Universal Studios – Islands of Adventure

Florida, Travel, United States

While the original Universal Studios is a fabulous trek down memory lane, Islands of Adventure offers a blast through additional fun and journeys. The second park opened in 1999, and is a bright and bold blend of 90s fun with futuristic excitement, the park is equally, if not more enjoyable than the main park.

For the Potterheads take the Hogwarts Express from Diagon Alley to Hogsmead and begin exploring the rest of the park from there. Hogsmead is home to several great rides including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff and my absolute new favorite ride EVER Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventures!

A side note on Hagrid’s, this ride opened in 2019 and has been a runaway hit, clocking in wait times of 10+ hours on opening week. I was a little cautious about all the hype, but I have to say it was well worth our wait of 70 minutes or so! The build up to the ride was taken with immense care to create a well-crafted and detailed line ride that tells the stories of Hagrid and brings more of the Hogwarts grounds to life. Massive pumpkin, Hagrid’s hut, carved building ruins, paintings, and much more bring the story to life and build on the excitement. Harry Potter fans can’t miss this ride if even for the build up. Beyond that, the ride itself is a fantastic high speed roller coaster experience that stretches almost a mile long! The coaster seamlessly blends story and speed bursts, with some amazing surprises, to make a fabulous experience for all. I have never been on a ride I loved so very much and I can’t wait to return to Universal to ride again!

Beyond the rides, the area is home to fan favorite locations from the stories including the Three Broomsticks and Hogshead. Shops sell things like Pumpkin Juice, and a treat shop is sure to please any sugar rush. There is even a wand shop for those that missed Olivander’s or need to replace one they left on the train (I know this from personal experience….12 year olds).

As an additional charm they have ample outdoor seating and wonderful views of the castle made with a distorted perspective, allowing guests to REALLY feel engrossed in the Wizarding World.

My last tip is to check if they are doing any light shows or events for the season you are visiting. When we were there they had their Halloween Death Eaters Show and it was phenomenal to watch and enjoy. My stepdaughter even had a showdown with a Death Eater!

Death Eater Show Hogsmeade

Now, if you must venture out of Hogsmead and Harry Potter world, the Islands of Adventure offers something for everyone! Exit by the castle and you can’t miss the Jurassic Park education zone, an exact replica from the 1993 movie! This family-friendly area brings to life moments from the movie’s work with DNA and eggs to create new-age dinos and it’s a blast for kiddos to get involved with. Even if they haven’t seen the movies.

Image result for islands of adventure map

Follow along that same path and you will see a raptor encounter, recently updated with Blue from the Jurassic World trilogy. A little further along you will see the River Adventure Ride that offers so much fun for kids of all ages (my 5-year-old cousin lovingly calls them water coasters). This log flume ride offers some thrills and nostalgia as it reflects the first movies in the series, and some animatronics that could use some love. Regardless, it is a lot of fun!

For thrill seekers, don’t miss the Kong ride they opened in early 2016 which celebrates the stories and thrills over King Kong. The ride is a bus simulated ride through the jungle, in 3-D, offering bumps and falls and much excitement for riders.

After Kong there are several options for fun, including toon land, and a superhero land. The Spiderman Ride is worth a spin, and my husband loved the Hulk Coaster! If you are a fan of 90s superhero cartoons and classic comic books, make sure you visit this area of the park. Rumors are around that the rights to the area may run out soon. Since Disney now owns all the Marvel characters, there is a good chance they will want to create their own Superhero world and they will need to get rid of the competition.

If you are traveling with little ones, exit Hogsmead by the Hogwarts Express and head along that route for some delightful theming and “islands” that are less intense for little adventurers. The Lost Continent is like a mysterious land of shops, shows, and a touch of Arabian Nights. Past that you will land in Suess Landing which is ultimately a “little kid land”. This area is purely delightful for Dr. Suess fans, and it is full of all your favorite characters, such as the Lorax, and Cat in the Hat. If you are a fan, simply walk through and enjoy a piece of your childhood in real life.

The Lorax in Suess Landing

Both sides will loop you back to the front of the park, which exists onto Universal City Walk.

All around, if you are visiting the parks, visit both of them. If you have more than one day, go twice. You will want to ride certain things twice, buy things you forgot, and overall make sure you have time to take it all in.

Universal Studios (the 1990 classic)

Florida, Travel, United States

2019 has been my year of theme parks. I revisited a childhood favorite, added a new one, and revisited an adult favorite. Regardless of how many different ones I go to, or ones I remember from the past I still absolutely adore Universal Studios in Orlando.

While Universal is spread over three different parks at this point, the 1990 classic theme park still offers a phenomenal experience for visitors. The park is full of wonderful rides, character engagements, and theming that create a truly family-oriented adventure for children of all ages.

While the park has seen a few different manifestations, rides, and themes through the years, it still retains a healthy sense of 19th century movie nostalgia (Blues Brothers) and a new generations’ love (Diagon Alley). For geeks of all ages it is well worth a visit. Diagon Alley will always be my favorite, but I found some new delights this visit!

Blues Brothers – While only a show, this delightful show runs hourly in the late morning and afternoon and features some extremely talented acts that really embody the classic film. No it’s not Dan Ackroyd and resurrected Aretha Franklin and John Belushi, but it is people that make the skit truly a joy and worth watching.

Blues Brothers Block Party – Universal Studios, Florida

Minion Mayhem & Other Kid Rides offer a chance for littles to escape into their favorite movies and adventures. Even my 12-year-old stepdaughter enjoyed Minions for the enjoyable “little kid” elements. I was lucky enough to skip a lot of the more kid-engineered rides, I had plenty of family to take Lily to enjoy them!

Diagon Alley – The starting point for many a Potterhead, Diagon offers a jumping off point where one “enters into London”, greets the Knight Bus, and then “finds” Diagon (through a winding entry way). It is there that one can find the excitement of everything described in the Harry Potter books including shops, Knockturn Alley and other surprises one has to experience first hand. For the supreme experience, visit Olivander’s and watch the wand ceremony (or get selected) and make sure someone picks up an interactive wand. Finally, don’t miss the Escape from Gringott’s ride, a Butterbeer in the Leaky Cauldron, and nom some candy at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.

Diagon Alley – Universal Studios, Florida

My other favorite, favorite, ride in the park is the Revenge of the Mummy, based on one of my favorite thriller/adventure movies from the 90s, the Mummy (circa 1999)! While the movie turned 20 this year, and the ride is 16 in 2020, it hold strong as one of the most popular in the park. It’s a frightening coaster-themed ride with fire, monsters, Egyptian lore, and hidden gems that make it a legendary ride. While some leave the ride in tears (my poor stepdaughter) my husband and I find it wonderfully thrilling.

Finally, for some nostalgia and Americana, don’t miss the “streets” that are portrayed throughout the park. A little bit of Chicago, some New York, and 1950s charm and sprinkled throughout the park. The entire park expresses a walk through memory lane, and if you are in the mood, stop at the 1950s themed diner, Mel’s Diner, for a milkshake or Gluten Free and Vegan eats.

Mel’s Drive-In

Most importantly, take time to be silly, take photos, be spontaneous, and celebrate being a 90s kid (or 80s kid or 70s kid or…you know).

Universal Studios – What are we riding?

Florida, Travel

Start by reviewing what you want out of the vacation. Universal Orlando has two separate theme parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios) and a water park (Volcano Bay). The theme parks are manageable in a day, depending on how old your kids are, and what all you want to ride. If you are going to try for both theme parks, I suggest starting at open, and not leaving until closing and only going on a weekday, not a weekend. If you have little ones, just do a park a day, or those little feet may not quite make it.

Volcano Bay is the water park at Universal Orlando, and from all reviews, it is a great park for a day visit. The park has most of the important water park features, and has some fantastic tech to reduce ride waits, make reservations and more. Having a nice water park is extremely helpful for HOT days in Orlando, and for your mermaid/merman littles.

Universal Hollywood is one theme park, and is theoretically comfortable to visit in one day. However, if you want to get the most of the activities and fun, a second day may be worth the extra cash.

Much like with Disney, I suggest you read over all of the rides and make sure that your kiddos are all tall enough to ride. Make sure your big people are comfortable, and make sure people are actually interested in such and such ride. For more information on rides that may be uncomfortable, click here and here. Also, for you tall folks, my husband (6’ 4”) had a miserable time on the Rip Ride Rocket as it literally smashed some sensitive areas (it wasn’t so bad that ice was needed, but bad enough that there was awkward walking the rest of the day).

UNIVERSAL FLORIDA RIDES
Kid – Friendly (40″ and less)“Grown-up” Rides
Minion MayhemRevenge of the Mummy
Shrek 4-DMen in Black
Simpsons RideHarry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster 
Hogwarts Express 
Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl 

For instance, we are traveling with my five-year-old cousin, but there is plenty she can ride at Universal that we can either split up to enjoy, or that we can use a kid swap option for.

If you are going with older kids and/or adults, talk about what the top priorities for the day are. For instance, we are taking my stepdaughter to Olivander’s and to avoid the crowds we are planning on doing that part of the park first thing. Then we can spend the morning in the busiest part of the park (Wizarding World) before the majority of crowds show up.

If your group has been there, done that, then head to other parts of the parks and skip it. There is no point in visiting a super crowded part of a theme park if no one actually wants to be there.

For families with littles there are endless opportunities with cartoons, movies like Shrek and Despicable Me. For classic story lovers, the Dr. Suess land can’t be missed. For my family, we LOVE the Jurassic Park ride and mini attractions.

If you are planning trips in the near future (2020, 2021) you can expect even better options for families, and fanatics of a variety of fandoms. My number one suggestion is to pick your favorite characters or movies, and make an effort to experience interactions with them.

Universal is different in that many of their classic rides and activities go away when they lose popularity, so there are not as many popular “classics” as exist in Disney. That being said, Universal is little kid friendly, but really geared to older kids, in the 8+ range. It’s not that littles won’t have a great time, but some of the activities and events may just go over their heads.

Regardless, I do feel like it’s an easy place to have fun and escape from reality. Seeing their Diagon Alley in Orlando was truly a magical experience for me. I was practically skipping I was so excited. Meaning, if you just love fun, movies, and some whimsy, you are sure to enjoy the parks!

Happy Travels