Universal Orlando Tips and Advice
by Laurel Smith
A few tips to make your visit to Universal's Theme Parks and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter More Enjoyable!
Don't Be Confused!
First thing's first! Understand that there are TWO Universal theme parks in Orlando. One is called: Universal Studios Florida, and the other is called Universal's Islands of Adventure. Islands of Adventure is the park that includes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The parks are right next door to each other, and you can easily walk from one to the other if you visit them both. You'll need a park-hopper pass in order to enter both on the same day. I recommend you spend at least one whole day at each.
Before you Go - Get a
You can't possibly get all the good tricks and tips from a few articles online. You need a complete guidebook. I highly recommend the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (AND Universal) which includes a brand new complete section for the Universal theme parks including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My favorite part of this book is the touring plans that help you map your route through the park to make the most of it. There are different plans depending on the age of your kids and how many days you'll be spending there. It includes wait times, ride reviews, age recommendations and so much more.
The Unofficial Guide has been invaluable to my family in planning our Florida theme park vacations to Disney, and I'm thrilled that it now includes the new section for the wildly popular Harry Potter sights and complete details on BOTH Universal theme parks.
What to See First
We initially tried to visit the Forbidden Journey when we arrived at the Islands of Adventure park in the afternoon, but it was so crowded that we couldn't even get into the Wizarding World area at all! So we decided to follow the recommendation of the guidebook and come back to that area an hour or two before closing. Doing this, we were able to get into the Forbidden Journey ride in less than 45 minutes, which is a small miracle considering we were at the park on one of their busiest times of the year. Meanwhile, we really enjoyed some of the other attractions that were far less crowded since the mob was all over at the Wizard World. Our favorites included the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, Spider Man, Dr. Doom Fearfall, Jurassic Park, and we really enjoyed Poseidon's Fury which was more of a show than a ride. The guidebook has a wonderful touring plan with a map for one day visits.
When to Visit the Wizarding
It's recommended to see "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" first thing when you arrive at the Wizarding World or an hour or two before closing. However, seeing the Wizarding World for the first time at the end of the day is a gamble though and you may not have time to see everything you'd like. Plus, you have to stand in a line just to enter the Wizarding World if it's full already before you even get to any of the ride lines. Better to save the evening visit for a re-visit to catch things you didn't see in the morning. FYI, the castle looks full size in the photo, but it's not to scale and is really much smaller up close!
You can avoid the longer line at the Forbidden Journey and speed through in about 1/3 the time if you use the "singles" line, but it bypasses all the cool stuff in the castle, so only use that for a repeat of the ride part only, not for your first time.
Once you get into the Wizarding
World, don't leave until you're ready because you will have to go back
in line with the general public if you want to re-enter.
Beat the Crowd
With the Wizard World so popular, the Islands of Adventure park is often crammed. You won't have this problem at Universal Studios.
You have two options.
First option is to be at the turnstiles at least 45 minutes before the
park opens, or the second option is to visit the crowded areas of the park
an hour before the park closes, or two hours if it is open until 10pm.
hours vary quite a bit through the year and tend to be open later during
peak times. This also gives you an idea of how busy to expect the park
to be. The later its open, the more crowded you can expect it.
Express Pass - Is it worth
Since we stayed at a Universal hotel, our room key served as our Express Pass. Other visitors to the park can purchase an Express Pass for an additional cost. This annoys some people since Disney gives away their "Fast Pass" for free. However, I have to say the Express Pass at Universal for us, was totally worth it. Even though we got ours free as a perk for staying at their hotel, I would have gladly paid extra for it.
A Disney pass can only be used on one ride at a time where it gives you a time to come back later for the shorter line while you do something else. At Universal, with the Express Pass, you just get to go right into the shorter line immediately. Not only that, but you can come off the ride and do it again if you like. You can use it over and over without waiting. We CONSISTENTLY found the express lines to be about 75% shorter wait time than the regular line. (if the regular line was 1hr, then the express was only 15 minutes). The entire two days we were at the park, we never waited more than about 20 minutes for any activity, with the exception of the Forbidden Journey and Olivander's Wand Shop show.
So, it boils down to this: Yes. If the park is busy (Summertime or holidays), then the Express Pass is totally worth the extra cost. If it's not busy, then it depends on how much convenience is worth to you.
Park Hopper - Is it worth
We paid a little bit extra to have the freedom to attend both parks in one day if we wanted. The two parks are right next door to each other, so it is easy to walk from one to the other.
Since we were there for two-and-a-half
days, it was totally worth it to us. This may depend greatly on the park
hours when you attend, and the stamina of your travelers. We
literally spent 14 hours at parks one day! When one park closed,
the other was open for two more hours, so we headed over for more.
If you have very young children, one park per day is probably all they
You Will Get Wet
of the rides at Islands of Adventure have signs stating that "You will
get wet". They do not lie!
Use the lockers to store your phones and cameras and other things. Do not wear your favorite shoes to the park! If you MUST keep your phone on you, I suggest you use a dry bag, but seriously, you have been warned.
The day we toured Islands of Adventure, my teenage son was thrilled when I finally agreed to go on every water ride. We got drenched. Over and over. We saw lots of families with rain ponchos that would have probably helped a lot, (if we'd planned ahead). Even so, we had a GREAT time getting completely soaked.
So, my best advice is to just pull out your best fun-filled attitude and enjoy it. Your kids will think it's hilarious if you are dripping wet and they will have something to talk about later. You'll love hearing them tell stories about how they conspired to get you soaked!
It will be a relief to some
parents to know that the water rides over at Universal Studios do not get
you as wet as the ones at Islands of Adventure. Even the Jaws ride barely
gave us a sprinkle.
||Both of Universal's parks
are loaded with photo ops. Enjoy yourself with this. Don't stand there
like dorks and order your children to put on fake smiles -- get involved!
Ham it up!! Your photos will really capture the fun that way, and
your kids won't whine every time you want to take their picture.
When to Shop
Ordinarily I would recommend doing souvenir shopping late in the day to avoid having to carry around your goodies. This is especially true if you buy candy or chocolate at HoneyDukes that you don't want to melt if you carry it around in the heat. (The chocolate wand I purchased did not hold it's shape after I carried it around a few hours, although the chocolate frogs did just fine).
I've never been anywhere
where you have to wait in line just to get IN the store to shop. Depending
on when you get there, you may actually have to wait in a line outside
the shops which are incredibly small in my opinion. So, because it's
so popular, get your shopping done early in the day. Or return to
the shop an hour before the park closes as the guide
There are long lines at the Butterbeer carts for this tasty treat - regular or frozen. You can avoid the wait by skipping the cart and getting your butterbeer at the Hog's Head Pub using the rear patio entrance. You'll be in and out in five minutes! Most people don't even notice this sneaky entrance. It is through an alley which is just to the right of the Three Broomsticks restaurant, and to the left of the girls rest room (where you hear Moaning Myrtle's voice inside the bathroom!) on the main street. Our whole family (adults included) loved butterbeer! Check our our Review of Butterbeer article.
Best Souvenir EVER
The best souvenir we've ever had (from any trip!) is a Memory Book filled with all the pictures from our trip. You can make your own memory book, starring YOU! It's not expensive and it's really easy. Upload all your pics and order a hard-bound copy. I got a copy for each of my children which I gave to them as a gifts at Christmas.
When traveling with three small children and touring big theme parks, one of the things I worried about was losing track of one of my children in the crowds. I recommend outfitting each child with an ID bracelet. Even if you think your child can remember your phone number, don't take a chance!
Use a Lanyard for Your
My daughter lost her Express Pass on one of the rides when it fell out of her pocket in line. We didn't realize it until we got to the next ride, but luckily someone had turned it in by the time we returned. (Thank you to the very nice person who did this, and saved us the hassle of trying to replace it!) After that close call, I purchased a lanyard at the park for everyone to hold their pass cards.
My gang was completely tuckered out by the end of our trip. All three of them zonked during the flight home from Orlando. It was worth it.
Unofficial Guide to Walt
Disney World (and Universal) was invaluable to me in our planning.
latest edition of this book now includes in depth information about both
of the Universal Theme Parks! I cannot recommend it enough!
Check out my Disney
World Tips too!
Don't miss all the Printable
Car Games at Momsminivan.com
--Laurel (Road Trip Mom)
~ ..· ´¨¨))
((¸¸.·´ ..·´ Road Trip Mom -:¦:-