Last year, Tara and I took an amazing trip to St. Lucia, where we spent a week in a butler suite at Sandals Regency La Toc. What an incredible trip that was! The Caribbean is my absolute favorite region to visit, especially as a romantic trip for two. I’d love to whisk the Mrs. off to another island paradise
But this year, we decided to splurge on the kids.
We considered Disney, but the boys (14-year-old twins!) thought Universal sounded like more fun. Our daughter, who is 4 years old, probably wouldn’t enjoy Disney as much at this age as she would if she were older, so we’ll probably save a visit to Disney for a few years down the road.
Instead,we chose the Universal Studios parks in Orlando.
We’re taking advantage of a Southwest Airlines Wanna Get Away package deal, including round trip airfare, 5 nights accommodations, ground transfers between the airport and hotel, and three days admission to the Universal Studios parks for under $650 per person — and that’s not even a travel agent rate! And it could have been even less expensive, if we were willing to go with a hotel that wasn’t quite as nice as the one we chose.
If you’re interested in a trip like this, I’ll be happy to get you a similar deal. Click on the Contact Us tab and send me a message. Or call. Whatever works best for you.
Anyway, with our trip to Universal coming up soon, I thought I’d share some of the tips and tricks that we are going to use to get the most out of our time at the parks.
One of the things that can be a bummer about visiting a theme park is the fact that it’s popularity translates into long lines for the best rides. Universal is no exception. Wait times for rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or the Amazing Adventures of Spider Man can be very long… up to 120 minutes during the busiest times of year.
Here are a few tips regarding ride lines:
- Arrive at the park at least 30-45 minutes before the park opens to ensure you’re one of the first groups to get in.
- Staying at one of the hotels on the property will give you early access to the parks before the general public is allowed entry, at no additional cost.
- Buy a Universal Express Pass — you get to skip to the front of the lines, saving you hours of standing around.
- Don’t buy your Express Pass until after you pass through the admission gates. The Express Pass sales office outside the parks are usually mobbed, but there are kiosks inside the park that almost never have lines.
- If you and your significant other are visiting with younger kids, take advantage of Child Swap. It works like this: 2 adults get in line with all the kids, but at least one of them is too small for the particular line. Rather than one of the adults missing out on the ride entirely so the other can ride, the adult who is staying with the too-small child is permitted to wait in the Child Swap are while the other adult rides with the bigger kids. When their ride is over, the adult who has ridden swaps place with the adult who was waiting. Now the second adult gets to go on the ride (with up to 2 guests, who can be kids who have already ridden once) without having to go stand in line all over again. That’s right, if you wait with a small child in Child Swap, you’re next in line as soon as the other adult’s ride is finished. This is going to work great with us, since our boys are 10 years older than their sister, who will be too small to go on quite a few of the better rides that the rest of us will want to try.
Now, about the food… Bad news here — food is expensive at the parks. You can buy food ala carte or purchase a dining plan. We recommend you hold off on purchasing a dining plan — the least expensive plan is $21.99 per adult and $13.99 for kids under 9 (plus tax), and only includes one meal (includes entree and drink), one snack, and one other drink. Better option: bring some food with you. Universal allows guests to carry food into the parks in soft-side bags. You won’t want to lug anything around by handles all day, so a backpack is a great choice. The official word from Universal is that the following are allowed: bottled water; small snacks; any food required for medical purposes and medically-indicated nutritional supplements; any food for special dietary needs; baby food/baby formula; and soft-sided insulated bags no larger than 8.5 inches wide, 6 inches high and 6 inches deep. Full picnic lunches and food that requires heating or refrigeration are not permitted. A family of 5 can plan on dropping about a hundred bucks for a single quick service meal, close to double that for a sit-down meal. Nothing wrong with packing PB&J’s for the crew to save yourself big bucks.
Download the official Universal Studios Orlando Resort App on every phone being carried in your group. The app provides you with info about all the attractions, and a very accurate list of wait times for the rides. Familiarize yourself with the app BEFORE you get to the parks, so you aren’t wasting time figuring it out when you should be having tons of fun instead!
Download a map of the parks before you go, and go over the maps with everyone in the group. Make a plan for where to meet in the event someone gets separated from the group. Nothing ruins a day at a theme park like the panicky feeling of being unable to find someone in a crowd. If you know in advance that your missing cousin will automatically head to the Minion Mayhem ride when they can’t find you will ease this stress tremendously.
Give yourself enough time. There are three parks at Universal Orlando: Universal Studios Florida, Universal Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay. There’s also the Universal CityWalk. Plan at least one full day per park you want to visit. City Walk is open to the public with no admission fee, so you can come and go after exploring the theme parks to experience the dining, shopping and entertainment available here.
Lastly, plan for comfort. Wear comfortable shoes — you’ll be doing a LOT of walking and standing. Take a change of clothes in a bag and store it in one of the rental lockers. There are more than a few rides where you’ll end up somewhere between damp and soaked, so a set of dry clothes can make the rest of the day a lot more enjoyable. Take and use sunscreen — you will be in Florida, after all, and you don’t want to be sidelined by sunburn.
If you’re thinking about a trip to Universal, get in touch, and I’ll help set up your trip. Remember, you don’t pay Wanderlust Travel one penny, and you’ll get the best pricing available (usually better than you can get for yourself).