Our Trip to Universal Orlando

Our stay at Universal Orlando

About a month ago my family and I went on a little mini vacation to Universal Orlando. It was a last minute trip I planned basically to celebrate turning in the first draft of the manuscript for my book! Woohoo! We have wanted to take the boys to Universal for a while now and just decided to go ahead and do it.

So glad we did!

When I booked the trip I went online and looked for reviews/recommendations/lists of fun things to do while you were there…places you had to eat and snacks you had to try. Well, I came up short.

MY OTHER RECIPES

There are SO SO many people giving advice on where to stay/what to do at Disney, I thought there would be something similar out there for Universal. I didn’t really find much except Yelp, Trip Advisor etc.

So I dug deep into the internets and came up with a short list of “must do”… and then when I go there I compiled my OWN list of “Musts” to share with you guys!

Beware, this posts has a lot of pictures. And also this trip was in no way sponsored nor am I being compensated. I know so many of you guys have thought about Universal and I want to share my experience!

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We flew JetBlue down to Orlando, because we can get fairly inexpensive flights from Newark there and you don’t have to pay for a checked bag. Don’t ever change that JetBlue!

Also, traveling with my husband means ice cream at 9:00 am.

Also so this…

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I totally took a stalker picture of Hulk Hogan at the Orlando airport. He’s very big and very tan.

We stayed at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.

Photo Apr 29, 7 21 20 PM

It’s one of the Universal properties so you get to enjoy the convenience of taking the 5 minute ferry ride to and from the parks. I TOTALLY recommend staying in one of the Universal hotels for that reason alone.

I bought a package vacation which included the park tickets for 2 days (plus a “free day”), 4 nights at the hotel, plus “Express Passes” which is basically the equivalent to the Disney Fast Pass (except you can use it all day on all the rides, except for a few in Harry Potter) and 2 free breakfasts at the Harry Potter restaurants in both Islands of Adventure and Universal. More on that later.

Long story short I totally recommend a package deal like I got. I am sure there are more inexpensive ways to do it, but I liked the convenience of the package. You can go on the Universal sight and they are always running package deals.

You can also buy the Express Passes (if you don’t book a package) at the park for like $80 a person if you really don’t want to wait in lines. That’s pretty pricey considering the cost of the tickets. But having the passes included in the package was really a nice option because it was all worked into one amount. I get that i still paid for them, but I know it was at a discounted rate. If the park is busy the passes are a life saver. They certainly aren’t a “Must”, but I would definitely get them again. We didn’t wait more than 15 minutes for any ride EXCEPT the Hogwarts Castle (where they don’t accept the fast passes) Here is a link to all the details.

Also, with the package you can get into Islands of Adventure an hour early which is really nice…so you can get on the Hogwarts ride before the crowd gets there.

Back to the hotel. The Portofino Bay was great.. it was super clean, had a really pretty courtyard and I got a “Minion Suite” room as a surprise for the kids. When you walk in it looks like a regular hotel room, but there is this vault door that looks like a closet, but when you open it…

Minion Suite at Loews Portofino Bay Universal

My kids were in LOVE!

Minion Suite at Loews Portofino Bay Universal

The beds are twin size..the pictures make them look smaller.

Anyway, it was very very cool.

The pool at the Portofino was gorgeous too…

The Pool Portofino Bay in Orlando

There were water slides, a beach…we spent every afternoon there!

Also they had the most amazing gelato shop on the grounds called Gelateria. Get the Pink Marshmallow Gelato there. It is SO good!!

Pink Marshmallow Gelato

There are some nice “sit down” restaurants at the Portofino Bay, but since we ate most of our meals in the parks we didn’t get a chance to try them. BUT one night after we spent some time at the pool the kids were hungry so we decided to get pizza and ate at Sal’s Market Deli. OMG you guys the pizza there was AMAZING!

Universal City Walk

Anyhow, we ate at Antojitos the first night we were there, which is one of the many restaurants on the City Walk. The table-side guacamole was SO good and the churros served with Coffee Creme Brulee to dip them in were OUTSTANDING! Universal City Walk has lots of great restaurant options from sit down food to quick service.

The first morning we went to Universal Studios. A lot of you ask about the parks themselves, so let me clarify…there are TWO parks. Universal Studios is the original and Islands of Adventure is the newer. They are both fantastic…and located only a stone’s throw away from each other. That’s what is really great about staying on the property…the ferry drops you off from the hotel (it runs every 15 minutes) right at the city walk, which is literally right next to both of the parks. You maybe walk 1/8 of a mile to entrance of everything.

When we got to Universal our first stop was Diagon Alley.

SO freaking cool…

Diagon Alley

The attention to detail is crazy. We rode the ride at Gringott’s and loved it.

A lot of the rides at Universal are like 3-D type rides where you feel like you’re in the world exploring. They’re very cool.

We had breakfast at The Leaky Cauldron and tried our first of many Butterbeers!

Butterbeer

Everyone asks how it tastes and I will tell you it’s delicious. It’s like a sweet cream soda, and they use a separate dispenser to top it with a creamy, Cool Whip-type topping that is buttery and vanilla in flavor that doesn’t dissolve into the drink. It’s SO good. Also, it’s not ACTUALLY Cool Whip, it just has that consistency…to be clear.

For lunch we ate Tacos in Springfield with the Simpsons…

Korean Beef Tacos at Bumblebee Taco Truck in Universal Studios

I have to say that I didn’t expect much from this little taco truck, but the Korean Beef Tacos were REALLY good. We went up and got a second order because we all liked them so much!

Also, you can’t go to Springfield (inside Universal) and NOT get a doughnut at Lard Lad’s…

We actually might have ordered more than our share, but it was just too much fun.

The Big Pink from Lard Lad Doughnuts in UNiversal Studios

The Big Pink is the HUGEST doughnut ever…you can see it’s as big as my kiddos face. Literally!!

And of course I ordered the Doughnut sundae…it’s soft serve inside of a pink sprinkle doughnut. I couldn’t resist.

Our stay at Universal Orlando

Of course there was lots of horsing around.

We rode almost every single ride in Univeral Studios and had such a great day.

Finally we ate dinner at Lombard’s Seafood Grill…we liked it and it was rated very high in the research I did.

FYI ~ I made reservations everywhere we ate prior to our trip and am SO glad I did…some of the lines were CRAZY!

There were fun things at every turn…even wall climbing just down an alley way!

Wall Climbing at UNiversal

As for other park snacks…

Cookie Dough Fudge in Universal Studios

That was the one thing I was disappointed in most at Universal. The little bakeries all served the exact same treats and none of them were that great. We tried the Butterfinger Brownies, don’t bother, this Cookie Dough Fudge…just meh… and a few cookies and whoopie pies. Nothing was worth the calories. Trust me on this. BUT we’ll get to what I did like soon enough.

 

The next day we went to Islands of Adventure. We got to the park an hour early with our passes.

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Getting in early was awesome.

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When we got to the park we headed straight for Hogsmeade…

Hogsmeade

This place was just too cool. Also I want to mention we had “Park to Park” passes which lets you ride the Hogwarts Express to and from Diagon Alley in Universal to Hogsmeade in IoA. The train is REALLY great.

The Hogwarts Castle ride was probably my most favorite.

Hogwarts at Universal Orlando

But my kids LOVED the coaster called Dragon Challenge. It was fast and scary and fun!

We ate breakfast that day at Three Broomsticks, which is pretty much the same as The Leaky Cauldron…and had this…

Pumpkin Juice…ADORABLE and delicious. It’s crazy!

Pumpkin Juice in Diagon Alley

The cutest candy shop called Honeyduke’s is also in Hogsmeade. It’s super adorable, but not inexpensive. My boys wanted to get Chocolate Frogs and they are $15 each…so it’s definitely a splurge.

Honeyduke's Candy Shop in Hogsmeade

And of course we couldn’t leave without trying the Butterbeer soft serve…

Butterbeer Softserve!

It was really good, but I have to say that my favorite ice cream there was the Clotted Cream. The one thing I didn’t like about the ice cream shop was they didn’t let you sample the flavors and since they are all pretty “out there” my kid ordered the Clotted Cream and hated it..luckily for me πŸ™‚ It is like a tangy almost SOur Cream-ish flavor. I know that sounds weird but it was so so good.

If you have little ones Seuss Landing can NOT be missed. It is fantastic…

Seuss Landing Universal Orlando

There is also a whole section dedicated to the Marvel Super heroes which was great fun…

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And a HUGE roller coaster called The Hulk, which we all agreed after riding once that we never had to do it again πŸ™‚

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Oh and buy ponchos ahead of time for Islands of Adventure…they have some pretty intense water rides and you will get wet for sure!!

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We ate at a restaurant called Mythos in Islands of Adventure for dinner that night and LOVED it. It was recommended to us by the Universal rep that I spoke with when I booked the trip and I have to say it was really great.

It was right across form this cool building…

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Inside is a show called Poseidon’s Fury…and DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME. It was so bad you guys oh my word. Just eat at Mythos and move on.

The last night we were there we went and saw The Blue Man Group which the kids LOVED. It was cute and definitely a great way toΒ  round out our trip.

Blue Man Group

We did a total of 3 days in the parks, which was plenty! You could easily spend two relaxing days and take it at a nice pace. I think one day to do both parks would be rushed, but that’s just my opinion. The third day we went from park to park riding our most favorite things and it was a blast.

We headed home with happy hearts and a few extra ell-bees to show for it.

Good times.

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Let me know if you have any questions about our trip and I will be more than happy to share our experience!!

28 Responses

  1. kay

    Thank you so much for your post! I’ve had trouble finding this type of information as well and yours is great/helpful!

  2. So want to go to the Harry Potter theme park! Enjoyed your pics. Husband says “no way” But he also said no to a cat…..so we compromised. And we got a cat. I love compromise.

  3. I’ve been to Universal twice now and absolutely loved both times!! I’m jealous of your hotel. We mostly went for Harry Potter world, I also loved the Dragon Challenge and could spend literally hours in Honeydukes (the candy store). I have to ask though, what time of year did you go because telling by your pictures the park looks nearly empty compared to both times I visitied!

    1. Shelly

      We went the very end of April.. I think we hit it right between Spring Break and the end of the school year.. BUT a lot of the pictures that I took were in the morning when we first got to the park before it got crowded!

  4. When I see pictures of Hulk I always want to hand him a lot of lotion. His skin looks so impossibly dry and leathery. All that tanning, I’m guessing? It’s so funny that you saw him.

    It looks like y’all had a blast!

  5. I went to Universal Studios for my first time a few months back, but only had enough time to spend one day there! So wishing I could have stayed longer! Diagon Alley is awesome and lunch and butterbeers (of course) in the Leaky Cauldron was so much fun!

  6. Love reading a review of everything! Just got back from our first trip to Disney World and we would love to go to Universal sometime soon as well. All the food looked delicious!

  7. Kelli

    We were there a couple of weeks ago. The Harry Potter parks were a lot of fun. The Butterbeer soft serve was a HUGE disappointment – to me it tasted like vanilla, very rich, but just vanilla. And the $5 price for a small cup made it worse. However, I LOVED the hot Butterbeer. I give you & your family props for going on The Hulk Ride. Every day we marveled at the height & twists & turns.

  8. Sharon

    Thank you Shelly for all the great inside tips! Good to know. I have to say though the bar you were holding up looked so good but I totally trust your word that it wasn’t worth it because every one of your treats are a hit with me. Glad you got away with your family and it looks like your handsome boys and a lot of fun.

  9. Rachelle

    We are leaving Universal today, had a great time! We are gluten-free so we didn’t spend the $$ on desserts and snacks, instead we bought our son an interactive wand so he could do the spells, along with other HP souvenirs. And yes, Mythos is amazing, especially with our food allergies.

    1. Shelly

      That’s fantastic…my boys got wands as well…but not the interactive. I’d love to hear if they were fun to do around the park!

  10. This is great Shelly – my girls are DYING to go to Universal (huge HP fans- at 27 and 19 years old lol)
    We’ve never been to Disney, but Universal has been on the “want to go” list for some time – we need to just “do it”.

  11. Fun trip!! We went to Universal Orlando last fall to visit the new Harry Potter Diagon Alley area and had a blast! I have to agree that in general the food doesn’t live up to what you can experience at Disney just down the road, but it was fun eating in the Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks, then we tried Finnegan’s for dinner and it was pretty good. I agree that staying on property is the way to go too! Check out the posts we did from our trip. πŸ™‚
    http://www.kandradventures.com/universal-studios-wizarding-world-of-harry-potter/
    http://www.kandradventures.com/universal-studios-orlando-the-rest-of-our-trip/

  12. Katharine

    We go to Universal about twice a year and always stay on site. The express passes and the water taxis are definitely worth the price. As far as finding information goes, I found orlandoinformer.com to be super helpful especially when it came to crowds. They have a crowd calendar which is super informative especially if you’re going in the summer or over the holidays. One of our favorite restaurants is Cowfish in City Walk which has the most amazing burgers. Also Breadbox is good for sandwiches which we got a couple of times to take back to our hotel. Also, you can pool hop to the different onsite hotel pools. We took advantage of that on our last trip as we were staying at the Cabana Bay but the Hard Rock pool is our favorite.

  13. LuAnn Meyer

    So glad to see this. I am visiting a friend there next week for a couple days, staying at Portifino! She is currently on leave but works in Hogwarts normally. I am so happybti be getting your preview as well as her insider knowledge! Thanks.

  14. Debbie

    Hi, We are going in June.
    Love Harry Potter, so want to see everything, but can’t do rollercoasters or heights. Do you have any hints?

    1. Shelly

      Only the Dragon Challenge in Hosgmeade is a true coaster with heights in the HP worlds…the other rides are more 3D virtual type rides, but they do move you around and simulate heights…
      And throughout the parks there are big coasters, but many more smaller “virtual” rides. You shouldn’t have a problem!!

  15. Patricia Regul

    Good morning, I just found your site and enjoyed your style of writing but your recipes really caught my eye. I too (sigh, sigh) am a sugarholic of the gooey buttery type which explains why I’m so anxious to try out your recipes. As a side note, we were at Universal at the same time. We had beautiful weather and the lines weren’t that bad. Have a nice day. Pat

  16. Sheila

    I went to Universal in December all by my tiny self. Was struck by the amount of detail! I’m not a major Harry Potter fan, but those sections are GORGEOUS! It was so, so crowded, then everyone stops moving and stares at the dragon on the bank – because it BREATHES FIRE every ten minutes! And the Dr. Seuss area is adorable and a must for any fan.

  17. dawne

    Bummer I didn’t see your plea for help, we live about 15 mins from universal and we just went last month too. Can’t believe you guys didn’t like the hulk! I think that’s my favorite. I can’t do the rides like Spiderman etc. unless I keep my eyes closed lol the motion alone is fine but if I see it I get nauseous. The Harry Potter stuff is so fun.

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