Playing Hooky Surprise Universal Trip

Growing up I have great memories of the times when my mom would let us “skip school” to do something fun. In today’s world we’d refer to it as a “mental health day” and I’m ALL about it!

Most school year’s I’m stressing about the number of days my kids miss due to our travel and trips and occassional sick days. This school year the attendance policy was relaxed and, of course, it’s the year we couldn’t really do much traveling anyway!

Since we didn’t miss hardly any days of school this year (and truthfully we didn’t want to miss either – we are SO THANKFUL that the doors are OPEN and our kids are able to be there!) and since we have Universal passes that we have no intention of renewing next year…we decided to surprise the kids with a couple days to experience Universal when it’s NOT a weekend or busy school holiday!

Back in the day we used to always miss school for Disney trips because school days are THE least crowded times to visit theme parks! But obviously with having annual passes we go so frequently that we very rarely, if ever, miss school for Disney anymore.

Being vacation rental home owners means that any chance we can go to the house is a chance to do some upkeep and the HOA had sent a letter letting us know it was time to pressure wash the house (I swear the Disney House is better kept up than our home haha) so we figured it’d be a great chance to let the kids miss school for some mental health break, experience Universal with less crowds, and knock some stuff off the Disney house to do list!

On our down we stopped at a McDonald’s to eat lunch. I went to the bathroom and on my way back to the table a lady stopped me and asked me if Kye was my son. I told her yes and she said that her son has severe special needs and that Kye not only looked at him and made eye contact but also gave him the most genuine, kind smile. She said kids never smile at her son like that and that I should be so proud.

It turned out to be her son’s 36th birthday and our family was able to be a small part of his celebration. Of course I’m so proud of Kye and it makes my heart so happy that he was a blessing to her and her son especially on his special day!

We got to the house and Zach got to work while Spear cheered him on πŸ˜‰

Z and I also started a new show! We finished Schitt’s Creek and are now watching Arrested Development and yall I not only adore Jason Bateman but I don’t think I’ve EVER laughed out loud so much watching a show! We are loving it!

We got up bright and early Monday morning to head to Universal! We got lucky that they had JUST announced the chance to masks only being required indoors and it was a WORLD of difference! It made for a very epic day for us!

It was our first time as pass holders NOT having early entry for both parks so we did our standard routine of arriving at the park an hour before park opening. We did have early access to Universal Studios so we went over there to meet with guest services about their disability pass.

We had asked about the disability pass when we first became pass holders and were told by a team member that they didn’t have them but then I had someone on Instagram tell me we needed to talk to guest services about it again and, sure enough, they ARE a thing at Universal and their disability pass works very similarly to Disney’s where it’s essentially a virtual line with a return time window.

We would GLADLY trade the line advantages to have Zach be MS free. But yes, we are “find the silver linings in every situation” kinda people and we are thankful that theme parks do provide a small silver lining to such a tough life long journey.

We were able to get it all sorted out on the Universal side with PLENTY of time still before Islands of Adventure opened so we had our first wait outside the gate experience!

I walked the kids around a bit to help burn off energy and we tried our best to get Tess to be tall enough for the thrill rides. Bless her heart. Britt is super tall and doesn’t even care about the bigger thrill stuff whereas Tess is tiny for her age and wishes so badly she could ride!

I have said it before and I will keep on saying it…if you have a child under 48 inches DO NOT DO UNIVERSAL. There is literally next to NOTHING that Spear can do. It’s super boring for him.

Honestly? There is also so little that Tess can do that it’s not a very fun experience for her either.

Particularly this day she was just very sad and defeated feeling. At this point the “newness” of Universal has worn off a bit and there just isn’t a lot worth her going for or that she can really be excited about. We actually ended up changing the plans a bit for the trip due to our guilt over Tess (and Spear too but mostly Tess because Spear doesn’t really CARE that he can’t ride stuff).

Tess may have been a bit sad a good bit of the day but man it was like my favorite day ever as a mom in regards to Kye and Britt and watching them together. Ever so often they will be playful and sweet and have FUN with each other and this was one of those rare days and I never wanted it to end! I just LOVE seeing them laugh and laugh and pray that these moments are enough to bond them together forever!

First ride of the day was Hagrid’s and they attempted to get Tess on because the first height marker she passed! She is SO CLOSE YALL. But then when she got on the actual ride they stopped it and made her get off because she wasn’t quite there yet. Pretty sure when your day starts off getting ejected from a ride that it only makes sense for you to feel down about things.

Spear was super content, however, to check out the owls in Owl Post and try to figure out how the huge clock works πŸ™‚

I asked Zach to PLEASE take some pics at Hagrid’s and he didn’t disappoint! It is Britt’s FAVORITE ride at ANY park! She LOVES it!!!

While Kye and Britt got along beautifully all day long – Spear also had a FANTASTIC day with behavior and I just really ENJOYED his company. He was super into all the details of everything and it is always fun to see things through his eyes.

Very thankful for the few rides that the kids can ALL ride – especially Flight of the Hippogriff because it’s located in Hogsmeade and is the only attraction they can all do!

Spear’s bald spot was on fulll display with the rollercoaster blown look hahaha

A good tip to keep in mind if you have younger ones – you CAN walk through the ride lines and just exit right before being seated on the ride. Forbidden Journey is an excellent attraction to walk through. There are a ton of details to see and it’s so well done!

Of course if you have a kid like Tess it’s kinda torture to walk through it all only to not be able to get on the actual ride at the end. But it also helps cut down on the amount of time we have to wait for them to finish the ride!

We went ahead and went over to the dinosaur gift shop area by Velocicoaster and it was a GREAT hang out spot for Spear and Tess. Lots to see and a great gift shop as well as lots of dinosaurs on display. Spear was in Heaven!

Spear is at that age where it’s so tempting to buy him allll the thiiiiingggggs because he’s so adorable and gets SO excited about everything!

During our visit they were doing a soft opening of the new Velocicoaster and I heard it was ammmmmazing so I was really hoping Kye, Britt and Zach would get to ride! They were literally THE next people to get on and the ride broke down. It did work out where Zach and Kye were able to go back later in the day and ride it and they LOVED it!

As a new-to-Universal person I have heard a lot about the Pteranodon Flyers. It’s a ride made for kids and adults literally aren’t allowed to ride unless you have a child UNDER a certain height with you. We’ve never done them before because the line is always so long and we’re usually team hurry and do the things so we can leave πŸ˜‰

But Zach and I both really wanted to give TESS as many experiences as possible and felt like this was a great opportunity to ride something as an entire family. I’m not going to lie…I had ZERO desire to ride it. BUT the whole crew was and I just kept telling myself that if SPEAR can ride it then surely it can’t be that bad.

When I got up to get on the ride I kept saying I was scared and nervous and the team member started rattling off all the ways Spear would be safe and I was like nooooo I’m not worried about himmmmm I’m worried about ME haha

The team member then told me it’s literally an 80 second ride and to just close my eyes and sing the ABC’s and it would be over. LONGEST 80 SECONDS EVER.

Yall this ride is a straight SWING up in the AIR and it moves pretty dang fast. NOPE.

It was hilarious because as soon as we got off BOTH Kye and Britt came up to me separately and said that they were thinking about me the whole ride and how much I was for sure NOT liking it. They know me well! Kye said “I was thinking you were braver than I’d always thought but apparently I was wrong” haha!

We found a sweet little spot by the Jurassic water ride where we like to eat lunch and it’s a great area for the kids to be able to run around and play freely too! Kye and Britt continued to be so cute together and having fun together and I LOVED every single second of it!

The area is in the “splash zone” for the ride so they had fun trying “not to” get soaked πŸ˜‰

Spear is very wild but is also VERY easily entertained. We bring along some toys for him and he is completely content to sit and play! He had no desire to run around with the others, he just wanted his toys!

My favorite ride at Universal (either park) is BY FAR Kong. I don’t feel sick at all when riding it and I legit enjoy it too. It’s a must-do for our fam for sure at each visit and Spear talks about it all the time too. He LOVES “the gorilla fighting the dinosaurs”

The kids were allllll about getting splashed from the ride at lunch but not as pumped when they were the ones getting soaked from the water ride haha.

We wanted this day to be about doing ALL the things they wanted to do and a water ride was on the list so it def happened and Tess was def the smartest one as she wore her rain gear this time πŸ˜‰

We brought along a change of shoes for everyone too (the water rides get you SOAKED so BRING flip flops!) and Spear was perfectly content playing with Zach’s shoes while he was on the ride πŸ™‚

My original plan for this quick trip was to stay late enough to SEE HOGWARTS AT NIGHT. We’ve yet to ever be at either Universal park in the dark! Unfortunately the park closed before it was supposed to even get dark outside so my goal before our passes run out is to go back at nighttime!

The girls, Spear and I explored Hogsmeade a bit while Zach and Kye were able to ride Velocicoaster. Britt wanted to do spells over riding it. You can also see the crowds of people…the empty days of early reopening are FOR SURE over!

As I mentioned this was our first time at the park when masks weren’t required outdoors. They were still, at that time, required in line and indoors but it was MUCH less enforced than it was in the past and majority of the people we saw were not wearing masks. It really felt like we were back to pre-Covid life.

While there area a lot more hardcore Disney people than there seem to be hardcore Universal people I have noticed that when people ARE hardcore Universal they are REALLY hardcore. We’ve TWICE met people who truly looked like movie characters! The girls were SO PUMPED to meet Hagrid!!!

Normally we’d be down to head on out. It was crowded. It was hot. We were tired. Lines were long.

BUT. We originally planned to do two days at Universal and seeing how Tess was pretty bummed and Spear can’t really ride much of anything Zach and I made a quick game plan switch up and decided to go ahead and wait for the Hogwarts Express so we could park hop over to the Studios side so Tess could ride Gringotts. It’s her FAVORITE and we wanted to make sure SHE got to do something SHE loves!

And then that way there was zero need for Tess or Spear to return to Universal. We’d go back to the house and Zach, Kye and Britt (if she wanted) could come back the next day. Done!

The wait for the train was super long so we hung out and had some snacks while we waited for our return time. With all of our theme park experiences I’ve learned to let the kids put together their own snack bags and be in charge of them so when we have a snack break they choose what they want to eat from their bag. Makes it easy and keeps bickering to a minimum because there is no concern over “fairness” etc. Everyone gets what they want when they want it!

We also had another sweet Kye and Britt moment with the mystical fountain. We’ve called him Oscar because that’s how he first introduced himself to us but I’ve now heard him go by varying names so I guess it depends on when you visit.

Spear LOVED riding the train. I’ve never seen that child sit so STILL. It was his first time getting to ride it and I was really glad we waited it out for him to have that experience.

We got over to Diagonally and headed to the bathrooms. I walked out from going to the bathroom and saw this view. I LOVE when they love on each other completely on their own like this! You can tell this was a huge full heart mama kinda day πŸ™‚

Spear is taking over Tess’s role of being able to talk anyone into carrying him even in the least opportune times. He got Britt to carry him across Diagonally haha.

Of course we can’t come to Universal without some BUTTERBEER. It NEVER lets us down!!! It was also a good snack break and a chance to introduce Spear to Tess’s former favorite snack – STICKY FOOT!

The frozen ones are EASY to share and it’s plenty to split – just ask for extra cups!

Mommy and Daddy get our own though πŸ˜‰ We don’t play!

Tessie was SO happy to get to ride her favorite and Spear loved getting to walk around Diagonally a bit and see all of the sights with me.

Britt has recently become my park walking partner and I love it. I miss the days of holding Kye’s hand but he’s always leading the pack with Zach and zig zagging through the park so I enjoy the slower pace of walking with Britt and enjoying our surroundings together. We are very kindred spirits when it comes to theme parks and if I had to choose just one kid to take to a theme park with me it’d for sure be her. We both love the same things and enjoy the same things and have the same love for the little details and moments!

Zach truly won mega points with me on this day. We stayed at the parks for over 2 hours after the point where we were all basically ready to go just so Tess would be able to ride her fav ride. Such a sweet Daddy and she was so appreciative! It was an AWESOME DAY! We all had FUN, the kids all got along, EVERYONE was in a GREAT mood. Probably our best Universal day ever!!!!!

The day even ended with Kye and Britt being silly and having fun yet again together on the moving walkways. We got back to the house and had a chill movie night and it was such a perfect day from start to finish πŸ™‚

The next morning, Tuesday, I got things packed up and had a lazy – fun morning with Spear and Tess who were perfectly content and happy to stay at the house rather than head back to Universal! It really worked out SO well!

Zach, Kye and Britt went back and were able to do more and do it quicker without us slowing them down! Tess and Spear played camp out in his bed tent, put on musical shows for me, and read lots of books πŸ™‚

Meanwhile the older crew were able to ride Velocicoaster TWICE as well as Hagrid’s, Hulk, and all their other favs!

We headed home that afternoon so they could get back to school the next day. We missed two days and it was WELL worth it! We planned the trip to be after testing was over but before the last days of school too so it was that sweet spot where they didn’t really miss much!

Their great attitudes and kindness towards each other only continued when we got home too. They all helped unpack with such happy hearts and it made the efforts to take the trip well worth it!

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Emily Parker

Hey Y’all, I’m Emily! I’m a stay at home mom and consider parenting to be my passion. Disney is my happiest place and I love making memories as a family together. I’m a big believer in transparency and share all of my real-life moments as a mother of four.

My work has been featured on Love What Matters, Today Parenting and Babywise.Life. I’m also honored to be a member of the Babywise Friendly Blog Network.

You can read more about our family on my About Me page. Also be sure to follow along with me on Instagram, FacebookΒ and Pinterest!

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