Would love some help - planning for UO proving harder than the MK!

I am struggling to plan our Universal Orlando portion of our Disney Vacation and could use some advice!

Traveling Thanksgiving weekend with husband, 6.5 year old Potter fanatic, 11 month old AND three 70-ish grandparents (active types). We ended up getting 3-day park to park tickets (b/c the 3rd day was free on Undercover Tourists, but originally planned only to tour UCF primarily on Saturday 11/28 and IOA primarily on Sunday morning 11/29. 6.5 year old is a Potter fanatic. Booked one night at Loew’s Royal Pacific, which gives 5 of us early entry on Saturday, plus Express Passes. (note: booked Friday night, not Saturday, because Saturday is our primary touring day, and it would be impossible to convince my family to check in to the hotel at 6am so we can make the Saturday early entry).

Original Plan:

Saturday: 11/28/15; 5 out 10 crowd day. UCF primarily. EE + Express. Use EE - head to UCF Diagon Alley first thing (either from Hogwards Express via Hogsmeade early entry, or straight to UCF, since history says they’ll make UCF EE as well). Use express pass for balance of touring. Leave the park for good by 3pm. Only go to IOA via Hogwarts train to use Express pass on a few ‘must see’ non HP rides that are suitable for a 7 year old

Sunday: 11/29/15; 2 out of 10 crowd day. No early entry or Express. At rope drop, head to IOA Hogsmead. Leave park for good by 1.30pm-ish.

Here is where I am stumped. Based on what I read, and given crowd level predictions, I thought early entry was a ‘must’ if you wanted to get HP World completed (unless you can stay till 9pm closure, which we can’t with the age demographic of our party). However, all the recent postings suggest avoiding the HP worlds altogether till the late evening, regardless of EE or Express Pass.

So,my questions are:

  1. is it a lesson in futility to think we’ll enjoy Diagon alley using EE on a busy holiday Saturday morning (Ollivanders, Gringotts, the shops, Leaky Cauldron, etc)? Since we have Express passes for everything else, we don’t need to balance waits for other rides, just figure out HP world. I am targeting Diagon Alley first b/c while I know my son can handle Gringotts, not sure he’s going to want to go on the Forbidden Journey, so definitely don’t want to start with Forbidden Journey.
  2. for the following Sunday morning, without EE, on a low touring day (2 out of 10), will getting to Hogsmeade with regular entry crowd be a similar lesson in futility, ruining our ability to enjoy Hogsmeade?
  3. Should I try to convince my family to activate that “3rd” day on Friday evening, and go to park for a few hours after dinner (maybe 6.30-8.30pm?), and get a few hours of HP touring out of the way at night on Friday night (one of the busiest touring days of the year for UO)? And, is that a good use of park time to be in HP World, when we would have Express Pass for that afternoon for the other attractions. And, will HP world really be all that empty at 7pm on one of the busiest days of the year? Note: evening touring for our family is not ideal, even with naps. 1 year olds and 70 year olds don’t stay up late, no matter the nap schedule :smile:

Or, should I change my hotel reservation to Saturday night to Sunday, giving us EE and Express on both Saturday and Sunday, ensuring we’ll have better touring in IOA on Sunday, since we’ll have early entry AND express pass? In this scenario, it would be a VERY hard sell to get my family to check in to the hotel at 6AM on Saturday, just so that we can still take advantage of EE on Saturday, our primary touring day. Might have to bribe them…

Overall vacation plan for context:
Arrive Tuesday. Staying at Marriott Cypress Harbour. Dinner at 6.00pm.
Wednesday - MK from RD to 3.30pm (leaving the park for good after Fantasy parade)
Thanksgiving - MK from RD to 11.45AM, and again 7pm-9.30pm. Leaving park midday to return to condo for naps. Thanksgiving Dinner at 5.15pm, and then return to park after dinner for fireworks and light show.
Friday: Sleep in day. Originally planned for NO PARK day.
Saturday: Universal Orlando / UCF primarily (tentative EE-3pm)
Sunday AM: Universal Orlando / IOA primarily (tentative: regular entry RD - 1.30pm-ish)
Sunday 5.30pm flight departure

Any advice would be highly appreciated.

First, I would like to give you some encouragement and reassurance. If you can plan a WDW trip, you can definitely get UOR figured out! Overall, it is MUCH less stressful!

I have two main thoughts. One is that both Wizarding Worlds look truly different and truly amazing at night, so I would encourage anyone who can possibly spend some night time in them to do so. However, you know your family best. If they are NOT night touring people and the only real HP fan is your 6.5 year old, he probably won’t care if it is day or night–he will love it either way! And if staying late will result in crankiness and misery, it is not worth it.

My second thought is this. What time are you planning on getting to RD on Saturday? Is it really THAT much earlier to go to the hotel first and check in to get your benefits for Saturday and Sunday? Given what I am gleaning about your family, they are morning, not night, people and a Saturday night reservation seems to make more sense. If you are planning on getting there at say, 7, can’t you just get there a half hour earlier to check in and get your EP? To me, that is a WAY better use of your sanity, time and money and it would make more sense to move your reservation to Saturday, if possible, to get Saturday and Sunday EE and EP.

On a different note, are you planning on going on Despicable Me? It has been my experience that going on this ride is really the best use of your EE time. Even the EP lines can get up to 45 minutes on a busy day. If you can, I would say go to DM and then head to Diagon Alley. Once in Diagon, take a look at the wait time for EFG. It may very well drop after the initial rush of EE people has ridden it. I was recently there on a 7/10 crowd day and went on EFG in the middle of the day and waited 35 minutes.

Probably the most important thing you can do is create a touring plan and see what it tells you to do. They really are time savers and, at the very least, can be used as a guideline if you are still unsure what to do. And, if possible, run the Lines app on your phone and optimize that touring plan in the park. It can move things around based on actual wait times that day.

Lastly, be prepared for the fact that, to me, Hogsmeade feels crowded no matter WHAT the crowd level. My recent trip was a CL 2 in IOA and in Hogsmeade, I swear it was a 7 or 8! The area is so small and so popular, it always feels packed during the day. At night, it thins out quite a bit.

Good luck! You can do this! :smile:

Thanks so much. I am definitely more stressed about Universal. With Disney, you schedule your Fast Passes, set up your plan, tour over 2 days, and voila! Here, all the blogs and forums essentially say that unless you are in HP World after 7pm, you might as well give up the fight, even with EE. Sigh.

I will reconsider the AM hotel check-in on Saturday. I now have 2 nights hotel booked (separately) and can cancel thru the 22nd. Need to get my family on board!

Most of the year, WWoHP isn’t nearly as bad as you’re describing, but over the Thanksgiving weekend it will be crazy. I’d strongly recommend being there before early entry rope drop for the Potter headliner rides, or waiting until the last couple few of the day. The wait for Gringotts also tends to dip briefly around lunchtime.

Just breathe deep and relax, even at its worst Uni won’t be as busy as WDW over the holiday.