Disclosure: On our recent trip, Universal Orlando Resort provided me with two free press tickets each. These tickets allowed us to move between parks and came with an Express Pass. There was no agreement as to what I was going to write about regarding my experiences. These words and ideas are my own.
Universal Orlando Resort Family Tips
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Universal Orlando Resort the day after visiting all four of the Walt Disney World theme parks in the same day. My wife Jasmine, 13 month old daughter Ellie and I visited both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventures. Today I thought I would share some takeaways & things to know for families looking to visit.
Universal Orlando isn’t really for very young children
I sort of knew this going in, but didn’t realize how little there is to do for small children at Universal Orlando. Even rides in sections like Seuss Landing have minimum height requirements. This is in stark contrast to Disney where almost every ride allows for even the youngest of riders. I probably wouldn’t bring a baby to Universal Orlando again, although I do think their Child Swap policy is top notch and the Curious George play area at Universal Studios was a lot of fun.
Universal Orlando is great for older children and teenagers (Adults too!)
While the Universal Orlando Resort isn’t the best for babies, it is a great place for older children and teenagers. Between the two parks, they have an amazing selection of rides. From exciting dark rides like Spiderman and Transformers to the immersive Harry Potter adventures Escape from Gringotts and Forbidden Journey, there is so much to see and do.
If roller coasters are more your thing then they have a nice selection of those as well. The Mummy is a wonderful indoor coaster with surprises and thrills, while Dragon Challenge has dueling inverted tracks. The famous launched Incredible Hulk coaster has just been rebuilt as well with new cars that are supposed to improve the experience.
Express Pass Is Amazing
During our visit we were provided with an Express Pass that worked to skip the lines on all attractions with the exception of the ones themed to Harry Potter. Those of course had long lines which we couldn’t avoid, but being able to walk on almost everything else helped for two reasons. First, we didn’t need to deal with entertaining the baby in long queues and second we were able to see so much more.
The Harry Potter Sections Are Top Notch
I know some people might think that Universal is second rate compared to Disney when it comes to theming and telling a story. One step into Hogwarts or the new Diagon Alley will completely change your mind about that. The level of detail and storytelling is truly incredible. You could wander around for hours in trying to soak in every detail. Even their recreation of King’s Cross station looks incredibly realistic.
Of course the real magic of any theme park is delivered during the rides. Both The Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts are top notch rides. One uses a unique robotic arm ride system to immerse you while the other provides roller coaster type thrills. The queues are almost attractions themselves as well. You will be overwhelmed and entertained with the amount of detail.
Universal Orlando Continues to Impress
The newest attraction at Universal Orlando is Skull Island: Reign of Kong. While it wasn’t yet open on our visit, the outside looks amazing. They are funneling in that same creative energy that they used on the Harry Potter sections to bring a new world to life in Islands of Adventure. In other words, this attention to detail and high quality experiences doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and that is exciting.
Plan Your Way Between the Parks
If you are planning to visit both parks in the same day, there are two ways to get between them. The first is a 10 minute walk from entrance to entrance and the second is the Hogwarts Express. The Hogwarts Express is a great ride that magically takes you from London to Hogwarts or vice versa. Along the way you see the countryside and some familiar faces from the Harry Potter movies.
Unfortunately Hogwarts Express can get a big line. On our way to Islands of Adventure the line wasn’t bad at all, but returning to Universal Studios it was about 40 minutes. Of course in that case walking would be much quicker, but we wanted to see experience the ride in both directions. The Hogwarts Express also delivers you deep within each park, so that is a consideration as well.
Download the Universal Orlando App
When visiting with children it can be important to know the key information needed to help you better plan your day. The Universal Orlando app (both iPhone and Android) lists wait times, show times and interactive maps which I found incredibly useful. It did drain my battery quite quickly, but that will happen with any app like this. As someone who was new to Universal Studios, I found the app incredibly useful and it made our day that much more pleasant.
We had a very fun day at the Universal Orlando Resort and found the attractions and theming to hold their own against Disney. While we probably won’t bring a baby back next time, we will definitely be back because the level of thrills, theming and immersiveness is truly at a world class level among theme park destinations. As they continue to build the parks and grow with the addition of a new water park and resort, I can see only a bright future for Universal Orlando and it definitely is on my radar for future family vacations.