Before we headed out to Orlando at the end of last year, I do remember thinking that Universal Studios was more catered for teenagers and adults than young children. I don’t know where I got that assumption from, I have just always remembered thinking that Disney was for little ones and Universal was for thrill seekers. After spending the day there I couldn’t have been more wrong- Universal is a fantastic day out for all the family and there was more than enough to keep everyone amused.
Universal is currently split into two parks- Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. It is possible to do both of them in just one day as they are next to each other, we did do it in a day, but ideally you would want at least a day at each park in order to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
You arrive into Universal via Universal CityWalk, which is basically one big long strip of family friendly restaurants, sports bars and fun nightlife. As you head down towards the two parks you can either go one way to Universal’s Islands of Adventure, or head the other and go to the original Universal Studios theme park. We opted to go to the latter first, making are that we first took some photos in front of the iconic Universal globe.
Universal offer a service similar to Disney’s fast pass, where you can get an Express Pass which allows you to skip the regular queues for most of the major rides and attractions, with the exception of some of the Harry Potter ones. Before we travelled and were researching our trip, we noted a few people in forums saying that they thought it was a bit cheeky to charge extra for it when Disney offered their fast pass for free, however we thought it was reasonably good value for money considering what you got, especially if you are only going to be there a day, it definitely saved us a lot of time, and of course you don’t have to do it and can just have a regular theme park ticket.
The first thing we noticed about Universal Studios was that everything felt so authentic and realistic. The sets and streets felt so real, and the detail was second to none. We loved walking from place to place and checking out all the amazing detail, it made for some amazing photo backdrops.
The first thing we did was rent a stroller. Having negotiated Disney on previous days, we knew that a stroller was a necessity for our children- it saved meltdowns over tired legs and meant they could take a break if they were feeling tired. The girls loved that this one had a steering wheel so they could pretend to drive.
The first ride we went on was Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, which was one of the main rides that the girls wanted to go on as they are huge Minion fans. It was great fun and they were even more excited that they could have a photo with Kevin at the end. Our baby boy was too little for this one, but Universal offer a great baby/child swap meaning that you can take it in turns to ride while one of you looks after the children. As I mentioned at the start, we were so pleased that the girls were able to go on quite a few things. Of course there are a lot more thrill rides there than at Disney, but there was also a lovely balance of attractions for little ones too.
Next up we headed to the Shrek 4D ride, which again was great fun. Our baby boy got to go on this one, you sit in a cinema room but get splashed with water, your seat moves etc, there is fire etc.
We then headed to The Simpsons area of the park, which was great fun. Jon used to love The Simpsons and I remember it from my teenage days (how old do I sound?), and the theming and detail of this area was amazing. Of course the girls are too little to know what The Simpsons is, but that didn’t stop them from loving the colourful and fun attractions here. There were a few different rides they could go on, all quite tame, but still good fun. We stopped and got lunch here as well as there were so many different options- we grabbed a bench and I had tacos from a Mexican truck, Jon had some crazy chicken and waffle burger, and the girls had pizza.
After lunch we headed to Fivel’s Playland to run off our food- it is basically a big area full of slides, rope ladders and things for little ones to climb on. The girls loved it. We also took turns to take Mads on the Men in Black: Alien Attack ride, which she loved. You basically had to shoot aliens and you got scored on how many you managed to hit- right up her street!
Of course one of the most popular attractions at Universal which draws in so many visitors is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We soon headed over to Diagon Alley to check it out. We loved walking around Diagon Alley and Kings Cross was so realistic but as we were only there a day we couldn’t spend as much time as we would have liked. One really cool thing about Universal is that the Hogwarts Express now links the two parks so you can jump on at Kings Cross and head over to start the fun at Hogshead and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Sadly for some reason the train wasn’t working and so we missed out on doing this- we were really disappointed as it was something we were all looking forward to, but these things can’t be helped. The staff were really apologetic and we had to stop and take a photo with them- definitely not like the real London transport staff! 😉
As the train wasn’t working we left Universal Studios and decided to walk over to the other park. It takes about ten minutes from entrance to entrance so not too long at all. We headed straight to Hogsmeade and the Harry Potter attractions. Mads was so excited to use her Harry Potter wand and I love these photos of her practicing her magic.
We just had to share a Butterbear, which was absolutely delicious and we all wanted another straight afterwards- however Universal are on to a clever thing and these were rather expensive (and the queue was SO long!) so we decided against it. It was so yummy though.
Hogsmeade was definitely the busiest area of both the parks by far, but it never felt ridiculously over crowded, and it was for good reason. There are loads of fun attractions here, including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which I really wanted to go on but by that stage our baby boy was starting to get a little grumpy. We took it in turns taking the girls on the Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster, which they both really loved.
However by far the best thing for Mads was that she got to try her interactive wand out. You can buy wands in a couple of the shops in the Harry Potter area and with them you get a map which leads you to places throughout Hogsmeade that you can do magic. It is really clever and Mads absolutely loved this, although it took a bit of time to get used to. She was in her element trying to cast spells.
As we left the Hogsmeade area we found The Mystic Fountain and we ended up spending a good half an hour there. The fountain talked to you and he had quite a sarcastic and cheeky sense of humour which the girls found hilarious.
Our next stop was the Seuss Landing area of the park, probably my favourite aesthetically of all the areas we had been to. It was so bright and colourful and I love the Dr Seuss books. There was lots to do here but it was getting towards the end of the day and we were running out of time, so we went on the Cat in the Hat ride before heading off. There is lots to do for little ones in this area.
We finally headed to the Marvel Super Hero Island part of the park, which to be quite honest was a dream come true for my super hero mad pair. Although the rides here were more thrill seeking rides that they weren’t able to go on, the whole area is themed so well and there were a few super heroes they could meet. We queued up to meet Spiderman who is their hero, and Mads went really shy and embarrassed which made me smile.
Finally with ten minutes to spare before the park shut for the evening Jon and I decided to have a sneaky go on the Incredible Hulk coaster, which had recently opened after a long refurbishment. We took advantage of our Universal Express passes and also the fact we could do child swap so we both got a turn after each other, although it was a bit scary going on it on my own. The rollercoaster was amazing and intense- you race up to 67 miles per hour, your world turns upside down in zero gravity and this enhanced, high-speed roller coaster turns and loops over and over again. I love thrill rides and wanted to go on it again, but it was scary even for me.
We had such an amazing day at Universal and like I mentioned right at the start, there really was so much for little ones to do. I was so impressed with all the attractions that were for them. The only thing is I wish we had more than one day there, it would have been nice to do one day at one of the theme parks and one at the other, as I did feel like we rushed round and did make the most of everything there was available. I would definitely recommend doing at least two days if you can, although I know it can be hard to fit it all in if you are only in Orlando for a week.
We would definitely like to go back one day and really make the most of it, especially now we know our way around a bit. It was such a fun day and we made so many happy memories. They are also in the process of creating Universal’s Volcano Bay which is going to be a water park, and we would love to visit there sometime soon.
Here is a video of our time in Orlando, our trip to Universal is right at the start…