Visiting Universal Studios with Young Kids- No Coasters? No problem.
I often dive into planning a vacation head first. We get an idea and start going for it, knowing that things will just work itself out. I realize, however, this might not be the best approach, especially when we’re talking about a pricey and much anticipated family vacation. Planning is key! Universal Studios is one of my very favorite vacation spots and on the top of the list when we are discussing even the shortest of time off. As an adult who is totally jazzed about experiencing favorite movies on a new level, it can be easy to overlook the fact that some of the rides at Universal Studios isn’t necessarily geared towards younger kids and it may take a little bit of time to figure out the best course of your day. As a whole, you can check out my Universal Studios: Tips for a Smooth vacation, which addresses visiting the park in general. But read below to learn more about experiencing the park with someone 6 and under and what to expect.
For the most part, kids should be at least 42’’ tall for the majority of the thrill rides at Universal Studios. However, the bigger roller coasters require riders to be 54’’ minimum, which can easily leave younger kids out of the mix. Most families suggest kids 8 and older will get the most out of the theme park experience in general. You can check your kids (and yourself!) before you even enter the park, making it easier to plan your day.
But don’t fear! There’s no need to take Universal off your must-do list if you have a young kid. Instead, plan ahead and be sure you are spending time with the rides and attractions your littler travelers will enjoy most and make sure your vacation is top notch.
Available Amenities for Young Kids
As with most major theme parks, Universal offers a wide array of amenities that at the very least, eliminate frustration and discomfort from the visit. Family Services rooms include areas to prepare baby food, make formula and warm bottles, change diapers, and private areas with rocking chairs for nursing or feeding babies.
These rooms can also be a place of quiet refuge for a kiddo who has launched into sensory overload or simply needs a bit of a break. There are several locations throughout the park and Dads are welcome. Also, there are bathrooms easily accessible throughout the park, and men’s restrooms also include changing facilities.
TIP: I asked if anyone needed a potty break every time I spotted a bathroom. This helped get rid of the “I need a bathroom” statements when heading, or already in, a ride. Its imperative to stay hydrated when walking and in the sun for 10 hours, so little bladders will need a lot of pee breaks.
And with little bladders come little feet! If your children are young enjoy, strollers are available to rent for a daily fee, with a $50 deposit. These strollers are too big for infants or even smaller toddlers, so plan on padding their seat with a blanket or rolled towels or bringing your own. If you bring your own stroller, make sure you have your name and an identifying feature on your stroller – you’d be amazed how all the City Minis look alike when your kids aren’t in them. Wrapping a scarf around them can help!
With Phoenyx, I went ahead to see how he would react walking and he did fine. We really only had one complaint on being tired and that was the second day near the end of the day. Unlimited drink refills and the popcorn bucket helped keep his snacking desires at bay so he could go go go.
TIP: BUY ONE OF THESE. Its entertainment, sure, but served a solid purpose in keeping cool in the crowds.
Rides and Attractions for Younger Kids
Despite the higher height requirements on the bulk of the rides at Universal, there is still a lot to do for younger kids. I personally found that wandering the park with my 5 (nearly 6) year old was a calm experience. I let him take the lead and decide which rides he felt most comfortable with and the day was relaxing, fun, and easy to enjoy.
Younger kids are likely to love attractions such as:
- Curious George Goes to Town – This colorful playground gives kids a chance to interact in George’s world, play firefighter and checkout the Animal Show tent.
- If I Ran the Zoo – This water attraction in the Islands of Adventure follows the Dr. Seuss story full of Seuss-esque zoo animals and creatures.
- Shrek 4D – I’m a sucker for any of these 4D experiences and kids generally love the interaction. If your little ones haven’t seen the movie before visiting, a quick description can help them relate to the characters more.
- Men in Black: Aliens Attack – The whole family will love zapping aliens in this one, but beware that pre-school kids might get overwhelmed with the intensity of this interaction. It spins a bit but after the initial ride, my son could not get enough.
- Character Dining – Unlike Disney where you need to book your character meal months and months in advance, it can be considerably easy to eat with your favorites at Universal. The options are varied, and you can ideally find someone that appeals to everyone.
- Despicable Me Minon Mayhem: Zipping through Gru’s super villain laboratory with the Minions in 3D will be a hit with the whole family. Minimum height, 40 inches.
- Jurassic Park Discovery Center: For parents of dino lovers, I probably don’t need to say much more. Check out t-rex and other dino fossils, experience dinosaur senses, play dinosaur trivia, and visit the dino nursery where you can see a velociraptor hatch if you’re lucky!
- Dr. Seuss and the Cat in the Hat – There are several rides and attractions for kids based around this central theme. Revisit the Cat in the Hat story, ride the Seussian carousel, and watch Seuss characters recreate the stories on a live stage. We spent a good amount of time in this area which had less crowds and great food. Its also colorful and fun.
Play grounds: One thing I really appreciated with the Universal Parks were the play areas. There were tons of play areas and water play areas that allowed kids to just do what kids do best: Play. I spent a good amount of time in the Jurassic Park play area in Islands of Adventure and the water play area in Universal Studios. Find a shady spot and let them enjoy.
Alternatives and dealing with scary stuff
While there is actually quite a bit to do with younger kids at Universal, it’s a fact of life that young kids just can’t and probably shouldn’t experience everything the park has to offer. Lots of it can be quite scary (remember, it’s designed to push adults’ fear button) and your kids likely have little experience with many of the movies the attractions focus on.
Make sure you’re tuned into your kids and paying attention to overload. While they may love their Transformer t-shirt, face-to-face with Optimus Prime in a ride experience may be a bit overwhelming. Plan on taking time outs to give everyone a moment to breathe and recover. Kids may not also want to disclose they’re afraid, especially if the rest of the family is having the time of their life. My 5 year old liked to watch some of the meet and greets from afar and still experienced joy. I never pushed him to do more than he wanted, which was the key to keeping a calm child and an easy day.
I did take him on a few rides I thought he would enjoy but wasn’t sure the outcome. One of those was a Jurassic Park ride with a big drop. He said he enjoyed it but passing on going on again. Overall he was happy exploring the park, eating snacks, and checking out the sites. We had a pretty full day even so.
Of course, you shouldn’t miss out if you are a thrill riding fan! One of the great features of Universal is the “child swap” option for parents visiting with younger kids. Rather than standing in line twice, families can simply let the ride operator know they’re doing a child swap, and the entire family can wait in line together. Parents can take turns riding while waiting with non-riding kiddos in a special area. Such a time saver! Plus, if you have express passes, you can zoom through a line pretty quick regardless.
Lastly, if you decide to keep Universal just for the adults or older teens, there are babysitting options at most of the local resorts. The Loews resorts offer an on-site kids club that guests of the hotels can use – potty trained kids ages 4 – 14 are welcome, although clubs are open in the evenings only.
Kid’s Nite Out is a sitter service in the Orlando area and you can hire an insured, bonded, screened, and reference-checked sitter to watch kids in the room, or even take them to a park or venue.
As with any vacation, just about anything can work for any family. Just plan ahead, be realistic about your travelers, and be flexible. Most of all, encourage everyone to find the fun in each opportunity – family vacations are rare and time together as a family is priceless!
Would I take a Young Kid again to Universal Theme Parks?
ABSOLUTELY. I think it really helped that we took a friend for our oldest child and let them go enjoy the park checking in. The kids were not frustrated with the push and pull of who wants to ride (or cant ride) which ride and it made for a wonderful back to school trip.
Learn more about the Universal Parks, ticket prices and places to stay here on the official website.