I’m sure you have heard it all before. Universal Studios is one of the most fun places in Orlando, FL for families. Last time I was at Universal Studios was to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There I was, no children in tow, Butterbeer in hand, getting teary-eyed at the sight of the village of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts castle. You can see pics and read a full review of that visit here.
This time what I never would have expected would be how easy it was for me to “manage” all the fun Universal has to offer despite being the only adult with three boys in tow.
Truth is, there are tons of parents or guardians out there who would never dream of coming to a park such as this with no help and though I have to give credit to my 13-year old who pitched in with the hand-holding, this was his moment too and more than once even he walked away from me completely in awe and distracted by something wonderful to check out.
Though the visit started out a bit bumpy because the boys were so overwhelmed with all the rides they wanted to get on, within 40 minutes of realizing we actually would (and Mama wasn’t just lying), the smiles came on wider than I have seen in a long time.
Now, should you want to venture out to Universal Studios along with your kids here are my tips to help make that experience as wonderful as it was for us:
If you are guests at any of Universal Studios on-site hotels, your key card -which also serves as an express pass to all the rides- provides you with access to the park an hour earlier than when doors open to the general public. The hotels are: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific.
Purchase you tickets online, not only for convenience but also for savings as online services, though they charge a service fee, periodically offer discounts. In addition, all the information you could ever need regarding not only the parks but the best ticket option for you and your kids, including height requirements and age restrictions, are found only and within the “more information” portion of your ticket purchase section. The lines to buy tickets are tedious and long, especially during high-peak. This is a sure way to avoid the hassle.
If not staying at any of the on-site hotels, there are different types of Express Plus Passesavailable for purchase, from 1-day to 2-day passes for the whole park (note that some rides do not have Express Pass access, so review information carefully before purchasing online), and also 1-day specific park express access. These express passes are in addition to the regular cost for admission to the park – at least $87 – but when you are traveling with little ones they are worth their value ten-folds. Especially when they want to get on the rides over and over!
Now, if you’re looking to travel like royalty, than Park to Park VIP Ticket is for you. It entitles one guest admission and unlimited Universal ExpressSM Access to both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure on any one calendar day based on the amount of days purchased. The value for such posh treatment (and trust me, it’s pretty sweet) starts at $159.99 for a 1-day to $309.99 for a 7-day pass, both rates are non-peak.
Disclosure: When we went, our hosts at Universal Studios provided my boys and I with a 1-day Express Plus Pass.
Where to go first:
Wizarding World of Harry Potter, located in Islands of Adventure, is by far the most visited section of the park even after close to a year since it opened. It continues to be one of the absolute coolest places to go in the park for me, and I am not by any means as intense a fan as most visitors are. Expect to wait on lines for the rides in Hogwarts castle especially. Plan this visit carefully, especially if needing a stroller or wheelchair to get around.
My little ones where only really able to get on one ride in this section of the park, as the others were too scary, and they weren’t old enough to ride on. The Flight of the Hippogriff was perfect for them, but as mentioned before, lines can get long so get it done first!
I have written a full review of the top Orlando theme park restaurants before, and Mythos is consistently my favorite place to eat at when in Universal Studios. It has received numerous accolades, one of them being named the world’s “Best Theme Park Restaurant” six years in a row by Theme Park Insider. Make sure to make your reservations early, when you know your kids will start wanting food, for waits can be long otherwise.
In the meantime there are plenty other dining options and stands for ice cream, snacks, and other quick bites. Bring your own water if possible. It’s costly and on warm days the lines to purchase are long.
I know, probably not the most conservative advice, but the truth is if you have little ones, or even if you want to really enjoy the park without the crowds and long lines and heat, skip out of school if only for a few days and play with your family. Family vacations, especially to places such as Orlando, are not cheap, and though I think they are worth the money, I also encourage you to live on the wild side, be rebellious and go when the parks are less crowded and the tykes don’t have to endure the heat as much. Older kids can tolerate the heat and lines a lot better. I’m a believer that some lifetime memories are just worth it.
Take it slow
This applies to any traveling you do with kids, anywhere. Slow down. Take breaks. Listen to your child. Moodiness, tantrums, crying, irritability: all these things are signs of exhaustion or feeling overwhelmed, or both. Take a moment to stop, listen, comfort, and breath, for you and for them.
Often times when we are on vacation with our kids, we are running around trying to get everything in. Our kids, especially the little ones, run on a schedule all their own.
As someone who has taken road trips all over with my boys and visited the most congested attractions here in NYC with them in tow, I can tell you this: nothing good ever comes out of pushing your child to have fun.
Take a deep breath, be willing to cut your losses if necessary, and enjoy your time together. There is plenty to see and do at Universal Studios. It’s easy to navigate, there’s tons of walking involved, both inside and outside the park. Staff is helpful and super friendly. All the elements are there for a good time, even if you don’t get to ride all of the rides – we sure didn’t! We had about 4.5 hours before we needed to get back on to the Nickelodeon Cruise, about an hour away from the park.
But it was a blast and any concerns and apprehension I had before about visiting this massive attraction alone with my kids in tow was gone. I would do it over and over again.
And if I can do it and enjoy every single second, without loosing a child or my sanity, anyone can!
For more pictures of our fun time at Universal Studios please visit our Flickr page here:
Disclosure: I received complimentary boarding, including taxes and service fees, for me and one guest to participate in the Nickelodeon All Access Cruise on the Norwegian Jewel for the purpose of this review. Admission to Universal Studios and Atlantis were compliments of the respective entities. The views and opinions shared in this review are entirely my own.