Just returned from our trip to Universal Studios Orlando/Islands of Adventure, Monday Feb. 5 through Feb. 9.
Day 1 - Monday, Feb. 5: We (myself, my wife, son - 15, daughter - 14, and son - 8) decided to treat day one as “Harry Potter day”. We arrived at the park at 9:00 am and headed straight back to Diagon Alley, since that was the primary reason we chose to do Universal rather than Disney this year. The attention to detail was incredible, and you really did feel like you walked straight into the pages of Harry Potter. I can honestly say that as far as the Harry Potter portion, Universal has outshone Disney. We went immediately do Gringott’s Bank with about a 10 minute wait. This includes the “built in” wait time that comes with how they stage the line, otherwise it might really have been only 5 minutes.
We did learn, after the fact, that while they say NO LOOSE ARTICLES, the truth is they really only mean no bags. Phones, etc., are fine as long as they are secure in a pocket, so we didn’t actually need to use the free lockers that first time.
We checked out the shops and did the Olivander’s experience, which was worth seeing once since the wait was only a few minutes. I wouldn’t wait for the little show, however, if the wait was more than 10-15 minutes. They didn’t even pick a child for the wand in our group, despite there being several.
We then took the train to Hogsmeade. The train experience is well done, but only available to park-to-park guests. Each direction is a different experience, so definitely try to do both, as we did. By this time, it was nearing lunch time (about 11:30) and the crowds had picked up considerably. I’ve grown to despise people with their cell phones in hand since their need to capture selfies and such invariably blocks passage for the rest of us. I understand the desire to take photos, but it was enraging at times.
We ate at The Three Broomsticks, which was decent, not great, then headed to Forbidden Journey and then the Flight of the Hippogriff. For a family of 5, The Three Broomsticks ended up costing us about $66, which was $4 under our lunch budget. More shopping, and crowds continued to grow uncomfortably. By about 2:00 the streets were packed. We ended up deciding to get our Butterbeer snack of the day. Everyone got a frozen Butterbeer except me. I got Butterbeer fudge. All told, snacks ran about $40, which is, frankly, ridiculous! Fortunately, we had budgeted for it, but I’m not really sure it is good enough to justify the price. As a result, we all skipped Butterbeer for the rest of the trip except for my daughter, who got it on the last day. The fudge was a disappointment. I wouldn’t get it again.
We headed back to Diagon Alley via the train and did Gringott’s once more before deciding we’d had enough for the day. By 3:00 pm we were headed back to our condo.
Day 2 - Tuesday, Feb. 6: We dedicated day two to Islands of Adventure. Crowds were down from the first day all day long (partly because of the day, and partly because we avoided Harry Potter entirely). As a result, almost all the lines were 5 minutes or less with the exception of The Hulk, which was more like 15 - 20 minutes by the time we got there.
My older son and I headed immediately to Kong, which was an incredible ride experience. Not really great for the younger crowd, but aside from the roller coasters (which I love), I’d say Kong was my favorite ride of both parks. It was almost a walk on since we went there first. Later in the day, the wait times grew as long as 60 minutes, which is why we went there first. Meantime, my wife, younger son and daughter headed over to Seuss Land and did some of the rides. We all met back up in Marvel Super Hero land to do Spider-Man, Hulk, Dr. Doom’s Fearfall, and the Stormforce ride (which was too spinney for me to even attempt – think Disney’s tea cups). Lines were still quite short. At this point, we’d done most of the park and it wasn’t even lunch time.
We ate lunch at Captain America’s Diner. Based on on-line advice, I ordered three kid’s meals and two adult meals. This saved a lot of money, since the burgers were exactly the same size (just without the lettuce, etc). All said, we spent about $44 for lunch. On Thursday, I saved even more by just ordering 4 kids meals and one adult meal. The burgers were mediocre, but the fries were good. Mostly, this food choice was about saving money!
After lunch, we repeated a few things (Hulk, some Seuss rides) and did some shopping. Again, we left by 3:00, since we’d gotten through everything we wanted to do and crowds were getting busier. The exception was the Pteradon Flyers. The line was always huge for that, so we skipped it. Jurassic Park itself was closed due to ride refurbishment. We had snacks later that evening at Disney Springs (Mickey Mouse Ears and Wetzel’s Pretzels!).
Day 3 - Wednesday, Feb. 7: Universal Studios! This was by far our favorite day of the trip. Lines were even shorter, and there is more to do. Since Despicable Me lines always grow long, we hit there first with about a 10 minute way, and then did Rip Ride Rocket twice (less than a 5 minutes wait). If you don’t know about the secret code, press and hold the Rip Ride Rocket logo for about 10 seconds then let go. There is a keypad that comes up. Enter 901 and press enter. Trust me. Way better than the musical choices they offer by default. (902 is nice as well, but 901 is better.)
One by one, we hit Transformers (a disappointing flurry of action with no real point), Revenge of the Mummy (my 8-year-old’s favorite ride of the trip), Men in Black (which is a lot of fun), Simpson’s (one of the better 4-D rides, even if you don’t like the Simpsons), Twirl and Hurl, E.T. (which seems quite dated now…and an attempt to be very Disney-ish it seems), the Woody Woodpecker coaster, and finally Shrek. In there we did lunch at Luigi’s (I think that’s the name) and got a pizza for the entire family for $34. Cha-ching! Cheapest meal of the week, and quite good actually. We got snacks at various stands. Frozen Lemonade, Frozen Coconut Icee, Pretzels, and me? Ben and Jerry’s.
Day 4 - Thursday, Feb. 9: This day was our highlights from both parks day. We started at Islands of Adventure, did some shopping, hit Kong, Hulk, and Dr. Doom again right away. But park crowds were way worse, and the weather had turned very humid. There were several huge groups of people with 50+ people in each group, so we were kind of racing to stay ahead of them to keep the lines shorter. Didn’t help much, though. Lines were more like 20+ minutes for most things as the day progressed. Anyhow, we did Forbidden Journey again and had lunch at Captain American again, this time spending under $40.
Headed over to Universal Studios for another go on Gringott’s and The Mummy, We were more worn out and lines were long, so we left around 3:40, headed to the condo then back to Disney Springs for some more shopping and snacks.
While it was overall a good time, we found we just prefer Disney and look forward to our next Disney trip. Unless there is some amazing transformation at Universal Orlando, it is unlikely we’ll be back. It is worth doing once. This was actually our second trip to Universal, but only because of the addition of Diagon Alley. I’m not sure it was worth it, though. In hindsight, we’re just Disney people at heart, I guess!