I have been going to Universal Orlando Resorts for the last 5 years consecutively. To me it is the happiest place on earth! Universal has so much to offer, but is usually overlooked with Walt Disney World being only 25 minutes away. Universal can hold up against Disney pretty well, if I do say so myself. Here are some tips to master the experience:
It may cost a little more, but it is such a great value. You have early admission into the parks before general public, free delivery of merchandise to your room, and a bus shuttle to and from parks. You’ll also receive exclusive seating at restaurants and shows for a true VIP experience. If you want even more perks, try out a Deluxe Resort. You’ll have access to the water taxi system, which is not only convenient, but so beautiful and relaxing! While staying at a Deluxe Resort each guest will also enjoy an unlimited express pass, which gets you to the front of the line at both main parks. That alone makes it worth it!
Get An Interactive Wand
Take the experience to the next level. You can use these wands to perform incantations around the park to really make the magic of Harry Potter come to life. If you’re on a budget and don’t mind sharing – get one for the whole family share. Plus, you can re-use it if you make it back to Universal on a future trip!
Grab The Weekly Brochure
This is instrumental in strategizing how to conquer the park. You can grab this map and brochure at the entrance, and typically at your hotel. It will have important information like the park opening times, start times for rides, and parade schedules. For example, in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the days that Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley open early alternately. Volcano Bay also opens early for on-site visitors. Additionally, it’s great to be aware of the parade routes not only if you want to watch a parade, but in case you want to avoid the traffic jams that go along with it!
Planning for an early arrival is important for most parks, and Universal is no different. I recommend getting there as soon as it is open and heading towards the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s at the back of the parks and are the first rides to open (again, refer to that handy park brochure). In the afternoon you can escape peak heat and peak crowds and head to the hotel pool, have a leisurely lunch, and embrace a nice break knowing you had a jam-packed morning.
Go For The Food Plan
When booking a package with Universal, there are different meal plan options to choose from. There are over 100 restaurants within all three parks, and CityWalk entertainment area that are available through these options. Personally, I think the best values are in the Universal Dining Plan or the Universal Quick Service Dining Plan. It’s also important to note that you can buy a daily plan and spread out allotments throughout your stay.
Find the Fun Foods
There are so many great themes throughout Universal - and yes, they are usually included in the dining plans! My personal favorites are the Harry Potter themed restaurants Three Broomsticks (in Hogsmeade) and the Leaky Cauldron (in Diagon Alley). In Simpsons World you can get Homer’s iconic pink frosted donut, then head to Moe’s bar and grab a cold Duff beer. In Dr. Suess Landing you can get the nostalgic green eggs and ham – although personally, I think it’s more of an Instagram photo-op than a fulfilling meal.
Visit Walt Disney World
Yes, as an avid Harry Potter fan I’m biased towards Universal, but who doesn’t love Disney? Universal makes it easy to take a day to explore Walt Disney World. You can book a round-trip shuttle from your Universal hotel to Disney World Resort with Quick Transportation. For those that don’t make it to Orlando often, this is a great way to make the most out of your Florida getaway.
Grab The Harry Potter Exclusive Package
If you have a 4-night stay at any of the on-site hotels and a 2-day park ticket, you'll also have the option to add an exclusive bonus package for some extra Harry Potter magic. The package includes two breakfasts: one at Leaky Cauldron and one at Three Broomsticks. Not only do your reservations make it faster to go through the line and order, but each restaurant is truly amazing. When I went, it felt like I was in the movies! However, the best part of this exclusive package is a really cool experience with Shutterbutton’s Studio. Shutterbutton’s Studio is located in Diagon Alley and allows you to create a moving portrait to commemorate your visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Unless booked in advance, this is super difficult to get into. You'll get to take home the DVD of the moving portrait. I was lucky enough to experience this and it was such a great souvenir to remember my family vacation.
Don’t Miss The Water Rides
If you’re a water park lover, don’t skip on Popeye & Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges. This was my favorite water ride at Universal - you’ll get soaked! Also, keep your eyes peeled for human sized dryers next to water rides. These are great so you’re not dripping around the park! Don’t forget about Universal’s third theme park Volcano Bay, a very unique and interactive water park adventure. They offer 30 unique experiences and 19 amazing attractions, including a 200-foot Volcano!
Explore Knockturn Alley
In Diagon Alley don’t miss Knocturn Alley. It’s in a dark little nook of the park that many people overlook. If you take the sharp turn into a dark alley, you’ll stumble upon a little shop with creepy and quirky souvenirs perfect for dark wizards. If you look carefully there is even a spot there you can use your interactive wand.
Know Your Non-Rollercoaster Options
Not tall enough to ride? There are plenty of activities for young children or adults that aren’t into rollercoasters. Check out the Jurassic World Discovery Center, Jurassic Camp, or Dr. Seuss Landings for some fun activities! Universal also offers unique shows like Animal Actors, Fear Factor Live, and Horror Make Up Show.
Universal is a truly magical adventure I believe everyone should experience. Contact me today and we’ll put together a vacation you and your family will never forget!
Written by Allison Bryant
Allison is a Leisure Travel Consultant at UNIGLOBE Travel Designers who has a love for all things Harry Potter. She has a passion for travel and loves learning about new places. She keeps busy being married with three children and a rambunctious lab.