Girl’s Day at Universal – July 2020.
It was SO awesome being on the first floor and having such easy access to the resort boat that morning to head to the parks. It took us less than 15 min to leave our room, walk to the boat, get our temp checks, get through security AND get docked at City Walk! Such a breeze.
The girls were super pumped for our big day together! Resort guests were allowed access to the park an hour before regular guests and we ended up being among the very first of the day and were allowed to enter about 15 min before the actual time we were supposed to!
Something I really love about Universal is how they have the “How Tall Are You” signage. It makes it SO easy to know what rides my younger ones will be able to ride, and which they won’t! We were excited that Tess was a good bit taller than last year and would have more ride options.
I will go ahead and share the outfit details for our day!
We went straight to Diagon Ally and we just can’t get over how cool it is that Universal hid the Harry Potter area of the park so seamlessly. You truly could walk right by and not see it!
My goal for our early entry was to get a spot for Ollivanders Wand Shop for the girls to be able to have their wands choose them. I grabbed the first time available and we went to Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and walked right on, didn’t even need our Express Pass whatsoever.
It was so cool to be able to take our time and see all the details without being rushed!
Tess wasn’t tall enough to ride it last year but was this year and she was thrilled. I don’t do rollercoasters or thrill rides BUT can handle this one. It has a lot of stops and is very smooth so just as my tummy starts to feel icky it stops again and it’s a long enough stop to settle a bit.
Tess LOVED Gringotts. Like LOVED it! We left the ride then went in for our appointment at Ollivanders Wand Shop.
Yall know. I LOVE DISNEY. So much so that I’ve always felt like true Disney fans don’t go to Universal. If we hadn’t had that opportunity last year when Universal reached out to me to visit, I don’t think we would have ever paid to go to their parks.
However, I’m SO glad they DID reach out! So much has come from that experience. Britt’s love for Harry Potter being a big one! When we visited last year we let Kye get the interactive wand and I def regret that as he doesn’t care much about Harry Potter. So this trip the BIG thing for the girls was to each get their own interactive wands from Ollivanders.
A perk of the pandemic is that currently Ollivanders Wand Shop is by reservation only and is only taking one family in the room at a time. When I heard about this, it was THE main reason I decided to do this trip for the girls. I knew it was a rare opportunity for an incredible experience that they will ALWAYS remember.
And it did NOT disappoint. Not only did I NEVER anticipate visiting Universal…I especially NEVER thought I’d CRY and feel the MAGIC at Universal either. Who even am I right now?
But yup. I totally cried watching the girls participate in the ceremony. I recorded the whole thing and the video should be embedded in this post 🙂
It was SO magical and SO special and it was a moment that they will always, always remember! As will I!
Their wands were Holly for Britt and Hazel for Tess. Both have dragon heart string from the same dragon which means their loyalty to each other will be admired by all (SO SWEET).
Here’s a bit more about the description of the Holly Wand (from the Universal Shop Page): Wood from Holly trees has magical healing properties and is thought to repel evil. Holly people make good leaders and thoughtful, loving and effective counselors. Holly people should use their understanding of the dark, hidden side of humanity to guide others in their time of need.
And more about the Hazel Wand: Hazel wood is associated with wisdom, protection and magical skills. Hazel people are often wise beyond their years. They make inspiring teachers, combining creative talent and practical knowledge. Hazel people should be sure they take the time to share their gifts with others.
Their wands chose wisely and we then enjoyed walking around a totally empty Diagon Ally.
I mentioned in prior posts but I LOVE that Universal doesn’t mind if you remove your masks for photos. I talked to a team member at length about it (we got to know several of them over the course of our trip) and he was actually a higher up team member and he said it’s about balance and everyone playing their role the best they can so the park can stay open. If guests are being reasonable and responsible, they don’t say anything to them. YES. My kids taking their mask off OUTSIDE away from ANYONE else for a quick picture is NOT A BIG DEAL. I love that Universal’s stance is trusting their guests to do their part. It made me WANT to make sure I followed all the guidelines because I knew they valued ME and that they were logical about them rather than overbearing when it’s unnecessary.
Britt was LOVING soaking in every single Harry Potter detail. It was also fun as I don’t know much at all about the world of HP so SHE had a bunch of knowledge that I don’t and was sharing things with us all day long. She reminded me of myself at Disney 😉
She said she wanted to buy some Lotion Potion for a certain boy…whew it starts EARLY!
Britt also loved getting to be “in charge” on this trip. She’s used to Kye kinda leading the way on things and this time she was the one teaching Tess how to use her wand and she was the one finding all the spell locations. She was also REALLY good at them! She did so many on the first try – she has lots of practice from home!
By 9 am we were ready for a Butterbeer! I learned a great tip if you’re wanting to save money…buy one FROZEN Butterbeer and ask for extra cups and straws. Mix up the frozen one and then pour into the extra cups. Apparently it’s the only type of butterbeer that works well for sharing and it’s the perfect amount!
Even at past the park’s official opening time it was still only a 15 min wait for Gringotts. I don’t think it got higher than that ALL DAY. Which is crazy!
Our schools announced they’d be requiring masks this year and whew I wish those sweet teachers luck. Getting Tess to keep on her mask was a STRUGGLE. And I finally just stopped. I felt like all morning I was just constantly reminding her to put it on, wear it correctly, pull it up etc. And she was frustrated with me and I was frustrated feeling like what should have been FUN was instead me getting onto my kid the whole time.
So I stopped getting onto her and just let the Team Members say something to her instead. There are tons of Team Members around and they gently remind about the masks. She was MUCH more receptive when they told her and was much more mindful of wearing it and wearing it properly when they were the ones getting onto her.
I’m always a hardcore parent and would NEVER be like “oh just let someone else discipline my child” but with this situation? I feel like it’s better letting those who make the rules enforce them. She’s 5. She will forget, she will wear it wrong. It’s going to happen and rather than be consumed by it all day, I opted to enjoy the day instead!
Let her do her best and don’t stress it!
One of our Team Member friends took the time to take us around Diagon Ally and show us the secret spell spots! The map includes most of the spells but there are two that are NOT on the map!
I do think the wand experience is incredible, however, it’s also not something you’ll want to do over and over and over. With The Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom game at Disney, you advance and it has a plot. I do wish they’d had the wand experience have a bit more too it.
Part of our Harry Potter package included a photo session at Shutterbutton and it was SO FUN. We were able to have live action shots taken in front of a green screen that put us right in the popular scenes from the movies. The girls LOVED it and it was such a fun touch to our trip.
It is tricky to get photos as a group right now since Team Member’s won’t hold your phone and take a picture (which I understand!). It’s also kinda awkward to ask a stranger to do it when we’re all socially distancing and being super mindful of germs. But I sought out other moms or teenage girls to ask and always say “if you’re comfortable do you mind…” and it worked out well! I’m telling you the teenage girls know how to take a good pic!
Something we didn’t do at all during our first visit was watch any of the shows. We had plans to try to see all four Harry Potter shows that day (we only were able to see two because it stormed on us later in the day). We went into Gringotts Bank to get some muggle money exchanged and then hung out and waited for the shows to start.
Britt used the picture excuse to get a little mask break 😉
Another way Universal is “doing it better” than Disney…they are having stage shows! Disney canceled all shows but Universal is still having them. There are socially distancing markers and the team members were wearing masks in the first show (which did make it a bit hard to understand at first) but overall both shows were a great experience!
I think Universal predicted, and predicted correctly, that not a ton of tourists would be visiting the parks during a pandemic. Less people = easier to follow safety guidelines = less reason to shut things down.
The first show was The Tales of the Beedle and the Bard. It is SO well done and really tells the story well. Of course, Britt already knew it all by heart.
We hung out and waited and saw the next show which was a singing show Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. Also really great although no real story line or anything, just some performances but the girls loved the dancers!
As we watched the shows we saw a woman who looked like Bellatrix and Britt got SO excited. I don’t know enough about Universal so I wasn’t sure if maybe they have team members walking around who look like characters?
As we walked around after the shows we saw her again and I just went ahead and went for it and asked if the girls could get a photo with her. Yall she was HARDCORE. She even has a tattoo that apparently Bellatrix has. BUT SHE DOESN’T WORK THERE.
As we were talking to her her mom came over complaining about an ATM issue haha. I learned on this trip that people getting REALLY into Harry Potter. I love it!
We met a team member who is also super into all things HP as he has every single spell completely memoized. I have a video of him in the video embedded on this post…he has them all down to a science. We saw him several times throughout our trip and he was such an encourager to the girls but also SO FUN to watch.
Britt did a little Christmas-shopping browsing and gave Mommy some ideas (she wants a quill set from Santa) and then we decided to head out of Diagon Ally. We went and visited the talking head and the Knight Bus (fun fact…it’s KNIGHT not night).
It was SO chill and it was so fun for the girls just to take their time chatting with the talking head and not being rushed.
In our walking around that morning we talked to so many people and got some great tips. I really wanted to do ALL the little Harry Potter things I could find for the girls. I didn’t know that the row of homes as you exit Diagon Ally and enter back into London have a bit of magic about them too.
One of the houses (Britt knew exactly which one it was, of course) is Sirius Black’s and as you visit keep an eye out for his house elf! Such a fun detail!
I also learned that you can visit the phone booth and make a special phone call to hear a secret magical message too. I love little joys and hidden experiences.
Another super GENIUS thing that Universal did was to have The Hogwarts Express connect between the two parks. It basically forces you to buy a two park pass so you can ride the train. SO SMART of them!
The Express Pass came in handy for the train for sure. We got to skip ahead and barely had much of a wait at all. Right now each family gets their own room for the train ride.
They reminded us like a million times to leave the masks on while on the train and said they were watching via a camera in the room. It is a bit funny to me that the seats are cloth in the train. Like there is no way to keep that junk clean in between groups.
Britt was ADORABLE on the train ride. She narrated the entire thing!
When we exited the train and headed towards Hogsmeade Britt said “I’m HOME!” It was so cute. She was just in HEAVEN!!!
Britt has told us that her life long dream is for us to take her to London when she turns 11 and drop her off at Hogwarts. She will even be talking about the future and say stuff like “Oh yeah I won’t be here then b/c I will be at Hogwarts.” She just LOVES it so much!
The Hogsmeade area is the more popular section so it was a bit more crowded but the rides there were still very short waits (including the new ride – Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventures) like all under 20 minutes.
Too bad Mommy doesn’t like thrill rides 😉
I had read online that you can mail a letter from Owl Post and it will be delivered to your home with the postmark from Hogwarts. Britt was SO excited about it and we brought her letter with us (she wrote it to herself) and mailed it off at the Owl Post.
Yall. That letter arrived and was postmarked “Orlando, Florida” So do NOT bother doing that! What a bummer!
I did LOVE the details of Owl Post though. The owls are SO neat and the poop is probably my favorite detail. Britt thought they were real owls 😉
While in Hogsmeade we had issues with the girls’ wands. A team member came over and was super helpful and told us that Britt’s wand had been damaged. Yall. Those wands are dang $60! I was SO frustrated that she’d already broken hers!
He took us into the Ollivanders location in Hogsmeade and got her wand repaired for us…for FREE. I was beyond shocked and impressed. Later though I found out that the wands are LIFETIME GUARANTEE. They def don’t advertise that fact! If your wand ever breaks or stops working for spells (caused by small scratches on the tip of the wand) Ollivanders will “repair” (REPLACE) it for you! SO. AWESOME.
Knowing that allowed me to be much more chill with the girls and their wands! They wanted to carry them and play with them and I’d been so hyper worried about them getting messed up that it was taking away from their fun so it was nice to just breathe and know that if something happened to them, it was okay!
While we were in Ollivanders the team member took us back to a secret section that wasn’t currently open to the public and Britt got to choose an extra special pin for her pin board at home. I LOVE it as she’ll always remember her wand choosing ceremony!
We went to eat lunch at Three Broomsticks and it was a bit of a cluster. I will say – both Universal and Disney are STRUGGLE CITY when it comes to dining options right now. The mobile ordering stuff just doesn’t run smoothly at either park, at all.
We had to wait in order to enter the restaurant and weren’t told it was mobile order only until we got up to the front of the line which was annoying because we could have been placing our order while we were waiting that whole time! While we waited I did get an update from Zach that they were on their way down for the trip 🙂 He rigged up our portable DVD player for Spear for the drive down!
I remembered from our last visit that we really liked the potatoes so I ordered those as well as a corn on the cob for the girls to split. The fries were really good as was the chicken! It was a good meal and nice to sit and relax a bit without having to wear our masks.
I was feeling tired and got the hook up from a team member who gave me a free coffee to give me the pick me up I needed to get through the rest of the day. We hydrated it UP and just took our time not being in any sort of rush.
When we got done eating it was DOWNPOUR rain. We sat outside of the restaurant under some cover for a little while and I found this app that sorts you into your house. I’ve never done a sorting ceremony for the kids because Gryffindor stuff is SO easy to find that it’s just easier for them to be in Gryffindor 😉
But we did the sorting thing and Britt and Tess were ALL about learning what house they are in..they both are Hufflepuff! I was worried that they’d be disappointed but they were super happy about it and I thought it was cute that they both got the same house.
We were a bit bummed that we couldn’t see the shows we’d planned to watch due to the rain but it wasn’t storming, just sprinkling, so we decided to go for it and keep enjoying the park! We did all of the spells in Hogsmeade.
We got LOTS of pics on the bridge! I love the set up of this area and wish there was something like this at Magic Kingdom for castle pics. Even when it’s super crowded…you can still get a crowd-free photo because there isn’t a walking area behind you!
We had several sweet people OFFER to take pics of us which I always love and appreciate!
I didn’t have a major plan of action for the girls’ day together. I knew we’d be back the next day with Zach and Kye so I wanted to focus on the non-rides with the girls since I knew the guys would want to do all the rides!
We decided to go watch the Poseidon’s Fury show. It said an hour wait but the Express Pass helped us out a bit and we waited around 30 minutes. We didn’t mind because we were just sitting and eating some snacks as we waited.
The show itself was really, really awesome. Since our visit they have shut it down so I’m even more glad we did it when we did! I can see WHY they closed it for now. It was a very long wait time and a difficult show to run with all the social distancing measures.
I had heard that the Mystic Fountain was a really fun things for kids so we went by there and chatted with him a bit. He was so, so fun and the girls loved visiting with him!
We then headed back on the train to go back to the other park.
Tess REALLY loved Gringotts so we rode it two more times for her. Three times. WHEW. I know I said it is a thrill ride I can handle…but after that third time I could NO LONGER handle it. DONE.
We did some more spells and then finished up our time in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
The girls had mentioned really loving this little stuffed animal called a Pygmy Puff and I just went ahead and let them each use their Gringotts money towards them. Yolo right?
We decided to go ride both MIB and ET before heading out of the park. It was my first time doing the MIB ride and I was expecting it to be like Buzz at MK but whew it’s Buzz on steroids. I actually think that accurately describes ALL the rides at Universal. They are Disney rides on steroids! I could handle MIB but it made me feel pretttttty sick. I was def glad to be DONE riding rides.
ET is def my kinda ride 😉 Nice and slow and nostalgic, even for a non-Universal girl. When we visited last year Tess was dead asleep when we rode ET. When we got on it this time she said “I love this ride and have dreams about it all the time!” SO funny since she was basically asleep the entire ride last year!
The hours are reduced right now and the park closed at 6:00. We stayed until close and could have def stayed longer.
So while it’s annoying that the park closes early, it’s also kinda a perk because it forced me to leave. Yall know I struggle to leave a park early!
I learned from my earlier error about mobile ordering and went ahead and ordered dinner at a pizza place in City Walk on our way back to the resort. It was actually a super smooth situation AND I got the hook up with a free Fanta too.
I didn’t sweat all day long because it was randomly gorgeous weather but whew that walk from the park to City Walk had me SWEATING. It’s a beast of a walk, although not as bad as the walk from the parks to the car though at Disney. Nothing beats that black parking lot HEAT.
The dinner and soda HIT THE SPOT. Tess was practically falling asleep in her seat. We were WORN OUT. But we still stopped by the gift shop on the way to the room at the resort to grab an ornament to remember our trip!
We got back to the room and all showered together. The rooms don’t have a tub and it was just easier to bathe the girls in the shower with me than have to help them and then shower myself. It also got us in the bed quicker!
This time Tess really wanted to sleep with me so I let her. The girls had some “talk time” and we ate our “midnight snacks” that we’d bought the night prior while I got everything packed up to check out the next morning.
We were in the bed decently early compared to what it’d be if the parks had later hours! Tess fell asleep INSTANTLY on my chest. It was so sweet! However, I got ZERO sleep that night as she is a wild woman sleeper. At one point she somehow kicked me in the eye. I had to keep picking her up and moving her off of me!
I am SO thankful we made the decision to take this trip. The girls had an absolute BLAST. While I’m still disappointed the Disney Cruise couldn’t happen as planned, I’m thankful we went ahead and explored other options and took the trip to Universal!
I think while the Corona pandemic has made a LOT of situations worse, it really added some special elements to this trip that wouldn’t normally have been possible.
With Disney I worry about the missing magic…but I don’t have any emotional attachment to Universal whatsoever. So I was able to appreciate the lower crowds and the ability to do some activities we’d normally not be able to do more because I wasn’t comparing it to what I’m used to it being the way I do at Disney!
The girls agreed – it was an EPIC Christmas gift trip 🙂
A video from our adventures should auto play in this post…be sure to watch the wand ceremony!
Planning a Trip to Universal?
- We own a 6 bedroom, 4.5 bathroom home 20 minutes from the Universal theme parks (and 3 miles from Walt Disney World) in the beautiful gated community of Emerald Island. Our Vacation Rental Home has a heated pool and spa, Disney theming throughout and a great game room for the kids. Be sure to visit this post for all the details about renting our home…including the discount we offer to blog readers!
- My favorite planning tool for arranging our park days at Universal is Touring Plans. Being a member of their site allows you access to crowd calendars and daily itineraries to avoid waiting in lines! Learn more here!