When a client asks me to recommend a theme park vacation for tweens and teens, I don’t hesitate to suggest Universal Orlando. This less expensive and less time consuming Disney alternative is perfect for older or more adventurous kids (and adults!). There are thrilling roller coasters with loops, drops and twists, as well as many motion and interactive rides. With a variety of resort alternatives, from value to deluxe, there is a price point for every budget.
Universal Orlando consists of three separate parks— two theme parks (Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure) and one water park (Volcano Bay). There is also City Walk, the hub that connects Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. City Walk is included in the price of the vacation package and has many restaurants, entertainment and shopping venues.
All three parks at Universal Orlando have a different atmosphere and none are so large that they can’t be seen in a day. Although the classic behind the scenes movie ride is no longer around, Universal Studios Florida, still exudes a backlot feel with its various city streetscapes and movie themed motion rides. There’s something for every age in this park, with old-school favorites like E.T. Adventure and the Simpson Ride, as well as newer classics such as Despicable Me and Shrek. Diagon Alley is also located in this park.
Islands of Adventure has “adventure” in its name for a reason. This is the park where you will find superheros, monsters and dinosaurs. Many of those “adventurous” roller coasters are located here— The Incredible Hulk, Jurassic Park River adventure, Skull Island Return of Kong and Doctor Doom’s Fear Fall. You’ll also find Hogsmeade, the other part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Volcano Bay, the newest park to open and only water park, has slides of all shapes and sizes, a lazy river, splash pads and more. While you can get a base ticket pass for one park per day, a park-to-park pass is needed to park hop (and for experiencing the Hogwarts Express).
All the parks are easily accessible by bus, walking or water ferry from any of the on-site resorts. The resorts that make up Universal Orlando consist of two value resorts, one moderate resort and three deluxe resorts. Another value resort with suites will be opening in 2020. These resorts are highly themed, with pools, restaurants and plenty to do. The deluxe resorts include a skip the line perk, while all resorts include early entry into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Client favorites for families include the Cabana Bay value resort and the deluxe the Portofino Bay Hotel.
Although the Cabana Bay is considered a value resort, the quality and offerings is anything but value. The hotel is a favorite of families because of the price, but the brightly colored retro theming is very fun. With two pools, a lazy river and bowling alley (extra cost), there’s plenty to do on arrival and departure days. Also with a high design concept, is the Portofino Bay hotel , which wows with its replica of Portofino Italy, complete with small boats in the mock harbor. Live entertainment can be heard in the square in the evenings and with several types of restaurants, everyone in your family will find something to eat.
Because Universal Orlando is physically more compact it is easily visited during a long weekend or during a short off-peak vacation. Crowds, with some exceptions during peak seasons and certain times for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, are smaller and more manageable. You may need to wait for some attractions, especially the motion rides where a large group gets funneled into the ride, but the wait time is usually reasonable. For clients that have a budget, but still want to see everything, I usually recommend a four to five night stay with either a three or four day park-to-park pass depending on if you are a family that wants to jump right into a park or rest on your arrival day.
To learn more about taking a family vacation to Universal Orlando fill out our contact form here and ask for Stacey. Read more about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter next month.