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Hey guys! I’m jumping out of chronological order today because I want to share with you an AMAZING giveaway (my biggest ever) totally exclusive to Meihoukai in Wanderland readers. I’m too excited to hold off any longer!

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In late 2016, an exciting offer landed in my inbox: be part of ‘s innovative Blog Squad, a group of travel content creators tasked with bringing the best of Universal straight to your screens. As a regular and enthusiastic visitor to The Sunshine State, but not much of an authority on theme parks, it felt like a fun new adventure for me.

And thus I donned a sparkly cap, and rose to the occasion.

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog
Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog

Our inaugural Blog Squad retreat took place in October and was headquartered at . Universal Orlando has five beautiful onsite hotels, and I was thrilled to be posted up in this colorful Caribbean homage. Staying onsite has when visiting the theme parks of Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and the soon-to-open Volcano Bay, and there really is something for everyone.

From the budget friendly Cabana Bay to the mid-priced Sapphire Falls and Royal Pacific, (my three favorites, from first glance) all the way up to the premium  and , there’s something at every price, too.

But for this visit, I was all about Sapphire Falls. I mean, where else are you ever going to find a beach ball chandelier?!

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog

However, I didn’t linger long in my room after check-in. We had a busy week ahead, and I wanted to kick it off with some time at my favorite part of any ho the pool.

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog
Sapphire Falls Orlando Hotel Pool

I had just enough time to brush the surface of catching up with two of my favorite girls — and , also in town for Blog Squad festivities, before the enormous 16,000 square foot pool was closed for a late afternoon thunderstorm. But that was fine. We had a big evening to get ready for.

Sapphire Falls Orlando Hotel Pool

Sapphire Falls Orlando Hotel Pool

Sapphire Falls Orlando Hotel PoolPhotos by

It was time for welcome night, where we’d meet the rest of the Blog Squad and the Universal team who had brought this thing to life. For our first evening, we stuck close to home, kicking off with a rum tasting at the onsite , and later wandering downstairs for dinner at the onsite .

It was a treat to have such a fabulous evening without ever having to leave the hotel.

Sapphire Falls Hotel Orlando

Strong Water Tavern, Sapphire Falls HotelPhoto by

Strong Water Tavern, Sapphire Falls Hotel

Amatista Cookhouse Sapphire Falls Orlando
Sapphire Falls Hotel Orlando

Amatista Cookhouse Sapphire Falls Orlando

Amatista Cookhouse Sapphire Falls Orlando
Amatista Cookhouse Sapphire Falls Orlando

The next morning, we were out and about! Because we had so much ground to cover in so little time, we had the opportunity to experience Universal Orlando Resort’s exclusive tours, which is a pretty huge deal in the world of theme parks.

These tours give you an experienced guide who creates an itinerary perfectly tailored to your party’s priorities, and then walks you straight to the front of every ride line in the park. You also get tons of fun extras like reserved seating at shows, access to behind-the-scenes park areas, meet-and-greets with your favorite Universal characters, and included meals and valet parking. But really, it’s that whole “no lines are the new black” thing that makes the VIP Experience the alluring prospect it is, even starting at $199 per person per day (park tickets are sold separately).

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog
Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog

We spent our VIP tour exploring , which is both a working production facility and a fabulous theme park that allows guests to jump through the screen and feel like they walked onto the set of their favorite movies and TV shows. Opened in 1990, it was the first park to open in what would later become the Universal Orlando Resort family.

Some of the popular rides in this park include , , , and . My favorite from this trip was  and I have , , , and  on my list for next time!

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog

For so many visitors to Universal Orlando Resort, however, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the star of the show. Now, Harry Potter heads, pay attention, because this is important. The truly breathtaking Diagon Alley is located in Universal Studios Florida, and is connected to Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure via the Hogwarts Express ride, a train that actually connects you from one theme park to another!

This means you’ll need the park-to-park ticket to get the full Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience. Some of you know — and are aghast! — that I have never read the Harry Potter books (an oversight that my experience on the Blog Squad has convinced me to rectify). But man, you don’t have to be a fan to admire the creativity and detail that went into creating this fantastical world. It’s a faithful recreation of the books and movies that would do JK Rowling proud — in fact, rumor has it she personally approved every detail.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Wizarding World of Harry Potter

That evening, after a very special Minion date at the Universal Globe, we were off to , one of the latest additions — and a fast new favorite — of CityWalk’s dining options. I can see why it’s so popular. The theming is just spectacular, the menu is diverse and impressive, and the milkshakes are made for making your friends drool with jealousy on Instagram.

Actually, I’d say the biggest eye-opener for me on this trip was the caliber of food available throughout Universal Orlando Resort. From the poolside menu at Sapphire Falls to the lunches and dinners at CityWalk to snacks along the way in the the parks themselves, I found myself seriously impressed with the quality and diversity — and the prices! — of almost everything I ate and drank. And what variety! No joke, I started a “to eat” list for my return trips.

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog

The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium

The Toothsome Chocolate EmporiumPhoto by

The next morning found us back on the VIP Experience grind, this time tackling ! This park is all about bringing your favorite superheros, characters, and creatures to life through eight fully immersive “islands,” including Port of Entry, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Skull Island, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade, The Lost Continent, and one of my new favorite places on the planet, Seuss Landing.

To be honest, before this trip, I kind of thought Universal Studios would be “my park,” but I quickly realized that Islands of Adventure is my true love!

Universal Orlando Resort Travel Blog