Special On-Site FAM Visits


Featured FAMs by Publisher Gerry Notino

FAM TRIP -Florida -"Excitement to Paradise"

After planning my 2023 Fam Trip, one of my co-workers asked me, “Why do I keep going back to Florida?”. A very simple question with a slight connotation that as a travel agent, you may have the knowledge of a better option in some sort of far-off exotic destination. I simply replied, “Family Fun''.  In my opinion, there is no better place to spend time with your family than in the “Sunshine State ''. With 1,350 miles of coastline, world renowned beaches, and of course theme parks, it’s no secret that Florida is one of the most popular family friendly destinations in the world.

This year, I wanted to see if I could repeat an amazing FAM Trip that I arranged a few years back. The combination of Orlando and St. Pete Beach proves to have the perfect blend of theme-park excitement and laid-back relaxation. This write-up will be a bit different than usual. I will do a walkthrough of my itinerary which will consist of 4 days in Universal Orlando Resort and a 4 day stay at Tradewinds, St. Pete beach. As I go through each day, I hope to provide some insight and information that will be useful for both you and your clients. 

I always go to the theme parks first as this part of the vacation tends to be the most exhausting. However, if you prepare yourself properly, the experience will not be so hard on the body. First and foremost, try not to do too much. One park per day is ideal and the 3-day multi park pass is a perfect option. The other is to dress comfortably as it is very HOT and humid (especially in the summer). You will do a lot of walking so bring your best walking shoes.

Before I get started on the itinerary, a quick overview of Universal Studios Florida is in order. The resort consists of three theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay. There is also Universal CityWalk which serves as a hub between the parks and has loads of family entertainment, restaurants, Interactive Miniature Golf Courses and much more (Free admission and free parking after 6PM).
Travel agents should register via Universal Partner Community which offers dedicated training and sales tools such as flyers and social media assets. Travel advisors who complete the Universal Specialist Exam also receive discounted 3-Day tickets to Universal Orlando Resort, as well as discounted hotel rates at our Universal Orlando Resort hotels.

Day 1: -Flight - Day at Resort - Universal CityWalk:

Absolutely dreadful! Our vacation commenced with a 3:30 AM alarm and a few sighs and eye rubs. By the way, I knowingly picked this time as I balanced the cost savings with a later flight. But there was an upside, our Jetblue flight arrived in Orlando at 9:30AM, which allowed us to spend most of our day at the resort. But we had to get there first. There are several ways to get to the resort, from the Universal Orlando Superstar Shuttle to rideshare apps, however, we opted for a car rental.  Although this option is not needed for a Universal vacation, I needed the car to drive to St. Pete beach and we prefer to have the freedom of getting out and about.

I decided on Sixt Car rental, with a 20% Travel Agent discount. Just make sure to check the specials on their website before you book, it’s sometimes lower in price.
If you have an EZpass, make sure to bring it - there are lots of tolls. Otherwise, if you don’t choose one of the car rental’s toll packages, you will be charged an admin fee.  Complete information can be found on their Travel Agent Page.  

The car rental pick up was smooth and we were off to the Cabana Bay Beach Resort.  Before I get into first impressions, let me explain why there was a bit of booking apprehension.  I’m from New Jersey and if you’re familiar with Jersey Shore hotels, you would notice an uncanny similarity with this Universal resort. You see, this 1950s and 60s retro-style hotel shares its architecture with many Jersey Shore hotels. The only difference is 60-70 years of updating or renovating 😀 (shout out to the Jersey Shore).
This property is huge! There are 2200 guest rooms and suites, two massive pools including a waterslide and a lazy river, 10-lane bowling alley, arcade room, fitness center, and so much more. Our room wasn’t ready, however in the meantime, we were able to enjoy all the resort’s amenities.  Once the room was ready, we headed on up to a comfortable family suite that sleeps up to six with two queen beds and a pull-out sofa which includes a sliding privacy partition. One huge plus for the room is that the bathrooms are compartmentalized so three people can get ready simultaneously. The room is also equipped with a kitchenette, mini refrigerator, microwave, and coffeemaker.  Just a quick note, standard rooms are available that sleep up to four.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Cabana Bay Beach Resort & Queen Family Suite
Family Suite

After a day of exploring the resort, we hopped on the complimentary shuttle and headed to Universal CityWalk.  Your senses may get a bit overwhelmed as the entertainment is boundless on this 30-acre property. Therefore, my advice is to treat this complex like a theme-park. Research all your options and by all means - make a reservation way ahead of time. We learned this lesson on our last trip as we were repeatedly unsuccessful in getting to experience “The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen” on our last trip. This time, we were not going to miss out on this 19th century-themed, Steampunk-inspired dining restaurant and confectionery.  Our reservation was locked and loaded a month ahead of time. I recommend reservations for all the iconic sit-down restaurants. No deposit is necessary to book and there’s no penalty for changes or cancellation. Reservations can be booked ONLINE or by calling l (407) 224-FOOD (3663).

Universal Studios CityWalk
Universals Studios CityWalk

Day 2: Universal Studios

Universal Studios centers around the magic of movies and it has some of the best rides you’ll find anywhere. Although it has a few traditional roller coasters, we absolutely love the 3D rides.  One of the greatest benefits of staying in one of Universal’s resort hotels is that you get up to 1-hour early admission to the parks. I can’t tell you how huge this is. The most popular rides can have extremely long wait times and you may not even get on.  So, make sure you utilize this awesome perk. The park is divided up into movie-based themes like Production Central, New York, Hollywood, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. 

Our top 5 rides are: 1 - Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™, 2 - Fast & Furious – Supercharged, 3: Meet the TRANSFORMERS™:  4: Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, 5: Revenge of the Mummy. There are a number of shows as well and we loved the “Animal Actors on Location”. The performance centers on video segments, live skits, and audience interactions with some of the most talented animal actors. Star performers include dogs, cats, exotic birds and more. A truly entertaining way to take a breather from all the hustle and bustle.

Entrance to Universal Studios
Entrance to Universal Studios

After a thrilling but exhausting day, we took the shuttle back to the hotel for some much-needed rest and refueling. Dining options at the Cabana Bay are extensive, however, we basically ate at the food court almost every day. It’s just so convenient for quick and easy meals. Everything from pizza, burgers, pasta, salad bar, dessert station buffet style meals and more are all in one place. Also, the "Grab and Go" area allows easy access to snacks and drinks when you’re on the move.  You can also enjoy your favorite Starbucks coffee, drink and food products on site.

Day 3: Universal Orlando Resort Volcano Bay

Since we were just steps away from Volcano Bay, we decided to go a little later in the morning. I headed off to the Jack Lalanne Fitness center (fully equipped and huge) and my wife and kids were off to CityWalk to pick some VooDoo donuts. By the way, these edible pieces of art are almost too good to eat, but this taste of Universal must not be missed.  In any case, the decision was a big mistake. We entered the park around 11:30 AM and to say the least, it was jam packed. After about a half hour of searching for chairs, we only found one. This served as our home base as we made our way around the park.

If you're not familiar with Volcano Bay, it’s a 25-acre South Pacific theme-based park and is considered one of the best water parks in North America.  The centerpiece of the park is Krakatau, a 200-foot volcano with cascading waterfalls and multiple slides within its caverns.  Best of all there’s no waiting in long lines with the “TapuTapu”. This innovative waterproof wrist device will hold your place in a virtual line.  That’s right, while you’re enjoying over 18 attractions, this gadget will vibrate when the ride is ready.  The only downside is that you can only stay in queue for one attraction at a time. Also, if you set up payment on the Universal App, you can even pay for your meals and merchandise using this handy device.

Our favorite attractions that never have a wait is of course the “Kopiko Wai Winding River '' which is a huge lazy river that lets you cool off while relaxing. However, the “TeAwa” river is quite a bit different.  The fast current river propels you through a torrent of rapids and waves.  We also love to relax at “Waturi Beach”.  This area has a huge wave pool and beach area that makes you feel like you're on a Tropical Polynesian island. Our top 5 rides are:  1. Krakatau Coaster is absolutely the BEST ride at Volcano Bay.  This aqua coaster takes you through mists and twists in a 4-person canoe. You MUST make this first on your list as the wait can be a long one.   2 & 3. “Puihi Raft Ride” and “Maku Puihi” are both amazing and best of all, the 6-person tubes allow the whole family to join in on the fun. 4. “Ko’okiri Body Plunge”, this is not for the faint hearted - you’ll plummet through a drop door and fall 125 feet down a white-water slide. 5. “Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides” will plunge you down a twisting slide and drop you 6-ft into a pool.

Volcano Bay
Volcano Bay Krakatau

Day 4: Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure:

Like Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure is divided into different sections. These themed “Islands”, include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter -Hogsmeade Village Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade™ is the most popular attraction, so make sure to make use of your early admission and head there FIRST.  Hogwarts castle and the ultra-themed village really take you into JK Rowling’s world of wizardry. Flight of the Hippogriff, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey all make our top ride list.  The Lost Continent is themed on ancient myths and legends. Most of this island was repurposed for Harry, but it’s still visually spectacular. The highlights of this island are Mystic Fountain, an interactive talking fountain and Sindbad's Bazaar, a Middle Eastern marketplace. 

Two areas that cater to children or the young at heart are Seuss Landing and Toon Lagoon. Classic cartoons and Seuss-themed attractions will keep the whole family busy for quite a while. Marvel Superhero Island boast some pretty extreme rides like the Amazing Adventures of Spider Man, Dr. Doom’s Fearfall, and the Incredible Hulk Coaster, all of which are not for the faint hearted.

Skull Island’s main feature is the Reign of Kong. Individuals with Entomophobia should stay away as you will be bombarded with giant insects, spiders and even dinosaurs attacking your safari themed bus. Speaking of dinosaurs, Jurassic Park will take you back to a time when these giant creatures roamed the planet. Rides like Pteranodon Flyers, Jurassic Park River Adventure Ride and the VeliciCoaster will add an exciting and thrilling way to explore the world of ancient creatures.

A complete list of rides, shows, dining and shopping can be found HERE.

Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure - View from the Waterway

The Last takeaways from a Universal Orlando visit. Get the outdoor rides done and out of the way early. Not only do you beat the heat, but the regularly scheduled afternoon downpours delay or even shut down many of these attractions. Also, we of course visited during high season (June through August), so if possible, plan your vacation during the school months.

Days 5 - 7: Tradewinds St. Pete Beach:

Finally, it was time for some much-needed fun in the sun. The drive from Orlando to St. Pete Beach was an easy 2 hours west on I-4. Once you arrive at Tradewinds you will notice that this tropical beachfront oasis is ginormous! It’s set on 40 well landscaped acres and has - wait for it - 9 pools and 642 cabanas located on a soft white sand beach. There are two resorts that guests can enjoy; the Island Grand which is the largest beachfront resort on a top-ranked U.S. beach and the adjacent property, the RumFish Beach Resort.  These two properties combine to make your St. Pete Beach vacation a truly memorable experience. They have everything you need for the perfect getaway, including delicious dining, beachfront bars, relaxing comforts, and endless activities.
Tradewinds Island Grand
Island Grand beach view and Main Lobby
Island Grand Main Lobby


There are 897 rooms and villas with premium amenities to choose from. We booked a Resort View Villa with a balcony at the Island Grand. The spacious 536 sq ft villa sleeps up to 6 and offers a separate bedroom with 2 beds and a double-size sofa bed. The living area is large enough for the whole family to relax in comfort. The rooms come equipped with a kitchenette (we used daily), full-size fridge, microwave, and stove top, which we used daily.  Wireless Internet access, In-room movies and voicemail are also available.
2 queen villa resort view
Resort View Villa 2-Queen Beds & Pullout Sofa


Between the two resorts, this sun-soaked playground is chock full of things to do. Tradewinds is geared towards family fun so be prepared to see lots of kids out and about.  Beach games, Dive-in movies (poolside), SunCity Teen Lounge, Family pirate shows, Shuffleboard, High Tide Water Slide, Surf Wipeout, Campfire S’mores, the zing Ray Zip Line, Beach volleyball, Tennis, Yogafit, Paddle Boats, Miniature golf, Pickleball, Fitness center, Hammocks, cushioned Cabanas, and parking are all included in the resort fee. 

If that isn’t enough, there are several additional activities that are available for a nominal fee. We absolutely loved the newly expanded floating water park and floating loungers.  A great mix of aquatic excitement and relaxation. Other choices include PoolSide Crafts, Stand-up paddleboard, Touch tank experience (snorkel with fishes in a 33,500-gallon tank), treasure hunting at the Treasure mining company.  Adventurers can add parasailing, diving, fishing, and sightseeing tours to the mix as well. 

Tradewinds didn’t forget about parents either. How about some well-deserved “Me” time?  Well, the resorts offer some excellent options like the Konk club drop-off camps (5–12-year-olds). These safe and fully supervised camps will keep your little ones entertained for hours while you head on over to one of the adult pools or beach bars.

Tradewinds WaterPark
15,750-square foot Floating Water Park


With 15 restaurants, bars and lounges, dining options abound at Tradewinds.
We had a sit-down dining experience at the RumFish Grill. The centerpiece of the restaurant is the 33,500-gallon aquarium featured on Animal Planet's hit show "Tanked". Visitors can even "Swim with the Fishes" and snorkel in the aquarium. There are also indoor/outdoor bars, live entertainment and a retail store carrying a huge selection of merchandise from local brands and artists. Other fine dining options include the Gulfside Grill (breakfasts, lunches suited for the casual dinner) and the Flying Bridge (serves authentically Floridian fare).

Bars for Drinks, dancing, and live music

Salty's Tiki Bar & Beach Lounge is where we spent our lazy afternoons sipping frozen tropical drinks while relaxing poolside. The Sandbar at The SandBox Beach Lounge and the Cabana bar are great places to have a “cold one” and listen to live entertainment without ever having to leave the beach. As mentioned earlier Rumfish has an indoor grill bar and outdoor bar also providing live music. Awakenings Lobby Bar was daily morning stop for morning coffee and tea at Starbucks. Cocktails are also offered.

If you’re in a hurry, Tradewinds has you covered. Theres a Beachside Food Truck that will fuel you up throughout the day. A full-service deli located in the main lobby will make the perfect grab and go sandwich for those that are on the move. Pizza Hut express is available onsite for delivery, carry-out & dine-in.

Rum Fish Grill
Rumfish Grill

Tradewinds values Travel Agents!

Discounted rates off personal travel and information on deals and packages. Their Beach Perks program is designed to welcome Travel Advisors and reward their loyalty in booking TradeWinds Island Resorts.
Perks for You

-    20%-50% discount off personal travel, based on availability. Agent rates can be booked ONLINE.
-    Advance notice of special value dates, promotions, and packages for your clients.
-    Earn 15% commission on trips you book.
Visit their Travel Agent Page for full details.

Day 8: Crystal River - Manatee boat tour with Explorida:

What can be more authentically Floridian than swimming with a manatee? This has been on our bucket list for years, but we have never taken the time to visit the Manatee capital of the world - Crystal River. This year we decided to hop in the car and take the 2-hour drive north to meet the ole “Sea Cows”. There are several tour companies that offer year-round tours so choosing one was a bit daunting. Ultimately, we chose Explorida, and boy did we make the right decision. 

As a travel agent of over 30 years, this tour company is among the best that I have ever experienced. Their professionalism and knowledge truly exceeded my expectations.  Although Summer is considered the offseason (Manatee season is Nov. 15 – Mar. 31st), our Master Captain found a few of them with ease. Our guide was with us every step of the way – from assisting us with our wetsuits to helping us get close and personal with these majestic creatures.
The guide also serves as a professional photographer to catch those memories on digital film. The photos are available for purchase when you get back to their facility. The facility also has a large gift shop that carries a wide selection of unique gifts, snacks, candy, toys, apparel and more.

Here's a few of the pics of our amazing day below. 

Manatee close up

Manatee Close Up

Explorida offers travel agents a 10% discount off their already low prices. Just email and mention FAMrates when booking.  
Explorida Logo Address:
545 N Citrus Ave, Crystal River, FL 34428
nfo@explorida.tours 1-352-423-3798
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