Hello and thank you for checking out my post! This will be the first of three posts dedicated to Universal Studios Orlando and what my trip there was like. My family and I are from California and last year we took a trip to Orlando to check out some of the theme parks– it was great fun but if I can stress three important facts for your future trips to these theme parks, they would be:
1. You can’t be too prepared (read the books and blogs, make dinner reservations months in advance, etc!).
2. You can’t walk enough beforehand to build stamina (your feet will hurt, no doubt!).
3. You can’t save enough money to take on your trip (you will want to buy all the things!).
*BONUS NEED TO KNOW: You need to know the park operation hours. They vary from day-to-day and it’s important to know if the park you’re visiting closes at 6pm or 11pm to determine how much time you spend in certain areas. The day of this trip, Universal closed at 6pm and Island of Adventure closed at 7pm. Because of the early close we moved quickly through some spots I would’ve like to see, but there wasn’t enough time.
*TIP* For out-of-towners– if you do not have access to a car, or just don’t want to drive, I recommend using a service like Dreams Unlimited. We purchased our tickets through them and for about $10 more per ticket, it also included a ride to and from the park. This, of course, limits your time because you will have to schedule a pickup and drop off, but it was worth it for my family for the convenience.
I purchased the tickets before we left then called the day before to schedule a pick up time. They picked us up from our hotel (a Disney property) and had a few other pickups. We then did a drop off at Sea World and then were dropped off at the entrance of Universal City Walk. Had I known how many stops we’d have in the morning, I would have requested the earliest pick up time (they have specific pick up times available each day and I picked the second earliest) to have more time in the park. Because it was out first time there, my family and I were total tourists having breakfast at Starbucks and checking out the little kiosks along the way. Near the entrance are self serve machines to print your tickets. You just need to bring the confirmation number from the order and the credit card used to purchase.
Now, let’s get into the park!
Like many people, I was most excited for the Harry Potter “lands” located at both Universal Studios and Universal’s Island of Adventure (Yes, it’s split between both parks– meaning you will need tickets to both or a dual park ticket if you want to see it all). Because we spent most of our time in those spots, this first post will be the “HP free” section of Universal, which is quite enjoyable!
Our first stop was to check out the Despicable Me ride. I love the minions, but I want to stop short of calling it a ride and say it’s more like watching a cute minion movie in a seat that moves. It’s not the traditional ride where you move on a track, but everyone is corralled into a large room with rows of seats boxed out. There are also non-moving seat options if you have any health concerns.
You exit the ride into a shop full of minion-y merchandise that is too clever for words! I definitely bought a pin or two before leaving. It’s a very fun ride for fans of the movies & you will get a kick out of all the little touches (like fun posters) while waiting in line.
Now, we may enjoy our theme parks, but a “roller coaster family,” we are not. & Universal does have some interesting coaster offerings but I didn’t partake in any. Hearing the screams from the “ROCKIT” while waiting for my lemonade were legit terrifying (the ride, not the lemonade) and I noticed longer lines near “Revenge of the Mummy” and “Twister.” But I was looking forward to walking around the “New York” section of the park and checking out the shops.
I was determined to eat in Diagon Alley, but I just had to take a picture of the Monster Cafe sign. I love the classic Universal characters & was happy to see them in use.
There were cute shops and eateries in the NY streets, and the Blues Brothers also drove by and had a show in one of the cut out porches. I loved all the facades and signage– everyone that knows me know I will break for a good retro sign, and Universal did not disappoint!
This dancing sign was an easy favorite!
The “Hollywood” section of the park (behind Shrek 4-D) also has a beautiful facade that is just nice to walk through. Some doors open to actual shops but I was too busy snapping away to stop at them all.
One of my favorite spots wasn’t even a ride– it was the Lucille Ball exhibit in the “Hollywood” section. Growing up, I loved watching old Lucy reruns. She was so silly and I loved all of her outfits.
I loved seeing a few of her outfits on display– I was surprised at how tall she was!
The exhibit is rather small (with a Betty Boop shop bleeding into it), but it’s definitely worth a look around. They have all sorts of pieces on display, including some personal holiday slides. We were there mid-week during the off-season, so it was very relaxed and quiet in there– I imagine this would be a nice spot to take a break and cool off during the Summer months.
A cool thing I’ve never seen before at a theme park was that at the end of a parade (we just happened to be walking up at the end), the floats and characters just stopped and let the fans walk up and take pictures up close. You could walk right up to the float and pose for pictures! I don’t know if this is a regular occurrence or just because it wasn’t very crowded, but it was pretty cool; you could tell the kids were all very excited!
The beginning and end of the parades in located in the Hollywood section behind Mel’s Diner and next to Cafe La Bamba. *TIP Ask employees when you first arrive when the parades are and hang out near the cafe to see if they stop and pose. This parade was not listed in the program map, so they might have varying times.
Passing through the HWood section we stumbled across an old favorite– E.T. Adventure! This ride is long gone from the Los Angeles location, so it was fun to go on for old times sake. I remember being scared of this ride I went in LA (I think I must’ve been about 6 or 7?); it was a nostalgic ride that’s showing it’s age but still enjoyable!
There were no kiddos in our group, so we skipped over the “Kidzone,” but it looks like a very cute section for the little ones to blow off some steam. There was a play land and animal show, so it would be a great stop to take the kids while maybe others in the party want to check out a roller coaster.
Next up was a section I was looking forward to… The Simpson’s Springfield!
Springfield feels like you have walked right into the cartoon– the colors are so bright and there are even a few characters around to take pictures with!
Easily my fave is the Lard Lad and his donut stand, so cute! You can even get a giant boxed donut!
One of the few characters that make great photo ops!
The Simpson’s ride is a lot of fun, even for non-Simpson fans. My dad has never seen the show and laughed through the whole ride! My favorite stop was at the Kwik-E mart. I didn’t get a pic because I was too busy searching for penny smasher machines (which are in the mart, not too far from Millhouse). There were plenty of food spots and some carnival games in this area.
That’s the non-HP coverage of Universal Orlando. Have you been to Universal Orlando? What was your favorite spot? I will be covering Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade in their own posts, be sure to check back. Thanks!