Tips and tricks for visiting Universal Orlando

Alright saddle up now for the Universal Orlando Post! Probs won’t be as long as the DisneyWorld post in light of there only being 2 parks… but still plenty to come. And NOTE: This was my FIRST time ever to a universal park! So there’s probably other ways to go about it but I wanted my virgin experience to be perfect, and I can honestly say… it was pretty dang close.
So to start: We paid the mucho money to stay ON property. With attempting to do 2 complete parks in a day, we wanted the extra “magic?” hour that universal does for Harry Potter world starting at 8 AM. 
We stayed at the fabulous Royal Pacific which was a 5-10 min walk to the entrance of Islands of Adventure. Destination: Hogwarts. 

The place was pretty deserted that early in the morning I’ve gotta say. Staying at the Royal Pacific got us free unlimited fast passes but for that first hour, we honestly didn’t need them. We rode the Forbidden Journey in Hogwarts castle twice, the cute kiddie Hippogriff coaster once, and the Dragon challenge coaster 3 times and the park was just barely opening. 
The entrance to Hogsmeade and then onto Hogwarts! 
 And yes I did purchase a Hogwarts shirts and Braden got a Deathly Hollows hat just for this blessed day! 
Inside Hogwarts! Inside the line queues it is hella DARK! So we didn’t take too many photos but the animation is SO COOL. Here the whole time I’d been lead to believe that disney did line queues better. Well my friends that is FALSE. All of the rides had great waiting queues but the Harry Potter rides were best of all. Here I was watching all the paintings talk to each other! 
   
I took a photo because I laughed so loud when I saw the public conveniences toilet signs! They were perfect but I never actually used those restrooms haha 

At the entrance to the Forbidden Journey Line Queue! I was pretty obsessed with the outside details of the castles as well. 
We loved having Harry Potter world to ourselves for the first hour. Now as far as the rides go, Forbidden Journey is probably one of the coolest and well thought out rides I’ve been on. THOUGH NOTE THAT IF YOU HAVE ANY SORT OF MOTION SICKNESS YOU WILL WANT TO TAKE SOMETHING BEFORE RIDING THE MAJORITY OF THE RIDES IN THESE PARKS. I’m not especially prone to motion sickness but the forbidden journey can be fairly disorienting as it yanks you out of a simulator in a big screen to animatronics on a track. That being said, it’s a complete experience and we LOVED IT. Just a heads up to wear a patch or take non-drowsy Dramamine so you don’t start the day sick… the Hippogriff coaster (unless you have little ones) is a complete waste of time. It’s short, it’s kind of jerky, and well apart from the fun decor in the line queue and around, there’s not much point to it. Do yourself a favor and make sure you ride BOTH the dragons. We preferred the blue, whether this view is colored because that’s the first one we rode, I know not, but they were both AMAZING. The blue had you upside down more and I felt it went a tad faster. The red had some pretty spectacular moments of its own including one point where you soar right over the blue track you feel like your feet might hit it! 
As the park opened and the crowds started filling in at Harry Potter we moved onto more… deserted destinations…. We rode Jurassic Park right after and got a little wet from the big drop at the end but it felt great as the day started to heat up. 
We also hit the one place our fast passes essentially did no good as we must’ve just missed the first show, we waited for what seemed like 30 min with everyone else to see the Poseidon’s Fury. It is sort of a walk-through show that has different parts of the show happening in different rooms. It’s CHEESY to say the least, but we enjoyed it and the final bit of show with fire and water works at the end was such fun. 
We also rode The Dudley Do Right Rip-saw falls ride once (NOTE IT WILL SOAK YOU. This ride is designed above all others to completely drench you… I kid you not this is not like Splash Mountain. You don’t stand a chance) 
King Kong (AWESOME), Spider Man (cool), Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall (Fun), and the Hulk Coaster (AMAZING) We rode that one twice in a row it was so great, next to the dragon racers, this could be up there as one of my fav. coasters ever. Then we grabbed a quick bite at the Fantastic Four pizza joint (as it was roughly around 11:00 at this point and we had yet to eat anything) Headed over to Dr. Seuss land where we walked onto the Merry Go Round… just to say we touched all of the theme park, lol 
and then…. I Tasted my first Butter Beer. It was a magical moment that was followed up by another magical experience on the Hogwarts Express headed over to Universal Studios.
For our next piece of Harry Potter magic: Diagon Alley and the Escape From Gringotts ride. 
but first let’s talk about the journey

 The only way to ride the Hogwarts Express is to buy a park to park pass. (park hopper) which seeing as we only had 1 day, worked fine for us. It’s a quick train ride but everything is so authentic! I loved how not only did they have a little show in the window of “passing scenery” but the opaque doors of our train cabins also showed people walking by and talking outside your door. It was pretty cool.

You can’t even get into the train station without a park hopper pass. King’s Cross was pretty legit though I did wish they had a platform 93/4s trolley for me to pose with. Alas. I’ll just have to visit the real place. 
 A pano of the train. The line queue people are super efficient with the train and it leaves constantly. Fast pass or not, you will hardly wait for this ride at all. 
We rode Escape from Gringotts and grabbed snack numero dose in the Leaky Cauldron. I knew we wanted to eat at least 1 meal in a Harry Potter restaurant. Again even with the line, this place was built for efficiency and they even find a table for you and bring your food out quickly. We shared a Guinness meat stew in a bread bowl with Pumpkin Juice to drink. DELICIOUS 
As for the Gringotts ride, again VERY COOL. This ride made lot’s of use of simulator sensations with 3D screens but then combined it with a coaster so some parts were roller coaster esque and some parts were more simulation. My favorite part was probably the line queue again. So neat. After you walk through the bank, you enter an office where you discuss touring the bank as a potential client, then you hop on a very authentic elevator that takes you “down” to the vault carts where you board the coaster. It was so cool.  
My favorite part about the Harry Potter World in Universal is that it is somewhat “hidden”. You exit King’s Cross into the main part of the park, NOT Diagon Alley. So you see the purple Night bus which I highly recommend snapping a photo with them. THEY WERE HILARIOUS. The talking head engages you a lot. I.e I got complimented for my shirt design and he even said if he had a body he would wear my shirt. 😛 They seemed to be out there all the time and there wasn’t much of a line so I def. recommend stopping. 
So to find Diagon Alley, it’s like in the movie. There’s this huge “normal” building with a tunnel you walk through and then the bricks “open up” to reveal Diagon Alley like in the first movie. Braden just about walked right by the entrance and didn’t notice it as there’s no signs in the main park to direct you in. Really clever and well done I thought! 
More photos from King’s Cross Station
Inside the bank
The head Goblin guy at the bank. 
After exploring Diagon Alley, we headed over to the other Universal Rides: Transformers (which was a LOT like Spider Man. I thought it was cool just not that into Transformers so I liked Spider Man’s better) The Rip Ride Rockit Coaster which had JUST opened for the day after technical difficulties so it ended up being the longest line we came across all day. It was fun… but out of the big coasters we liked Hulk and Dragon challenge more. So then to finish up we rode the MUMMY ride. Which I honestly had no idea what type of ride this was. It ended up being a top 5 for me. LOVED it. It’s an indoor coaster with all the great scary chessyness you’d expect from the original Brandon Fraser movie. We rode it twice in row. 

And now by this time… we needed a break. So we headed out of Universal to go back to our hotel to swim, relax by the pool and have a few drinks. here’s the fun part, we’d actually had to check out of the hotel (there was no way we could afford it 2 nights in a row) lol so we’d stashed our swimsuits in getaway backs in the car so we stopped at the car, changed in the hotel lobby restroom, and got ride in to wash off the day’s sweat. Not 5 minutes after plunging in, there was “lightening within the area” ya it was a long ways off… but they kicked everyone not just out of the pool… but out of the pool area! haha so we quickly changed back out of our sopping wet suits into our clothes in the pool restroom, and since we still needed a break we headed to Margaritaville in City Walk where we got some refreshing beverages along with nachos to share…. As you can see we gave it our best effort but those nachos won out. They were insane and we were stuffed. haha so then back into Universal Studios we went. 
We started back with the extra-terristrial E.T ride (a lot like Magic Kingdom’s Peter Pan ride except wierder) where you sit on a bike and soar up to E.T’s home planet. It was cute but probably passable if you’re short on time. Then we hit up MIB which is like a tricked out version of Buzz Lightyear with 2 tracks going. I did a lot better with this one since you can pick up the gun to fire. Then we hit up the Simpsons Ride which… not all that regrettably I wasn’t into the Simpsons growing up so I thought it was all a bit weird and another simulator ride so if you aren’t into the Simpsons, again probably skiappable. Then we rode the Mummy 2 more times (def. not skippable) Gringotts again and hopped back on the train to Islands of Adventure. 
 The journey is actually different depending on the direction you go so I recommend riding it both directions. 
We were back in Hogsmeade with apox. 1.5 hours left in the parks hours. We hopped on the Forbidden Journey again, the Dragon Challenge another couple of times, and then hit up Jurrassic Park and Kong Island again. (with Kong, I recommend riding it twice and trying to being on opposite sides of the truck as different things capture you attention depending on the side. Also verified with a park employee, the best place to be is in the BACK of the truck) 
Then we back tracked to catch Hogwarts lit up at night.

 … And to grab another Butterbeer but this time FROZEN and let me tell you, I wish I’d had time to buy like 3 more of these babies because it was twice as good Frozen. Oh man it was crazy delicious.

And finishing the day where we started… JK We still had like 20 min left. So we booked it over to the Marvel area to ride the Hulk coaster 2 more times and with the last 4 minutes left booked it over to SpiderMan for our final ride of the day.
Cost Breakdown, try not to cringe:
  • Hotel: $400
  • Parking: $23 for both days/ night 
  • Park Admission for 1 day park hopper: $350 for both of us
  • We skipped breakfast
  • Butterbeer: $14 or $7 each (doesn’t matter frozen or not) It’s worth it friends 
  • Giant slice of pizza with salad and breadstick at Fantastic 4: $12
  • Guiness Stew and Pumpkin Juice: about $20 the stew was just under 14 and the drink made up the rest
  • Margarittaville Nachos: $14 and could seriously feed like 3 or 4 people plus drinks and tip $40
  • 2nd night in the hotel at the cheap Quality Inn not 10 minutes from the park: $50
Total Park Experience: around $900 for 1 day and 2 nights. OUCH But boy was it an experience
Ride totals for us with our fast passes:
  • The Forbidden Journey: 4 times
  • Dragon Challenge: 6 times (4 on the blue, 2 on the red)
  • Hulk coaster: 4 times
  • Spider Man: twice
  • King Kong: twice
  • Jurassic Park: twice
  • Hogwarts Express: twice
  • Escape from Gringotts: twice
  • The Mummy: 4 times 
  • Dr. Doom fear fall, Ripsaw Falls, Dr. Seuss Merry Go Round, Hipogriff coaster, Poseidon’s Fury, RiprideRockit coaster, Transformers, MIB, ET, Simpsons all once 
Total number of rides ridden in one day: 38 rides
Is the Fast Pass worth it? well do you like to ride rides… Then I’d actually say yes it is. It was absolutely magical never having to wait longer than 5-10 minutes for a ride and the fast pass can be cheaper in the less busier seasons. We  wanted the extra hour so we planned to stay on property. The lowest tier Universal hotel was $200 / night. The middle tier was $400 but included Fast Pass unlimited which would’ve cost us $150 pp in addition to park admission to buy it outright or $300. So staying in the middle tier saved us $100 off the fast pass and was closer to park entrances/ a nicer hotel. 
COULD you do it without the FAST PASS. YES I def think you could hit all the big stuff of both parks in 1 day without it. The longest lines we saw on a VERY busy weekend after the 4th of July was the ripride rock it at 120 minutes… but pretty sure that trimmed down a bit. Most bigger rides were like 40 minutes and if you are there the first hour of opening and last hour before closing, REGARDLESS of fast pass or not YOU WILL WALK RIGHT ON. We seriously wondered where everyone was when we did the Dragon Challenge another 3 times that night. And the things we only did once, like I said in the descriptions above, probs skippable if you’re in a hurry. 
TIP: Buy your park admission before, WAY BEFORE. As the price only went up as our dates approached. I figured buying them at check in from our resort would be the way to go. NOT! DON’T DO IT. Prices jumped like another $25 more pp from what I’d been seeing a month before. 
Harry Potter Wands: Were they cool? YA they looked really cool. Honestly I was jealous a lot of the people doing cool stuff with their wands in the shop windows. But cost?! The basic “magic” wand was $50 starting and went up depending on how cool of one you wanted. For a non-magic within the park magic wand they started at $40. Olivanders shop was a madhouse…. Needless to say it wasn’t a hard pass for me after all. 
Top treats: Butterbeer Butterbeer Butterbeer. But there’s something to be said that if it is hot, that pumpkin juice was pretty delicious too! And it was in a cute bottle with a pumpkin lid. (90% of the reason I got one. They’re killing it with marketing)
Final thoughts, I’ll always be a Disney Girl, but I’ve gotta say…. Universal, Fast pass or not, definitely stole a piece of my heart. I WILL be back. 

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