day trip, family, florida, holidays

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida

Holiday Magic at Universal Studios

The holidays are here and there is something magical in the air at Universal Studios Orlando. There are lots of places to go during the holidays, but if you want to laugh, cheer, and shout your jingle bells off, this is the place to be. It’s the most magical, extraordinary, greatest, colorful, awesomest holiday celebration of the season.

From dazzling decorations, light displays, holiday parades, Christmas trees and seasonal treats to holiday shows, thrilling rides and so much more, here are our favorite reasons why Universal Orlando is one of the best places to spend during the holiday season….

Macy’s Holiday Parade

My absolutely favorite thing was the spectacular holiday parade featuring the huge Macy’s floating balloons. Most of the characters from the traditional Holiday Parade – which included the casts of the MinionsShrek, and Madagascar film franchises – arrive on floats to sing and dance. There is Christmas music, amazing floats, characters on stilts, confetti rain, snow bubbles, dancers, lights, Christmas trees and a whole lot of magic. And of course Santa Clause is there too. You can catch the parade every night (times change daily)

Christmas Tree Scavenger Hunt

This scavenger hunt was the favorite of Olivia. We had to travel around Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk and find 15 different themed decorated holiday trees. After finding the tree, we received a stamp inside our guide at each location. Once we got all the 15 stamps, we redeemed the guide for a special ornament.

The Holiday Tree Hunt brochure costs $10 and can be purchased in most stores at Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure and Universal CityWalk. There are two different ornaments to choose at the end.

The trees are very easy to locate. If you are running out of time, the ornaments can be redeemed at any time. It was so much fun and was perfect for the holidays.

The Grinchmas show and the Grinch

During the holiday season, Seuss Landing is decorated with the holiday charm and cheer of Dr. Seuss’s Who-ville. You can meet plenty Who residents walking around on stilts and singing spreading holiday cheer. There are other Dr Seuss Characters available for pictures, but the funniest and best one is of course the Grinch.

Even though the line can be quite long, a visit with the Grinch is worth the wait. The maven of mischief himself is available for a photo opportunity at “All The Books You Can Read Bookstore”. But this isn’t only a photo opp; it is a funny and extraordinary experience.

The Grinch asked Olivia if she had taken her onion bath that day. When she told him that she had not, he told her that he had a present for her. He asked if Olli wanted a yellow, purple or white present. After she chose white, he opened a box and got out an onion. The Grinch told her to lift the hands in the air and rubbed the onion under her arms and on her head. Afterwards he “cleaned” himself with the onion too. It was such a funny show that was geared only to our family and was one of our highlights.

Your heart might grow three sizes as you delight in the hilarious hijinks of this live retelling of the classic tale starring the Grinch, featuring music recorded by Mannheim Steamroller.

Holiday Decoration and Christmas Magic Galore

Twinkling lights in all colors, sparkling ornaments, huge Christmas trees, cute Nutcrackers, icy snow and glittery Snowmen, lots of beautiful garlands, festive bows, there is so much Christmas magic going on in every corner in both parks.

There is even an entire Christmas themed store. The Tribute Store is one of the best places to buy holiday-themed merchandise while exploring four festively themed rooms. There is Santa’s Workshop during the busy season, the Grinch Lair, a winter celebration, the Yule Ball and Earl the Squirrel.

Christmas treats

Tis the season to be hungry. There are special themed Christmas treats throughout the park. From specialty donuts and cupcakes to holiday cocktails, there is something for everybody.

Hogwarts castle light show

Most nights, Hogwarts castle lights up for the holidays. Unfortunately, there was no show on the nights we were there, but we saw the Halloween light show and it was amazing. There are also several other holiday performances in the Harry Potter world.

Holidays at Universal are from November 13th, 2021 to January 2nd, 2022 and are included in the theme park ticket.

Prices, times, dates, entertainment, event and/or experience details are subject to changes and/or cancellation without notice.

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Schaffhausen, Switzerland

The amazing Rheinfall / Rhine Falls

The Rheinfall / Rhine falls is the largest waterfall in Europe and is located close to the border near Schaffhausen in the Northeast of Switzerland. There are many other waterfalls that have greater drops and are much longer, but the Rhine Falls is the most powerful. Because of melting alpine caps, the water flows at an impressive rate of up to 600,000 liters per second during the summer. Even though, it is only 23 meters high, it is about 150 meters wide, making the Rhine Falls very impressive, powerful and loud.

The Rhine Falls is around 15.000 years old and originated during the last ice age. Because of tectonic shifts , the Rhine River was forced into the current riverbed. First the stream met the glacial deposits – gravel, clay and sand. Once the glacial deposits were washed away, it met with a large block of hard rock. That’s why the river became wider and more shallow before leaping over this rock, forming an enormous waterfall.

There are several different parking lots on both sides of the river. We parked very conveniently on P2 and only walked a couple of minutes downhill to get to the site. If you have read some of my other posts, you know we are known to visit many places in the late afternoon and early evening. This works out great for us, because most of the crowds already left for the day and everything is covered in the golden afternoon light. We started our walk at Schloessli Woerth, which also has a restaurant and a boat dock for tours.

We decided to walk the promenade along the water towards the falls. There is an information point, playground, benches and several view points which are all free. The entire walk around the Rhine Fall basin was about 3 kilometers long.

The river Rhine is really special to me. I grew up in a small village right next to it and even saw it from my classroom window at school everyday. (The Rhine is the largest river in Germany and it flows from the Alps to the North Sea. ) We had visited family at Lake Constance, so it was the perfect opportunity to make a stop at the Rhine Falls. I am so glad we did. It is an amazing sight.

These waterfalls have been formed in a sharp bend of the Rhine which is why it offers so many impressive views.

We walked by several little platforms and viewing points, discovering little side waterfalls and different angles.

What a gorgeous view with the castle in the background.

The highlight for the boys was dangling their feet inside the water on one of the platforms. They had seen several people do it and since it seemed harmless with the handrail, I let them join the fun. Little things (if they are not dangerous) makes kids so much more excited about a place. I want my kids to want to travel with me and have fun while doing it. Little things like this can make their day and they will always remember the Rhine Falls. It also gave me a great picture opportunity.

This viewing platform was one of my favorites. The views were spectacular, the sun was setting perfectly and we had the falls almost to ourselves. In the middle of the Rhine Falls stands a large rock that has withstood the elements for thousands of years. The rock can be reached on one of the boat tours, which must be impressive. Virtually in the middle of the waterfall, visitors stand on platforms that jut out and partially hover over the Rhine. We will be back for that Rhine Falls.

Next up was crossing the water to the other side of the falls for more spectacular views.

We continued on the path which led us over the railway bridge that was built in 1857. There is a small pedestrian pathway right next to the railroad, which crosses the river, just above the falls.  I highly recommend to walk across the bridge and admire the falls from this amazing viewpoint. 

We were greeted by these cute cows. I am not sure if they always stand there, but the kids loved it. Of course we had to take cow pictures in Switzerland, even if the cows were made out of plastic.

Schloss Laufen

Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall on the southern bank towers on a rocky cliff high above the waterfall. Most visitors (including us) stroll directly through the inner courtyard of the castle to the “Känzeli”, a spectacular viewing platform directly over the thundering Rhine Falls. From here you can get the best views of this imposing natural spectacle. In addition there is also a new visitors’ center, a children’s playground and the “Historama” (interactive exhibition about the Rhine Falls and its 1000-year-old history ) . Schloss Laufen has an entry fee:

Entrance per person CHF 5.00 per person.
Included in the ticket price: access to the Historama and the viewing platforms.
Children 6 – 15 years CHF 3.00
For groups from 15 to 29 persons, CHF 3.00 per person.
For groups with more than 30 persons, CHF 2.00 per person.
Tickets for visitors in a wheelchair, with a pram and groups of 15 or more are only available in the Visitor Centre.

Since we did not book a tour and didn’t have too much information beforehand about the Rhine Falls, I found this sign very interesting. I normally plan and get to know some facts before visiting a place, but sometimes like here, I didn’t have time and appreciated this great sign even more.

Facts & figures
 
Width of the Falls
150 metres
Height of the Falls
23 metres
Depth of the basin
13 metres
Age of the Falls
approx. 15’000 years
Capacity of flow in summer
approx. 600’000 litres per second
Capacity of flow in winter
approx. 250’000 litres per second
Lowest capacity of flow
1921, 95’000 litres per second
Greatest capacity of flow
1965, 1’250’000 litres per second

The path to the viewing platform was steep, rocky and had lots of stairs. So much more fun for the kids. We even had to go through the rock several times.

Once we arrived at the platform, we were rewarded with an amazing view and sound. This was my other favorite spot of the day. We could feel the roar and vibration of the water through our entire body. We even got a little wet from the spray of the falls. This was an experience that I will never forget. This is the place to see, hear and feel the power of the falls.

This place is also one of the photo stops of the Grand Tour of Switzerland.

I hope you liked our visit to the Rheinfall. Follow us for more of our travel adventures.

Look through and download the official brochure of the Rhine Falls in English and German. The brochure is also available in French and Italian.

Rheinfall_Prospekt_de_en_2021_web.pdf

Comment below of your favorite place in Switzerland.

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Gibraltar

The Monkeys on top of the Rock of Gibraltar

I like to plan our travel routes in detail and outline what could be interesting to visit and where to stop, but still like to be flexible enough to make an unexpectant detour or interesting stop. We were driving from the southernmost tip of Spain (Tarifa) up the coast to Valencia. Our only planned stop was eating Malaga ice cream in Malaga. Shortly after driving through Algeciras ,we were looking at the map and decided it would be fun to make a small detour and stop in Gibraltar. It was very exciting for the kids because they wanted to see the famous wild monkeys. It is also the location of the opening scene of a James Bond Movie and we love to visit movie locations. And as a bonus, we also got to visit another country. Even though we were in Southern Spain, Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory and we had to pass through a border and show our passports. To get to the city, we had to cross an airport runway. Everything felt very exciting…

Because our time was limited, we drove straight up through tiny and narrow streets towards the rock of Gibraltar. We did not know where we had to go to and just drove until we got to the Gibraltar Nature Reserve. We parked our car close to the Moorish Castle and bought tickets to go inside. I like to be adventurous and it seemed totally possible to hike up the 426 m (1,398 ft) rock of Gibraltar with the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa as a backdrop. Looking back and researching a little, there are much better hiking paths up, but we did not know that at the time and just followed the map. (I would like to see the cave and Mediterranean Steps the next time) . We mainly kept on the paved road at the beginning, which worked out well with the stroller for the little princess who liked to be always barefoot at the time. The boys preferred a more difficult path and climbed the rocks next to the street.

It was a beautiful hot summer day and the views were spectacular. The birds were chirping and the mood was fabulous. Our first stop was the Princess Caroline’s Battery located at the northern end of the Upper Rock Nature preserve. We took pictures and saw the first monkey. Oh, what a happy moment. This little monkey made my day.

We were heading towards the Apes Den, when we discovered the cable car for the first time. All of the sudden the boys long faces could touch the floor. They were not happy to hike up any further, but it was too late to turn around and we kept going. After some complaining, the excitement for seeing more monkeys at the Apes Den returned.

The view from Apes Den is fantastic, and seeing the monkeys in their natural habitat is something really special. Originally from the Atlas Mountains and the Rif Mountains of Morocco, the Barbary macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population on the European continent. Currently, some 300 animals in five troops live in the Upper Rock area of the Gibraltar Nature Reserve, though they make occasional visits into the town. There was a cute monkey sitting on the side of the wall and posing for the perfect pictures. He did eye our stroller and backpacks, but did not move.

The Charles V Wall Stairs and upper wall were up next on our adventure to the top. The stairs are bigger than they look and it was a great challenge. The sun was shining pretty hot, so we had to rest a couple times on the way. There are 4 sections with tables and benches in between, so resting is not a problem. The view gets better and better going up. Its so spectacular and can’t even be described properly. There are about 660 steps which Olivia decided to do barefoot. I think Giorgio had the most fun, because he kept on running up the stairs and kept waiting for us. We encountered several more monkeys, but were determined to get to the top. Chris was the least excited to climb up the stairs, because he also carried the backpack and stroller. Looking back, the stairs were my favorite part and I would prefer them over taking the cable car. It such a great achievement reaching the top, but the little things on the way make it really worth it. Take your time and soak up everything around you.

We were so excited when we reached the top of the stairs and the monkey feeding station. Even though it is called the feeding station, visitors are not allowed to feed the monkeys. They are managed by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society and the monkeys medical and nutritional care is provided by the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic (GVC). Each day the macaques receive a supply of fresh water, are given vegetables, fruit and seeds as supplement to the natural food resources that they forage, and are regularly caught and checked to assure their good health.

There was a group of tourists that showed us what not to do with the monkeys. One girl had a pretty deep wound on her back because a monkey had bitten her in the shoulder when she stopped feeding him. They were debating if she should go to a doctor, when we arrived. There was no greater learning experience for my kids. They learned right away that we could not get too close and that these cute little monkeys were wild animals that may react violently. We continued to walk to the Skywalk area which is a little platform with views spanning three countries and two continents. The floor and balustrade panels are made up of 4 layers of laminated glass and makes this experience even more awesome. Of course there were more monkeys.  

I felt the monkeys on the top were a little more confrontational. They really wanted to see what we brought and tried to get into our backpack and stroller. I would avoid taking bags when going specifically to see them, otherwise just try to keep a distance. One monkey was specifically interested in Luca and followed him for a short while. At first he was too terrified to go on the platform, because the monkey got pretty close to us. We made it up in the end and were not attacked by any monkeys.

All in all, a visit to Gibraltar would certainly not be complete without having seen the Gibraltar monkeys up close and be a little terrified of them. It’s an experience of a lifetime and definitely not one that should be missed!

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Avignon/Nimes, France

The Pont Du Gard Bridge in Southern France near Avignon/Nimes

The Pont du Gard is one of the sites that shouldn’t be missed on any trip to the South of France. The Aqueduct is one of the most beautiful Roman constructions in France and a Unesco World heritage sight. With more than a million visitors per year, Pont du Gard is the most visited ancient monument in France.

After visiting the lavender fields in Sault, we spent the day in Avignon before continue to drive to Spain. I love to revisit places I had seen as a child on vacation with my parents and sister. We had visited Pont Du Gard, when I was 8 years old. Since it was kind of one the way, I spontaneous decided to stop and revisit this beautiful bridge with my children. We arrived pretty late and the museum was already closed for the day, but the golden light of the sunset made up for it. It was a beautiful warm August evening and most of the people had already left for the day.

The bridge, which spans the Gardon, is 48 meters high; it extends over a distance over 272 meters but was originally 490 meters long.

We didn’t bring any bathing suites, but that didn’t stop us from heading directly to the Gardon River to cool off in the perfectly clear water. The boys tried to catch little fish with their hands, Olivia was splashing around happily, and I just enjoyed being there and appreciated the moment. Of course, I also took a lot of pictures.

We could have definitely spent the entire day there. A picnic at the banks, kayaking, the museum , a guided tour of the different levels of the bridge, swimming and the surrounding gardens offer so much possibilities. I do love to revisit places, so we might be back again. This time, I will plan it before and visit the entire site.

I am so happy we stayed for the spectacular illumination of the monument. They started at 10pm and were so worth it. The bridge and surrounding area was transformed with lights and pyrotechnics, to tell a beautiful story. It was the perfect ending to enjoy a warm summer night.

Opening hours of the site

From 9 am to 8 pm from January to March

From 9 am to 9 pm in April and May

From 10 am to 10 pm in June

From 9 am to 00 pm in July and August

From 9 am to 10 pm in September

From 9 am to 9 pm  from October to December

Entrance fee ticket:
– Discovery Pass (Pont du Gard, Museum, Ciné, the Mémoires de Garrigue path, Exhibition)
Adult rate: 9.50 € / pers (8€ On line preserved)
Reduced price: 7 € / pers
Free for children under -18 years

Free entry is granted to :

-People with disabilities, regardless of the degree of disability as well as up to one person accompanying them.

– Guided tour at the top level of the Aqueduct : + 6€ (Free under -6 years)

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Dunnellon, Florida

Tubing on Rainbow River and Rainbow Springs State Park

One of my favorite summer adventures last year was Tubing on the Rainbow River by Dunnellon….. In case you have never heard about this town, it is about 100 miles northwest of Orlando. There’s no better or more relaxing way to experience this magical river than tubing! At least it is for me…. I wasn’t sure if Chris or Olivia would be too excited to float in the rather cool water….The water temperature averages 72 degrees year-round. It is a little fresh going inside, but I promise it will be perfect about 1 mile down the river and the sun will be almost too much by mile 2.

There are different tubing experiences available. We decided to launch from K.P. Hole, a Marion County Park, and floated approximately 3 1/2 hours down the river. There was also the shorter option available from the State park which would have lasted only about 2 hours. I was unsure before if tubing from K.P. Hole park was not too long, but time went by way too fast and I wish, there would have been a 6 hour experience available.

We went tubing together with my sister and her husband, which made it even better. To stay attached, we tied our tubes together with ropes. We also brought waterproof bags, reusable water bottles (the only ones allowed), goggles, snacks, hats and of course sunscreen.

Despite being 30 feet deep in some places, it feels like you could reach out and touch the bottom since the water is crystal clear. We saw turtles, fish, dragonflies and forests of aquatic grass that provide food and habitat for many of the creatures that live here. Although everyone wonders about alligators, we did not see any.

As I mentioned before, Oliva would have not liked to be in a float for that long or even touch the cold water, so we resolved that problem and rented a kayak in addition to the tubes. It was the perfect solution, because we also transported all the drinks, snacks and even towels.

It was the perfect day and it was over way too fast. It was peaceful and beautiful. And it inspired us to visit more springs in the future.

 Tubing season runs April to October. On summer weekends, both Rainbow River tubing operations generally reach capacity, so early arrival is important,

The next day we visited the Rainbow Springs State Park to see the waterfalls. We love to visit waterfalls, but Florida doesn’t have too many…. So I was excited to find out there were some at Rainbow Springs.

Rainbow Springs State Park is magnificent and we strolled through shady gardens laced with azaleas, oaks and magnolias. The walkways are paved and even though some are a little steep, they are still pretty easy to navigate.

The walkways pass by three man-made waterfalls and a native plant garden. When we visited in August 2020 only two waterfalls were working at the time. We continued through the garden and passed many relics (remains of old animal cages) of the glory past, when the park was a private attraction.

At the end of the path, begins a small Butterfly Garden. The sun was casting the perfect shadow on the entrance gazebo, it was warm and other than butterflies, we were the only ones there. It felt so peaceful and perfect.

To our surprise, there was more… A small trail right out of a fairytale lead us to three nature trails through natural oak hammock and sandhill communities.

We did not have a map, so we just followed the colored markers of the trail. There is a blue, yellow and white trail and we decided to follow the blue trail.

It had rained the previous days, so the blue trail (which is the closest to the water) became muddy and inaccessible. We decided to go for the yellow trail instead. The trails offers both river and phosphate pit overlooks…..

This area was the first place where phosphate was commercially mined in Florida. The deep pits and spoil piles left behind were recovered by the forest and are looking unreal in a normally very flat Florida. What a surprise when the first pit suddenly appeared in front of us. (My batterie had died, so I didn’t take any pictures.)

The most fascinating thing were the changes throughout the trail. We started in a forest, followed by sandy terrain punctuated with ravines created by mining and restored by nature. It did not even feel like Florida. At times we felt lost, because we couldn’t see any markers. I would have loved to see more along the paths, but it made it also more adventurous. It was also very overgrown and felt a little longer than the miles on the sign. I still found it magical and we did not meet anybody during our walk. I highly recommend a hike on these trails and hope we will be back one day…