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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Universal Studios Orlando

Warning: This is a very picture heavy article.

Our family had so much fun here! And please don't let anyone tell you that this place isn't for smaller kids. Our son (turned 5 while on the trip) is 43" tall with no shoes on. People told us he wouldn't be able to do anything. Let me tell you, they were wrong. There were only a handful of rides he couldn't go on. After doing all the ones he could, we wouldn't have had time for any more. Also, if it's your birthday, go to guest services to get a button. Everyone will tell you Happy Birthday. We got to go in the Express Pass line one time. It was great. Everyone that works there is so friendly and happy. The only negative thing about our vacation was the rude crowd. For whatever reason, the people that visit Orlando tend to not be very friendly. Expect lines. Expect crowds. Expect to pay for souvenirs and food (not over priced though, I felt). Have realistic expectations and this could be the best vacation ever. Definitely go to Universal!

Our first stop once we entered the park was to head straight for Minion Mayhem. My son is obsessed with minions and this ride gets very long wait times. We actually rode this one twice. The first was right after the park opened and we waited about 20 minutes. The second time was on our second day and we didn't get there until about an hour after the doors opened and we waited about an hour. Later in the day, the wait times are probably closer to 2 hours. Kids are not allowed to sit on the outside (like most rides at Universal) which means that if you are a family of 3 (like us), your child may end up sitting next to someone he doesn't know (which is what happened the first time we rode this). That can sometimes make for an uncomfortable situation if your child gets scared and grabs on to the first person they find. Each car only seats 4 people and they put you in these long lines. You have to keep going and no seat is left empty so your group will likely be split up. Also, right where you exit the ride, there are 2 minions waiting to take picture with you. This is a great photo op.

One quick little tip. It was raining in the morning while we were there and we had brought the umbrella stroller for our son. The first day we didn't use it and realized that was a huge mistake. The second and third day, we used it and I'm SO glad we did. Anyway, I didn't want the stroller to get wet while we were in line so I quickly got out of line, went to our stroller in stroller parking, and put a poncho over it. We had brought a couple from home, but only ended up using the one for the stroller. If you just open it up, throw it on top, and put the handles through the arm holes, it fits perfectly!

Our next stop brought us to Shrek 4D. It's right across from Minion Mayhem. We enjoyed it. However, there is a little beginning part before you go into the theatre and it involves a lot of standing in one place for a while which kind of made my feet start hurting. Overall, it was cute though. Perfect for while it was raining.
Then we got our picture taken with the Shrek characters. Quick tip: If you see them leaving, just wait. We were almost to the front of the line when Shrek, Donkey, and the photographer left with no warning. We waited for about 15 minutes and then Shrek came back with Fiona in tow so that was a nice treat.

We had a quick lunch at Mel's Drive In.

Then we got in line for the Transformer's ride. It was amazing. The entire time, I was thinking how our son (only 5) must be freaking out (because parts were a little scary), but every time I looked over, he was having the time of his life! There is usually a pretty big wait, but the wait is worth it. While waiting in line, don't ever think you're close to the front. You end up going through about 6 or 7 different rooms.

Once you exit the gift shop after the ride, look to the right. There is where you will find Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Megatron. They usually change characters every 20 minutes or so. And they won't come out in the rain. But it's a great photo op.

There are a couple cute photo ops around like the one with the Hollywood sign (which you will find near Mel's Drive In)

You'll want to zoom in clearly to get the effect you're looking for, but I'm showing you the zoomed out version so you can see what it looks like.
and the one with the Jaws shark (which you will find on the docks)

By the Hollywood sign photo op is where you will find the meet and greet parades. The characters come out, dance, and then they go to their specific area and huge lines form to take pictures with each character. Look at the times on your map for each one.

We also went on Men In Black: Alien Attack. This is a ride where you shoot as many aliens as possible to get a good score. It was fun. Our son still talks about this ride. He loved it. This was the only one that we had to take advantage of the free lockers though, which was kind of a pain. Also, if you mention that it's your birthday (or they see that you have a birthday button on), they will announce over the loud speaker to wish "Agent Owen" (or whatever your name is) a Happy Birthday! Everyone cheers. It was great. It really made our little man feel special.

We watched the Superstar Parade, but just know in advance that if you go to all of the meet and greets with the characters by the Hollywood sign, you've seen all the characters that are in the parade. It ended up being a waste of time for us. We sat in front of the ice cream shop and this is where they stopped. They did this long dance which was pretty neat, but not worth the 30-40 minutes it took out of our day.

Towards the end of the day, we went to the Simpson's area. My husband was so happy. I liked that there were so many things to take pictures with! My husband and son went on the Twirl n Hurl. They liked it.

We got a giant donut. Let me tell you, it was amazing! This was one of the best tasting donuts I've ever had!

My husband got a Duff beer

while my son and I shared a squishee.

I definitely recommend getting your picture taken on the Simpson's couch. The pictures are so cute! We loved it.

We also went on the Simpson's Ride. Here's how I feel about it. While some of the jokes are a little inapporpriate, I didn't feel that they were overly crude. My son was too young to understand them. And if you're old enough to understand them, you're old enough to hear them. But that's just me.

They have a great selection of stuff in the Kwik-E-Mart. We got so many souvenirs from the Simpson's section. They even have this sign next to the register:

Then we finished off the night here with tacos from Bumblebee Man's Taco truck. They were really good! We got lucky though, all the other food places were closed and we were the last customers allowed in line at the truck so if you think you're going to grab some food right before the park closes, you're wrong.

The last thing we wanted to see was the Cinematic Spectacular. We got a spot right on the water and it was amazing. There were fireworks, water, and lights. I didn't even know you could make a screen that shows pictures and movies by projecting light onto a fountain of water. It was very cool and definitely worth watching.

My last tip is to not be in a huge hurry at the end of the night. There are so many people leaving after the show that you're not going to get out of there quickly. The gift shop near the exit is still open even after the park technically closes so go take a look around if you want.

I hope some of my tips helped you out! Have fun! This is a great place to be!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley

Once you step inside, it feels like you're really there. Everything is so realistic and the people are always in character. It's amazing. If you only do one thing while at Universal, you should just walk through the WWoHP. The rides are great, too. And the Butterbeer. Try the frozen. You will thank me. The lines for pretty much everything may be long, but there are usually things to entertain you while you wait.

One big suggestion I have is to buy a wand. Yes, they're expensive. And yes, you can only use them while at the WWoHP. However, I think they are a great addition to any vacation. They help keep kids entertained and add a bit of whimsy to your trip. Some of the 'spells' are a little difficult and you may need to try them a couple times before getting them to work. Even as an adult, I had some difficulties. But my son absolutely loved it and I don't regret buying a wand one bit. To save some money, only buy one wand for the entire family and take turns.

If you really hate the idea of buying souvenirs early in the day, you can try buying them on your way out of the park at the main souvenir shops in the parks. They do have a great selection of Harry Potter stuff. However, they don't carry everything so if there's something that you really love, just know that the only place you may find it is in the shop that you originally saw it in.

The only ride I rode on in the WWoHP is the Flight of the Hippogriff (which is located in Hogsmeade). It was very fun! I loved seeing all the cool things like the actual Hippogriff and Hagrid's Hut. Plus, this was my son's first ever 'coaster'. It was the day before his 5th birthday so he was a little scared, but after the ride was over, he told us how much he loved it!

The biggest reason for me to pay for park hopper tickets is to ride the train. I mean, come on, ever since I watched that first Harry Potter movie, I have wanted to ride the Hogwarts Express. And believe me, it's worth it. This is not just a way to get from one park to another. This is a complete ride/experience in itself. You hear and see the shadows of Harry, Ron, and Hermoine outside your room. While you watch the 'window', there is a different view depending on which way you are traveling (from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley or the reverse). The only downside of our two trips was that our son didn't get to sit by the window either time because people were very selfish and thought their families were more important that ours (even though he was clearly wearing his birthday button). So be advised. Unless your family is larger than 6 people, you will most likely be sitting with another family.