Last time I looked at Universal Resort Orlando as a whole, the hotel, parks and dining. This time I promised to share the moments that really moved us at the two parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Orlando – the magic that brought completely uninhibited smiles, cracked any scepticism and allowed us to play together and to suspend our disbelief. There are too many to choose from, but I have picked ten awesome moments that I believe really crystallise what Universal Resort Orlando is about.
Universal Studios Orlando
1. Handbrake Turns in a Transformers’ Universe
Before the ride itself we got to meet some Transformers, you can see Bumblebee in my video below, although at this point, 7yo Mr G wasn’t impressed. He’s at that funny age where he likes to try and work out how everything works – they were ‘too small,’ he said, and ‘not the real thing’. Nevermind, he was totally blown away by the ride.
After giggling on the Minions ride, Transformers sets the tone for a more thrilling and adventurous day at Universal Studios, you’re flung right into being the hero as your car screeches around the city meeting new huge scale 3D Transformers and their battles at every handbrake turn. Exhilarating and VERY real indeed. We all loved this.
2. Flying with ET
Stephen Spielberg is the Creative Director at Universal, and ET was the first ever ride at Universal Studios Orlando and was my favourite moment. It’s simple but beautiful, you fly off on a bicycle with ET in a basket in front of you, you can feel the wind around your legs and see a tiny town sparkling below you. For a child of the 1980s it’s a magical piece of nostalgia. It was also the moment I realised I was going to love Universal, the rides weren’t all crazy rollercoasters, they were filmic, magical experiences. I had a tear in my eye when we came off.
3. Your children, are not your children, they are…fearless
All L wanted was to go on the crazy rollercoasters. Luckily there was only one big one at Universal Studios and our tour guide was very happy to take her on The Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket. I felt sick watching this one, both in terms of imagining being on it and knowing she was on it – you can see it in action in the video – but as you will also see in the video, she thought it was incredible and it amazes me that it was truly water off a duck’s back for her. Mr A also went on The Mummy with her, they loved the double scare factor of a rollercoaster ride in a dark, and the mummy haunted terrain.
4. A shaggy dog story
Just before lunch G was finally won over from a funny mood brought on by a heady combination of uncertainty, overwhelm and jet lag. The Animal Actors show elicited the biggest smiles in my 7yo I have ever seen.
Animal Actors are a huge favourite of G who has a big collection of DVDs with dogs that talk and act, it was brilliant to see the animal actors show live, and his giggles were positively infectious. This guy Buster was in the Chipmunks film!
5. All of your wizarding needs
Entering Diagon Alley and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was the most perfect end to the day, I love that I captured us walking in on film. I’ve covered the whole experience in my last post, it’s utterly immersive and the scale will blow you away. In London I loved Harry Potter World, but it still feels like a quaint recreation of Diagon Alley, in Orlando it feels like actually being there, with full scale shops you can walk into selling all your wizarding needs. It’s no wonder people turn up fully cloaked.
Choosing our wands was wonderful, the staff in Ollivanders had all sorts of ideas and suggestions based upon our birthdays, temperaments and personality. It really did seem like our wands chose us perfectly. Check out the kids’ reactions in the video, their faces say it all, this was such a magical moment.
L’s wand had a little acorn which really moved me, it’s the symbol I have always used on the blog when writing about our little legacies, the little traditions, skills and passions, we pass down our family lines. G’s has a skull which thrilled him, he has been fascinated with bones since our trip to a beach littered with sheep skulls on Skye. Next it was outside to test out casting real spells…
Discovering the spells on the spots on the floor was thrilling, when copied with your wand they actually work in the shop windows. G was a little obsessed with ticking all the spots off, I was just thrilled to discover I could wave my wand and turn the lights in a second floor window on and off!
Islands of Adventure
Day Two and we were much more into the swing of things and ready for all the fun of Islands of Adventure. Each Island is packed full of themed adventures…
6. Sweets in Hogsmeade
We continued our Harry Potter experience by taking the Hogwarts Express from Universal Studios park to the neighbouring Islands of Adventure park, the snow at Hogshead made me so happy, as did the sweet shops, where G ate a giant frog and Mr G bought a cake and L and I ate chocolate insects filled with popping candy. Turns out eating chocolate frogs isn’t that easy, more in the video.
Mr G loved the Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster so much, he went on twice. Next it was time for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – like escape from Gringotts the day before, it is a fully immersive Harry Potter experience – this time you get to fly on a broom stick using the combination of the ride movement and 3D visuals with added heat and water for dragon breath and slobber. It was exhilarating flying over Hogwarts, or in G’s words ‘terrifying’ but I think that was partly down to me grabbing his knee in the dark in a very badly timed attempt to reassure him.
7. Meet Snappy the latest addition to the Alexander family…
The Jurassic Park Discovery Centre is something you could easily overlook as you seek out rides, but this was definitely G’s highlight. After playing on the exhibits he stopped to watch the palaeontologists at work and we witnessed the birth of a Velociraptor. G was picked to name him and called him Snappy, what happened next really blew his mind, you can see this in the video.
8. The Green Goblin kidnapping
It’s hard to explain the lengths the actors at Universal go to, to help you suspend your disbelief and play along. I loved what happened with this guy and you can see him in action interacting with the kids in the video.
9. Eating in the world’s best theme park restaurant
I admit I was cynical when I heard we were going to have amazing food in a theme park, but Mythos has won the best theme park restaurant for the last six years. It was a wonderful themed escape and the Greek starters were especially amazing. I loved the views across the lake to the park, and we also spent a lot of time near here just watching turtles swimming – I spent a bit of time filming the turtles, they are magic to watch.
10. Getting soaked to the skin!
Islands of Adventure offers brilliant opportunities to get soaked on water rides, which you can totally enjoy in Florida sunshine! We’s recommend building up here, so start with Jurassic Park River Adventure, where a very pleasant river boat ride goes totally wrong when the dinos escape, this got a huge thumbs up from G, it’s a really imaginative ride.
Next we headed over to Toon Lagoon to do Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls which is cracking family fun, especially when you have admired the view of it as you cross into Toon Lagoon!
Finally we prepared to get totally drenched on Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges- having had a giggle shooting water at people on this ride from the bridge on the way over we knew we were going to get soaked.
Our guide had suggested we bring a change of shorts and I am glad we did, it was hot in October and you’d be okay if just heading back at this point, but we still had an air conditioned restaurant to review, more on the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium in my last post, and in the video below – the milkshake cup cake pudding was nearly a moment in here, but I tried to stay focussed on the parks – check it out in the video!
The VIP Experience
We were really lucky at our time at Universal to have VIP Tour Guide to show us round, this isn’t just for press trips, the public can buy tours too. Many families spend months preparing for this trip, we had just 2 weeks to prepare and 3 days in resort, so I was ever grateful for the incredible Bre who looked after us for two days and really made sure we made the most of our short time at Universal Orlando Resort parks.
The staff really do make the place. The customer service, the enthusiasm and the commitment to the magic and the roles they play is pretty incredible, like nothing I have encountered before and it really does make the place feel alive, and coaxes even the most reluctant to suspend their disbelief and inhibitions and join in the fun.
So many laughs and magic moments, I feel like I just scratched the surface. It’s magic looking back at all those big grins though, and it really is the little things as well as the big things that make the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Orlando experience unique.
You can watch the whole experience in our video of our trip.
Keen to know more about Universal Orlando Resort?
See my first post on our journey to Florida with Virgin Holidays and our arrival at Cabana Bay and my second post on exploring the Universal Orlando resort as a whole. To start planning your trip to Orlando checkout Virgin Holidays and Universal Orlando Resort.
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