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A Disney Family Visits Universal Studios!


If you know my family at all, you know we are huge Disney fans. As a Disney vacation planner, I help people book Disney vacations. We go to Disney World at least once each year and try to do a Disney cruise at least once a year, but for years, we had never visited Universal Studios Orlando even though it’s so close by!

I admit it…part of me just didn’t want to go because it wasn’t Disney! I had read how Universal just wasn’t themed like Disney and that their employees didn’t have any “magic.” I also knew that there were lots of roller coasters there which I don’t ride, and I was afraid I would just be disappointed.

Finally, in October, we added a few days to our Disney World trip and went to explore Universal. My son and I are both big Harry Potter fans, and after reading all the books and watching all the movies, he was ready to go explore Universal and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Upon arrival, my husband and son went to the parks while I went to check out the Universal hotels. I was amazed at how nice they were. Yeah, they’re not quite Disney, but they are beautiful with lots of amenities, and the employees were nice and helpful!


We were staying at Portofino Bay which is a beautiful hotel near the parks. With an Italian theme, the décor was spot-on and the room was huge! Not only two queen beds but one of the biggest hotels bathrooms I’ve ever seen and a great view of the lake. Portofino has boat transportation to the Universal parks, and it includes Unlimited Express Passes which allowed us to go through a special (shorter) line at most attractions. Portofiino even gets you Extra Park Hours meaning you can get into at least one park an hour before everyone else! That’s a huge perk if you’re visiting during peak times.

Kiddo with his wand ready to cast some spells!

Now, on to the parks! We went straight to Diagon Alley area in Universal Studios. Words cannot even express how amazing this area is. You truly feel like you have stepped into the world of Harry Potter. Employees are all wearing their wizarding robes, there are sweet shops and joke shops, Olivander’s Wand Shop and even Gringott’s Wizarding Bank where a fire-breathing dragon is perched atop the roof! Inside you’ll find the ride Escape from Gringott’s with goblins manning their positions! 

After riding Gringott’s, we visited Olivander’s Wand Shop and chose a wand which we then could use to make “magic” using “spells” at designated spots in Diagon Alley!

Gringott\’s Bank and the fire-breathing dragon that protects it!

Hogwarts Express

Next up, we took the Hogwarts Express to Islands of Adventure where Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is located! Hogwarts Express is amazing. Then you arrive in Hogsmeade with Hogwarts just up the hill. The ride here made me a little nauseous but the castle is breathtaking with talking portraits and suits of armor and even Dumbledore’s office! (Special note: You can only ride Hogwarts Express if you have a park-to-park pass. Clever marketing, Universal!) 


Hogwarts in the background


There are many other areas in Islands of Adventure and Universal including a Dr Suess land, Jurassic World, Marvel Super Hero Island, and more. Islands of Adventure has several wet rides—and I do mean WET rides! Kong: Skull Island is a neat mix of 3-D and moving ride vehicle as you follow a story line to get away from King Kong! Dr Suess area has cute rides and play areas for the littlest ones in your group. Outside of this area, there isn’t a ton for young kids to do here.

Back at Universal Studios, there are great rides like Men in Black where you shoot aliens. Transformers is a cool motion simulator. Minions Mayhem is a motion simulator fun journey with the minions as they create trouble!

Then there are the roller coasters and thrill rides: Incredible Hulk Coaster, Amazing Adventures of Spider Man, Dragon Challenge, Revenge of the Mummy, and Doctor Doom’s Fearfall. I didn\’t ride any of these, but lots of people love them.

Finally, there are some rides and shows that everyone will enjoy—Shrek 4D, ET, 8th Voyage of Sinbad show, and Poseidon’s Fury. You can also meet Spiderman, minions, a velociraptor, Transformers, and more fun characters!

Overall, a fun time! I’d recommend park-to-park passes so you can go between the two parks and ride the Hogwarts Express! Staying at a Universal hotel has some great perks and is extremely convenient. For my family, it\’ll never replace Disney World, but it was a fun place to visit.

Susan Burks is a military wife, and a homeschooling mom to a chess playing space-loving 12 year old! In addition to many Disney World trips, Susan has done eight Disney cruises and one Disneyland trip! She has her next Disney World trip planned and two upcoming Disney cruises!

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