A couple weeks ago we spent an amazing. fun filled day at Universal Studios Orlando. I am sharing things about our day as well as some tips, so you can maximize your next trip!
We only had 1 day to spend and do everything we wanted in both Universal Studies and Islands of Adventure. So we had 1 day park hopper tickets, with the unlimited express option. This allowed us to cover both parks, get on some of the more popular rides quickly, and maximize our time for the day.
Tip 1: Depending on your ages, you really can cover both parks with 1 very full day, if you have the park hopper with the express pass. (The Harry Potter rides do not allow the use of the express pass)
Tip 2: Get there early! On the day we were going, Universal Studios opened at 8am, and Islands of Adventure opened at 9am. We arrived at the gate for Universal Studios at 7:45 am, so we could get in the park right away. We walked up to where the rope was, and within 2 minutes they dropped it, and opened early. So it pays to be there! Check the park hours before you go!
Tip 3: Head to Harry Potter World. Harry Potter World is the busiest (and coolest) part of the park. You will want to head there right away. The Harry Potter rides do not use the express pass, and the lines can get very long. So head there first and get in line. We were able to ride Escape from Gringots 2 times in a row waiting less than 5 minutes. And bring your phone (if you have a pocket to put it in). The line through Gringots is definitely photo worthy!
Tip 4: Ride Hogwarts Express to Islands of Adventure. You can walk between the two parks, but why would you?! Hogwarts Express is a slow moving train that makes you feel like you are actually in the books. Videos play on your train car window that help tell the story of Harry Potter and bring his world to life. The story (videos) are different depending on which direction you take the train, so take it both ways! You need the Park Hopper ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express.
Tip 5: Arrive at Islands of Adventure via Hogwarts Express as close to their opening time as possible, so you can ride Forbidden Journey with little wait. The line for the Forbidden Journey goes through Hogwarts castle, and is incredibly well done. If you want to ride a second time (and your children are old enough), take advantage of the single rider line. The wait time was closer to 5 minutes compared to the posted 40 minute wait for the regular line when we did it. Well worth it for us!
Tip 6: Head to Dueling Dragons and walk around Hogsmeade. Dueling dragons is a large roller coaster with loops and big drops. It DOES use the express pass, so you can almost walk on. Beware, you need to use the free lockers to put EVERYTHING in! They have metal detectors you walk through to make sure you don’t have keys, coins, phones, or anything. Walk around Hogsmeade, and enjoy the shops and incredible scenery. It looks exactly like you would picture it.
Tip 7: Enjoy a Butterbeer. You can’t go to Hogsmeade and skip out on the Butterbeer. There are multiple carts selling it. Check both ends of the carts, we found one side to have a line 20 people deep, but if we walked around back of some there were only 2 people in line. There is also a frozen version!
Tip 8: Head out and see the rest of Islands of Adventure. If you have little kids head to Seuss Landing (we liked this too). Continue onto Spider Man and Doctor Doom for the older ones. If it is a hot day try out Jurassic Park River Adventure and Ripsaw Falls (you will get wet). Your express pass will get you on almost every ride quickly.
Tip 9: Take the train back to Diagon Alley. After you have seen what you wanted at Islands of Adventure, head back to the other park. Take Hogwarts Express back, and go visit Diagon Alley and see what you missed in the morning.
Tip 10: Head to Minions Mayhem. Minions Mayhem can get a very long line. Use your express to bypass most of the line. It is a very cute ride, and definitely worth the 20 minute wait you could have with the express pass.
Tip 11: Be sure to check out Lard Lad Donuts in the Simpsons area. A pink donut the size of your head is a definite must! You can easily split this with a family of 4. There are plenty of rides in this area that use your express pass (The Simpsons Ride, Men in Black, ET).
Tip 12: Head to Transformers. There are a few things you can ride in this area and use your express pass on. Transformers is similar to Spider Man, so if you liked that you will like this. Revenge of the Mummy, Twister, and Rip Ride Rocket are all near by. Rip Ride Rocket is one of the biggest, fastest, and craziest roller coasters I have ever been on! My 10 year old was terrified, but went on. He screamed the entire time, but was so proud when he got off! Again, your express pass works on all of these.
Tip 13: Grab a map! These were the highlights for my family. But check out the map for activities based on your family and ages. The maps are available online, so check out their site and plot it out ahead of time!
Tip 14: Souvenirs!! There are plenty of places to shop as you walk around the parks. My son was debating about a Gryffindor Quidditch shirt, but as the day went on we forgot about. When you exit the park as you enter City Walk, there is a large souvenir store. We were able to find a lot of what we had looked at all day in this stores. So my son got his t-shirt, my husband found one, and we were able to pick up a few other things we didn’t want to carry around with us all day as well.
Tip 15: Head to City Walk for dinner. We went to Vivo Italian Kitchen and had an amazing meal! We started with sharing a couple appetizers (sauteed mushrooms and calamari). The mushrooms were so creamy, rich and delicious. I am a huge mushroom fan, and I could have eaten the whole bowl! Next up we ordered Cacio E Pepe (bucatini pasta with shrimp, and pancetta in a cream sauce) and Risotto (risotto with braised short ribs, mushrooms and asparagus). The risotto was creamy, the short ribs were tender and I couldn’t get enough! The bucatini pasta had tender shrimp and the sauce was creamy, but not heavy. Just what we needed after a hot day of walking around the parks! To top off the meal we split the cannoli. Crispy, creamy, slightly sweet…exactly what you need to cap off a delicious meal. And if a regular size cannoli isn’t enough, you can order their 14 inch (I think that was the length) long cannoli! Plus they have a great kids menu for the little ones.
Cheese graters as lights?! Love these, and the open kitchen with a chefs table. I have to say, we had a table next to us with a large group, and they were very difficult. I was impressed with the wait staff and the kitchen. I was a server for one summer, and I am not sure how I would have put up with one of the woman at the table. But the kitchen made a special dish, just like she requested, and were completely fine with it. I would definitely go back!
**I was not compensated for writing this post. I did work with Universal Studios Orlando for theme park tickets and dinner at City Walk. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.