Hard Rock Hotel Orlando

Hard Rock Hotel Orlando (With Kids)

Planning a trip to Universal Orlando and not sure which hotel to stay at? Looking for and deciding on a hotel can be a tough decision.

 

There are so many variables to be considered, especially in relation to visiting a theme park, and you don’t want to leave a vacation feeling like you wish you had done your research better and stayed somewhere else. We recently stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando, which was fabulous. I would recommend it to anyone considering planning a trip to Universal Orlando.

 

WHY WE CHOSE THE HARD ROCK?

We chose the Hard Rock because it’s an on-site hotel and the closest of the hotels to the Universal parks. We had grandparents with us and figured this would be the best option. But of course I loved the location just as much for us as I did for them. So, for starters, this was a big selling point for my family. Each morning we would walk out of the hotel and hop on a path that took us through bamboo trees and up to the entrance. It’s no more than a 10 minute walk and a calm, nice way of entering – no parking lot madness!

 

There is also a complimentary water taxi, which in theory is a great idea, but in reality (at least in our experience), usually includes a wait for the next taxi. Every time we went it was a 10/15 minute wait. But if you don’t mind that, then go for it – it did look fun if we were willing to wait.

 

 

In my Guide to Planning a Trip to Universal Studios, I discuss why I think it’s best to stay at an on-site hotel, due to their many benefits. There are 5 main on-site hotels in Universal in three different categories -Premier, Preferred, and Prime Value (the Hard Rock is Premier) – and the benefits they all have in common are: they all offer Early Park Admission, including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, before the parks open to the public (this is very key! The Harry Potter lines are no joke!); they are all within walking distance to the parks (though some much closer than others hint hint!); they all offer Complimentary Transportation to the parks and CityWalk, should you need it; and they all offer Room Key resort-wide charging privileges (no credit card necessary).

 

KEY BENEFITS OF STAYING AT THE HARD ROCK

The Hard Rock, being a Premier hotel, has some additional key benefits: the most important one being, it gives you a free Universal Express Unlimited Ride pass so you can skip the regular lines. A serious bonus! This is huge, and the most key benefit of them all, and what sets it apart from most other hotels. These days lines at Universal and Disney are so out of control that your experience is truly compromised. Who wants to wait in line for 1-2 hours for 1 ride? You can spend half the day waiting in line for just a couple of the really popular rides. It’s not worth it in my opinion. So I loved that this pass came with staying at the Hard Rock.

The other perk the hotel offers is priority seating at select restaurants throughout the resort, including CityWalk. Some of these restaurants happen to be some of the most popular, like Antojitos, a delicious Mexican restaurant with killer guacamole. Having the ability to sit down with not much wait is a great perk – especially with a margarita after a long day on your feet all day!

 

THE POOL AT THE HARD ROCK – ROCKS!

 

What was it about the Hard Rock specifically that we liked so much? Well, apart from it being the closet hotel to the parks, we loved the pool. The pool ROCKS. It’s big and fabulous (12,000 square feet) with a sand beach and surrounded by lush green vegetation, and most noticeably it has an underwater sound system. The music never stops! My kids loved this feature. Their favorite part, though, was the awesome water slide. They went down it for hours (as if the theme park wasn’t enough). I couldn’t write this review without mentioning how phenomenal the life guards were. They were ON it. At one point there was an incident in the pool and before I knew it the life guard was in the pool at the rescue. They were very present and vigilant which made it all the more relaxing.

 

Other features of the pool include a kids play section, water fountains and two hot tubs, one which is kid-friendly, and one for adults only. And of course it goes without saying the Hard Rock pool has a bar with chair and bench service. There was nothing we needed more after an exhausting day than a beer poolside while the kids were entertained by the slide and underground music. I really loved the pool at the Hard Rock – it was so relaxing to come back to and felt like a little slice of the Caribbean.

 

ADDITIONAL PERKS TO NOTE

If you want to take it to the next step and really get a break there is Camp Lil’ Rock, a kids activity center for ages 4 -14. We never used this, as it was a short stay, but good to know it’s there with late night hours for those wanting to go out for dinner sans kids. Note they do require advanced reservations. There are movies by the pool, character meals and more – you can read more about the kids’ activities here.

As for food and drink, there are a few different dining and bar options including The Palm steakhouse as well as the Velvet Bar, among others, if you don’t feel like leaving the premise. We ate at a restaurant called the Kitchen a couple of times and it was good. Not amazing but fine enough. CityWalk is nearby so there are plenty of options for eating out, and we never felt stressed by “what are we going to do for dinner?. That’s another great thing about the location of the Hard Rock – CityWalk and restaurants are just a stone’s throw away.

 

THE ROOMS AT THE HARD ROCK – ROCK!

 

Last but not least – how were the rooms? Loved them! Modern and hip, with plush, comfortable beds, we slept like babies. Our room was medium size, not huge but not tiny either. It was quiet and cozy and exactly what we wanted to come home to after a busy day out. The rest of the hotel is very nice and spacious, with fun rock memorabilia all over the place. And contrary to what I had imagined leading up to our stay – it wasn’t noisy or chaotic!

 

All in all, The Hard Rock met all expectations and we were completely satisfied with our stay. It’s a very nice hotel with helpful staff, convenient, relaxing and fun. All four of us loved it.

 

This article originally appeared on fifi + hop. Republished by permission.

A Virgin Launch

Sir Richard Branson has never been on a cruise, but he is about to disrupt the cruise industry with the launch of Virgin Voyages. Officially open for business today, the Scarlet Lady is open for bookings for her inaugural season with voyages departing from April 1 through October 25, 2020. Continue reading

house of parliament

10 Free Things To Do In London With Your Family

London is one of the greatest cities in the world and such a wonderful place to visit as a family. But like any city, London can be very expensive so when we visit we’re always on the look out for great things to do that don’t cost us anything.

The good news is that there are loads of fantastic free things for families to do in the city. Some of London’s greatest museums are free and have a range of superb activities for children, there are wonderful parks and so many of London’s most iconic sights like the Changing of the Guard and the Ceremony of the Keys won’t cost you anything to watch. Here are our ten favourites:

 

Discover more by walking around

 

What do you picture when you think about London? Most people’s lists of must-see sights include places like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London. London is a fantastic city to walk around and you can see all these iconic sights by doing just that. From Trafalgar Square you can walk down the Mall and up to the gates of Buckingham Palace. A pleasant stroll through St James’s Park takes you almost to Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

Further to the south east, the South Bank of the River Thames is another great place for a walk. Here you can see Shakespeare’s Globe and pick up something to eat from one of the fantastic stalls at Borough Market. Then walk past HMS Belfast and make your way over Tower Bridge and up to the Tower of London.

 

Watch the Changing of the Guard

 

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Most people talk about the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace but we prefer the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard at Horse Guards Parade.  It’s much less crowded and there are no railings so you can see much more clearly. What’s more, it’s the Household Cavalry so the soldiers are on horseback with swords drawn and plumed helmets on their head.

The ceremony takes place every day at 11am (10am on Sundays). Click here for more information about Changing the Guard ceremonies.

 

Visit the dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum

 

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© Natural History Museum

 

The Dinosaur Gallery is rightly one of the biggest draws of the Natural History Museum but there is so much more for children to see and do here whether they’re into dinosaurs and furry frogs or cursed amethysts and duck-billed platypuses.

You can feel the earth move in the Earthquake Machine, play detective games around the museum and visit the growing fox cubs in the Wildlife Garden. The hands-on Science Centre is a great place for children to examine specimens from the natural world for themselves, using microscopes and other scientific tools.

 

Have a picnic in a park

 

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When we’re in the centre of London we often have a picnic in St. James’s Park where we can feed the ducks and watch the pelicans being fed. But if you want to make more of an outing of it, head for Kensington Gardens where there are some great picnic spots, the Peter Pan statue and the wonderful Diana Memorial Playground with its huge wooden pirate ship, giant sandpit and teepees. There’s even a tree house encampment with walkways, ladders and slides. For added fun, cross over the road into nearby Hyde Park for a splash around in the Diana Memorial Fountain.

 

Do an activity trail in the British Museum

 

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My kids love going to the British Museum. The mummies in the Ancient Egypt section are a particular favourite. There’s so much to explore whether you’re into the Aztecs and the Incas, the Vikings or Ancient Greece. It’s best to pick just one area to visit each time you go or it’s too much to take in.

On our last trip we went round the Roman Britain rooms with an activity backpack filled with artefacts, dressing up clothes and things to do. It made our visit even more enjoyable than usual. You can pick up backpacks, art materials and activity worksheets for specific areas from the Families Desk. Children can also take part in object handling sessions, digital and film-making workshops.

 

Follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter

 

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Even Muggles can now visit Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station where Harry Potter boarded the train to Hogwarts. You can queue up to have your photo taken under the sign, complete with trolley, scarf and wand. There’s no charge for taking your own photos. Platforms 4 and 5 at the station were used for filming and the neo gothic exterior of nearby St Pancras International was used in the films to stand in for King’s Cross.

Now head down to Leadenhall Market, a covered market in the City used as Diagon Alley in the film of the Philosopher’s Stone. The blue door of the optician’s in Bull’s Head Passage was used as the entrance to The Leaky Cauldron.

 

Do a workshop at the National Gallery

 

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© The National Gallery

The National Gallery is a great place to visit with children but did you know that they run free art workshops over the school holidays? The workshops are led by artists and inspired by paintings in the gallery. We’ve made flowers and drawn portraits but the workshop my two most enjoyed was making a sound picture with musical instruments of Paolo Uccello’s The Battle of San Romano, a 15th-century painting of knights on white chargers. All the children sat in front of the painting making the noises of horses’ hooves clopping, swords clashing and drums beating. Utterly brilliant!

The workshops are aimed at 5 to 11 year olds and take place on Sundays at 11am and 2pm and over the holidays. Children under 5 can do the Magic Carpet Storytelling on Sunday mornings.

 

Watch the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London

 

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© Historic Royal Palaces

The traditional locking up of the Tower of London has taken place every night for over 700 years. At 9.52pm exactly, the Chief Yeoman Warder comes out carrying a candle lantern in one hand and the Queen’s keys in the other. He walks to Traitor’s Gate to meet the Foot Guards and the ceremony takes place.

Forty to 50 visitors are admitted into the Tower to watch it every day from 9.30pm. This can get booked up months in advance so be sure to book well before your visit. Book online here.

 

Dress up as an astronaut at the Science Museum

 

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© Science Museum, London

There is so much for children to do at the Science Museum from morphing your face to see what it will look like when you’re older to investigating climate change and dressing up as a WWII fighter pilot. This is also the place to come if you want to see the Apollo 10 command module and Stephenson’s Rocket.

The interactive areas for young children are fantastic, from the Pattern Pod, a multi-sensory area for 5 to 8 year olds to the interactive Garden Gallery for pre-schoolers. There are also drop in experiments for all ages throughout the day at the Science Stations.

 

Watch the street entertainers in Covent Garden

 

You can see some of London’s best street performers every single day of the week on the famous piazza at Covent Garden. It’s so much fun joining the crowds to watch acrobats, mime artists, clowns and opera singers. Covent Garden is a wonderful place for wandering around the numerous shops, restaurants and market stalls – there’s a craft market six days a week and an antique market on Mondays.

 

This article originally appeared on fifi + hop (via Suitcases and Sandals). Republished by permission.

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Healthy Travel Means Business

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The U.S. Open is an international event, with an international crowd, played in an international city. If you’re in New York over the next few weeks to watch some tennis or you live in New York and enjoy a little people watching and the patronage of this great tennis event – the Pierre Hotel is a must visit place. Continue reading

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Master a Mole and More in the City Travel + Leisure Rated #1 in the World

San Miguel de Allende, a rather little known colonial-era city in Mexico’s central highlands mostly known for its baroque Spanish architecture, just recently received the prestigious accolade of #1 city in the world by Travel + Leisure. So what is so special about San Miguel de Allende? T+L cites the authenticity, cost effectiveness and great restaurants among the many draws, all while—according to one reader—“maintaining its Mexican heritage, culture and charm.”

Here’s a quick review of San Miguel de Allende; where to stay, what to do and, according to our own John Newton, why a certain cooking school might be the biggest attraction of all.

 

Casa de Sierra Nevada

 

The grand dame of San Miguel de Allende, Casa de Sierra Nevada is a cluster of historic buildings at the centre of the city. With cool, leafy gardens, stone arches and traditional wooden doors surrounding pretty courtyards lit by lanterns at night, this charming luxury hotel offers the ultimate Mexican experience. While the interior, like many San Miguel hotels, is all about carved headboards and bathrooms in traditional blue-and-white Talavera tiles, their are also more contemporary options that shake up this hill town.

 

Hotel Matilda

 

The 32-room Hotel Matilda celebrates the arts scene of San Miguel with a gallery like atmosphere that is focused on the works of three emerging Mexican artists: Aldo Chaparro, Nacho Rodriguez Bach, and Bosco Sodi. Photographs by Mexico City’s Eduardo Zaylan hang on the walls of the guest rooms. Don’t worry, however: the scene is chic and celebratory, not studious, from the hopping Bar Matilda to the 4,700-square-foot spa. In celebration of its opening, all rooms are $195 per night, including breakfast, through the end of the year.

 

Rosewood San Miguel de Allende

 

Meanwhile, newcomer, luxury boutique hotel Rosewood San Miguel de Allende reflects the artistic traditions of an enchanting historic town, while still providing the amenities you would expect from the Rosewood brand. Surrounded by natural beauty and history, Rosewood San Miguel de Allende is ideally placed for experiencing this fascinating colonial town. Guests are invited to explore local vibrant fiestas or the town’s colorful streets lined with churches, gardens and galleries at their own pace. Guests can appreciate the art of craftsmanship at galleries such as Fábrica La Aurora to discover stonework, papier maché and hand-blown glass masterpieces.

 

Wine Cellar at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende

 

Bathroom at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende

 

If you have ever wanted to master a mole or be able to prepare pitchers of agua fresca for your next holiday party, the chefs at the Sazón Cooking School at Casa de Sierra Nevada can guide you through the process.

Students of the day-long Market Tour and Class program begin with a guided visit to the markets of San Miguel de Allende, a postcard perfect 500-year-old colonial town outside Mexico City. The hotel’s chef, the charismatic and engaging Paco Cardenas (who, thankfully, speaks flawless English) explains the differences between habaneros, poblanos, and other chiles of the Mexican kitchen as well as basic shopping Spanish with opportunities to sample cheeses and other ingredients.

Students then return to the Sazón school, located in an 18th-century home near the hotel, and don their aprons. Hands-on lessons in preparing traditional Mexican dishes follow, with the results consumed at the end of class. During our visit, the favorite dish of most students was a nopal salad, made from the cactus plant of the same name, but what is on each class’s menu is determined by the ingredients at their peak of ripeness and available at the market. Other classes (which cost 600 pesos) focus on the country’s regional cuisines and signature dishes.

While classes are open to visitors who aren’t guests at the hotel, a stay at Casa de Sierra Nevada is a highlight of any visit to San Miguel. The Orient-Express property has 15 rooms and 22 suites, decorated with Spanish colonial–inspired furnishings, and distributed among four different colonial mansions and the larger Casa del Parque, a few minutes walk from the hotel. If you pay a month in advance and stay at least two nights, you’ll receive a 10 percent discount on any stay at Casa de Sierra Nevada, including the Sazón Culinary Package, which includes one market tour and one cooking class.

Not to be outdone Rosewood San Miguel de Allende has launched it’s own cooking school. At Los Pirules, a new, immersive outdoor cooking venue overlooking the city of San Miguel de Allende, guests use local Manchego cheese, fresh salsa and herbs picked from the hotel’s garden to create a sizzling queso fundido prepared in a traditional, heated stone bowl or molcajete, a technique that can be traced back to the Aztecs.

While San Miguel de Allende might have something for every type of traveler we’re pretty sure foodies—especially traditional Mexican food aficionados—will enjoy themselves thoroughly in this quaint, authentic and now famous, Mexican city in Mexico’s rustic central highlands.

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