It used to be that you’d fly into the Orlando International Airport and see nothing but a famous black-and-white mouse plastered on billboards and taking over souvenir shops. We’ve come a long way, baby! As my husband Dave? and I walked through the airport, we noticed a new iconic character taking over—Harry Potter. We’re big fans of the books and film franchise and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Universal Studios Florida® last summer for the opening of the magical Diagon Alley™.
Universal Studios is an entire vacation experience. We checked into the Cabana Bay Beach Resort where we were transported back to 1960s Hollywood. The retro-themed hotel comes equipped with a fully licensed bowling alley where we tried for a few strikes and sipped giant cocktails. It has a lazy river, two swimming pools, a waterslide, and a fitness center. But most importantly, it offers free shuttles to Universal Studios and park admission an hour early to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™.
We were mainly visiting Universal Studios for Harry Potter, but there is so much to do there, you need at least two days to experience it all. From the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem simulator to choosing your own playlist on the adrenaline-pumping Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit®, Universal takes you through all your favorite TV and movie moments with thrills and spills for everyone.
Viewfinder Tip: To skip the long lines at most rides, purchase Express? Passes.
Even before entering the park, the Universal experience begins. Universal CityWalk® is a pedestrian village that can be entered without tickets and is filled with shops, restaurants, and entertainment.
We even caught a performance of the world-renowned Blue Man Group, a permanent fixture at Universal. This interactive rock concert combines technology, music, and humor for an evening you’ll never forget.
Once we entered the enchanting land of Harry Potter, my inner child was released. Since I read all the books and watched all the movies, I related to everything Hogwarts.
The Hogwarts Express
Hopping on the Hogwarts
Express, we were introduced to many famous Harry Potter characters as we rode from London to Hogsmeade
. Butterbeer was my treat of choice as I used my magic wand purchased at Ollivanders
to cast a spell at designated locations scattered along the cobblestone streets. And the lifelike display inside the Gringotts
Money Exchange made me feel as if a goblin would burst out from behind his desk and put a spell on me.
We made sure to look up regularly, keeping an eye out for the immense dragon perched atop Gringotts to breathe fire randomly throughout the day. You can’t miss it; a massive burst of fire spews from his jaws as the square rumbles with delight.
After a quick bite at the Leaky Cauldron™, we set off to explore more of the Universal Studios park. We jumped on thrill rides and stepped back through time meeting the pharaohs at Revenge of the Mummy®.
Don’t miss the ride at Gringotts in Diagon Alley
The days can be jam-packed with rides that will toss your tummy, but there are plenty of activities for a more relaxed vacation, too. From 3-D movies to the Sindbad® Stunt Show you can be as extreme or calm as you like.
Nightlife takes off once the sun goes down and we had the thrill of watching Jimmy Fallon introduce Jimmy Buffett at the Universal main stage. For adults, you can spend the night at Margaritaville dancing and listening to live music, catch a movie, or enjoy a drink at the Hard Rock Café.
What we enjoyed about Universal Studios was how we could feel like kids again during the day—exploring Diagon Alley or riding through Krustyland on The Simpsons Ride™—but at night, we could get back in touch with our mature side and enjoy great music, good food, and even better company before returning to our hotel for a nightcap at the pool bar. It’s an exciting getaway for all ages.
What’s your favorite amusement park and why?