For years, friends have been telling us that we just HAD to go to Universal Resort in Orlando. We are Disney people through and through, and something about cheating on the mouse just felt wrong. Add to that our ownership in Disney Vacation Club (a timeshare owned and operated by Disney) and you can see why a trip to that OTHER resort just wasn’t in the cards.
But when the opportunity for a 4 day weekend presented itself, my 17 year old Harry Potter fan begged. And begged. And begged some more. And now that we will in the Atlanta area, the 7 hour drive makes a 4 day trip quite doable and convenient so, OK, let’s go!
Hard Rock was the perfect place for us. We stayed Club Level which was even better because we didn’t have to worry about breakfast and there was always sodas and bottled water when we got back from the parks. Oh, and an evening glass of wine for the mom. So that works.
What we loved!
Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter! I was truly blown away by the attention to detail in both Hogsmead (Universal Studios) and Diagon Alley/London (Islands of Adventure). The train between the two was also awesome and oh so magical! (note: you must have a park to park pass – basically a park hopper in Disney terms – to take the train. We saw one guest noticeably upset that she couldn’t board. She had purchased a 2 day, 2 park ticket NOT a park to park ticket.)
The boys got really, really into the whole thing including interactive wands, Butter Beer and Harry and Ron matching sweaters. Which they begged me for. They are 100% Shetland wool and made in Scotland so I said yes.
Food wise we all loved the Butter Beer, eating at The Three Broomsticks (Hogsmeade) and The Leaky Couldron (Diagon Alley). Both were very authentic experiences and I loved that they didn’t have normal, theme park food on the menu.
Be wary of the cost of things – Butter Beer and Pumpkin Juice and other things sold on carts DON’T have prices on them. So if you line up your offspring for a Butter Beer a piece. be aware ahead of time they are $6/piece or $12 if you want the souvenir mug. I did find it odd that the prices are no where to be found?
We also LOVED our meal at The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium which has a very Steam Punk vibe (I got kudos from the teenagers for pointing this out). The theming here is just fabulous, as was the food and our service. For vegetarians, there were plentiful options and the veggie pasta was very flavorful and it was obviously not an after thought, but a well thought out dish.
For dessert I had the triple chocolate bread pudding. I would like some right now, in fact. So, so good. But get there early – they don’t take reservations as of right now. We walked right in at 5pm but by the time we left (6:15 or so) the line was out the door and the wait was about 45 minutes.
Things That were Just OK
The rest of Universal and Islands of Adventure didn’t really wow me. Yes, some very fun rides (The Mummy was my favorite and I laughed like an idiot on Despicable Me) but there’s nothing there that I have to go back for.
Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey would have made it in the LOVE column, but I unfortunately got very motion sick on this ride. But we came up with a solution that allowed me to ride multiple times with the boys – they would tap my leg whenever we were out of a VR scene and back to a regular one. It’s not all VR and there are lots of great scenes that I thoroughly enjoyed, but my stomach CANNOT TAKE the VR parts. Someone on FB recommended I do motion sickness pills next time and I think I’ll try it.
ALL THE SCREENS were just a bit much for me. I liked that they combined real coasters with VR scenes like in Gringotts, but after a whole day of it you just get tired of the VR and all the screens. At least I did.
Lastly, Universal (outside of HP stuff) just doesn’t hold the magic for me that Disney does. The theming just isn’t there for me and the memories really aren’t (which isn’t Universal’s fault!) so although we had a blast, I don’t think this will be important for us to do but maybe once every few years.
A Quick Word on Unlimited Express Pass
In my view, especially if you have teenagers, you must either stay at an onsite hotel that includes this feature with your room or purchase it separately. The boys were able to ride the coasters over and over again, and without it, they would have only been able to ride once or maybe twice. Not ALL the Universal Resort hotels include it so be sure you check with the hotel or your travel agent to be sure you’re getting the best value for your family. Express Pass doesn’t work on the HP rides, however, so if you are not a coaster person, it MAY not be worth it for you. I was on the fence before we went, but after we got there I saw why people say it’s a must have!
Although, honestly, you could just leave me in the Harry Potter areas all day and let me take the train back and forth all day and I could be quite happy. So maybe sooner then a few years.
So, it appears, I am still absolutely a Disney girl. We are, in fact, planning our next big family trip in November and we cannot wait! But if you can, fit a visit to Universal into your plans. It doesn’t take more than 2 days to see it all, and you’ll love every minute