I have recently written about our holiday to Orlando, and have talked about the best ways to find Princesses at Disney and other handy tips for visiting Disney World. The other main attraction in Orlando is obviously Universal.
Universal Orlando Resort
As you enter the resort you walk through City Walk which is lots of bars, restaurants, a cinema and shops – the perfect location for a night out though we never made it back!
Universal is made up of Universal Studios and Islands Of Adventure. If you’re a fan of Despicable Me, The Simpsons, Spiderman, Transformers and generally scarily high roller coasters then this is the place for you!
Unfortunately we found that most of the rides were too scary or high for a 5 year old. She obviously couldn’t go on the roller coasters and wasn’t tall enough for a lot of other rides which was quite disappointing.
We did go on the Despicable Me ride which was brilliant – if the queue hadn’t been 90 minutes long we’d have gone on it again! Little H was a bit non-plussed by the ET ride, but had a great time in the Dr Seuss park, Fieval’s Playland and Krusty Land. The queue for Shrek 4D was over 2 hours so we gave that a miss and Men In Black was closed, and that was about it for small children to be honest.
If you’re heading to Orlando on your own or with teenagers then I would say definitely go to Universal, but if you have young children I’m not convinced that it’s worth the money. Whilst it was nice to do something non-Disney, personally I’d have rather used the 2 days we spent there to go back to Epcot for a second day and go to Typhoon Lagoon which we didn’t have time to do.
However, we all love Harry Potter so were very excited to go to Universal just to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The husband and I are complete Harry Potter geeks. We went to the cinema on the fist day the films came out, we’ve been to the Warner Bros. Studios Tour, and we even went to Asda at midnight to get the last book. Little H has seen the first two films and is really getting into the whole Harry Potter thing so was desperate to visit Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
When you get into the parks via City Walk you can head left to Islands of Adventure or to the right for Universal Studios. On the map Hogwarts is in Islands of Adventure so on the first day that’s the way we headed – but don’t do that or you end up doing it all a bit back to front!
If you head right into Universal Studios first you can walk towards Kings Cross Station. Go through the magic hole in the wall first and you’re in Diagon Alley. This bit is really good, it has Weasleys Wizard Wheezes, The Leaky Cauldron, and Gringotts Bank amongst other things. Take a ‘wrong turn’ and you can even go and check out the dark and creepy Knockturn Alley.
We had a look in the shops, got some lunch in The Leaky Cauldron and went to Gringotts to ask the Goblins some questions.
There’s also an ‘Escape From Gringotts’ ride but unfortunately although Little H was tall enough for it she was too scared to go on it as it’s all in the dark so we gave that one a miss.
As you leave Diagon Alley you can take a look at the Knight Bus parked outside – and have your photo taken with Stan Shunpike – before heading to Kings Cross Station to catch The Hogwarts Express from platform 9 3/4s.
I won’t tell you what happens on the train as I don’t want to spoil the surprise but when you get off you’re at Hogsmeade Station. As the train has taken you from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure you’ll need to show your Universal entry pass to get both on and off the train.
Hogsmeade village looks great, the buildings are covered in snow and you can see the Hogwarts castle in the distance. Here you can visit Honeydukes to get all sorts of amazing sweets, the Owl Post for stationery supplies, and Dervish & Banges for magical supplies. The best shop (and biggest queue!) is of course for Ollivanders.
If you don’t mind queuing for your wand you can enter via Ollivanders where a group at a time enters the shop and is greeted by the wandmaker himself. He’ll pick on a couple of people and help them to choose the wand, much like when he helped Harry choose his wand in the first film. After this you’re led into the shop which is possibly the busiest place I’ve ever been! (If you don’t want to queue to see Ollivander you can still get into the shop via the Owl Post).
If you decide to buy a wand be warned – at almost $50 they aren’t cheap. If you have more than one Harry Potter mad child you might need to save a bit extra spending money than you’d planned!
You can get a ‘normal’ wand for $38 I think, or an ‘interactive’ wand for $48. With the interactive wands at various points around Hogsmede and Diagon Alley you can stand in front of the shop windows and fountains, copy a spell and watch what happens. At 5 years old Little H found the ‘spells’ really tricky and was happy to just pretend to do magic as she walked around so in hindsight we didn’t really need to fork out the extra money for an interactive wand.
Hogsmeade was the busiest place that we visited in our whole 2 weeks in Florida, busier than anything we saw in any of the Disney parks.
We walked through Hosgmeade Village and up to the castle, stopping for a Butterbeer along the way. There are 3 more rides in this part – Dragon Challenge which is a high speed rollercoaster not suitable for small children, and the Flight of the Hippogriff which is apparently “family friendly” but our scaredy cat of a child wouldn’t go on as it is actually quite high up.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
We headed on to the Hogwarts castle and unfortunately at this point Little H almost cried in disappointment 🙁
The only way to get inside Hogwarts is to go on the Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey ride. This amazing ride takes you through the corridors, classrooms and grounds of the castle.
Unfortunately you need to be over 1.2 metres tall to go on the ride which Little H is definitely not so we were unable to go on it. You can “child swap” on most rides at Universal meaning one parent can go on a ride first, then the other have a turn without having to queue up all over again. We just couldn’t go on the ride when Little H had to miss out so we chose not to take advantage of that offer – aren’t we nice parents!
The only other part of the castle you can go inside is a small shop at the back. After telling Little H for about 6 months that we were going to Hogwarts we all nearly cried when we realised we weren’t going to be able to go in – we probably should have done our homework a bit better.
Anyway, we managed to cheer Little H up by buying her a Griffindor cloak (that cost more than I would spend on an entire outfit!) and a chocolate frog, and promising her that we’ll take her to the Warner Bros. Studios Tour before the end of this year!
All in all I would say that Universal is great for adults and teenagers. For grown up Harry Potter fans, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is amazing. You will absolutely have the best day out and feel like a big kid at getting to go to Hogwarts. However, if you have small children I would just be prepared for a little bit of disappointment and a lot of very expensive gifts.
If you’ve been to Universal with small children I would love to hear what you thought, maybe we just expected a bit too much and were spoiled by Disney world?
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