Virgin Voyages is a new cruise line for guests 18 and older. I was excited to give it a try on a 4 night sailing from Miami.
My sister and I traveled from NY to Miami the day before the cruise – which is always the best idea so you have a cushion in case of travel delays. We had a 2 pm embarking time so after a relaxing morning at the hotel, we made our way to the port. A rapid test was required at the port. We had received an email the day before with a form to complete for the text.
Virgin Voyages just opened their own terminal at the port of Miami. It was so nice. Plenty of space and very well organized. There were plenty of crew members available to provide directions. From start to finish, it took us about 20 minutes from arriving to the port to getting on board.
On your Virgin Voyage you will use “the Band.” You wear it all the time throughout your voyage. It is your room key and you will use it for any purchases you make on board.
We went right to our cabin and our room attendant came right over to introduce herself. The room is set up as a queen bed but can be split into two single beds that meet at one end. We asked if we could have the beds made up with our feet at the meeting point which was no problem at all. Our attendant showed us two buttons in the room. If you press the “do not disturb” button, a red bar lights up under your room number outside. If you press “please service,” a blue bar lights up to indicate you would like your room made up. Our attendant explained that she should be in once a day to make up the room but if you needed anything else, you can make a request in the app or on the tablet in the room and it will be dropped off to you.
With the bed made up as two singles, there was plenty of space in the room. Storage was a little lacking. There are some shelves and a closet area. Suitcases do not fit under the bed so you need to stand them in the closet area. The bathroom was definitely my biggest negative to the room. It was super small. As my sister said, “You could sit on the toilet and put your feet in the shower.” We made it work but it was tight. The balcony had my favorite feature of the whole room – the hammock. It was so comfy and easy to get in and out of.
After dropping our carry on bags, we went up to the Galley to grab something to eat. There is no buffet on board. Instead, there is a food court type area. Right now (due to COVID), you chose a table and a server will come and take an order for anything available in that area. You can order from multiple areas at the same time. We ordered a burger and fries. They were made fresh and arrived nice and hot.
Then we went exploring a bit and found a cabana type seating area on the top deck. It was also time for a cocktail. There are no beverage packages on Virgin. You can pay per drink on board or you can add money to your “bar tab” prior to your cruise and Virgin will give you a bonus. The amount of the bonus will vary based on the current promotion. We added $300 and Virgin gave us a $100 bonus. You can share it within the cabin – and we discovered it is basically an on board credit so you can use it for other items, such as spa treatments. Tips are all included with drinks which made it so easy. They just scan you band and you are good to go. No little pieces of paper to sign or tips to add.
Since cruises have restarted after COVID, the traditional muster station drill has been revamped. For Virgin, there is a video that you need to watch either in the app or in your stateroom. We grabbed a drink and a seat and put it on in the app. Virgin made their safety video into a rock music video. It was amusing and as is their theme, it was something different. At 4:30 we needed to go to our muster location where they checked us off, gave a brief lifejacket demo, and we were done. Easy and fast.
After we finished that we went to our cabin to find our suitcases had arrived. We unpacked and relaxed a bit – yes, I was in the hammock – until it was time for dinner.
Our dinner for tonight was at Extra Virgin, their Italian restaurant. We were travelling with 4 other friends, and we had all decided to eat all together this night. The food was excellent, with the exception of one dish of mine. I had a braised meatball appetizer which was outstanding. For my pasta dish, I had spaghetti with clams. They make their pasta fresh. The portion was huge though the clams were a little small. For my main course, I had a brussel sprout dish over polenta. This was a miss for me as it was very spicy. For dessert, we all had the affogato which is made table side. You can chose from three fresh made gelatos and then there are toppings and a shot of expresso poured over. I had vanilla gelato with pine nuts.
After dinner, Sue and I hit the casino for a little bit. It is smaller than other ship casinos, but it is smoke free which is a plus in my book.
Then we decided to have a little ice cream snack before bed. The name of the ice cream shop is “Lick me ‘til…Ice cream” Yes, you read that right. Little innuendoes like that were common throughout the cruise so the easily offended may not want to sail. To me, it’s all in good fun. And the ice cream was yum. Again, it is fresh and they have some interesting flavors although I went with a more typical butter pecan.
And with that, we called it a night for day one.
Want to set sail on Virgin? Until the end of March 2022, Virgin has a 20% off sale for all of their cruises (terms and conditions may apply). Plus I will give you a $50 Amazon gift card with your final documents. Contact me for a free, no - obligation quote. email@example.com
Of course, I had to try out the new Genie and Genie+ option on my most recent trip. I have heard other people's experiences and know that some guests have had some issues. This is solely my experience and my opinion.
There are several aspects to the new offerings so I will take them one at a time.
This is the free planning tool that is now available. I gave it a try on my Animal Kingdom day.
You start your planning by selecting "My Genie Day" in your Disney app. You can only start planning on the actual day you are using it.
From there, you will select "Get started" and then go through a few screens where you can make selections. You can chose what attractions you would like to experience that day, where you may want to dine and if you have any height restrictions for anyone in your party.
When you are done you will get to the main screen where you have a choice at the top to look at "Tip Board" and "My Day." This was the part that I think can get tricky or confusing. You have to be sure you are looking at the right tab in order for it to make sense.
You can see from "My Day" that my first next recommended activity for this day was to see Kite Tails.
I completely followed what was suggested for my day at Animal Kingdom. To be fair, I was not interested in the two Pandora attractions and Everest is currently down so wait times for those rides were not a factor. I did want to ride the Safari and I waited to do so until the Genie suggested that it was a good time. I ended up waiting only 20 minutes on what was a busy day at the park.
Genie will make recommendations for mobile order of counter services meals and tell you when you should order based on current pick up window times.
I had a good experience with this Genie planned day. I do wish you could indicate somehow that you had done an attraction so it would know that was completed on your plan for the day.
This is the paid version of Genie. The current cost is $15 plus tax, per person. I used this a few times during my stay.
You can add Genie+ to your park ticket for the full length of your stay or you can add it one day at a time. Because I was using an annual pass, I had to add it each day that I wanted to use it. You can add it after midnight. I just did it the morning I wanted to use it.
You start off the same by selecting "My Genie Day." You will see an option to add Genie+ service. You select your party, pay and then you are all set. TIP: If you want to use Disney Gift Cards, make a note in your phone with the number and then copy and paste it into the pay screen.
With Genie+, you can make Lightning Lane reservations. Lightning Lane is the new term for FastPass. You make a reservation for a one hour window return time. When you arrive to the attraction, you use the Lightning Lane entrance and have a short, if any, wait time.
If you are a Disney Resort guest, you can make your first selection at 7 am. If you are not a Disney Resort guest, you can make your first selection at the official opening time of the park.
If you do want some popular attractions, like Rise or Slinky Dog, you need to be on the app and ready to go by 7 am. On my Studios day, Slinky Dog and Rise were both gone for the day by 7:01 am.
You can make your next selection either after you use your first selection OR two hours after you made a selection. So if you make a selection at 9 am for a return time of 5 pm for Slinky Dog, you can make a second selection at 11 am for another attraction even though you haven't used your first selection yet.
The one tricky aspect for Resort guests is that your two hours start at park open, not at 7 am. So if you book your first selection at 7 am and the park opens at 9 am. You can only make your second selection at 11 am (or after you have used your first selection).
So how did it work for me? Worked great! There is definitely a learning curve. You have to back and forth on the "Tip Board" and "My day" tabs to see what you have booked and what is available next.
Crowd levels definitely make a difference as well. It was fairly busy for most of the days that I was there. I would average about 3-4 Lightning Lane selections each day. There were usually more available but I either wasn't interested in the ride or the time was later in the day and I was heading out of the park to do something else. But I had one day at the Magic Kingdom where it was a light crowd day. I was able to do 3 LL attractions (Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion and Winnie the Pooh) all within 40 minutes. As soon as I scanned my Magic Band at the attraction, I would hop on the app and book my next one.
You can have overlapping plans so you can work that to your advantage (and also mess yourself up if you have a dining reservation so be careful). On my Epcot day, I booked Soarin' at 7am. Then when my two hour window had expired, I booked Living with the Land. I was able to go right from one attraction to the next. It was a rainy day so both attractions had a 40 minute stand by wait at the time so it worked out great to hop on both with no wait.
Individual Lightning Lanes
Another paid feature is the option to purchase individual Lightning lane reservations. There are two attractions in each park that have either the option for a purchased individual Lightning Lane reservation or a stand by wait. The price varies by attraction and by time of year (so it will cost more at busier times.)
This is going to be a personal decision for each guest. On this trip, I purchased one for Mickey and Minnie's Railway because I love it and I wanted to be sure to ride. The wait times were about 40-60 minutes throughout my stay and I ended up using stand by to ride it twice more. My husband and I also purchased one for Remy because he had not experienced that attraction yet and the waits had been 90 minutes or more.
We both love Rise of the Resistance but we have done it several times so we decided not to purchase a LL for that this trip. The waits were also 90 min or more and we chose not to wait for it. On another trip, we may decide differently but that was what we did this time.
Some Fun Add Ons
There are a few bonus features available with the Genie+ part of the app - Audio Tales and Photo Lenses.
The Audio Tales are little informational tidbits specific to the park that you are in. They are less than 2 minutes long. I listened to a few while I was waiting for one thing or another. They are good for some fun facts.
I had a lot of fun with the photo lenses. There are quite a few. Some you have to be in a certain area of the park to access - like Galaxy's Edge or in Remy's area of Epcot. Here are just a few of the ones I played with:
Summary and My Opinion
While there was definitely a learning curve, I thought adding Genie+ was worth it. It was pretty busy on my trip and it helped me do more attractions than I would have been able to do without it. I really don't purchase much for souvenirs anymore so I just considered the daily purchase what I wanted to do with my Disney gift cards. I have an annual pass right now, but if I didn't I would just add it right from the start of the booking process and have it just became part of my total trip cost.
I do wish you could select an attraction for a Lightning Lane more than once a day. There were time slots available for attractions late in the day but I couldn't book them because I had already used a LL already that day for the attraction. I think if they are available, you should be able to use them.
In my opinion, frustration from guests come from two sources - technology and unrealistic expectations. I am fully aware that Disney's app and technology are not always magical. I have never really had major problems myself but I know it happens. There are Guest Relation cast members by blue umbrellas throughout the parks. They are there to help with tech problems, if needed.
As far as expectations, after using the system, to me it is very similar to Fastpass except that you do it the day of instead of 60 days in advance. With the FastPass system you could select 3 attractions in advance and on my trips I would use those 3 and then MAYBE be able to get 1-2 more. With Genie+, I was averaging 3-4 attractions with LL per day so that is about the same. If you think that Genie+ will let you experience attractions back to back all day long with no waits, you are going to be disappointed and frustrated.
I hope I gave a good overview of the process and my experience. I am always happy to answer any questions.
I am always available to help you book your Walt Disney World vacation. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Instead of writing a full trip report, I decided to give a summary and opinion of the new experiences that I had this time around.
Mears Connect - Disney's Magical Express was discontinued at the end of 2021. I had planned to try Mears Connect going to the resort and use a car service on the way back. With a very last minute flight change, I was very grateful for Mears Connect when I could not change my car service pick up.
My arrival was very easy. I received an email the day before confirming my details and including a QR code. When I arrived in Orlando airport, I had a text with the same information. I got my checked bag and went to the Mears Connect area, which is the same as where Magical Express was located. A staff member scanned my code and I walked onto a bus. We waited for about 15 minutes and then left with 4 parties on board.
For our departure, we had a last minute flight cancellation at 10:30 pm which gave us 7 am flight the next morning. I went on the website and was able to book a return with Mears Connect. There was a little confusion as to where to pick up the bus at the resort but we figured it out. The bus was actually early and we had no issues.
Kitetails - This is a new show at Animal Kingdom. It has been around for several months but it was new to me. Basically, it is jet skis that fly around large kites of Lion King characters set to music. When the show began months ago, there were a lot of videos about the kites crashing into the stands. There were announcements made before the show started saying what goes up, must come down and that the "crashes" are expected.
Overall, for me it was kind of cute and kind of odd. I would watch it again but I definitely wouldn't wait for it.
Festival of the Arts Paint by Number - I have been to Festival of the Arts once before for one day and that was all the time I had there this time as well. Unfortunately, the weather was not great so I didn't get to really do and see as much as I wanted but I did finally get to do the paint by number activity.
The idea is there is a big paint by number mural. Each guest gets a little cup with paint and a number and a square foam brush. The cast member gives you a section and you paint 8 squares with your color. Chris had green and I had a peachy color. It is free and only takes a few minutes. We enjoyed it.
Meeting Mickey - Character meet and greets are coming back. You still can't give them a hug or take off your mask inside but I always love to see my main mouse. I saw him the Magic Kingdom in his new 50th Anniversary outfit and again in Epcot is his classic outfit.
Drawn to Life - This is the new Cirque du Soleil show at Disney Springs. As soon as it was announced, I got tickets. Then it was delayed due to COVID so I moved my date. Then it was postpone indefinitely. So the third time was the charm and I finally got to see it.
It was WONDERFUL! A lot of Disney touches and music with the stunts you expect from Cirque du Soleil. We went to the 8 pm show on a Thursday evening and it was only about half full. I hope to spread the news about how great it is so that more people will go and it will stick around for awhile. The tickets can be pricey but the theater is small so the less expensive seats will still give you a good view.
Enchantment / Dessert Party - Enchantment is the new night time show at the Magic Kingdom. My back does not do well with standing or sitting on the ground to wait for a spot to see the night shows so if there is an option that includes viewing, I am in. I have done the dessert party for the previous show and decided to do that again for this show.
There were changes to the dessert party. The first change was the price. It is now $99 per adult as alcohol is now included. I saw many negative reviews on the food in both variety and quality so I had low expectations. But I enjoyed everything that I tried. They were making crepes fresh with an apple filling and a vanilla sauce on top. I had some chocolate tarts and a push pop with vanilla cake, frosting and graham cracker crumbs. I don't personally like alcohol with my sweets so I enjoyed my desserts and then I went and made myself a plate of cheese and crackers and then enjoyed a drink or two. I will say that the last time I did a dessert party there were more savory options. I would have liked to have more than cheese and crackers but it was fine.
The party started at 6:30 but they let us in at 6 pm. Enchantment started at 8 pm. So many people rushed through their desserts to get out to the hub. It really doesn't make sense to me to do that. I stayed until 7:45 in my nice comfy chair and then went to the cast member to be escorted to the viewing area in the hub. I had a great spot and waited less than 10 minutes for it to start.
As far as Enchantment itself, I love the new song for it, "You are the Magic." I knew the song before I went down to Florida. Overall, I thought Enchantment as a whole was ok. I prefer Happily Ever After, the previous show. But I would definitely see this one again. (I did not get to see Harmonious, the new Epcot show on this trip. Hopefully next time.)
Storybook Dining at Artist Point - Now onto some new food experiences. Storybook Dining has just recently reopened after being closed for COVID. I was excited to grab a reservation and had a local friend join me.
This is a set menu which shared appetizers and desserts and then you pick your entrée. The star of the entire menu is the mushroom bisque appetizer. We told our server how much we enjoyed it and he said it is the only menu item that was carried over from the original Artist Point menu. The rest of the food was good. Nothing special, especially in the desserts, but the presentations are cute.
The characters that come around are the Evil Queen, Snow White, Grumpy and Dopey. Even though you need to stay at a distance, they were great at interacting and posing for pictures or selfies.
Overall, it was a fun night. I wouldn't rush back. If you have kids into Snow White, they would enjoy it.
California Grill - I have eaten at California Grill before but many years ago. It is currently offering a prix fixe menu as the only option. This is what is on the menu:
I chose the classic sushi trio, the beef and the crème brulee for dessert. It was all delicious! I enjoyed it more than the dinner that I had with their regular menu years ago. I had to take a picture of my friend's dessert. She got the "Five Magical Bites." It was little mini desserts which were so cute.
Space 220 - Space 220 is a new restaurant in Epcot. I was not able to get a lunch or dinner reservation but I did get a reservation for the lounge area. You can order the full lunch / dinner in the lounge but we chose to share appetizers and have some drinks.
After you check in, you take an "elevator" 220 miles up into space to the restaurant. The windows in the restaurant are screens that look into space. Sometimes you see some astronauts or space craft come by the windows.
For drinks, I did the Big Tang which came with astronaut ice cream. I don't remember the name of Chris' drink but it was fizzing from dry ice in a little container on the bottom when it arrived.
We shared the Buffalo cauliflower tempura, chicken with waffles and short rib sliders. Everything was really good. Chris does not touch veggies and he loved the tempura cauliflower. I would definitely go back and hope to do the full meal next time.
That wraps up all the new experiences I had on my most recent trip! There is definitely always some new to try in Walt Disney World.
So my road to the 2021 NYC Marathon really started in 2019. I had done the marathon in 2018 and had no plans to do it again. But I was turning 50 in 2020.. and the marathon was going to be the 50th anniversary of the NYC marathon.. so I decided I would put my name in for the lottery and let fate decide.
The lottery happened in January 2020 and I did not get in. So I figured that was that. But then COVID happened and I was sitting at home while everything was closed and thought about the marathon again. I could sign up to do it with a charity and still make it happen for my 50th. The whole COVID thing was only going to last a month or so and I had nothing else to do while on lockdown, so it was a good time to train. I went ahead and signed up with Team in Training to do it.
Of course, COVID was not over in a month and the marathon was cancelled. We were told that IF it ran in 2021, it would most likely be with less runners so you could say you wanted 2021 but there was no guarantee. You may be offered 2022 or 2023. Again, I left it up to fate. I only wanted to do 2021 for the 50th so if I was offered a different year, I would decline.
Due to COVID, so many decisions were delayed so it wasn’t until June that I received an email offering me entry with Team in Training for 2021. I had just done the Dopey challenge virtually in May (which is a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon) so I had the miles in though I had only walked all of that. I decided to go for it!
Fast forward to Sept 2021 – Training was going well, fundraising was going well. Information was starting to come out about how the race would be different due to Covid protocols. There were already about half the number of runners. And then it was announced that there would 5 starting waves and that the last wave would start at noon. This was an initial blow to me. I knew I would be in the last wave, as I had been in 2018. As a slower runner / walker in 2018, I had trained to mostly walk the marathon at around a 20 min pace. I knew that I would lose course support and be off the official tracking system early in the race. I was fine with all of that and had a wonderful experience with New Yorkers who stuck around to cheer on the last of the runners. I had finished around 8 pm. Now I would be starting another hour later than last time. With fewer runners in the field, support may end even earlier, and it would be even later for my finish. But nothing I could do about it, so I had to just mentally plan for how it was going to be.
In late September, I was on vacation in Disney and saw an email from NYRR. It was just a basic “touching base” email that I read through and saw a paragraph about Mastercard offering an “Priceless” opportunity for 25 runners to start early. At the time that I read it, I thought it was a contest. If you won, you would pay $200 to Mastercard which went to a charity, and you would get to start early. I figured that was worth a shot, so I filled it out and really didn’t think much else about it.
After we were home from vacation a few days later, I was looking at my bills and saw that my card was charged for the $200. I thought “Did I win?” So I went back and looked at the original email again and saw that it said “first come, first serve.” And then it said it was “sold out.” I honestly couldn’t believe that I may have actually gotten it so I wouldn’t even let myself get excited about it.
In the beginning of October, I was still wondering about it, so I emailed Mastercard. I received a response that yes, I was on the list for the early start and more information would be coming. And in fact, a week later all the details arrived it was incredible. Of all the details, the most important was that I would be starting at 8:25 am. A little more than 3 ½ hours earlier than my official start time.
I will admit that I was still skeptical that it was for real. But the Friday before the race when I picked up my race bib, inside was a wristband that said “Mastercard Priceless Start.”
I had nervous energy the whole week before. I knew I had done my training and I wasn’t really worried about the race itself. There are many logistics and moving parts to getting to that start and I was so nervous about something going wrong that would make me miss that early start.
Race morning arrived and the first task was to get to the early VIP bus. It was about a ½ mile from our hotel. My instructions said it would board at 5:10 am and depart at 5:30 am. I ended up leaving my hotel early and I was glad that I did. The buses were for all runners that had VIP access for one reason or another. The street was full of buses and staff member checking to be sure you had VIP access.
I got on the second bus and then we waited. And waited. We didn’t start leaving until 5:45 am. We finally got moving and then it took an hour to get there. We had NYPD blocking roads for the buses, but it was still taking time to get that to happen ahead of the buses. So I was only stepping off the bus at 6:45 am in the start village area.
One of the staff people held up large signs with initials for the different VIP groups (mine was MC for Mastercard) and we followed him through security. The regular security line was paused for us to go through and then we made our way through the start village and then to a row of tents for each VIP area.
I got to the Mastercard tent around 7 am. There were staff people checking us in and then they said the early start people would gather at 7:45 am to go to the start area. So not much time! There were boxes that had a bagel with butter and cream cheese and a pastry as well as plenty of Gatorade and water. Plus two things that are gold to runners before a race – tables to sit at and our own port a potties.
I really didn’t have to much time to waste. I had my bagel, used the bathroom and then they were gathering us to go to the start area.
When we arrived, the handcycle athletes were in the starting chute and they had about 10 minutes until their start. We would be soon after them. The race announcer would give updates on starting times for different groups and we would all yell when he mentioned the Mastercard runners. He said, “Well the Mastercard group is here and they are excited.”
The handcycle athletes had their start and then we moved into the chute. They had us take this picture (plus we had a photographer and camera crew that was following us around since the tent). You can only see my hat in the back on the right.
The race announcer gave us a countdown, a starting gun and then “New York, New York” started playing as we were off!
It wasn’t long before the other 24 runners were out of my sight. My plan was to hope for a 20 min pace again (I had had some knee issues during the year so I didn’t even know if I could do that) and to do run / walk intervals for as long as could without aggravating my knee.
The first mile on the Verrazano bridge is uphill. I had ran a little bit at the start but then walked the rest. I was basically all by myself on the Verrazano bridge. When does anyone get that opportunity? So I took some pictures and took it all in.
Because I was alone, the race photographers took A LOT of pictures of me too!
I was just about past mile 1 and I heard the start happen again. I knew that was the professional women starting and I did not want to be in there way at all! I was hugging the center barrier. At first a vehicle came through that said “Women Lead” with a time clock. Then a TV crew vehicle came through. Both were in the center of the road so I figured the runners would be in the center and I would be well out of their way.
I actually heard them and felt them before I saw them. They came blazing by me so close that they could almost have brushed my sleeve. If that moment happened to be on television, my facial expression must have been hysterical.
I knew the men would be next but I wasn’t sure when, so I went back to doing my thing on my private marathon course.
For the next 2+ miles, I had the entire course to myself. Spectators were out and cheering so I had my own private cheering squad. It was actually pretty funny as I am sure they had to wondering who the heck I was and why was out there alone.
Just passed the 5K mark, I went through an aid station and heard a staff person say that the men were coming. I looked ahead and saw about 4 tables set up with the fuel for the professional men. I knew I did not want to be in the way and a staff person saw me and motioned for me to stay off to the side. I went off the side and behind the tables when the lead men came through. I don’t know how they grab their bottles so fast and keep moving.
They were gone in a blur and once again I had my private course back. I knew it wouldn’t last as the first waves would be starting after the lead men. I actually had one spectator ask me when everyone else would be coming.
I was at around mile 4 when the rest of the runners started coming through. I was not alone again for the rest of the race and it was actually fine with me.
As for my race, I was doing well. I was feeling good and running intervals. I was averaging around an 18 / 18:30 mile. I was really happy with that but also being careful not to use too much energy because there was a long way to go.
I had friends meeting me around mile 8 with some fuel and a refresher for my electrolyte drink. When I did the marathon in 2018, the on course Gatorade did not sit well on my stomach so I had planned to only use my own electrolyte drink and just take water from the on course aid stations.
I took a minute or so to stop with them and refuel and then I was back off again.
At that point, the course was full but never felt overcrowded. The spectators were out in full force. The cheering was so loud that I often couldn’t hear the music in my headphones.
I kept watching the time because I wanted to see how far I was by noon when I would have officially started. I was just past mile 12 by the time that I would have only started the race.
I passed the halfway point and felt good and really optimistic. Half done, half to go. Another friend texted that she would be at the end of the Pulaski bridge. I was even still running intervals at that time and feeling good. I found my friend cheering in the crowd and kept going.
Then I came to the Queensboro bridge. I remembered it from last time and knew that it is a long uphill climb. In my mind, I thought No problem. I will just walk it all and it will be fine. Well it was really really tough. It seemed to go on forever and it started to bother my back. On top of that, I was halfway when my headphones died.
I knew that my husband was waiting about ½ a mile after I got off the bridge so I tried to just focus on that and get to that point.
As I came off the bridge, the sound of the crowd cheering was tremendous. Definitely gave me a boost as I moved forward to meet up with my husband next. I found him, refueled, refreshed my drink and was off again.
I really thought that crowd support would be enough to see me through the next 9 miles without my headphones. I was wrong. By mile 18, I was over the race. I was bored. I was tired. My body hurt. A team in training coach spotted me and walked along for a bit. He was encouraging and helped move a long a little.
It was really long trek up to where the course goes into the Bronx. I was only walking at this point and slowing down. I knew that the Bronx part had some turns instead of long straightaways, so I was looking forward to some different scenery.
I was in the Bronx and all of sudden I heard someone yelling my name. I looked over and saw a woman pointing to her child and yelling her name. It was a student that I had worked with years ago! I went over to say a quick hi and take a picture. That was so awesome and unexpected.
We came back into Manhattan and all I saw was a long stretch again with no end in sight. Another Team in Training coach came along side and walked with me for a bit. It was around mile 23. He asked how I was and if I needed anything. It was great to have the coaches around for a little check in on the course.
Then another surprise came as my friends that met me at mile 8 texted that they were going to see me again as I came into Central Park. This was a total surprise, and I was happy to see familiar faces again. They were so excited and walked with me a little bit as well.
Then it was just two miles to go. It was long and I really just wanted to be done. I knew I would finish but it was going to be a long two miles.
When I came out of the park for a little stretch before you go back into the park for the finish, I saw Chris again and gave a quick wave.
There are 3 tenths of a mile in the park until the finish. I could see it ahead and just keep moving along to get there. I actually love my finish pictures which I am surprised about. I did not have much energy left and really didn’t feel like turning on a smile for the finish.
Then the moment comes that makes you forget everything you went through for the last 26.2 miles. They gave me my medal.
I ended up finishing with almost the same time as in 2018. I had a faster first half but a slower second half. It is all good to me. I don’t worry about the time. A finish is a finish.
I can’t say enough about how amazing and “priceless” the early start was. I had course support and crowds cheering for the entire race. I also was on the official tracking app the whole time so I didn’t have to worry about updating friends / family on my location.
In the end, despite the challenges, it was a great day. And an amazing experience to end my marathon career – and I mean it this time.
After being delayed due to Covid, Legoland NY officially opened July 9, 2021. With my eight year old niece visiting in August, I planned a visit for the day.
The first stage of buying tickets found that it was not inexpensive. You need to purchase tickets in advance as they are date based and you must visit on the day you have purchased the ticket for. Currently the price is $80 for adults and $70 for children. It took a bit of time searching online but I did finally come across a code for a free child admission with the purchase of an adult ticket. I would have gone anyway but the discount was nice to have.
You also have the option to pre-pay for parking. Parking is $20 in advance and $27 on the day of. Definitely pre-pay for parking. I will explain the parking situation later but besides saving a little bit, it will make your departure so much easier if you pre-pay.
The park opened at 10 am. We arrived at 9:30 and there were already some guests in front of the gates. We made our way over there and found some photo ops available in the area in front of the gates.
At 9:45 am, the model citizens (that is the term for Legoland employees) did a little opening song and started to allow guests through the gates in the main courtyard area. There were restrooms, the big gift shop and a grab n go food / drink area. There were also some more photo ops in that area and Lady Liberty was out for photos as well.
From the courtyard area, you can either go left or right. The park is one big loop. It is also one big hill. So you may enjoy the downhill at first but you will be coming back uphill eventually. I checked my Apple Watch and it was a little over 2 miles all the way around.
If you go left, you will get to the first themed area that is Bricktopia. In this areas is one of the popular rides, the Lego Factory tour. If you go to the right, you go into Miniland which is a walk through area where different cities are built out of Lego.
My instinct was to go to the left and do the popular ride at opening when it isn't as busy. However, I had read a few trip reports online that suggested doing the Miniland first so that by the time you got all the way around to Bricktopia in the afternoon, it would not be crowded. I hadn't really decided what do but what ended up happening was that it was still before 10 am and the left side wasn't open yet. But you could start walking through the Miniland on the right so that is what we did. It really worked out great for us but it also was not very crowded at all on this day. On a weekend, I am not sure if it is still the best plan.
Miniland was my favorite part of the park. Besides the fact that everything was Lego, there were so many fun details to spot. I could have spent a lot more time there but I had an 8 year old that was anxious to get on the rides. Here are just a few photos.
From here we made our way through the other lands. The areas are Pirates, City, Castle, Ninjago and Bricktopia. The highlight for my niece was driving a Lego car on the city streets and then getting her drivers license. (Each child gets a little drivers license card for free. The license and lanyard were $27. )
My favorite attraction was the 4D movie. It was funny and had a lot of "4D" effects.
There are plenty of Lego figures around in all the areas. Again I was impressed by the details.
Be sure to check your child's height. Under 52 inches means that they will need to ride with an adult. This is the case for the main rides.
Let's talk food. I already knew where I wanted to eat. We started with a snack of apple fries. Yes, these are apples cut like French fries, battered and fried. You can get them with ice cream but we went with just the standard fries with whipped cream and a little cup of caramel sauce. They were yummy!
For lunch, we went to Smokey's Brick-B-Q. You have a few options for different bbq meats and sides. There are also chicken tenders and fries for kids. I got the brisket with mac n cheese and fries. The brisket was really good. It was fork tender and had great flavor. The mac n cheese was also really good. Fries were pretty standard. You could definitely share this meal.
There is also a pizza buffet and another place with your standard burgers and nuggets. I also noticed that each area had a smaller snack bar. As far as drinks, you can purchase bottled beverages or there is a refillable mug system. There are multiple freestyle Coke machine areas around the park.
Of course there is a big gift shop. There were a lot of Lego kits available. My niece did a "build your own" mini figure set in one of the smaller gift shops.
If you are a fan of Lego Masters (which I am), definitely go into the big gift shop. They have the winning build from Season one on display.
We had made our way all the way around the park by 1:30 pm. It was really not crowded at all. The longest we ever waited was 10 minutes. I have seen other guests report long lines on the weekends so I would be prepared for that.
There is a "Fastpass" / virtual queue type system set up there called Reserve n Ride. It is a bit confusing. It is not through the Lego app but it is a separate website. However, you need to create an account with the same email you used to purchase your tickets. There is a paid version but that was not available on the day we visited. There is also a free version. At 10 am, I was able to activate the free version for us. However throughout the day, it was never available. My guess is that it was not busy enough today for them to activate the system.
Now for parking. As I mention you should pre-pay your parking. As we walked out of the park, I saw a few signs that said Stop at Guest Services or the Ticket Booth to Pay for your Parking. I saw the signs...but I could easily see them being missed. When you get to the exit there are lanes with machines and gates that are down. For me, it was easy. Scanned the QR code on my prepaid voucher and the gate opened. However, I could see guests getting there without paying and needing assistance which would back up the exit, especially on busy days.
Overall we had a fun day. I would recommend a weekday if you can. I would not say that the rides are worth more than a 10-15 minute wait. I would think the lines are much longer on the weekends.
The Legoland Hotel actually opens tomorrow. My niece was eyeing that up already for next year!
A blog post for this day can be found at:
Blog post can be found here:
My Disney trip reports from this trip are going to be found on my "50 Disney Days" website.
Here is the one for my Epcot day:
Full disclosure – My hotel accommodations and park tickets were provided for me by Universal Orlando as a travel agent FAM (familiarization) program. My experience and opinions are my own.
Guests staying at Universal Resorts get one hour early access to the Harry Potter area of Islands of Adventure. Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure is a roller coaster that is new since my last visit in 2018. I know the wait times are long for that during the day, so I wanted to take advantage of the early entry for that ride alone.
The early hour was from 9 – 10 am. Anticipating that the line to get in may be long, I was down at the food court for breakfast at around 7:30 am. I was happy with the selections available. I chose a breakfast sandwich with potatoes on the side and found a seat completely alone outside. It was already quite humid and warm out.
There were several other guests at the bus stop but again there were plenty of buses lined up and waiting so it was a quick trip over to Citywalk. I was there at around 8:15 and found a bench to sit on and wait a bit as I didn’t want to stand for too long.
I went over to the park entrance around 8:40 am. They had three lines of guests waiting for the early park entry. There was plenty of team members to answer questions and direct guests as well as a team member with a microphone who was talking to guests and providing information.
They started entry about ten minutes before 9 am. As you walked into the park, the main area was open to all guests. When you approached the Harry Potter area, it was roped off and you needed to show your room key so that only resort guests were admitted to that area.
I was in line for Hagrid’s by 9:10 am and finished with the ride at 9:30 am. It was mostly walking the through the queue with a little bit of a wait at the loading area. The ride was so much fun though maybe a little too much for my stomach… I am really getting old!
Side note: I wanted to note about the ride vehicle for Hagrid’s. I am a plus size lady and fitting on Universal rides always causes me some anxiety. On my very first visit to Universal, many years ago, I was at a heavier weight and didn’t fit on the roller coasters. When we visited two years ago, I did a lot of research and tried all the test seats before we got in line for the attractions. I would not say I had a lot of wiggle room, but I was able to ride everything without any issues.
I researched Hagrid’s vehicles before I left. There are two options because there is a motorbike and a side car. The side car is a tighter fit while the motorbike seems to give a little more space as it is open on the sides. I did not try the test seats this time and just went for it. I was able to fit in the motorbike section with no problem. I did see two ladies try the test seat in the loading area and they were turned away. I don’t love that this is a consideration at Universal, but it doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
Anyway… after riding Hagrid’s, I went right over to the other Harry Potter attraction in Islands of Adventure, Forbidden Journey, which was my favorite on our last trip. Again, it was just a matter of walking through the queue and I was on the ride. I was done with both Harry Potter attractions by 10 am. The park was open to all guests at that point and the wait time for Hagrid’s was up to 75 minutes. There is a threshold at which Hagrid’s changes to a virtual queue system where you can receive a return time in the app. At that point, it was still a stand by line.
Riding Hagrid’s was really my main goal for the day, so with that accomplished, everything was icing on the cake. Limiting my walking was also important so I decided to take the Hogwart’s Express over to Universal Studios. A perk of the social distancing guidelines was having your own car on the train. It was so nice and cool in there!
I did the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon attraction with no wait time. I also went to see the Bourne Stunt show again. No long wait this time.
I stopped for a late lunch at the Today Café which is themed for the Today Show. I love the Today show so of course I liked the theming. There was a team member at the door who was allowing guests in 3 at a time to order at the counter. I asked if I could sit at a table outside to eat. He said it was not a problem at all and he gave me a table number to tell my cashier. I wanted something light and healthy, so I order the avocado toast. It was like a little salad with mashed avocado on top of toast. Tasty.
After lunch, I went to see the Horror Make Up show. This little show is easy to bypass but it is completely worth doing. It was somewhat about showing how effects are done in horror movies but it is also just fun. Beetlejuice was entertaining the audience while the theater was loading. He talked to everyone and was quite funny.
I decided to call it a day after the show. I mobile ordered my doughnuts again.. because why not?
And I saw Homer on my way out!
I was fortunate to spend October 25 – 27, 2020 at the Universal Orlando resort. Full disclosure – My hotel accommodations and park tickets were provided for me by Universal Orlando as a travel agent FAM (familiarization) program. My experience and opinions are my own.
I used Mears, a town car service, to get from Orlando Airport to Universal Orlando. I have used Mears in the past and have always been happy with their service. My experience this time was no different. The driver asked if I had other Mears transportation booked for the week – which I did – so he made a note of my transfers and said he would request to be my driver for those as well.
I checked in at Cabana Bay resort at around noon and my room was ready. As you enter the lobby, you are stopped for a temperature check. I had mine checked and was given a colored wristband. The wristbands indicate that you have had your temperature checked for the day. Even when you go to Citywalk or the theme parks, your wristband means that you can bypass those temperature check areas.
Cabana Bay has a retro theme based on the 50s and 60s. The prices are on a moderate level and the resort has standard rooms as well as family suites. The theme is evident throughout the whole resort.
My first stop was to check out my room and drop off my bags. I was in the Americana wing, which turned out to be very convenient. I was only an elevator ride down to the main food court area and the door that leads to the shuttle bus stop.
I loved the theme of the room – especially the retro bath products and the alarm clock. The room itself was on the small side. Certainly, it was fine for just me. I would think it would be a little tight for a family of four and definitely small for 4 adults.
I took a walk around to explore the resort. There is a Starbucks in the lobby, several outdoor food locations, and a lounge area in addition to the food court. There are two pool areas, one with a lazy river, a gym, and a bowling alley. The hours do vary right now due to COVID (for example one pool area is only open on the weekends) so you need to check on availability during your stay.
I landed at the Hideaway Bar and Grill for a frozen cocktail and some fish tacos. The cocktail came in a souvenir cup which entitles you to refills for $2 less. Due to Covid, they don’t actually refill your cup. You present it and they give you a drink at the reduced cost in a plastic cup.
Throughout the trip, I made sure to eat outside, as I am not comfortable with indoor dining. I was able to find a nice quiet table in the shade to enjoy my lunch.
After my meal, I wanted to go to Universal Studios. Both parks had been reaching their capacity limits on weekends. This was a Sunday and I had seen a post at 11 am that both parks were full at that time. There is a capacity phone number that you can call to check on the status. I called and the parks had reopened for guests.
The shuttle bus was sitting at the bus stop when I arrived. As I would find throughout my time at Universal and Disney, the buses have been divided into zones. The driver will tell you what zone you are assigned to as you board. There was only one other party on the bus, so it was easy to get on and the ride was about five minutes.
All the shuttle buses drop you off at Citywalk and then you walk to either park or dining /restaurants at Citywalk.
Another personal factor for this trip was that I was having knee issues. I had seen my orthopedist for the second time two days before I left. He had given me a stronger anti-inflammatory and a gel injection for my arthritis. I was still not walking well and this would be a factor on my touring throughout the trip.
Due to my knee and the fact that it was the weekend and wait times were high, my plan was to stay in one section of Universal Studios and do the Bourne Stunt Show and the Animal Actors show and then call it a night.
The Bourne show was first up and there was a huge line when I arrived. The team member said that the next show was already full and the line was for the show after that. I did not want to stand for 45 minutes so I sat on a bench across from the show to see when it would start letting in. It didn’t take long for the team member to start allowing guests in so I joined the end of the line. I didn’t realize that I would still be standing for about 30 minutes as I moved through the queue and into the pre-show area.
The entire pre-show area was divided into boxes on the floor. You are assigned an area to wait in. When the theater opens, team members lead guests in lines into the theater and assign your seats. Every other row is left empty and three seats are left empty between each party. When the show was over, team members directed rows to leave one at a time to minimize crowding at the exit.
I don’t want to give too much away about the show. I don’t even know if I could describe it enough. In simple terms, it is a stunt show based on the Jason Bourne character / movies. There is a huge screen across the entire back of the stage that is so clear it is hard to tell what is real and what is on the screen. The show is about 15 minutes long with a lot of action and stunts. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it.
After the show, I grabbed a Powerade and sat on a bench to take a break. I didn’t mention it before it, but it was hot and humid. Add on wearing a mask and it is easy to lose track of your hydration. While I was sitting, I checked on the time for the Animal Actors show. It started in about 45 minutes so I made my way over there.
Again, as guests entered that theater area, a team member was directing us to our seats to maintain social distancing. As I was walking forward, the team member saw me limping and said “I don’t want you to have to walk more than you need to” and he sat me in the handicap area by the entrance. I was certainly grateful for that!
I have seen the Animal Actors show on previous visits. It’s always cute. Some of the show demonstrates how animals are trained to work in movies and television. And some of it is a variety of animals coming across the stage doing cute things. I especially got a laugh at a cat that was supposed to run up a path but decided to sit down halfway and chew on some grass.
It was about 5:30 pm at this point. The wait times were starting to come down around the park and it was open until 10 pm. However, I had 5 more park days ahead of me, so I decided to go back to the hotel to ice my knee.
Of course, I needed an evening treat! I knew that Voodoo Doughnuts was on the way from the exit to the bus stop. They provide mobile ordering. Just as I exited the park, I placed my order. When I got to Voodoo Doughnuts, it was ready, and I walked right up to the mobile pick up area to get it.
Doughnuts in hand, I made my way back to the shuttle bus area. There were 3 buses lined up and waiting so even though the buses have a limited capacity, I was on a bus quickly and back at my hotel within 10 minutes.
On last thing to note for this day is that Universal offers a “chat to the front desk” feature. It was about 9:30 pm and I realized I could use an extra blanket. I sent a message through this feature, got a reply right away and five minutes later there was a knock at the door with my blanket. That was awesome!
I have been a huge Disney and travel fan since childhood. I love going to new places and, of course, heading to Disney as often as I can.