While I expected my first FAM tales to be filled with wonder and awe … those feelings have not arrived quite yet as I’m currently struggling to lift my arms high enough to reach the keyboard. Getting to the keyboard was another story as the twelve steps into my office seemed unachievable. I’ve spent the entirety of my flight home on Zillow searching for local homes with a backyard hot tub in hopes of a long, unnoticed plunge. This morning, I scrolled through Amazon on a hunt for gallon-sized jugs of Icy Hot. And how dare Massage Envy not have availability in this time of need?
I suppose first I should explain what a “FAM” is but I suspect water will be spit across keyboards as you, reader, learn that this FAM was a weeklong trip to Universal Studios Orlando. I know, I know…“Is she really about to complain!?!”
Yes. But first I am going to disclaim.
FAM: “FAM” is short for “familiarization” and is a multi-day event hosted by vacation vendors to showcase their offerings to travel agents. It sounds glorious, right? It is! Until one realizes just how many offerings are going to be crammed into a small window of time at the cost of energy, relaxation, cognitive abilities, hunger, and more.
Yes, I know–I got to spend a week at Universal Studios at (mostly) their cost while taking behind-the-scenes tours of facilities, riding rides, and eating the best of park food. What’s to complain about? Now that I’ve completely lost your sympathy, let me explain what a FAM experience actually entails.
There were about a hundred travel agents at this 2023 Fall FAM and I’d say that 99 of us had trained for the whirlwind pace well in advance. By “us” I mean “them” as I had no idea that I had signed up for daily marathons. Over four days, my tiny feet logged approximately six million steps per day. This was up from my usual count of maybe five thousand.
Quick disclaimer, for those new to the blog, I have been on a yearlong exercise hiatus as I allowed some aches and pains to heal.
Among those steps? Two hundred thirty-nine thousand flights of stairs. That would have been a higher number but our group eventually opted to test the maximum capacity of elevators across the resorts. “What’s that beeping?” became our battle call to push the “close doors” button.
I must include a special shout-out to the two attendees who nary set foot within those elevator walls choosing instead to do a manual climb, happily tossing a wave and an ““It’s okay, I’ll take the stairs! 132nd floor? No problem!” I cannot imagine what their childhoods were like to embrace this challenge.
These two also typically beat the arrival of the groaning elevator and did so without so much as a bead of sweat peeking through their delightfully young skin.
The FAM event started with a day-one dinner that was a nice, low-key, way to meet our fellow agents. Day two began in a conference room at the crack of some of our dawns as we prepped to hear from eight different branches of Universal Studios employees who would adorn us with fabulous information. While it was truly fabulous, I was not prepared for the pace of the fabulosity. I come from decades of corporate training, yes, but the kind that was typically recorded by the dullest voice available and presented at a pace fit for snails. This? This was enthusiastic and fun and immersive and within seventeen minutes my forearm was cramping from trying to write every dang thing down. I eventually gave up and joined the many opting to simply raise their phone for a quick picture of the slides with a quiet promise to make more thorough notes later. It took about three more minutes for my arms to get tired of lifting my phone at which point I began to pray that there would be handouts at the end.
When our classroom time was complete, we broke for lunch before climbing onto buses to begin our property tours. I prepped for a leisurely afternoon of oohs and aahs as we drove off to our first stop.
Did I say leisurely?
What followed was four hours of speed-viewing resort after resort after resort as our guides led us through restaurants, pools, game rooms, fitness areas, spas, and even a bowling alley. We toured every version of a room from a simple suite for four to family suites to connectors to kitchenette inclusive to multi-bedroom to concierge level. The only hope for a break was spotting a bathroom and dashing in to sit down for thirty seconds before popping up and sprinting off to locate the group again.
I had no idea there were so many options for lodging attached to the three Universal Studios parks: Volcano Bay, Islands of Adventure, and Universal Studios Orlando. I now know them intimately and am likely to continue reciting features in my sleep for weeks to come. I gained a whole new appreciation for the Gen-somethings running around with fancy cameras hanging from fancy apparatus as they recorded the details of each stop into tiny boom mics only to have new content posted minutes later while I stood feet away wondering when I had taken another photo of the inside of my pocket.
(who said we’d never figure out how to edit a photo … )
Day three was a park day! Woohoo! This was our chance to be true tourists without our pesky families in tow as we explored rides, shows, and restaurants. Of course, most of my enthusiasm for day three disappeared in my slumber, stifled by throbbing joints. I could not have been more thrilled to be paired with a roommate who also enjoyed a slow start but, still, we planned to arrive relatively early and we would have if we hadn’t needed extra help reaching our shoelaces or hoisting a seventh cup of coffee.
Just as we began to feel the stress of being late, we were sent a gift from Dumbledore himself as we learned the parks were also rising slowly due to an overnight power outage. We fell to our knees in thanks and then struggled to get back up as we realized this delay would cause a need to complete the day’s miles in less time and at a greater pace. We also noticed that the gen-somethings were already out and about as new content pinged to their pages before we’d even packed our park bags. What time did these people get up?!?
By the end of day three, I felt like I had developed intimate relationships with Harry Potter, Homer Simpson, several Minions, Dr. Seuss, and Spiderman. I passed more signs warning that “this ride could be risky for a variety of reasons” than I care to remember which is good because I blacked out in at least half of them. I know where each and every bench in each and every park is located as they became the beacons that kept me moving.
Would I do it all again? Absolutely.
When I got that initial invite for this FAM trip, I probably had the same thoughts as you. The work part was in quotes, right? A “work” trip? How much “work” was there, really, when summoned to anything hosted by an Orlando address? I imagined days filled with visits to the pool, delicious meals, and, sure, jotting down a few notes in between it all. It did not dawn on me that, for years, “work” including sitting stagnant at a desk updating spreadsheets or zoning out on conference calls hosted by Charlie Brown’s teacher. “Work trips” involved much the same except with witnesses to those who succumbed to heavy eyelids.
This work trip? This work trip wiped out my body, my brain, and, as I neared exhaustion, my patience.
It was also amazing.
As expected, my days were filled with wonder and awe and I cannot wait for those fond memories to bubble to the surface in the coming days or weeks or months to come. I have a whole new appreciation for the thousands of behind-the-scenes employees who make the resorts function seamlessly as their guests wake each day ready to start anew. I also have a whole new appreciation for Universal Studios’ properties. This wasn’t my first visit–but it was my first lengthy one. There was so much more to do than I’d known and I cannot wait to spend another week exploring (though perhaps a little more slowy).
From my gen-something friends? I learned that I should never stop pimping myself.
So here’s that: There will be additional blogs to come on my agency’s website, Any Adventure Vacations–blogs that will be less about how I barely survived and more about why you should consider a long stay at this too-often-forgotten Orlando wonderland. In the meantime? Universal Studios is already gearing up for an amazing holiday season and will have many updates in an exciting 2024. I’d love to get you there!
Just as soon as I can lift my phone again.