Our Family Stay at Disney’s Grand Floridian

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian pin

When visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, families have many options for lodgings. For the most elaborate and luxurious  experience, we suggest staying at The Grand Floridian. This elegant resort is surprisingly family friendly, with plenty of activities for kids and parents alike to enjoy.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian lobby

What Makes it Family Worthy?

This hotel is opulent with all sorts of amenities. It is also close to the Magic Kingdom. Guests can enjoy free WiFi in both the rooms and public areas as well as free parking.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian playground

Our Welcome

When we arrived, the staff was friendly and welcoming. We experienced practically no wait before we got to our rooms but spent the time enjoying the meet and greet with Cinderella in the lobby.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian ceiling

Hotel Decor

The hotel’s lobby is a sight to behold, decorated with a Victorian aesthetic. Guests walking in will see a ceiling five stories high with huge chandeliers. Throughout the hotel, one can see detailed latticework and ornamentation. The lobby is a lovely spot to relax while waiting to check in or after returning from the parks.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian white

Our Room

We stayed in room 9409 in a Garden view room. The first thing we noticed was the locking mechanisms for our door. Everyone gets a magic band as their door “key,” and guests can even customize this band with their favorite color. The bolt mechanism on the door is pretty high up, which is great for child safety.

Our room was decorated in rich creams, golds, and greens, with lovely crown molding. We had wood flooring, perfect for those who suffer from allergies. The entire room was also extremely well maintained. We saw no scuff marks, dirt on the carpet, or peeling on the walls.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian bed

The room featured a large two door closet with complimentary robes. The safety deposit box sat at a perfect level and could easily store a 15-inch laptop.

We appreciated the two queen sized beds, as not every Disney hotel has this. There was also an overhead fan, perfect for the hot, humid Florida days. We had a lovely nightstand between the beds as well as an opening desk next to the bed. Guests should look for one of Disney’s well-known Hidden Mickeys around the room,. We found several including one on the back of the desk chair!

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian TV

Our room boasted a red sofa, a relaxing place to stay and lounge after a day in the park. We also had a TV with all the Disney movies. The TV displayed a daily schedule, which included a weather report. We found the mini cooler under the TV and a coffee maker next to the TV. The room featured plenty of hidden places to charge electronics, such as behind the coffee maker.

We loved the gorgeous setting out of our window. We requested a quiet room with “no view” but still got to see a lovely stretch of beach outside.Our room featured a big balcony. It struck us how squeaky clean it was with two white chairs and no bugs, impressive in Florida.
The door to the balcony had a high up double lock so little kids can’t unlock the door by themselves. The door itself was hard to open, another good safety feature.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian outside

 

Our Bathroom

Our bathroom featured tan marble tile throughout, with the hypoallergenic wood floor continuing into the room. We enjoyed the double sink, something that all families can appreciate, as well as the hair dryer and complimentary toiletries.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian sink

We had a tub with a showerhead as well as a clothesline. Unfortunately, the showerhead was not handheld, but the tub had a grab bar.Our biggest surprise was the laundry hamper. Not every hotel has one, but a basket is perfect for keeping dirty towels off the floor.

Dining

The Grand Floridian offers several choices for character dining, such as the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast on 1900 Park Fare. Parents can even book the Wonderland Tea Party where kids can chat with Alice.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian piano

 

Those looking for Mediterranean fusion can try Citricos. This restaurant does have a relaxed dress code; men can wear khakis, slacks, jeans, or dress shorts, and women can wear capri pants, skirts, dresses, jeans, or dress shorts. They do not allow tank tops, swimsuits, torn clothes, or t-shirts with offensive graphics. Parents can book their reservation online or over the phone, which we recommend.

Narcoossee’s features seafood dining on the waterfront. This restaurant boasts beautiful panoramic ocean views. Narcoossee’s has a slightly stricter dress code than Citricos, essentially business casual.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian cupcake

Victoria & Albert’s is the most high-end establishment at the Grand Floridian. Here, patrons dine on award-winning cuisine in a classically elegant environment. They have a strict dress code; men must wear dinner jackets, slacks, and shoes, and women must wear either a dress, dressy pant suit, or a skirt with a blouse. Guests must also book in advance to dine here.

More budget friendly options include the Grand Floridian Cafe, Garden Tea View Room, or Gasparilla Island Grill. At the Gasparilla Island Grill, our son particularly enjoyed their cupcakes and had to have one every night before bed.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian car

Those who can’t or don’t want to leave their rooms can enjoy the hotel’s 24-hour room service.

Amenities

The Grand Floridian boasts several pools. We particularly enjoyed the zero entry leisure pool with an 181-foot tall water slide, whirlpool spa, waterfall, and hammocks. One can get towels and lifejackets at The Captain’s Shipyard. Guests with disabilities can also arrange for pool lifts and other access options at the Front Desk.Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian night

Those wanting to get their feet wet can enjoy fishing, water cruises, and motorboat rentals. There’s also plenty of other outdoor fitness activities such as tennis, volleyball, and golf.

The Grand Floridian offers plenty of activities. Parents can sign kids up for such activities as Campfire Activities or Grand Adventures in Cooking. There is also Arcadia Games, featuring both classic and modern arcade games.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian grass

Cost

The Grand Floridian is pricey, with rooms starting at $570 a night. The Garden View rooms are typically the cheapest option.

Our Family Stay at Disney's Grand Floridian duck

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Though the balcony is secure, parents should still try not to avoid booking a balcony room when traveling with young kids.
  • Make sure all balcony doors, and windows are locked. The balcony doors have two high up locks for added security.
  • Parents need to bring a non-slip bathmat, as the hotel does not provide one.

 

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism

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Originally opened at 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida as a single theme park in June of 1990, the famous Universal Studios Orlando still flourishes. Islands of Adventure was added later, and together these movie-inspired theme parks draw almost 30 million visitors per year.For visitors who have autism, visiting a theme park can be fun but also quite challenging. To help families plan their visit here are our tips and suggestions.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism fire

What You Will See

Rides

The rides in the park range from mild to extreme and may present some sensory challenges for visitors with autism.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism ride

Children on the autism spectrum can range anywhere from thrill seekers that crave G-forces, and sharp roller coaster turns to being sensitive to even the slightest of motion. Many rides include moderate to high movement while others are tame. Furthermore, many of the rides are digitally simulated which involves being rocked in a seat.
Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism roller

 

The park’s most extreme rides include Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Revenge of the Mummy, and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. All of these rides feature sudden stops, spins, and turns. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is a simulated coaster but still features extreme movements in all directions except upside down.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism river

 

More moderate rides include Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers 3D, Pteranodon Flyers, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. In Despicable Me Mayhem, guests can choose immovable chairs for a more surefooted experience.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism boat
The feet of guests dangle on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which can prove a problem to some kids.  While Pteranodon Flyers is a smooth ride, it does suspend riders in flight over the Jurassic Park and is therefore not for those afraid of heights.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism red

 

The milder rides include Men in Black Alien Attack, Hogwarts Express, and The Simpsons Ride. The Simpsons Ride is another simulated roller coaster that’s mostly a mini Simpsons cartoon with a few ups and downs. The Hogwarts Express features mild train movement and can, in fact, be relaxing. For visitors who wish to experience very mild rides the Suess Landing area in Islands of Adventures is recommended.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism seuss

Effects

Many of the attractions at Universal feature loud noises. Some especially stand out with loud explosions, gunfire, and screams.  For example, Diagon Alley’s giant dragon often growls and spews real fire, while the train to Hogsmeade features whistles and screams.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism train

Though several rides at Universal are virtual they employ special lighting, darkness, and 3D glasses for their effects. The 3D glasses are not a requirement, so those sensitive to 3D effects can choose not the wear them during the ride or attraction. Those scared of the dark can wear a glow in the dark armband in attractions such as Revenge of the Mummy, Knockturn Alley, and Poseidon’s Fury.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism show

 

Other attractions involve water sprays, winds, and smoke effects, which can prove a challenge to some kids. Water based rides include Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.
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Most rides have riders wear a helmet or seat belts which again might bother some kids.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism claws

Shows

Macy’s Holiday Parade, the Mardi-Gras parade, and the Superstar Parade all run outdoors in the afternoon with spectators lined along the parade route. People can sit on the sidewalk or stand during the half hour ceremony. Parents of kids who can’t sit through the entire show can leave at any time.

 

 

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism car

Families can also visit the Character Party Zone where they can find dancers from the parade performing and gsigning autographs in front of Mel’s Drive-In.

 

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism mel

Throughout the parks, there are also mini performances where spectators can stand and attend like the Blues Brothers concert stage in front of Rip Ride Rockit, and Hogwarts Frog Choir where performers sing songs from Harry Potter movies.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism parade

There are plenty of character Meet and Greet opportunities in the parks. Though there are no accommodations for them, the lines are usually short.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism potter

Finally, there’s Shrek 4D, a 3D movie with extra sensory effects like smells and water sprays. This show is an unusual attraction but can be scary or challenging for viewers with sensory issues.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism train

 

Playgrounds

Universal boasts several playgrounds like Curious George ,If I Ran the Zoo and The Olive where antsy kids can let out steam. Many of these places feature water spray areas.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism park

For kids that are temperature-sensitive, the Camp Jurassic and Jurassic Park Discovery Center are recommended.
The former is a shady playground where children can explore secret caves, climb through nets, run across bridges and slide down slides. The latter features an air-conditioned educational area focusing on the prehistoric past.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism hat

Food

Restaurants inside the parks as well as Universal City Walk feature several vegan, kosher, halal, dairy-free, gluten-free, or nut-free options for those with special diets.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism restaurant

Guests can make reservations at most sit-down restaurants on the property. However, except during very busy times of the year, one can usually just walk into most restaurants. Diners can ask about the dietary options when they book online or by phone.
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Souvenirs

Like a so many other theme parks, Universal is a souvenir heaven.
Each area has unique merchandise so guests can get items ranging from favorites like Dr. Seuss, Despicable Me, Shrek, Marvel heroes like Spiderman and Hulk to Terminator, Transformers, and The Simpsons.

 

 

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism potions
But none can compare to the memento explosion of Harry Potter items to choose from: T-shirts, school uniforms, and even owl cages. Of course, most people want to get the new interactive wands. These devices interact with various locations in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Guests can purchase these wands in several spots in the two parks, but by far the most popular place is Olivander’s Wand Shop.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism wand

Location, Hours, and Admission

Families can buy tickets online or when they get to the park. Multiple day passes are the best deal. However, the park does offer three great options for children with autism.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism duff

Universal Express Pass

The Universal Express Pass, or UEP, is a paper pass with a printed bar code that can be used around most areas of the park (excluding some Harry Potter rides). Parents can get one for everyone in the family at no additional charge when staying at any USO properties (excluding Cabana Bay).

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism coaster

They can also purchase the pass separately when arriving at the park. The UEP itself features two kinds of express passes. One offers a limit of one entry a day for each attraction. The other offers unlimited entries. Parents of children with autism who like to go on the same rides over and over again should get the unlimited pass.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism betty

 

Attraction Assistance Pass

There is also Universal’s Attraction Assistance Pass or AAP. This feature is a free pass given to accommodate guests who can’t wait in regular standby lines. One can use this pass for any ride or attraction, even one without a Universal Express Entrance. Parents can get their AAP card upon arriving at Guest Services and present identification while describing the accommodation needed. A doctor’s note explaining limitations can be useful but is not legally necessary.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism seat

The card can accommodate up to six people. It also remains valid at both parks for the entire length of one’s stay. Families just need to show a cast member their card. If a ride’s wait time is less than half an hour, they will get in immediately through the express lane. Otherwise, the cast member will write on the AAP card the attraction name, time of day, wait time, and a return time.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism street

Guest Assistance Pass

Finally, there’s the Guest Assistance Pass or GAP. These passes are identical to a one day/two park unlimited UEP. They provide immediate entry to any attraction’s Universal Express queue, regardless of the standby wait. Guests can only get these on a strictly limited basis.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism rock

 

Autism Travel Tips:

  • While the park features monthly events, summer and Christmas time are the most crowded times of the year.
  • The best way to dress is in layers since conditions vary from attraction to attraction and throughout the day.
  • Non-slip shoes are a must.
  • Parents should pack a change of clothes if anyone wants to do any water rides. The park does offer blow dryers for rent for five minutes at a time.
  • We recommend bringing a poncho to protect family members from getting soaking wet on some water rides along with flip flops.
  • The park can get crowded. Parents should snap a photo of their child to show authorities if they wander or get lost.
  • In addition, parents should get temporary tattoos or patches with their child’s name and the parent’s phone number in case they get lost.
  • Families should prepare children ahead of time that there are height restrictions on some rides.
  • Guests that can’t climb the two flights of stairs at Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade can ask staff to use the elevator to take them straight to the train platform.
  • There are no accommodations for attending parades.
  • At night, some parades may have fireworks.
  • Parents can use available lockers for shoes, socks, and small backpacks.
  • While the pathways are all paved and accessible, there might be slippery or muddy areas due to water attractions.
  • Orlando can get hot during the summer. This fact can make it uncomfortable for those waiting in outdoor lines for extended periods of time. Thankfully, many attractions at Universal are indoors and have air conditioning.
  • Those who don’t want to go on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride can go through the queue line and experience all the Harry Potter items and scenes from the films. Interested guests just need to tell the attendant they are not riding. The attendant will then show them the exit.
  • Though the park allows guests to wear noise canceling headphones, some roller coasters like Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket and other motion intense rides won’t allow it.

 

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel pin

Walt Disney World is a magical place to bring families together. This year, when my family visited Walt Disney World, we decided to stay on a non-Disney property to see how it compared to staying at a Disney resort. Facing Crescent Lake, the Swan Hotel, with its 1509 rooms, is located at 1200 Epcot Resorts Boulevard in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The resort is part of a duplex along with the Dolphin hotel. Together, the two hotels create the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort complex.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel swan

What Makes it Family Worthy?

For families looking for a resort offering a luxury stay for everyone, the SPG run Swan Resort is the way to go. Though not officially part of the Disney property, it is a boat ride away from Disney’s Epcot theme park. As the Swan is in a complex with the Dolphin, patrons have access to multiple restaurants within walking distance. The hotel is also close to three Disney hotels; the Boardwalk, Beach hotel, and Yacht Club. Each of these hotels has their restaurants for additional choices.

The property is much more budget friendly than the average Disney resort, and one can use SPG points to stay there. Even with the lower prices, families will find the hotel boasts larger rooms with two queen beds, something that not every hotel offers. Some of these large rooms also connect so more people can stay there comfortably in the same area.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel view

Fellow travelers range from business people attending conferences in the buildings to families wishing to try out a non-Disney, luxurious but slightly cheaper lodging option.

Our Welcome

Due to an unexpected snafu with our flight, we arrived at the hotel at one in the morning. This delay was unusual, and we were exhausted after flying from CA for six hours. The staff at check-in not only assisted us, but also upgraded us to a suite.

We had previously contacted the property to inform the staff that we needed certain accommodations, like feather free pillows and a quiet room. Therefore, they already knew about our needs, but it was a lovely added surprise that they upgraded us.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel bench

Hotel Decor

The lobby featured warm colors of yellows and browns highlighted with occasional touches of soft greens. The flooring alternates between flower patterned carpet to marble and natural stone. Guests walking out into the main lobby would see a large fountain with four white swans drizzling water out of their beaks. The area is well lit with lots of subdued lights with multiple tropical plants scattered around the lobby and public spaces.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel hall

Our Room

When we arrived at our suite 731, we were delighted with how spacious and comfortable it was. Throughout the room, we saw large floor to ceiling windows. Out of these windows, guests could see the iconic Epcot dome, which was lit up bright blue at night. Both thin and thick curtain covered the 180-degree suite windows.

Much of the decor in the suite consisted of glass top countertops, dark wood furnishings, tan walls, and greenish-gray carpeting. The room featured decorative plants which are usually used in luxurious upscale suites.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel room

The suite had two large closets with shutter doors and ample hanging space, shelving, and place for our luggage. The closets housed an ironing board, bathrobes, slippers, and a blow dryer. We found the in-room safe in one of the closets, an important feature for families who want to store valuables they don’t want to take with them into the theme parks. We noted the bar area, which included a coffee maker.

The huge living room was divided into a seating area and a dining area. The seating area had a dark blue velour opening sofa perfect for our son with autism to sleep in comfortably while the dining area was comprised of a table with several yellow chairs. There was a large screen TV over a chest of drawers facing the opening sofa in the sitting area perfect for our son to watch his favorite TV channels.

Our bedroom, aka the parents’ bedroom, featured two beds in the room with a nightstand between them. On the nightstand was a standing lamp with additional outlets, an alarm clock, and a soothing sound machine. The mini sitting area consisted of an armchair and a glass table that could either be a regular table or a desk. Across from the two beds was a rather large dresser on top of a flat-screen TV and a coffee machine along with another standing lamp. The dresser had many drawers and also housed a mini cooler.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel blue

The door between the main bedroom and the rest of the suite could be locked from both sides, a fantastic privacy feature.We particularly loved the ample seating and the fact there were two TVs in the room. We regretted getting to stay only for one night and  not being able to fully enjoy the suite.

Our Bathroom

Our suite boasted two bathrooms which turned out to be a very convenient feature for our family stay. Though both bathrooms were similar in size, they differed in decor. The first bathroom, just off the living room area, had tan tiles and marble flooring. There was a brown countertop with plenty of towels for all of us staying to use.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel sink

The second bathroom, right off the entrance hallway, featured modern decor with a glass mosaic green backsplash along with a wooden vanity with Corian countertop and sink.

Both bathrooms featured combination tubs/showers with grab bars, but the one in the first bathroom had a curtain while the second had a glass enclosure. We appreciated that both had a hand held shower head and a separate rain shower head.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel tub

Amenities

In addition to boasting terrific views and a luxurious decor, the Swan Resort had excellent family-friendly recreational offerings. Guests who love swimming could try out one of five different swimming pools. Two of these pools were lap pools, perfect for those who enjoy exercising. The most popular and featured pool was the three-acre grotto pool with a beautiful waterfall and rock caves. There was also a “kiddie” pool on site for younger kids to enjoy the water safely.

Guests who love swimming could try out one of five different swimming pools. Two of these pools were lap pools, perfect for those who enjoy exercising. The most popular and featured pool was the three-acre grotto pool with a beautiful waterfall and rock caves. There was also a “kiddie” pool on site for younger kids to enjoy the water safely.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel outside

Travelers looking for relaxation should try out the Mandara Spa. The Spa features a large selection of leisure options, including body wraps, facials, mani/pedis, and deep tissue massages. Guests could also enjoy sitting or sampling soothing tea in the Meditation Garden themed after a Meru Temple.

For those who want to keep in shape on their vacation, the Swan Hotel had a lot to offer. Guests could indulge in the Swan Health Club for access to workout machines like treadmills, stair climbers, and stationary bikes. Those staying could also participate in different sports like tennis, volleyball, basketball, and mini golf, all without having to leave the property. Finally, the hotel offered guests access to jogging trails. One of these trails takes runners around Crescent Lake and through five other hotels in the Epcot area.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel swan

Dining

Both the Dolphin and the Swan share a common area where they have several restaurants. There’s something for just about anyone in this joint area.

Regarding restaurants unique to the Swan, we had many options. For fine dining, visitors could go to Kimonos for Japanese sushi or Il Mulino for Italian cooking. Casual, more budget-friendly dining options included the Garden Grove, featuring Disney Character Dining in a beautiful garden setting, or Splash Terrace, where one could get grass fed burgers or ice cream right next to one of the Swan’s lap pools. Families looking for fast service could stop by the Java Bar to get a quick coffee or pastry. Of course, for those who couldn’t or didn’t want to leave their rooms, the hotel provided 24-hour room service.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel food

We ultimately decided to try Todd English’s Bluezoo, a restaurant technically on Dolphin property. We enjoyed their Happy Hour where we got to try their nachos, loaded with guacamole, beef, cheese, and sour cream.

For those wanting something different, one can access the three Disney resorts via a free short boat ride or a five-minute walk. Guests can also take the boat straight to Disney Springs for even more options.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel bluezoo

Cost

The price for a one night stay starts around $300 and includes free Wi-Fi. The hotel offers plenty of package deals, especially in conjunction with Disney parks. One can find self-parking near the entrance to the park costing $18 per day. Guests can also utilize valet parking for $26 per day.

Family Friendly Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel sky

Autism Travel Tips:

  • The suites feature lots of glass standing lamps, which can be hazardous to kids if they get knocked over.
  • We saw lots of living plants throughout the hotel, including in the rooms. Parents of children with Pica might want to request a plant-free room.
  • The mini suite had quite a few vases and other breakable artifacts. These might be a problem for rambunctious kids with autism. Parents can request the removal of such items while booking.
  • There wasn’t a no-grip mat in the shower. However, guests can easily bring one from home to further assist those who need it.
  • Bring a nightlight as the suite is a really a big space and can be difficult to navigate in the dark.
  • The dresser and the nightstand featured glass tops, which could be hazardous for kids.

 

Family Fun at Universal’s Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

portofino pin

Universal Studios in Orlando Florida is a great place for families to visit, especially families who enjoy  Hollywood movies. As avid theme park goers, our family decided to stay at the Loews Portofino Bay Luxury Resort on our latest visit to Universal, and it did not disappoint! Not only did we enjoy our stay fun but even got a  peak at their uniquely designed Despicable Me suite.
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The Portofino Bay hotel, located on 5601 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, boasts 750 rooms and suites. As a courtesy to guests, the property offers complimentary water taxi shuttle to the nearby  Universal City Walk and  Studios which families will find very helpful.

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Decor

Inspired by the quaint towns of Portofino Italy, this luxurious hotel transported its guests to the Mediterranean beaches. The thought and attention to details included; like the narrow stone alleys beautifully arched windows and scattered Vespas and Fiat cars were impressive. The public spaces, set in marble and natural stone with beautifully painted frescos and Italian artifacts gave us the feeling that we were away on a relaxing European vacation.

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Our Welcome

Like its sister properties, the Hard Rock Cafe and the Royal Pacific Resort, this hotel mostly hosts families and couples visiting the Universal Studios theme park. We had previously called to ask for a feather free and quiet room to accommodate our son with autism special needs and were assured the requests were noted on our reservation. Upon arrival, a smiling front desk staff member greeted us and made certain check-in process was a breeze. But the best surprise for our kids was a delicious chocolate confection with macaroons that was delivered to our room by the thoughtful manager.
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Our Room

We stayed in room 2419, decorated in shades of cream and tan except for one of the walls, painted a bright aqua. The Italian theme was carried into the room with touches such as the small shuttered window and sculpted wood headboards.

The room featured two queen beds and a large nightstand between them, topped with a phone, an alarm clock, and some writing supplies. A mirror and two lamps hung above the nightstand. The large closet in the room had hangers, bathrobes, several luggage racks, and even extra folding chairs. We were surprised to discover a sizable safe, which was ideal for storing our laptops and other valuables.

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There was a large flat screen television that featured a lot of family friendly channels, always useful to occupy antsy kids. The cabinet housing the TV also contained the minibar. This minibar sold universal electric adapters along with the usual assortment of snack foods and beverages. We counted a total of twelve power outlets in the room. We were subsequently delighted our family of four could easily charge all our electronics.

Next, we noticed a sitting area with a large leather chair, standing lamp, and an unusually shaped footrest. The granite topped table across from the sitting area where guests could sit and enjoy a meal or work on their computers completed the look.

 

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Our Bathroom

As mentioned before our room had a set of wooden shutters that opened up into the bathroom area. We thought this feature was particularly helpful for parents wanting to keep an eye on their kids.

The bathroom itself featured white woodwork, tiled floors and a double sink with a large storage area underneath. It also had separate shower and tub areas, neither of which had grab bars. Toiletry products provided included soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion.

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The ‘Despicable Me’ Suite

We got a chance to look around the Despicable Me suite, designed for families traveling with small kids. The suite had two separate rooms, one for kids and one for parents. The parents’ area was decorated in soft white shades, with blue and green accent pieces to help brighten things up. The room boasted a king sized bed, a desk and sitting area along with a balcony facing the lake. The bathroom attached looked pretty much the same as the one in the room in which we stayed.

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Meanwhile, the kids’ suite, featuring a bright color scheme, had the lovable minions from the Despicable Me series emblazoned on every available surface. The entrance door to the room looked like the vault door in the actual movie. In the room, we noted the two specially shaped pod beds. The suite additionally featured a desk area where youngsters could set up their computers to play games or talk on Skype with friends. There was also a stylish lounge looked like it was taken from the ‘Despicable Me’ movie set.

The Executive Lounge.

This property has one of the best lounges we’ve seen so far. Apart from a beautiful locale overlooking the peaceful lake it had attentive staff members that did everything to ensure our son with autism was enjoying himself. The lounge served a scrumptious display of breakfast items in the morning and a plethora of appetizers and beverages for Happy Hour.

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Amenities

This hotel offered several resort amenities including a gym, a well-appointed spa, multiple pools, a kids’ club and various onsite dining options.

We found the hotel pools to be particularly noteworthy. This establishment had a special water playground area for children too young to be in an actual swimming pool. This playground was located close to the regular sized swimming pool, which had water slides that older kids were sure to love.

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Also, we saw a heated pool lined with real powdered sand, perfect for the younger ones to construct sandcastles while their parents relaxed on nearby lounge chairs. Worth mentioning was the fact this resort had lifeguards patrolling. We thought this was an excellent way to keep kids safe.

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But it was the property’s tranquil ambiance that captivated us most. We enjoyed strolling around listening to evening performers and sampling authentc Italian dishes from Bice Ristorante and Mama Dela’s Ristorante as well as the Trattoria del Porto. Our kids still remember the peperroni pizza from Sal’s and the vanilla gelato from their gelateria.

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Autism Travel Tips:

  • The property offers a kid’s camp program of all kids, including those with autism. Parents wanting their kids to participate should talk to the counselors and advise on any accommodations needed for their child.Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando:Tmom Travel Disclosure
  • Lifeguards patrol the pools, an unusual but welcome feature.
  • There didn’t seem to be any grab bars in the bathroom. This could make it difficult for people with limited mobility to get in and out of the bath.
  • We didn’t see any bathmats in our suite, so travelers that need them should bring their own.
  • The child beds in the Despicable Me suite are slightly enclosed, which might bother some kids.

 

Orlando Hard Rock Café Behind the Scenes Tour

Orlando Hard Rock Cafe behind the scenes tour pin

The Hard Rock Cafe is a global restaurant chain known for preserving artifacts of notable musicians and performers. The Orlando location at Universal City Walk (right across from the theme park) is one of the chain’s larger venues. In fact, it can accommodate up to 1300 patrons at a time. The location boasts multiple rooms and has one of the biggest collections of memorabilia from around the world covering different music eras.

Orlando Hard Rock Café's Behind the Scenes Tour outside

Visitors can sit and enjoy American cuisine items surrounded by collectibles from rock stars and celebrities throughout the ages. Kids and adults will be fascinated to explore the different rooms. They can also learn more about the displayed pieces from the servers and from a giant digital interactive post board with trivia.

 

Orlando Hard Rock Café's Behind the Scenes Tour inside

The Deets

Those who would like to explore more of the collection can book a free behind-the-scenes tour conducted by one of the knowledgeable staff members. This two and a half hour tour is available throughout the year, all you have to do is register 24 hours in advance.
Like mentioned prior, the tour is free and takes about two hours to complete from beginning to end. As huge fans of rock n’ roll music, we marveled at the number of relics we saw. We also enjoyed hearing about the stories behind them.

Orlando Hard Rock Café's Behind the Scenes Tour man

The John Lennon Room

The tour starts by going upstairs to a room dedicated to the Beatles. One of the first things you will see is John Lennon’s beloved but ripped couch. There are old posters signed by the Beatles on the wall along with John Lennon’s white piano, a treat for any Beatles fan. We recognized the white suit in an individual display box as the one he wore when he married Yoko Ono in Amsterdam.

Orlando Hard Rock Café's Behind the Scenes Tour suit

Be sure to pay particular attention to the piano in the John Lennon room. The owners acquired this piano from a donor, who originally purchased it at an auction benefiting kids around the world in November 1991. What is unique about this piano is that a different famous artist signed each key.

Orlando Hard Rock Café's Behind the Scenes Tour piano

The Storage Room

After a short tour of the large amphitheater where bands and singers still come to perform, we entered a giant storage room filled with rock memorabilia.

Here, visitors can see posters and pins along with statues and outlandish costumes from rock stars and rock bands of the 1980s. Our guide mentioned many of these items, initially slated for the garbage, were salvaged by the restaurant chain that decided to “adopt” them and keep them on display. One of these recovered artifacts is, rumor has it, the booth where Elvis Presley recorded his first song. Our sons got a kick out of reading all the inscriptions and signatures on the wall of the different stars who have visited the cafe.

Orlando Hard Rock Café's Behind the Scenes Tour car

The Downstairs Rooms

The tour continued downstairs to the various rooms of the restaurant, decorated with many personal items of singers and performers. Not to be missed are Buddy Holly’s glasses along with guitars signed by other contemporary stars. In the next room over, we couldn’t miss the huge pink Cadillac rotating on a special pedestal that allegedly belonged to Elvis Presley.

Orlando Hard Rock Café's Behind the Scenes Tour glasses

Guests who choose to venture outside will come across an authentic piece of the Berlin Wall. This piece, unfortunately, lost its trademark graffiti due to the over diligence of a restaurant cleaner.

Orlando Hard Rock Café's Behind the Scenes Tour windows

Our Takeaway

We do hope that you will enjoy taking the tour.
Consider heading on to the Hard Rock Hotel nearby for additional sights. This cafe is beautiful to look at even if just from the entrance with the guitar fountains to the lobby.

Orlando Hard Rock Café's Behind the Scenes Tour guitar

We recommend this tour not only for its entertainment but also for its educational value.
Kaitlyn, one of the venue managers, was our tour guide. If you ask her nicely, she’s got a magical iPad that controls all the music in the restaurant. If you have a special  song to be played request, she’s the one that can make it happen.

Orlando Hard Rock Cafe behind the scenes tour end

Autism Travel Tips:

  • This tour is highly recommended for kids who are interested in rock music.
  • You cannot touch most items because of their historical value. Because of this, be sure to tell your children this and watch them, so they don’t break anything.
  • Since this tour is all indoors and air-conditioned, it’s wonderful, especially in the Florida summer.
  • You can technically leave at any time if your child gets bored or they don’t want to walk around. It’s also nice that it is complementary, so you don’t have to invest much other than your time.
  • When planning to visit with children with autism, first introduce your kids to rock n’ roll music. The will enjoy it to the fullest if they can identify the singers and enjoy the music.
  • Most of the tour your family will be walking, so wear comfortable shoes.
  • Kids will get a huge kick out of an interactive board that you can press to request songs. The board plays an interactive game which is probably the coolest thing we’ve ever seen in interactive games.

Orlando Hard Rock Café's Behind the Scenes Tour signatures

 

Disney’s ‘Be Our Guest’ Restaurant

 

The Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom that opened its doors in the fall of 2012, is truly a must-dine experience for all visitors but especially for die-hard Disney fans who enjoy themed dining.
Our son is a huge Beauty and the Beast fan so we decided to surprise him and take him there one evening to celebrate his birthday.

Know before Booking

Highly popular with diners, this Magic Kingdom gem needs to be pre-booked and is done so up to 180 days in advance because of its popularity.
If you have your heart set on dining there and didn’t make a reservation, you might just have a small chance to snag a place by checking the online bookings daily for cancellations or even asking the hostess. at the entrance

Disney's 'Be Our Guest' Restaurant knights

Checking in

The location for check-in was a bit confusing to us, as the signage wasn’t clear, but we were pointed to the area in front of the castle near the drawbridge. We checked in, got a beeper and waited about 20 minutes until they were ready for us.

Arriving guests can choose to dine in one of three dining halls – the Rose room, Ballroom or the West Wing;  and staff members will try to accommodate them depending on availability.
Our son was over the moon when we were assigned to the West Wing room as he had previously requested.

Welcome

As a tribute to Lumiere, the restaurant greeters let a guest from every party lead the way to their assigned table holding the lighted candelabra.In our case, it was our son who got to do so, while the greeter described the other rooms we could visit after our dinner.

Decor

The elegant restaurant makes visitors feel like they have just stepped into the enchanted world of Belle and Beast from the moment they cross the drawbridge. The attention to detail is impressive; from the sophisticated chandeliers, grand columns and painted ceilings, to the elaborate use of digital electronics depicting snowfall in the ballroom window, and paintings that change features in the West Wing.
Disney's 'Be Our Guest' Restaurant tapestries

The Ballroom that also serves as the main dining room is a replica of the ballroom shown at the end of the movie; complete with painted cherub ceilings, grand chandeliers and picturesque snow-capped woods in the window.

The Rose Room, brightly lit, filled with artwork and boasting a giant music box of the Beast dancing with Belle in its center, is the quietest of the three rooms. and is best suited for sensitive noise patrons.

The West Wing is the most detailed by far but dark and somewhat loud, which might be frightening for younger kids. This room has the most artifacts to explore including the glass with the rose petals falling off and the slashed portrait of the Prince that reverts into the Beast every time lightning strikes.

The Library, filled with books and movie memorabilia, is the area where the Beast greets his guests. Guests wishing to get a picture should be prepared to sit and wait in line, albeit a short one, since he is the only character that consistently makes an appearance every night.

Our son loved all the rooms but spent most of his time in the West Wing mesmerized by the portrait changing every fifteen minutes.

Disney's 'Be Our Guest' Restaurant magic

So how was the Food?

Since we had dined in other Disney restaurants before, our expectations were not too high, so we were pleasantly surprised by the quality.

The menu is French and offers an excellent assortment of appetizers, soups and entrees along with wine or beer – the only food venue in the Magic Kingdom to do so!
My son and husband ordered the French Onion soup topped with a crouton and gruyère cheese which was a bit salty, while I got the seasonal salad trio with three individual bowls: roasted beet, raisins and orange salad, green bean with roasted shallots, and watermelon, radish and mint salad.
My husband and I each enjoyed a glass of wine while my son opted to get a natural fruit punch – sweetened with organic cane juice and wild berry extract topped with, in his words, “The best!” lemon-lime foam in a lit-up cup that became his souvenir.
For the main course; we all opted for the sautéed shrimp and scallops with seasonal vegetables and mushrooms served in puff pastry with a creamy lobster sauce, which proved to be wonderful. We were all happy with this choice.

But the best was yet to come in the form of dessert!
We had heard about that ‘grey stuff’ that Lumiere recommends in his song and were eager to try it.

We didn’t have to wait long as the waiter brought over some for my son’s birthday, along with a candle and a signed card from Beauty and the Beast.
And yes, it turns out Lumiere was right ,is was delicious!

Service

Our server was attentive and very patient with our son who does take longer than most, to decide what to order.
She also asked us whether any of us had any food allergies since she said the cook could prepare gluten-free dishes upon request.
As this is a popular sit-down restaurant and tends to be busy especially at dinner time, guests should expect a meal to take anywhere from an hour and a half to two.

Disney's 'Be Our Guest' Restaurant dessert

Autism Travel Tips

 

  •  I highly recommend watching “Beauty and the Beast” movie before you go as it will help you remember the details and compare the restaurant to what is shown in the movie
  • Bring electronic devices to occupy the kids while you wait outside for your table.
  • If your reservation is for an early dinner, you might want to bring an umbrella to shield yourself from the sun since there is no shady area to wait in.
  • Make sure to mention to the hostess if your child has noise sensitivities and ask to be seated in one of the quieter corners away from the commotion.
  • If you choose to dine in the West Wing, be aware that there is quite a bit of noise – thunder sounds and announcements about the arrival of the host (the Beast) every fifteen to twenty minutes.

 

 

 

Q&A with Trey Duling VP of Orlando Vacation

What advantages can vacation home rentals offer to families with autism?

The benefits of staying in a holiday home are the extra space for each family member to stretch out and the fully equipped kitchens.
The kitchens are complete with microwave, oven, stove, full-size refrigerator, and all the pots and pans you will need to cook a Thanksgiving feast.
All of our homes have multiple TV’s and multiple full baths which are both very helpful if you have a large family.

Q&A with Trey Duling VP of Orlando Vacation KITCHEN

We feel that staying in a vacation home should be a lot more desirable to a family with an autistic child than staying in a hotel.
For one, the homes have full kitchens, so if a child is on a gluten-free diet, the kitchens make it very easy to stick to the diet and the parents do not have to hunt for restaurants which serve gluten free food.
Also, the noise level in the houses is drastically reduced since these are single family homes with double pane windows. Parents do not have to worry about traffic or other noises which may irritate their child.

What type of vacation home rentals does your company offer?

All of our homes are located within 15 minutes to Disney World, and they are all less than ten years old.
All of our homes come with private pools, and they are all in gated vacation home communities. Many of these communities offer walking trails, multiple playgrounds.Our vacation homes range in price from $99 for a three bedroom during the low season up to $215 a night for a five bedroom home during the high season.
So our rates are very comparable to what a family will find if they booked an average 3-star hotel near Disney.

Q&A with Trey Duling VP of Orlando Vacation BEDROOM

What other special features does your company offer to help families with autism?

We are working with a few owners right now to make some of our vacation homes autism friendly. We are concentrating on two critical areas to make these homes autistic friendly places to stay: safety and sensory.

Safety
 To make our homes safer for autistic children we are going to be adding chimes on all the doors which alert a parent if a door is opened, and the pools will have an additional floating alarm which will also alert the parents if there is a large splash or wave created in the pools. We will also be sending the parents multiple pictures of the home before them coming on vacation so they may show the child exactly where they are going to be staying.

Q&A with Trey Duling VP of Orlando Vacation BATHROOM

Sensory
In the homes, we will make sure the homes do not have fluorescent lights in them, and we are trying to have one room in the house be a sensory room. This room will have dimmer lighting, a yoga bounce ball, and a writing board for the children to doodle on.

 Special Request
We are in the process of working with a local laundry mat which provides chemical free cleaning for the sheets and bedspreads which we can offer to the families for a small upcharge.

Additional features
We are in the process of putting a PDF file together that will contain useful information for parents to know before arrival and during their stay. This PDF can be used as a guide to let the parents know what is located near the vacation homes and will include a compiled list of important places.
The list includes restaurants that have gluten-free items on their menu,  grocery stores and drug stores open 24 hours a day for easy access, directions to the local theme parks, and even the phone number of a local vet in case a service dog happens to get sick or hurt.

Q&A with Trey Duling VP of Orlando Vacation POOL

Orlandovacation.com has been assisting families with their travel plans to Disney World and Orlando since 1993 and is a proud member of the Orlando BBB.The company is currently offering a $50 off coupon on any of their vacation rentals for families staying five nights or longer – Make sure you mention #AUTISM when booking.

Disclaimer: This is a guest post by OrlandoVacation.com

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