Universal Studios Florida – Park Review
A great adventure.
Of all the parks we visited on our trip to Orlando, Universal Studios was high on the list.
Very different to the previous 13 days visiting the Walt Disney World and Seaworld Parks. Good different, different because there aren’t really many roller coasters. Different because of it’s themeing being set around TV and Film. And because we had heard so many great things about the CityWalk. Voodoo Doughnuts anyone?
So you have three Universal theme parks plus CityWalk. Universal Studio’s, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. We spent one day in each park and I think that it was the perfect amount of time. That said we did have Express Passes so you may consider an additional day if the parks are set to be busy. We visited during April and May of this year and found the Universal Theme Park’s to be a much more manageable ‘busy’ than the Disney World Parks. Ending our break here at Universal really was the greatest idea.
Since Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, a visit to Universal Studios has become a must-do. Whether you are a die-hard Harry Potter fan or not, it really is an incredible experience! We spent each morning wandering around the two Harry Potter Worlds and then after lunch hit the rest of the attractions. And if Harry Potter really isn’t for you then don’t despair, there is so much more to enjoy in this park. From the New York streets taking you back in time giving you that sense of being on a movie set, to unique rides and fantastic shows.
Our ticket was a Universal 2-Day Park-to-Park Ticket – this allowed us to hop between parks and ride the Hogwarts Express which you are unable to do without this ticket or one similar. We utilised it several times on both days and would highly recommend going for this option.
Where to start at Universal Studios Florida?
Firstly arrive early. We much preferred earlier starts to late evenings. I would recommend arriving 20-30 minutes before the park gates open. We grabbed a Starbucks on entry to the CityWalk and ate it whilst waiting in line. The queue soon built up. It’s all about the early entry for us, making the most of the park at it’s quietest. As well as getting those silky shots when the streets are free from crowds.
A trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be my first recommendation. If you have early entry this is a great time to visit as you’ll be sure to miss the crowds. Our perfect day started in Diagon Alley at Universal Studios with a ride on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts when the wait times are at their lowest. Afterwards, we strolled around Diagon Alley, while sipping on Butterbeer, casting spells on George’s interactive wand before catching the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade to get the full Harry Potter experience. After lunch we then made our way back around the parks.
It was incredible. We were all really impressed. Breathtaking just how immersive it is. You really do feel like you are in Diagon Alley. We started in this area both mornings quite simply because it is by far our favourite attraction. If you are considering buying an Interactive Wand for you or your child then I would recommend going to Ollivanders one morning, beginning the trail and then riding all the rides either afterwards or the next morning. The queue for Ollivanders can get pretty lengthy, it also means that you won’t be waiting long at each spell casting point. Which is pretty magical in itself.
Early Park Admission & Express Passes
For our family Express Passes were always a priority. They were in all of the parks we visited. We were gifted Express Passes as part of our review of the two parks however I would still personally recommend them if visiting on a busy park day. And would buy them ourselves if (or should I send when) we return. They are an additional cost however they do allow you to navigate the queues and make the most of your visit. That said, if you are planning to visit the parks for more than one day each then you won’t need them.
All of the Universal Orlando Resort hotels offer Early Park Admission. It allows you to enter select parks (check before you visit) up to an hour early during your stay. AND one-hour early entry to Universal’s Volcano Bay water theme park every day. You do need to purchase general admission tickets. It’s worth noting that select Universal Orlando Resort hotels — Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort — offer free Universal Express Unlimited, another amazing benefit.
And just look how quiet the park was…
Rides and Rollercoasters
With the exception of a few rides, mostly in Universal Studios you’ll find simulation and multi-dimensional rides. Having spent the previous 13 days of our trip visiting the Walt Disney World and Seaworld Parks it was great to experience rides like this. A refreshing change. Themed around movies, characters and more it’s sure to grab the attention of all the family. This park for me was more about the look and feel. Experiences. It was awesome.
What we loved…
Transformers, the ride was awesome – a 3D experience – very much in keeping with the Universal Parks. It’s hard not to feel like you’re in the movie, helping Bumblebee and Optimus Prime to save the planet from the dreaded Decepticons. Don’t forget to drop by their character meeting point, it was by far our favourite experience. Gosh they were big. So good and a really small queue.
And then there’s Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, we really did need our express passes for this ride. The wait time was always one of the highest in the park. And if you’re not riding then you can watch the Blues Brothers Show. Mr H rode Rip Ride Rockit whilst we watched the parade – he describes it as being an old school coaster, with the added quirkiness of selecting your music as you board. We sat on a green area by the ride and watched whilst we waited. Our 8 year old loved Revenge of the Mummy and Men in Black. Apparently once off the Men in Black ride you can ask to do the tour which is free of charge? I would love to do that when we return.
What we didn’t like…
The boys didn’t rate The Simpson’s Ride or Fast & Furious – Supercharged. Unimpressed and despite having express passes the queues were quite long so overall ones they wouldn’t ride again. And for me I was really disappointed with E.T Adventure – it was just a little outdated for me. That said George loved it.
Universal Studios Florida – Park Review
Where to eat and drink at Universal Studios Florida?
A trip to Universal wouldn’t be so without experiencing the CityWalk. And when I say the CityWalk I mean Voodoo Doughnut. We all loved wandering through this space. Vibrant, full of energy, bars, restaurants and shops. Perfect for nipping out of the park to grab some lunch. Our favourite thing to do was grab a doughnut or 3 from Voodoo Doughnut, take a seat on the viewing area over the lake and take it all in. Whilst taking a breather from the busy park.
We mostly ate outside of Universal Studios as we found there was a greater choice and a more relaxed atmosphere. That said Mr H did enjoy some taco’s from a food van near to Moe’s Tavern. And of course we both enjoyed a chilled Duff Beer and chicken strips and chips for George from Moe’s. It’s a must right?
We enjoyed a meal in the NBC Sports Grill & Brew, as well as the Hard Rock Cafe on the CityWalk. All the restaurants we visited catered for families, we found the children’s menu’s to be great value for money. We took snacks into the park rather than buying lunch, saving ourselves for the evening. There is a Starbucks in both the CityWalk and inside the Studios which is great for a quick stop – I love that they serve ice cold water (free of charge) as well as great breakfasts when you have an early start as well as fresh sandwiches during the day.
Top Tip: If you want to drink alcohol visit restaurants that have Happy Hour to make it more affordable. If you drink alcohol with your meal outside of happy hour you can easily double your bill. A great way to save money!
What not to miss at Universal Studios Florida?
There is so much to see and do inside Universal Studios, if the rides aren’t quite your thing then don’t be deterred from visiting. You won’t be disappointed. You can enjoy wandering around whilst your family are enjoying the thrills of the rides. I enjoyed many a moment with an iced coffee just watching the world go by. I’ve added our must do’s below for you…
Take a break in Central Park in a lovely shaded area under trees. There is a Starbucks on the way where you can grab some iced water free of charge. Perfect area for enjoying a picnic. Or there’s the streets of New York which you can enjoy exploring whilst wandering around – they look like they are straight out of a movie set. Wandering through these streets of Manhattan really made me smile.
Meet Scooby Doo & Shaggy
This was such a great character meet, so much fun. I even wanted to meet them. And a little unexpected as we wandered through the streets of Hollywood. I think this area may have been my favourite – the glitz and glamour of the movie-making capital of the world has been re-created here in Universal Studios. There are landmark buildings and star-covered sidewalks. Shops with memorabilia.
You could easily spend a week there and still not experience it all! And so here are our must do’s… Exchange money at Gringotts. Buy an Interactive wand from Ollivanders ($50). Drink Butterbeer – at $8 a glass be prepared to share it. It is delicious. Hop on the back of the Knight Bus – Yes the back not the front! Trust me no one will be queuing but I think it’s a better photo spot! Take a look at the House Elf looking out the window of Syrius Blacks house. And lastly Knockturn Alley – a must visit, easily missed as the sign is quite small – look to your left as you enter Diagon Alley. There are some secret spells in there which show up on the map but only when you go down Knockturn Alley.
Thank you for reading all about our family trip to Universal Studios Florida – Park Review. You can also read our review of Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. Do look out for them. And if you have any questions please do leave them in the comments or drop me an email. And if you are visiting Orlando soon have a truly awesome time.