My family has been visiting Orlando for over twenty years. We are definitely Disney people, but branched out this year and tried Universal Studios (Harry Potter, of course!). I hadn’t been to a Universal park since before having kids so I was excited to see the changes and approach it as a true rookie.
We arrived at the park prior to opening so I could purchase tickets. Ticket prices for the parks were basically the same as Disney (I paid $124 each for myself and 2 kids and $119 for my youngest). Both parks charge adult prices for kids 10 and up. We only did single-day tickets, but I know they both offer discounts for multiple parks/days. The nice woman at the ticket office offered me the opportunity to purchase the Universal Express Pass ($60) or the Express Unlimited Pass ($75) so I wouldn’t have to wait in line at most of the rides. I know there are many people that take advantage of this, but I already spent $500 to enter the gates of the park, I darn sure wasn’t going to spend $240-$300 more. We did, however, purchase a Coca-Cola Freestyle Souvenir Cup (about $15) so we could get unlimited refills of soda, water, and ICEEs while we were there. We aren’t huge soda drinkers, but I didn’t pack much water so I knew we would use it.
After leaving the ticket counter, we were able to enter the park and we headed straight to Diagon Alley! I read several Universal plans before we went and about half said to go to Diagon Alley first and the other half said to wait. Haha! That was our main reason for attending the park, so we just decided to go there and see about the crowds.
We made it back there after taking a few pictures and immediately went to get in line for Escape from Gringotts. I saw people putting their things in lockers and I knew we would have to do that also. I had read about the locker system at Universal and was really apprehensive about how much of a hassle it would be to do this at every ride. I have to say–it was awesome. The lockers are free (they use your fingerprint to open/close the lockers) and there are so many that we didn’t have to wait at all to get to a kiosk to get one assigned to us. They are roomy and held our bag/hats/phones/etc. I felt comfortable leaving my things and just enjoying the rides.
We got in line and waited about twenty minutes before we were able to ride. The building you walk through is really cool and there were lots of things to look at so the wait didn’t seem long. The ride was awesome and well worth the short wait. We got our things and went to Ollivander’s to get a wand.
My daughter read all of the Harry Potter books this school year and was so hopeful that she would be picked for the wand selection process. We went in a room with about 30 other people and…she was selected! They went through a fun little “show” of getting her the right wand and then we all were lead into the store, which is TINY. We purchased the wand (they are expensive, but interactive in the park) and went to go try a spell or two before letting the boys pick somewhere to go.
My guys had enough of Harry Potter for the time being and wanted to go to the Simpsons area. We went that direction, rode both rides (that simulated coaster ride was kind of harsh–haha), played a carnival game, and took pics with the family. We then went over to ride the Men in Black ride (fun!) and headed back to Diagon Alley. The kids wanted to buy some candy and I wanted to try a frozen Butterbeer. We took care of that and rushed to Universal CityWalk to meet the rest of our family at Margaritaville for lunch.
As you may know, my husband was ill for our entire trip, but he did make it to lunch. We brought him a Butterbeer and had some great food. The kids and I felt rested and ready to go back to tackle more of the park! We did Shrek 4D (they LOVED it), Return of the Mummy (they HATED it–haha), and went to the Spongebob store. My boys adore Spongebob and were so happy to shop around and take pictures. I let them play for a bit at the Curious George water play area and we rode the kiddie Woody Woodpecker roller coaster. Then…we went back to Diagon Alley. We went in some more shops and my girl tried her wand a few more times. At this point, we were all tired and ready to head back to the hotel pool.
Overall, it was a good day at an unfamiliar park. We didn’t go in with much of a plan–I wanted it to be relaxing and fun…and it was. We rode everything we wanted to ride except for the Minion Mayhem ride because the line was long all day. I am really glad we didn’t buy the express passes as we did not need them. There didn’t seem to be much of a crowd at all on the day we were there.
Things we loved:
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is hard to beat if you are a fan. The Butterbeer was excellent and the atmosphere was amazing. The interactive wand is a fun purchase and can be shared by all of your kids while you are there.
- The Coca-Cola cup…seriously. This was a smart purchase and we definitely got our money’s worth. We kept it filled up all day with all types of drinks (including water) so we were never thirsty.
- The non-Disney characters–we saw the Simpsons, Spongebob, Patrick, Gru, and a couple of minions. My kids liked the change from what we normally see at theme parks.
- The proximity to Universal CityWalk–lots of dining options that seem tastier and fancier than “park” food.
Things we did NOT love:
- No free fast passes. I don’t like the extra charge for the express passes. It isn’t budget-friendly and people have already spent hundreds of dollars to be in the park.
- The app–I didn’t hate it, but the Disney app is more user-friendly.
I don’t know if Universal Orlando will be in our regular park rotation, but we will definitely visit again.
What did we miss? Any tips for next time?