Universal! Universal Studios Orlando / Islands of Adventure

August 10, 2022

A few months ago, the kids started asking about going to Universal to see the Harry Potter areas. Annabel was reading book 4 (she now seems to be stuck midway through 5 . . .) and Josh and I decided we might as well make a stop in Orlando on the way to Amelia Island – after all, it is on the way!

We went to Disney in February of this year and found it frustratingly crowded; we also did not like their revamped FastPass system. AND I came home with norovirus, which is probably why I never blogged abut the trip at all! It was not our favorite trip, honestly.

So we were a little nervous about Universal. But I have to say . . . we greatly preferred it! It was less crowded and there were more amenities. You didn’t have to know 15 insider ‘tricks’ in order to eat in the park without waiting in a 2 hour line. There were a ton of rides at every level — enough so that even though we didn’t venture onto anything G was too short for, there was plenty to fill a day and then some.

Stayed at: Loews Royal Pacific – one of the hotels that came with Express passes, which we definitely appreciate having. We were able to fit in a regular room with a rollaway, so the cost wasn’t exorbitant — FAR more reasonable than the Disney equivalent. It was easy to get to the parks and had some great easy eating options (including room service, which we took advantage of – my fave decadent vacation experience). We would definitely stay there again!

Rides/Experiences: G is 42″ tall, which means there were a lot of attractions she wasn’t eligible to ride. We could have split up, but honestly no one in the family is big on thrill rides (maybe A, but she didn’t seem to care much). Universal has some VERY serious roller coasters that we did not ride on (and I never want to, ha!), and a large number of ‘virtual/4D’ experiences that we really liked.

We went on:

Islands of AdventureFlight of the Hippogriff (“junior” roller coaster and about what I can handle, lol); Jurassic Park River Adventure (this one had a big drop with a dinosaur that scared G a bit, but she recovered); Amazing Adventures of Spiderman; Pteranodon Flyers; Dr Seuss Carosel; Hogsmeade (including a stop at a Olivander’s). Then we had lunch at Mythos (FANTASTIC – highly recommend) and took the Hogwarts Express to Universal Orlando.

Universal Studios Orlando – We started in Diagon Alley. Then: TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D; E.T. Adventure Ride; Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.

At that point it was about to storm and we were done (9 hours in the park is about our limit!) and we took the ferry back to the hotel right before it got shut down for lightning. Whew!


G’s breakfast of champions in the hotel . . .
the excitement was palpable
yes they got wands!
butterbeer + pumpkin juice!
and, done.

We really had a great time and would definitely go again when all 3 are tall enough for more rides, particularly the virtual Harry Potter themed ones that we skipped.

More tomorrow. Definitely living the vacation lifestyle . . .


  • Reply Emily August 10, 2022 at 8:58 am

    The wand pic! I am amazed A and C were able to maintain such serious poses without laughing/smiling…I could not do that even now. Glad you had a great trip! (And as someone who read the books as a kid I still want to go to Harry Potter world myself!)

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns August 10, 2022 at 9:50 am

    9 hours at the park is impressive! I don’t know that our 4yo would have that kind of stamina, although he’s a bit younger than G and he’s our oldest. I feel like little siblings end up having more stamina or stamina earlier than oldest siblings because they want/need to keep up with older siblings.

    I’ve been really anti-go-to-Disney-World because I’ve never been and don’t feel like I missed out. And I hate crowds! I know this makes me sound very unfun, but oh well. My husband thinks we should go when our kids are older since he enjoyed it as a kid. He’ll likely win the battle, but Universal seems like a better fit overall? My brother and his wife took their kids to Disney when they were around your kids ages and then they went to the gulf coast for the rest of the week and the boys talked more about their time at the beach (such a novelty for us Minnesotans) than they did about Disney…

    Sounds like a great vacation overall, though!!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger August 10, 2022 at 10:00 am

      We didn’t bring a stroller either but there were times Josh carried her on his shoulders.

  • Reply Erin August 10, 2022 at 9:51 am

    I took my older 2 kids to Universal in February 2020 and have SUCH fond memories of it – I think the combination of the ‘last normal trip pre-covid’ plus the magic they felt at all the Harry Potter stuff (it was also pre-JK Rowling really outing herself as extremely problematic too) – they were 8 and 10 so it was PEAK obsession for my 10 year old. I’m not even a huge theme park person (never been to Disney) but I loved it so much I want to go back with all 3 of my kids (my youngest just turned 7) – now just trying to convince my husband, Orlando is not his idea of a great vacation destination 😛

  • Reply Beth August 10, 2022 at 9:54 am

    Really want to take my kids to Harry Potter World in the next few years! We are closer to the California one but I hear FL is better. Looks so fun!!!

  • Reply Melanie Goldsmith August 10, 2022 at 10:31 am

    Oh my gosh I want to go! We are thinking about taking the kids during winter break in December. The weather should be cooler then too 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  • Reply Erica Sparky August 10, 2022 at 11:43 am

    We went to Universal in March for Spring Break and we GREATLY preferred it to Disney. It was just more relaxed, I loved not having reservations for rides and meals, we pre-ordered a lot of our lunches and just picked them up at the windows, and their FastPass system is just so easy! We can’t wait to go back. The parks are smaller and easier to navigate too! So many advantages! My friend went to Disneyland and she said it is also a lot easier than Disney World.

    • Reply Erica Sparky August 10, 2022 at 11:45 am

      Also this might have been overkill but there was a promo of buying 3 days and getting 2 free so we were there for 5 days. We did one afternoon at Volcano Bay (waterpark) that was really fun). I don’t think we need 5 days there again (tbqh we only did about 4.5) but it did make our vacation very relaxed and we spent a lot of time at our hotel. WE stayed at Endless Summer but will stay at Loew’s or Hardrock next time.

    • Reply Natasha August 10, 2022 at 11:55 pm

      Agreed- much prefer Disneyland even though in louisiana, Disney world is closer. Plus the weather is better in CA.

  • Reply CBS August 11, 2022 at 2:21 am

    I only went to Disneyland once as a kid, and never really went to places with rides. Disneyland Paris (our closest) seems a bit grim, but I think we are going to do Legoland / Lego house next year when T is 6 and presumably tall enough for most things. The Lego house looks amazing – lots of hands on exhibits, and a cafe where you chose your blocks to order your meal, and it’s delivered by Lego robots. It’s expensive, because Denmark, but not as bad as I had expected.

    • Reply CZ August 11, 2022 at 6:01 am

      Lego House is awesome! We were just there and my kids (3 and 5) loved it. We also went to LEGO land and there were plenty of rides that both kids could go on. I think they have a deal where if you buy a Lego house ticket you get a discount on the Lego land ticket.

      • Reply CBS August 11, 2022 at 6:34 am

        Oh amazing! My 5 year old is Lego mad, and it looks fantastic.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger August 11, 2022 at 6:48 am

      We love Legoland Florida too!

  • Reply Meri Paterson August 11, 2022 at 3:35 pm

    I’ve never been to an amusement park as a parent (kids too little), but I can’t believe how willing some of them seem to be to risk making the experience a living hell. Why don’t they employ people to think, hmm, what happens when x people visit and the capacity of the amenities is x-1?

  • Reply Physician on FIRE August 14, 2022 at 2:09 pm

    When much of our international travel was canceled or delayed due to COVID, we decided to get annual passes to Universal Orlando. There was a promotion that tacked on 3 months to the 12 we paid for.

    Altogether, over the course of 3-4 trips to Florida (from Michigan), we used the passes 39 different days. Shockingly, our boys (10 -11 and 12-13) never tired of the 3 parks. Many days, my wife and I would only go for a short while, meeting them with lunch while they had free reign to ride the rollercoasters to their hearts’ content.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your time there; we did, too, but we won’t be back anytime soon!


    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger August 15, 2022 at 5:39 am

      Amazing to imagine that independent stage of letting your kids take over the park! And WOW did you get your money’s worth from that pass 🙂

  • Reply Elissa August 21, 2022 at 2:59 pm

    I’m not even much of a HP fan, but that world is amazing.

    Any of those theme parks in February…not good. But agree, always a much more pleasant experience at Universal!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger August 21, 2022 at 3:22 pm


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