universal studios Orlando travel tips

January 29, 2020

Universal Studios – Tips & Thoughts

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travel tips for wizarding world of Harry Potter
This girl’s special weekend basically centered around her getting to spend all the time she wanted in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

As you may have seen, the other weekend my oldest and I got to sneak away for a mother/daughter weekend to Orlando and hit up Hollywood Studios & Universal Studios. This was in honor of her 10th birthday and I have a whole post coming about why, if you have the means, this should be a tradition you adopt… but for now, let’s talk nitty-gritty travel tips for Universal Studios Orlando…

First, let me say that we hit up Universal on Sunday of MLK weekend and could not have asked for better weather. It was a cool 67 degrees most of the weekend and, while we did get about 15 minutes of a drizzle, the rest of the weekend was rain-free. The last time we went to Universal was in May of 2016 and, let me tell you, everything from lines to weather was so much more enjoyable this time around. It may have also helped no being pregnant but that is another story…

So let’s talk about my top tips for fun at Universal:

mother/daughter trip to Universal Studios Orlando
Lots of selfies… sure, we could have gotten someone to snap shots with my DSLR, but we moved quick and she smiled lots, so I am totally happy with our iPhone pics. Even as a professional photographer.

DITCH THE CAMERA

Yep. You read that right. Here I am, a professional photographer, telling you to not even bother bringing your big DSLR. Let me tell you why & then you can decide for yourself, but personally, I wish I hadn’t.

Here is the deal, unless you have someone to wait with your camera who will not be riding, then for many most of the big rides, you will be stowing your camera and anything else you have along with you in a locker during the ride. Now Universal has set up a great free locker system, but for the most part, the free lockers are probably about 5″X12″X20″. Plenty big to shove a backpack in… but not fi that backpack includes a camera. Granted, I put my camera in a padded insert within the backpack in order to protect it and maybe it would have squeezed in without that, but I am not willing to let my pro-gear get banged up… and with the padding, the backpack could not squish into the lockers. That said, universal does have paid lockers which are $2 for the duration of your wait in line and that is where my backpack wound up being stowed. But after doing that a number of times, it felt silly considering then I was walking through all the areas I wanted photos of without my camera. But my cell phone I could mostly stash in my pocket and still get some great shots. So yes, we had mostly selfies the whole day. Which made me feel like “why did I bother?” Honestly, I took maybe three “real-camera” photos the whole weekend… and even those, I would have been just as happy to use my iPhone…

So yeah, if I do it again, the big camera will stay home for the Universal day… UNLESS, that is, I have a little one with us who won’t be able to ride the big rides anyway and we are doing trade-offs instead of all hoping on the ride. Then, I will bring the camera for some fun iconic shots. That is my one caveat…

universal studios Orlando travel tips
The Express Pass meant we didn’t feel rushed to get everything in and had plenty of time to enjoy our Butterbeers!

BUY THE EXPRESS PASS

Look, I know the thing is crazy expensive, but we had one day at the park. There is simply no way we could have done all the rides we did without the fast pass and we still did not hit them all. I guess if you have more days that you plan to spend there, then the time in line isn’t as big of a deal, but then you are still paying more for multiple days at the park, so really that seems like a wash to me. Do keep in mind that for the first 12 months a ride is open, there is no express line, so if one of those are on your list to ride, get to the park early and head straight to that line. You will still wait, but it only gets worse throughout the day. For us, that was Hagrid’s Motorbike and it was worth every minute of waiting.

hagrid's motorbike ride
Y’all, I love this ride. I will be so excited to go back and ride it over and over once it has an Express Pass line!

HIT HAGRID’S MOTORBIKE FIRST

Okay, this is an extension of the last tip but, like I said, the first 12 months a ride is open, there is no express line. Hagrid’s Motorbike had only been open for a few months when we went so it was the big deal the day we went. By half an hour before the gates opened, the crowds were insanely heavy and backed up to get in – and most of them were headed straight to Hagrid’s Motorbike. Universal staff did open the gates a few minutes (maybe 10) before the 9AM listed time, so by 9.05, we were in line for the ride & still waited a good 70 minutes + for the ride…

But friends, it was by far my favorite ride of the entire weekend. Super thrilling, still great feeling of being in the Forbidden Forest and just truly a great rollercoaster. I am a big fan of the old school, drop and flip upside-down rides and this one is awesome. Do not miss it.

Okay, so those are my top three tips for Universal Studios Orlando… do you have questions for me? Drop them in the comments and I will be sure to share my thoughts!

And I will be sure to post again on the less logistical and more enjoyment-based side of the day. 🙂

XOXO

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