Not wanting to waste our precious three days in Orlando, Universal Studios was also high up on our list...mainly for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! We had a Park-to-Park Unlimited Express ticket, which allows you to go between the two Universal theme parks, and you get unlimited queue jumps on most of the rides. It's hard to describe just how incredible this place is, it literally feels as though you're on the film set, and the rides are just so much fun!
Universal Studios was quite far from our hotel in Disney's Lake Buena Vista, so we went to Denny's near our hotel for an epic stereotypical American breakfast, and then got a taxi up there which cost us around $50 one way ($25 each, so not actually too bad). We had an awesome taxi driver who was really chatty and lots of fun, so the journey flashed by and before we knew it we had arrived!
Straight away you can feel the difference between Universal and Walt Disney World. While Disney is all about the magic and imagination and dreaming, Universal feels much more grown up and fun, there's a huge strip of bars and restaurants on the way to the park entrances called 'Citywalk', and plenty of people mill about drinking in the bars and grabbing a bite to eat before they even enter the actual parks.
There are two parks at Universal; Universal's Islands of Adventure® & Universal Studios Florida®. We had a Park-to-Park ticket which allowed us to go between the two, and honestly I'd recommend this because we loved both parks so much! We started off in the Universal Studios park, and were completely astounded and walking around wide-eyed as soon as we entered! Also obvs all photos of me in this post are by Jasiminne...
I hadn't been to Universal Studios since I was eleven years old, but parts of it I recognized, while others were new. I absolutely adored the Beverly Hills mock-up, and the Walk of Fame stars will make everyone on Instagram think you actually went to Hollywood ;)
While Jasiminne ran straight to meet The Simpsons characters, I ran for the diner. No, not because I'm that obsessed with food (I am), but because of the cars! I'm such a classic car fan and have been most of my life, so I took great delight in wandering around them checking out all the details and stroking them. Yeh. Not weird at all.
As well as classic cars I've always also been pretty obsessed with 1950's and 60's diners. I just have a thing about 50's and 60's America. So I went inside and it actually looked like a diner from a film! It was amazing. I grabbed us a coupla co-cola's and took Jasiminne's to her while she was still queuing to meet Marge Simpson. Lolz. Also I got a photo with Woody Woodpecker. My brother got the exact same photo 14 years ago so obvs I had to recreate it!
Then we headed straight for the ET ride. It was just as good as I remembered...except once again, just like Disney, I forgot about the wax models. You each sit on a bike in rows of 4, and I was on the end of our bike row, cue me leaping onto Jasiminne's bike to try and get away from the wax models that kept appearing out of the darkness and almost touching me! Damn my weird phobias.
Next up was The Simpsons area. Although I used to enjoy watching it, I've never been a huge fan, and although it was all really well done, I wasn't really fussed by it. Jasiminne however is a HUGE fan, so we spent quite a long time in this part while she fawned over every little minute detail. You can see more of The Simpsons area on Jasiminne's blog.
Finally it was time for Harry Potter! In the Universal Studios park there's the Diagon Alley experience, which was just incredible. I actually preferred this one to the Hogsmeade one, it just felt much more believable that you were actually there.
You enter via Leicester Square tube station, and every little attention to detail was thought out, I was completely gobsmacked and words literally can't describe just how incredible it was. It was worth flying all the way to Orlando just for this!
We spent quite a long time exploring all the shops in Diagon Alley, got some ice-cream (I had granny smith flavour and it was ah-mazing) from Florean Fortescue's ice-cream parlour, and tried on robes and hats in the uniform shop. We even took a wrong turn and ended up in Nocturn Alley! It was pretty darn creepy so we got outta there ASAP.
There's a rollercoaster ride inside the Gringotts Bank, but the queue was 2 hours long and we couldn't use our queue pass there, so we didn't try it out. Instead we got the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade and Islands of Adventure.
Going on the Hogwarts Express was such a dream! A few Dementors even paid us a visit, but luckily Harry turned up and saved us, and before we knew it we had arrived in Hogsmeade.
It felt a bit weird being in Hogsmeade with fake snow everywhere, bright blue sunshine, and 35 degrees celcius heat...but the small-version of Hogwarts was ah-mazing, as was the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride inside it! In fact it was so good we went on it twice.
I'll try and explain it as best I can, but basically you sit sideways in a rollercoaster seat that's inside a Cathedral style bench, and it's a rollercoaster/simulator which takes you on a broomstick ride around Hogwarts and the main parts of the castle (including the Forbidden Forest).
Now, before you go on it there are heaps of signs everywhere warning you that you shouldn't go on it if you're anything but in perfect health. I was panicking so much, because it said 'don't ride if you get motion sick' 'don't ride if you get claustrophobic' and a load of other things that technically apply to me.
Me over-reacting as I do totally thought I was gonna vom everywhere or die. But it was all OK and actually it was so good that I couldn't stop laughing and squealing with delight from the pure joy and excitement of the ride! I didn't feel motion sick at all (I don't usually in cars etc just on simulator style rides), and we went on again because we loved it so much.
After having a butterbeer (so delish FYI) and exploring Hogsmeade we then went on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. This was one of my favourite rides from the day, and again we loved it so much we went on twice. It was a river raft ride and perfect for such a hot day, as you get a nice refreshing splash at the end!
Then it was the big one...the Skull Island: Reign of Kong™ ride. This was another simulator ride, but you were in a large moving jeep type of thing rather than a rollercoaster. This was also a lot of fun, and we really enjoyed it! The queue was pretty epic, even with our queue jump ticket we still had to wait around an hour, but it was better than the 2.5 hours that some people had to wait. Also there are a few surprises in the queue....but I won't spoil those for you ;)
By this time it was late afternoon and we were both starving as we hadn't eaten since our epic Denny's breaky, so we made our way to Hard Rock Cafe for a lunch/dinner extravaganza. It was amaze. We both had fajitas which were just what we needed, and a really delish mac & cheese. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food at Hard Rock Cafe, and I mean, when at Universal Studios you kinda gotta go there.
We then went back into Island of Adventure, and had a walk through the super fun Marvel Super Hero Island and Toon Lagoon areas. It was really rather hot at this point, so we decided to go on the Popeye ride...which resulted in us getting so drenched that Jasiminne had to buy flip-flops because her trainers were all squelchy...nice.
We were getting really weary by this point, and after our second ride on the Jurassic Park ride we went back to Universal Studios on the Hogwarts Express, explored the San Francisco and New York areas of the park, and went on the Mummy ride just as it was getting dark. Another long queue later and oh man was it worth it. We LOVED this ride, but it was so short :( it needed to be twice as long it was so much fun!
We got off The Mummy ride just as the park was starting to close, so we raced to the shop, grabbed some tourist tat, and then made our way out to find a taxi back to our hotel.
Another day, another conquered theme park. We did all the rides we wanted to do aside from the Fast & Furious one, and we had the best time ever! We both loved Disney, but Universal was something else. They're so different and you can't really compare them - you really need to do both!
Have you been to Universal Studios?
Or have you been to the UK Harry Potter studios tour?
* We were guests of Universal Studios and received our tickets complimentary, but all gushing and theme park love is my own