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Some time ago, Landry was struggling with his reading and falling behind in school. His ADHD meds wear off almost as soon as he gets home from school, so getting him to sit down to read requires finding something he is almost obsessively into. Nothing worked… that is until that magic of Harry Potter! We started reading the first book together and he was hooked, so much so that he read ahead of me. I thought, “Ok, here it is. This is how I get him to love reading! Now we just need a reward!” (yeah yeah, reading itself is the reward, I know! But an 8-year-old little boy does not know that.) So I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: read all 8 Harry Potter books and we will go to Universal Studios to see the Magical World of Harry Potter. I thought it would take him a year, maybe 18 months to read all 8 books, or that he would even lose interest midway through and forget about it. NOPE! The kid finished all 8 books PLUS “The Cursed Child” in under 6 months. OMG I had to pay up!
Around the time he finished, we received a “bounce back offer” from Disney World. These are special pin codes sent to past guests to get them to “bounce back” for another visit at a discounted rate! You don’t have to twist my arm to visit Disney, so I presented the offer to Matt as our sign from God that this was to be our Christmas present to our family. We would go to Disney World & Universal Studios. Honestly, we’d been itching to go for a while anyway, and we couldn’t come up with any other gift ideas to give the kids. Yes, it was way more than our intended Christmas budget, but can you really put a price on family memories???
Since Landry is not a thrill seeker, and Luke was still pretty little, we decided on only one day at Universal for this trip. We will save a multi-day for when they’re old enough to really get into the big roller coasters. For all the research & planning I do for Disney, the effort I put into the Universal day was pretty lacking! I should have thought through dining and few other options more, but you learn and make the next trip better!
We took an Uber from our Disney Resort Hotel to Universal and then bee-lined for Diagon Alley! We started to get really excited as we walked up to the Knight Bus and saw Sirus Black’s house!
We went past Kings Cross and found ourselves walking through the brick wall right into the magic of the Wizarding World. We all took a moment and stood in awe of the detail! It looks exactly how you would imagine it would if you were taking your young wizard for the first time to buy their supplies for Hogwarts.
Speaking of supplies, we had promised a certain young wizard a “real wand,” and since the line was really long, Matt decided to take Landry into Olivander’s while Luke and I took in the details and watched the Gringotts Dragon blow fire (this is really cool and you can actually feel the heat).
Once Young Potter emerged from the wand shop, we took our time wandering around Diagon Alley performing spells at each interactive location. They’re a little difficult to get the hang of at first, but once you’ve mastered the “swish and flick” just right, you’re well on your way to spell casting magic. We made sure to stop into Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and stocked up on some goodies and silly pranks.
We rode The Escape from Gringotts, which may have been just a tad bit too intense for the kids, but they survived! The details in Gringotts were amazing, and I fully expected the Goblins to start speaking directly to me.
It was still pretty early after we finished, and no one was hungry, so we opted not to stop at the Leaky Cauldron to eat and went onto Kings Cross to board the Hogwart’s Express. Walking through Platform 9 3/4 is a truly magical experience, and I found my breath taken away a little bit when we walked up to the Hogwarts Express! The window magically transforms you to the sights of England as you chug through the countryside and onto Hogsmeade.
When you exit the Hogwarts Express you are on the streets of Hogsmeade with Hogwarts castle at the end of the street. After scaring the you know what out of the boys on the Escape from Gringotts, there was no way we were getting Landry to ride on Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey, so we just took the castle tour instead. Even if you’re not going to ride, walk through the castle. The details again are incredible!
We exited Hogwarts and rode the Flight of the Hippogriff and then walked around Hogsmeade for a bit. We wanted to eat at the Three Broom Sticks, but it was so packed by then that we decided to see what we could find in the rest of Universal (which wound up being a very bizarre mix of snack options throughout the day).
There is a back trail the leads you out to the Jurassic World area and you quickly find yourself upon some hungry raptors! Both the Jurassic Park River Adventure & Skull Island had 48″ heigh restrictions, which were too tall for the boys so we kept trucking on towards The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman.
By this time we were hungry, bordering hangry. It just snuck up on us….or me… Don’t do this to yourself. When I get hangry suddenly NOTHING sounds good! Does that happen to you? There were only quick service options in the Marvel area with burgers, hot dogs, and pretzels and I didn’t want any of that. NONE OF IT! I don’t know what I think I wanted but I begrudgingly ended up with a pretzel. Before you go to Universal, be sure to research the food and plan where you’re going to eat and at what time, even if you aren’t making dining reservations, just to avoid being hangry in the middle of a hot amusement park.
This Spiderman ride was a lot of fun! For whatever reason, the boys do better with 3D/Virtual Realty type rides, no matter the intensity, than they do with traditional roller coasters. I’m the opposite and start feeling sick in the 3D glasses, but a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do, right? The ride was really cool though and takes you through Spidey’s world as if you’re there! Marvel Super Hero Island is fun to walk around, and we met a couple of our heroes like Spidey, Wolverine (not as hunky as Hugh Jackman), and Storm & Rogue! This was where I wished we had purchased the Universal Photo Pass. Taking pictures in Universal isn’t quite as easy as in Disney, and for a prime character like Spiderman, you find yourself taking your picture in front of a green screen. See the pic above? I added that background later…much later…after I learned photoshop.
After we left the Marvel area, we ventured to Dr. Seuss Landing thinking the kids may like those rides a little better. This area is definitely more for little kids but then was just disappointing after leaving Harry Potter. It felt dated, and not well kept…like an afterthought.
So we made a U-turn and headed to the place Matt had been waiting for since we left Harry Potter… Springfield: Home of the Simpsons. Matt has every episode ever made memorized. We were really impressed with the theming of Springfield, and it definitely helped to turn our grumpy attitudes from my hangry pretzel meltdown around. First up was a stop at Moe’s for a much-needed adult beverage! It really does look like Moe’s from the show and even offers the Flaming Moe!
The Simpsons ride was closed for refurbishment, so we rode the Kang & Kodos’ Twirl & Hurl then went over to satisfy our sweet tooth with a Lard Lad’s Donut. Luke is a bit of a donut connoisseur. He LOVES donuts and spends a good 15 minutes on his selection when we go get them for breakfast, so you can imagine his excitement when I walked up to the table with a donut the size of his face! Y’all, he flipped out! I wanted to “just try one bite” and found myself chowing down on its sugary deliciousness. Do not miss out on this donut!
We left our new friends, the Simpsons, and made our way back around towards the entrance where we rode Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. We should have hit this ride up first because it was so fun, and totally smelled like bananas! Then we looped up to check out the transformers and finished up the day at Shrek 4D.
All in all, we had a great day at Universal Studios in Orlando. Next time, we will be sure to spend more time! Now that I’m a Vacation Specialist with Kingdom Destinations, I have done a lot more research into Universal Studios so will be more much more prepared! There really is so much to do for the whole family. Have you been thinking of planning a trip to Universal Orlando? I would love to help you plan it! You can request a free quote and more information by emailing me at Junell@kingdomdestinations.com or heading over to my Kingdom Destinations Facebook Page!Follow Our Story