Quick Universal Trip report

LibraryTink

Member
Hi all,
I know this board is technically for Disney World trip reports, but several months ago someone posted a great Universal report and I was so excited to find it when I was planning a Universal trip. I haven't been able to find any sites/forums that are to Universal what EasyWDW is to Disney World, either. Love the fun and sarcasm on this site, as well as the great helpful forum members.

Anyway, on to Universal. This trip will be just me (planning obsessed Mom) and my 16yo son, Luke. Our school system had Fall Break Wednesday, October 7th (teacher work day, actually) through Sunday, October 11th. Since we live only 8 hours or so away from Orlando, we typically drive, but we had some credits on Southwest that we needed to use so we flew instead.

We got three day park to park tickets from Undercover Tourist and used Orbitz with a 15% off code to book Loews Royal Pacific to get the Universal Express perk - worth every penny!!

We left home around 2:30 on Wednesday, drove to the Parking Spot and were at the airport earlier than the required two hours, which was nice. Poor Luke had his body spray confiscated at security (apparently, I forgot to tell him there were size limits), but other than that all went well. We did manage to not check any bags - such a great plus to taking a short trip with a teenaged boy. :)

We had a reservation for that night at a Comfort Suites near the airport, so we arrived and I called the hotel to get a pickup while traveling from the concourse to the baggage claim area. We did have to wait a bit longer than expected, but we were at our hotel and settled in by 9:30. This little one night reservation was a great way to save a little money on the trip.

The next morning I had arranged a private car to take us from our current hotel to the Royal Pacific (RP) and it was great. I read reviews from Tripadvisor and Yelp and picked a company called Taxido and I was very pleased with the service both to RP and back to the airport on Sunday morning.

We got to RP which was lovely:

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Ok, I know it isn't Disney, but we had a seriously magical/pixie dust moment. I was expecting to leave the luggage, get our express passes and have them text me when the room was ready - magically, it was ready for check in at 9:45. She handed us these quaint little things:

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Isn't it funny how it seems like eons ago that Disney World used Key to the World cards? Seriously, though, I loved that mine was Betty Boop and Luke was excited about the Simpsons, as well.

We were in Tower 3, which turned out to be very convenient. We dropped our things off in the room and went down to the lobby to figure out the Express Pass situation. It turns out there are some self serve kiosks in the lobby and you just enter your key card and it takes your picture and prints out a paper card - very easy!

Our plan for today was to start at Universal Studios, so off we went. We walked this first day because it seemed like a pretty short walk to me and it was really a pretty area, so I'm glad we tried the walk. I had purchased the 3 day "photo pass" deal they have, so once again I was on the look out for photographers. In May, I thought my 12yo niece got annoyed at all the photographers at Disney... Well, she was no where near as annoyed as my 16yo son turned out to be by the constant photos! I figured he could suffer through since I was making memories here.. and I paid for it!

Our first ride of the day was Rip Ride Rocket. This turned out to be Luke's favorite ride of the entire trip, so we rode it multiple times. A bit of a confession that Luke never heard... this ride was a little too rough for me! Geez - I normally really love roller coasters, but this thing shakes and knocks your head around like crazy. What Luke loved about it was the fact that you could pick your own music - that part was very cool. Here's a photo of my suffering:

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I had this step by step plan for what were we going to do, but with the Express Passes, we didn't even really need it - I figured this out after the first couple of rides and it was quite liberating! LOL - I felt like a plan-a-holic starting a 12 step program. So, this first day we did almost everything we wanted to do at Universal Studios:

Transformers - cool ride in a car using 3D glasses to simulate a transformer attack/battle. Luke enjoyed it but would have absolutely LOVED it at about age 9.
Shrek 3D (fun, very much like Mickey's Philharmagic)
Minions - another 3D glasses simulator type deal where you are turned into a Minion. After this ride there was a photo op with a Minion and this was my first indication that Luke and I were going to have differences of opinion over the photographers. He absolutely refused to join me for the photo. I did it alone basically to show him that I would! Like he cared...
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Men in Black - Like Buzz or Toy Story Mania. He had no choice about this photo, thank goodness. I think at this point he was beating me so badly that I had given up - hence the bored expression.
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The Simpsons Ride - this used to be Back to the Future, which I remembered fondly.
Twister - Ride it Out - not really a ride, but it closed last week, so I'm glad we got a chance to experience it one more time before it closed.
The Mummy - great simulator type coaster. I have photos of it, but I'll have to put it in the next post...
 
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LibraryTink

Member
Continuing Day 1..

We both really enjoyed Mummy - basically a coaster with some simulator stuff going on:

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We did the Terminator thing - also not a ride, but actually pretty cool if you are a fan of the movies like we both are.

Luke wanted an airbrush t-shirt of a scary looking marionette and since we had decided that day NOT to purchase the add on tickets for Halloween Horror nights, I felt OK spending the extra $30 for a t-shirt. I really had no idea why he wanted that particular design and didn't even ask, but found out the next day when he wore the shirt. Anyway, while waiting for this shirt we listened to some music and just walked around a bit.

Finally, it was time to head to the Harry Potter area. This is the only section of Universal that the Express Pass doesn't work for and we were saving it for last, hoping for the crowd to die down and because we wanted to ride the HP train to Islands of Adventure.

If you are any sort of Potter fan, Diagon Alley is amazing!! I think these pictures are actually from day 2, but I was so in awe on day 1 that I forgot to take pictures.

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I am a school librarian, so the photo below is a favorite:

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We had to try the butterbeer: Luke got "regular" and I got the frozen one, we loved them! Needless to say, these were the first of several butterbeers to be consumed over the trip.

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We got in line for Escape from Gringotts. The wait time was posted as 60 minutes, I think, but before we even got into the bank area it was announced that they were experiencing technical difficulties. We stayed in line and finally got on the ride. The ride photo here is not really a "ride" photo - it is taken before the ride.

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This ride was really amazing. It is sort of a combination of coaster (robotic arm coaster, I think) with screens like Soarin - only better.

After this, we got in line for the train to Hogsmead Village which is technically in Islands of Adventure. If you haven't heard, the train ride is not your average train ride! There is a screen so that it looks like you are really looking out a window all the way to Hogwarts and there are shadows of Harry, Ron & Hermoine outside your compartment. One thing that struck me as funny is that a teen girl and her Mom were riding the train with us. They both looked at their phones the entire time and didn't even seem to notice the effects that I was so excited about. Maybe they had ridden it several times already or something, but I rode it four times in three days and never got bored enough to scroll FB or Instagram during the ride.

We did a few things at IOA before leaving. I'll continue with that tomorrow night!
 

kmc8826

Active member
So glad you are covering Universall. It is a little intimidating to me. I know we are going to be going one of these days as my girls get bigger, and it is good to hear about. Love the pictures (and I am sure one of these days your son will too). What a great opportunity for you both to get away together!
 

quince

New member
Thanks for the trip report and the info on HP stuff. Planning a one day HP-fest on our next Disney trip, and this is so helpful.
 

blambo22

New member
Love your trip report! That is so awesome you got to go with your son!
We love Universal. The Harry Potter stuff is amazing! Thanks for sharing.
 

Lovedisneymagic

New member
Loving this trip report. We are going to Naples with family for a week in April. We never do Universal because I haven't been able to bear the thought of leaving Disney property. :) However, my oldest is 13 and I know he would really love Universal. My others probably will as well (11, 8, and 3). Also, the cost of leaving Disney for a couple of days is always crazy to me. So, if we are in Naples, I am considering driving up to Orlando for 2 to 3 days and just doing Universal and coming home from there...

Do you think 2 or 3 days is enough? I know nothing about Universal... time to start reading! On property? Off? Sigh...

Thanks!
 
Enjoying this report as we are thinking about a Universal trip in the next year or so (though with much younger kids, so am trying t figure out how much of universal is appropriate for the 7-8 year old set, and specifically the 7-8 year old scaredy-cat set).
 

gccmedina

New member
I love Universal! Being able to walk to the parks is to me a huge benefit. I was there a week in April and then another week in August. Stayed at the Portofino both times and were really spoiled but the time we got to Coronado for 3 nights.
 

LibraryTink

Member
Loving this trip report. We are going to Naples with family for a week in April. We never do Universal because I haven't been able to bear the thought of leaving Disney property. :) However, my oldest is 13 and I know he would really love Universal. My others probably will as well (11, 8, and 3). Also, the cost of leaving Disney for a couple of days is always crazy to me. So, if we are in Naples, I am considering driving up to Orlando for 2 to 3 days and just doing Universal and coming home from there...

Do you think 2 or 3 days is enough? I know nothing about Universal... time to start reading! On property? Off? Sigh...

Thanks!
Thanks for following along! I'm enjoying reliving it again. :) I completely agree about the issue of leaving Disney if you are there for a Disney focused vacation. I recently told a work friend that they should either do Disney OR Universal because they wanted to have 4 park days total. It is just not cost effective to try to do both in a total of 4 days.

I do really think 2 or 3 days is enough for Universal. We were able to do everything we really wanted to do in 2 park days - and Universal Studios closed at 5pm every day we were there because of Halloween Horror Nights. On day 3 we just did the favorites again. I'm sure staying on property and having the Express Passes were a big help in making it so "doable" in 2 days, but even without the passes, I think you could do it all in 3 days - depending upon the time of year you visit and crowd levels.

Feel free to message me if you have any more specific questions - I'll help if I can at all. :)
 

LibraryTink

Member
I love Universal! Being able to walk to the parks is to me a huge benefit. I was there a week in April and then another week in August. Stayed at the Portofino both times and were really spoiled but the time we got to Coronado for 3 nights.

We have decided that we love it, too! I normally stay at value resorts when at Disney (once at CBR) so this felt so much nicer and worth the extra $$. The room itself wasn't that much nicer, but the water taxis were so nice and the Express Pass thing is just wonderful! Thanks for reading along! :)
 

LibraryTink

Member
Enjoying this report as we are thinking about a Universal trip in the next year or so (though with much younger kids, so am trying t figure out how much of universal is appropriate for the 7-8 year old set, and specifically the 7-8 year old scaredy-cat set).

Thanks! Actually, the last time we went to Universal (before this report, that is) Luke was about 7 or 8. We enjoyed it, but it wasn't as exciting to us as Disney always seemed at that point. Since then they have added all of the HP stuff and the Minions & Simpsons rides. I will not even cover in my report the Seussville section, Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone or Toon Lagoon because we basically skipped all the "little kid" stuff this trip - you should do a little research on those sections, as they seem very 7-8 year old friendly. :)
 

LibraryTink

Member
So glad you are covering Universall. It is a little intimidating to me. I know we are going to be going one of these days as my girls get bigger, and it is good to hear about. Love the pictures (and I am sure one of these days your son will too). What a great opportunity for you both to get away together!
Thanks, Kim! We did have fun & I'm enjoying sharing it.

I hope you and the family have a great trip in just a few days. Looking forward to another great trip report! :)
 

LibraryTink

Member
Islands of Adventure & Finishing Day One

Continuing my report, we rode the train to IOA and explored Hogsmead village a bit. We decided to ride Dragon Challenge before the Forbidden Journey in hopes of shorter lines.

Also, I haven't yet mentioned the locker situation/requirements that are in place at Universal. At pretty much every ride there are lockers that are free for a certain amount of time. While this is very nice, it did turn out to be a little more of a hassle that it seems like it should have been. Most of the rides pretty much require you put every loose article in the lockers. Some even have metal detectors you must go through to ensure you haven't tried to sneak your phone onto the ride! The lockers at Dragon Challenge seemed like the worst to me. It is a very small area without a clear traffic flow and you keep having to go from section to section to find a free locker. The problem comes up when some people are trying to take things out at the same time as others are trying to put things in. To do either thing, you must use a touch screen that uses a fingerprint scanner to open the locker. I had a horrible time trying to remember which locker number I was assigned at each ride - you really have no choice as to the # assigned. At some point, a person told me that if you don't remember the number you can just scan your fingerprint and it will figure it out. Between Luke and I both, we managed to always remember the number, so we didn't test this out.

On to Dragon Challenge. This coaster is the only thing in HP world that DOES take the Express Pass, but I didn't realize that and didn't take the pass with me the first time. Lukily, Luke still had his in his pocket, and they let us both through since he had his. Also, at most rides, the Express entrance is at the beginning of the line and this is not the case with Dragon Challenge. This ride was actually there before HP world was built around it and I remember it from our long ago Universal trip. Luke said he didn't, but he was very young, so I'm not even sure he rode it. It is an extreme type coaster where you are hanging from the rails instead of sitting in a car on the rail. I actually really enjoy this type of coaster because it seems smoother to me. It reminds me of the Batman coaster at Six Flags if any of you know that type of ride. There is no ride photo at this ride :(

After exploring Hogsmead a bit, we went to ride The Forbidden Journey. This is the first major HP that was added at Universal and it is very cool. Honestly, part of the thrill for me was the queue inside Hogwart's castle. Here is a shot of the castle:

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In the castle, there are many interactive and entertaining effects. The Hogwarts founders' portraits are having a little discussion, then the "fat lady" who guards the Griffindor commons room is there cheering on the quidditch team, you get to go through Dumledore's office and the defense against the dark arts classroom where Harry, Ron & Hermione show up. When you finally get to the loading area, you are riding "benches" in a continuously moving area sort of like SE, Haunted Mansion, etc. Be sure to look up in this area if you ever go because the floating candles from the great hall are there. Again, this is a robot arm type coaster with screens like Soarin. I don't think we ever got a photo that I thought was good, but here is the first one:
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It is an amazing ride, as has been reported elsewhere.

After this we were both getting a little hungry and decided to leave the park as we were planning to come back early the next morning for early entry into the HP area. (This turned out to be a problem for me... more to come in my next entry.)

I picked the restaurant tonight and we went to Margaritaville. Honestly, primarily because it was right next to the walkway back to our hotel. I choose the cheeseburger because it seemed appropriate and had a margarita. It was so nice not to be driving! :)

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We walked back to the hotel, tired but happy! :)
 

Heidi K

New member
Great report so far! My husband and I are leaving the kids at home with Grandma and going to Universal in early March--my first time! I'm getting excited reading about your trip.
 

bnoble

he's right
I recently told a work friend that they should either do Disney OR Universal because they wanted to have 4 park days total.
This is what we do. We typically visit Orlando for a week, and we either do "Disney" or "everything else." We like Flex Tickets for the "everything else" trips.
 

disneydaisy

Member
Enjoying your report. We are adding two days at the Royal Pacific at the end of our Disney trip in early April. Last time we were there in 2011 we stayed offsite and the 2nd HP area wasn't there.
 
Enjoying your report! I loved the Butterbeer too�� I'm glad you had the opportunity to spend some one on one time with your son. I still go to Disney with my parents (although I meet them there) and I am almost 40:RpS_thumbup:
 

speake

New member
Reading along. We are planning on our first trip to US in July. We will be staying two nights on site at Universal - hopefully RP like you did.

Then 8 nights at Disney (not sure where yet).

Looking forward to hearing more.
 

bnoble

he's right
Dragon Challenge used to be Deuling Dragons and it was awesome!
It's also the reason why metal detectors are now installed on several rides---well, more accurately, a handful of idiots riding this are the reason.

These used to be timed so that they "crossed" each other several times over the course of the ride. Someone thought it might be a neat idea to throw coins at the other train at some of these crossing points, and one guest lost an eye due to injuries in such an incident. That's why the dragons no longer duel, and it led in part to the very strict loose articles policy in place now at UNI.

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2011-10-19/travel/os-universal-dragon-challenge-20111018_1_roller-coasters-wizarding-world-theme-parks
 
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