I am a Disney girl through and through, but when it came to a 30th birthday trip with my sister, we decided that we should try something different. Thanks to Harry Potter, Universal Studios Orlando is now a heavyweight competitor with Disney, and as self-proclaimed Pottheads, Universal has been calling our name for years. So, we booked a quick weekend getaway, and started planning! I learned so much being a first-timer in Universal, and now it’s time to pass my knowledge onto you! Here’s how to have a successful weekend in Universal Orlando:Stay at a resort on property
Similar to Disney, Universal Studios has major perks for guests that stay at their on-property resorts. There are a few options, but we ended up choosing Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, which is the highest tier of the resort choices (and the most expensive, unfortunately). It has a very upscale feel and is meant to mirror the Italian town of Portofino, nestled right on the water. The price held it’s value; the room was spacious, the pool was absolutely glorious, and we were able to enter the park an hour before regular ticket holders.
Make an Itinerary… even if you don’t stick to it
I spent hours creating a beautiful, perfect itinerary for our brief 72-hours in Orlando, and although we deviated from the plan about 8 minutes into our first day, I’m still really glad I made it. A structured itinerary encouraged me to research rides, restaurants, and wait times, and I felt confident going to the parks after I had a plan in mind. I linked my personal itinerary below, take a look, it worked really well!
Buy the Park-to-Park ticket (and buy it online ahead of time)
The best value for tickets is the park-to-park ticket online (you save $20 versus buying it at the gate), and trust me, you’ll want the park hopper option. With the park hopper, you have access to ride the Hogwarts Express between both parks, and the experience is definitely worth the money. Be sure to print out the tickets ahead of time so as soon as you get the gate, you’re ready to go.
The food, overall, isn’t that great, so plan ahead
Yes, I consider this a tip because I wish I would have been prepared. The food is just… ok, in my opinion, especially compared to Disney. One perk is that the value is definitely there. A hot dog is the price a hot dog should be, a bottled water is $2.99 (a little expensive but still not sporting event expensive), and snacks will only run you a few dollars. However, there just aren’t a ton of options available for dining, so I recommend doing some research ahead of time and looking at specific menu items to see what you may be interested in for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Considering I purchased 6 Butter Beer drinks/ice cream cones, I personally recommend those signature snacks!
SISTER TIP: Our favorite dining spot was actually at the Simpsons Fast Food Blvd. It offered a variety of food options, cold Duff beer, and the most amazing face-sized donut I’ve ever tasted for only $5.99! That’s $1.20 each for dessert for a family of five. Great deal. Check out the video below (side note – how amazing is her ring?!)
Play along with the characters
In Harry Potter world, many cast members are just as big of fans as we are, and they’ll love to play along with you. We heard many statements (“I’m late for potions, move out of my way!”) and taking a few minutes out of your time to talk with them will make your day. Stan from The Knight Bus offers a great photo op, and the dinosaur handler in Jurassic Park took her role very seriously. [See video below].
Head to Harry Potter World first thing in the morning
My last tip is to head to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter ASAP, like literally, first thing in the morning. There are two different ‘worlds’ – Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) and Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure). Both were amazing, but you’ll find you probably prefer one over the other. We absolutely loved the attention to detail in Diagon Alley; it was as if we stepped into the books themselves, so we started our morning there both days. I recommend grabbing a spot in line of your favorite ride first thing, as well, as the lines get longer as the day progresses. Remember, if you stay on site, you get to enter the park an hour before other ticket holders!
Keep your eyes out for a Harry Potter World tips post in the next week! Until then, comment some tips you have below! 🙂
One of my favorite things to do around the city of Chicago is to find pretty murals and unique backdrops for photographs. The city is so vibrant and full of art, and every corner has surprising amounts of character and love.
This pink heart garage is hidden away on 1820 W Webster, and it’s the perfect spot for engagement pictures, or just to peek at during a Sunday stroll through the city. Ironically, as my friend and I were taking these shots, an adorable couple with their baby were walking by, and I asked if they wanted me to take a family picture (she shared that it was actually their first photo together as a family!) and it could not be cuter.H&M Off the Shoulder Dress $14.99 (check for restocks)
It is the summer of LEMONADE!!!
Wait… Bey, why do you have a baseball bat?
Hopefully, like me, you’ve been watching Beyonce’s visual album “Lemonade” on repeat the past two weeks. I’m inspired, stunned, excited, and truthfully, I found myself craving some actual lemonade! So I used my handy dandy Thug Kitchen cookbook to whip up a batch of 5-ingredient lavender lemonade to celebrate the coming of summer… AND to calm myself after listening to this unbelievably heated album (see above… ^ Jay has done her very very wrong, ladies).
Lavender has incredible healing properties. The simple aroma of lavender can help treat insomnia, anxiety, depression, and restlessness, and lavender oil has anti-inflammatory properties, which make it great to soothe skin problems. My house if full of lavender candles and lavender essential oils, I figured it’s about time to add some dried lavender to my kitchen ingredients.
I bought organic lavender dried leaves from Feel Good Organics – which is among my favorite trustworthy companies for organic products. You can sprinkle some in a cup of tea, let it steep for 20 minutes, then strain for a fantastic homemade remedy for headaches, gather dried leaves in a mesh bag for a cute gift of homemade potpourri or simply boil some dried leaves in water for an aromatic effect all through the house.
I tweaked the recipe a bit, and it turned out absolutely SCRUMPTIOUS. So whether you’ve had a rough day at the office, you’re having a spring get-together, or your man cheats on you with Becky, lavender lemonade is definitely soothing and calming drink this season!
It’s officially spring, ladies and gentlemen! Mostly ladies, I guess, but if you enjoy looking at my fave spring looks the past week, then anyone is welcome! The weather is pretty junky today, but I’m looking forward to 60s and 70s during the upcoming weeks!
How will you welcome spring??
Windsor Faux Trench Coat $44.90
Converse Chuck Taylor Low $49.50
BP Crop Tank 2 for $20
This post is sponsored by Target, inspired by women everywhere this summer. I’m a part of Target’s #NOFOMO campaign, which basically shares the belief that all of us should excuse confidence and excitement in our bathing suits this summer. No matter your shape or size, rock that bikini or one piece with a smile, and spread your positivity with the hashtag “no fomo” (fear of missing out). The most stylish accessory this season is confidence, and I’m here to share my story!
I have big insecurities about my skin, but turning 30 last month has made me look at things differently. I have lots of freckles on my chest and arms that bother me, but I’m not letting them slow me down this summer! I grab some sunscreen and an empowering book and hit the pool, a few little dark spots aren’t gonna slow me down. 🙂
Happy Earth Day, my fellow conservationists! The idea of saving the planet can be really overwhelming, but I’m one to assume the belief that EVERY little bit helps, no matter how small. The statistics are mind numbing – according to the Council for Textile Recycling, in the U.S. alone, we generate 25 billion pounds of clothes, shoes and bedding each year. Billion – with a B! And the worst part is, we only recycle around 15% of that, which means a whopping 85% ends up in landfills.
If you’re looking to do a little spring cleaning and try to help the planet out a bit, here are a few of my favorite ideas for your old, unwanted clothes!
1) Take them to H&M
One of my favorite things to do with unwanted clothes is take them to H&M and turn them over to their recycling program. Added bonus – this week, to celebrate World Recycle Week, you earn a 30% coupon for any item in their store! That’s an incredible discount to grab a new bathing suit, pair of jeans, or purse for the new season.
2) Sell them online
Most people know about clothing stores that allow you to sell and buy gently-worn clothes, but it’s the 21st century! Poshmark is definitely the way to go, and I have friends that make hundreds from this clothing-sale app each month. Think of Poshmark as Instagram combined with eBay. You can post and view people’s closets, comment and like their clothes, and eventually sell/buy items you like.
3) Repurpose them
I’m not the most creative DIY-er, but there are plenty of blogs and Pinterest how-tos out there that help you repurpose clothing you no longer want. Buzzfeed posted 39 ways to reuse, restyle and repurpose your old t-shirts (we all have dozens of those), check it out here! Also yours truly posted a Pepperminting DIY workout tank that turned out darn cute!
4) Donate shoes to Soles4Souls
A really great charity opportunity is Soles4Souls, and they collect and distribute donated shoes all around the world. There are various drop off locations you can search on the website, or better yet, host a shoe drive in your community and gather even more pairs to donate.
5) Drop off towels and blankets to your local animal shelter
You know this post wouldn’t be complete without a mention to help animals! If you decide to buy a new set of towels or sheets, don’t just throw the old ones away. Local animal shelters are constantly looking for new, soft bedding for cages that help soothe and calm new additions to the shelter. (While you’re at it, I was told they are always in need of detergent for massage loads of laundry, as well!)
SISTER TIP: Speaking of our furry four-legged friends, if you’re looking to buy a new pet bed, consider West Paw Design, which creates beds using recycled plastic goods!
What ideas do you have to repurpose or recycle your old clothing??
You know I’m always down for easy, meatless dinner options, and this recipe is definitely one of them! Ricotta is one of my favorite cheese to cook with. It’s creamy, sweet, and fresh, and perfect for a spring pasta dish – I’ve adapted it from my favorite Budget Bytes blog. The mild ricotta creaminess mixed with al dente fettuccine and mineral-packed spinach, and you’ve got yourself a delicious, easy dinner for tonight! **Bonus points if you use this recipe and make your OWN ricotta!
Spring break was a whirl and too short, as always. I’m here to share my Mexican adventure with you, and try to persuade you that you MUST visit the charming fishermen town of Sayulita. Sayulita is Mexico’s best kept secret, but word is getting out, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to travel there. Here are seven reasons why you must make this your next exotic vacation destination!
1) Location, location, location
The town is about an hour drive north of Puerto Vallarta, and fairly easy to get to by taxi or bus from Puerto Vallarta airport. There’s a bunch of direct flights available from the midwest, and if you’re not visiting around a holiday, the prices are very reasonable. The town itself has a perfectly quaint central plaza with restaurants and bars, and the beach surrounding it is clean, beautiful, and convenient.
You can also take day trips like I did to other parts of the city. San Pancho was a quaint little fishing village about 15 minutes away, the Marietas Islands offer unbelievable hidden caves you can swim in, and Punta Mita is another beautiful beach that’s driving distance for a great day trip.
2) Wake up with a view
The views are what drew me to Sayulita in the first place. Picturesque is an understatement. You will legit feel like you woke up in Jurassic Park (but the good kind of Jurassic Park where there’s no dinosaurs, just lush forest and sunshine and mimosas). There are vacation rentals available, adorable hotels, and B&Bs. Check out Casa Los Arcos (below) – I highly recommend it!
3) Incredible local food
The food was absolutely incredible throughout the week’s visit. Obviously, traditional Mexican dishes are everywhere – tamales, tacos, burritos, chilaquiles etc. But the most interesting part to me was that traditional Italian restaurants were also available (one was actually owned by a brother and sister who straight moved from Italy to Sayulita to open a restaurant!) and the prices were extremely reasonable, especially when you use Pesos. There are tons of eateries in the town, here’s a list of my favorites:
- Mamma Mia (Italian)
- Gusto (Italian)
- The Real Fish Taco (amazing authentic tacos)
- Tacos El Ivan (street tacos shown below)
- Wakika Heladeria (ice cream bars featured below)
4) You don’t need a car to get around
Everything is walking distance in Sayulita, which is super convenient for visitors. From the rental, I could walk to the beach, restaurants, bars and stores. Something that’s really cool about this town is that there’s also tons of golf carts for rental, and yes, people just drive ’em around town like a car!
5) The view again… this time from the top of a mountain
If you like to explore on your vacations, Sayulita has plenty of those opportunities for you. There’s jungle tours, surf board lessons, zip lining, and even the hike up an 11,600-foot Monkey Mountain. Our group left early in the morning and climbed the excruciatingly steep hike all the way to the top, the views were miraculous.
If you’re interested in hikes or other Sayulita tours, I highly recommend you use Mexitreks! Our guide was amazing and incredibly knowledgeable about the area. Worth every penny!
Sayulita is right in the middle of humpback whale migratory patterns during the winter and early spring months. Many of the humpback mama and babies are hangin out in the warm, calm, shark-free waters of Sayulita, Nayurit bays, so it’s the ideal time and place to view whales in their natural environment. La Orca Whale Watching is led by a scientist named Nico that is so unbelievably passionate about whales and dolphins in the area, and will not only take you out on the boat to see whales, but will also educate you wholeheartedly about the nature of these amazing animals!
7) Colors and culture
Living in Chicago, you can imagine that I don’t see as many colors on a daily basis as I would like. Sayulita is like a different, far more colorful and imaginative world and it was an amazing sight to witness. There’s street art all through the town, colorfully painted walls, and pastel flags that are hung between palm trees in the plaza. The people that live there are generous, helpful, and eager to share their culture and heritage with visitors. Sayulita, Nayurit is a MUST visit if you’re kinda over the tourist-traps of Cancun and Riviera Maya.
One of my favorite things about blogging is meeting other bloggers who are just as excited and passionate as I am! I’ve met so many amazing and inspirational women who have done fantastic things – share recipes, health tips, fashion inspiration, and more. One of these fabulous bloggers I’m excited to be friends with is Sarah Baker, author of BalancedBabe.com. She truly embodies a Balanced Babe lifestyle! Her holistic approach to health inspires me to do better, and I could not be more excited to share with you an event that she has created with Four Seasons Hotel Chicago! I’ll be there, will you?? 🙂
The event is called the BeHealthful Spring Awakening Retreat, and it’s a weekend full of health, fitness, relaxation, and pampering. Imagine two days and two nights of holistic luxury, basically! I’ll let the press release do the talking, since they’re way more eloquent than I’ll ever be!
“Guests will enjoy slumbering in an opulent setting overlooking Lake Michigan; gourmet breakfasts and lunches prepared by the Hotel’s expert culinary team; intimate and carefully-curated workshops, including healthy cooking classes with a Four Seasons chef, homeopathic remedy and Ayurvedic technique sessions; yoga and meditation; an array of pampering treatments in the Beauty Break Room; and much more.”
There are beauty break outs happening Saturday that include massages, facials, manicures, oxygen treatments, healing sessions, and hands-on workshops. Both day passes and overnight passes are available, so hurry and buy before they sell out!
Intrigued?? Me too! And I absolutely cannot WAIT to attend! If you’re in the Chicago area, you’ll want to snag passes ASAP, as a limited number of tickets are available. For more information on the BeHealthful Spring Awakening Retreat, visit Four Seasons Hotel Chicago online or balancedbabe.com/retreat. Alternatively, contact Four Seasons Hotel Chicago Reservations Department at (312) 280-8400.
Acai bowls are the latest buzz word, they’re everywhere! Pronounced “ah-say-ee”, this lil berry is taking the health world by storm. It’s a traditional South American breakfast that’s loaded with antioxidants to start your morning off right. Acai boosts energy levels, improves circulation, contains as many amino acids/proteins as an egg, slows the pace of aging, and may promote weight loss. Not bad for a tasty fruit that pairs with just about anything!
So why don’t we see more acai in grocery stores to buy? Well, normally that’s because it’s sold as a powder or frozen puree. The fruit is dried and ground up and you can buy it online or in health food stores. It’s pretty pricey, but the bang is worth the buck, and it makes for a special, protein-packed treat for me once or twice a week.
The interesting thing about acai bowls is the consistency. Blended with frozen fruits and milk, the acai should end up being scoopable, but not too thick to the point of a solid. Think of it as a thicker smoothie that you eat with a spoon. Then, just top the acai with a variety of breakfast goodies of your choice and voila! A pretty little acai bowl for you to Instagram all day.
One of my favorite acai bowls to make at home was inspired by a small healthy store Pure Juice Café in the city where I work. It’s tropical, exotic, tasty, and full of antioxidants (and sugar, so be careful not to indulge too too frequently!).
SISTER TIP: To prevent your smoothie from melting too fast, freeze the bowl you’ll serve the acai in before you start! Thanks Keepin it Kind for the idea! 🙂