Growing up, I always used to love amusement parks. For me, it was more about the quality time that I got to spend with my family than anything else. My dad works all the time, but going to amusement parks was something that we would do as a family and bond over. I remember him taking me on big roller coasters, or even just walking the park with my mom.
Last year, Alex and I both found ourselves between jobs at the same time and decided it was time to take a vacation. Although I opted for an island getaway, he persuaded me into visiting Orlando. He planned an entire itinerary for us revolving both Universal and Disney and we had the time of our lives. We spent 9 days there, but left wishing we could stay longer. When we found ourselves with the opportunity to go back this year during the holidays, we couldn’t pass it up.
After coming back from Vacation, I received so many questions about our trip, mostly revolving what it’s like to visit a child’s fantasy land as an adult. I decided I would share my itinerary, tricks and tips of both Universal and Disney with you so you know how to conquer it from an adults perspective.
Where to stay:
We stayed at both the Loews Sapphire Falls and the Aventura Hotel and both are good and considered “on-site”. The advantage of the Aventura Hotel is that it’s a cheaper price point and walking distance to Volcano Bay. The advantage of the Loews Sapphire Falls is that it has water-taxi access to the other on-site hotels, the parks and Universal City Walk. They also include the “fast pass” when you buy your tickets through the hotel. This is definitely a game-changer and a recommended “must have” when you go to the parks because they’re almost always overcrowded.
Universal has 3 parks; Universal Studios, Island of Adventures and Volcano Bay. You can get through all of these parks within 3 days. I recommend getting the park-hopper option so that you can ride the Hogwarts Express from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventures and back and forth. That way, you can also re-do one of your favorite rides or go back to one you might have missed the previous day.
I have been there on both off season and on season. When I went over the summer, it was their opening season and things were hectic. I went again this winter and it was extremely easy to get on every ride! However, it was winter so the park wasn’t as crowded. That being said, I think that it’s a great place where you could enjoy some fun rides while also lying on their beach and catching some sun before heading into the wave pool.
Bice at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel-
We went here for dinner and it was so cute! The scene looks like venice, so I recommend you eat outside and walk around.
Universal City Walk
Universal City Walk is a place to eat, shop, drink, be entertained, walk, dance, etc! I recommend checking out the below:
- Blue Man’s Group
- Show at The Hard Rock Cafe
- Dessert at Chocolate Emporium
- The Rising Star Karaoke Bar
- Dessert at Voodoo Doughnuts
- Mini Golf
- Catch a Movie – We opted to see How the Grinch Stole Christmas because when in Universal…
- Eat at Antojitos
Universal Studios Itinerary:
- Despicable Me
- Shrek 4D
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit- Alex’s favorite ride in Universal Studios. This is an upside down roller coaster where they blast a song of your choice during your ride.
- Transformers The Ride
- Revenge of The Mummy- My favorite ride in Universal Studios. An indoor rollercoaster.
- Jimmy Fallon Race to New York- Weird to be from New York and be on this ride since they show all of the famous landmarks.
- Fast and Furious Supercharged- The newest ride and very similar to Island of Adventures “Kong, Skull Mountain”.
- Men in Black Alien Attack- Alex and I decided to turn this ride into a game. It’s a shooting ride where you compete with the other people in your cart to see who was more on target during the ride. Alex and I bet dinner and I won!
- The Simpsons Ride
- Kang+Kodos Twirl n’ Hurl
- ET Ride- An oldy but goody! Might be my second favorite. I remember doing it as a child and still love it now.
- Horror Make Up Show- This was actually really cool and worth your time. The actors were hilarious and I personally loved it since I have a background in theatre.
- Fear Factor Live
- Sights and Sounds of Diagon Alley- Harry Potter world is incredible! I am a sucker for the Butter Beer and got it plain, frozen, as fudge, ice cream, etc! It’s my favorite! I am personally not a huge Harry Potter fan but they did such a great job commercializing it that I even wanted to buy the merchandise. They have interactive “magical” things if you buy a wand and wave it in front of certain spots.
- The Hogwarts Express– We always take the Hogwarts Express into the other park to do some rides there and finish up the night. It is part of the experience.
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey- (note, this is and the below in Island of Adventures)
- Harry Potter Holiday Shows- During the holiday season, they have a light show on the castle. It is really pretty and worth seeing.
Lombardi’s Grille- For dinner, I recommend going to Lombardi’s Grille. Although I am a very picky eater and their food was mostly seafood, they have a really cute setup for the fireworks at night. They have the best outdoor viewing and set up cocktails, fruit platters, and desserts for you to eat while watching their Cinematic Spectacular. Alex took me there and it was so romantic.
Cinematic Spectacular- Universals firework show that includes a water screen of some oldy but goody Universal films.
Islands of Adventures:
- Skull Island King Kong
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster- Alex’s favorite ride at Islands of Adventures. Another big upside-down roller coaster.
- The Amazing Spider Man
- Dudley Do Right Ripsaw Falls- My favorite ride at Island of Adventures. You get wet but it’s so fun and I love the aesthetics and drops!
- Jurassic Park River Adventure – Also so fun and so on point with the theme and the movie!
- Mythos Restaurant – One of the best rated amusement park restaurants.
- Dr Seuss Oh The Stories You’ll Hear- The following Dr. Seuss rides are catered to younger kids but they’re still cute and fun to experience.
- The Cat in The Hat
- The High in the Sky Seuss Train Ride
- Sights and Sounds of Hogsmeade
- Honeydukes Candy Shop- Where I bought the yummy Butterbeer Fudge
- Interactive Wands and Spell Casting
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- The Hogwarts Express- We take the Hogwarts Express to go from one park to the other and finish the night in the opposite park.
- Harry Potter and The Escape From Gringotts- This is probably my favorite Harry Potter ride. Note, it’s in Universal Studios.
More of a visual learner? Check out my Vlog of my trip to Universal with Alex in 2018 by clicking here. It was pretty cold some days, and warm others, but we had a blast. So fun being there and seeing all the special holiday decor! Stay tuned because my guide to Disney is coming soon!