Road Tripping with the 2018 Toyota Camry

Road Tripping with the 2018 Toyota Camry

When my friends and I were invited to drive north to Orlando and check out Universal Studios I jumped into road trip mode. Scaling back as much as possible these days I decided to throw everything into one backpack to keep it simple. I received word that I would be testing out the new 2018 Toyota Camry, so I thought I’d better make room for a small space.

I didn’t give my friends the heads up and they did in fact pack luggage, I thought it might be tough, but we’ll make it through. That is until I got a load of the trunk space on this beauty! Let’s start with how roomy and cozy it was in the backseat, so I was surprised at how there could be that much trunk space!

2018 Toyota Camry

This made the trip a lot easier and way more comfortable since there were three of us and at all times there would be someone sitting in the backseat. When it first pulled up, I thought there were definitely some slight body changes since I owned a Camry a couple of years ago. But the inside was an entirely different cockpit!

I call it that because that’s exactly what this beauty felt like. This baby had plenty of power (the first Camry to pack this amount of horsepower). We arrived in Orlando in under three hours (going the speed limit of course).

2018 Toyota Camry

The interior was beautifully crafted and such fun to drive. The large screen was easy to maneuver and at my fingertips throughout the ride (even though I couldn’t figure out how to plug-in an address). Electric blue really isn’t my color, but it served perfectly as we sped down the highway on our little getaway. I’m impressed by all of the time that was dedicated to the details of this vehicle. The Camry insignia lights up at night, illuminating your footing for easy access.

2018 Toyota Camry

The upgraded grill gave it great style and impressed my husband and two boys. It would even fit our two car seats in the back for a family road trip if needed. It was a smooth ride and really easy to park.

2018 Toyota Camry

2018 Toyota Camry

Not to mention easy on the eyes! The 2018 Camry XLE was a lot of fun to drive and caught the attention of passersby everywhere we went all week. I would definitely recommend this for a guys’ or girls’ trip.

Essentially yours,

Erika

 

3 Ways to Enjoy Universal Studios Florida

3 Ways to Enjoy Universal Studios Florida

I was recently invited to stay at the Loews Royal Pacific in Universal Studios Florida. I was excited to give it a try, it had been years since I’d been there. I think I was twenty-years-old and just started dating my (now) husband. We spent a weekend at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. My, how life has grown beyond measure. I was interested in seeing how much it all has changed for me as a (now) parent. I packed up the car with a few of my favorite ladies and hit the road. We had dreams of visiting it all, including the new park, Universal’s Volcano Bay. Along the way I realized there are many ways to enjoy this type of adventure and thought I’d share.

#1) A Universal Orlando Couples Trip

It’s a great place for fun and adventurous couples. I remember taking this trip with my then boyfriend and learning so much about how we experience the parks together. There is a variety of thrill-seeking options and entertaining shows throughout the park that can keep you on your toes. Besides, it’s always great to hear see how someone reacts to the spooky stuff. Can you say Skull Island?

Universal Orlando

There are many benefits to staying at the Loews Royal Pacific property while visiting the parks. The early admission to the park and convenient water taxi are enough to make a girl swoon, but the sheer beauty of this property definitely had me missing my hubby (Loews Royal Pacific Resort guests receive Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal’s Volcano Bay one hour before the theme park opens). Gorgeous details throughout the hotel and a romantic bamboo garden with just the right amount of light to remind you to really take it easy at dusk.

Royal Pacific Hotel
Enjoy a traditional torch lighting ceremony poolside (weather permitting) featuring the “oli aloha” welcoming chant, a fire dancer and more at the Royal Pacific Hotel.

The authentic details of this property will draw you in and transport you to a different place and time. The perfect Royal Pacific holiday minus the day and a half of travel. We were treated to Jake’s Beer Dinner, a beer pairing dining experience offered at the Loews Royal Pacific. You can also enjoy sushi every evening after 5pm in the Orchid Court Lounge and Sushi Bar at the Royal Pacific, or take part in the weekly authentic Wantilan Luau experience (reservations necessary). This weekly dinner show features a tropical all-you-can-eat buffet (complete with pit-roasted pig) and live music. Shows are Saturday evenings; tickets are required. Registration begins at 5:30 pm, seating starts at 6 pm (subject to change).

Royal Pacific Hotel

Royal Pacific Hotel

Royal Pacific Hotel
Details in all of the woodwork is warm and inviting.

#2) A Universal Family Trip

It’s a no-brainer that Universal Orlando is a great family destination. What I didn’t realize, was that it is great for all family types. I’d always assumed the boys needed to be much older before we could visit. There is plenty for young kids to experience throughout the parks (particularly during the holidays), including the new Macy’s Parade.

Universal Orlando

While I was mesmerized with the Simpsons in Springfield, I just know my boys would have loved Seussland. I was lucky enough to catch the beautiful decorations for Grinchmas!

Who-ville was certainly magical as was the entire park for the holiday celebration. We spent time amongst the trees with Lorax and breezed through the nostalgic Comic Town. We agreed that Cathy and Dogwood were our favorites.

Royal Pacific Hotel

There is definitely a benefit to transporting kids to and from the park via water taxi on late nights, and the convenience of stopping for lunch just outside the park at restaurants like Cowfish where hotel guests enjoy preferred seating. The hotel holiday decor was warm and beautiful with a tree that must be aspiring to reach Rockefeller proportions!

Royal Pacific

The most appealing of all amenities would have to be the Universal Express Unlimited passes available to guests of the Loews Royal Pacific Hotel (as well as those who stay at Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel). This saves time and allows you to experience the wonder that the entire park has to offer without the stress of standing in a long line. There is so much to see in all of the different parts of the park, just this one park could literally keep you busy for days! My boys would probably be more interested in the option to shop throughout the park and have it delivered to your room so you don’t have to hold your purchases all-day-long. Actually, that may be our favorite as well…

A Universal Orlando Girl’s Trip

An unexpected surprise from my trip at Universal is that it is perfect for a girl’s/guys getaway. Action, adventure, good food, and fun. What more could you want from a weekend getaway with your friends? My friends Ilysia and Meade took full advantage of this “nerd-cation” and completely geeked out with me over the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’ve got to say, folks, this was the highlight of this trip. It started before even leaving to Orlando when it was demanded I finish the first book in the Harry Potter series. Boy am I glad I did! There are so many nuances throughout this amazing addition to the park, and from what I understand they are currently working on the newest installation (hopefully more juicy details to come soon)! We spent the first night at the Royal Pacific getting spoiled with chocolate Christmas trees and fun surprises in our room. I had my wand, and I was ready for the day ahead… well, after watching the first Harry Potter movie!

Diagon Alley

(photo courtesy of Meade Peers McCoy)

Diagon Alley was more than I could have dreamed of. I entered this wizarding world on our second day of the trip and I’m afraid I haven’t been able to shake the spell its put on me since! You can almost miss the entrance entirely, it’s just next door to Kings Cross Station by the Knight Bus. I’m so glad I brushed up on my reading, although it still meant I had to constantly ask for references from the two best Potter guides a gal could ask for! The bricks “parted” and I had my first glimpse of Gringott’s bank (to-die-for). It’s completely worth standing around and waiting for the dragon to breathe actual fire.

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley

We put our map and wand to work as soon as we could. Wands purchased at Olivanders come equipped with the ability to perform spells throughout the park at the marked stations. Look for the gold emblem etched into the cobblestone streets (which looked magnificent on a rainy day with a bit of overcast). Search for the clues on each station to show you how to perform each spell.

Hogwart's Castle
Hogwart’s Castle

Bonus Tip: Take your map to Knockturn Alley and put it under the blue light to see additional spots to perform super secret spells.

We rode the train at Hogsmeade (the train takes you between parks and has plenty of entertainment along the way), listened to the Frog Choir (fantastic), and drank plenty of warm butterbeer on a cool afternoon. In case you’re wondering what the holidays are like in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, they DON’T disappoint! At every turn, there were fancy little details depicting the fabulous Christmas celebration that the books convey.

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley

The ride at Gringott’s was our absolute favorite, and seeing Hogwart’s for the first time was pure magic. The detail put into each aspect of this park and transforming it for the holiday was intoxicating. We spent our afternoons looking for any clues from the books or movies, and our evenings reflecting on it all.

We had a fabulous time enjoying the amenities available via water taxi and even had a girl’s night out starting with a few drinks in the Orchid Court Lounge and Sushi Bar. We then danced the night away at Universal CityWalk. The rooms were gorgeous with fascinating color/texture patterns layered so incredibly well that they didn’t seem overwhelming at all. The perfect blend of modern meets classic style, transporting you to a different time and giving you the sense you’ve traveled much farther than the two-hour trip to Orlando from Boca Raton.

The courtyard is fantastic with authentic elements everywhere you look. The running water and outdoor seating invite you to come and bask in the sights and sounds of the Royal Pacific.

There is beauty everywhere you turn at the Royal Pacific. It starts at the entrance of the property when you cross a bridge and leave all your cares and worries behind. I am proud to say that the three of us didn’t focus on work once while we remembered how to play on our weekend getaway.

It seems there is something for everyone at Universal Orlando whether you are a young family or a group of adults looking to unwind. I can’t wait to come back and explore more with my family over the years as we grow and our experiences change. I want to bring the boys and introduce them to Universal’s newest park Volcano Bay!

Check out this picture gallery of all the fun we had on our amazing trip!

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Huge thanks goes out to Universal Orlando, and the Loews Royal Pacific Hotel for hosting us on this fabulous adventure!

You can follow Loews Royal Pacific Hotel on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Don’t forget to consider any of the five on-site hotels at Universal Studios Florida for your next vacation!

  • Loews Sapphire Falls Resort 
  • Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort 
  • Loews Portofino Bay Hotel 
  • Loews Royal Pacific Resort  

Essentially yours,

Erika

 

Zota Beach Resort | Longboat Key, FL

Zota Beach Resort | Longboat Key, FL

Living in South Florida has taught me to embrace new and interesting twists on how I view some of our family travel. I’ve learned to embrace certain wildlife and appreciate it’s preservation. I’ve also learned to adapt to a different climate. When envisioning holiday vacations, I would usually expect cold weather and perhaps even snow. However, in Florida, and particularly Longboat Key, I learned to embrace a different visual. We’ve spent some time on the west coast of Florida the past couple of years, and I’ve learned to appreciate a spectacular sunset. It comes with the territory.

Our most recent discovery was some time well spent at the hidden jewel of Longboat Key, the Zota Beach Resort. The Zota Beach Resort recently underwent a complete renovation (practically gutted) and opened its doors to reveal a gorgeous contemporary resort for the west coast. The colors, fabrics, and furniture are reminiscent of a classic time while embodying a modern spirit. Plus, you can’t beat the sunsets on this beachfront property ready to welcome you.

Zota Beach Resort

Zota Beach Resort

We spent four days soaking up the sand, sun, and wildlife that Longboat Key has to offer. When thinking about a beach resort, I normally wouldn’t consider bringing the boys for fear they would get bored. One of the sweetest surprises was how family-friendly Zota Beach Resort is. The menu at Viento catered to our tiny guests and made dining there nightly incredibly smooth. Waking up to the sound of the seagulls and strolling the beach with the boys after breakfast is one of my most treasured memories.

During the day there was plenty to do and see on the sand. The boys collected shells, went swimming in the crisp cool waters of the west coast, and we enjoyed an afternoon kayaking. There was no shortage of outdoor fun in the sand. Mostly at the hands of the fabulous Zota Bech Staff. They waited on us hand and foot, an extra set of hands for whatever our family needed. The resort was so thoughtful to already have strategically placed umbrellas with buckets and shovels on hand. We didn’t have to pack a thing! Such an incredible way to chill out and enjoy lunch with the family. This would later be the scene for the most spectacular sunset we’ve seen in Florida. Like, ever.

Zota Beach Resort

We enjoyed the luxury of a cabana to ourselves as we sat poolside. The kids enjoyed lunch while we sipped on frozen drinks and enjoyed the amenities of poolside luxury. Towels were in place when we arrived, and the kids had access to television while we lounged around. Although most of the time it was me watching a little HGTV!

We lounged around until it was absolutely necessary that we head back to our room and get ready for dinner. I mean, can you blame us?

Zota Beach Resort
Dusk is my favorite time here!

Okay, so let’s talk about these rooms…

I love everything about them. They are light and airy, with a sophisticated beachside vibe. Every detail provided a layer of color, texture, and fabric all complimentary of each other without overwhelming your senses. There was a lot of thought put into the details and it shows.

The light fabric lets in just enough light to nudge you out of bed, while the blackout curtains invite you to take just a few more winks.

Zota Beach Resort
Breakfast at Viento

I was fortunate to be able to take a tour of the property and learned all about the many amenities offered at Zota. I was incredibly impressed by their 24-hour fitness gym, what a view to exercise with each day!

See more from my tour below:

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Zota Beach Resort has something for everyone. Whether you are looking for some down time, or a good time. Their family-friendly service provides just enough for the kids and the parents to enjoy, and wraps it all in a bow with a fantastic sunset each night.

Zota Beach Resort

Family Travel

Zota Beach Resort

Zota Beach Resort

Zota Beach Resort

Zota Beach Resort

Zota Beach Resort

Zota Beach Resort

Essentially yours,

Erika


Zota Beach Resort is located at 4711 GULF OF MEXICO DRIVE, LONGBOAT KEY, FLORIDA 34228. You can follow Zota Beach Resort on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!


Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. Complimentary accommodations were provided in order to facilitate an honest review. As always all opinions expressed are 100% my own.

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