My family and I just returned from a terrific long weekend trip to Universal Orlando. A big THANK YOU to Touring Plans, the Unofficial Guide, and forum responders for helping make our trip so successful!
What follows are some thoughts and observations (that I guess got long and turned into a trip report ). For anyone who might take any advice from my comments, I should note that we are a family of 4 with girl/boy twins age 7. This was the first time any of us had been to UO. And I apologize in advance for the inevitable comparisons to WDW.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter is as amazing as advertised. Our kids are very into Harry Potter, having read and re-read the first four books and seen the first three movies. We skipped early access to Hogsmeade to do things more chronologically by starting at Diagon Alley at 9am rope drop. For first time Harry Potter fans, I recommend doing it this way – just like it was recommended to me here on this forum (thanks!). Maybe my favorite moment of the whole trip was watching my kids (and my own reaction) as we first entered through the brick wall and into Diagon Alley.
First stop was Olivanders to buy wands. We then spent most of the day doing spells in DA and Hogsmeade. After lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, we took Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade. Then back to DA in late afternoon. Boy, it gets crowded in both parks, even with relatively short wait times. And I was surprised how much smaller Hogsmeade was then DA. I thought checking bags in lockers before Gringotts and Forbidden Journey was a big pain in the butt, but I’m impatient. We did it all (and saw as much as we could), except Dragon Challenge for which we knew the kids were too short. Just a great great day. (More on scare factors for 7 year olds below.)
Portofino Bay was fine, but really liked its advantages. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel was quite nice, if getting a little rough around the edges. We weren’t notified until check in that the beach pool was closed for a few weeks (ugh). And I missed not having a balcony on which to have my coffee in the morning and a drink at end of night. But…
Loved Universal Express. Even though we were too short/young to do some of the headliners (which we all knew going in thanks to TP), UE was such an amazing time saver. When my kids wanted to do Men in Black Alien Attack three times in a row, we must have passed the same people waiting in line to ride it just one time. Wow! And…
Loved the water taxis. On our arrival night, we walked over to UO from Portofino Bay, and we took the water taxi home. We never walked again. I was very impressed by the efficiency and convenience of the water taxis (from an impatient guy). Big thumbs up!
Forgot to take my own advice and stretch it out. After going on our first trip to WDW last year, one of my pieces of advice I gave to other like-minded first-time families was to stretch out your trip if you want to have a relaxing time. Which was what we had done at WDW, and it was relaxing. We were at UO from Thursday late afternoon to 12:30pm Sunday. It took us two open-to-close park days and an added Sunday morning to get in what we want to do at the parks, and that was on fairly slow days, with Universal Express, good Touring Plans (admittedly messed up on Day 2 by Pteranodon Flyers) and skipping some headliners bc of the kids. We did everything we wanted to do and had a great time, but we left pretty exhausted.
Scare factor for 7-year olds/ 2nd graders. As background, at WDW as almost 6-year olds, my kids enjoyed everything from Space Mountain to Soarin’ to Splash Mountain, although the Haunted Mansion and Dinosaur spooked them a little. See below for UO. Keep in mind, we didn’t do anything with height limits over 48”.
• DS7 loved Gringotts and Forbidden Journey. He closed his eyes most of the way his first time on Forbidden Journey, but it ended up his favorite ride and he did it 3 times. DD7 rode Gringotts, didn’t like it, and skipped FJ. One disadvantage to starting in Diagon Alley was there was no slow build to Gringotts.
• They loved loved loved the smaller roller coasters like Hippogriff and Woody Woodpecker. And can now say they have ridden roller coasters by themselves.
• Enjoyed Spider-Man and Transformers. DD7 was a little wary, but ultimately wanted to do Spider-Man again. I think it took some time for them to get used to the 3-D screen motion rides.
• Anticipation for Jurassic Park River Adventure was worse that it’s bite. DS7 kept closing his eyes worried that something would jump out at him like in Animal Kingdom’s Dinosaur. Which afterward we all agreed it was tamer than Dinosaur. They loved the plunge.
• DS7 liked the Horror Make Up Show. DD7 eventually put her head in Mommy’s lap. DO NOT allow little ones to sit in first couple rows. Thanks to TP, I was able to dodge the cast member who was telling us to sit in the first row (what could she have been thinking?).
• They loved Men in Black Alien Attack and were not scared in the least. As noted, we did it 3 times in a row.
• A little nervous going into Skull Island King Kong, but happy they did it.
• They were critically aware that the Raptor Encounter was just a puppet, and got to see it interact with others first, so that went well.
• We did not do the Mummy. I figured that would be pushing it.
• We skipped Terminator for time and interest reasons.
Underrated theming. Maybe it’s not WDW, but I loved some of the park theming. As a Simpsons fan. Springfield USA was terrific. And we all loved the look of Seuss Landing. Even Cartoon Lagoon, which clearly needs an update, was cool to walk through.
Always fascinating how many people are there without a plan. I never cease to enjoy the oblivious park goers, while we move from place to place doing exactly what we want to do thanks to TP (as you can see I am a true believer). One example: When we were in line for Raptor Encounter, the first time visitor behind me asked if this was a show. When I told him what it was (even though I had yet to see it), he and his older daughter decided to move along. Shortly after, the cast member announced this was not a show or a ride, and half the line left. Too funny.
Thanks to everyone here for helping us plan a great trip. I look forward to going back to UO when my kids are older and want to do everything, and maybe mom and dad can sit back and watch a little. Thanks again… I’ll be at Moe’s.