Home from vacation and ready to share! The first part of our trip was to Universal Studios in Orlando. I have to disclose from the outset that we are a Disney family. We go at least once a year and are pretty fanatical. So a trip to Universal was really strange for us, and we were constantly comparing the two. I was surprised at what we thought!
The Hotel: We stayed at the cheapest of the three Universal-owned resorts on property, the Royal Pacific. I got a good deal booking directly through their site and it was worth it for two main reasons. First, we were close enough that we could go back and forth to the parks during the day via a quick 10 minute walking trail. Second (and most important), we got Express passes to ride almost all of the rides with very little lines and were able to enter the park an hour early. Aside from those two perks, the hotel was pretty average for its price range. It was themed much like Disney’s Polynesian. The rooms were kind of small, and I didn’t like that we didn’t have a separated bath. But the pool area was very nice with a huge play area for the kids, beach sand, and plenty of lounge chairs. They had refrigerators and internet access in the rooms for a fee, but we didn’t use them. We had groceries delivered by Mr. Grocers (bottled water, cereals, snacks) and it worked out perfectly. We ate in the restaurants a couple of times and the price was a little high considering what we got but not far out of line with other hotel restaurants. I would definitely stay there again but might try one of the others just to see what it is like.
Harry Potter World: One of the main reasons that we went to Universal this year was because of Harry Potter, and we were not disappointed in that. We had heard horror stories of how long the wait is to get into that are and how long the ride waits were. The longest that we waited for the Forbidden Journey Ride was about half an hour and the wait didn’t seem that long at all because we were walking through Hogwarts. The theming inside of it is AMAZING. From the Sorting Hat to the picture of the Fat Lady to a 3D-ish hologram of the characters, it was just like being inside the castle. The ride was a blast, although it was definitely a little bit scary and there was a lot of motion. At least 75% of my family thought that it was their favorite ride in the whole park. The kids also liked the dragon and Hippogriff rides. We ate an early lunch at The Three Broomsticks and it was tasty but very expensive (over $50 for lunch for 4). I preferred the frozen butterbeer over the regular. As other people have said, they were both kind of like a cream soda topped with butterscotch-flavored whipped cream. The entire Harry Potter area definitely gave you the feeling that you were transported to another world.
The Rest of the parks: Overall, there are a lot more thrill rides at Universal than there are at Disney. The Express pass that we had from staying on property allowed us to walk onto almost any ride in about 5 minutes, so we rode quite a bit over the 3 days. The Dr. Seuss area was really cute for younger kids and even my 8 and 10 year old daughters got a kick out of some of the rides. It was probably the second best themed area in all of Universal. The ride that the kids liked best was One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. It’s essentially the Dumbo ride with some water spitting at you (like Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride). They wrote it so many times I lost count.
The thrill rides really got to me because I am prone to motion sickness. But I still love them, so I gave as many of them a chance as I could. The Simpsons Ride combined great graphics with motion and even scent. It’s probably the most unique ride at Universal aside from Harry Potter. The kids loved the Hulk roller coaster, which I only rode once and with my eyes closed the entire time. I didn’t do the death drop thing because I was already a little green from the Hulk (ha, ha). I did do the new Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster. It was pretty awesome in that you could choose from about 25 different songs what you wanted to listen to while you were riding. They also take a video of you that you can watch back and purchase. I looked like I was about to die, which my family found really funny.
Overall the parks were not very busy except part of the day on Saturday. It actually seemed a little sad how empty it seemed. A lot of the areas were definitely run down, including fountains that didn’t work and walls in need of new paint jobs. My kids didn’t know a lot of the characters that were in the parades or featured on rides (Woody Woodpecker?). It almost seemed like Universal is more on par with King’s Island or Six Flags than Disney World.
The verdict from my family? My kids actually preferred the Universal rides to the Disney rides, although they admitted that there was a certain novelty to being at Universal for the first time. I liked the change of pace but honestly could have spent just a day there and felt like I was ready to go. My husband was done after two days. Will we go again? Absolutely. We just don’t have the desire to go back year after year like we do with Disney. Instead, we might go every 4 or 5 years when the attractions really change.