Disclaimer: I won this trip to Orlando from @VisitOrlando, and I do not have to post about it. I am posting on my own because I want to!
You all know that I am a huge fan of Disney World, but now I am also a huge fan of Universal Orlando as well. I got super lucky this past year while at the BlogHer 2013 conference in Chicago, and I won a trip for four to Universal Orlando from the Visit Orlando table in the Expo Hall. It was amazing to win, and it actually took a few days to even sink in after I received the email saying my business card had been pulled. We had always dreamed of visiting Universal Orlando one day to see what it was like, and now we had the chance to do just that. I feel very blessed and thank Visit Orlando for the opportunity for a much needed trip from Rhode Island to Orlando, Florida in the dead of a cold and depressing winter here in the Northeast.
Universal Orlando far exceeded our expectations. We had heard about it from others, but always thought it was a second option to Disney World. It is not at all. Disney is great and we love it, but Universal is totally different and has aspects to it that makes it unique and it definitely stands on its own. The rides there were amazing, the parks were nice and compact, everyone that worked there was friendly and helpful, the parks were clean, the rides were new and felt very safe, the Amazing Pictures photographers were fantastic, and the park food was actually very good and healthy! Check out my top five tips for Universal Orlando that I created for you after visiting the parks this past weekend.
Tip 1: Get the Express Pass
Luckily our prize package included having the Express Pass. I don’t think we would have been able to do both parks (Universal Orlando has two parks to visit) in one day without having this AWESOME pass. You got to use it at every ride and go in the “short line” each time! I was amazing! It was very different than the Disney FAST PASS where you can only use it per ride and at different time intervals. We kept our Express Pass on the lanyards we wore around our necks and at each ride an attendant would scan it into their system. It was easy to use and so helpful with wait times! There are only a couple rides at the park that you cannot use the Express Pass on. One of these rides is the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™, so make sure if you’re a Harry Potter fan to get to that ride first when you get to the park because you will have to wait a little bit (but well worth the wait).
Tip 2: Plan Out Your Day (parks and rides)
First of all, there are two parks at Universal Orlando. Make sure to get tickets for both parks; trust me that you’ll want to visit both! They are Universal’s Islands of Adventure (where Harry Potter’s World is located) and Universal Studios Florida. Since the rides at Harry Potter are so popular, we decided to start at Universal’s Islands of Adventure first. If you end up going to Universal Studios Florida first, then you will want to get in line for Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. That ride seems to be the most popular over at that park and the wait time builds quickly. Remember, if you get the Express Pass it will make waiting in lines much easier! Completely worth it in my opinion.
In any case, your first plan of attack is to decide on which park you want to visit first, and then to decide on which rides you want to go on. Here are the rides that seem to be the most popular at each park:
Universal’s Islands of Adventure:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ (cannot use Express Pass)
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster®
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls®
- Jurassic Park River Adventure®
- Pteranodon Flyers® (cannot use Express Pass)
Universal Studios Florida:
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D
- Shrek 4-D
- Terminator 2®: 3-D
- MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack™
- E.T. Adventure®
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit®
- The Simpsons Ride™
- Revenge of the Mummy®
I ended up downloading the Universal Orlando wait time app which was quite helpful. It has both parks to view and updates quickly. The times seemed to be pretty accurate. I would recommend using this to help you during your visit. Grab the park maps as well once you get in! Also, make sure to check out our Top Favorite Rides at Universal Florida.
Tip 3: Use the Amazing Pictures Photographers
After we rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ (the first ride of the day), I went directly to the photograph area to see our family picture from the ride. The lady told me I could purchase the photo, or I could start an account with Amazing Pictures for a fee to get all my photos digitally at the end of our visit. I thought this plan was well worth it, and it even included getting two printed out photos as well. After each ride I did not need to decide anymore whether or not to purchase the picture. I would just have them scan the card I had on my lanyard and it would be added to my account and become mine! I loved this! You could even find photographers throughout the park who would take your photo, and all they would need to do is click your pass and it was on your account. It was great! I am the family photographer, so I am never in pictures with the family. This made it so I could be. Make sure to visit the Amazing Pictures store before you leave the park (near the exit). They will edit all your photos for you before you leave and print out the ones you want right then. It’s a great service and I highly recommend it. Below you can see some of our favorite shots (and these are just a couple; we got a lot of photos with them):
Tip 4: Know Where You Want to Eat
I have to say that one of the things that impressed my husband and I the most this trip, was the fact that the Universal Orlando parks had really great food. That’s hard to believe for a park, right? Usually you know you are going to pay big money for just okay food, but here we found many places that offered high quality and healthy food options. It was great! Our favorite restaurant that we tried while in Universal’s Islands of Adventures, was Three Broomsticks™ in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The place was rustic and fun, and we really felt like we were eating at Hogwarts with Harry and his friends. The food tasted great, it was healthy, and also very filling. Luckily, you should be pretty good dining-wise with whatever option you go with while at Universal Orlando. There is the Citywalk right there with fabulous restaurants to choose from, as well as great places to eat in each park. You really can’t go wrong!
Tip 5: Where to Shop
There are great stores with fun items to buy all throughout both parks. If you are looking for something very specific (like a special type of wand from Harry Potter), then you may want to purchase it at a more specialized store in the different areas of the parks. I did find that there are two large stores (one at the exit of each park) where you can really buy most of the things sold in the stores throughout the parks. If you are looking to get a stuffed Minion or a sweatshirt from Harry Potter, you can pretty much find it at these two large stores. This will save you from having to carry around a lot of bags while at the parks. Also, both stores include items for both parks, which is nice! Everything you’ll need is mostly in either store! We did buy “Thing 1″ and “Thing 2″ shirts, as well as some special sweet treats while in the Seuss Landing area of the Islands of Adventure park. So, if you see something that looks special then grab it! There are awesome locker areas throughout the parks that are safe and use your fingerprints to open and close (the first 40 minutes of use are free), so you can always use these for your purchases and belongings. We were forced to use these lockers for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ and the Revenge of the Mummy® rides.
Overall, our trip to Universal Orlando was amazing! My kids are 6 and 9 years old, and it was perfect for their ages (although my 6-year old could not ride a few rides due to his height ~ he was not happy about that). We are now huge fans of Universal Orlando, and will be sure to visit both Disney and Universal every time we make it down to Orlando! Next time we hope to be there long enough to take in a show like Blue Man Group. Make sure to also check out out our posts on:
- Disney World Tips and Tricks
- Sea World Adventure
- LEGOLAND Florida
- Nickelodeon Suites Resort Stay
- Top Rides at Disney
- Top Rides at Universal