Where to start with Universal Studios Orlando…
Universal Studios Orlando has kind of blown Scott and I away, and we didn’t think it was possible to out-do Disney.
We spent our first day at both Diagon Alley and Hogsmead, making this pretty much into a day full of Harry Potter.
Before, we go there, here are some tricks for Universal Studios:
- Buy your tickets online in advance
- They sometimes have deals such as buy for two days and get the third day free, which we took advantage of
- Save your money to buy stuff as there’s a lot of merchandise at this park including pins, wizard gear, and even Transformers!
- You can get a quick service dining plan which there are some healthy choices – such as getting a salad with roasted chicken on top for your main.
- That said, we experimented with one day of quick service, and two days of not – And honestly, I think we saved money as we didn’t buy extra snacks we would have felt that we needed to eat.
- Get the refillable cup the first day for $9.99 or with the quick service meal and get refills for the next day at $6.99.
Scott and I got up around 8:30am, choosing to take out time to get to the park by 10am.
How did we approach the park? You could do everything in two days but keep in mind that lines are regularly 30 to 45 minutes or even longer. We did one day all Harry Potter, one day dedicated to Universal Studios and then one day for Islands of Adventure, with extra time to hit things we wanted to do again.
We also got Photo Connect which works great, although you won’t find as many photographers around the park, practically none in the Harry Potter areas, and you have to hunt them down. You do get all your ride photos.
It was a gamble of a strategy. Harry Potter is (and has been for years) the most popular attraction at Universal Studios Orlando, which means it is perpetually busy, and it’s very clear to see why. The area is stunning!
You walk in and you are completely immersed into the world of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley and Hogsmead when you head over to Islands of Adventure.
Highly recommended… Everything, but the key points:
- Get yourself a magic wand at Ollivanders
- Try the ice cream at Florean Fortesue’s Ice Cream Parlour
- Get your gear at Devish and Banges at Islands of Adventure – They seem to have more stuff than Magical Menagery, Quality Quidditch Supplies, and Wiseacres
Talking generally about Universal Studios – It’s clear that Universal Studios has the 4D ride experience down pat. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey are amazing, especially the latter. Just amazing! Transformers 4D, The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, Revenge of the Mummy… All great!
Also a word of warning – We got Photo Connect for three days, but it was three consecutive days, and we were doing two days and then one a week later. When we went to look at photos on our phone we noticed watermarking. As a result we stopped in at one of the stores and they thankfully comped us a day, saving all the photos we had taken that third day. *phew* Thank you!!
Another thing that was awesome – We were at the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman which had a 45 minute line. Given we had very limited time at the parks we were going to go on the single rider lines. The ride attendant asked us what our next ride was going to be which we weren’t sure. Ultimately he let us on the ride on the Express line and told us to drop his name at any other ride we wanted to get on and it would put us through the Express line. Admittedly, we didn’t go on any other rides that day, and I always feel awkward about dropping names to get special treatment. It’s just not my way, but it was appreciated.
Some other notes about Universal:
- Marvel Super Hero Island was awesome!
- Toon Lagoon was a very pleasant surprise!
- There is fun merchandise at Seuss Landing if that’s your thing.
- Universal definitely has more thrill rides than Disney, I think that’s a given.
- Beyond the 4D rides, the thrill rides are amazing!
- If you are bigger, there is a chance you will not be able to go on all of the rides. That said, Scott fit on all of the rides except for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. Other than missing the current two coolest rides in the park, I am VERY happy that Scott could go on the other rides, which was a fear of mine.
Admittedly, Scott and I kept on going back to the glory days of “Paramount Canada’s Wonderland”. Admittedly, Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, after seeing what Universal has done with their rides, just pales in comparison. That could be a way cooler ride than it is.
We spent a bit of time at Universal Citywalk. Comparing it to Disney Springs, I think I prefer Citywalk as it’s more upbeat and has places I’m interested in such as the Fossil Store, and restaurants-a-plenty. By the way, we also saw local Joey Fatone (N*Sync) walking around, who was very gracious while talking with some fans.
That said, Disney Springs is kind of like the elderly statesman of the industry with shops like Art of Shaving, etc… It’ll be interesting to see what happens as Downtown Disney transforms into Disney Springs as it is looking rough around the edges, especially the west side. It’s a little more chilled every time I’ve gone there.
Also it’s worth noting that everyone has to go through Universal Citywalk to get into the two parks, so that could also explain why it’s a bit livelier, where Downtown Disney/Disney Springs is a destination unto itself.
Both have their demographic and are worth checking out
Food-wise, you can eat healthy. There’s always a salad option available at most restaurants which is on dining plan.
The upshot? We were very surprised by Universal Studios Orlando and it is worth checking out!