Size of park: 108 acres
Days I think you should spend there: 1 day
Number of “lands”: 5
Best Ride: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Give it a miss if you don’t have time: The ET Adventure
The Fast Pass System
At both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure you don’t get three free Fast Passes. It’s an “all in” or “all out” approach. You can buy either unlimited fast pass (front of the queue at every ride multiple times in the day day) or regular fast pass (front of the queue once per ride during the day). The price of this varies throughout the year – basically the longer they expect the wait times to be, the higher the price. You do get free unlimited fast passes if you stay in one of the more expensive Universal hotels.
Production Central – this is my favourite part of a day at Universal. Stepping through the turnstiles and finding yourself feeling like you’re on a film set. You’ve got the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit here – head here early in the morning if you can but I’m too much of a wuss! There’s also Shrek 4D which has become a pretty classic Universal ride. It has a high capacity so the wait time usually isn’t too bad.
New York – If you head left around the lake as you come to it you’ll find yourself in New York. Here you’ll find the Mummy ride which gets rave reviews as well as the Ghostbusters ride. If you have time do go to the Blues Brothers Show which is such a high quality of entertainment.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley – The newest and best part of the park (from a humble Potterhead). You can get a picture with The Knight Bus conductor, head through King’s Cross and either board a train to Hogsmeade (you’ll need a park-to-park ticket for this) or enter wizard London. Diagon Alley has most of the same merchandise as Hogsmeade and even another Ollivander’s. The main difference is Gringotts with the ride and a dragon that breathes fire every so often and Knockturn Alley where you can see all the dark artefacts.
World Expo – This area is so much fun. The Men in Black ride is great if you’re competitive, and to be honest even if you’re not. Top tip to win this shooting game is to look down towards the end of the ride, if you’re the first to hit the red button you get a huge bonus. You’ve also got the Simpson’s simulator ride which is fun, but not with motion sickness. If you suffer like me though this area is themed beautifully so you can look round the shop and food places whilst overlooking the river.
Hollywood – last but not least! This land is so nostalgic. I was so scared of rides as a small child and the ET ride was the first ever ride I went on and enjoyed. This is not a high speed thrill ride, and if you’re someone who loves that sort of thing this is not the place for you. However, we still go on it every single year because I just love it, it’s so cute. Remember to give them your name at the beginning and you might just hear it at the end.
1. Go to Hard Rock Cafe if you can. We went to Guest Relations and they called through to make a reservation for us. There’s actually a park exit right next to it so it’s not too far away and gives you a nice air conditioned escape from the park and the food is just phenomenal.
2. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper to stay at one of the hotels for one night than pay for the unlimited express passes for two days so you should definitely check this on Booking.com. Some people book the room and don’t stay in it, but for most people that do this it’s a really special treat. It also means you can make the most of the extra hours in the morning to do Harry Potter with no queues because you won’t have far to travel.
3. If you want to surprise your children with the best, but most unhealthy treat of the holiday make sure you buy a doughnut (or donut!) from The Simpson’s area. I won’t ruin it, but if you want to have a peek just google one.
4. The parade has a relatively short route compared to the Disney parades so make sure you get there early to get a good space in peak season. This parade is definitely geared to young children, and I think adults only would feel more uncomfortable than I do waving madly in The Magic Kingdom.
5. If you go on the ET ride there is the option to use a Fast Pass, however, this ride usually has such a short wait time that you don’t need one. When we went the queue for non-fast pass was actually much shorter than the Fast Pass queue and because it loads from both sides you were on much quicker from that queue.
6. The last time we went we actually arrived for the day at 3pm. The crowds just get quieter and quieter and we ended up waiting for hardly anything including Minion Mayhem. We managed to do everything we wanted including spending ages in Diagon Alley by 9pm. It also means it’s getting cooler rather than hotter which in July is SO welcome.
7. When you approach Diagon Alley you’ll spot Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Lots of people knock on the door and take pictures but spend a couple of minutes looking up at the windows and you might spot Kreacher peeking out every so often. Also, go round the back of the knight bus and you’ll be able to see inside.
8. Take it easy in this park. In my opinion it has the best atmosphere and some of the best theming in Orlando. We absolutely love spending a few minutes just taking in the immaculate detail or watching the world go by. This isn’t a park to spend your whole day rushing around in – save that for Islands of Adventure.
9. Whatever you do – get a Butterbeer. Love it, or hate it, you’ll regret it if you don’t. You can buy it in lots of places, don’t buy it from the first stand you see (that will be the one with the longest queue). Ask a member of staff where the shortest queue is likely to be. We did this and were directed to an empty bar-type area around the corner from the ice cream parlour.