We finally took our first trip to Universal Orlando in Florida! I have wanted to go for years and years, especially once the Harry Potter areas opened. The whole family was blown away by how amazing both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure were. We’ve been to a lot of theme parks, but these were by far our favorite! Traveling with three big kids (ages 10, 10 and 13) and with all five of us loving thrill rides, here are 9 ways that Universal Orlando WOWed us.
Obviously, this is a biggie for us. My kids are not afraid of anything, and they like to ride the big, scary rides over and over. We LOVED the newly renovated Incredible Hulk Coaster, which was one of the best I’ve ever ridden. The kids loved the Dragon Challenge (two competing dragon coasters in a Triwizard Tournament), and we rode Rip Ride Rockit five times. Many of the rides in both parks are 3-D (and some are 4-D), and we liked how each of them had something a little different so they’re not repetitive. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man was our favorite ride of the whole trip, and we spent time looking for Stan Lee and Ironman each time.
Everything we did and saw in the two parks was focused on families and helping them make memories. As a mom, I loved that. While we didn’t visit the “little kid” areas of both parks, we walked through Seuss Landing (loved it!) and saw so many kids rides for all ages. There really is something for everyone! And because Universal Orlando is movie-themed, many of the areas had lots to look at and it wasn’t just about the big rides. That’s great for kidsthrough grandparents. We also felt that even though our kids weren’t familiar with a lot of the themes (they’d never seen The Mummy or Men in Black, for example), they still enjoyed the rides and followed the stories.
Single rider lines & Child swap areas
If you’re at the park with kids that can’t (or won’t) ride a coaster, you can get in the single rider line and go right to the front. They’ll put you in wherever there’s an empty space. This wasn’t an issue for us on this visit, since everyone was tall enough to ride, but years ago this would have been so helpful! If you’re visiting with younger kids but still want to ride Hulk or another coaster, you get your chance. Many of the rides also had child swap areas, where one member of your party can wait with the little ones while the rest ride. Then you can swap places and get your turn. I was really impressed by how thoughtful these features are!
I had never downloaded an app for a theme park before, but since this was our first time there, I gave it a try. It was really helpful! You can see wait times in real time, so you can plan what ride to hit next. It helped us plan out where to eat, since we could use filters depending on what we were looking for, and we used it more than the signs to get around the park. You can also easily look up the times of shows, and set alerts to make sure you get there on time. Plus, there was free WiFi everywhere in the park, so I was able to share lots of pics on Instagram.
Everywhere we went in both parks, we came across great customer service and friendly people. In Diagon Alley, for example, some of the spells were tricky, and there was always a costumed staff member around to give tips and suggestions. They really want you to enjoy yourself! We also came across several thoughtful ride operators that tried so hard to get my husband to fit on a ride with his 6’5″ frame. The servers and staff at all the dining areas were so polite and handled the crowds well.
Each of the big coasters had a set of free lockers next to the entrance that you opened and closed with either your fingerprint or the bar code on your ticket. You’re not allowed onto the rides with anything in your pockets, and there’s a security stop with a metal detector. They wouldn’t let me in when I’d forgotten to take my camera out of my pocket, so I headed back to the lockers. It’s all to keep items from falling loose and injuring riders, meaning safety first!
Early admission & Express passes
When you stay at any of the on-site hotels, you get into the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the parks open. This was our time to head straight to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley to cast spells, look around, and shop with a lot less crowd than the rest of the day. Some of the hotels also give you a Universal Express Unlimited Pass as an additional benefit ($89 value per person per day). We loved getting in the Express lines instead of the regular lines on the rides; you just walked to the front and got right on the rides!
Theme parks are notorious for fried junk food without a lot of options. At Universal Orlando, we had so many options to choose from. We could choose from kiosks and food trucks, quick service, casual dining and sit-down dining, all with healthy and allergy-considerate options. The quality of the food at each stop was surprisingly good. I was also impressed with how they handled the sheer number of diners. At the Three Broomsticks in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, for example, they had a system for moving everyone through the line and seating them quickly. We loved having lunch like Hogwarts students, and I thoroughly enjoyed my Shepherd’s Pie.
Much more to see & do
We were so busy riding the big rides that we didn’t make it to any of the park shows, though we heard great things about them from other families in our group. The one we did get to was Blue Man Group, which was my son’s favorite part of the whole trip! It was hysterically funny, musical, creative and interesting. I really don’t know how else to explain it! I also got a sneak peek of Volcano Bay, a brand new water theme park that will open in 2017. It looks AMAZING, and since we’re all such fans of unique rides, this will definitely warrant another trip. No standing in long lines, in a place that combines relaxation with thrills? That’s my kind of theme park! I can’t wait to learn more about it.
Have you been to Universal Orlando? What WOWed you?
My family attended Family Forward, a blogger conference, at Universal Orlando. With our conference pass we received discounted park admission, hotel, and special experiences like a VIP Tour of Universal and park events.