Our family loves amusement parks! So when we found out that Rich needed to be in Florida for a few months for work, we made a beeline for Orlando and purchased season passes to Universal Studios Orlando. We love Universal Orlando! It has the perfect mix of Roller Coasters, 3-D thrill rides and immersive experiences. It also has Harry Potter!
Universal Orlando is made up of two amusement parks; Universal Studios Orlando and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. They also own some water parks, but that’s for a different post.
The parks are connected by the ride “Hogwarts Express”, which is an immersive Harry Potter train ride (and has a different experience each direction, so go both ways!).
Park admission prices vary, but start at $105 for a single park adult (10 yrs. and up) ticket. To enjoy both parks we recommend a minimum of a 2 day park-hopper, which costs $219.99 per adult and $209.99 per child (3yrs to 9yrs).
Where to Stay
We highly recommend staying in one of the three premier onsite hotels. Why? These hotels offer a free Universal Express Unlimited ride access pass for each guest. This pass lets you skip the lines on most of the rides (sorry, not Harry Potter) which saves loads of time! They will sell these day passes to non guests but they cost $89 per person (per day!) in addition to the park admission.
On-site hotels also include Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the theme park opens. This is a great perk because the lines can be very long for these rides and it is fun to see the land before it gets crowded. Also included is a complimentary transportation to the parks and priority seating at select restaurants throughout both theme parks and Universal City Walk.
Two of our favorite hotels in Orlando are premier on-site hotels: Loews Royal Pacific Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel. Both are beautiful resorts with excellent pools, great restaurants and comfortable rooms that easily accommodated our family of 5.
Where to Eat
Call Universal Studios Reservations at 407-224-FOOD to make reservations the day of your visit.
Finnegan’s Bar and Grill
This American pub is located on the streets of New York in Universal Studios. Finnegan’s is a sit down restaurant with table service. It’s a great place to get off your feet while enjoying some tasty food. We always start with Finnegan’s potato and onion web, which is thinly sliced onion and potato fried in a beer batter. Rich loved the corned beef and cabbage and Jen always gets the black bean burger. They have a wide range of beer, wine and cocktails and a good kids menu.
Mythos Restaurant in Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Mythos serves up award-winning contemporary cuisine in an amazing setting. Reservations are a must in this table service restaurant. We all enjoyed the Mezze Platter with hummus, baba ganoush, kalamata olives and pita. We also enjoyed the risotto and the Pan Roasted Salmon was delicious. They offer an excellent wine list and a children’s menu.
Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley
No trip to Universal would be complete without a visit to Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour in Universal Studios. We love their Butterbeer ice cream!
This popular drink from Harry Potter is available from Street vendors, at The Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks. It tastes like Butterscotch and is served warm, cold or as ice cream. We recommend sampling all three types!
Our Favorite Rides
H’s (14 yr-old) picked Dragon Challenge — this is a fast roller coaster in Hogsmeade, with loops and corkscrews. It’s actually two rides in one, with a blue track and a red track, which have different speeds and turns. It’s pretty intense.
M’s (10 yr-old) picked Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (65 mph, 17 stories drop!) — on this roller coaster, you get to pick a music track, and then they take you vertically up a tower and then drop you back down, where you scream along a loop and tight turns while listening to music.
A’s (10 yr-old) picked Men in Black: Alien Attack — this is an interactive ride where riders shoot lasers at alien targets while occasionally spinning you in circles. You get points for your hits and compete against each other to see who can get the highest score.
Rich’s pick is Transformers 4D: in this ride you get in a car and head off to help the Transformers fight the Autobots. The car goes past several 3D screens where there are wind, water and heat effects. It’s not a roller coaster, but the car moves quick and turns to match the action on the screen.
Jen’s pick is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Universal Studios describes it as a 3D multi-dimensional ride. It’s a roller coaster and a 3D movie. It’s fun and fast and I love riding it. But the reason it’s my favorite is because I love waiting in line! I know, that sounds crazy so let me explain:
The line takes you through Gringotts Bank and it is extraordinary! It starts with the exterior of the building, a beautiful replica of the bank with a enormous white dragon on top. The dragon comes to life every 10 minutes to breath fire!
Depending on the crowds, you will spend some time in line in the back courtyard before entering the bank. The main room of the bank is beautiful and surprisingly large! The bank tellers are amazingly animated goblin animatronics. It really feels like you are in the movie.
And an All-Family pick: Jurassic Park River Adventure — this is the one ride we all agree on. Be prepared to get soaked! There are free lockers near the entrance to store your stuff. The ride has a pretty big water drop, and if you really don’t want to get wet, they sell ponchos in the gift shop.
The first thing our boys wanted to do when we arrived at Universal was head to Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Ollivander’s has 2 locations; Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. You can buy Harry Potter wands at almost every store in the parks but Ollivander’s offers an interactive experience. Guests are taken into the shop in small groups to see a short interactive wand choosing … after that you exit into the retail shop to purchase a wand. They offer normal wands and interactive wands. The interactive wands can be used at various windows and fountains throughout both Harry Potter areas, to activate interactive exhibits.
All-Day lockers can opened and re-locked starting at $10 per day.
Short-term lockers are available for storing your belongings when riding the big thrill rides. They’re free for the first 45 min or 1.5 hrs and are then $3 per half hour after that.
Strollers can be rented at the front entrance to both parks. On busy days, it could get hard to navigate them through the crowds, but there are stroller parking and child rider lines for most of the major rides, so mom and dad can take turns going on a thrill ride.
Single Rider Lines
These are great if you don’t mind riding separately from your group. Look for them at the entrance to a ride. They will fit you into gaps when they open up, potentially cutting your wait time in half or more.
Universal offers kennels for dogs on a first-come, first-serve basis. When you arrive at the parking kiosks, tell them you are going to the kennel and they will direct you. Shot records are required. They are open an hour past park close, so you can stay all day, even if your dog can’t come with you.