing from the bar, our tab comes to about $75.00-$95.00. Not a cheap ticket for some families but if you figure in the convenience, experience, and not driving out in a town you don't know, looking for something you have no idea what, it's worth the lack of stress for Mom, Dad, and the kids.  I'm still looking for one of the photos I have of Hard Rock but if you go to their website or www.universalstudios/citywalk you can take the 360 degree virtual tour and see if it doesn't look like what I'm describing. 

Our experiences there have always been fun and eating at Hard Rock Orlando is an outing by itself.  Think of us when you go there and let me know if your time there wasn't just superb!  Thanks for reading and more to come.....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Walt Disney World Orlando

www.dWalt Disney World is the biggest of them all.  The world's largest theme park complex the total area of which is comparable to the City of Orlando itself.  Disney World boasts four theme parks, Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.  It also has two water parks, Blizzard beach and Typhoon Lagoon.  Disney World has various world class hotels on the property, restaurants, gift shops, and a full service pet kennel.  Disney World is aptly named as it is a city unto itself. 

We last went to the Magic Kingdom which was the original mega park in Central Florida.  When you park you'll be transported to the ticket booth area by tram car.  Make sure you remember where you are parked.  If you have tickets already in hand (which I always recommend)  you'll be escorted across the Seven Seas Lagoon by way of ferry boat or monorail.  Once you arrive at the Magic Kingdom you'll walk through the train station and onto Main Street USA.  It's a photo shoot of a lifetime as you look up the street to Cinderella's Castle which towers several hundred feet into the sky. 

Disney World is so large it's divided into themed areas.  It has Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Adventureland, and Liberty Square in addition to the Main Street USA Area which is full of shops, food concessions, and shows.  There is also a play area called Disney Toon Vliiage which they are apparently doing away with to expand Fantasyland.

Park hours are currently 9:00am - 9:00pm with early hours fom 8:00am - 9:00am for special pass holders and hotel guests.  Daily tickets are $71.10 (ages 3-9) and $76.50 (10+) but if you purchase multi-day passes it's a better deal.  They also have Florida resident prices and if you plan to go there multiple times during the year they have seasonal and annual passes.  FASTPASS helps cut down on the long lines. You can purchase it for additional charges or you get the the FASTPASS privilege with your on-site hotel keys. 

I'll be doing a lot of postings about the Disney World experience so look for more.  There's just too much to write about in one article without putting you to sleep.  So look for more and thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 17, 2011


One of my all time favorite attractions is Gatorland Zoo on Highway 441 (South Orange Blossom Trail) about 5 miles south of the airport.  Gatorland has been a constant in Central Florida since the 50's and was here long before the major theme parks began to arrive but if you want to see what Florida is really like you'll want to stop there on your trip through Orlando.

Gatorland was started by the late Owen Godwin, a big game hunter, businessman, and philanthropist who started his show by trucking a single large alligator through Florida as a roadside attraction.  Gatorland has developed into a Florida wildlife based attraction filled with alligators, crocodiles, flamingos, snakes, bears, tortoises, and all types of native birds species.  Like Sea World, it's not just a theme park, they actually breed gators and care for them.  Gatorland is the largest alligator farm in the world and for a visitor it's a must see. Everywhere you walk through the marsh walks, cypress trees, and sidewalks you see hundreds of these massive dinosaurs.  The sight of them is nothing short of breathtaking when you think how they haven't evolved much in the last 50 million years.

The park hours are 9:00am to 5:00 pm every day.  Much less expensive than the larger parks the cost is $22.99/adult ($43.99/annual), and 3-12 is $14.99 (29.99/annual).  On their website you can purchase tickets,  take a virtual tour, and see what they have to offer.  The food and drinks are snack bar style, and they have a great gift shop right inside the front door through the giant gator jaws full of unique souvenirs.  Take the kids on the train ride for $2.00 each and visit the gator feeding show.  they also have a breeding marsh and rookery where you can stand 50 feet in the air and view hundreds of gators below.  They have animal shows where they inform and entertain you and the photo shoots are one of a kind.  Recently added is a "Zipline" where you an hook up and fly through the trees and across the water.  Ziplines are becoming popular at Florida attractions and great fun for the kids.  If you are here in the summer Gatorland has a super splash park where parents and kids can get wet and cool off so join in the fun.

I've been going to Gatorland since I was three years old.  I have always loved taking my children and look forward to taking grandchildren some day.  The folks at Gatorland take great pains to preserve these majestic animals.  The park is always spotless and the entertainment value is surpassed only by the friendliness and courtesy of the staff.  We love it and hope you do to. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Raglan Road Irish Restaurant at Disney Village Orlando

My son and I went to Disney Village today for a guy day.  We went to dinner at a fantastic Irish Restaurant called Raglan Road that has an authentic an authentic Irish theme.   If you're ever there it's definitely worth checking out.  A good idea up front is to make reservations if you are a routine diner and want to seat at a particular time but they also have walk in seats at the bar and around the dining room.  The atmosphere is certainly authentic and the bars,  there are two of them, are over 130 years old so some good drinking has gone on there.  The place is aesthetically beautiful with Irish design and memorabilia but not so much that it looks tacky.  We checked in and were seated in a decent amount of time.  Our waiter, Allen, was as good as they come.  His appearance and manners were good along with impeccable timing.  He took care of everything in a highly efficient manner but didn't hover.  He was genuine, not canned or rushed, a real pro.  Raglan Road has a wide variety of appetizers and full liquor bars.  We didn't drink but dinner was perfect.  I had smoked salmon with mashed potatoes and Ryan had the cheeseburger with fries that earned a "thumbs up".   The plates are delivered in a gourmet fashion.  Dinner prices are between $15.00 and $28.00 so, if you're visiting I might recommend the Disney Dining Plan which we don't use since we're local.  We've dined there several times over the last few years and have never had a manager stop by our table, however, they are highly visible throughout the establishment.  The restaurant has live entertainment nightly at 7:00pm with Irish music and dancing.  The experience overall is wonderful and, being Irish, especially meaningful for me.  If you don't want full fare or just looking for lunch then Cooke's of Dublin is just around the corner.  It's standard - no frills fish-n-chips and I believe they also have a chicken finger basket for kids.  There are two outside "street corner" pavilions where you can eat or drink and there is music everywhere.  Wrought iron gates and a lot of green in the decor give it an O'Connell Street look which is hard to achieve here in the subtropics but they did a great job.  Don't forget the gift shop!  If you want a great dinner experience with quality of fair and atmosphere you must give it a try.  Raglan Road won't disappoint you.