10 Things to Know Before You Go to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

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1. Refillable Cups

At Islands of Adventure, when you purchase a souvenir Butterbeer cup, it costs less to get a refill of Butterbeer in that cup than if you were to buy an additional disposable cup of Butterbeer. Also, refills of any soda (in your souvenir BB cup) throughout the park are $0.99. However, your best bet is to go straight to the gift shop on the left when you enter the park and buy a refillable cup there. When I was there they were selling a tall Alien (Men in Black) cup for around $11 – this cup holds far more liquid then the tiny Butterbeer cup and also costs only $0.99 per refill!

2. Food –

I’m sorry, I love Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, but I found that the food there is complete rubbish. That’s not to say that it was horrendous, but it certainly lacked much in the flavor department. I don’t know if that’s because they have the conundrum of serving a wide range of palette’s from around the world, or what, but I disliked the food, and further disliked having to pay for a sub-par meal. I recommend that you bring your own snacks, go to the in-park Starbucks, or look for options out of the park for eating. I hate to say it, but this is my honest advice. However, if you end up throwing caution to the wind, go for the meal plans advertised upon entrance to the park – you really will save loads more with those – we did!

3. Express Pass –

I went to the park in June and although we fiercely debated it we’re so glad that we didn’t pay extra for express passes. Lines were never more than a half hour wait for us, however, a friend visited the park in July and experienced significantly longer lines. I think if you’re going during the busy season (July-August) and can afford it, go for it.

4. Arrival –

If you have fast passes because you’re staying at the Universal Resorts (or if you purchased them) then yes, you’ll want to be there about an hour earlier than the advertised time. When I was there they let fast pass holders in at least an hour before regular admission. If you don’t have a fast pass, I’d say get there around 9am. We arrived at the parks about 8am, were let through the front gate and then had to wait an hour after fast pass users were let through to the rides.

5. First Stop –

Be prepared, in the morning (if you arrive early) two lines will form once you’re past the entrance – one going to the left, that leads to Marvel Super Hero Island; and one to the right that is the fastest route to Hogsmeade. In the morning, after the fast pass users have gone in, a majority of visitors will line up to the right. When they officially open the park it will be like the running of the bulls to get to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I mean that in the best sense, of course no one gets hurt or trampled or has any memorable meet-ups with a wild bull – but kids and adults alike will race with sheer glee to get to Hogwarts. Which brings me to my next “thing to know”…

6. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter –

If you plan on visiting TWWofHP and don’t want to spend a majority of your day waiting on line in Hogsmeade, go here first. Your first ride should be the Forbidden Journey, and should be done with the group/family that you came with. You’ll all get to experience the “tour” of Hogwarts and what I personally think is one of the best rides ever. Any subsequent rides on the Forbidden Journey should be done as a single rider – the side route to the single rider line can sometimes be hard to see, but it’s directly to the left of the lockers. As a single rider you do skip much of the tour, but you also spend far less time waiting in line.

Go on the Flight of the Hippogriff. Yes, it looks a bit childish next to the Dueling Dragons coaster, but it gives a great view of Hogwarts, you can take pics right by Hagrid’s house while waiting – and there’s a pretty cool animatronic Hippogriff too! Bypassing this one would mean missing out on a fun piece of Hogsmeade.

Take your time to look at everything- there is just so much detail that Universal put into TWWofHP that it would be such a shame to miss out on it. Some of the coolest things we saw were behind the glass of pretend store fronts.

7. Things to Bring -

No need to bring a massive bag here! It will definitely slow you down, as you’ll most likely need to stuff it in a locker before getting on a ride. Adults will need I.D.’s to enter the park, and of course you’ll want to bring your camera, phones, and snacks – but try to keep it light. One thing you’ll wish you thought of (and now you don’t have to, because I’m telling you, haha!) is to bring stamps! You can purchase your TWWofHP postcards at Dervish & Banges and get them stamped with a special Hogsmeade Owl Post Stamp right there. Slap on your stamps and send them off right there in the park – they have a massive mailbox right by the entrance/exit. Also, bring some quarters and pennies – many of the gift shops and bathrooms offer those penny-press machines which are cheap, fun, souvenir.

8. Price Range –

I had no idea how much things were going to cost in Universal before going, I did assume things were going to be on the pricey side as with all theme parks. While I can’t provide you with a general price point for all the items at Islands of Adventure – as most of my shopping centered around The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – I can tell you wands were about $35 each, a Butterbeer with the souvenir cup was around $10, Robes were $115, a Cauldron Cake was around $5, a Chocolate Frog was $10, a Triwizard Tournament Cup was $20, and an assortment of Harry Potter themed pins and keychains ranged from around $7-15.

9. Entrance/Exit –

You can enter and exit the park as many times as you like. Which means you’ll have even more dining options via City Walk, and you can go to your hotel and return later in the day for more fun.

10. Gift Shopping –

One of my favorite features (that I took advantage of far too late) is that you can have your purchases sent to the front of the park. This is an excellent option if you don’t want your new Elder Wand getting damaged by all the water you were soaked with while seated in the front row on the Jurassic Park River Adventure Ride. All you have to do is let your cashier know that you’d like it sent up as you’re checking out. Please note that you can not send up food (like Cauldron Cakes), and it takes about two hours for your purchases to make it to the front of the park (sometimes longer in the case of rain or storms).

Please keep in mind all these tips are opinion-based on recent personal experience, and therefor are all subject to change. If you have any additions, comments, or questions just drop them in the comments section below! If you’re headed to Universal Orlando or planning a trip there, I hope you have a blast!

Cape May: The Original Fudge Kitchen

The Original Fudge Kitchen is located pretty much anywhere convenient along the Jersey Shore. Still, I’m really partial to the one located in Washington Street Mall. It’s not that the other ones are worse, it’s just that I have fond memories of grabbing samples from that location since I was a little girl.

The Original Fudge Kitchen

I’m not even going to mince words with you here – The Original Fudge Kitchen has the best fudge. Ever. My sister and I polished off about two pounds between the two of us during our week-long stay at the shore. There was something so magical about evenings spent staying across the street from the beach, watching old black and white films, and gorging ourselves on delicious fudge. Those are the kind of memories that I’m going to carry with me forever.

The Original Fudge Kitchen in Cape May

Our first couple of days in we decided to pick out a pound of fudge. You get about 8 pieces in a pound. She chose plain chocolate and vanilla chocolate chip, while I went for Rocky Road. I’m just going to let the pictures do the talking here ;)

Fudge from The Original Fudge KitchenRocky Road FudgeVanilla Chocolate Chip Fudge

They’re all so good, I just can’t imagine going to Cape May and not buying up some of The Fudge Kitchen’s fudge. Rocky Road is my all-time favorite, but all the other flavors I’ve tried are equally as addictive. We ended up bringing home an additional two pounds for the rest of our family.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, I definitely recommend their fudge – plus, they have an overwhelming variety for you to choose from. And if you’re not hitting the Jersey Shore anytime soon, you can actually buy their fudge online! We’re already planning on buying some for the holiday season!

If you have any questions about my Cape May experience, be sure to leave a comment below!

Cape May: Kohr Bros. Frozen Custard

One of the first things that my sister wanted to do when we got to Cape May was have some of the Kohr Brothers frozen custard. I mean she was really set on it, and it’s not like she had it before, it’s just that during our youth when we visited Cape May our dear darling grandfather once made a fuss about how good Kohr’s was – but never actually took us to try it. That’s not to say that they didn’t let us have any treats, they did let us take samples from the Fudge Kitchen – but only after we made dinner and scrubbed the dishes. Ah, good times, good times.

Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard

I’m just kidding, you know I jest (*cough, cough*), and the samples were always generous. Anyways, about those Kohr Brothers and their fancy newfangled frozen custard. If you check out their site they have a pretty interesting tale about where and how Kohr Brothers frozen ice cream came to be, it’s certainly worth a read – so I’ll link it here. But, long story short – they’ve been dishing (scooping? serving?) up the good stuff since 1919, and their custard (made of milk, cream, sugar, and eggs) apparently has less fat than regular ice cream. I want to say that that impresses me, but I’m just not the kind of person who counts the calories of my dessert.

Kohr Brothers in Cape May

My sister chose the mint and chocolate swirl, while I – ever the adventurous sort – went for chocolate and vanilla (what? I’m a New Yorker!).

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They were delicious. I have to be honest, it tastes a lot like typical yummy delicious soft serve. It’s soft, sweet, and just great. Except for one very significant detail – there is completely no aftertaste, like you know when you have an ice cream and you get this sticky aftertaste in your throat and you have to drink some water – yeah, well you don’t get that at all with Kohr’s frozen custard. It’s a very clean enjoyable yummy dessert. Turns out grandpa was right, Kohrs is good! So if you’re in Cape May, or near any one of their 10 locations, after you’ve cleaned the dishes, mopped the floors, made dinner, and trim the hedges, definitely try to stop by Kohr Brothers! ;)

Cape May: West End Garage

One hot Sunday, my sister and I decided to walk from where we were staying on Beach Ave. to Sunset Beach in Cape May Point. It was kind of hot and humid out, but we’d packed lunch and iced tea so we were pretty confident that we could walk the three miles there in good time. Along the way we stopped in at West End Garage.

west end garage at Cape May Point

My sister’s an artist, and I have a love of beautiful things so it made sense for us to stop in.

At first I thought they just sold local art – but while my sister was exploring the gorgeous Cape May paintings I wandered towards the back where I found loads of handcrafted items as well as many many antiques and original pieces.

It’s really a lot bigger than it looks like from the outside!

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Candles! I own loads of Bath & Body Works candles, and couldn’t resist checking out these original pieces of wax art! How cool is the giant R2D2 and Yoda!

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It’s an old-school typewriter! I dream of one day collecting these, I don’t have the space right now so my secret desire shall have to wait, lol!

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What the…?

WestEnd artistry

They do sell a lot of clothes and fashionable pieces, as well as glass created by local artisans, but I’m more interested in the older things – which West End is full of!

Lot’s of interesting finds… Including a working 1800′s brass ship compass, and an Artillary Casing from the USS Dubuque (1975) that apparently was collected by a sailor from the Dubuque while it was operating in Vietnam. Also, a set of vintage steer horns in pretty good condition.

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Mugs from Tiffany’s!

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I kind of regret not getting this Forget Me Not cup, I really wanted it but talked myself out of it at the last minute – and it was only $3.99! I just didn’t want it to break on our way back.

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Okay, so get this in West End we snapped a pic of this glass case and on closer inspection we found something pretty fan-freaking-tastic:

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Closer inspection:

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Somewhere stuffed in there is a rare 1935 edition Johnny Gruelle illustration (for $24). Well, Johnny Gruelle was an American artist, political cartoonist, and children’s book author and illustrator. He also happens to be known as the creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy! How crazy is that? If I had known then, I totally would have snapped it up!

Look at this 1952 magazine – aren’t her lashes amazing?!

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I had such a great time exploring the West End Garage and definitely plan on returning sometime in the future! Click here to visit their website and for more information.

Enjoy the Heat and Kill the Burn with UrgentRx! #MyUrgentRX

My family has always enjoyed hot and spicy food. Unfortunately we all experience serious heartburn following our spicy indulgences – I even get heartburn when I drink coffee. I’ve learned to prepare myself when I eat spicy food, I’m not always prepared with an antacid so I pretty much anticipate the burn and live through it.

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UrgentRx is usually located near the cash registers or the pharmacy (I’ve seen them at both)

I recently found out about UrgentRx - on the go meds for on the go New Yorkers like me, which are found at city Duane Reade’s. So the other day when my family decided to head to Whole Foods for lunch, I knew to stop by a local Duane Reade and grab some UrgentRx. My favorite item from the Whole Foods buffet is the Indian food – I’d just about die for some good chicken tikka masala, or somosa’s!

But before I turned up the heat, I headed to Duane Reade to prepare for the burn. I love going to Duane Reade, my family goes there every Sunday after church and I go whenever I’m downtown (which is at least twice a week). I remember going there almost everyday after school with my best friend when I was in high school to buy drinks and snacks. I meant to just pop in and pick up UrgentRx for heartburn and pop out, but I got so distracted by the sales and ended up walking out with more than I bargained for – but all at a great price!

snacksDistracted by snackage!

My Duane Reade had some seriously hot sales in the food aisle – I ended up scoring Girards Champagne Dressing for $1.19 – 68% off from $3.79! I’ve never tried it before, but Champagne Dressing sounded so good that I couldn’t pass it up. And I couldn’t not buy DeLish Scrumptious Brownie Bites – which were on sale for 99 cents.

Check out my whole shopping trip here!

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The UrgentRx was located by the register and were priced at $1.59 and come in a travel friendly size – it’s smaller than my Balance Rewards card and small enough for wallet or purse. They come in Heart Burn Relief, Headache Relief, Allergy Attack Relief, Upset Stomach Relief, Ache and Pain Relief, and Critical Care Aspirin  I can definitely see myself using all of them at one time or another. I had my camera in my hand at checkout and the packet was so small and thin I forgot I was holding on to it and almost forgot to pay for it! Luckily the bright pink and white packaging caught my eye before I could complete my transaction.

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Headed downstairs to Whole Foods! Can’t wait to get my hands on my favorite heat-heavy eats!

After loading up on snacks and UrgentRx I headed over to Whole Foods in Columbus Circle – my sister and I shared some Indian food and I bought some tabbouleh and spicy Caribbean shrimp and mango salad – which was really delicious but super hot! And as expected I used my UrgentRx – it’s a no water powder that you just pour in your mouth! How cool is that?! Because it’s in powder form it gets into your bloodstream faster and is therefor more effective. Plus its tear and go packaging is childproof. It worked super fast for me, and I absolutely loved it!

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My favorite spicy foods!!!

Urgent15And my favorite form of heartburn relief!

How about you? Do you get heartburn? What spicy foods do you love to eat? Would you take UrgentRx?

*Disclaimer: I am a member of the Collective Bias®  Social Fabric® Community.  This content has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias® . and UrgentRX #cbias #SocialFabric However, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

Michael Angelo’s and a sweepstakes not to be missed!

Food has always been a source of comfort for me. Maybe it’s because I have such a culturally rich background, or maybe it’s because I spent many hours at my mom’s elbow learning how to bake, cook, and create good food. But for me, the most comforting of all the foods that I’ve eaten is Italian. My mom taught me early on how to bread and fry, chop onions, mince garlic, brown braciole, how to make Italian (sometimes called marinara, or Sunday) sauce, and how to make parmigiana.

But then I grew up, and now as a full time student and blogger, finding time to make my favorite Italian meals is hard. Having tried many of the frozen Italian meals available at my local supermarket, I was pretty disappointed and figured the only time I’d eat good Italian food was during the Holidays when I would have time to cook them. However, last August during BlogHer I finally discovered Michael Angelo’s.

For 30 years (I know, how did I not know about them until August is still a question I’m asking myself) Michael Angelo’s has been creating high quality Italian entrees for the freezer aisle. Michael Angelo’s created there products in small batches- ensuring freshness of taste, and quality excellence. Founder Sara learned her recipes working at her grandmother’s elbow, as I learned mine at my mothers, and has shared that tradition and love of food and feeding people with her customers.

I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I was with Michael Angelo’s frozen entrees. Cooked for about 45 min in a 400 degree oven, everybody in my family are now HUGE fans of their food. I was lucky enough to try their eggplant and chicken parmigiana, as well as their chicken piccata. Now being part Italian, and having grown up cooking and eating authentic Italian food, I figure I’m a pretty darn qualified critic. The chicken piccata was so good I was stuck standing at the stove nibbling from the tray – it almost didn’t even make it to a plate (let alone the table). And the eggplant parmigian is perfectly rich and just incredibly tasty – I couldn’t believe that I was eating a (formerly) frozen entrée!

The chicken parmigian was literally better than the chicken parm that I once had from a popular Italian restaurant on Arthur Avenue (which is like Town Square for East Coast Italians). Michael Angelo’s really is authentic Italian food. It tastes fresh and delicious. The chicken was juicy, and the portions generous. The sauce was beautifully made, and the piccata was easily some of the best I’ve had. Now I don’t have to wait for the Holidays to have great Italian – thanks to Michael Angelo’s I can have it anytime I want!

What’s even greater is that right now (up until November 4th) you can enter to win a trip to Italy- a culinary adventure courtesy of Michael Angelo’s! Enter here – and remember you can’t win, if you don’t enter!!!

Fat Witch Brownies NYC

I’ve always been a sucker for a good brownie. However, despite my impressive cookin’ skills the only person in my house who can throw down a good brownie is my older sister. Unfortunately, she didn’t like the last time I tried to chain her down to the kitchen stove and force her to make me a mountainous heap of chocolately treats. Alas, I’ve had to turn to alternate sources of sugar income. Luckily, NYC is choc-full of places to satiate my brownie cravings. My most favorite of them is Fat Witch Bakery.

Located in Chelsea Market, Fat Witch’s legendary brownies are the stuff of dreams. My personal favorite is the turtle witch – a super rich brownie with pecans and a heavy helping of caramel. Their store, in a prime foodie location, is the epitome of simplicity. No heavy branding or wild colors are needed here to draw in customers- the product speaks for itself.

Having enjoyed the fruits of Fat Witch, I would totally encourage any NY’er or visitor to stop by their store- it’s the only place where you can get their fresh bakery brownies (these aren’t advertised on their website, so you can’t get them any place else). My recommendations are the turtle witch, caramel witch, the original fat witch, and the walnut witch. They’re the perfect brownie- dense, sweet, decadent, chocolately, yum.

Don’t live in NYC, and not heading here any time soon? That’s okay- Fat Witch ships! Every brownie ships ready to eat- and contain no preservatives! They also have a cookbook- which I can personally vouch for. I’ve tried brownies made with their recipe book- they are amazing and taste just as good as the ones in store. A used copy costs around $7 on amazon.