Our Trip to Universal Orlando

universal orlando travel planner

Hi, we’re the Fortune Family from Little Rock and we went to Universal Orlando recently, with many thanks to 香港马会开奖结果 World Big Fun and . 聽It was lifelong memory-making stuff and I won’t include a lot of the pictures we took because you and your family need to see it for yourselves, but hopefully this will get you thinking about it …

We鈥檙e big Harry Potter fans. Not necessarily 鈥渄ress up like the characters and go to the grocery store鈥 (though maybe closer to that now) but fans 鈥 we鈥檝e read the books, we鈥檝e re-read the books. We own the movies. We鈥檝e seen the movies. Every time Freeform does a 鈥淗arry Potter Weekend鈥 we don鈥檛 get much done around the house. Fans. As someone who grew up on the epics of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, it鈥檚 a blast for me to share these experiences with my kids.

I haven鈥檛 done all the math but as near as I can tell I was in my 20s and childless when the books and movies came out, so I鈥檓 a bit late to the game and I really wish I鈥檇 seen all the movies on the big screen (you could make a lot of money re-screening those I think), but it鈥檚 a big hoot doing all this with my family now.

For what seems like decades (but he鈥檚 12) my son has seen Universal Orlando Resort鈩 ads and said 鈥渨e鈥檙e NEVER going to go there鈥 in that special half-whine / half-longing way kids do. And as parents, we try our best to correct the whining, but we always knew we鈥檇 do what we could to get there.聽 Because we wanted to go too.

Yes, that’s 1 person’s dessert 鈥 come hungry!

So, we cashed in the Southwest Airlines Visa points, told Cindy Minor 鈥渓et鈥檚 do it鈥 and surprised the kiddos on Valentine鈥檚 Day with a Harry Potter gift box detailing our trip to Universal Orlando for the upcoming long weekend. Plus, the trip was just before my son鈥檚 12th birthday so it fit in nicely with that celebration, it鈥檚 not 鈥渉igh season鈥 in the parks and the weather鈥檚 great in Orlando, so why not go???

Note: what I should write here is a beautiful description of how surprised the kids were on finding out we were going including embedding the video we shot capturing the surprise. But we woke them up early for school for the 鈥淏ig Reveal鈥 and to say their sleep-induced state took over the surprise would be an understatement. It isn鈥檛 worth watching. But we鈥檒l keep it for when they take their kids someday. The lesson?聽 14- and 12-year-olds don鈥檛 surprise easily. At least not early in the morning.

So, we drove to Memphis (MUCH cheaper and non-stop flights by driving 2 hours to leave and when you鈥檙e buying 4 plane tickets that MATTERS) and took off on Saturday (also much cheaper to fly on Saturday).

diagon alley gringots at universal orlando resort

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Universal Orlando is 3 sections (at least in my mind): Universal Studios (that鈥檚 one Park), Islands of Adventure (that鈥檚 another Park) and Universal City Walk (eating / shopping district just outside the Parks)
  • You can walk between all of these attractions, and you will, you will walk a lot; but it鈥檚 pretty easy (especially with older kids) to go between the parks & City Walk.聽 Universal Orlando is big, but it鈥檚 not so gi-normous that you must take trains, busses, shuttles, etc. to get from park to park (you know, like that other place in Orlando)

Here鈥檚 What We Did, if you鈥檇 Like a Detailed Itinerary, Just Let Me Know and I鈥檒l Make One up (I can鈥檛 remember it all!!)

  • Drive to Memphis
  • Fly (non-stop 鈥 woo hoo!) to Orlando
  • Super Shuttle through Universal to Loews Royal Pacific at Universal Orlando (more on that later)
  • Universal City Walk 鈥 Toothsome Chocolate Factory.聽 More on that below, but bring your appetite.
  • Universal Studios 鈥 Springfield (Simpsons), E.T. ride, Men In Black ride
  • Collapse at hotel (can鈥檛 remember if we ate that night or not, but I think our son swam at the hotel while watching a movie poolside while my wife and I had a drink by the pool, but the recollection is fuzzy)
  • Flight of the Hippogriff 鈥 short (duration) roller coaster, fun, fast but not too scary for the little ones (or those who act like little ones like me)
  • Shopping, always the shopping
  • High-tail it during Express Early Open Hours at Islands of Adventure to Hogsmeade / Hogwarts and re-ride Forbidden Journey
  • All over Islands of Adventure (Spider-Man ride, Jurassic Park (water) ride, Dudley Do-Right (lotsa water) ride
  • Over to Universal Studios, Minions Ride, walked all over again just to see it all, saw the afternoon parade
  • Did I mention we shopped a lot??
  • Went to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney 鈥 or maybe that changed years ago and I鈥檓 just catching up) and had a fantastic dinner at 香港马会开奖结果coming Florida Kitchen 鈥 highly recommend (shrimp and grits was awesome). Plus, they have a moonshine menu. Draw your own conclusions from that sentence.

Note: Lyft from Royal Pacific to Disney Springs – $14. Taxi from Disney Springs back to Royal Pacific – $35. Anyone wonder why Lyft and other ride-sharing apps have a business???

  • High-tail it at park opening at Universal Studios to Diagon Alley and re-ride Escape from Gringotts
  • Some last-minute shopping, because of course
  • Back to hotel, lunch, checkout 鈥 hope that our luggage is within weight limits (did I mention we shopped?)
  • Super-Shuttle back to Orlando airport and non-stop (woo hoo!) flight to Memphis
  • Drive home, realize what a fantastic time we had!
  • Collapse, go back to work / school the next day 鈥 but as Wizards!
universal orlando travel agent
Snow in Hogsmeade (in Orlando!)

We Arrived at Universal Orlando as Muggles and Left as Wizards

So, the primary attraction for this trip was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP), which is actually two sets of attractions (Hogsmeade / Hogwarts at Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios).聽 The attractions are connected by the Hogwarts Express, which you MUST ride both ways 鈥 not because you have to, but because the ride is absolutely unique in each direction and is oh so cool. And you leave from Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station 鈥 and yes, you get to the platform the same way Harry, Ron and Hermione do it in the books. Trust me.

harry potter at universal orlando
Muggles to Wizards!

I think one would get a huge kick out of WWoHP because it is an amazing spectacle just in all that Universal has built whether or not you鈥檝e read the books and/or seen the movies, but it is absolutely unbelievable if you have.聽 From the amazing detail of what they鈥檝e built in all locations to the 鈥渟pells鈥 (yes, you鈥檒l be buying your kids 鈥 or yourself 鈥 a wand, we were partial to Fred Weasley鈥檚 and Sirius Black鈥檚 wands) to the great treats (Frozen Butterbeer rocks!) all things WWoHP is just such a thrill.

You鈥檒l Never Want to Stand in Line Again 鈥 Stone VIPs

You know how even on family vacations (or maybe especially on family vacations) the days can drag and you might even get on each other鈥檚 nerves a bit?


So, it鈥檚 just my family?

Well, ok, humor me then.

On a Stone VIP tour, that does not happen. The day flies by and you just wish it could go on for a lot longer.

We did our 鈥淗arry Potter Day鈥 with Dinah, a guide from Stone VIPs and it was totally worth it.聽 Not only do you get through lines faster and have a fantastic journey through the WWoHP with Stone you also get a unique, 鈥渋nside鈥 look at how the park developed, ties between the park attractions and the movies and books and just the whole Harry Potter experience.

wizarding world of harry potter
Spells with Dinah & Stone VIPs!

Most importantly, my kids had a blast with Dinah!聽 She brought an energy and excitement that kept the kids enthralled throughout a 6-hour tour across the parks, peppered with trivia questions and tips / tricks about the parks, the books and the movies.聽 And let鈥檚 be honest 鈥 rare is the parent or grandparent who can do that.

I鈥檓 not sure I realized just how great it was until we went back through WWoHP without a Stone Guide and saw just how much we missed without being guided by such a great group. Once you鈥檝e returned to 鈥渃ommoner鈥 status and you longingly stare at the other side of the barrier where folks breeze through and get all the great insider tips 鈥 you realize what a great, unique and valuable experience it is to have a personal guide through WWoHP 鈥 it really makes the whole thing amazingly memorable.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter is great. With Stone VIPs, it is unbelievably great.

Things We Highly Recommend

  • All things Wizarding World of Harry Potter 鈥 really, it鈥檚 just so cool, even if you鈥檙e not huge Harry Potter fans
  • Express Passes 鈥 makes lines SO MUCH easier and faster
  • Staying at Loews Royal Pacific 鈥 very nice rooms, easy water taxi access to parks, very convenient

Tip: Tower 3 rooms are closest to the water taxi, so think about requesting a room there

  • Toothsome Chocolate Factory 鈥 yes it鈥檒l be a 2-hour wait, yes you have to order dessert 45 minutes early 鈥 but it鈥檚 so worth it, just a super cool and unique place and the food was great (HUGE portions by the way, you can鈥檛 eat it all)
  • Spider-Man simulator ride was a blast
  • Water rides were all a lot of fun 鈥 you WILL GET WET
  • The hop over to Disney Springs was a nice change of place and 香港马会开奖结果coming Florida Kitchen was fantastic 鈥 great shrimp and grits and a moonshine sampler 鈥 what more could you want?
  • Use 香港马会开奖结果 World Big Fun 鈥 you don鈥檛 want to plan this stuff on your own, do you? It costs you NO MORE to use them, so just do it.

Things We Didn鈥檛 Do Because We鈥檙e Not Really Roller Coaster People, but I鈥檓 sure they鈥檙e quite fun

  • Incredible Hulk roller coaster
  • Rockin鈥 Ride roller coaster
  • Dragon Challenge roller coaster
  • Dr. Doom Drop (not a roller coaster)

It鈥檚 Not All Harry Potter

There are many, many other things to do in these parks that are not Harry Potter related. My kids are 14 and 12 so we didn鈥檛 do as much of the smaller kid attractions as we would have a few years ago, though we did the 鈥渞oller coaster鈥 in Seussland just for fun (and a pretty cool view of the park from above).

universal orlando travel agentUniversal seems to really have many of the 鈥渟imulator鈥 rides that are really cool in the thrills and chills they offer.聽 We were partial to the Spider-Man ride (rode multiple times), the Simpsons ride is a ton of fun (and there鈥檚 a very similar one at Universal in Los Angeles) and Men of Black gives you a chance to shoot aliens (you get spun REAL fast in that one).聽 The Minions ride is also great fun in that area.

If you鈥檙e into The Simpsons that section of Universal Studios is fun with lots of games, The Simpsons Ride, lots of places to eat.

Oh Yeah, We Ate Great Too!

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium 鈥 we went there as soon as we got to City Walk on Saturday night, we put our name on the list for a 2 hour and 20-minute wait and then went shopping and walked around until then 鈥 but, it was worth it. Such a cool place, fantastic food (it鈥檚 way more than Chocolate), HUGE portions (see photo, that was 1 person鈥檚 dessert!).聽 And, you order dessert when you sit down as it takes 30-45 minutes to make dessert 鈥 what鈥檚 not to love about that??!?!??

universal orlando, toothsome chocolate emporium
Yes, this is a restaurant.

Other great eats (by the way, sometimes 鈥済reat鈥 means highly functional for a family on the move):

  • Confisco鈥檚 in Islands of Adventure 鈥 good sit-down lunch during a long day of park walking
  • 香港马会开奖结果coming Florida Kitchen at Disney Springs 鈥 did I mention they have a moonshine menu?聽 I鈥檓 pretty sure there was great food too.
  • Handy breakfast pre-park 鈥 if you stay at Royal Pacific there鈥檚 a grab and go breakfast set-up that is great for grabbing some quick food and heading out to the water taxis to get to the parks
  • Three Broomsticks at WWoHP 鈥 just so cool to do all that stuff
  • LOTS of great sweets and ice cream stuff in Diagon Alley 鈥 the best ice cream we had was at Florean Fortescue鈥檚 (lots of flavors inspired by the books)
  • All kinds of Simpsons-inspired eats in the Simpsons section of Universal Studios including Flaming Moe鈥檚 (non-alcoholic, fun for the kids), Krusty Burgers and Duff Beer (non non-alcoholic)
  • Jake鈥檚 American Bar at Royal Pacific was good, very casual, outdoor seating by the waterfall

I Know this is 香港马会开奖结果 World Big Fun鈥檚 Blog, but Still 鈥

I don鈥檛 work on my own car.

I fix very little around my house (we鈥檙e all safer for that).

And I do not know the best way to plan a family 鈥渄estination鈥 vacation like this, nor do I want to learn. There are experts for this, and THE BEST are at 香港马会开奖结果 World Big Fun. While I know so much of their business involves the 鈥渙ther鈥 really fun places to go in Orlando (and we鈥檝e used them for those trips 3 times so far) they really know Universal Studios well, 聽and their relationship and the opportunities with Stone VIPs is awesome.

With Cindy and her team, you can pretty much just show up at time to get on the plane and go 鈥 the planning, the ideas for where to go and what to do, all that stuff that can make trips like these stressful 鈥 it鈥檚 taken care of.

And they鈥檙e NO FEE, so you don鈥檛 pay them, your trip costs the same whether or not you use them, so why wouldn鈥檛 you and relieve yourselves of the hassle??

universal orlando resort
The Fortunes in Diagon Alley!

Here Are the Things My Wife Says I Forgot to Mention 鈥 She’s Right …

  • If at all possible, stay at one of the resorts that get you Express Passes in the parks 鈥 makes a HUGE difference in wait times.
  • Go to Toothsome Chocolate Factory and just be prepared for a 2-hour wait (at least on a weekend) 鈥 PLENTY of time to knock out some shopping or have a cocktail along City Walk.
  • When you go through Islands of Adventure, wear dri-fit clothes 鈥 you WILL get wet on Jurassic Park, Ripsaw Rapids and the Barge (Popeye) ride 鈥 and not politely wet 鈥 SOAKED 鈥 water shoes (Keens, Chaco鈥檚, Tevas, etc. are recommended too).
  • We鈥檝e got a gluten-free kiddo and there were plenty of options everywhere we went and more than once the restaurant created a gluten-free option.

So, to Summarize 鈥

  • Go to Universal Orlando.
  • Spend a lot of time at Wizarding World of Harry Potter, preferably with a Stone VIPs Guide.
  • Book the whole thing through 香港马会开奖结果 World Big Fun.
  • Have a blast!

simpsons universal orlando