Ghosts and goblins and Hortons and Whos / Harrys and Hermiones and Dumbledores, too / What’s more screamingly fun at Halloween to do / Than Universal Studios with Teen One and Teen Two?
I’ve been waiting for it all their lives: The day we can finally have a grown up giggle-fest at an amusement park. This year, I got my wish.
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes ?
Our family vacation took us to TradeWinds Grand Isle resort at St. Pete Beach and the Plantation on Crystal River, both on Florida’s west coast, where we relaxed, swam and reconnected as a family. But to kick it off, we let the kids get their fill of fun at Universal Studios.
But it was fun for us, too. I loved that many of the rides, especially the Harry Potter attractions, are just like being in the movie.
Radical take-your-breath-away rides, amazing effects and even coming face-to-face with the actors who played the characters. Then, there’s an amazing attention to detail that makes you feel as if you’re in the place itself—the Harry Potter attractions as well as many others —though Harry Potter dominated our trip: it’s so well done that it’s a standout both at Universal Orlando and for amusement parks in general.
We were amazed at the number of visitors from the UK who delighted in the quaintness of the London street scene and the realistic look and feel of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I thought it was incredibly well done, and so did they.
With all the mystical magic, I can’t imagine a better place to spend Halloween: In Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, Whoville and Springfield. Costumed or not, it’s all Halloween come to life.
But don’t ask me what I thought, ask the kids.
Tips From Teen One:
1. Brush up on your Wizarding skills. If you have not seen any of the 8 movies or haven’t read the books, at least watch a movie or two; this will make the rides and experience better and will give reference on the shops at Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade (and if your parents haven’t seen the movie, make sure they do, too).
2. Need a magic wand to silence your sister? Buy it here. Need a Slitherin backpack to carry your gear? It’s here too. Diagon Alley, and especially Ollivanders Wand Shop, is a great place to buy holiday gifts (and even a few school supplies!). Many of the things for sale are made just for these shops and aren’t available anywhere else.
3. Be sure to cast a spell. Or 12. There are spell spots all over Diagon Alley. After buying a wand a Ollivanders you can turn on lights, make statues come to life or make it rain. It’s quite fun to do and quite the experience to see the spells as they happen.
4. Have a Butter Beer. It’s a popular creamy-frosty-butterscotch-y drink from the Harry Potter stories. It’s available it regular and frozen and while it is very sweet, it tastes amazing.
5. Don’t forget to see the rest of the park! Springfield USA has all the famous restaurants from the Simpsons, so you can have a Krusty Burger, a Flaming Mo or eat vegan with Lisa. But first, be sure to head to Krustyland, a dream come true for Simpsons fans. This simulator ride takes you on the thrill of Sideshow Bob trying to kill the Simpsons— and you as well.
6. Universal Islands of Adventure, a separate park, is where to go for water rides. And if you don’t want to spend the day in drenched clothing, you can wear a rain poncho or bring some extra clothing in a backpack and change after the soaking fun. Or, there are family size dryers that you can all step into and huge blowers dry you off for $5.
Tips From Teen Two:
- The magic really starts with Diagon Alley, which is entered through the proper-looking Gringotts Bank on a London street; you walk ‘through’ the stone wall and into the magical, mystical marketplace from Harry Potter. From there, you can experience all the places in from the Harry Potter stories: Gringott’s Bank, Hogsmeade, Ollivanders and Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross Station were my favorite. Make sure to stop by Gringotts Bank, the safest place on earth (muahhahaha…!) and see vault 973; you can even talk to the head Goblin (if you are lucky, he will respond to you!).
Use the ‘Chicken Scale’ to decide if a ride is too adventurous for you: look at how tall riders have to be for the ride. The bigger the kid has to be, the more adventurous the ride is, and at Universal, they are not kidding; many of the rides have a lot of spins and twists, 3D movie screens and flashing lights. I’m a big kid according to the ‘Chicken Scale,’ but my dad is a 4-year-old.
- Go early and stay all day; if you get there early the lines aren’t as long, and fireworks at the end of the day are great. Also, the express pass makes it easy to get to the front of the line on many rides, though you may not want to: Many of the lines take you through great exhibits, holographic scenes and set up the ride, so standing in line is really part of the ride, too. For now at least, express pass isn’t available on Escape fro Gringotts, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Hogwart’s Express,
- Eating is fun and easy: Just outside the main gate is Universal City Walk which has a dozen really good restaurants (Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is a favorite of ours). It’s worth the walk, especially in the middle of the day when lines are longest.
- Splurge on tickets for both parks. It’s expensive, but worth it: dual park ticket holders get to take the Hogwart’s express back and forth between the parks (you have to go to both parks to see all of Harry Potter). This is a train that goes between the two parks and is a really fun ride in its own right.
Teen One and Teen Two had a blast; they loved all the Harry Potter attractions, and also, loved the scenes, rides and attractions. But here are my tips for your trip to Universal Orlando:
- While we went with teens, there is a lot for smaller kids to do too, including Seuss Landing at Universal Islands of Adventure and Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone at Universal Studios. For families with some of each, many rides offer a Child Swap area that allows one parent to experience the ride while the other stays with the little kids, and then swap places without having to wait in line again.
- Lockers and lanyards: Many rides that have lockers, mostly the the zipping, spinning thrill rides where bags, sunglasses, cameras and other gear can be hard to hold on to. Lockers are free for half an hour or so. Also, if you buy multi park tickets or express passes, bring lanyards for everyone (you can also buy them in the park for $10 each). This makes scanning your tickets to go from one park to the other easy and getting to the front of the line with express pass easy, too.
While the kids wait in line for Escape from Gringotts AGAIN, head for Chez Alcatraz on the Embarcadero where you can get a cold beer, tropical cocktail and munchies from the limited but pretty good bar menu (we thought this was the best food place in the park).
- Free stuff will make your day: Download the app to check ride wait times, plan your park path and find food options; log on with Xfinity wifi which is free throughout the parks; and there are many water bottle filling stations throughout the park to stay hydrated.
- Get ready for sticker shock: One day two-park passes with express passes are $190. There are significant discounts and coupon books if you buy multiple days, are a Florida resident, or a Universal Orlando hotel guest, which is a great option for extending the fun for the whole week.
As Albus Dumbledore says, “it does not do to dwell on the dreams and forget to live. Remember that.”
Disclosure: We were Universal Orlando’s guest at Universal Studios and Universal’s Island Adventure. Opinions expressed here are all our own.