Immediately after returning from a short Universal Orlando jaunt, I indicated on Facebook that this is a theme park for families with children at least 48” in height, and if you find that you have a preference for Disney’s Hollywood Studios with a special place in your heart for the Harry Potter series, this is definitely a vacation for you. I will not, however, compare this experience with Disney. It just isn't comparable.
Universal Studios Orlando is comprised of two theme parks (Universal Studios as well as Islands of Adventure), Volcano Bay (newest water park to open in 2017), hotels (3 Deluxe: Lowes Royal Pacific, Lowes Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel and 1 moderate: Cabana Bay - UPDATE! new moderate and value priced resorts are continuing to be added to the Universal Orlando Resort since this was originally posted. None of which included the Unlimited Express Press, however.), CityWalk with entertainment and restaurants. All of it is linked by a “water taxi” as well as a walking path. It is all very contained. The entrances of the two parks as well as CityWalk are all in one, general vicinity making the ability to hop between parks and to CityWalk for a meal very easy. I enjoyed being able to get from our hotel, Lowes Royal Pacific, to the parks with either a leisurely 5-minute boat ride or a 5-minute stroll.
The convenience of staying on property is pretty undeniable, and they further create incentives with the early entrance into the parks as well as the complimentary Unlimited Express Pass (good for all rides, except for the Harry Potter headliners - UPDATE! The Harry Potter Attractions are now included in the Express Pass!! Volcano Bay is NOT included in the complimentary Express Pass for resort guests.) for guests who stay at any of the 3 deluxe resorts. For whatever reason, Cabana Bay guests do not get a complimentary Unlimited Express Pass. You can purchase an unlimited express pass for up $99.99 per ticket for one day (this is in addition to the price of your park ticket) . The passes are only available to be purchased while supplies last. Let me tell you, the pass was pretty awesome!
Both parks are comprised of themed areas, from cities across the globe to The Lost Continent and, of course, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The theming is beyond impressive. The level of detail is mind-boggling. There is no denying that they do what they do very well!
Many of the headliner attractions at Universal Studios and Islands of Advenure have a height requirement of 48”, and the fairly intense roller coasters have a height requirement of 54”. Other rides have shorter requirements, sprinkled with a couple of areas with the littlest guests in mind for those who have a young “tag-a-long.” Most of the dark rides combine adventure with simulator and 3D and 4D technologies. Again, they do what the do well.
Like most guests who make their pilgrimage to Universal Studios Orlando, I had my sights on this destination primarily because of my love of the Harry Potter series. They do not disappoint. It is amazing! Your brain cannot even register the details because you feel transported into the world of Harry Potter. At Islands of Adventure, you enter into the Wizarding World through Hogsmeade just after the Lost Continent, but at Universal Studios, you enter Diagon Alley through London. The headliner attraction at Islands of Adventure is The Forbidden Journey, (located in the Hogwarts castle), and the headliner at Diagon Alley is Escape from Grigotts (located in Gringotts bank). Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are connected by the third headliner attraction, the Hogwarts Express. The queues for all of these attractions are just as amazing as the rides themselves. Harry Potter fans from all over the globe rejoice in a universal giddiness!
Now it is time for honesty. There are 3 headliner Harry Potter rides as well as 2 roller coasters in Hogsmeade that were given a Harry Potter makeover. In other words, there are 5 Harry Potter rides. That’s it. There are some attractions added for entertainment. The Knight Bus, Olivanders Wand Shop among some street entertainment, but mostly, The Wizarding World is a compilation of shops and restaurants and opportunities to purchase Harry Potter merch. There is no denying that the shops and restaurants come with amazing detail from the books. From Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to Honeydukes to the Leaky Cauldron and the Hogs Head, there are just so many opportunities to buy and eat… all kinds of Harry Potter stuff.
Here it is to see for yourself. https://www.universalorlando.com/Merchandise/Shop/Harry_Potter.html
Harry Potter fans can also join in on an “interactive wand experience” where you can recite a spell or incantation, flick-swish the wand and something special happens. It is cool, BUT… 1. in order to participate, you must purchase an interactive wand for a mere $45. 2. the locations are often crowded and there is often a line of eager fans waiting to cast their spell, so you often see the magic before you get the opportunity to do it yourself.
My recommendation to all parents of Harry Potter fans, be prepared and know what you are getting into head of time. Talk with your kids about what you are willing to purchase and set limits. For those who enjoy dressing up, purchase a Harry Potter Halloween constume robe on Amazon and bring it. No, the quality isn’t as good as the $110 robes you can purchase at Universal Studios, but it’s not $110 either! Honestly, those $110 robes are heavy, and I know I couldn’t imagine wearing them in the heat of a Florida summer anyway. Also decide ahead of time whether or not you are going to buy into the wand experience. It is cool for a Harry Potter fan. The non-interactive wands are $35, so if you plan to purchase a wand, you might as well pay that extra $10. (I did and would do it again… only once per kid. I’ll invite my son to bring his wand back when we purchase one for his sister.)
Note: All prices mentioned above are reflective of a trip in January 2015. Prices have most certainly risen since.