I always thought I’d be a DISNEY FOR LIFE kinda person and had always looked at Universal Orlando as “that dark place over there that we don’t talk about or ever, ever visit.” Then in 2019 Universal Orlando reached out to me regarding a hosted visit to one of their resorts (Cabana Bay) as well as visiting their theme parks. It was a HUGE pinch me kinda moment and we crammed to read as many of the Harry Potter books and watch as many of the movies as possible before that first trip to Universal Orlando.
I’ll tell you what – Universal was pretttttty smart when they invited us on that hosted trip. I can’t speak to other guests and how our visit may have impacted their decision to visit but it totally and completely changed OUR perspective of Universal. It was also the beginning of Britt’s obsession with Harry Potter.
When our Disney Cruise plans for 2020 got sidelined by the pandemic I knew right away that a visit to Universal would be the PERFECT replacement trip for my Harry Potter loving girl. And that trip? Well it led to us becoming Universal Annual Passholders.
From “never will we visit” to Passholders in just a year’s time! We were BLOWN AWAY impressed with how Universal handled the shut down and the guidelines and safety restrictions after reopening. While Disney seemed to do everything they could to deter people from visiting their parks, Universal offered discounts and incentives and new shows and rides. We purchased annual passes in July of 2020 and they did not expire until December of 2021. You can’t beat that!!!
During the time of our passes we’ve enjoyed so many visits to Universal. Does it give me the same magical feeling that Disney does? No. BUT my kids? They’d pick Universal over Disney in a landslide. Britt calls it her “home” and even Spear (who is barely tall enough to ride anything) is obsessed with “King Kong Ride.”
We’ve absolutely loved our time as Universal Passholders. So much so that we heavily debated renewing our passes. However, with travel opening back up we have a lot of plans in the works for trips in 2022-2023 and just couldn’t justify renewing when we won’t be down in Orlando as often as we were in 2020-2021. Plus I love the idea of it being something the kids can anticipate and look forward to having again in the future. Universal passes will be an EPIC Christmas gift for them in a couple years, once Spear is a little taller to be able to fully enjoy the parks more!
We had our last visit to Universal over Thanksgiving and it was both perfect for Spear’s birthday celebration as well as a bit of a Birthday celebration for Britt too. Especially because it was G-Mama’s first visit to Universal theme parks!
I am very, very thankful to Universal Orlando who offered to provide us with Unlimited Express Passes for our day so we could experience the Holiday Season at Universal for the first time. We couldn’t have navigated the massive crowds without them for sure and if you’re planning a trip to Universal I highly recommended investing in the Express Pass. If you’re traveling with a Harry Potter fan then I hardcore recommend looking into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Vacation Package!
We arrived prior to park opening and once we were allowed inside Zach, Mrs Charlotte, and the big three raced to Hogsmeade to ride Hagrid’s while Spear and I took our time exploring Grinchmas in Who-Ville and playing with his new toys.
Hagrid’s is Britt’s FAV and I’m so glad she got to experience it for the last time for awhile with G-Mama!
We hit a few snags in the morning which were a bit frustrating. There is a guest services spot at Hogwarts Express so we didn’t have to go all the way back to the front of the park to deal with the issues buttttt they also took a super long time to open and it was tough watching the early morning crucial ride time before it got insanely busy ticking away. However it was important to get our stuff worked out (the front gate had accidentally printed our Express Passes for the WRONG day!) and, again, it was a perk of the Express Passes!
The girls and Zach went to ride Forbidden Journey while we waited and I wasn’t mad about the opportunity to get some ADORABLE pictures of my two favorite brothers together!
The park had just barely opened when the clouds opened up too and we had DOWNPOUR rain. We got everything sorted out with our passes and headed STRAIGHT for Spear’s favorite – KONG! He loves it and it is THE ride he talks about most out of ANY theme park he’s ever visited. It’s my personal favorite ride at Universal too!
We then went over to Camp Jurassic while Zach and Kye tried to ride Velocicoaster (it just wasn’t our best luck day as it broke down while they were waiting to ride!). Pteranodon Flyers is a ride where you HAVE to have a kid with you in order to be allowed to ride it! G-Mama and Spear rode together and the girls rode together, heights ain’t my jam.
Then all the kids had plenty of time to play and explore in Camp Jurassic. It was our first time there with the play area reopened. It is a bit hard to SEE the kids while they play and while there is only one entrance and exit, Tess got separated from the rest of the kids and got SUPER upset and scared that she was lost.
She took a good bit of time to calm back down. Bless. I hate when she’s scared like that!
We decided to go ahead and hop on the Hogwarts Express to park hop from Islands of Adventure to Universal Studios. We wanted G-Mama to have the train experience and to get to spend time at both parks and we all wanted the chance to see both parks one last time too!
Hogwarts Express is also another ride that everyone can do and Spear is all about riding a Choo choo!
Spear was literally DRENCHED. You can see in this picture the water line on his shirt. He was soaked from his toes all the way up to that water line. Bless his heart. I mistakenly thought he was tall enough to ride MIB and ET and was disappointed when we got to those attractions to then learn he was still too little.
Men in Black is one of Kye’s favorites so it worked out where he and Zach rode it together while the rest of us found a spot for an early lunch under cover from the rain!
We ate and dried off and warmed up a bit and Zach went ahead and left with Spear. We had done all the must-do Spear items (Kong being the main thing for the birthday boy!). Although Zach is the roller coaster parent a great thing about Universal is that if the kids are tall enough to ride the attraction, then they don’t require a parent to ride with them. So even I can be solo with the kids and they can still do all the things and not have to have me!
G-Mama opted to stay with us and stick it out and Spear had so much fun riding the walking escalator on the way to the parking lot. He got in a good nap and a fun Daddy chill time afternoon while the rest of us kept braving the rain for more Universal fun!
As a kid I remember visiting Universal Orlando Resort and LOVING the ET ride. It has a special spot in my heart and was a must-do for our last pass holder day. Kye noticed they had astronaut ice cream and really wanted to try it so we went for it…and it tastes about how you think it would…like cardboard haha
A great thing about having the express pass is that we each got our own and didn’t have to be together to use it! Kye split up from us and went to ride Rip Ride Rocket solo while we let the girls play on the playground a bit. I LOVED the movie Fievel Goes West as a kid and need to find where it’s streaming so we can watch it for a family movie night!
We took our time walking over to meet up with Kye and got to stop and see one of the holiday floats pass by. We’ve never seen any of the Minion movies but they were cute and the team members were having a lot of fun with it!
Britt lead the way with the map and we also met up with Beetlejuice! I LOVE that Universal is having random characters out and about – something that Disney is REALLY missing as the interactions felt natural and they weren’t crazy hardcore about keeping social distance etc anymore.
The girls didn’t have a CLUE who Beetlejuice was but he was a character so they were ALL ABOUT meeting him 🙂
Universal Studios also had fun festive holiday friends ready for photos together! Loved the little details as a way to get in the holiday spirit.
We waited to get into The Bourne Stuntacular and Kye literally RAN to make it and when he hit the wet pavement that hadn’t yet dried out from the rain he slipped and fell and was hurt. We had ONE minute until the show started so I asked if he was okay enough to watch and he said yes. We headed in and were glad we didn’t miss it! It is THE best stage-show at ANY theme park. It’s a must-see for sure!
After the show we headed over to the family and health services first aid station. The Bourne show is all the way at the entrance to the park and the first aid is nearby so it made sense to just pop in and see if they could get a good look at Kye’s injuries.
He had a sprained wrist and needed a few bandages on his leg and they were able to give him some IBProphen as well to help. Britt’s shoes had been rubbing her raw and blistered due to being so wet so they were also sweet enough to give her a package of bandaids!
I was super, super impressed by the care the kids received and the nurse said that people stop in ALL the time for bandaids so never hesitate to drop in if you’re at the parks and need some!
We did a bit of browsing and I think the Hello Kitty + ET and Jurassic Park stuff is super cute!
We also hit up the shops for a bit and I bought Britt some new socks to help with her feet. I don’t mind buying something like that when I know it’ll get plenty of use and Britt said she will wear the socks EVERY DAY 😉
We also had to get a Butterbeer pin to remember our fav Universal snack 🙂
We were able to have some more character interactions as well as see another holiday themed float as we headed towards The Mummy. It’s one of Tess’s favs and she was excited to get to experience it with G-Mama!
Once the rain all cleared it was SUCH pretty weather and we were all glad we had stuck it out, but also glad Spear had gone on home as there wasn’t really anything left that he could ride and he would have just been cold and wet and miserable.
We decided to go ahead and eat an early dinner as eating meals at off times helps minimize the crowds at the restaurants. We walked into Louie’s Italian and the food was DELICIOUS! HUGE slices of pizza and yummy bread and even Tess’s fav – spaghetti and meatballs!
The warm yummy meal was exactly what we needed. It was such a chill afternoon just taking our time and not feeling the least bit rushed. Britt really wanted to make sure G-Mama saw all the neat Harry Potter details so we took her to the Knight Bus as well as to see Serious Black’s house before heading into Diagon Alley.
I know lots of people prefer Hogsmeade and it is ALWAYS the more crowded of the two Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas but I LOVE Diagon Alley. It’s SO cool to me and truly feels like a different world.
They headed to ride Gringots while I went ahead and got the in the long line for Butterbeers!
The details are just so incredible and I love the entire vibe. We each got our own Butterbeer since it’d be the LAST for a longgggg time. Hot is my FAV so I got that for both Mrs Charlotte and myself and the other kids got the frozen. It never disappoints!
We were able to sip our butterbeer and take in a bit of a show on the stage before heading out.
At this point we made a rather “fatal” error. We asked at the Hogwarts Express how long the wait was and they said that it would be faster to WALK and exit through the entrance of Universal Studios and then reenter at Islands of Adventure rather than take the train.
We shouldn’t have listened.
We walked and got hit by the Christmas parade. I have NEVER dealt with so much congestion. It. Was. INSANE.
I was so thankful Zach and Spear we’re there as Zach would have FOR SURE gotten into a fight. The way people were treating me? He wouldn’t have responded kindly to that!
Basically there was NO walking space and it was just every inch covered with people. Plus people trying to go through the crowds in both directions. We were in a line of people trying to exit the park and had people behind us counting on us to continue moving forward. We were truly trapped.
At one point a man said to me “this is it, this is as far as you go” and cut me off. I had people behind me yelling and frustrated and this dude unwilling to move out of the way for me to keep going. I wanted to just CRY.
I will never forget the moment when the crowds parted. It truly felt like a Moses parts the Red Sea experience. Pretty sure we all have PTSD from that experience!
The floats we did see were really neat but none of us were able to fully enjoy or appreciate them.
Unfortunately it did take so long to exit that we completely missed the final evening showing of Ginchmas which we were bummed about. Kye went to ride Hulk and Velocicoaster so it was just us girls and sometimes I forget that Tess is still a little kid! She’s only 7!
She loves the little kid rides so we had time to ride Cat in the Hat and she was so cute and excited!
We then headed back to Hogsmeade in order to watch the castle projection show – The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle. It was really well done but the girls and I agreed – we prefer the Dark Arts show at Halloween!
We found Kye and while he had his solo time he did a bit of browsing and decided for his GMama present he wanted a webslinger toy. It just makes my mama heart so happy that he is old enough to go off on his own and ride these epic rollercoasters but still wants a toy 🙂
We had a FULL 12 hour day saying our goodbyes to Universal Orlando Resort. I have no doubt that we WILL be back as passholders again in the future!
Thank you again to Universal Orlando Resort for the Express Passes that helped make our day extra fun!