Every family should have a bucket list of places they would love to visit together. For our crazy adventurous family, that list has always included visiting Universal Orlando Resort™ in Central Florida. With our recent move to the area, we became even more determined to make that happen. Well, we finally made it! We found the opportunity to cross this theme park off the must-visit, never-seen-before destinations list. It was an adventure that had us visiting wizards, minions and superheroes and one we will never forget!
My family and I were provided complimentary tickets to visit both Universal Studios Florida™ and Universal’s Islands of Adventure™ in exchange for sharing our detailed experience. However, all opinions included in this post are 100% mine and mine alone. This post also contains affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure policy for more information.
Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando Resort is an entertainment complex seriously like no other. It consists of two theme parks, a themed water park, a night-time entertainment district and numerous hotels. It draws visitors from all over the world and showcases some of the most amazing shows and attractions. While we were only exploring the two theme parks and Universal CityWalk this visit, we are already excited about the potential of staying in one of the hotels and making a splash at Universal Volcano Bay™ some day.
One Day ~ Two Parks
I wanted to be up at the crack of dawn so we could walk through those gates just as they opened. We were being granted one day’s access to BOTH Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure and we knew we had to be strategic in order to maximize the experience.
PS – my kids are like this all the time!!. This picture of them with a map? Yeah – that happens just about everywhere we go.
Our Early Morning Arrival
Finding our way around the resort and locating the parking garage for the theme parks was a piece of cake. Even though it was our very first time on the premises, every sign was clear and directed us exactly where we needed and wanted to go.
At the time of our visit, we had two parking options with about a $10 difference between them. Regular parking would cost $25 and just mean that we had a longer walk. An upgrade would have allowed us to park closer to the venues and that would have cost $35.
Since we love to walk, we chose the $25 daily rate and had no regrets.
If you do have issues with walking or simply want to be closer to the gates, the cost difference is obviously not all that steep.
Once nestled into our parking space, we took inventory to make sure we had everything we needed:
- my camera, our phones
- backpack filled with the Tween’s food and extra water bottles.
- the Tween’s medical bag that carries his epinephrine auto-injector, antihistamine, his gloves and wipes.
- keys and wallets (yes, do NOT want to forget those).
What we did forget (and DID regret) was an umbrella or ponchos. Unfortunately, most of the morning was spent chilly and dodging pockets of rain. Of course, they do have these items in the parks for purchase. In fact, at one point, I did pick up a lanyard to hold our tickets and keep them dry.
We weren’t about to let the rain stop us in the least, though.
Picking up the tickets
Our tickets were being held at Guest Relations. I simply showed my emailed confirmation number and my photo ID. Houston, the team member helping us, noticed that we had Express Pass attached to our tickets and he grew very excited on our behalf. He shared that having this add-on option would prove itself quite beneficial throughout the day.
Well, needless to say, we walked through the gates just after they had opened and, to our surprise, the crowds were fairly thin at that point. That was likely due to the weather, but we certainly weren’t about to start complaining. It was time to go make some memories!
Universal Studios Florida
For the first half of our day, we ducked in and out of the rain pockets by visiting attractions fairly close together in the Production Central, New York and San Francisco portions of Universal Studios Florida.
3-D, Coasters, Fire and Speed
Our very first stop was Despicable Me Minion Mayhem™, an unpredictable 3-D experience that “transforms” guests into minions and takes them on a crazy ride through the super villain’s laboratory. Gru’s entire mission is to find worthy recruits for his latest scheme. The adventure does get bumpy. So, if, by chance, you are one who suffers from motion sickness, they do have stationary seats (aka benches) so that you can still enjoy the adventure with your family.
From there, the boys were determined to get on the first coaster they saw and that just happened to be the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit™. We were instructed to place all of our belongings in a locker at the entrance of the ride before we entered the queue. The benefit is that the lockers are free for approximately 30 minutes at a time, but they are small. There are larger lockers available if you are willing to spend the money.
Oh, my goodness!
This ride is ferocious and adds a high tech twist to a spectacular rush. As we were being secured, we were able to choose our own music to accompany our ride (country, pop, metal, classic). We then climbed a steep 90° angle only to plummet right back down. During the ride, we flew around twists and turns at speeds up to 65 mph.
Fun fact about this coaster: This ride is one that offers a video and/or portrait purchase at the end. While we personally did not make the purchase, we did get to watch the video. Seriously ~ that was freakishly hilarious!
From there, we enjoyed Revenge of the Mummy™ and Fast & Furious – Supercharged™. Hubby had also been eager to head over to Transformers™: The Ride 3-D. However, this attraction was unfortunately down at the time. We were told a Decepticon apparently escaped.
Since Shrek wasn’t really a priority for us that day, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat at the San Francisco Pastry Company™. We weren’t quite ready to broach the topic of food allergy accommodations, so the Tween simply enjoyed a few things we had brought for him.
I have to say, THAT was a blessing – the fact that we were able to bring food in with us for our son. With the severity of his food allergies, there are times he is just not comfortable taking a chance. So, it honestly means the world to a food allergy family when they have that freedom to bring their own supplies.
At that point, we just happened to be sitting across the way from Hogswarts ™Express – King’s Cross Station. It just made sense for us muggles to pop over to find some wizards over in Diagon Alley™.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™
THIS – THIS is the world I had been waiting to explore. It took years before our family caught on to the fever that is Harry Potter. However, when we did, we dove in head first and never looked back. The story-line is intriguing, the characters mesmerizing and the magic captivating. To be able to walk INTO that world itself was simply incredible.
In Universal Studios Florida, we walked in Harry’s footsteps and entered the famous Diagon Alley. It was such a rush to feel as if we were right there – watching wands choosing their wizards at Ollivander’s and then wizards practicing their spells in various locations. We saw muggles dining at the Leaky Cauldron. Still others were waiting for the ginormous Ukranian Iron Belly that sits on of Gringotts to breathe her fierce blast.
NOTE: That ferocious breath of fire reaches a very hot 3,560°F!
The four of us strolled around for some time, once again dodging the rain by going in and out of shops. We found some very unique candy options and even contemplated purchasing our very own wand.
Hubby, who loves to ask questions and learn things, enjoyed talking with a team member who was eager to share interesting tidbits about the personal wands of Harry, Dumbledore, Snape and Voldemort.
To be honest, all I knew was that I wanted Butterbeer at some point.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™
After finally witnessing the dragon’s fiery blast, we made our way into Gringotts for yet another fantastic journey. Before making our way to the Express Pass entrance, we once again headed over to the lockers to secure our personal belongings. It was here that we decided to finally ask a team member about medical bags ~ whether or not it was possible for us to carry it onto the ride. Having our son separated from it too long makes us a bit nervous. If something were to happen, he would need immediate administration. (His food allergies can have a contact and airborne component to them)
The team member with whom we spoke was amazing and informed us that they actually have medical lockers closer to the attraction. He gave us instructions to speak to a team member as we approached each check point and we would be directed where to go next.
We made our way through the queue and were ultimately escorted by another team member to the medical lockers. This is where we were able to secure the Tween’s bag while we all enjoyed the next five to ten minute adventure.
People – this multi-dimensional attraction is…literally mind-blowing!
The technology used to make this ride feel so life-like is truly beyond words. Along this crazy journey, you meet up with Harry, Ron and Hermione, as well as come up against Bellatrix and Voldemort as you face the tight security measures of the bank and try to escape the clutches of evil.
Hogwarts™ Express – King’s Cross Station
Because we were trying to ensure we explored everything in these two parks, we decided it was time to take a train ride to the other side of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This was actually the strategy recommended to me by a dear friend – to enjoy the first half of Universal Studios Florida, then take the train over to Universal’s Islands of Adventure before returning to finish off the rest of the first park. I don’t think I could have given any better advice!
We were able to once again enter through the Express Pass entrance, walk through a wall (yes – it was amazing!!) and then board Hogwarts Express for our jaunt over to Hogsmeade™ Station.
NOTE: To capture a picture of your party walking through the wall, someone must stay back around the approaching corner. You’ll understand why when you get there.
The train ride is extraordinary! Once in your compartment, which is identical to the ones we see in the movies, you are right in the middle of the story as you see familiar settings “out the window” and witness “students” passing by in the halls. It is such a fascinating experience.
Hogwarts Express – Hogsmeade Station
When we arrived at our destination, the rain had briefly turned into a downpour, so we took about two minutes before deciding that we really didn’t want to waste any time. We were going to get wet one way or the other, but the goal was to enjoy ourselves no matter what.
We walked out from the train station and found ourselves surrounded by the charming village of Hogsmeade. Here we found more quaint shops, more dining opportunities and more amazing attractions to get our hearts pounding hard!
We decided to make a B-line to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™. This has been one of the most recommended attractions by my friends. It is a ground-breaking thrill ride that takes you through classrooms and corridors, as well as high above the castle. It is unique and captivating, but I have to admit that there were parts that might be frightening for a young child or those sensitive to the idea of Dementors. Since my boys are a little older and not phased by such things, we immensely enjoyed the adventure as it was like no other we had taken before!
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
While Hogsmeade is actually part of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, I wanted to keep it contained within The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It just didn’t seem right to break it up at that point.
Time To Grab a Bite
After the ride, however, we did decide that it was time to grab something a little more substantial to eat and we made our way over to Three Broomsticks™ in Hogsmeade to see what they had to offer.
As it was lunchtime, this is where we took opportunity to speak with a manager about a few items for our son. However, it didn’t work out the way we had hoped. The Tween was fine with his own food (standard for him the first time we explore a new place), but he had really wanted to try Butterbeer. Sadly, the manager felt that it would be too high of a risk due to the potential for cross contamination since his allergies included peanuts and tree nuts. While our son was disappointed, we all felt that the manager had handled the situation quite well. She was kind, patient, understanding and very honest with us. She simply didn’t want to see his day ruined. We had to respect and appreciate that.
**We always bring extra special items for him to enjoy in case situations like these arise. It’s always good to be prepared.
Okay, so what did we eat?
Since the Teen was not all that hungry (I know, shocker!), we shared a feast of chicken and ribs with potatoes and a huge corn on the cob. I also had my very first cup of Butterbeer!
Yum!!!! Since it was chilly and rainy, I chose the hot version and it hit the spot more than I could have imagined!! It had a butterscotch whipped topping and tasted soooo good. I think I may have a new favorite drink!
On To Explore The Other Six Islands
As we ventured out past the wizarding village, we spent the next few hours exploring the other six islands that make up this particular Universal theme park.
We felt Poseidon’s Fury™ on the Lost Continent™ and strolled through Seuss Landing™.
The boys could not get enough of Marvel Super Hero Island® and, believe it or not, convinced me to be a “test subject” on the The Incredible Hulk Coaster® with them.
Now, THAT was a “life-altering” experience ~ no joke! We placed most of our belongings in the lockers and then made our way to the team member who would lead us to the medical lockers. After the Tween’s bag was once again secure, we strapped into a ride that catapulted us with the force of a fighter jet and left us feeling weightless as we soared through numerous crazy twists and turns.
I honestly think that this was a favorite for most of the family.
Well, it was between this and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.
At this point, we had one who was petering out, starting not to feel well. It had been a long week of rehearsals for him, so I could see he was simply drained. He and I sat for a bit and let the youngest and Hubby ride one or two more attractions. After that, we began making our way through the other Islands and towards the other side. We still wanted to see if we could finish walking through both parks.
Before leaving Universal’s Islands of Adventure, however, we had one more box to check. There was one other thing that came highly recommended. We had to stop in Jurassic Park™ to see the most intelligent dinosaur known to man.
No! Not T-Rex!! Blue, the velociraptor!
It was a small wait to meet Blue, as she took a break while we had been waiting in line. However, it actually worked to our advantage. We ended up with the BEST “seats” to view her arrival on scene. In fact, we were first in line to get up close and personal with her.
Heading Back to Hogsmeade Station
We decided to make the journey back to Universal Studios Florida via Hogswart Express so that we could walk the rest of the park towards our exit. Traveling back by train is a MUST because you hear a completely different story-line. Once again, we watched out the “window” and witnessed “students” walking through the halls as we sat comfortably in our cabin.
PS – be sure to look for chocolate frogs on the doors!!
Finishing up our Day
We strolled the rest of Universal Studios Florida, walking through the World Expo and Springfield: Home of the Simpsons™. Before we came full circle back to Hollywood and the exit, however, we noticed that we were within minutes of the parade taking to the streets. Since we had never experienced a parade at this theme park, we figured it was a must. So we found ourselves a place to plant and awaited the festivities.
At the time of our visit, the park was in the midst of celebrating Mardi Gras. This meant colorful floats, tons of flying beads and outrageous street performers. Each night of the festival (which runs until April 4th this year), there are also concerts and various opportunities to enjoy Cajun food. While we didn’t take on the food, we did enjoy the parade and collecting the many beads that were thrown our way.
**Warning – children and adults alike get pretty crazy when it comes to these beads! They are thrown from the floats, so be careful not to step on littles when trying to collect them yourselves.
It had been a long day, but a fantastic one! We had enjoyed so many spectacular attractions. We had explored so many new worlds. However, we knew we had a lot more to go back and see another time.
On our way out of the park, there was one more stop we had to make. During the morning stroll through Universal CityWalk to reach the parks, Hubby had spotted Voodoo Doughnut. This place is a phenomenon centered around unique, one-of-a-kind treats. In fact, it has its own cult following! Hubby had wanted a doughnut on the way in, but I asked that he hold off until we were heading out.
Of course, I had to make sure I held to my word.
The line was certainly longer than it had been in the morning. However, it was well worth the wait! Hubby picked up a Memphis Mafia Fritter, while I ordered an apple fritter (which was mistakenly replaced with a Portland Creme at first). The Teen asked us to pick out one for him as he still wasn’t feeling all that well and didn’t want to make a decision. So, we picked up a Dirt Doughnut for him and he enjoyed that immensely when he was able.
I purposely chose not to write this out as a list or as a “Ten Things You Need to Know” post. I wanted to share our personal experience and how we took on two parks in just one day. The Express Pass is definitely worth the add-on and the route we took to explore made a lot of sense to us (thanks, Meagan!). I felt this would be the best way to share ideas in case you were beginning to plan out your own one-day experience at the Universal Orlando Resort.
We rode thrilling roller coasters and experienced amazing life-like journeys. We became “minions” and felt like “wizards,” as well as joined in on a high speed chase. The attractions definitely have more “thrill” to them than we are used to experiencing, but our boys are at a stage where this is where their interests lie.
There is a significant number of restaurants, quick service options and snack opportunities located at Universal Orlando. It is a foodie’s dreamland, to be quite honest.
While we did not explore food allergy-safe opportunities beyond the one time asking about Butterbeer, we are very grateful that Universal Orlando allows for families to bring food in with them for such circumstances. We just made sure to bring things he loves and enjoys, as well as extra special items in case we indulged. However, there are so many different food options on the property. There is no doubt bound to be a venue that can accommodate.
For more information on managing food allergies at Universal Orlando Resort, check out this page on their website:
com/web/en/us/things-to-do/ dining/food-allergies/index. html#how-to-plan.
Leaving without a souvenir is next to impossible! Be sure to explore all the different shops to find the perfect take home memento. From wands and candy to mugs and t-shirts, find a keepsake that helps you remember your day.
We did not have the opportunity to explore any of the shows and we regret that immensely. However, we have every intention of going back and taking in a few during our next visit. Whether watching a Horror Make-Up Show, listening to a Frog Choir or becoming a part of Fear Factor™ Live, there is a plethora of opportunity to sit down, relax and be entertained.
OTHER THINGS I THINK YOU SHOULD REMEMBER OR KNOW:
- Lockers – Many attractions require your belongings be placed in a small locker located directly outside the attraction entrance. They are free to use, one locker per ticket for up to 30 minutes. Of note, we were able to squish in our backpack. However, we did have to take a few contents out for another locker. There are larger lockers, but these do cost a small fee.
- Medical Bag – If you carry a medical bag containing medication you should not be without for more than 30 minutes at a time, simply mention this to the team member attending the lockers. He/She will direct you to another team member near the front of the desired attraction. They do have special lockers for these particular circumstances.
- Water – Fortunately, quick service counters will provide you a free cup of water upon request.
- Souvenir cup for soda – There is an option to purchase a special souvenir cup. This cup allows you to obtain refills at scattered Coca-Cola® Freestyle machines throughout the parks (not The Wizarding World of Harry Potter). There are a few different purchase options, so choose the one best for you.
- Express Pass – This add-on ticket purchase saves you time by skipping the regular attraction line. We found this option extremely beneficial! While the crowds were not intense that day, it did save us quite a bit of time. We were able to fit in many more attractions during our visit with it.
- Motion sickness – I’m adding this because I am prone to it myself. There are many attractions at these theme parks that could induce motion sickness, so just be wary of that. Don’t let it keep you from enjoying them, though!! If you can manage, just be alert. Know that you may need a few minutes after the ride is over. (I don’t regret a single ride!!).
Bucket List Success!
We may have finally crossed Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure off our family’s bucket list. However, we are certainly not going to treat it as a one-and-done! It was a thrilling day of excitement that has us still talking about the spectacular day we spent together. Perhaps one day we will have opportunity to stay in one of the resort hotels and experience even more of the fun that awaits.
Have you been to Universal Studios Florida and/or Universal’s Islands of Adventure? What was your favorite attraction, food, character or show? What time of the year do you enjoy visiting the parks? I’d love to hear your story, so feel free to share it below in the comments. Feel free to tell me why my family should consider staying at one of the resorts on property or visit Universal Volcano Bay (wink, wink).
For more information on Universal Orlando Resort, check out their website for tickets, hours, directions and more!
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