We’ll admit it. We didn’t put a lot of planning into this trip. At least, not until the last minute. We were going to stay with a relative in Minneola and drive to Universal (45-minutes, one way!) both days we planned to visit. Until we got realistic and decided we would have a much better experience if we stayed on the property. Miraculously, we booked two rooms only two weeks before our arrival, and we are so glad we did. Here’s a rundown of how our visit panned out and what we managed to see in our time there.
We woke up at 5:30 a.m. (ugh!) and drove to Universal, arriving at the Loew’s Royal Pacific Hotel around 7:30 a.m. Heading straight to the front desk, we checked in, received our room cards, and then walked a few feet over to the concierge area where an automatic machine took our photos and spit out our free Express Passes. From there, it was a short hike to the water taxi that shuttled us over to the City Walk and the front gates of Universal Studios (which was the only park with Early Admission the week we visited).
At this point, the lines at the turnstiles were already long-ish for the 8:00 a.m. early entry. But we got through in 15 minutes or so, and were immediately herded through the park and into Diagon Alley, the wizarding shopping mecca from the Harry Potter series. Most people make a beeline for Escape from Gringotts, the popular multi-media ride with seriously long lines. Because we were already a little late to make that worth our while, we chose instead to take in the show at Ollivanders wand shop, which still had short lines this early, and spend an hour or so gaping at the utter coolness of Diagon Alley.
Next, we walked clockwise to Men in Black Alien Attack and The Simpson’s Ride. From here we crossed the park to get on The Mummy (which we discovered had short lines using the Wait Times for Universal Studios app). Next to that is the Hollywood Rip Ride Rock It roller coaster (which is fast, exhilarating, and a great one to do BEFORE lunch).
With stomachs rumbling, we joined the food line at Moe’s Drive-in, ate in blessed air conditioning, then took in the very tame E.T. Adventure and the sit-down, indoor, 30-minute Horror Make-up Show.
By this time, we had been awake a very long time and a text told us our room was finally ready, so we spent the afternoon relaxing pool side at our hotel.
Come dinnertime, though, we were back in the park, eating at Louie’s Italian Restaurant on New York’s 42nd Street, then entering King’s Cross station to take the Hogwart’s Express over to the adjoining park, Islands of Adventure (which we could do because we had 2-Day Park-to-Park passes).
This park holds the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter, complete with Hogwarts Castle and the English village of Hogsmeade. Buying an interactive wand was the order of the night, as Rick wasn’t up for a ride through the castle on a full stomach. So, with just an hour left before closing, we turned around and rode the train back to Universal Studios, squeezing in a thrilling ride on Escape from Gringotts, and spending the last minutes of our day soaking up the magical ambience of Diagon Alley under the watchful eye of the fire-breathing dragon.
Today, we could sleep in a little and enjoy our complimentary breakfast. Since Universal Studios was, again, the only park open for early admission, we decided to forego the 8 a.m. entry time and wait until 9 a.m. for Islands of Adventure. Passing up the Storm Force Accelatron and Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, we chose instead to start with the Spider-Man ride on the way to Jurassic Park‘s Visitor Center and prehistoric playground.
Next up was the really fantastic Dragon Challenge double roller coaster in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (which we rode twice), the Flight of the Hippogriff next door, and finally the ride through Hogwarts Castle. We savored our Fish & Chips and Butterbeer for lunch at The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade before deciding it was hot enough to finally get wet.
First, a mild spray in the Jurassic Park River Adventure, then on to the classic log ride known as Dudley Do-Right’s Rip Saw Falls to finish the clothes-soaking job. We only briefly walked through the Lost Continent and never went near Seuss Landing. The new King Kong area was still under construction, and the Incredible Hulk Coaster was, sadly, out of service.
After another restful afternoon at the pool, we found ourselves once again back at Universal Studios for dinner-time croissant sandwiches at Beverly Hills Boulangerie and a final few evening hours gazing in the windows of Diagon Alley. Being die-hard Harry Potter fans, we couldn’t get enough of this place. Can you tell? We spent a second night in our hotel, before regretfully packing up and heading back to Minneola the following morning.
Universal Orlando was our first choice over that other Park-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, partly because we thought our teenage son would enjoy it more, but mostly to get our Harry Potter fix. As far as these Muggles are concerned, it delivered, and then some!
To learn some of the tips and tricks we picked up during our visit, click here. For our Universal Ride Review, click here, and to see all our favorite Potter-land pictures, click here for our Harry Potter Photo Essay.