Our family goes to California every year to hang out with my snowbirder parents and we’ve done both LEGO Land and Disneyland (twice) but for some reason, we’ve never made it out to Universal Studios. But when we went down to Florida this January to visit relatives our daughter begged to be taken to see the Harry Potter attractions at Universal Studios Orlando and we just couldn’t say no.
I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting from Universal, but the experience exceeded everything I had hoped for. There are two parks at Universal Orlando: Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure. We got Park-to-Park passes so that we could visit both (they’re within a quick walk of one another), but you’d really need at least one day per park to take everything in. Nevertheless, we hit Universal with three fully grown adults, a five-year-old boy, a six-year-old girl, an eight-year-old girl, and a 21-year old young man and found that there were a huge variety of attractions to keep everyone entertained and busy.
We started at the Islands of Adventure park because it plays home to the main attraction we were looking for: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There was a special Harry Potter fan celebration going on the weekend we were there, so it was packed with people, many dressed in wizard costumes and wearing Hogwarts scarves. I can not overstate this: this attraction is an absolute MUST for any serious Harry Potter fan. Located at the back of the park, our family turned a corner and found ourselves walking directly into a dead-on replication of the town of Hogsmeade, complete with all of the shops from the movies and the books. We really felt like we were in Harry’s world as we shopped for magic wands at Ollivanders and chocolate frogs at Honeydukes and sipped on our butterbeers (which were delicious) at the Three Broomsticks Inn.
There are only three rides in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and two of them are roller coasters, which my daughter won’t ride. It doesn’t matter though — just being in Hogsmeade and feeling the atmosphere was more than enough. We did go on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, which is located within an astonishing replica of Hogwarts. The ride is the kind of simulator ride that Universal is famous for — much of the excitement is provided by giant screens with projections of Harry and his friends. This ride was absolutely incredible — we really felt like we were flying on a broomstick and playing quidditch with Harry. Even waiting in line wasn’t terrible, since the queue snakes through the various rooms of Hogwarts, giving fans plenty to see.
But Universal isn’t just about Harry Potter — there was so much more to see and do. Islands of Adventure is split up into several sections, each offering its own little world. Our son and our niece loved the kids’ rides in the Dr. Seuss section, and my husband’s college-age cousin jumped on some of the thrill rides in the other areas. Our family is a Harry Potter family, so that’s what we most enjoyed, but if your family is really into superheroes or Jurassic Park, you’ll enjoy those sections as much as we did the Harry Potter world.
We did skip over to the Universal Studios Florida park as well so that our son could go on the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Transformer 3-D simulator rides (we had Express passes, which made waiting in line quick and painless) and our niece could see Sponge Bob in the evening parade, and as I walked through the movie set versions of New York City, the golden age of Sunset Boulevard, and the Simpsons’ home town of Springfield I wished that we had another day to spend there (and also wished that my parents had been with us, because my dad would love the history of cinema elements).
Our family will definitely visit Universal again — be it the California park (whose own Harry Potter section is set to open within the next few years) or the Florida resort (Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley expansion is opening in the Universal Studios Florida park this summer). It’s a great place for movie lovers and, as we learned, can thoroughly be enjoyed by every member of the family, no matter what age.