With the smell of sunscreen and treated water in the air, I most definitely knew we had arrived to the right place…Universal’s Islands of Adventure. While this was my daughters first time experiencing this park, I was at the grand opening many years ago when red carpets lined the walk ways and we rode the technologically advanced Spider-man over and over again. There was no doubt that the minute we entered the gates, she was in awe. A skip to her step, a twinkle to her eye, and something that I hadn’t seen in our previous day at “magical” Disney, which was a thirst for more.
Starting on the right going towards Dr. Seuss, we immediately hopped on the first ride, The Cat in the Hat, of which I was subjected to running around to do it again because it was “awesome”.
And thus our day began.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios are far from novices in the theme park world. With beloved characters familiar to all age groups, there wasn’t a face in the bunch (save for Dagwood and Blondie) that wasn’t a part of Charlotte’s in tune television and Internet education.
And while I could sit here and point out some “Do Not Miss” rides, but the truth is the entire park is a do not miss. Specifically the new section of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, in which you will have to pack your patience if you want a wand or a ride, and the Pteranodon Flyers, only available if you have a child with you.
There were characters everywhere. We ate lunch in Seuss Landing and pay attention to the sign that announces the character show. They read a book right where you eat and then come interact with the kids. It was right place, right time for us and Charlotte was enamored. The Grinch kept reappearing behind her during her lunch and she didn’t even know it half the time.
I got plenty of laughs.
And like all good vacationers, what would I be if I didn’t walk away without learning something new on this trip.
So here are my
Top 3 ways to make your trip to Universal a dream vacation
1) Valet Park
While Universal Studios and Universal IOA boasts free parking (which is more than any other area park) it’s quite a hike. It’s a hike in the morning with excited kids, it’s a hike in the evening with tired kids. This time we veered to the left and took valet at a price of $25 (and tip if you care to leave one, which we do). While $25 seems steep, considering Disney regular parking is $14 per day, forking out that extra $10 was nothing. Valet put us right upon some escalators and once we were up, dumped us onto CityWalk near the theater. I was incredibly grateful 9 hours later when all we had to do was hand a ticket to the valet and wait for our car.
Best $25 you will spend the entire day, I guarantee it.
3) Express pass
Holy Moly. Universal offers an Express Pass that essentially allows you to ‘butt in line’. They only offer so many of them to guests each day and they come at a premium. That being said, I will NEVER travel to Universal again without one. Guaranteeing an express pass one time per ride, per ticket, w/ the exception of only 3 rides in the park, we were able to get actually ON the rides instead of just admiring the jeans of the person in front of us for 60-75 minutes per ride all day long. While you are budgeting for your vacation, budget this in.
We managed to ride almost every ride in the park, and there isn’t any other time you can state that.
It is the ONLY way to visit.
3) Food plan
Two years ago when I had been to Universal I didn’t partake in the food plan. With the three restaurants displaced throughout the park, I was guessing that when I was hungry I would have to race to another world to eat. I was wrong. At only $20 for an adult and $10 per child, you are able to eat all day long at any participating restaurant. If you want a dual park access for meals, the price only increased by $5. The available restaurants were aptly placed basically every other world, so you had one with in reasonable walking space. And surprisingly, the food was very good. VERY good. We visited Suess Landing and ate a pile of fried chicken, potatoes, corn, pizza and dessert. Separately the cost would have already been approx $17, so I sprung for the $30 for the meal plans. Later in the day, we ate again while visiting Jurassic Park , which consisted of chicken fingers, onion rings, cheeseburger, and two desserts.
Btw, the Big Dig restaurant also offers mac n cheese and PB&J, neither written on the wall of the menu but are there.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Charlotte was R-E-A-D-Y to check out the section of the park dedicated to Harry Potter. I expected it to be the busiest part of the park and boy, it did not disappoint. I kinda felt like I was in another country the minute I stepped through the gates. The walking areas were packed, the stores were packed, the lines in the street to get a Butterbeer were as long as the line for the rides.
People love Harry Potter.
We did a quick tour through there and decided to visit the rest of the park and then come back. Once we came back, we did a “family friendly” coaster “Flight of the Hippogriff” and were able to use our express pass (read: It was fantastic) and waited on our longest line of the day at the Forbidden Journey. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can tell you that my daughter is not afraid of heights, motion, or sound, but she IS afraid of “scary things” and was pretty scared when we got off. There are some jump out moments, large “Dementors”, drop down spiders, and more. You can prep your child all you want for the big heights, but beware that this ride may not be for every child even if they are tall enough to get on it.
This goes double for Jurassic Park River Adventure where a T Rex is waiting at the end. Lucky us got the front row, alone, and Charlotte thought she was going to be eaten.
Ugg. Worst Mother Ever moment that day.
Mainly cause I couldn’t stop laughing.
( A little “dinosaur” living over in Jurassic Park)
Also, heed the warnings on motion sickness. Forbidden Journey leaves you no room to have a queasy stomach.
Tip: If you want a wand, while the store that sells them is really neat, it’s very very VERY tiny (and crammed full of people) and you can get your selection of wands on the last store on the way out of the park.
They had tables set up.
After 9 hours, we drug our tired feet to get our car (Amen for that Valet) and very happily retired for the day. It was absolutely our most memorable day in the Central Florida area and I hope to be able to experiance both parks next time.
We left the day, hand in hand.
media passes were provided for park entry..I still spent $300. lol