Hola from sunny South Florida.
It's a balmy 84 degrees outside. Can't complain about that November weather.
Last month we had our first big FL adventure, and we also had our first FL visitors!!! Andrew took the day off from school so we could head up to Orlando and hit up Universal Studios.
Universal Studios has two parks, the main Universal Studios and then Islands of Adventure. We asked around to see which was better, but we decided that it was worth it to go to both! I'm glad we did. They were both super fun.
If you are going anytime in the future, here's my two cents:
Islands of Adventure definitely has more rides to do, but they are all pretty intensive roller coasters/3D adventures. Universal Studios has more to see and "experience," there are more shows, shops, and random character encounters. You can easily do both parks in one day if it isn't too busy. There are park hopper passes (and you get to take the Hogwarts Express from park to park), but the single park passes were a lot cheaper, so we just did one park per day.
We went mid-October, and didn't wait more than 15 minutes for any ride. The parks are open all day (8 AM- 9 PM ish), but by 5 PM, we had done most rides multiple times and were ready to be done. A few times when the lines were longer, we asked the express line person if we could take a short-cut, and they ALWAYS said yes! So don't be afraid to ask. The longest line we saw was the Gringotts Bank ride, so we went single rider on that one. If you don't mind going by yourself, single rider is an awesome option for all the rides with longer lines.
If you are going for Harry Potter, you should do both parks. Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure has the Castle and has three rides, but is smaller and there is less to see. Diagon Alley in Universal Studios is a lot bigger and definitely has more to experience, you can go into a ton of different shops and eat lots of Harry Potter treats, but it only has one ride. So, if you can only choose one park and you LOVE Harry Potter... I would probably recommend Diagon Alley. The Castle ride is really neat (even waiting in line is a cool experience), but it's lots of spinning and turning, and it made Andrew super sick. And the Hogwarts Express is awesome if you can do it, but not worth the extra money of a park-hopper pass if that is the only reason you get it.
The Parks were both clean, food was pretty average theme park food, crowds and lines weren't bad. I would definitely recommend Universal for families with older kids. Both parks did have a few rides for younger kids, but there wasn't much to do. Disney is a lot more geared to the younger crowd.
If you want to do the water rides in Islands, bring an extra pair of clothes or wear a bathing suit! You get soaked. We skipped them. All the roller coasters offer free lockers while you ride the rides, which is awesome, but the water rides do not. To get to the two parks, you have to walk through the Universal City Walk, which had a cool vibe, but it was mostly restaurants that were pretty expensive.
Would I go again? If people were visiting and wanted to go, yes! By ourselves.... probably not. It was definitely a great experience, but if you know me, you know I'm a Disneyland lover, and Universal didn't quite have the same magic, ya know? If you LOVE roller coasters, then you will love Universal. If you LOVE Harry Potter, then you need to go at least once. It was amazing. And that butterbeer. Still can't stop thinking about it!
Okay that was a lot, but hopefully that was helpful for someone. Now for a million pictures:
Our first visitors: Nathan and Katie! We had a blast exploring the park with them.
So. Many. Laughs.
We did all the big rides and then headed to what we were all looking forward to the most: Harry Potter Land! There is a bridge leading up to Hogsmeade where you have a great view of Hogwarts Castle. We seriously were on the bridge just taking it all in for about 20 minutes!
Seriously. We were so pumped.
And of course the first thing we see when we finally pass through the gate is a big ole Butterbeer stand! So naturally, we spent another 20 minutes in the entrance of Hogsmeade drinking Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice and loving life.
When Jenn and I were little, we would play Harry Potter. We would have my mom dye our milk orange, and we would pretend it was Pumpkin Juice. When I saw that they had the "real deal" here, I had to get it. It lived up to its name, but the Butterbeer was the real winner. I would definitely suggest the specialty mug. It makes it that much better.
The line for the castle ride was awesome! Seeing all the details was so fun. I definitely need to reread all the books again. This part of the park definitely did have that "magic" feel.
P.S. The Hippogriff Ride... all I can say is it reminded me of the Go Coaster in Toon Town...
Chocolate frogs! Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans! Fizzing Whizzbees!
Gotta love carrying around your Butterbeer mug the rest of the day!
So fierce right now.
Nothing like hangin' with your cousins.
Thanks Nate and Katie for coming to visit us!
After we left the park, Nate recommended that we try 4 Rivers Smokehouse. Holy Cow. It was SUCH good BBQ. If you are ever in Orlando, please go!
We stayed at this kinda sketch hotel called the Monumental Movieland Hotel that was across from the water park. Classy, right?
It was super cheap and had lots of creepy movie posters, so I guess it was a good time.
Our room was right by the N*Sync poster, so I felt really good about that.
Day 2 at Universal Studios!
Our first ride of the day was the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. First thing you do is go straight up at a 90 degree angle, and it was definitely one of the freakier things I have ever done. You get to choose what song you want to listen to. Of course I picked Glamorous.
They actually video tape you the entire time, and let's just say our video was pretty hysterical. I wanted to buy it so bad, but it cost 40$.... not quite THAT worth it.
Super sweet free locker access by finger-print. Don't forget your locker number though...
Is it just me or does Andrew look extra tall in this pic?
The Knight Bus
Gringotts Bank and a fire-breathing dragon, NBD.
We had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, and it was a blast. In true pub fashion, I had a Cottage Pie and Andrew had a Banger Sandwich.
Unlike Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley is completely separate from the rest of the park. All the details really made it feel like you have stepped into Harry's world. I loved it!
Diagon Alley at its finest.
Couldn't resist another one.. or two.
We had to try the Butterbeer ice cream too, of course.
Somehow we lucked out and got to ride the Hogwarts Express even though we didn't have park hopper tickets. Because we headed to get one last Butterbeer before we left the park (it was closing early for Halloween Horror Nights), we managed to get these wristbands that would let us stay an extra hour in Diagon Alley. If we decided to stay, we would have to take the Hogwarts Express to the other park to exit... Sounds good to me!
We almost didn't stay because the line for the train was supposedly 90 minutes, but I really wanted to go, so we decided to stick it out! The wait ended up being closer to 45 minutes, so that was a nice surprise.
It was worth the wait!
We ended up in a car with some LDS folks from Springville, UT. So random.
Even though we had free access to the other park, we were both pretty tired and had gotten a good fill of Universal. Like I said, there isn't tons to do, but what is there is great.
All-in-all, it was a wonderful weekend. Nathan and Katie came over for Sunday dinner the next day and we had a great time together. I loved having visitors, and I loved getting to explore a little piece of Florida.