Waves of Honor Veterans Promotion | SeaWorld & Busch Gardens

Since 2005, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment (which includes the SeaWorld Parks in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio, as well as Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Tampa, and Sesame Place) has offered free admission to active duty US service members and up to three direct dependents. This offer can be used once per calendar year under their Waves of Honor promotion, but Veterans have often been excluded from the promotion, or when available, it has been a 50% discount for the veteran and up to three direct dependents. (updated on April 22, 2024)

2024 Waves of Honor Veterans Promotion SeaWorld and Busch Gardens

But recently, SeaWorld announced an awesome limited-time-only offer for their Waves of Honor promotion, and this one is exclusively for Veterans!! Right now, veterans are eligible to reserve their FREE single-day admission (PLUS three FREE tickets for dependents!), and they can be used through July 7, 2024, at SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego, SeaWorld San Antonio, Busch Gardens Tampa, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, or Sesame Place.

To take advantage of this offer, visit the Waves of Honor website and select a park. When reserving tickets online, you must verify your Veteran status through GovX or ID.me (depending on the park) and show your Military ID or proof of service at the gate when you arrive.

Seaworld Busch Gardens Waves of Honor Veterans Promo for 2022 - great way to beat the summer heat!

This limited-time Veterans promotion is a great way to beat the summer heat, especially if you’re planning to be in Orlando in the next couple of months! Even though a lot of SeaWorld Orlando is outdoors, you can cool off by sitting in the splash zone during the Shamu or dolphin shows or brave the chilly temps and venture into Antarctica to see the penguins. Plus, you can check out the brand new coaster, Pipeline: The Surf Coaster, that opened last year, or the brand new Penguin Trek coaster set to open this spring.

Waves of Honor Veterans Promo Details

  • This offer is open to retired and honorably separated US military officers and enlisted personnel. Active duty service members are eligible for four free tickets year-round through the Active Duty Waves of Honor Promo.
  • Tickets must be reserved online by May 12,2024 and redeemed at the park by July 7, 2024. This offer is not available at the gate.
  • Currently, there are not any black-out dates listed, but it’s always a good idea to double-check.
  • If you need more than 4 tickets, you can purchase up to 6 additional guest tickets at 50% off, and those are available year-round.
  • Looking for more to do in Orlando? Check out these posts:

Universal Studios Military Freedom Pass | Renewed for 2024!

Universal renewed this popular military offering again for 2024 (details below!)! New in 2021, Universal Studios Orlando rolled out an AMAZING ticket offer for military members and their families. Like Disney, Universal has offered special discounted tickets for military families for over a decade, but this year, with the advent of the “Military Freedom Pass” Universal has really upped the game. (updated 12/11/2023)

 

Normal Universal Military tickets (which are still available) are good for a set number of days/visits. The Military Freedom Pass is good for (nearly) unlimited entry into the parks for the rest of 2023 AND (almost) every single day of 2024. It’s like a Universal Annual Pass, just without the dining, merchandise, and parking discounts. With a sale this unprecedented, you know I had to buy tickets – so expect to see a lot more Universal content this year!

Diagon Alley Universal military freedom military ticket offer 2022

Military Freedom Pass Pricing

There are two options for the Universal Freedom Pass in 2024 – a 2-park option and a 3-park option.

  • 2-Park Universal Military Freedom Pass
    • $210 per adult; $205 per child ages 3-9
    • Valid at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure
    • Valid from 11/16/2023 to 12/20/2024 – BLOCKOUT DATES – 12/25/23 – 1/2/24 AND 03/25/24 – 3/31/24
  • 3-Park Universal Military Freedom Pass
    • $245 per adult; $240 per child ages 3-9
    • Valid at Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay
    • Valid from 11/16/2023 to 12/20/2024 – BLOCKOUT DATES – 12/25/23 – 1/2/24 AND 03/25/24 – 3/31/24

3 teen boys wearing masks in front of Hogwarts

Military Freedom Pass Universal Studios Eligibility

  • Active or Retired US Military (including National Guard, Reserve, US Coast Guard)
  • Spouses of Eligible Service Members
  • DOD Civilians with a valid ID
  • 100% Disabled Veterans

Like all offers, tickets must be used by the same person on all days, and tickets are not transferable. Maximum of (6) tickets per qualifying Military ID. Unlike Disney offers, Universal allows the service member and the spouse to each purchase six tickets as long as they each have a US Military ID.

Tickets are available at Base Ticket Offices or from Shades of Green. They are NOT AVAILABLE at the Universal ticket windows. We picked up our tickets from Shades of Green the day we arrived in Orlando and then activated them at the Universal Studios Ticket Window on our first USO park day. Easy-peasy!! If you’re looking for regular (non-military) Universal tickets, I definitely recommend getting them through Undercover Tourist to save a bit (affiliate link).

Universal Orlando Resort also has 2024 military discounts at their hotels.

  • 40% off stays at Cabana Bay and Aventura
  • Up to 35% off stays at other Universal Resorts

We like staying at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort (either Surfside or Dockside) because they have 2-bedroom suites that sleep six without using a sofa bed, so there’s plenty of room for the whole fam! So let me know: are you a military family, and will you be getting a Universal Studios Freedom Pass for 2024??

Universal's Endless Summer Surfside 2 bedroom suite universal freedom pass military

Looking to plan your Universal Studios Orlando trip? Check out these posts:

Islands of Adventure Height Requirements

We always get asked, “What can my kids ride at Islands of Adventure??” By knowing the Islands of Adventure height requirements before your trip, hopefully, you can come up with a game plan for what to ride, and how to deal with youngsters that aren’t quite tall enough to ride it all.

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ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE RIDES WITH NO HEIGHT REQUIREMENT

Caro-Suess-el™: Located in Suess Landing, this traditional carousel of Dr. Suess characters is good for the whole family. You can even make the characters blink, wiggle their ears, and turn their heads! Express Pass is available.

Hogwarts Express pulling into the station at Islands of Adventure

Hogwarts™ Express: This train ride between Universal Studios (King’s Cross Station) and Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) does require a park-to-park ticket, but it’s a can’t miss ride for our family. Make sure to do it in both directions because the journey is different each way! Express Pass is available.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish™: Similar to Dumbo, this gentle ride takes you up, and down, and all around. Express Pass is available.

Storm Force Accelatron: This classic spinning ride has no height requirement! It’s kind of hidden to the side of The Hulk – so much so that we’ve never actually ridden this one! Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 36 INCHES FOR THESE ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE RIDES

Cat in the Hat™: One of our faves for the best air conditioning, you go through the ride in a couch car as the story of Cat in the Hat is brought to life. Express Pass is available.

Flight of the Hippogriff™: This is the ride in Wizarding World with the lowest height requirement. Kids will love this kiddie coaster as they race through the pumpkin patch and past Hagrid’s hut. Express Pass is available.

The High in the Sky Suess Trolley Train Ride!™: This is a train ride, high in the sky, giving a birdseye eye of Suess Landing. Express Pass is available.

Pteranodon Flyers height requirement Islands of Adventure

Pteranodon Flyers™ – Guests over 56″ tall must be accompanied by a rider 36-56″: Designed for kids from 36-56″ tall, this one requires an adult companion to ride with the child – but adults cannot ride alone! Soar over Jurassic Park, suspended from a Pteranodon on this gentle ride.

Teens riding Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Islands of Adventure

Skull Island: Reign of Kong™: Hop on the bus and join an expedition through Skull Island, but hang on tight because you’ll be getting attacked by dinosaurs in no time. King Kong shows up, and an epic battle ensues. This one can be frightening for young children as it’s quite loud and violent. Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 40 INCHES FOR THIS IOA RIDE

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®: Put on your 3D glasses and follow Spiderman as he battles villains throughout New York. This one has you soaring above the streets, scaling tall buildings, and coming face to face with some of the most villainous bad guys around. Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 42 INCHES FOR THESE ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE RIDES

Girl checking her height at Islands of Adventure

Jurassic Park River Adventure™: Board a tour boat for what should be a scenic tour of Jurassic Park. As things always do in JP, something goes totally wrong, and chaos ensues. You WILL get wet on this boat trip through Jurassic Park, but not soaked like the other IOA water rides. Express Pass is available.

Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges®: Similar to Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom, this circular raft ride goes through rapids and under waterfalls. You WILL get wet! Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 44 INCHES FOR THIS IOA RIDE

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls®: This log flume ride is part coaster, part water ride, and features a 75-foot drop at the end. You WILL get wet. Or, realistically, you will get SOAKED by the water cannons at the end of the ride. Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 48 INCHES FOR THESE IOA RIDES

Hagrid's motorbike coaster Islands of Adventure

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure™: One of the newer rides, this thrilling coaster puts you on Hagrid’s motorbike or in the sidecar for a high-speed journey into the Forbidden Forest. This is often the longest line in the park, but this ride is totally worth the wait. Virtual Queue is available depending on crowds.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™: Located INSIDE Hogwarts, this is one of the most popular rides in the park – and for good reason. This 3D simulator takes you high above Hogwarts where you’re chased by dragons and dementors. The line for this one is phenomenal as you walk through Hogwarts and see Dumbledore’s office, classrooms, and common rooms. You can walk through the line to tour the castle even if you’re not interested in riding. Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 51 INCHES FOR THIS ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE RIDE

New VelociCoater at Islands of Adventure height requirement

Jurassic World VelociCoaster: Brand new in Summer 2021 and the newest ride at Islands of Adventure, this extreme coaster packs plenty of thrills. It travels over 70mph, has multiple inversions, a zero-gravity inverted stall, and Universal’s steepest drop. Virtual Queue is available depending on crowds, and Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 52 INCHES FOR THIS ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE RIDE

Islands of Adventure height requirements Doctor Doom's Fear Fall

Doctor Doom’s Fearfall®: Prepare to be launched 185 feet in the air, accelerate faster than the space shuttle, and then plunge back to the ground. Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 54 INCHES FOR THIS IOA RIDE

The Incredible Hulk coaster at Islands of Adventure

The Incredible Hulk Coaster®: The massive, green coaster has the highest height requirement in any of Universal’s parks. Packed with high speeds, inversions, and thrills, this one is not for the faint of heart. Express Pass is available.

TIPS FOR DEALING WITH ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE HEIGHT REQUIREMENTS

  • Most rides at Islands of Adventure have a height requirement to ensure guest safety – a sharp contrast from Disney where kids can ride almost everything.
  • If your little one is close to a cut-off (36, 40, 42, 44, 48, 51, 52, 54 inches), practice how to stand up straight before your trip. Their head has to actually hit the measuring guide or obviously be taller than it, but we’ve seen many kids duck to fit under the guide and end up looking shorter than they actually are. And then, unfortunately, they miss out on the ride.
  • Child Swap is available at all rides with a height restriction, so make sure to utilize it if you have little ones in your party. Every ride has somewhere that one member of your party can wait with the kids while the rest of the group rides. Then, switch places, and the adult that waited with the little ones can have a chance to ride without waiting in line again. The big kids may even get the chance to ride twice, and both adults get to enjoy the attraction!
  • While we love going to Disney with kids of all ages, Islands of Adventure is really best once kids are at least 40-42 inches tall. I would lean towards waiting until your youngest is at least 48″ tall if it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip since that will allow them to ride almost everything in the parks.
  • I’ve spent many hours at Islands of Adventure hanging out with Ellie (who is only 46″) while the big kids ride everything in the park. We usually get a special snack (like a frozen butterbeer!) to share and wander through the shops – that way, she gets to do something fun while the bigs are riding.

Universal Studios Orlando Height Requirements

“What is my kid tall enough to ride at Universal Studios?” is one of the most common questions that we get asked. Knowing the Universal Studios Orlando height requirements before your trip will save you from headaches and frustration and, hopefully, from some tears if your little one isn’t quite tall enough to do everything.

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USO RIDES WITH NO HEIGHT REQUIREMENT

kids riding Hogwarts Express at Universal Orlando

Hogwarts™ Express: Departing from Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station, this train ride is a favorite in our house, but you can only board if you have a park-to-park ticket as it goes back and forth between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The journey is different in each direction so make sure to ride both ways. Express Pass is available.

Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl: This is a basic spin-in-a-circle ride (like Dumbo or Aladdin’s Magic Carpets at Magic Kingdom) and fine for the whole family. Express Pass is available.

Shrek 4-D: Join your favorite characters from the Shrek movie franchise on a quest to save Princess Fiona in this 4D show. There’s no height requirement for this one, but small children may be scared of the 3D effects. Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 34 INCHES

Smiling tweens on the ET ride at Universal Orlando height requirments

E.T. Adventure™: This one is a fan favorite with adults and kids alike! Channel your inner Eliott and hop on a flying bicycle to help E.T. save his home planet. Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 36 INCHES

Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster™: This kiddie coaster travels through Woody’s nut factory and reminds me of Barnstormer at Magic Kingdom. Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 40 INCHES FOR THESE RIDES AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem™: Join your favorite Despicable Me characters on this 4D motion simulator ride through Gru’s house and laboratory. Express Pass is available. Virtual Line is available based on crowds.

Fast & Furious – Supercharged™: Continuing with the motion simulator trend, join the crew from Fast & Furious and help Dom save the day. This one has loud music, loud (unexpected) noises, and LOTS of action. Express Pass is available. Virtual Line is available based on crowds.

kids in 3D glasses Jimmy Fallon ride

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon™: As you race Jimmy Fallon, this 3D motion simulator takes you through the streets of New York, underwater, and to the moon. Express Pass is available. Virtual Line is available based on crowds.

The Simpsons Ride™: Join the Simpsons as they visit Krustyland, Krusty the Clown’s theme park. This roller coaster simulator is shown on an 80-foot diameter domed surface and is fun for the whole family. Express Pass is available.

TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D: Another 3D/4D simulator; this one turns you into a N*E*S*T* recruit to help Optimus Prime and Bumblebee save the planet from Megatron and the Decepticons. Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 42 INCHES

Fire breathing dragon over Gringotts Bank in Diagon Alley Universal Orlando

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™: One of our absolute favorite rides in the park, this 4D roller coaster/dark ride hybrid packs plenty of thrills. While it can be intimidating for some youngsters to get in line beneath the fire-breathing dragon, this really is a ride for the whole family. Yes, it’s thrilling, and there are some frightening scenes, but those just add to the fun factor. Express Pass is available. Virtual Line is available based on crowds.

MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack™: Wrapping up the motion simulators at Universal Studios, as Agent Trainee, you’ll zip through New York and take a shot at all the aliens you can find. This one is similar to Astro Blasters at Magic Kingdom, but these aliens fight back! Express Pass is available.

MUST BE AT LEAST 48 INCHES TO RIDE AT UNIVERSAL ORLANDO

Revenge of the Mummy™: This coaster is one of the scariest rides in the park, and young children that are just barely tall enough to ride (especially those that are tall for their age) are likely to be frightened – or terrified to the point of tears like my niece. As you’re trying to get away from the evil Mummy Imhotep, you end up in darkness, surrounded by insects, chased by warrior mummies, and underneath fire so hot you can feel it. Express Pass is available. Virtual Line is available based on crowds.

MUST BE AT LEAST 51 INCHES

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit™: Choose your own music, go 17 stories up vertically at a 90º angle, and then drop at 65 miles per hour as you enjoy this coaster. This thrilling ride features the world’s first non-inverting loop and is packed full of fun. Express Pass is available.

TIPS FOR DEALING WITH UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ORLANDO HEIGHT REQUIREMENTS

    • Unlike Disney Parks, most rides in Universal Studios Orlando have a height requirement to ensure guest safety.
    • If your little one is close to a cut-off (34, 36, 40, 42, 48, 51 inches), practice how to stand up straight before your trip. They have to actually bump their head on the measuring guide or obviously be taller than it, but we’ve seen many kids duck to fit under the guide and end up looking shorter than they actually are- and then they miss out on the ride.
    • Child Swap is an option at every ride with a height restriction so make sure to utilize it if you have little ones. Every ride has a room where one member of your party can wait with the little ones while the rest of the group rides. Then, switch places, and the adult that waited with the kids can have a chance to ride without waiting in line again. This allows both adults to enjoy the attraction, and the big kids may even get the chance to ride twice!
    • While we love going to Disney with kids of all ages, Universal is really best once kids are at least 40-42 inches tall. If it’s going to be more of a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I would lean towards waiting until your youngest is at least 48″ since that will allow them to ride almost everything in the parks.
    • If your kids aren’t quite tall enough to ride everything on this visit, it means it’s time to start planning the next trip for when they’re a bit taller.
    • I’ve spent many park days hanging out with Ellie (who is only 46″) while the big kids ride everything in the park. We usually get a special snack to share and wander through the shops – that way, she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on as much since she’s too short to ride the biggest rides.

Universal’s Volcano Bay with Kids

The kids and I went to Universal’s Volcano Bay for the first time over spring break. Oh my gosh, I don’t know why we didn’t visit sooner – we had the BEST time! Now, my kids love a water park, it doesn’t really matter what kind or where it is, but I’m all about the theming. And the theming at Volcano Bay does not disappoint.

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If you’re staying on-site at Universal Orlando Resort, there’s usually early entry into Volcano Bay about 30 minutes before the park opens (versus 60 minutes early for the other parks). Since we weren’t staying on-site for this trip, we got there just before the park opened to maximize our time and get good chairs.

Universal's Volcano Bay busses in parking garage

Unlike the other Universal parks, for this one, if you’re driving yourself, you park in the parking garage and then take a bus to the park. There’s no parking at Volcano Bay – the plus is that the bulk of your walking takes place in the covered garage and not out in the sun. I actually wish more of the parks would adopt this set-up since it means your vehicle is covered and cool when you get back!

Universal's Volcano Bay entrance

We were on one of the first busses of the day and headed over to Volcano Bay – it’s only about five minutes away from the parking garage. Upon arrival, you hop in one of the entrance queues, scan your park ticket, and you’re good to go for a day of fun!

Girl walking out to Waturi Beach with Volcano

The kids and I split up in search of beach chairs and totally lucked out with four chairs, under an umbrella, in the first row by Waturi Beach (the massive wave pool). Honestly, I could have laid on that chair all day enjoying the waves crashing and watching the waterfall cascading down Krakatau Volcano.

Waturi Beach wave pool Volcano Bay with kids

But, alas, I was traveling with kids, and they obviously wanted to explore – so off to the wave pool we went! Like most wave pools, this one alternated between calm waters and sets of waves every fifteen minutes or so.

Free lifejackets at Volcano Bay

Life jackets are required in the wave pool for the under 48” crowd – and the lifeguard quickly alerted me to this since I didn’t realize it was a rule. They have plenty available in a wide range of sizes, so make that your first stop after securing chairs if you’re visiting with little ones.

Kids playing under waterfall cascades

The big kids immediately went out as far as they could and played near the cascading waterfall. There’s a rope behind them, and you can’t actually go underneath the waterfall.

Smiling girl in life jacket in wave pool at Universal's Volcano Bay

Ellie was content to float around where she was still able to stand. Even with the required lifejacket on, she’s not the most daring in the water.

Towel rental at Volcano Bay

Towel rental is not included and not cheap – $6 per towel – so make sure to bring towels from home or your hotel! We had to pay to rent towels the first day because I didn’t realize you had to pay to rent them. Oops!! We learned through and brought pool towels from our hotel on our next visit!

Volcano Bay TapuTapu

Everyone that visits Volcano Bay gets a TapuTapu (similar to a Magic Band at Disney) to use at the park. The TapuTapu holds your place in virtual lines, you can pay for food and drinks with it (as long as you also set up a pin), and it’s what makes sure that your ride photos are tied to your account. We LOVED using the TapuTapu – the kids especially appreciated that they didn’t have to wait in hour-long lines for some of the more popular water slides/coasters.

Eats at Volcano Bay with Kids

I don’t usually have high expectations for water park food, but our lunch at Volcano Bay was AMAZING. I mobile ordered it from our chairs, Chris and Ben went to pick it up, and we had hot and delicious food in no time. We ordered lunch from the Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club directly behind Waturi Beach, but there are several other restaurant options in the park.

Jerked Mahi Sandwich Volcano Bay

Jerked Mahi Sandwich: Jerk seasoned Mahi Mahi, cucumber mango basil slaw, lettuce, tomato, and sriracha mayo on toasted coconut bread with fries.

Kohola Chicken Sandwich Volcano Bay

Kohola Chicken Sandwich: Tandoori marinated chicken, cucumber mango basil slaw, lettuce, tomato, and avocado mayo on a toasted Hawaiian style bun with fries.

Mango BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich Volcano Bay

Mango BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich: Topped with caramelized pineapple, fresh cabbage, and mango slaw on a toasted Hawaiian style bun with fries.

Girl eating basket of fries on Waturi Beach

Even with an extensive menu, Ellie decided she really just wanted a basket of fries for lunch. And, hey, we were on vacation, so why not?!

Universal's Volcano Bay Piña Colada

While the kids were off exploring the park, I ventured over to the Dancing Dragons Boat Bar to put the TapuTapu to the test. It was super easy to make a cashless purchase with TapTu Pay. As long as you have a credit card and security pin set up in your Official Universal Orlando Resort App, you can pay for food, drinks, and merch with a simple tap. I was off enjoying my piña colada in peace in no time.

Slides at Universal’s Volcano Bay

Raft slide at Volcano Bay

I’m not a huge waterslide fan, but it was really nice that the kids (including Ellie!) could go off on their own and explore the slides. There’s a huge variety of slides at Volcano Bay: some that you don’t use an inner tube, some that you do, and some with a tube for the whole family!

Girl on Punga Racers slide at Volcano Bay

Even though she wanted nothing to do with going in deep water in the wave pool, she was a daredevil when it came to the slides. And she went on every single one that she was tall enough for – and shed a few tears about the ones she couldn’t go on yet. It’s a good thing that we have the Universal Military Freedom Passes and can come back all year!

Smiling kids on Taniwha Tubes at Volcano Bay

We paid for a My Universal Photo Package ($39) one day, and it was so much fun seeing the pictures that Universal captured of the kids on the slides. They were definitely living their best lives!!

Krakatau Volcano waterslides

The centerpiece of the park, the 200 foot Krakatau Volcano, houses three drop capsule slides – including Ko’okiri Body Plunge, the tallest one in America – as well as the Krakatau Aqua Coaster and the four-lane Punga Racers. Nick stopped on the overlook at the top to wave hello before dropping 125 feet on the Ko’okiri Body Plunge.

ika Moana family slide at Volcano Bay

On the raft/tube slides, life jackets are required for little ones since you end up in a pool of water. It came in handy on this slide because the tube flipped over as soon as they hit the pool. The lifeguards immediately jumped in to right the raft and make sure the kids were all ok – which they were!

Volcano Bay Lazy River

Kopiko Wai Winding River

I do love lazy rivers, and the one at Volcano Bay was no exception! There are actually two in the park – one that’s lazy and one that’s not so lazy, the TeAwa Fearless River! The big kids preferred the rapids and intensity of the Fearless River – life jackets are required for all guests – while Ellie and I preferred the relaxing loop on the lazy river.

Smiling kids on the lazy river Volcano Bay

I honestly have no idea how many times we went around on the Kopiko Wai Winding River or the TeAwa Fearless River because they were both so much fun!

Goodnight, Volcano Bay!

Waturi Beach at sunset Universal's Volcano Bay

Right now, Volcano Bay is only open from around 10am-6pm, so we spent our whole day at the park, and the kids all said that it wasn’t enough time and they wished Volcano Bay was open longer. In the future, especially if we stay on-property, I could see us doing Volcano Bay first thing in the morning, heading back to the room around lunchtime, and then going to either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure in the afternoon/evening. But that would require having multiple park days so that the kids had time to go on allllll the slides!

Sunset at Volcano Bay Waturi Beach wave pool

The kids made sure they were in a slide line right before closing to maximize their park time. We’re those rope drop to as late as we can possibly stay after closing kind of people! Because the park closes so early, we were able to watch a gorgeous sunset behind the volcano as we waited for the park to clear out.

Tips for Visiting Universal’s Volcano Bay with Kids

  • Make sure that you set up a credit card AND PIN in your Universal account before you visit so that you can mobile order and/or pay for orders with your Tapu Tapu. It was so nice to be able to stop and grab a piña colada after the lazy river without needing to go back to the bags for my wallet.
  • Don’t forget to bring, use, and REAPPLY sunscreen. I coated the kids in sunscreen before we arrived but forgot to reapply, and they ended up a smidge pink.
  • Check height requirements before you go. Like in the theme parks, there are height requirements (both minimums and maximums) for some of the slides.
  • Life jackets are required for all guests in the Fearless River and those under 48″ in the Reef and Waturi Beach. They are available to use throughout the park at no cost.
  • But most of all, HAVE FUN!

All The Ways To Get Butterbeer | Universal Studios Orlando

Brought to life by Universal Studios, Butterbeer is a popular drink in the Harry Potter books and movies. It tastes kind of like a combination of butterscotch and cream soda and it is one of the most iconic things you can order in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Butterbeer comes in a variety of forms now – more than just the regular butterbeer from the books. But which is the best? And where can you get them?? Keep reading to find out about all the different ways to get Butterbeer at Universal Studios Orlando!!

Ways to Get Butterbeer Universal Studios Orlando Resort

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WAYS TO GET BUTTERBEER

The first time we visited Universal Studios Orlando, we only tried a couple of varieties of Butterbeer due to time constraints. However, since we got the Military Freedom Passes (like an annual pass for military members) this year, and have been several times, we’ve had an opportunity to try each version of Butterbeer – some more than once! We typically only order a couple of each type and share them which allows us to order a greater variety during our stay.

COLD BUTTERBEER $7.99

This is the original Butterbeer – it’s been available in the parks for over a decade and it’s true to the Harry Potter storyline. This one seems REALLY sweet to me – I think it’s the sweetest of all the types of Butterbeer – but others find it really refreshing.

Cold Butterbeer Universal Studios

Diagon Alley

  • Hopping Pot
  • Fountain of Fair Fortune
  • Leaky Cauldron

Hogsmeade

  • Three Broomsticks
  • Hog’s Head Pub
  • Seasonal Carts

HOT BUTTERBEER $7.99

Original in terms of the books, hot Butterbeer didn’t make an appearance at Universal Studios until several years after cold butterbeer, but it was an instant success! This one is NOW AVAILABLE YEAR-ROUND and it is absolutely perfect on a cold day. It’s thick and creamy – almost like a hot chocolate – but with an unforgettable butterscotch flavor.

Seasonal hot butterbeer on Diagon Alley Universal Orlando

Diagon Alley

  • Hopping Pot
  • Fountain of Fair Fortune
  • Leaky Cauldron

Hogsmeade

  • Three Broomsticks
  • Hog’s Head Pub

FROZEN BUTTERBEER $7.99

Ahhhh… there’s nothing better on a hot Orlando day than a Frozen butterbeer! Luckily, most days in Orlando are hot, or at least warm and humid, so more often than not it’s the perfect weather for a frozen butterbeer! While the kids each had their own butterbeer for the purpose of this picture, it really was overkill and we usually split them.

Frozen Butterbeer Universal Studios Orlando Hogsmeade

Diagon Alley

  • Hopping Pot
  • Fountain of Fair Fortune
  • Leaky Cauldron

Hogsmeade

  • Three Broomsticks
  • Hog’s Head Pub
  • Seasonal Carts

BUTTERBEER POTTED CREAM $5.79

Pivoting from the beverages to the food items, Butterbeer Potted Cream is one of the newest iterations of butterbeer. This sweet treat isn’t quite as sweet as the drinkable varieties but is equally delicious. The kids described it as a kind of foamy pudding – now don’t take the word “foamy” as a bad thing, they just meant it has more of a mousse-like texture.

Where to get Butterbeer Potted Cream Universal Studios

Diagon Alley

  • Leaky Cauldron

Hogsmeade

  • Three Broomsticks

BUTTERBEER FUDGE $4.95

Another newcomer to the butterbeer scene, the fudge is a sweet treat (or souvenir!) worth sharing. I bought a piece on our last Universal Studios Orlando trip and after the girls each had a nibble, we brought the rest home for the boys and they devoured it. The fudge isn’t like your traditional chocolate fudge – it tastes more like butterscotch and shortbread.

Butterbeer Fudge Universal Orlando Hogsmeade

Diagon Alley

  • Sugarplum’s Sweet Shop

Hogsmeade

  • Honeydukes

BUTTERBEER ICE CREAM $5.49

Mmmmm…. Butterbeer ice cream. This flavor-infused soft-serve version is available only in Diagon Alley and it is DELICIOUS! While I often go for one of the hard-packed ice creams (usually Salted Caramel Blondie), the kids ALWAYS order soft-serve Butterbeer ice cream.

Butterbeer Ice Cream Diagon Alley Universal Studios Orlando

Diagon Alley

  • Fountain of Fair Fortune
  • Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream
  • Hopping Pot (hard-packed)

Hogsmeade

  • Three Broomsticks (hard-packed)

So, that leaves us with which one is the best: I’m partial to either the frozen or the hot, depending on the weather. The kids will almost always choose butterbeer ice cream as their fave. The nice thing about having so many varieties is that you can try them all and choose your own favorite! While you might not like the temperature or texture of one version, there’s bound to be another one that you’ll enjoy!

What kind of butterbeer is your fave?? Have you tried them all??

Dollywood for Families | Pigeon Forge, TN

Nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll find the award-winning Dollywood, a theme park that will satisfy any thrill junkie as well as entertain the younger set. While the park went through several name/ownership changes from its opening in the 1960s, it’s been operating as Dollywood since the 1986 season. Once considered a regional park, Dollywood now draws crowds from around the world and has nearly three million visitors annually.

Dollywood for Families

A huge thanks to Dollywood for hosting us for the day. We received complimentary admission but all opinions are honest and my own.

Dollywood for Families

The kids, especially Nick, have been begging to go to Dollywood for the past few years, so they were super excited to check out the park. While we go to Disney (World and Land) fairly often, the older kids love the bigger thrills and number of roller coasters at parks like Dollywood.

Lightning Rod Dollywood

We started the day with Lightning Rod, the world’s first launched wooden coaster, since it’s one of the most popular rides in the park and we knew it would have a long line later in the day. That turned out to be a great decision since it had a 60-minute wait in the afternoon!

Dollywood with Kids

Since Ellie wasn’t tall enough for this one, we mapped out our day while Jacob took the big kids and they all gave Lightning Rod two thumbs up! We could have used Parent Swap (more details to follow) in this situation so that both adults could ride, but I wanted to move on to something that the whole family could enjoy.

Dollywood with preschoolers

Rockin’ Roadway was next on the to-do list since it was something that Ellie could ride, too. Ellie (and even the big kids!) had fun driving the classic cars around Jukebox Junction.

Dollywood water rides

We continued counter-clockwise around the park to Smoky Mountain River Rampage, a white water rafting adventure full of twists and turns and LOTS of water! The rafts only seat six so I volunteered to skip this one so that we didn’t have to split the family into two rafts, plus it meant that I stayed dry while everyone else was soaked. Win-win for me!

Dollywood train

The Dollywood Express, a twenty-minute train ride through the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, should not be missed. The fully narrated train ride takes you across the park as well as through some beautiful Smoky Mountain scenery. We even caught a glimpse of the newest area of Dollywood, Wildwood Grove, which opens on May 11.

Dollywood with preschoolers

I love that Dollywood has rides for the preschool (and younger) set interspersed with the thrill rides. Even though Ellie (at 42 inches) wasn’t tall enough to ride everything, there were enough rides that she could go on, like the Village Carousel, that she didn’t feel left out.

Dollywood with kids

On Sky Rider, you soar 70 feet in the air and have control of the rudders making each ride a different experience! This one is not for the faint of heart since you’re up in the air and spinning the whole time.

What to eat at Dollywood

We decided to have a late lunch at Granny Ogle’s Ham & Beans, and we definitely made a good choice! We love doing sit-down/full-service meals for lunch because it can be a great break during the heat of the day and it’s a great opportunity for us to map out are afternoon plan.

what to eat at dollywood

Instead of each person ordering their own meal, we ordered several options and enjoyed them family-style. I love doing that, especially when we go somewhere new because we’re able to try a greater variety of meals and we waste less food. We ordered two of the Fronie’s Sampler (slow cooked beef, pit ham, mashed potatoes, turnip green, coleslaw, and Granny Ogle’s pinto beans seasoned with ham) and one Meatloaf Stacker (meatloaf with brown sugar tomato glaze topped with mashed potatoes and served on butter crust bread with coleslaw and beans). It was all delicious though I think the Meatloaf Stacker was the winner with our crew- unless you ask Ellie, in which case the beans were bowl-licking delicious and the only thing she wanted to eat!

Dollywood Grist Mill

We were excited to see the Grist Mill at Dollywood, especially since we did the tour at The Old Mill the day before! Just like at The Old Mill, the grist mill at Dollywood grinds corn and wheat and is powered by a giant water wheel.

Dollywood Cinnamon Bread

Inside the Grist Mill, the bakers make cinnamon bread and cookies by hand and you can watch them while you wait in line. This place definitely does have a line that can go out the door (we probably waited about twenty minutes) but it moves quickly and it is SO. WORTH. IT.

Dollywood Cinnamon Bread

When it’s your turn to order, make sure that you get the world-famous cinnamon bread. You can order it to enjoy right away or get it packaged to take home– you better believe we did both! For a bit extra you can get icing or homemade apple butter to have with the bread and you can’t go wrong with either (or both!).

Dollywood with preschoolers

While Jacob took the big kids on a couple of the big roller coasters, Ellie and I waited by the Grist Mill to get pictures of the train passing by. She’s finally old enough that she can help out with the blog/social media by taking pictures on my iPhone while I take some on my DSLR. Train photo credit goes to Ellie!

Dollywood with Preschoolers

We did have a few tears in the afternoon because I thought that Ellie was tall enough for Blazing Fury (42-inch height requirement) but she was just a SMIDGE too short. However, it did give us a chance to try out Dollywood’s Parent Swap. After waiting in the line as a group, Jacob took the big kids on the ride while Ellie and I waited near the exit, then we swapped and I took the big kids on the ride again (note: other group members are not ALWAYS permitted to ride again) while he took Ellie outside.

We made the Fire Chaser Express our next stop since it only has a 39-inch height requirement. Ellie was thrilled that she could go on a “big” roller coaster and absolutely LOVED it! It was the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster and goes forwards AND backwards!

Dollywood Mystery Mine

Mystery Mine is the main reason that Nick has been begging to go to Dollywood and I have been hearing about this ride non-stop for the past several years.

Dollywood with Kids

Mystery Mine, the heavily themed ride through an abandoned mine is absolutely thrilling! While it’s not the fastest or longest ride in the park, but because you ride in an 8-person mine cart instead of a traditional coaster train, it really ups the thrill factor and it was the absolute favorite ride of the day for our coaster enthusiasts!

Dollywood with Preschoolers

We wrapped up the day with a ride on the Whistle Punk Chaser, or rather the kids did! This junior coaster is perfect for the preschool crowd and is a great introduction to the bigger coasters that Dollywood has to offer.

Dollywood with Kids

Thanks again to Dollywood for a fantastic day! We were at the park from open to close (10am-7pm) and definitely didn’t have time to see or do it all. Even with a great game plan, you’ll have to pick and choose if you’re going to do Dollywood in one day- we definitely recommend doing at least two!

Things to Remember When You Go To Dollywood

  • Dollywood is open from March through the end of the year. Make sure to check the Dollywood Operating Calendar for all the details about opening dates and hours.
  • If you want to exit and return later the same day, get your hand stamped on the way out and then scan your ticket for re-entry.
  • If you’re planning to visit for more than two days in a season, go with a Dollywood season pass and save some money! Plus, you’re entitled to additional discounts and perks.
  • Make sure to utilize Parent Swap if you have little ones in your group. This ensures that all of the adults get a chance to ride and eliminates the need to wait in line twice!

WinterFest at Carowinds

Now that Halloween is over for another year, here in North Carolina, it’s time to get ready for WinterFest at Carowinds!  Every year, the park is transformed into a magical, winter wonderland covered in 5 million twinkling lights, and the transformation is breathtaking– I never thought that our local amusement park could pull off such a magical feat!

Magic at WinterFest

The night begins with the tree lighting show at 5:30pm, at the giant, 70-foot Christmas tree.  A full cast of singers and dancers, as well as Snoopy and his friends, countdown to the opening of the park and then the tree lights up and the Christmas-y family fun begins!

WinterFest Rides

Even though the big roller coasters are not open during WinterFest (due to the cold temps!), many of the attractions are still open and running.  Of course, we ALWAYS ride the carousel since it’s Ellie’s fave!

The swings in the County Fair area of the park are always a hit as well!  It’s so much fun to go on the rides in the dark and see all of the Christmas lights throughout the park.

WinterFest Snacks

Carowinds really upped their game in the seasonal snack department last year and I cannot wait to see what they add this year!!  Our kiddos LOVED decorating the giant Christmas cookies from Mrs. Claus’s Kitchen.  You do have to pay extra for them but at $14 for 4 ginormous cookies and unlimited frosting/toppings, we found it to be an excellent deal!!

Plus, they have to-go boxes if you can’t finish eating your creations– they’re REALLY big!  They made for a great snack throughout the night.

WinterFest Fun

The Christmas lights adorn nearly every tree in the park, as well as many of the walkways, and they do a great job getting you into the Christmas spirit!  They also make a great background for your Christmas card photos!

There is a really fun petting zoo that our crew adored!!  Lots of goats, plus donkeys and a camel!!

We all had a great time at WinterFest last year and cannot wait to go again this season!  It is easily one of our favorite places for Christmas fun in the Charlotte area!

Things to Remember When You Visit WinterFest

  • WinterFest at Carowinds is a ticketed event unless you have a Gold or Platinum season pass.  If you buy your Gold Season pass now, it includes unlimited visits to WinterFest in 2018, plus admission to Carowinds for ALL of 2019- such a great deal!!
  • Tickets start at $26+tax and vary depending on the night you’re attending.  Check online for the latest deals!
  • This year, WinterFest kicks off on November 18 and runs Fri-Sun through December 9.  Starting December 14, WinterFest runs every night through the end of the year (except December 24-25).
  • Lots of people dress up for Christmas-y fun at Carowinds- we either wear Christmas-y shirts or sweaters!
  • Check the weather because it can get REALLY cold once the sun sets!

What’s your favorite holiday event in your city??

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Why We Get Season Passes to Carowinds

We live less than an hour away from one of the best amusement parks in the Southeast and have been season passholders for the last several years. Carowinds, originally opened in 1973, is now part of the Cedar Fair family and combines great thrill rides with family fun and a water park!  Even with five kids ranging in age from 4-15, we’ve found that Carowinds has something for everyone and a season pass is the best way to experience that fun all year long.

Most Fun in the Carolinas

Carowinds is the only amusement park in the country that is actually in two states: the park sits on the North Carolina – South Carolina state line!  As you walk through the park, you criss-cross back and forth over the state line and some of the rides take you over the line, too, so it truly is the most fun in the Carolinas!

Fury 325 opened in 2015 and it is the world’s tallest giga coaster (a roller coaster between 300-400 feet!) and it holds the record for the fastest non-launched roller coaster in the world. It’s the tallest and fastest ride in the park and definitely a favorite for our family!  As you’re going down the 320-foot drop at 95mph, you can see the Charlotte skyline in the distance (on the right side of the horizon in this pic).

In addition to the height and speed of Fury 325, Carowinds offers more thrills with Nighthawk, one of 13 coasters in the park.  Nighthawk is a flying coaster with five inversions and offers incredible views of the park.

Interestingly, the ride originated as Stealth at California’s Great America and was relocated to Carowinds in 2003– I cannot imagine how much it cost to disassemble, move, and reassemble all that track on the other side of the country!!

While it doesn’t have any inversions and isn’t the tallest or fastest coaster, the Intimidator is our family’s favorite thrill ride in the park because of all the negative-G “airtime”.  The out-and-back track provides a smooth but totally thrilling 75mph ride and is a standout at the park.

In addition to thrill rides, Carowinds has a variety of rides that are more family-friendly like the classic bumper cars.

Something New and Exciting Every Year

One of our favorite things about Carowinds is that every August, they announce something new and exciting for the upcoming season.  The start of the 2015 season brought Fury 325, 2016 introduced Carolina Harbor (the newly redesigned water park), the County Fair area opened in 2017, and 2018 showcased the retheming of Planet Snoopy into Camp Snoopy– along with a huge expansion!

We were at Carowinds on opening weekend for 2018 and the cold weather kept most people home so we got a chance to enjoy Camp Snoopy with minimal crowds!

Even though Pig Pen’s Mud Buggies is a fairly basic jump around ride, it was the clear favorite in our house and ALL five kids love going on it!

Beagle Scout Acres, 8000 square feet of fun, was added as part of the Camp Snoopy expansion.

Our kids LOVE this area and it’s a great place for them to run around and play– a nice break from waiting in lines.  And bonus, there’s covered seating for parents!!

I love that Carowinds has a couple of kids’ coasters so that even Ellie can get in on the thrill-ride fun when we’re there!

We’re really looking forward to 2019 at Carowinds!  An all-new immersive area, Blue Ridge Junction, celebrating the western part of NC, was just announced. The highlight of Blue Ridge Junction will most certainly be the new Copperhead Strike, the first double-launch coaster in the Carolinas!

The Food

We ALWAYS add the dining plan to our season passes and have found it to be a great deal for our family, especially since it includes Panda Express (one of our kids’ fave places anywhere)!

For about $90 per pass, you can eat twice a day (4 hours apart) at the parks, all season long, at a variety of locations.  Panda Express and Harmony Hall are our go-to picks to please the whole family.

While it’s not included in the dining plan, the GIGANOURMOUS funnel cake from World’s Greatest Funnel Cakes (the one by the South Gate) is a great deal for a big family.  For only $20, you get a funnel cake the size of a large pizza, topped with ice cream, chocolate syrup, strawberries and whipped cream- we make sure to split at least one every year!

Carolina Harbor

Though there has been a waterpark attached to Carowinds since 1982, the completely redesigned and expanded Carolina Harbor opened in 2016 and has been a staple of summer fun in the Carolinas ever since.  Admission to Carolina Harbor is included with a Carowinds ticket or season pass, and season passholders get the added benefit of early entry (30minutes!) to Carolina Harbor to snag chairs as well as discounts on cabana rentals.

Just like Carowinds, Carolina Harbor has great dining options– our kids LOVE the chicken tenders from Harbor House!

With two massive wave pools, thrilling slides, and a huge kids area, Carolina Harbor has something for everyone!  The lazy river even goes back and forth across the state line!

Great Pumpkin Fest

The Great Pumpkin Fest (weekends from September 15-October 28) is one of our favorite times to be at Carowinds.  From 11am-5pm, it’s a family-friendly Halloween fest and it’s fun for all ages!

In addition to the rides at Camp Snoopy, the Great Pumpkin Fest has fun Halloween themed activities like hay bale mazes and a foam zone, for kids of all ages, and it’s all included in the price of admission.  For more details about our experiences at the Great Pumpkin Fest, head here.

Scarowinds

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from September 14-October 28, Carowinds is transformed into Scarowinds and is full of frightening fun.

There are monsters around every turn, as well as scare zones and haunted mazes to turn your night into a horrifyingly exciting experience. Unlike the Great Pumpkin Fest, Scarowinds is most definitely a PG-13 experience so exercise caution when taking the kids.  Scarowinds does require its own ticket unless you’re a Gold/Platinum season passholder.

WinterFest

New in 2017, WinterFest is the premier holiday celebration in the Carolinas, and the fun kicks off with the nightly tree lighting.  Like Scarowinds, you do need to buy a separate ticket for WinterFest if you’re not a Gold/Platinum passholder.

Over 5 million lights twinkle through the park, transforming it into a magical holiday wonderland perfect for getting you into the Christmas spirit.

Although all of the rides aren’t open during Winterfest, there’s still plenty to do with holiday activities, live shows, and carolers.  Our kids loved decorating the giant Christmas cookies at Mrs. Claus’s Kitchen– and at $14 for 4 giant cookies and unlimited frosting/toppings, it’s really not a bad price!

Year after year, we’ve found that Carowinds season passes are a great fit for our family.  We get to have fun (and food!) throughout the year and attend all of the special events, for one low price!

Things to Remember About Carowinds Season Passes

  • A Carowinds Gold season pass gets you into the park every day that its open, and includes free parking, as well as unlimited visits to Scarowinds and WinterFest.
  • If you buy your Gold Season Pass now, you get unlimited free visits and parking for the rest of 2018 in addition to ALL of 2019!  Check out the details here.
  • We buy our season passes in the fall and set them up on the interest-free payment plan to spread out the cost a bit– especially since we have six to buy!
  • For a limited-time, Carowinds is offering a free Pre-K Season Pass for kids between 3-5.  You need to register online and activate at the park (and bring a birth certificate or passport to verify the age) but it’s a great deal for those with preschoolers.  Kids under 3 are always free!

 

Do you have or would you consider getting Carowinds Season Passes??  If not, what would make a Season Pass more appealing to you??

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