Time has a way of disappearing when you are having fun, and that's what had happened to my stay in Lake Buena Vista. Having drank my way across the World, Disney World that is, it was time to pack up and move on. While sad to leave one of my favourite places, I was excited about the next part of my trip. It was only a short drive East bound on Interstate 4 to reach my final destination. Universal Orlando Resort was to be home for the next four nights and a room at their onsite Cabana Bay Beach Resort was waiting.
Universal Orlando Resort, formally Universal Studios Florida, or at least it was when I first visited back in 1992. Its a sprawling vacation destination that began quietly in the early 1990's on a small plot off I4 just South of Orlando. It has expanded rapidly since then and now included 5 onsite hotels, 2 Theme Parks, an entertainments district and a soon to open Water Park, Volcano Bay
I could see construction of this park from my room. Cabana Bay opened in March 2014 as the resorts fourth hotel and first for the budget market. Themed as a 1950/60's roadside motel, it is a fresh & impressive place to stay, with a number of bars, which sadly I didn't get to try. Check in wasn't to 4 so I had missed a big part of the drinking day, eager to make up for lost time, I made my way to the Hotel Bus Stop and caught the complimentary shuttle bus to the Parks. Jumping off at the Bus stop it is a short walk to the security check area and then a lazy ride along the automated people movers to the entrance of Universals Citywalk.
Citywalk is an Entertainment district that sits at the Gates of both Theme Parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. It has shops, restaurants and bars, many of which are recent additions following a major overhaul which replaced some of the opening tenants, with places such as NBC Sports Bar & Grill along with the already popular Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. My first stop was longed decided, so as a bit of a Parrothead, it had to be Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville.
Welcomed in by the sounds of Jimmy at the outside Bar, I visited a conveniently placed Margarita quick service bar and ordered a Mango Margarita to get the night started. Served, as seen above, in a plastic Universal Resort glass, with a premium price tag, it was refreshingly welcome in the muggy Orlando evening. The Sun was setting and at 6pm CityWalk was only warming up
With drink in hand I took a slow walk around the area, passing bustling retail stores and the new NBC Grill. A DJ was setup on outside decks down by the water, where the resort hotel boats criss cross as they make their way back and forward. As the sun set and the darkness of Friday evening appeared, there was a definite buzz that you just don't get in the cold wet February evening in Belfast. Passing the entrance to Universal Studios Theme park, I was soon outside the Hard Rock Café. The largest Hard Rock in the World, with a concert venue attached and a Hard Rock Hotel a short boat ride away. Settling onto the outdoor patio, I sipped a Coconut Mai Tai while watching the Florida world go by.
The call of the Island Lifestyle was getting too strong, so I made my way around to the best bar on property. Margaritaville! It may have been 7pm by this time, but we all know its five o'clock somewhere. After a short wait hovering around, I scored a seat at the Lone Palm Airport. An outdoor Bar that sits around Jimmy Buffett's plane "The Hemisphere Dancer" made famous by the song Jamaica Mistaica. The young friendly barman handed me one of the coolest menus ever, which sadly he wouldn't let me take home, even for a large tip. At Margaritaville it has to be.... Margarita! Sadly it was another generic plastic glass, but even that wasn't enough to spoil an excellent Watermelon Margarita, closely followed by a Perfect, Perfect Margarita.
A little bit of a cold front was moving in, so I moved into the main restaurant to heat up the night and listen to the live entertainment. JD Spradlin is the resident DJ at the Orlando location, but sadly he was on a night off. Finding another Bar Stool in the heat, I opted for the Margarita flight! Which was served in real glasses, finally. coming in at a hefty $19 and including small servings of WHO’S TO BLAME®, WILDBERRY, WATERMELON, AND MANGO margarita.
Anyone who isn't a Jimmy Buffett fan, which is a baffling notion. This is the pretty cool Booze in the Blender, another song reference, that fills with water and erupts every so often, with cool sounds effects and light shows within the restaurant.
Although 1030 is very early for a Friday night, all the Tequila was having an effect on me and it was time to search out food. Most of Florida is surrounded by water and is know for its seafood, so where better to eat than Bubba Gumps, the seafood joint based on the partnership formed by Forrest and Bubba in the classic 90's film Forrest Gump.
Another Bar and another Bar stool, I took a large craft Beer, I4 IPA and a big plate of Bourbon Street Mahi Mahi.. Things were winding down in Bubba's but the serving staff were keen to talk and even took time to explain Uber to me. They didn't even bat an eye when I explained Uber was only new in Ireland and as we only had 3 drivers, it was safe to use, as everyone on the Island knew them.
On that note, I settled up and made my way back through City Walk, taking the well lit walkway back to Cabana Bay. Another night was over, but one day closer to Super Bowl Sunday