Universal Studios was the day of the trip I was most nervous about. Being that I hadn’t been since I was a kid, and knowing how excited everyone was about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I put a lot of pressure on myself to figure out as much as I could before we went. A few things we learned:
- If you stay on property you get the Universal Express Unlimited pass included. This is a BIG deal and gives you a “fast pass” for the express line for almost every ride (not Hagrid’s Motorbike or Velocicoaster) in an unlimited capacity. Meaning if you love Escape from Gringott’s, you can ride it with virtually no line as many times in a row as you want. This pass is available for purchase, and Mom generously treated us all to this pass, but it’s an additional $100+ per person, so if you’re just doing Universal, consider staying on site.
- On site guests also get into the park an hour before general admission. We bought our tickets through a travel agency which afforded us the same luxury and if you want to ride Hagrid’s or Velocicoaster, it’s worth it because you can rope drop those.
- To ride The Hogwart’s Express you need admission to both parks (two separate park tickets). If you are there for Harry Potter, you basically have to do this since Hogsmead is in Universal Island of Adventure and Diagon Alley is in Universal.
- The stroller parking isn’t as plentiful as Disney and they require anything more than I fanny pack to be placed in lockers before the rides, so we opted for just fanny packs and collapsible water bottles for the day.
Before the trip Mom and I contemplated whether to kick off the trip with Harry Potter World while we were all fresh, or save it until the end for a grand finale. I’m SO glad we opted for when we were fresh because by the end of the week, we were all rundown from all the action. On Sunday, though, after our first night at The Beach Club, we were raring to go!
We hopped in our cars at 6:50 AM Sunday morning to make the 20 minute drive to Universal. We parked in the Citywalk parking lot and made the 10 minute walk over to the entry of Islands of Adventure where we printed our tickets from a kiosk (which messed up our order but a kind employee reprinted for us). Then we joined the line; there were about 5 lines and we were probably 25 people back in one of them.
The lines opened up at about 7:45 and we joined the flood of people entering the gates and flowing right to Hogsmeade for Hagrid’s Motorbike ride. I wanted to slow down and savor the entry into the magical world, but we had to hustle along right into line. Even being relatively quick and in front, the line for Hagrid’s took us about 45 minutes to get through.
Still… it was SO worth it. It was my absolutely favorite ride of the whole trip. The sounds, the creatures, the speed; it was absolutely delightful. Lacey wasn’t quite tall enough to ride it so my brother did a rider swap for her, where they waited in a family room right next to boarding, and when it was my brother’s turn to go, they let him take SIX of us with him. Yes we got to ride Hagrid’s twice in a row and it totally made my day (ahem, I mean the kids’ day… the kids…).
From there we bounced around Hogsmeade, riding flight of the Hippogriff (warning, it’s a little jerky), the Forbidden Journey (super fun; Kaitlyn and Kyla rode it twice, but Hailey skipped it all together; she was quite timid about a lot of the faster rides), and enjoyed an experience in Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Mom offered to buy the girls wands and they savored the experience. Finally, as all wizards know, the right wand chose them. Hailey got Hermione’s and Kaitlyn got Ginny’s.
We wandered though Honeydukes where Kaitlyn bought some Felix Felicis potion, then took turns performing wands magic. The kids really enjoyed this (though it took Kaitlyn more practice than she anticipated) and I wish we could have spent more time just exploring and doing magic… but there was so much to see!
By then it was close to 11:30 and we had lunch reservations at 1:00 in IOA so we stayed in that park. We explored Dr. Suess Land, which is super cute for the younger crowd. We rode Spiderman, which was a huge hit. We actually rode it twice. Then we headed to our lunch reservation at Mythos, which advertises to be the best theme park restaurant of them all.
The air condition blast that greeted us was life giving and they seated us at our table in the back with a great view of the lake and the big rollercoasters. The adults ordered margaritas with our waters and we all enjoyed a delicious and hearty meal, refueling us for the next leg of our adventure.
After lunch, the kids had only one thing on their minds- riding the Hogwarts Express! So we headed straight to Hogsmead Station to board. I had been told the train experience is adorable and it did not disappoint. It felt like we were really riding the train and the kids delighted in the experience.
Once we arrived in Kings Cross (AKA Universal Studios, the other park), we headed straight towards Diagon Alley. It was packed, of course, but still magical. Again, I wish we had more time to just wander and explore, but we did enjoy Sugar Plum’s Sweet Shop and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes before heading to Gringott’s.
We watched the dragon breathe fire as we entered the most life like line que I’ve ever experienced. They nailed it with Escape from Gringott’s; from the line, to the entry, to the ride, it was magical! We actually rode it twice because Hailey skipped the first time due to nerves and joined us for the second.
This is when I felt a bit torn. Some of the group wanted to wander the stores of Diagon Alley while others were ready for more rides. It’s not easy to maneuver a group of nine when there are so many fun options to consider, so we just went for it and tried to do as much as we could!
We really enjoyed the Jimmy Fallon ride, the crazy red roller coaster that launches you flat on your back like a rocket, the Fast and the Furious, the Men in Black, and so much more. We wandered through Simpson’s Land, ate ice cream, and I snagged a picture with my Bro next to a relic from our childhood, Doc’s Delorean with the flux capacitor and all!
We wandered by the Knight Bus, saw Kreature peek out at us from a window at 12 Grimmauld Place, and finally made it back to Kings Cross Station to catch The Hogwarts Express back to Hogsmead (the experience in each direction, so riding it both ways is a must).
By this time the sun was setting, but we had promised we wouldn’t leave without a Butterbeer. We did a little more wand magic, ordered Butterbeer (which is absolutely delicious by the way), and grabbed a gyro wrap and hot dogs from a quick service spot. I was super impressed at how well the kids hung in there; they clearly were so captivated by all the magic and fun that they just kept going.
Actually, I may be more impressed by the adults! It was a full day and we wrung out all the fun we could from Universal. I liked the park more than I imagined I would and would definitely take the kids back. David, however, has sworn off theme parks for the foreseeable future. 😉
It truly was a dream of a day, getting to see all the Harry Potter magic that we’ve read about over the past few years come to life, and getting to see the delight in the kids’ eyes. We walked back to our cars through Citywalk at 9:00 PM with aching feet and very happy hearts.