Recently, over Labor Day weekend, my daughter and I had the opportunity to attend the Family Forward Blogger Retreat at Universal Studios Orlando. For those of you who have not heard about the Family Forward Blogger Retreat, it is 5 days and 4 nights of fun-filled awesomeness and a once in a lifetime experience hosted by the Mom It Forward Team. And for those of you who have not had the opportunity to visit Universal Studios Orlando Resort, they offer lovely luxury and moderately priced hotels and they have super fun theme parks such as Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Universal CityWalk where you can enjoy yourself until wee hours of the morning.
And we did just that.
Day 1, Thursday: We arrived late afternoon at the Family Forward Blogger Retreat host hotel, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is a luxury hotel that makes you feel like you have been transported to Italy. The rooms are designed to look like a Tuscan villa and I fell in love once I stepped foot in this beautiful hotel. And the view from our fifth floor room was simply gorgeous.
On Thursday evening we attended the retreat kickoff and then boarded charter buses for the Welcome Reception Dinner at Jurassic Park at Universal’s Islands of Adventure Theme Park where we had a private dinner all to ourselves, luau-style. After our meal, we walked from Jurassic Park to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and got to ride Hogwarts Express, our first time! This train ride travels between Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure to London in Universal Studios. During this train ride as you wind your way through the British countryside, make sure to watch out the window. You just might see someone or something lurking outside the train.
After arriving by train in Diagon Alley our Family Forward group had the Escape from Gringotts ride all to ourselves from 9-10pm! We explored the many shops and had our share of Butterbeer for the evening and before loading back on the charter bus we got to see the famous Knight Bus. It was a grand evening, Harry Potter style.
After returning to our room this evening we had a pleasant surprise. A bag of goodies from Universal Studios Orlando!
Day 2, Friday: We were invited to an all you can eat breakfast in the Loews Portofino Bay Ballroom this morning. Unfortunately we missed this meal and the first workshop of the day with Doh Vinci as I was not feeling well this morning. Probably too much frozen Butterbeer the night before. We arrived this morning during the second workshop of the day with Southwest Airlines where we were introduced to the Southwest Airlines “Adopt-A-Pilot” Program where Southwest pilots spoke to us about the teamwork and mechanics it takes to get a plane up in the air. I found this workshop quite interesting as I am a white-knuckle flyer and Southwest just happens to be one of my favorite airlines.
Our third workshop was sponsored by Barilla and their “Share the Table” initiative where families are encouraged to sit down together more often to share a meal. We actually prepared our own lunch together during this workshop with the help of Barilla’s Executive Chef, Daniele Baliani and let me just say, I adore Italian food and enjoyed this workshop immensely.
Our fourth and final workshop of the day was a lively presentation by animal enthusiast Dr. Brady Barr, sponsored by Animal Jam. The reason I say lively is because it was just that. Dr Barr brought along a crocodile and an alligator…and the croc was not a happy camper, and got loose. After much commotion (and families running!), the croc was captured and all was calm again. I have to say that this was my favorite workshop.
After the days workshops were over we were invited to a pool party and pizza dinner at Universal Orlando Hotel Cabana Bay Beach Resort. This moderate and value priced property offers guests their choice of family suites complete with kitchenettes or standard rooms. Offering two pools, a lazy river, a bowling alley and more, this 1950‘s and 1960’s designed hotel is a great value for families.
On Friday evening we rode the water taxi from Loews Portofino Bay Hotel to Universal CityWalk to see Blue Man Group perform. My daughter and I were so excited as this was our first time seeing them and we had heard so much about their shows. We were not disappointed. The show was awesome, I didn’t want it to end. We did have a surprise at the end of the performance…our Family Forward group was going to meet Blue Man Group and have our pictures taken with them! It was an incredible night.
Day 3, Saturday: Today started with a wonderful breakfast at Universal Studios Sound Stage 33. Director of Entertainment Creative Development, Michael Aiello, spoke to us about the value of having a creative attitude and how those characteristics will help in our daily life. We then discovered that our next event that morning was that we were going to learn a dance routine to the song “Happy” and be part of a Flash Mob in the park. Wait. What? It ended up being a great experience and fun was had by all.
The time had come. We received our 3-day Park-to-Park tickets with Express Passes and we were ready. I will say that having Express Passes is the way to go. Thank you Universal Orlando!
After some time at the parks our group boarded charter buses to attend Blogger Bash, a pool party and barbecue dinner at Give Kids The World Village. This 70-acre resort with over 144 Villa accommodations, entertainment attractions and whimsical venues provides memorable, magical, cost-free experiences to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. This organization is amazing and I will be writing more on them at a later date.
Day 4, Sunday: Another day of fun at Universal Orlando! We headed out to the parks for more adventure. In the evening we attended a dinner at a new venue in the park, Antojitos at Universal CityWalk. We love Mexican cuisine and the food was all made from scratch using the freshest ingredients. A very unique dining experience.
After dinner we meet near Lombard’s Seafood Grille at Universal Studios Orlando for the conclusion of our retreat – a dessert party and Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular – 100 Years of Movie Memories, a tribute to 100 years of Universal’s film making history, complete with colorful fountains and fireworks. It was a beautiful evening.
Day 5, Labor Day, Monday: Our last day at Universal with Family Forward before heading home…
I’d like to thank MomItForward for putting together such a spectacular blogger family retreat and Universal Orlando Resort for being such an awesome event host. You did a great job helping to create our super hero family.
Disclosure: The Family Forward Blogger Retreat at Universal Orlando provided bloggers and their families with hotel, food and park passes at a significantly reduced price. As always, all opinions are my own.