We recently visited Universal with family, and I was excited to see what they had to offer since I hadn’t been there in many, many years. Actually, last time I went, Back to the Future was the popular ride. Needless to say, the ride is no longer there. However – you can still visit the DeLorean which is on display in Universal Studios, and if you’re lucky enough, you could run into Doc Brown. He’s ready to chat and share some of his time-traveling tales.
There are currently three theme parks, Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, and the newest addition – Volcano Bay water park. Unfortunately Volcano Bay wasn’t open when we visited in early May but it looks incredible and it gives us another reason to return.
First let me start with the resorts. We stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which is one of five on-site resorts at Universal. (A sixth prime value hotel, Aventura, is currently under construction and scheduled to open Summer 2018). We loved the Royal Pacific – from the theme, décor, check-in greeting with leis, stunning lobby, and beautifully landscaped grounds, this is definitely one hotel I would stay in again. Traveling with younger ones, we love to meet characters, so it was a treat to have breakfast and meet Gru and the Minions. (My son LOVES the Minion characters!) It wasn’t just pictures either. Kevin, one of the Minions, had some fun teasing my son and trying to cause “trouble” at breakfast. The pool was fantastic, large enough to accommodate guests at night without feeling crowded. My kids had a blast in their SeaShip themed splash pad, and even got me running around in it too! After they had tired out at the pool at night, they were able to catch an outdoor movie while relaxing on the lounge chairs.
Another perk at this resort, is being able to walk to both theme parks and CityWalk, which is Universal’s shopping, restaurant, and entertainment district. Another option is to take the complimentary water taxis along the picturesque waterways. Although I have to say the biggest perk in staying at the Royal Pacific Resort was the Express Unlimited Passes that are included with your stay. Let me tell you, you get spoiled with the Express Unlimited Pass. It’s like having a Disney Fast Pass for every ride! After experiencing this, I don’t think I could go back without it! However, there are a few exceptions. There is no Express pass offered for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Hogwarts Express, or Harry Potter and the Escape from the Gringotts. Even without ones for these rides, we still were able to visit every ride at both theme parks and take our time & enjoy the park and the rest of the amenities too.
You may be wondering about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and if it was worth it…. The answer is YES! We were all fans of the movies and novels in our group, so we were excited for the experience, and it did not disappoint. Universal did an amazing job creating Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Of course, all the kids had to purchase the Interactive wands. You can purchase them from several kiosks located through Wizarding World of Harry Potter or at Ollivanders, the wand shop in Hogsmeade. They have all your favorite wizard’s wands to choose from. We were fully immersed in the World of Harry Potter and the kids made sure we stopped at every marked location to cast a spell with their wands! (Parents please have patience for this! This is not something you can rush through!) There’s over 20 different locations in both parks where with a wave of your wand, you can turn on storefront lights, make things come to life, or make it rain outside. This is a must do for the true Harry Potter fan!
We had heard all the hype about Butterbeer, and waited in the long line to give it a try. I must admit, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t real beer. Guess I should have done my research! I would describe it as a sweet, dessert drink. Maybe a little too sweet for me. I found I could have shared it with one or two other people. Going back to the Harry Potter rides, my absolute favorite ride was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. As I mentioned before, you cannot use an Express pass for this ride. We decided instead of waiting in line, to return the following day as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens one hour early for on-site resort guests or those with vacation pacakages and/or Annual Pass Holders. We were able to walk right onto the ride. I won’t give away all the details, but if you’ve ever wanted to visit Hogwarts and take a journey through their world, this ride is for you!! One other favorite was the Hogwarts Express. You get a difference experience when traveling from Hogsmeade Station to King’s Cross Station and then back again. *Please note you need a park-to-park admission ticket to board.
Almost forgot one of my favorite parts of a vacation – eating out, no cooking and clean up! There were plenty of options in both parks for dining, but for foodies you must dine at Universal’s Citywalk. If you’re a chocolate lover or love desserts in general, you must visit the very popular Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. The façade is reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It’s an eclectic menu, with just as interesting indoor décor, staff & servers. We stuffed ourselves with appetizers, dinner and dessert, including chocolate bread, some delicious cocktails infused with chocolate and of course their famous milkshakes! We also enjoyed CowFish, a Sushi Burger Bar, along with Vivo Italian Kitchen. There’s so many others to choose from at CityWalk, including Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, Hard Rock, and (my kid’s favorite) Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. They love the entertainment of balloon artists and I’m always impressed with how they walk on such tall stilts!
The rest of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures did not disappoint either. We were traveling with 4 children, ages 13, two 9 year olds, and 7 who are all thrill seekers. Some of the roller coasters were a bit too much for me, or maybe I was a little too chicken for them…. especially the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, the Incredible Hulk Coaster, and Dragon Challenge, but those in our group that did go on them said for each of them, and I quote, “it was sooo awesome!”.
When we got home from our trip, we all talked about how much we enjoyed it, and all the fun we had. I was pleasantly surprised at all the changes that have been made over the years and it’s definitely for the better. There is plenty of entertainment for all ages including parades and street performers, and picture taking with characters. For those who aren’t sure if Universal is the right fit for your family vacation, my answer would be a definite yes!