Tuesday, February 21, 2023

How do I plan the best trip ever to Universal Florida?

Attention all thrill-seekers, Harry Potter fans, and amusement park enthusiasts! If you're planning a trip to Universal Studios in Florida, you're in luck because we've got the inside scoop on how to make the most of your adventure. After a recent visit, we've compiled a list of tips and tricks to ensure your trip is as magical and efficient as possible. So buckle up and let's dive in.

First things first, use a travel agent. Many people assume that planning a trip to Universal is easy enough to do on their own, but we can't stress this enough - having a travel agent can make all the difference. They know the ins and outs of the park, can help you get the best deals, and ensure you don't miss out on any opportunities to save money. Our travel agent, Lindsey Markwood, was able to get us extra days of park tickets and a discount on our hotel stay at Loews Portofino Bay.

Two little girls on a vespa at Portofino Bay Resort
The kids "ride" a vespa at the Portofino Bay Resort

Now, on to the park itself. If you're a die-hard Harry Potter fan, you'll want to make sure to visit Ollivander's during the early park admission hours. This will increase your chances of being "picked" for the wand ceremony. Our own daughter was lucky enough to be chosen after another child had their turn. Just be prepared to shell out some serious cash ($65) for the interactive wand.

Hogwarts Express train at the station at Universal Florida
The Hogwarts Express takes you between the parks

Speaking of cash, let's talk about the food. We won't sugarcoat it - the food in the park is overpriced and mediocre at best. However, if you're a Potterhead, you'll want to check out the Leaky Cauldron and the Three Broomsticks for the ambiance alone. And don't forget to try the butter beer! It's sweet, but delicious, and comes in both frozen and regular varieties. We enjoyed the pumpkin juice as well, but as for the rest of the Potter-themed drinks, they're forgettable at best.

If you're looking for a break from the typical park food, make a reservation at Mythos. It's a bit pricier, but worth the hype. The food is great, and the setting is stunning. Try the hummus and tomato soup - you won't be disappointed. You can also leave the park to eat at the slightly better selection of restaurants at Universal City Walk. My kid loved the burgerushi at Cowfish. It's an abomination, but a tasty one at least!

Mother and daughter in front of Hogwarts at Universal Florida
Hogwarts is ever-present at Islands of Adventure

The big draw of Universal Studios, of course, is the rides. And let us tell you, the lines can be brutal. We highly recommend staying in one of their top-tier hotel properties to take advantage of the express pass (Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock, Loews Portofino Bay). We went during a relatively quiet February week, and even then, wait times were over an hour on some rides. With the express pass, we were able to ride some of the most popular rides multiple times throughout our stay.

Two little girls banter with the Knight Bus at Universal Studios Florida
Bantering with the Knight Bus at Universal Studios

When it comes to early park entry, I thought I had it all figured out. But as it turns out, showing up at 8 am doesn't guarantee you a spot on the biggest no-express pass rides, like Hagrid's Motor Bike Adventure. Nope, the true early birds are there at 7-something, eagerly waiting in line for that sweet, sweet ride. By the time I strolled in at 8 am, the wait was already an hour long, and it only got worse from there. Let's just say, I have better things to do with my time than wait 90 minutes for a ride. However, fear not my fellow thrill-seekers! The single-rider line for the Velocicoaster was a godsend, and we made it onto the ride in just 15 minutes. So, if you're looking to skip the wait and ride something without an express pass, I highly recommend giving the single-rider line a shot.

Performers in Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida
Beetle and the Bard at Diagon Alley

Finally, when it comes to planning the length of your stay, keep in mind that two to three days at Universal's parks is enough. We were able to cover everything multiple times except for Hagrid's in that time, and even had a half day to enjoy the pool at our hotel. Trust us, by day three, you'll be ready to move on. 

So there you have it - our top tips for planning the perfect trip to Universal Studios in Florida. With a little bit of planning and some insider knowledge, you're sure to have a truly magical experience. 

Curious about what rides to prioritize? Check out 8 can't miss rides and 3 you can skip.
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