While in Florida, do like Floridians and go to Universal Studios
Universal Studios with kids
Over our couple of months in Florida we have stopped in Orlando multiple times. The first time, through the area, we walked around and did "free things to do at Disney". The second time, through the area, we went to Magic Kingdom and the third time we stopped at Universal Studios.
Universal Studios has a lot of deals available so look around before you stop. We decided on the "pay for two-days and get one day free" ticket. We also got a hotel stay at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, one of the Universal properties so we could get early access to the Harry Potter area. I think those decisions all worked out and 3 days was plenty at Universal.
The Cabana Bay Beach Resort also worked out great. We spent 3 nights at the hotel, so we spent two days at the park and our third day at the resort pool. Our tickets to the park allowed 3 days of entry over 7 non-consecutive days so we didn't have to go to Universal Studios 3 days in a row. We were upgraded from a standard room to a family suite with a fridge and microwave. The resort had multiple places to eat and drink, a full Starbucks and shuttle access to the park right out the front door. We choose the Cabana Bay because it was the only hotel that had any openings when we booked but we were overall very happy with our stay. Our stay didn't include fast passes which was disappointing.
We were also luck enough to have a friend and his wife go to Universal just before us, so he had a large amount of recommendations for us. We didn't do all of these things but reading through them helped us to make decisions and enhanced our time at the park. I will post the list of recommendation by Marc Kaplanes below.
These notes were given to us by a good friend, I have added to them. We hope your adventure is as fun as ours.
Harry Potter World Notes
Things I would do
- I'd definitely have at least one interactive wand in your group. Don't know if I personally would really need to buy my own. It's all about using a wand to do the tricks.
- Do the wand tricks – its cool to make stuff happen in the park by yourself. The wand tricks were fun, nothing too crazy, usually took 2 or 3 times to do it. Help is available from the staff if needed.
- Hogwarts Castle at Hogsmeade World – in the line for the ride, make sure you take the non-fast path line at least once. Go slow, let people pass you. Take in everything that’s going on. A Good deal of the pictures/frames will have videos in them. The founders of the houses have a conversation about muggles and Harry Potter. There is a lot of stuff going on. I went through the line several times and saw new stuff each time.
- Take the train ride both ways. When you are taking the ride the visuals switch from the window “looking outside” (it’s a video) and looking at the entrance door where you see shadows of Harry, Hermione, etc. as if they are walking on the train corridor and talking.
- In the lines for the train rides, make sure to look around you. There are all sorts of fun things going on. When you are in London (Diagon Alley side) heading towards Hogwarts/Hogsmeade, there is a trick mirror and when you look through it, it looks like the other people in line are vanishing through the entrance to Platform 9 ¾. This is fun, I was able to get this through a picture but not video, iPhone didn't pick up the wall being walked through.
- Get frozen butter beer – it’s like a butterscotch shake/freezie. Loved them! Hot was tasty as well, like a butterscotch latte, very sweet but good.
- Spend time just walking around Diagon Alley. Ideally do it earlier in the morning before it gets insane. This is where our extra hour entry to the park really helped. Later in the day, it’s really fun to see all the people who work there in their wizards/witch robes and other stuff they are wearing.
- Make sure you go into the dark alley where Borges and Burke is. I didn’t find this until the third day. It’s kind of hidden.
- Take a picture from the bridge looking up at hogwart’s castle
- Send a postcard to friends from the Owl Post and it will be postmarked from Hogsmeade.
Buying a Wand
- If you are going to buy your own wand, take your time in picking a wand. Look at the displays that have all the wands. There are a ton of them. Make sure you get one that is interactive so you can do tricks. The guy I had that helped me didn't know what he was doing and was kind of rushed.
- Buying the wand can take forever if you don't get there at the right time. So if you have limited time, consider buying one ahead of time.
- There are a lot of areas to buy a wand. It can be done at Olivander's (there are two of them), Gregorvitch's or any one of the carts also selling them.
Need to do it if you have time, but set your expectations low
- See the wand show at Olivander’s – once. It's just like the movie, but kind of fun. But if you have really limited time and have to make a decision, you can skip this in favor of the rides.
Random Harry Potter World notes
- Borges and Burke was cool – this is where you’ll find all the Voledemort and dark magic stuff. There are things in this store I didn’t see anywhere else.
- The stores were all fun, spend time walking through and looking everywhere. They hide all kids of things in fun places.
- Gringott's money exchange had bank stuff, wallets
- Pet Store has a bunch of stuffed animals – diagon alley, I think
- Weasley’s - fun stuff, games, cards
- School robe shop
- Escape from Gringotts has more movement than Hogwarts ride, The Forbidden Journey. 3D pretty good, but not as impressive as Hogwarts ride. Bellatrix and Voldemort images were cool.
- Hogwarts flying (The Forbidden Journey) - you really felt like you were flying on a broom,lots of fun. Mostly 3D.
- Hogwarts lights at dusk every 20 mins, check them out!
- Walking through the Hogwarts castle is as good as the ride. Glad I did the long way. Although I don't know what you really missed with the short way. The talking pictures were great, the four house founders, Dumbledore, Harry, Hermione, and Ron. They also have an exit right before getting on the ride for people that just want to walk through the castle.
- Flight of the Hippogriff is a kids ride, but worth doing once if there's no wait. It is very short and a kids coaster. If you have limited time or the line is more than 20 mins, skip it.
The Rest of Universal Studios
Universal Studios Roller Coasters
- The lockers are chaotic and small. You get to use a locker for free during your stay in line. They are slow and sometimes full. Also some of the roller coasters make you put everything in a locker, no phone or anything metal in your pockets. They have metal detectors. If your backpack is too big or full it may not fit in the locker so plan ahead. They will not let you in line with it.
- Hulk – 3.75/4 awesome, short, but lots of flips and rolls. metal detectors
- Rip ride. - 3.75/4 awesome, going straight up to start then a steep drop, very cool. It was longer than hulk. I liked it slightly better because it was longer and you got to pick music for it. "Sabotage" from Beastie Boys was my favorite - they had it timed well for the first drop. metal detectors
- Dr. Doom - 3.5/4 shot you straight up to a max height and then a drop. You are weightlessness for a bit, very cool. It was over fast, but a great rush. metal detectors
Universal Studios 3d/4d Rides
- Spiderman - ok 2.5/4. If you like Spiderman, you’ll like this. But it’s kind of a jumble of stuff – not really sure what’s going on. It's a ride.
- Simpsons - 3/4 Just stayed in one spot looking a dome, but you feel like you move around. Better story than Spiderman. pretty cool.
- Transformers - 3/4 lots of stuff going on, definitely bumpy, and hard to follow, but pretty cool.
- Minions - 3.25/4 good intro stuff and waiting in line is fun. 3D was good. If you have played the game Minion Rush it is a little like that.
- Shrek - 3.25/4 Interesting introductory part in the castle before the actual show. Definitely more for the kids. but I enjoyed it. The 3D was poor and had trouble focusing on some of the sections of the ride.
- Jimmy Fallon - 3.25/4 worth doing, it was a bit silly. I think it would make more sense if you watched Jimmy Fallon. You get to watch a lot of Jimmy Fallon highlights.
Suess Landing and Universal Studios Character meetings
- This is a fun area. It you like the books you will enjoy this space. Walk through it. The rides are for kids but they are the characters tell stories and lots of character meetings.
- We meet The Grinch, Cat in the Hat, The Lorax but there were many more.
- There are a lot of character meetings in the Universal Studios Marvel superhero area. Transformers, Shrek, Puss 'n Boots, Betty Boop, Captain America, Iron Man and many more. Ask around if you want to meet a character and the employees can tell you when area where they will be.
- We Met Puss in Boots and had he had a lot of fun with the kids!!
Food in the Universal Studios Citywalk outside the park.
- Cowfish - 3/4 very good burger. We had an excellent waiter here and a great meal.
- Bice 3.25/4 (at the Portofino hotels) - very good italian. nice ambience.
- Vivo Italian Kitchen - 3/4 no ambience. We ate outside on patio but should have eaten inside. The food was very good. The lasagna was fantastic, but Bice was definitely better in all regards.
- Dr. Toothsome Chocolate Emporium - 3/4 dessert sundae was really good. I would go at least once. The shakes are $14 but amazing.
- NBC Sports - 2.5/4 ok sports bar. We only had appetizers, probably would be fun to hang out while sports are going on.
Food inside Universal Studios
- Mythos has good food. It was expensive but good. Call for reservations.
- Lombards Landing and Finnegans were decent.
- Three Broom Stick had good fish and chips, it was busy but the line moves quick.
- You can bring in food with you and save time while you eat in line for a ride.
- Try and eat at off times, restaurants get very busy at 12pm and 5pm
- Universal is for older kids and adults. There are a number of "inappropriate" advertisements and people wear shirts with adult words or ideas. A couple of times my 9 and 11-year-old asked, "What does that mean?" Just an FYI.
If I Had to do it again
- Buy one of the refillable coke soft drink mugs. Just one.
- Go to Pottermore.com and see what house you are in.
- Do a poll of how many people are in each house. Half the people in there are sporting colors from their house. Most young kids are Gryffindor because Harry Potter is. But with teenagers and adults, there was a lot of Slytherin colors as well as decent amount of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw.
- Watch all the various movies ahead of time: transformers, minions, shrek, etc. It’ll make the experience much better.
- Definitely buy the express pass, if you can afford it. But you can buy the pass last-minute if it is not included in your hotel package. There is no savings for buying it early. If the park is empty or you want to spend time doing things that don't need the fast pass you may not need it.
- Stay on-site - preferably at one where you get the express pass for free.
- If you’ve got some extra cash lying around, splurge and do the VIP for one day - we got lucky in that the first day was so cold, there was not as many people there, we were able to do a ton of stuff early. But if it’s busy, I think you’ll get your money’s worth.
- Looks at the concert series at Universal, we were lucky and one of the days at the park Andy Grammer was playing. We got to see a free concert as part of our ticket into the park.
Amount of time
- For your first time, if you get an express pass, you can probably do all the adult stuff in day and a half - roller coasters, all the 3D/4D stuff and all the harry potter. Young kids, stroller or wheelchair, you'd need another day or two for the shows and kids rides and character meetings. Many of the larger rides have kids swap areas if the kids are not big enough to ride the rides
- Try to go on an off day, say a Wednesday, you could probably do everything in one full day. Also look at the Undercovertourist crowd calendar for Universal Studios for lighter traffic days. It predicted our days perfectly.
- If you can get tickets good for 7 non consecutive days I would do it. There is so much going on it was nice to have a couple of days off between our days in the park.
- Bring a phone charging pack. There are very few outlets in the park to charge. They have a phone pack charge swap program but I didn't have an eligible swap so I didn't look into it.