When I say ‘Big Kids’ I mean me and hubby. This review is of our day out at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure whilst on our holiday in Orlando with the kids and grandparents and about how much crazy fun we fit into one day.
I guess we should have fit loads in – we started early enough. The night before we had booked to go to Universal me and hubby sat by the pool with a bottle of wine and a load of blog posts that had been written about Universal looking at what rides we wanted to go on and somehting made me check the hours of opening. Due to an event being held that evening Universal was opening at 8am rather than 9am and closing earlier too at 6pm. We had been in the practice at WDW of arriving 30-45 minutes before the park opened so we decided to do the same for Universal, however we also didn’t know how long it would take us to get to Universal as the only time we had driven that way over was at rush hour from the airport so we left really early (6.30ish) arriving into the Universal car park at 7am. What we hadn’t realised was that it was actually early opening at Universal for hotel guests (they get an extra hour) so the gates were actually open at 7 for them to get to the rides. We looked a little bit desperate I think arriving that early with nowhere to go, but we at least had chance to get our tickets sorted, grab a coffee and wait!
Speaking of tickets we had been provided with the tickets by Universal in exchange for this review, and they also included Unlimited Express Passes. Express Passes at Universal allow you to skip the lines at the majority of the rides at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The only rides that don’t offer Universal Express are:
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Hogwarts Express – London
- Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
Universal’s Islands of Adventure:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hogwarts Express – Hogsmeade
- Pteranodon Flyers
The Universal Express Pass doesn’t always get you on the ride straight away but it puts you in a separate (and in our experience significantly smaller) queue meaning you spend SIGNIFICANTLY less time queueing than you would otherwise have done. The difference between the Unlimited Express Pass and the Express Pass is that the latter can only be used once per ride, whereas the former is unlimited.
When I looked at a lot of touring plans for Universal Studios most suggested that you would really need two days to do it any justice at all. I don’t know if it was the combination of time of year (just after Easter) the early opening, and the Express Passes but we did all the rides we wanted to do i.e. all the major rides at both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure between 8am and 3pm in one day. The Express Passes were just amazing and I think that extra hour we got in the parks (when most people probably thought it wasn’t open between 8 and 9) meant we could do all the attractions that didn’t accept Express Pass without the crowds who arrived at 9.
We started at Universal Studios. Everything we had read said that the Harry Potter ride in Universal Studios was possibly the best theme park ride in existence today – a bold claim. So at 8am as the gates opened we made our way straight to
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
This ride often gets queues of over an 2hrs (later in the day it was 1hr 45) so to find a queue of just ten minutes was pretty exciting. The transformation of this area of Universal into Diagon Alley is amazing, take your breath away amazing. There are so many small details to be surprised by and the detail kept a large smile on my face as we waited in line. Whether it would have kept that smile had we waited 2 hours is another matter, I imagine not. Whilst there is no Express Pass line at Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts there is a single rider line. Much is made of the fact that if you take the single rider line you miss out on the pre-show and lots of excitement like the simulated elevator ride. I disgaree, if the single rider line is going to reduce your wait time significantly (often by 25% if not more) I’d say take it. The elevator is not that important. Yes it vibrates and takes you to the depths of the Gringotts vault (not really obvs) but I disagree that you would miss it it and would suggest your saved half an hour could be better spent on another attraction.
The ride itself was however superb. For me not as amazing as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in Islands of Adventure, but easily one of the best attractions I had ever been on! Just incredibly clever an enhanced Spiderman or Transformers if you’ve been to Universal before.
I won’t say too much more but definitely do it, and do it EARLY.
After Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts we got on the Hogwarts Express in Kings Cross (yes the signs are exactly like those in Kings Cross, London) and took the train to Islands of Adventure to do the two Harry Potter themed rides there. It was only 8.30.
- Hogwarts Express – London to Hogsmeade
A real train that takes you the very short distance from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure, but with a difference. The train really is an experience in itself and worth a trip. We only did the journey one way but rumour has it, it is different on the way back. You must have a two-park ticket to ride the train and this is because the train doesn’t pick you up and drop you off in the same location. It takes you to a new park. Your ticket will be scanned before you head into line and if you don’t have one and want to buy another ticket for another park there are helpfully locations close to the train stations to allow you to do so.
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