In this post I share many details about our day at the Universal Orlando theme parks, including information about a helpful app, wait times, crowded and light areas, and more. Enjoy! These parks are truly so much fun for the whole family. I hope you find this post helpful in your vacation planning.
About a year ago, my dad casually expressed that he really wanted us to come down to their mid-February timeshare while the kids were little. I felt bad deflating him, but I told him that neither 2020 or 2021 would work; In 2020, we’d be saving for our November 2020 cruise, and in February 2021 we’ll still be recovering from the cruise. 😉 He totally understood because money doesn’t grow on trees, and we couldn’t do two full Disney trips in one calendar year.
When I told Jamie about this conversation, he immediately said that we should consider going and visit Harry Potter World (within Universal) instead of Disney. We figured we could afford one day at the park and still be able to save for the cruise.
(In full transparency, we did end up pricing out how much a day-trip to Magic Kingdom would cost, but the tickets alone for our family would have been just under $600. We figured it would be smarter to wait for Disney and apply that money towards our savings for the cruise.)
So a full year ago, we put this trip on our calendar, started setting aside money specifically for this trip, and then last Friday hit the road. If you missed it, I did a full recap of our Orlando trip in this post, with the exception of our day at Universal.
Today’s post though is ALL about our day at Universal, which was absolutely one of the best days ever!
My sister wanted to take her kids to Animal Kingdom (they’re 3 and 2), so my dad went with them and my mom came with us. They also had a really great day!
Universal Orlando Theme Parks
But let’s chat about Universal!
Jamie reads and watches all of the Harry Pottery books and movies with the girls, so he had been amping them up for months for this trip. Hadley asked if she could have a Hermione shirt for the trip, so I figured I would go on Etsy and look at what they had. I ended up getting all of us matching shirts for the heck of it, which normally isn’t my speed, but having a bright, matching color was AMAZING! It was SO easy to keep track of everyone!
I changed Jillian’s diaper about 10 minutes after we entered the first park, and she’d already blown out her diaper (bad). So I snapped this picture to prove that she had a matching shirt too (in white since her onesie size wasn’t available), and then put her in her spare outfit. Babies. 🙂
I reached out to our Disney travel agent Alicia (EVERYONE HERE KNOWS I AM OBSESSED WITH ALICIA!!!), and she offered to help plan our day-trip to Universal. Woohoo! Because a travel agent booked our trip, we qualified to get into the park an hour early (normally only people staying on property at Universal are able to do this).
Here is everything Alicia did for us at Universal Orlando FOR FREE:
- priced our tickets for Universal
- priced our tickets for Disney (which was a no-go as aforementioned)
- booked our tickets
- gave us information we didn’t know about Harry Potter world (we would need a one-day pass to both parks to get the full Harry Potter experience)
- asked for the girls’ heights and then created us an ENTIRE suggested itinerary for what to do when
- gave us a list of suggested dining options
- booked our lunch reservation
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: I cannot understand why you would do anything Disney-related (or Universal related) without making an email to Alicia your VERY FIRST STEP. I cannot understand it. It’s free and completely takes the research and guesswork out of it. Not all travel agents are the same, so I’ve heard that some people have used Disney travel agents and didn’t find them helpful. I get it.
BUT ALICIA IS AMAZING! She is paying me exactly zero dollars to say this. I just respect the snot out of people who are good at their jobs, and that is Alicia. She is a hardworking, dedicated military wife, mother, and travel fanatic. She is also kind, smart, and a great listener. She is planning our Disney cruise for us and four other families going with us, and I know because of her we will maximize our experience. Email her today!! firstname.lastname@example.org
Okay, back to the Universal Orlando theme parks!
Harry Potter World is split into the two parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The Harry Potter Hogwarts Express connects the two, and the train itself is an entire experience. So amazing!!
We did all things Harry Potter-related first, and then moved on with the rest of the day. These areas were super crowded of course, but they’re absolutely beautiful, impressive, and so creatively done.
We brought our single BOB stroller for Jillian and then rented a double stroller for the big girls. This worked well!
During the rides that Sadie could go on, one of the adults would stay back with Jillian and play with her while the other two adults took the big girls on a ride. Usually one of us (either Jamie, me, and my mom) was happy to stay back and get a bit of a “break”.
There were three rides that Sadie couldn’t go on that Hadley could, which made her cry at first. My mom’s favorite moment of the day was when Sadie was crying about not being able to ride Spiderman, and Hadley came over to hug her tightly and comfort her.
We explained to her why though and how much fun it would be to come back, and she was totally okay after that. We only did three rides that Hadley could do that Sadie couldn’t, and Sadie was okay each time to sit on a blanket with a grown up and Jillian and get some special attention.
The entire rest of the areas outside of the Harry Potter sections had super light crowds, which was the biggest surprise. The two areas that were highly focused on little kids (Seussland and Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone) had almost nobody there. We walked on every ride in those areas with no waits!
You can download the app Universal Orlando Wait Times, which will tell you all of the wait times in real-time! I took this screenshot at one point to prove that we never waited more than 35 minutes for a single ride all day.
Jamie and I even got to do the most popular coasters (The Hulk and the Rip Ride Rockit) that had five-minute wait times. We did The Hulk twice in a row while my mom watched with the kids. So much stinkin’ fun!
Our feet were aching a little by 2:30 p.m., so we slowed down a bit and took longer breaks between rides to drink water, munch on the snacks we brought, and just enjoy the weather.
We finished up with breastfeeding about two weeks ago, so Jillian is now strictly on formula. Instead of bringing powder to mix up, I just bought a pack of pre-made bottles to shake up at the park. I used these with Hadley years ago during our Army road trip moves. You simple attach the bottle nipples to the pre-made bottles and you’re good to go!
Jillian took cat naps in her stroller all day (never more than 20 minutes at a time), but a string of these “crap naps” (as we affectionately call them!) served her (and us) well throughout the day. She never cried even one time until we got in the car at the end of the day, and then she freaking lost it on the 15 minute ride back to the condo. Wheeeee.
Our last ride of the day was a “kiddie coaster” in the Woody Woodpecker area, which ended up being my favorite experience of the day. Jamie offered to stay back and watch with Jillian, so mom and I took the girls. This coaster was a little faster and more twisty than the other coaster Sadie went on, so her face initially was a combination of shock and fear. I kept turning around and howling!
About halfway through the ride though, her face turned to PURE JOY! We got off the ride, the girls asked to do it again, and then they BOLTED together back to the entrance of the ride! It was so awesome!
I hope I never (ever ever ever) forget the little “signature skip” that Sadie would do after each of the rides that she loved. We joked all day that it was her outward sign of showing how much fun she was having. She didn’t even know she was doing it, but it became obvious it was her way of showing absolute pleasure. It was the sweetest thing.
I also hope I never forget Hadley’s reaction on the Jimmy Fallon ride. She was sandwiched between my mom and me, and she screamed no less than four times “THIS IS SO MUCH FUN!” I couldn’t stop laughing. She absolutely loved it!
Because this one single day was quite expensive, we committed weeks prior that we were going to squeeze every minute we could out of the day. And we did just that! We entered the park at 8 a.m. (leaving the condo at 6:50 a.m.), watched a good chunk of the 6:30 p.m. Mardi Gras parade, and then finally rolled into our condo at 7:30 p.m.
We couldn’t wait to see my sister and dad and the kids and hear about their day! The kids scarfed down some dinner, got baths, and passed the heck out. We grownups then ordered a delivery pizza from a resort restaurant and watched The Bachelor.
Jamie and I are totally adrenaline junkies, and I think it’s safe to say that Hadley and Sadie are going to be just like us.
Also, my mom did amazing. Absolutely amazing. She didn’t complain about anything one single time. She went along with everything we wanted to do and rode every single ride in the park besides the crazy upside down coasters. 😉 (I don’t blame her because they are a bit headache-inducing, lol). The day wouldn’t have been the same without her help. Having one adult per kid was the best combination. Highly recommend. 🙂
A suggestion: When visiting Disney World or the Universal Orlando theme parks, book a sit-down lunch reservation. If you’ve been to these parks before, you know that halfway through the day is when you begin to already feel a tad worn out. Having the guesswork taken out of where to eat a meal is a GOOD IDEA. It’s also so nice to have a table waiting for you inside without waiting. It just helps the day flow better without having to discuss “Who’s hungry? When do we eat? Where do we eat?” etc. etc. etc. while you’re walking around the park (especially if your group has 4+ people).
PS: We ate at Confisco Grille, which offered delicious food and speedy service!
If you’ve been to the Universal Orlando theme parks, what are your favorite rides and attractions?! I want to knoooooow!
Hi! I’m Erica, and I absolutely adore sharing my life on this website with you! I come here almost daily to blab about all of the things related to being a regular wife and mother in today’s ever-evolving society. I share about our new home, what’s on our kitchen table, what we’re hanging in our closets, where we’re traveling to next, my crazy 5 a.m. work outs, how I make time for girlfriends, our faith, and much more. We always have a lot of balls in the air and somewhat thrive on the chaos. I believe in the power of story-telling as a form of inspiration and entertainment, so I’m here to do both! I was born and raised in north Alabama and recently re-planted roots here again after my husband transitioned out of the Army (he is now in the Reserve and it’s going so well!) I’m a super proud mom to three little girls (ages 7, 4, and 1) who seem to be the stars of the show around here (for good reason – they’re pretty great!) I’m so glad you found me and are here reading! I hope we can get to know each other here on the blog as well as Facebook and/or Instagram. xoxo