A few years ago, I took my son (who was 7 at the time) to Florida for a Disney/Universal trip. Due to some circumstances that were out of my control, we did the trip with very little in the way of planning. No fast passes, no thoughtfully crafted itinerary, just a plane ticket and a vague sense that I wanted to see the Harry Potter section of Universal Studios. We went during March, which was great from a weather perspective and fairly God awful from a crowds at the park perspective. We had a great time, but Disney especially was so busy that it was hard to even find places to sit and eat and the ride lines were really long.
I knew that I wanted to take my daughter someday and that I for sure wanted to go during a less busy time of year. We ended up going last week and I totally got my wish — the parks (we did both Universal Island of Adventure and multiple Disney parks, which I’ll cover in a later post) were far less crowded in September than they were in March. The trade-off though? It was SO HOT. SOOOOOO HOT. The temperature was over 90 every day that we were there with humidity around 75%. It was like being in a humidifier. There was no relief for it. We left our hotel every morning at 8:30am and by 8:32am I was already sweating. I’m now back in Minnesota and it is currently 42 degrees and I’m still convinced that I’m slightly sweaty from the trip.
All that being said, Universal Island of Adventure is a super fun park. If you decide to go, here are some completely subjective opinions about it:
- There is a fast pass option that allows you to go in the express lane for any ride, one time. This option is $99 a person (more for the pass that let’s you use the express lane an unlimited amount of times) and is, as far as I can see, kind of a rip-off. There are 15 rides that you can use the pass on, but while we were there at least 5-6 of those rides had no line or a line that was shorter than 10 minutes. Given that you already pay $105 to get in the door, paying almost $10 extra per ride seems crazy to me.
- The Harry Potter rides are both really fun. The Forbidden Journey line can get long, but it takes you through Hogwarts Castle and is mercifully air-conditioned, so it isn’t too bad a wait, especially if you are a Harry Potter fan. We did this ride twice and it was probably my favorite at the park. If the wait time is under 30 minutes, you are lucking out and should go back in line and do it again. The other ride (The Flight of the Hippogriff) was my 6 year old’s favorite ride in the park because it was just enough of a roller coaster that she felt brave but not so scary that she felt afraid.
- We did lunch at Three Broomsticks restaurant, mostly to be inside and in the shade. I got the beef pasties meal and it was fine but the portion size was real small. My daughter had the ice cream for lunch because it was hot as balls and I was too tired to say no. She reports that it was “very good” but she’s 6, so her standards aren’t exactly super high.
- The HANDS DOWN best money I spent at the park was on a $15 refillable drink cup. The cup, which currently has a fairly horrifying Halloween theme, can be refilled with fountain drinks or Icee at multiple carts/booths at the park. Given the heat, I was really determined to make sure we stayed hydrated and I refilled this sucker with Vitamin Water at least six times plus with Diet Coke and Icee a few times. Ev and I shared it and it was well worth not paying $3 every time we were thirsty. One note, there is no place in the Harry Potter section to refill it though.
- A word about doing Universal as a fat person: Theme parks can be an anxiety provoking experience for the plus size person. I’ve had the experience at the Mall of America where I made it to the front of the line and then was too big to fit in the ride. That experience sucks. At Universal, there are several rides that have a sample seat that you can test out before you get into line to make sure you fit. If you are concerned, do it. I tested a few of them and at first I was worried that people who see me trying them out and that would be embarrassing somehow. But then I remembered that people have eyes and my size isn’t actually a secret, so who cares if they saw me double checking a harness. Honestly though, I never felt like anyone was paying that much attention. Everyone is too busy getting into line themselves or trying not to pass out from the heat (have I mentioned the heat yet? SWEATY). I’m a little over 5’8 and usually around size 22 and am an hourglass shape with large breasts. I fit into every ride, though the Incredible Hulk ride was a very tight squeeze. They do have a modified seat that gives a little more room but that was still TIGHT. They might not tell you about the modified seat option, but you can discretely ask for it when you are near the head of the line. If I was more of a pear shape or carried my weight in my butt/hips, I would not have fit. The rest of the rides were basically fine, with the Doctor Doom Freefall also being a bit of a squeeze. Thankfully none of the rides more designed for younger kids were tight at all, so I could easily go on all the rides with my daughter.
- There are two water based rides (Bilge-Rat Barges and Ripshaw Falls) that are both fun but you have to know that you are going to get head-to-toe soaked on them. This seemed like a refreshing idea in theory but the high humidity meant that it took my cotton shorts well over three hours to dry which got to be really uncomfortable. If I had to do it again, I would have worn faster drying workout type clothing instead. They do have drying machines you can use that cost $5 per person but I was too cheap for that.
- The worst ride was the Skull Island:Reign of Kong ride. It was loud, it totally scared my kiddo, and it wasn’t really fun at all. Unless you are just a big King Kong fan, I’d skip it.
- The Dr. Seuss section is great for younger kids and has a water play area. We hit that at the end of the day and my daughter played in the water for about 45 minutes while I sat in the shade and drank Diet Coke. This was a good decision.
- A very smart idea is to take a portable phone charger with you. It was nice to use my phone to play games during some of the longer waits and not worry about my battery dying.
We were at the park from about 9:30am to 6pm, which was about 18,000 steps on my watch. I’m glad we didn’t do the park-hopper option because we were plenty tired after the first park. I did the other Universal Studios park when I was with my son and it was also very fun, with a slightly better overall Harry Potter area (Diagon Ally verses Hogsmede). I didn’t regret skipping it this time though as my girl isn’t into Harry Potter (yet). If/when I go back to Florida in the future, I’d probably do both parks but on separate days.
Next post: Disney World!