I love to travel. I actually work so much so that I can afford to travel.
A few months ago my mom and aunt were planning a trip to visit my aunt who lives in Florida. My aunt in Florida mentioned how she wanted to visit the new Diagon Alley extension of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal. I too wanted to go so Cheryl and I bought (very expensive) plane tickets to come down Thursday after work and head back home Sunday morning. Literally 2 full days is all we had in Florida. Unfortunately my aunt hurt her back a few days before our trip so she was unable to go. We couldn’t cancel everything so close, and I still really wanted to go so we still jetsetted down there to go with my mom and aunt.
Cheryl and I flew out at 9:00pm. Universal is definitely no Disney. The only option to get from the airport was taking a Mears bus, a car service or renting a car. My mom and aunt had rented a car to get there from my aunt’s house and they already had to pay $20 a day just to park! We decided to jump in an Uber ($30 compared to the $90 car service through the hotel) and we got there around midnight. We got right into bed since we wanted to get up early and utilize the early park admission.
We were staying at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and they provided complementary boat service to the park entrances. The park open at 8:00am, but hotel guests can go in at 7:00am and the boats start running at 6:00am. We weren’t too crazy. We got to the boats around 7:00am.
The other nice thing about staying on Universal property is the Express Pass. We got it complementary while we were there. It lets you skip the lines for most of the attractions (everything but the Harry Potter ones) and it’s pretty expensive on it’s own (around $60 per person per day).
I had perviously been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when they only had Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure open. Now that Diagon Alley was open we decided to Universal Studios Florida first. My aunt is not a Harry Potter fan in the least. She also doesn’t like roller coasters so she pretty much was just tagging along. When we first walked in we saw the Despicable Me ride was open. My mom loves those movies and the minions so we jumped on line. The ride was really cute. It was a 3-D ride (which I eventually figured out is pretty much every ride at Universal) where you sit in a cart with 3-D glasses on. Then your cart moves while a giant screen makes you feel like you are in a ride.
It’s so fluffy!!
After the Despicable Me ride we went further into the park. It was then that I realized none of the other rides were open yet. Only the Harry Potter section is open early. Everything else opens at 8:00am with the park..bummer.
On our way to Diagon Alley I noticed the shark from Jaws. I remembered it used to be a ride there and we had an old picture of me and Cheryl inside the shark’s mouth. We tried to recreate it as adults.
We decided to head over to Diagon Alley next.
Full post on that tomorrow, but let me just say it was AMAZING.
After we got through everything in Diagon Alley we headed to check out the other rides in the park. Transformers was by far my favorite.
As I had mentioned almost all the rides are 3-D. Some have tracks that the car moves on from screen to screen. Others, like E.T, is a full track ride, but not a roller coaster. I also really liked the Men in Black ride. It was actually a shooting game (like Toy Story Midway Mania in Disney). Cheryl dominated. I was also a fan of the Mummy ride. I like the fast paced ones and the Mummy ride had less screens and felt more like a ride.
We had dinner at Finnegan’s Bar and Grill. All the quick serve places were PACKED. It was nice to sit down and have some lunch and a cold beer.
Then it was 5:00pm. The Universal Studios Florida park closed at 5:00pm while we were there for Halloween Horror Nights. That you had to buy separately, but I hate being scared so there was no way I was going. There was a lot of this kind of stuff in the park though.
My family is basically in New Jersey, Florida and Wisconsin. My cousins, Steve and Patty, and their kids are right in Orlando. We decided to head to Downtown Disney to do some shopping and get dinner with them. We went early so I could visit the World of Disney store as well as the new Marketplace Co-Op.
I got a new 2015 calendar! Last year it sold out so fast I made sure to snatch it up. I also was not a fan of the Marketplace Co-Op. I had assumed the items available online were just a small portion of the shop, but literally everything online is what they have in the shop. I was pretty bummed there wasn’t anything new to see. Oh well maybe once it gets popular they will have special stuff you can only buy there.
After shopping we headed to the Rainforest Cafe for dinner. My cousins have babies so we needed something kid friendly and that could fit a large group. My cousins were late (parking there with construction sucks) but the restaurant refused to seat us until everyone was there. We were pretty annoyed, but eventually they let us sit so we could order drinks and appetizers and wait for our family.
In case you didn’t know, twins run in my family. The boys are 2 years old and I love that they are identical twins like us :)
We got home around 11:00pm and went straight to bed. The next day my aunt decided she was going to do her own thing while we did more Harry Potter stuff. I don’t blame her. It’s crowded and if you have no idea what anything means, probably boring. Our original plan was to go to Universal Studios Florida and take the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure. Of course when we got there at 8:00am they told us the train doesn’t start until 9:00am. I wandered around Diagon Alley some more and then we got on line.
The Hogwarts Express was very cool, but a short ride. I really like the way they did it. Again more on that tomorrow!
Once we got to Hogsmeade we did the other rides and then headed into Islands of Adventure to do more rides.
How great are our shirts!?!
The first ride we did was Jurassic Park. LOVED it!
I would have gone on that all day if it wasn’t a water ride. Still so cool.
Next we headed over to the Marvel area. I love me some super heroes so I liked the whole set up and all the heroes out to take pictures.
We went on Captain America (3-D ride) and then the Hulk roller coaster. That thing was freaking amazing. I loved roller coasters so I was bummed they didn’t have many actual ones, but the Hulk made up for it.
After the Hulk we went on the Cat in the Hat (like Winnie the Pooh in Disney) and then the carousel, but after that we were done with Islands of Adventure! I think shaving the Express Pass really helped. We rarely had to stand on any lines. We decided to head back to Hogsmeade and have lunch and then ride the train back over to Diagon Alley since I heard each direction is a different experience. My mom headed back around 2:30pm, but Cheryl and I stayed and did a few more rides over again.
We got back to the hotel around 5:00pm and relaxed while waiting for our 7:45pm dinner reservation to roll around. My mom and aunts love the food network so whenever a chef has a restaurant they like to try it.
We got dinner at Emril’s. The food was really good!
We had artichoke hearts, calamari and tuna lettuce wraps for appetizers. Then I had the swordfish and quinoa for dinner. Since it was our last night and I had actually done pretty well eating wise we all decided to have dessert. I can’t not get creme brûlée! It was a smaller portion which was perfect because it usually makes me sick if I eat too much.
We headed back after and went to bed. Cheryl and I had an 8:30am flight so we had to be up at 4:00am to get to the airport!
It was a nice 2 days in Universal, but I don’t see myself traveling there again for a long time or until they make more Harry Potter rides. After so many Disney experiences the hassle of getting there from the airport really irked me. They also have so many rides that are all the same and not many roller coasters. I also wasn’t a fan of all the carnival games all over the place. I felt like I was at Six Flags. I still had a lot of fun with my family.