Last week we went to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. We got lots of questions about the park, so here’s a fun Q&A with tips about what to eat, our favorite rides, where we stayed, and more!
Q: Which Harry Potter ride was the best/most worth waiting for?
Without a doubt, the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure was the best Harry Potter ride out of the four rides. There were no Express Pass options for this ride, and when the park opens to everyone at 8am it becomes virtual line only. We got early entrance to the parks because we were staying in an on-property hotel, so we went straight to this ride when we entered the park at 7am. We waited in line for about one hour.
At 7:45 the first round of virtual passes opened in the free Universal Studios App, and we booked two sets of those (you can book one group per app so use all your phones!). Keep refreshing the app throughout the day because new rounds of virtual passes open up, but they get booked quickly!
The virtual passes are supposed to help you NOT wait in a big line, but when we came back for our first virtual pass ride, we waited for two hours. We had no idea it would be so long! And even though we’d booked our second virtual pass for 12pm, we came back at 8:30pm that night and asked if they’d accept the pass since we missed the time window (we were still in line for our first virtual line at that point) and they did! So we got a third ride, but ended up waiting an hour in that virtual line as well.
BUT! It is WORTH THE WAIT. Don’t miss this ride. It’s unlike any roller coaster I’ve ever been on and whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or not, you will love it.
Q: How much per person?
The tickets for the park vary from season to season and are less expensive for children than adults. During peak season, the tickets are more expensive. But the cheapest for one adult for one park for one day is $109.
We were actually pretty surprised to learn that Universal Studios’ tickets are more expensive than Disney World tickets!
You can put your dates in HERE and see what the prices are for your visit.
Q: Top things to plan while you’re visiting
My biggest priorities when we visited were the two big roller coasters (Hulk and Rip Ride Rockit) and Harry Potter world in both parks. Since the Harry Potter sections were by far the busiest sections of the park, I’d recommend heading there first.
Here are the things I think you shouldn’t miss, in my favorite order:
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Ride
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Revenge of the Mummy
- Jurassic Park, The Ride
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Lunch in the Three Broomsticks (Order your food through the Universal App, then get in line to get a table. The line is long! I recommend the half chicken plate, and order your butterbeer here to avoid the long cart lines. This is the only place we found Hot Butterbeer and it was by far the best variation).
- Bourne Stuntacular (I did not expect to like this as much as I did. My father in law wanted to go, so I went along to be agreeable and ended up LOVING it!)
- Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges (This was a must for hot days! The other water ride was closed, so we didn’t get to try it out, but this one was so fun. We brought ponchos, which made it much better. If you don’t wear a poncho, you have a 100% chance of getting soaked).
There were lots more fun rides and things that we enjoyed, but these were for sure our top favorites.
Also, lots of people recommended the wand choosing experience in Ollivanders (it’s available in both parks), but the line was insane, and we heard your chances of being chosen as the child who gets fitted for the wand is low unless you’re dressed up in Harry Potter attire (which we were not). So instead, we went into the other part of Ollivanders (which was so fun and well done) and were still able to purchase an interactive wand.
Q. Was the interactive wand worth it?
Inside both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, there are little spots where you can use an interactive wand to make things move or come to life or shoot water. It’s a really fun and magical experience for kids and adults!
But they only work with the special interactive wands sold at the park, and holy moly, they are expensive at $55 per wand, plus tax. So you’ll have to choose if it’s worth it for you or not.
My father in law bought Sanny a wand for his birthday, so we ended up just getting the one wand and all three boys took turns using it. That worked really well and we felt like there was absolutely no need for a wand for each of them.
We heard the wand also works in California, so hang on to it if you ever go back or go to the other park. We’re also lending ours to a friend who is going in a few weeks, so maybe ask someone if they’re willing to let you borrow theirs for your trip.
Q. How hard was it to park your stroller before rides?
Not hard at all! There is tons of stroller parking all over the park, basically in front of every ride. You’ll have no problem at all.
Q. How many days would be perfect for a Universal visit?
We stayed for two days and did Universal Studios the first day and Islands of Adventure the second day. We did not go to Volcano Bay — it had just opened for the season and we were worried about it being cold and miserable (it turned out to be hot, but who knew what it was going to be like in early March??)
We had Express Passes, so we were able to ride every single ride (some several times), and by the end of two days I didn’t feel any need to go back to the parks another day.
The one thing we didn’t do was ride the Hogwart’s Express train, and we heard that was super fun. You can only do that if you have a park hopper pass, which we didn’t get since it didn’t seem worth it for the extra money.
When we go again in a few years and the boys are all big enough to go on everything, we’ll probably do four days:
- Day 1: Universal Studios
- Day 2: Islands of Adventure
- Day 3: Volcano Bay
- Day 4: Park hopper so we can go between Islands and Universal parks, ride the Hogwarts Express, and just spend the day going on all our favorites one more time
Q. Is it better than Universal in CA?
The Harry Potter land in California is almost identical to the Harry Potter land in Islands of Adventure. It has the Hogwarts and Hippogriff rides (both of which were my least favorite of the four Harry Potter rides), and Hogsmeade.
Between the two Harry Potter lands (Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure), I felt like Diagon Alley was way more magical. It has a secret entrance off of a typical London street, and it was a little less crowded, which made it feel more special.
The one in California is fun, but I definitely think the Florida one (if you go into both parks) is best.
Q. Is Harry Potter World a single destination trip or something that can be combined with Disney World?
I’d recommend splitting them up. With four parks at Disney World and three parks at Universal Studios, you’d be DEAD by the end of that week.
We did Disney World last spring and spent an entire week there (4 days of parks and a pool day in the middle to rest and relax), and it was a lot.
Q. Did you plan out restaurants and rides in advance?
We did a lot of research before we went and planned a lot of it. I think it’s always a good idea to go in with a flexible plan.
We knew which rides were going to be popular, which rides the boys could and couldn’t ride based on heights (and we brought some tall shoes for Sanny so he was definitely able to ride a couple rides he was just barely too short for), and the night before the parks we made a tentative plan of which rides to go for first so we’d get in line as early as possible.
The Universal App also shows ride wait times so you can continue to plan throughout the day while you’re in the park.
The restaurants on the city walk outside the parks book up early, so definitely make reservations a week or so ahead of your trip if you’re planning to eat there! You can always cancel a reservation, but if you don’t have a reservation it can be hard to get in sometimes.
We planned to eat at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium our first night, but forgot to make a reservation and when we arrived they were booked til 11pm. We were still able to get milkshakes and chocolates from the walk through line, but we couldn’t get a table.
Q. Covid restrictions?
They just barely opened the park up to full hours — it closes at 10pm rather than 6pm — and it appeared to be open at full capacity. It was spring break and it was very busy.
They require masks while you’re in the park, and had constant reminders via loudspeakers and park employees to keep your mask over your mouth and nose. And you could only remove your mask if you were stationary and eating. They did have areas around the park that were “rest zones” were you could sit at a table or bench and remove your mask for a bit, but everywhere else required them.
There were dots on the ground to keep people social distanced in line, and a person at the front of every line giving hand sanitizer to every person before they got on the ride. And they sanitized many of the rides between riders.
The rest of the park was open as normal without any restrictions as far as we could tell.
Q. Best ages to take?
Our boys are five (just turned the week before we went), eight, and almost eleven.
Obviously I don’t know what it’s like to take teenagers, but my eight and eleven year old were PERFECT ages for the parks. They had read enough Harry Potter to understand almost everything, they were so excited, and they had enough energy to stay until closing both nights.
Q. What things do I need to have ahead of time and what should I plan to buy there?
Ahead of time, we purchased park tickets and made restaurant reservations.
If you plan to purchase express passes, get those in advance too because they’re cheaper.
We also purchased some Harry Potter t-shirts for the kids, since everything at Universal is marked up so much.
In the park, we purchased the interactive wands (it’s fun to purchase inside Ollivander’s shop!), and all the fun foods. You can bring your own snacks and water into the park (which we did) but it’s also fun to try the different treats around the parks so save your dollars for those!
Q. Are all rides roller coasters?
No! There are only a handful of roller coasters in the park. The rest are water rides, 3-D motion simulated rides, small kid friendly rides, a carousel, trains, and live shows.
Q. Must see rides/spots and ok to skip spots?
I think it depends on what movies/shows and also what kinds of rides you like.
There’s a large Simpson’s land, and I’ve never really watched the Simpsons so I didn’t care much about that area. There were two rides in there (a motion simulator and a whirl and hurl ride). We just did the motion simulator and it was funny but I wouldn’t run back again.
Skull Island had the King Kong ride and I would skip that one again in a heartbeat. It was scary for little kids, and was just a meh kind of ride in my opinion.
If you have little kids, Suess Landing was fun, but if we didn’t have our 5 year old, we probably would have skipped it.
Also the Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show ride was dumb and made Philip so motion sick.
I shared my favorite must rides in the first question!
Q. If we only went to one park, which would you recommend?
This is so hard. If we’re strictly talking Harry Potter, I’d choose Universal Studios.
For overall rides, I’d pick Islands of Adventure.
And if you have little kids, there’s definitely more for them to do at Islands of Adventure.
Q. Is fast pass worth it?
Ughh, this is hard. The fast passes are SO EXPENSIVE. Like twice the price of the ticket on peak days.
BUT, it allowed us to get on every ride, and on some rides multiple times. The longest we waited in line (besides the crazy lines at Hagrid’s ride) was maybe 20 minutes.
Here’s the hot tip: If you stay on property, the hotels give you express passes with your room. So if you’re willing to spend a little bit more on a hotel (we stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific and it was just over $300/night for one room, so not outrageously expensive like Disney hotels), it far outweighs the cost of buying a fast pass for each person in your family.
If you went today, fast passes are $319 per person for a 2-park pass and unlimited rides (you can purchase a once-per-ride express pass for a little bit less, which I don’t think is worth it). So you can see that adds up REALLY FAST if you’re going with a family.
The more expensive hotel room pays itself off with the express passes very fast.
Q. Was Sanny (5 years old) able to enjoy?
Yes! He’s tall for his age, and he was just tall enough (with the help of some cowboy boots) to ride all the 48″ rides. But he was also nervous about a lot of them, so even though he was tall enough, he wasn’t quite brave enough for all of them.
But there were still plenty of rides throughout both parks that he could ride and enjoy. And of course there’s tons to watch and see as you walk through the parks.
Q. Did you do a dining plan?
We did not. We actually didn’t even look into them, but we saw advertisements for them when we came into the park and realized they are actually very affordable. However, the one with a full service meal included is only available through the Universal vacation packages.
Q. What’s a good budget to set?
It depends on how big your family is, if you go off season or during busy season, if you stay on property, or buy the express passes. So many variables!
But as a family of five, we couldn’t get out of there without spending several thousand dollars.
Q. What’s in your park bag?
- Extra masks (I brought these disposable ones and loved them)
- Ponchos for the water rides (worth it, trust me)
- Water bottles
- Small snacks for hungry boys
- Portable phone charger
- Ibuprofen (we all needed this for headaches after some rides!)
Q. Must do food?
- Butterbeer (hot was by far the best, but you have to try regular and frozen). We also tried butterbeer fudge and soft serve and both were good but not mind blowing.
- Chocolate Emporium milkshakes! They are huge and creative and outrageously expensive, but it’s an experience.
- Lad Lard Donuts in World Expo. We got the huge donut to share, but they also had a maple bacon that I didn’t see until after we’d paid and I majorly regret not getting it. It looked AMAZING.
- Three Broomsticks. Get the chicken plate and butterbeer! It’s worth the long wait in line for a table, but order your food through the App while you wait.
Q. Where did you stay?
We stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. It was pretty affordable for an on property hotel, the rooms were nice and a good size, and it was only a 10 minute walk to the parks.
We highly recommend it, but I’ve also heard the other on property resorts are great too.
More answers to Universal Studios questions on Instagram
I answered some more questions about the park on Instagram in my Florida Highlight Bubble, plus can see a peek around the park!
Also I linked everything I wore on our trip in this post.
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