Eating Healthy at Universal Orlando Resort

Living close to the theme parks makes it easy to avoid the temptation of indulging in all the “wrong” foods because we are here on a regular basis.  Plus, we can easily eat before we go or pack a lunch if we plan to spend the whole day.  But for those of you who are just visiting and don’t have a refrigerator at home to store all your healthy yum yums there are plenty of ways to stay on track of your healthy diet in the parks.  Here I will give you some of my personal favorites at both of the Universal parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure) as well as City Walk.

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Universal Studios:

Beverly Hills Boulangerie is located just inside the park entrance in Hollywood.  It is a quick service eatery that  offers a pretty good selection of sandwiches.  If you are trying to stay away from bread they also offer soup and salad combos.

Bumblebee Man’s Taco Food Cart. is located in Springfield (aka “Simpsons Land”).   You may be thinking “tacos aren’t healthy!!” but at this food truck they have some great options like grilled chicken or fish tacos that are delish!  So if you are walking through Springfield and want a better option than the Krusty Burger stop here…I promise you won’t be disappointed 🙂

Finnegan’s Bar & Grill is a great choice if you are looking for a table service option while walking around “New York”.  The Irish Pub decorations create a fun atmosphere and the menu boasts quite a few healthy choices including sandwiches and salads.  My favorite is the Dublin Chicken Sandwich.  I order it without the cheese and sub a side salad for the fries.  Super yum!!

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Islands of Adventure:

Thunder Falls Terrace is a quick service food joint located in Jurassic Park.  This is a great place to load up on healthy proteins like rotisserie chicken.  They even have a rotisserie chicken salad with a citrus vinaigrette dressing that is amazing!!

Mythos Restaurant is an award winning full service restaurant located in The Lost Continent.  The entire menu is full of delicious and flavorful options including my favorite the Mediterranean Chicken Salad Wrap.  In fact, I’m craving this right now as I type this…might have to voyage on over there after work today!

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City Walk:

The CowFish is the newest full service restaurant to hit City Walk and just happens to be mine and my daughter’s favorite.  The menu is comprised of Sushi and burgers and the combinations are endless.  The children’s meals come in a bento box which is sure to please and the side options include healthy options such as edamame and cucumber salad!  There are even adult combos that come in a “grown-up” size bento box which is sure to please the child in you 🙂

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Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville is a favorite at City Walk.  The food has a Caribbean flair to it and the menu has lots of healthy options like fresh fish and grilled chicken.  The ambiance is can’t miss and you’ll be sure to enjoy the entire experience from the music and service to the delicious food.

I also wanted to point out that you are allowed to bring food and non-alcoholic drinks into the parks as long as they are not in glass containers.  I often pack a small cooler full of bottled waters and bring healthy options like bananas (just watch out for the minions!), apples, carrots and nuts to keep us going and save some money.  It also helps us not to be tempted by all the sugary treats lurking around every corner.  But don’t forget that you ARE on vacation and a little treat here and there is essential.  Try sharing a Butterbeer in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley (which you MUST TRY at least once).  Sharing will allow you to indulge but also save on some calories.

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Remember if you need tips or help planning your trip to Universal Orlando Resort or ANY of the Orlando theme parks I’m your girl!  You can contact me at Bianca@ModernTravelPros.com and/or on Facebook:  Bianca Medina – Agent of Modern Travel Professionals.

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Why I Have Decided To #RunDisney

 

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First let me start with a little background. When I was  younger I was very athletic.  I danced, played soccer and softball and was always running around outside.  When the teen years hit I got lazy and complacent.  College was worse!  It became all about studying and not abou taking care of myself so I succumbed to the “Freshman 15”.  Exercise was a chore that I never had time for a didn’t enjoy.  This attitude towards fitness continued into adulthood and during my pregnancy.  I gained 50 pounds, which was almost half of my starting weight of  110 pounds…I’m only 4′ 11.5″ (and yes I count that .5 inch).  I couldn’t lose the last 20 pounds after my pregna until thyroid disease took over my body.  I dropped to my all time lowest weight of 94 pounds.  I was skin and bones.  And even though I had lost all the weight I knew I wasn’t healthy.  Skinny does not equal healthy.  My daughter is now 10 and I have maintained a healthy weight but not by exercising or eating healthy…by default and mostly due to my thyroid and other health “issues”.

Recently I started thinking about the future and realized that if I don’t start taking better care of myself I won’t be around to see my daughter graduate college, get married, have children, save the world…whatever she may accomplish.  I WANT to be there…I NEED to be there.  My dilemma was HOW was I going to motivate myself to work out?  I despise exercising.  I don’t know why…I just do.  I tried to think of different things I could do that I would enjoy.  Jiu Jitsu, dancing, those are all things that I would LOVE to do…but when I looked into them the price tag was way out of reach for me.  Then I realized that I had something even better to motivate me…DISNEY!!  Our happy place!  It’s right around the corner!  When we go there we walk 5-10 miles a day and even though I’m tired I enjoy every minute of it!  And to top it off they have the RunDisney events several times a year where you run these amazing courses through the parks and earn medals that cannot be bought…they are EARNED.  How’s that for motivating a Disney Addict? Perfect.  So I registered my daughter and I for the Princess 5k in February.  It’s a start.  And I’m so excited for it.  I am determined to run (not walk) the entire 5k so training has begun.  I am going to document my “race to the finish”.  I hope it will be enjoyable for you and maybe even inspire you to do something you never thought you could do.  Wish me luck!

Or why not train along with me, and we can meet at the next runDisney event! I’ll even be happy to book it for you! What better way to celebrate your accomplishment than with a celebration vacation at the parks? Contact me for details at Bianca Medina – Agent of Modern Travel Professionals or by email Bianca@ModernTravelPros.com

Proud Mommy Moments…

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So as parents we all have those moments that fill us up with pride. It can be something as simple as watching your child score the winning goal in the soccer game…to seeing your child performing on stage. As they get older the moments get bigger. They graduate high school, go to college, get married, have children of their own, achieve their dream jobs. My daughter is only nine so I haven’t reached those milestones yet…and believe me I am in no rush. I am enjoying the little day to day moments and loving every one of them. When she hands me her spelling test with a big 100% written at the top and I see the pride in her smile that fills me up. When she excitedly comes to me to tell me she has just finished reading a 300 page chapter book in 2 days I revel in her accomplishment with her. But there are some moments that are so overwhelming that my heart feels like it could burst.  One such moment happened this week. But before I tell you I need to give you a little back story…

My daughter and I are huge Disney fanatics. We love everything about it. The parks, the movies, the shows and the man who started it all. We believe in the magic so it is real to us. Before moving to Orlando we took as many trips here as possible which isn’t always easy as a single parent…but I found ways to make it happen. The last trip we took was this past January. The first week in January is Marathon weekend. Runners from all over the world come here to participate in different challenges. It’s amazing to see the pride these athletes have after completing their runs as they walk through the parks displaying the medals they earned around their necks. Sophia and I always congratulate people when we see them…we feel it is important to acknowledge their accomplishments. And that is where this story begins…

We were on our last day of our trip and decided to spend it at our favorite park, The Magic Kingdom. Since it was our last day I planned to treat my daughter like the true princess that I know her to be. I bought her a cute tiara clip to wear on her head, booked reservations for breakfast in Cinderella’s Castle and dinner at Be Our Guest restaurant in Belle & The Beats’ Castle. It truly was a magical day. Toward the end of the day we were waiting inside at Mickey’s Philharmagic, a fun 4-D movie experience featuring many of Disney’s favorite characters. Sophia saw a couple wearing medals from the marathon and walked up to them to congratulate them (her initiative made me very proud but that’s just the beginning). We all started talking.  Before the movie started and we had to take our seats the woman asked if she could take a picture with Sophia since she was obviously a real Disney princess. When the movie was over they found us outside and gave us their business card. They explained that they run a website called Virtual Run World which allows people from all over to earn medals for activities such as running, biking, etc that they complete on their own time and that they would like to send a special medal to Sophia for being a true princess. This was definitely one of those proud Mom moments that filled my heart up to the brim. We have kept in touch with this wonderful couple for the past few months. They sent both Sophia and I one of the beautiful medals that they developed and we were so grateful.

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Now on to the moment that filled my heart so much it felt like it would burst. Just this past week they contacted me with the news that they had been thinking about Sophia a lot lately.  They told me how impressed they were with her and that they had designed a medal inspired by her! They wanted to ask my permission to feature her on their website along with the beautiful medal inspired by my little girl. Of course I said yes! It is such an honor. I want my daughter to know that she is special and that her big heart and sincerity makes a difference in the lives of people she meets. In our society today there is a lot of the “me, me me” attitudes and a sense of “self-entitlement”. We have become a selfish society. I pray that my daughter stays true to who she is and keeps her kind and generous heart in spite of that, and this wonderful gift that our friends, Mike and Terri, at Virtual Run World have given her is a step in that direction. They designed the medal “Dreams Into Plans” and wrote an amazing story to go along with it.

If anyone wants to see the beautiful medal and read the inspiring story that goes along with it you can see it and/or order it here: Dreams Into Plans Medal.

And to Mike and Terri: Thank you both for honoring Sophia in such a magical way that filled my heart to its bursting point.

Sometimes When You Need It Most…Hope Will Find You

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Let me preface this by saying that I am not without faith.  I was raised Catholic and although I am not a “church-goer” I do believe in a higher power.  The past couple of years have been a struggle for me. I was married and separated within a year of each other…and that is a very ugly story for another time.  I have had to move 3 times within the last year and each time had to watch my daughter try to be brave as she started a new school.  I have also had to re-adjust my life, jobs, etc each time and that is not an easy thing to do.  But I have always prided myself on being strong.

“Nothing can break me”

“Never let them see you cry”

Those are just some of the mantras I repeat over and over again in my head.  But recently those mantras stopped being enough and I started to feel like I was breaking down.  I made a big change which I had hoped was going to be the beginning of an easier, more prosperous life for my daughter and I.  But things don’t always work out the way we hope they will.   Every day it seemed like there was another hurdle in my path and each hurdle left me weaker and chipped away at my hope.  These hurdles left me feeling stressed and consequently ill.  I would do my best to keep a strong front in front of my daughter but when she wasn’t looking I would break down. I started seeing myself losing faith not only in myself but in humanity and people in general.

And then something happened yesterday:

My gas tank was running low…but because I’ve been struggling financially I tried to stretch it for as long as possible.  I had just dropped my daughter off at school and was on my way home with the intention of stopping at the gas station by my apartment when it happened.  I ran out of gas.  This was it.  This was going to be the straw that breaks my back.  One more hurdle that I just didn’t have the power to throw myself over.  I pulled the car into to a little housing development off the side of the road and went to call for help.  But within seconds of taking my keys out of the ignition a truck pulled up next to me. A man got out of the truck with a sincere smile and offered to help.  He said he had gas in his garage two houses down that he keeps handy because his wife always cuts it close. He drove over to his house and came right back with not one but two gas containers filled with gas.  I told him I only had $6.00 dollars on me and to please only use one but he laughed and said there was no way he was taking my money.

He finished emptying all the gas into my car and began to get back into his truck but then stopped and said something that struck me to the core.  He told me “every day I pray to God and ask him to put someone in my path that I can help…and show them that God loves them too”. He smiled again, closed his door and drove away with a wave.  I sat down in my car and cried.  Not because I was sad or angry or hurt (like I have been lately).  I didn’t cry because of something I was lacking, I was crying because something was given back to me.  This time I cried because I was renewed.  Steve’s words were exactly what I needed to hear.  I needed to be reminded that I am loved.  

Those of you who know me know that I am not a deeply religious person…but his words went straight to my heart. Despite the struggles of the past couple of years I have tried to stay positive, but have continuously found myself disappointed and hurt. Lately I have started to lose my faith in humanity…I began to doubt that there was any good still left in our world. This man, whose name is Steve, I believe just might be an angel sent to me.  Steve just gave me back a little bit of hope.  I will never forget him and will be eternally grateful that our paths crossed.

Thank you Steve…from the bottom of my heart…for helping me in more ways than one

Movie Night: The Chipmunk Adventure (Return to the 80’s)

Growing up in the 80’s was awesome…and anyone who says differently is either totally lame or jealous because they didn’t get to. We had some really great music like Michael Jackson, Depeche Mode, and Def Leppard; the fashion was crazy but totally unique; kids played outside and their world didn’t revolve around TV and video games; and Saturday morning cartoons rocked! There were tons of great shows like The Smurfs, Disney’s Gummie Bears, and Duck Tales…but my favorite was always Alvin and The Chipmunks. There was just something about those squeaky voices and watching Alvin push Dave to his breaking point that captured my attention.  Lots of things can bring me back to my childhood, but none faster than those high pitched voices singing songs of the 80’s. I’m not a big fan of the recent CGI remakes…but I made sure that my daughter knew who The Chipmunks were pretty early on. Even though there are so many Chipmunk specials to choose from, our favorite has always been The Chipmunk Adventure.  The songs are awesome and the story is fun for everyone.  The Chipmunks and Chipettes get a once in a lifetime opportunity to race around the world in hot air balloons.  They come close to trouble at every stop while (unbeknownst to them) they smuggle jewels for a couple of rich jewel thieves. This movie is the perfect film for a full menu Movie night because you have so many options! Between the two groups they travel to so many countries you have a plethora to choose from…just pick your favorites, make a dish famous from each and viola! You have an easy-peasy movie night the whole family can help create and ENJOY!

This was the menu we decided on:

Chipmunk movie and menu
My daughter is nine and she loved doing research on the countries we chose and helping to decide what dishes we were going to select (and bonus: she was learning!!).  By the way…I am aware that fondue from Switzerland is typically a cheese fondue but we were in need of a dessert and what’s better than healthy delicious fruit dipped in chocolate?  Not much!
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In our house we are big fans of Taco night, so that was an easy choice for us as far as the main course was concerned.  We set everything out on the table and let each person make their own tacos.  It was kind of like a condensed “taco station”.  My daughter and I are fans of the double-decker taco made popular by Taco Bell: we use re-fried beans to attach a soft taco to a hard shell taco and then stuff it with goodies like meat, cheese and avocado.  So delish!
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So if you are an 80’s child like me, a fan of international food, or simply looking for a new idea for a fun family Friday night…give The Chipmunk Adventure a try.  I can pretty much guarantee the whole group will enjoy this one!

Disney Movie Night!! (Disney Pixar’s “UP”)

I think one of the hardest things about loving Disney World so much is living far away from the happiest place on Earth.  My daughter and I start planning our next trip the day we get home.  Planning the next trip always seemed to be the only thing that kept us from falling into a Disney-deprived depression.  I have tried to find ways to make the withdrawal easier on both of us.  We visit the Disney website, go to our local Disney store, we play Disney games…but the most fun and effective method for curing the Disney blues for us has been our weekly Disney movie nights!  Every week we alternate picking one of our favorite Disney movies and we create an entire night out of the theme.  Sometimes we make an entire meal and sometimes it’s just snacks.  My daughter is in charge of creating cool decorations to make us feel like we are immersed in the movie.  This allows her not only to have a big part in the fun but also gives her a reason to use her amazing imagination.  Since we do this every week it also gives us something to look forward to and plan…which in turn takes away from the extremely long countdown to our next trip.  And as each week passes we get closer and closer to going back “home”.

You don’t have to be super creative to prepare these Disney movie nights at home, and you definitely don’t have to be an experienced cake decorator like me to make these treats.  In fact, I will show you how to do a simple and fun theme that won’t kill your budget or give you a creative breakdown induced headache!

On one of our most recent Disney movie nights we chose to watch Disney Pixar’s “UP”.  This is one of my personal favorites and we had a blast putting it together.  My daughter made tons of balloons and decorated the whole living room with them.  There were so many I started to think we might float away with Carl and Russell!  I made a dinner that consisted of hot dogs (or Dug’s Dogs as I called them) along with two very yummy desserts: Sky Jello (recipe below), and Carl’s Sugar Cookie Balloons. We ALWAYS make sure to have popcorn (we make it in a pot with olive oil for a healthier snack option).  And I always name it…this time it was Kevin’s Poppin Corn!

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If you try this theme out please let me know what you think in the comments below!  And look out for more Disney (and non-Disney) movie night themes in the future!

Sky Jello (makes 4 servings):

Two packages berry blue Instant Jell-O

One tub of Cool Whip

Make jello according to package directions (prepare the day before if possible to allow time to firm,  If making same day be sure to add ice to the cold water to speed firming)

Use a fork to “break up” the jello after it has firmed.

Place a thin uneven layer of jello on the bottom of each glass.  Place a scoop of cool whip on one side in the shape of a cloud (be sure it is up against the side of the glass.

Keep alternating jello and cool whip to get desired effect.

Keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Lesson Learned

So…I have figured out that life is a learning process full of confusion, hypocrisy and betrayal…and before you sarcastically mutter “thanks Einstein” and close this page…just hear me out. When we are babies we are encouraged to speak and walk.  Then when we are toddlers we are told to sit down and shut up.  This is the first confusion we experience.  Throughout elementary and middle school we are taught by our parents, teachers and family how to act and behave, how to have manners, and most infuriatingly…what to THINK. So most of us rebel.  We stop “obeying”.  We begin to lose respect for our parents and teachers.  Eventually we just stop listening to them and we begin to learn from our friends.  Our friends teach us what they believe is the way of life…so in turn we begin to experience peer pressure.  It may be influence to start skipping school or experiment with things we are too young to understand.  But whatever the case may be, we start to learn from other kids who are just as clueless, sometimes even more so, as we are.  What a mess.

If we are lucky enough to make it through the teenage years and survive high school we then move onto our 20s.  After all the “lessons” learned and choices made most of us realize “oops…I have no idea who I am”.  So the experimenting that began in high school usually continues through this decade in order to figure out who we are, where we belong and what we should do next.  We experience the loss of friends and lovers.  We feel for the first time what it means to be betrayed, lied to, hurt and/or manipulated.  All of these feelings, especially when felt for the first time, feel like the end of the world.  It is overwhelming when someone breaks your heart for the first time…whether it be a boyfriend/girlfriend, friend or family member.  Sometimes it even feels like you will never get passed it.  But amazingly enough, we do.  A wound that once felt like it would never heal suddenly is a distant memory that may or may not have left a scar.  In our 20s we tend to define ourselves by our experiences and the scars that have “made us who we are”.  But then something happens…

We enter our 30s.  My favorite age so far.  Why?  Because I know who I am.  I have survived enough betrayal, re-invented myself so many times, and lived in so many states with so many different types of people that I no longer define myself by what is outside of me but what is inside instead.  It’s actually pretty amazing.  Those scars from our youth are now a reminder of how strong we are.  They remind me that I have learned a lot throughout my life.  I’ve learned that even though I’m not perfect, I am the perfect version of me.  My family may have “issues” but so does yours…and regardless of these things I am so proud of who and where I come from and I wouldn’t trade my family for anything.  I have learned who my true friends are…they are the people who have always been there and accepted me at my best and my worst…they are the ones that have been there for not only the best of times but the worst of times as well.  They are the people who have never given up on me even when I wanted to give up on myself.  They have welcomed me with open arms after I have screwed up or been away for a long time. They are the ones who I can talk to about anything without fearing any kind of judgment or abandonment.  They are the people who, although most of them are far away, even the thought of them will bring a smile to my face.

The most important lesson I think I’ve learned though is my own self-worth.  Just like most I have been lied to, cheated on, and made to feel worthless…several times…in both in my youth and even within the last year.  Am I going to go into my sob story now and explain all the pain I have endured at the hands of other people?  No…I’m not. Why?  Maybe because they are stories that are not meant to be shared…or maybe I will share them another day.  But mainly because it doesn’t even matter anymore.  I survived all of that, and I am still standing and stronger than ever.  And for the first time in my life I KNOW who I am.  I am a beautiful person, inside and out.  I’m a mother who has raised her daughter without a father and has done an incredible job because, not for nothing, my daughter is awesome.  I am a friend to those who are a friend to me…and a really good one.  I am a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a cousin and a niece to some amazing men and women.  But most of all I am a woman.  A woman who is defined by what she thinks of herself…not what others think of her.  Lesson learned.