Florida: Universal Orlando

With Walt Disney World out of the way, it's time to tell you about Universal Orlando! Comprising of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando is much closer to downtown Orlando than Walt Disney World, and the parks are a little more intense! (There's also CityWalk which has restaurants and shops, plus water parks and hotels.) Parking costs $20 for cars if you're driving there.

Universal Orlando, Florida
We bought a 2-Park Bonus ticket back in the UK for £171 each, which was valid for 14 days from the first time we used it. This worked out about £20 cheaper than buying a two-day ticket, even though we did only visit twice. The bonus ticket also meant that we could take the Hogwarts Express between the two parks, which was a must for me as a Harry Potter fan. Make sure you ride it in both directions for two different experiences!

The Blues Brothers, Universal Studios, Florida
There are plenty of rides and shows at Universal Studios to keep you busy, including E.T. Adventure and Revenge of the Mummy. E.T. Adventure is seriously cute and old-school, whilst Revenge of the Mummy is a fun, dark roller coaster ride. Try and catch The Blues Brothers, too, though you can probably skip Universal's Superstar Parade unless you really want to wave at SpongeBob SquarePants.

Despicable Me, Universal Studios Parade, Florida     Spongebob Sparepants, Universal Studios Parade, Florida
Whilst I loved the idea of Krustyland, The Simpsons Ride (a simulator ride) made me feel a little queasy. I was also a little meh when it came to the food in that bit of the park, even though I was so excited to eat there - who wouldn't want to eat at Krusty Burger or grab a drink from Moe's Tavern? The queuing system was painful and the food was just OK. I definitely found the food tastier at Disney World.

Krustyland, Universal Studios, Florida     Krustyland, Universal Studios, Florida
One ride that's not a simulator at Universal Studios is Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, which is a BEAST of a ride. Going up on your back for 17 storeys listening to the song you chose - Gimme All Your Lovin' by ZZ Top for me - you are then flung down the track. It's pretty intense. I was shaking when I got off it, which I've never reacted that way to a rollercoaster, and I may not have had my eyes open the entire time!

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Universal Studios, Florida     The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Florida
The big pull of Universal Studios is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. Though there's only one ride there - Escape from Gringotts, which was my favourite Harry Potter ride - Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley are cool to look around. On big rides like Escape from Gringotts you're not allowed to take your bags on the ride, but there are free lockers where you can leave your things.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Florida
At Diagon Alley we had some butterbeer, naturally, and tried both the normal and frozen variety. (A butterbeer cost a bit more than a bottle of water did. Food and drink is pretty pricey.) Normal is more flavoursome, though the frozen variety was more refreshing on that hot Florida day.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Hogwarts Express, Universal Florida
Once you've sufficiently explored, catch the Hogwarts Express to Island of Adventure. You'll emerge in Hogsmeade where there are three Harry Potter rides - Flight of the Hippogriff, Dragon Challenge and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a cool rollercoaster/simulator hybrid but, personally, I think Escape from Gringotts has the edge on it. Olly thought the opposite!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Island of Adventure
As well as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade, you'll find Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, The Lost Continent, Seuss Landing, Skull Island and Jurassic Park at Island of Adventure. Two of my favourite rides were both in Toon Lagoon: Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls and Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. You're going to get VERY soaked on both!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Island of Adventure
I'm sad that we didn't get to go on The Incredible Hulk Coaster - it was closed due to repairs and also inclement weather whenever we were on Marvel Super Hero Island - though The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is awesome. Seuss Landing is also super cute, and perfect for little ones.

Seuss Landing, Island of Adventure
Universal Orlando is very different to Walt Disney World, but different is good. The rides are more intense, more grown-up, and we had such a great time. Like with Disney World, download the app to keep an eye on queue times to maximise ride time. We found Skull Island: Reign of Kong to have the longest queue time (around 45 minutes in the morning; the app showed it at around 90 minutes later in the day), but you do seem to be constantly moving in it. Have fun! x

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