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T-Minus 15-Weeks and Counting

15 weeks from Saturday is our Harry Potter trip! (Note to burglars: We’ll have house sitters. Leave my prized collection of ink pens alone.) If you’ll recall, we’ve not taken a full-week vacation since the Summer of 2009. That’s a LONG time to go without taking a vacation. This is mainly because the money most families set aside for beach vacations every summer…we spend on race fees, gear, and coaching. But this year? This year we planned ahead and set aside money and we are celebrating my 40th birthday with a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! (2 months BEFORE my birthday because July is evidently the WORST MONTH TO GO.)

It may seem silly to be planning 15 weeks ahead of time, but if you’ve ever tried to book reservations at this huge amusement parks you know that 15 weeks might be too late. I’m calling today to set up our breakfasts at 3 Broomsticks and the Leaky Cauldron which come with our package, and I’m praying I didn’t wait too late.

But I’m crowdsourcing this trip. We’ve never been to Harry Potter world OR Universal Studios. Our ticket package includes Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Wet ‘n Wild…so tell us what to do! Wesley is 6 (and I think about 44 inches) and Nikki is 9 (and closer to 50 inches? I have no idea.) so tell us what shows or rides we should try. Eliah is going with us (of course) but he’s not a huge “roller coaster” kind of person, and neither am I. Since the kids aren’t tall enough to do most of them, Eliah and I will probably take turns escorting Donnie on rides so he can enjoy them. Since we both kinda hate them, we’ll be drawing straws as to who has to face their fears each time.

Are there certain restaurants we should try? Character meet-n-greets your kids loved? Shows? Shops? Souvenirs? Did you go? What was your favorite thing?

And we’re focusing on Universal, BUT…if we were going to get a ONE day ticket to one of the Disney World theme parks, which one do you think would be best with our age groups? Nikki is not really into princesses anymore. She’s not against them, but she’d be more excited about meeting Captain American than Cinderella. We’re not sure we want to, but we’re keeping it on the radar. Have you ever tried to do both in one trip? We’re definitely going to hit up Downtown Disney at least…what should we do there?

We’re staying on-site at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort so we’ll have that to keep us busy too. (LAZY RIVER!) But every time I go to the website I just get SO OVERWHELMED. There’s SO MUCH to do and I don’t know what all to take advantage of.

Also – how do the parks work if it rains? Do just the rides shut down? Or everything? I AM SUCH A NEWB. Help me!

17 thoughts on “T-Minus 15-Weeks and Counting”

  1. This is the coolest!!!! I didn’t know you guys were going on such a cool family vacation. I love being able to look forward to big events. I don’t have recommendations, as I haven’t been since I was 22. But I do know that if it rains, people just put on their rain ponchos (that they usually end up paying way too much for from the park). I’d buy 5 from home, pack em and plan on some awesome pics if it does rain. I certainly won’t be going anywhere too soon…too scared to travel with two kiddos. But I can tell you that I’m already looking forward to all the insta posts from you, nikki and E. I’m so glad you guys get to do this and it’s especially cool that E is going too. Love you guys!!

  2. I went to Universal a year ago and had a great time! Honeydukes was so much fun. The second day was kind of rainy, off and on, and it ended up being the better of the two due to low crowds. Some of the rides are indoors so those stay open, and it depends on the weather for the others but lots of things might still be open. We decided to get there right at opening time and head toward our high priority rides. We also used the single rider line a LOT, as it wasn’t hugely important for us to sit together and we usually got on the same ride anyway; that saved tons of time standing in line so you might consider that, or Donnie might if it’s something you and E really aren’t into. The dragon ride was more for kids but the indoor broomstick ride was great! And the wand experience was kind of cute; definitely something the kids will enjoy. I am truly wishing you all an amazing time!!!

  3. We just got back from Florida and spent 2 days at the Universal Parks. My 4 year old HATED “Harry Potter land” as she called it but we had the unfortunate luck of standing under the dragon on Gringotts right as it was shooting fire! Scared the heck out of us (picture a horror movie where I am looking up, arm in front of my face and a look of total fear!). My 6 year old loved it! She went on the Gringott’s ride and it was a little scary for her. The kids loved the Dr. Suess area. There are a lot of 3-d rides which were fun. While your kids may not be into princesses – I still say Disney World because it has so much to do! You have to hunt down princesses so think of the time you will save if you don’t care about them. The light show / fireworks at night are spectacular! Have a great time!

  4. How exciting! All of my experience is with disney, so I will just suggest that if you decide to go, and only have one day, MAGIC KINGDOM all the way. It’s just a really special place. Even more special if you’re not waiting in line to meet princesses all day. The only other disney park I would consider would be animal kingdom. Might be a fun fit for your family. I can’t wait to hear more as you make more definite plans!

  5. I went to Orlando in 2008 for a conference, and managed to fit in some Disney Park stuff on a free weekend. We did a 3-day pass. I’d already been to the Magic Kingdom in California, so we skipped that one (although you can’t beat it for that classic Disneyland feeling). We ended up doing Epcot (the worst), Typhoon Lagoon (an actually amazing all-day water park experience), and Animal Kingdom.

    I thought Animal Kingdom was actually really amazing! It’s got a lot less in the ‘thrill rides’ department, but the safari tour ride and the animal encounter stuff was incredibly special. Especially if you live in an area without a lot of zoos or safari parks. And they’ve even made an exhibit out of their veterinary centre, so you can see how they work and care for all the animals there.

    Also, all the big travel guide companies like Lonely Planet put out annual guides to Orlando and the Parks, which I found extra helpful when it comes to planning these things.

    Have a great time!

  6. We went to WWoHP in October of 2013 so we only got to do Hogsmeade but it was wonderful! I am such a nerd that I spent the whole time with tears in my eyes because I felt like I was finally home.
    My son was a little too small to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, but we toured Hogwarts Castle. Even if you don’t want to ride you should do that. It’s like being in the school.
    Since you are staying at one of the Universal hotels you can get in the parks an hour early – take advantage of that and head straight to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. It makes a huge difference to be in there an hour before all the people staying off site.
    I had read several places that if you want to do the wand shop you should do that first. The line for that moves very slowly because only a few people get in at a time. We were in the second group allowed in and we had to wait 15-20 minutes. It was hard to stand there watching all these people streaming past us to Forbidden Journey but we were so glad we did when we saw the huge line later and added up the hours it would have taken waiting there!
    There are a lot of good sites on the internet where I picked up tips about things like listening when you are in the bathrooms (for Moaning Myrtle) and looking up when you are in Three Broomsticks. They also had money saving ideas for drinks and food.
    As for other parks, we went to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, both of those were great. Our son wasn’t interested in Disney at all so we skipped it and did the animal parks. There is a Spiderman ride at Islands of Adventure that Wesley is tall enough to ride. It’s one of those things where you sit in a car and things are projected around you (I think). My son and husband loved it.

  7. If your budget can stand it, get thee to the nearest bookstore (or Amazon) and buy “The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando 2015” and, maybe “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2015”. We’ve been fortunate enough to visit Disney World a dozen times in the past 20 years. I’m an expert now, but for the first 5+ trips, I bought the most recent edition of the book to help with planning. It’s a lifesaver, especially if you’re going to attempt peak-season visiting. Can’t recommend them enough!

    Here at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Unofficial-Guide-Universal-Orlando/dp/1628090308/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1421163314&sr=8-3&keywords=unofficial+guide+to+universal+orlando+2015

  8. I’ve only been to Disney World and we went to The Magic Kingdom and Epcot. I loved loved loved Epcot but I’m a travel geek and enjoyed going to all the countries. My husband and brother-in-law gave up after lunch and went back to the hotel while my daughter and I enjoyed the day. We rode rides and met a lot of characters there. The guys came back that night for dinner and fireworks. This was almost 10 years ago so I’m not sure how much this has changed. I’ve heard amazing things about Animal Kingdom and would probably visit it if I ever went back 🙂

  9. I just got back from a trip in 10/2014. I went with 3 friends and we stayed at Cabana Bay. Absolutely take advantage of the early morning admittance to the park – it helps you beat some of the crowds. You absolutely MUST take the Hogwarts Express both ways. We only went from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade (which was great), but apparently there’s also fun stuff going the other way – and really, why would you want to miss anything on a trip like this.

    If I remember correctly, you also enjoy beer – take note that there is a beer in Hogsmeade that is supposedly only made for the 3 Broomsticks. I think it’s called Hogs Head Ale. Get it! It’s delicious! Diagon Alley also had 2 beers that I think were special brews, but they were not quite as tasty.

    Interact with the characters. They are fantastic – and stay in character! It really added to the experience and made for great stories later. The lines can be long, but most of the attractions in Harry Potter land have fun stuff to watch/look at while you wait. I believe Hogwarts sometimes has a line open just for people who want to look at the castle, but do not want to ride the ride. Also – make sure not to carry any bags – if you have bags, you’ll have to stop at a locker to drop them off, and it can get crowded. My friends used their little spy belts that they run with and stored all the important stuff (cards, phones, lipgoss) so we weren’t weighed down. If you buy things, I believe they can ship it to the front of the park for you to pick up on your way out.

    It was wonderful! I can’t wait to go back! Here’s the link to the website that I used to read up on it before going. Really helpful, but also can be a little “spoilerly”. http://www.orlandoinformer.com/universal/harry-potter-forbidden-journey-guide/

  10. Start on the Universal Studios side (Diagon Alley) – it opens earlier & it’s so fun to go from London to Hogsmeade. My 9 year old loved the Minions ride on that side, Grimmauld Place, the Knight Bus, etc. When you’re done with that side, take the Hogwarts Express to the Islands of Adventure side (Hogsmeade) and then be sure to take the Hogwarts Express *back* to Universal Studios. The experience is different each way! If your kids are anxious about any rides, we found a ton of videos on YouTube where people have filmed the whole ride – it made it easy for my kids to decide what they were up for & what they weren’t.

  11. Oh – there’s an Ollivanders in both parks, but the one at Diagon Alley is bigger & the line was actually shorter. Loved the wand experience. Even once you’re in the regular store, the employees will give you a mini wand choosing experience – super cool. We didn’t get one of the interactive wands, but a lot of kids were enjoying them. Diagon Alley is super, super focused on shopping – every store is selling merchandise, much of it very expensive. My dad called it “a giant vacuum sucking up money.” Honestly, that part of it turned me off a little because we couldn’t/wouldn’t buy something in every store. Be VERY CLEAR with your kids about what you will/will not be buying. The merchandise is incredible, but it’s also absolutely everywhere. I had actually hoped for more rides/experiences, but it’s really mostly SHOPPING.

  12. We were also surprised (as another commenter said) at how much we liked Animal Kingdom, after having very low expectations. The Finding Nemo show there is spectacular & the Lion King one is fun too. We didn’t get to experience Hollywood Studios at its best because it was pouring down rain. If you’re already at Universal for several days, Hollywood Studios might be too similar – I would say try one of the other Disney parks (or just skip it – you may need a break).

  13. I went to Universal Studios and did the WWoHP a couple of years ago when my son was 7. He loved everything in the Harry Potter area of the park so we stayed there an entire morning. There was one ride in the Dr. Seuss area we went on but the line was horribly long and it wasn’t really worth it in the end. The Spiderman ride was incredible and we really enjoyed the Minion ride. Both were simulations. We also did Disney the same year and the kids enjoyed Disney World and Animal Kingdom best.

    We ended up returning to Florida the next year and had one day in Orlando where the kids could return to any one of the theme parks we went to the year before. And they chose Legoland. At ages 8 and 6, my boys thought that was the most bang for the buck and I would have to agree. Less money than Disney and shorter lines especially at the beginning of the day. More rides and just as clean.

    If I was to repeat any one of the Disney theme parks, my favourite was Animal Kingdom.

  14. I just went to Universal December 27th with the kids (4 boys aged 14-20) and my brother (40). It was amazing!!! The kids and I had gone 4 years ago when Hogsmeade first opened and we were just awestruck. So of course, we had to return when Diagon Alley opened. My kids agreed to this being their only gift this year. They love HP that much.

    I will say to definitely take the train both ways, Olivander’s is a MUST. Go there early as possible. The line should be shorter. I’m not a rollercoaster girl but even I loved the Gringotts ride. The one in the castle was a little much for me though. My boys loved it all. And lunch in the Leaky Caldron was delicious even if it was super expensive.

    Tell Donnie, the best roller coaster as crowned by my family was the Hulk. They did that first and last thing the day we were there when the waits were about 5-10 minutes. It’s near the entrance so it’s super convenient to ride then.

    Let me know if you have any other questions. We also did most of Disney about 5 years ago but I’m sure there are others much more knowledgable than I on that subject.

  15. My husband had a conference in Orlando in September and I tagged along pretty much exclusively to visit WWoHP (ok, and to take my first vacation away from our 2 year old). I *loved* it and I’m so excited for you guys!

    Ok first, your tickets allow you to hop parks, right? You have to have that option to ride the Hogwart’s Express, which you should absolutely do. In both directions, because it’s different each way. We did both parks in one day, skipped all coasters since that wasn’t our thing, and had time to do a lot of the other rides. We really liked Spiderman, Simpsons, Transformers, Shrek. Leave lots of time to walk around in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, every little shop is just perfection even the false front ones.

    Rain – it actually did pour the day we were there, both Universal parks will have a lot of rides that remain open when it rains, outdoor coasters are the main thing that shuts down, and waiting areas are typically under cover as well. Bring cheap ponchos (instaed of paying park prices) in case, and extra socks/wear shoes that dry easier if you have them. Our ticket agent told us to go do the things on the IoA side first because there was more outdoors there and the rain was coming later, so that was a nice tip.

    Download the official US app which will allow you to check wait times on different rides. Most rides have both a single rider option which may save you some time if Donnie is dying to ride something but no one else is, and a parent waiting area if Wesley isn’t tall enough for something – so you could all wait on line together, you and E could ride while Donnie and Nikki wait in the room, then switch – rather than waiting thru the line twice.

    We had one 1/2 day to do a Disney park and went with the Magic Kingdom, but mainly because we were going after the conference and it had the latest hours that day. It was fun going on a lot of the classic rides and seeing everything. Since I haven’t done the other parks in 13 years I can’t really comment on which one might be better. Epcot was what we wanted to do most, but we were dealing with just 2 adults, so the food/drink there was attractive. We also did Downtown Disney and found it kind of meh, we had a decent dinner there, but it’s a nice kid friendly place to walk around in the evening.

    Hope this helps, and have fun! It’s an amazing experience.

  16. I’m loving all these responses because we’re planning to do the reverse of your trip in October. We’re going to do 4 days at Disney and one at Universal. Our daughter isn’t quite tall enough for most of the big rides at Universal, so it didn’t make much sense for us to spend more time there when she really only cares about the two Harry Potter worlds.

  17. You have to take a day to go to Kennedy Space Center. It was the highlight of our trip. So work it.

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