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Our quick trip to Florida turned into a week-long adventure because of No’Easter Stella. Like many other northerners looking to escape the LOOOONG New England winter, we found ourselves stuck in the Sunshine State (yes, I know, boo hoo).

Travel is an adventure and sometimes the unexpected and unplanned occurs. Luckily, we stayed with family, so our accommodations in Naples were set. Many people scrambled to book extended stays and, according to a reasonably reliable source, Orlando was bursting at the seams without a decent hotel room available for miles.

At times like these, you need a professional travel planner to sort things out. Fortunately, I know a good one (and by “ a good one” I mean me). As soon as our flight was canceled and our trip was extended (and in need of few days at Universal Studios), I sprung into action and found a nice villa about seven miles from the park entrance. Given a choice, we’d stay in the park because the onsite perks add value to the trip and greatly improve the experience.

The park was packed, but still fun and we maneuvered the crowds to hit all of the highlights. If you’re thinking of planning a trip to Universal, I’ve given you a few tips and suggestions below.

Universal Studio is a fantastic world of imagination and family fun. I’m not big on repeating a destination too many times, but The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is magic to me, and I’d be happy to visit again.

Universal seems like the perfect DIY destination, but trust me, you’ll enjoy yourself more (and have a lot less stress and a lot more fun) with my help. Contact me HERE if you’d like help planning your own trip to Universal Studios.

Let’s go!

Skip the Line

With the exception of Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts (both part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter) all rides at Universal accept the Express Pass (2019 update: Both rides now accept the Express Pass). Unlike that other theme park in town, Universal provides options (at a cost) to skip each line once or an unlimited amount of times. All of the “premium” (Hard Rock, Portofino, Royal Pacific) onsite resorts include this perk in the room cost, so this option is worth exploring. Buying the pass isn’t cheap, so it comes down to personal preference and tolerance for standing in line. On a busy day wait times climb to 60, 90, 120 minutes, so it’s certainly something to consider.

Aged to Perfection

No offense to the little guys, but Universal was built for older kids. While Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone and Seuss Landing offer options for the younger set, many of the most popular rides have height restrictions and are too intense for most young kids. The more tame rides allow kids to ride starting at 40 inches whiles rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey allow kids 48 inches and taller to ride.

Rider Swap

So what’s a family with a wide age range of kids to do?  Rider swap is an excellent idea that lets older kids and parents experience the best rides with younger siblings in tow.  In a nutshell, the family travels the long, winding line together and just before boarding, one parent takes the non-riding child into the rider swap area while the rest of the group boards the ride. Once that group finishes riding, the adult/older kids hand over the non-rider and board themselves.  Brilliant!

Harry Potter Tips

All on-site hotels offer early admission to the Hogsemad side of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter  on the Island of Adventure. Take advantage of that hour because that place gets crazy.  Use the time to take it all in, ride The Forbidden Journey, or drink some Butterbeer (which is VERY sweet).

While you’re there, visit the Owl Post and send a letter from Hogsmeade with a Hogsmeade postmark. Very fun.

One word of warning, Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey absolutely, positively causes motion sickness (you’ll see dozens of warning signs while you wait to board). Just be prepared (see my blog on motion sickness cures here) and you won’t be a statistic.

Take a trip to the dark side with a stroll down Knockturn Alley. It’s easy to miss (the entrance is opposite the restrooms), but worth a visit. Dark and spooky during the day, but nighttime is the best time to visit.

At precisely 9:00 a.m. board the Hogwarts Express (you’ll need a two-park ticket) for the brief ride to Universal Studios and Diagon Alley. The train stops at “Kings Cross Station” right outside of the entrance. Pop through the brick wall to enter and savor the magic before the masses from the front gate make it to the back of the park.

While you’re in Diagon Alley, visit the Gringott’s Money Exchange to trade some Muggle money for Wizard currency. It can be used anywhere in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

As you leave the magical world of Diagon Alley back to streets of London, stop at the red phone booth outside and call the Ministry of Magic for an important message. Dial MAGIC (62442).

One final tip. Watch the park schedule for a nighttime parade. Skip the parade and head to Diagon Alley while the other park guests stand along the parade route. Visiting during the parade was fabulous and we had the place to ourselves. Plus, we rode Escape from Gringott’s three times in a row. Totally worth it.

A Few More Tips

Download the Universal App for a handy map and information about wait times at the most popular rides.

There is a bonus, largely hidden entrance near the Blue Man Group theater. It’s not always open, but it came in handy during this trip. Walk towards the theater with the red roller coaster to your right. At the end of the ride, you’ll see the entrance on the right.

You’ll get wet on the water rides. VERY, VERY wet. You’ve been warned.

Have fun and contact me HERE if I can help you plan a  trip to Universal or another adventure.