Have you ever started planning a vacation and realized you had NO idea what you were doing? Same. SO I made this post to help you out. It will *hopefully* have all the information you’re looking for, and if it doesn’t, feel free to ask any questions you might still have in the comments! Universal Studios, let’s goooooo!!
Where to Stay
I don’t know about you, but I’m not made of money. Staying in one of those fancy Universal Resorts seemed like something my wallet just wouldn’t allow. BUT when we discovered that my brother-in-law got a military discount, the idea felt a little more feasible. We stayed at the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, and I am SO GLAD we did. It was absolutely gorgeous, the staff was unbelievably friendly, and there were so many perks! Here are just a few:
Early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – If you know me, you know I’m Harry Potter OBSESSED. No, seriously. My friends threw me a HP themed 21st birthday party because they know. So this was a huge selling point for me. This hour before the park opened to everyone else made all the difference.
Water taxi to and from the front gate of the parks – Okay, this was a VERY close second. Every morning, we’d get up, walk down the short, tropical path to the dock, and hop on board. In the blink of an eye, we were at the entrance to the parks! These were soooo nice after a long day of walking. And who doesn’t love a good boat ride??
Coffee shop/bakery on site – Listen, when you’re waking up early and going all day, you need that sweet nectar ASAP. I do, at least. We were so lucky to have New Dutch Trading Co. right off the main lobby of the hotel (on the way to the water taxi, might I add)! They have the BEST ham and cheese croissants and their White Chocolate Lattes are to die for. We definitely made a habit of stopping here in the mornings. We’d get our breakfast/coffee, take it on the boat, and be done and ready to go by the time we got to the park entrance!
What to Eat
BUTTERBEER – Yes, yes, I know. Man cannot live on butterbeer alone. But believe me, if we could, I would. My best advice would be to try all three kinds, if possible! They have frozen, regular, and hot, but the latter is only available during the “colder” months.
Lombards – Incredible seafood right next to the water outside of Diagon Alley! It’s a little nicer, but I honestly loved it since most of our food was “quick and easy.” I got the fish and chips and our table had the spinach and artichoke dip as an appetizer. Both were DELISH!
Cowfish – Located in CityWalk but close to the docks, it’s the perfect place to eat dinner before heading back to the resort! They have SO MANY OPTIONS, but obviously the main draws are their burgers and sushi! I think our group had a mix of both, and no one was disappointed. The kid sushi boxes were TOO CUTE, so I’d definitely recommend it if you’ve got little ones to feed.
Three Broomsticks – Of course, if you’re going to make a trip to Hogsmeade, you’ve got to stop at the Three Broomsticks. If your whole family is eating, I would definitely recommend the “Great Feast.” It says it serves four, but I think it could probably feed five or even six! It comes with salad, rotisserie chicken, spare ribs, corn on the cob, and roasted potatoes! I still have dreams about those potatoes, my friends.
New Dutch Trading Co. – I know I’ve already bragged about it, but seriously! This place is great! They have soups, sandwiches, pastries, smoothies, shakes, ice cream… I could go on, but my stomach’s starting to growl. If you stay at the Sapphire Falls resort, don’t pass this opportunity up!
Toothsome Emporium – Full disclosure, we didn’t actually eat here. It was PACKED, and with two small kids and a baby, we opted to get some of their famous shakes to go (there’s a line specifically for that purpose!). While we waited for our shakes, we couldn’t help but wander over to the “gift shop” area, where they have a plethora of macarons and candies! Once again, if you know me, you know just how obsessed I am with macs. They are my lifesource. BUT these puppies were expensive ($30 for a dozen!) so my sister and I split a box. They may cost a pretty penny, but WOWZA those were some good cookies. The shakes, on the other hand… were beautiful, but definitely not the best I’ve ever had. None of us could finish ours, so we just dumped out the rest and kept the souvenir “jar.”
What to Ride
These are the “MUST” rides, in my opinion. I’m sure yours will be different, but I can definitely vouch for these! If you have any questions about the kid-friendliness of any of these, PLEASE ask and I’d be happy to answer!
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Escape from Gringotts
Revenge of the Mummy
Skull Island: Reign of Kong
The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman
Jurassic Park River Adventure
What to See
Here’s a link to the list of all the times for character meet and greets (the Transformers were AWESOME – they let you take your own picture with them for free!), performances, the light show, EVERYTHING!
Triwizard Show (Hogsmeade)
Hogwarts Castle Light Show (Hogsmeade)
Tale of the Three Brothers (Diagon Alley)
Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees (Diagon Alley)
Go during the “off season.” We went in November just before Thanksgiving break started, but our trip spilled over into that week. It was WAY less crowded the Friday before the break started than it was the whole rest of the time. I can only imagine what it would’ve been like if we had started our vacation just a few days earlier!
Bring your own food. Okay, this may just be the cheapo in me talking, but I can’t afford to eat out for every meal unless I wanna be sleeping in a cardboard box! We stopped about an hour outside Orlando and stocked up on groceries for the week – sandwich stuff, chips, bottled water, fruit, etc. We filled a small cooler and kept it in our hotel room, using the ice machine down the hall to keep everything fresh! At the end of a long day, on several occasions we would just come back, make a sandwich, and go to bed. So much less stressful (and less expensive) than having to wait for a table at a crowded restaurant!
Take advantage of the refillable cups and popcorn buckets. This was one of the best investments we made the whole trip!! They have the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines and popcorn stand all over the park, and once you buy the cup/container, you can refill at any of the locations for free/a discounted price!
Get a good spot early for the Hogwarts castle light show. We were naive the first night to think we could get there a few minutes ahead of time and be able to see it. We couldn’t even get into Hogsmeade! I would absolutely recommend getting there an hour or so ahead of time, having a snack and resting your feet while you wait.
CHILD SWAP IT UP. Universal offers this amazing service where you get to swap your child with someone else’s!! Hahahahaha kidding. They DO offer you the ability to ride the less child-friendly rides without having to stand in line twice, which is AWESOME. Your husband or wife can wait with the kid(s) in the child swap area while you ride, then when you’re done, you go swap places with them! They come out of the room and go straight to the front of the line. It’s AWESOME. I went with my whole family, so a half of us would wait with the smaller kids while the others rode, then we’d switch! Genius.
Be a single rider. You know, sometimes there are rides/attractions that are just better when shared with someone you’re close to. But sometimes the ride itself is so awesome WHO CARES who you ride it with?! Guys, my mom rode Forbidden Journey as a single rider like seven times in the span of an hour. She was obsessed but I can’t blame her. That was how long we stood in the regular line, for Pete’s sake!
Let your kids be kids – use the “playgrounds!” There are several areas around the park designed for kids to explore and climb on and slide down, etc. These were the places we had to practically drag my nephews away from! Here we were, having spend hundreds of dollars to ride all these fancy rides and experience these extravagant attractions, and they want to climb the stairs on a fake boat to slide down to the bottom and do it all over again. Hello. We have this at home. BUT I say use this as an opportunity for you to rest and your kiddos to enjoy a bit of freedom! The boat by Popeye was a HUGE hit for them, as was the play area right next to Barney. Let them be little!
Well, that’s everything I can think of for now! As always, PLEASE feel free to ask questions, either in the comments or in my Instagram DMs. 🙂 Thanks for reading and enjoy your trip to Universal!!