Universal Studios Orlando with young children
‘So you are visiting Orlando and are not going to Disneyland?’ That’s what I heard a lot when asked about our travel plans for Florida. I didn’t realize that families with younger children almost automatically choose for a Disney park when visiting Orlando, the world’s theme park capital. And making a choice is absolutely necessary. There are countless theme parks, time is short and tickets are expensive. We chose to discover Universal Studios Orlando over Disney parks with our six and eight-year olds. And had the most amazing time. Here’s how to enjoy Universal Studios Orlando with young children.
Most families visiting Universal Studios park have kids aged over 10. At least, that’s the public opinion. Perhaps, hadn’t it been for the Simpsons, we would have bought tickets to one of Disney’s parks. To be honest, the main reason for choosing Universal Studios was the Springfield themed part of the park. My son and husband share a love for The Simpsons show, it gives them great joy. It turned out, Springfield USA sparked joy for all four of us.
Of course, there’s the Simpsons theme ride at hilarious Krusty Land ‘theme park’. It’s a fabulous 3D roller coaster ride, that had us laughing so hard and squealing with fear and delight at the same time. We rode it twice. But there’s more to see and do in Springfield. We had donuts from Lard lad Donuts, had a beer at Moe’s Tavern, joined the aliens in their Twirl ‘n Hurl ride and did some merchandise shopping at Apu’s Kwik-e-mart. As a bonus we had our photo taken with the Simpsons characters. I can honestly say, I have never had as much fun at a Disney theme park as I had at Springfield. My jaws hurt from laughing out loud so much. You can easily stay in Springfield for an hour or two to enjoy all there is to offer. It’s perfect for younger and older kids (and adults) alike.
Ticket options and the best time to visit
Tickets for Universal Studios are wildly expensive. We didn’t want to spent too much of our holiday budget on theme park tickets, so we chose a 1-day ticket to 1 park. Universal Studios twin park is called Islands of Adventure. After some research I decided to choose Universal’s Studios over Islands of Adventure. We spent 12 hours (!) at Universal Studios that day, from 8 o’clock in the morning till 8 o’clock in the evening. We planned our visit in mid-May on a Monday, which accidentally was off-season. If you are looking for the best time to visit the parks have a look the Undercover Tourist crowd calendar.
Universal Studios Orlando with young children
With kids, you can only visit one park per day. And Islands of Adventure seems to cater more towards older children and young adults. Here’s what we found the best rides for families with younger kids at the Universal Studios park:
2-8 years old
- Fievel’s Play land – for the young ones, I’d say up to five years old
- A Day in the Park with Barney – mine did *not* want to be seen at a Barney show. So suitable for kids younger than six, I guess
- Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster – easy-going coaster, minimum height 36”/91 cm
- Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n Hurl – nice and easy, no minimum height required
- Curious George goes to Town water play area – just perfect on a hot day, bring a bathing suit!
- Animal actors on location – starring the cutest animals
5-10 years old
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem 3D – laugh-out loud fun and an exciting ride, minimum height 40”/102 cm
- The Simpsons 3D – best ride ever, minimum height 40”/102 cm
- Men in Black Alien Attack – alien zapping, minimum height 42”/106 cm
- ET Adventure – a bit outdated, ride your bike across the stars – minimum height 34”/87 cm
- Shrek 4D – outdated as well, compared to the fancy 3D rides, plus a bit scary (graves and ghosts)
Rides for the fearless
All four of us rode the following roller coasters. Let’s just say they make great memories, but are not suitable for the easily scared…
- Revenge of the Mummy – Never again for me, I was still shaking in fear minutes after the ride. Super scary mummies, open fire and terrifying speed and turns – minimum height 48”/122 cm
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s – absolutely not to be missed 3D-coaster. But boy, is it scary… – minimum height 42”/107cm
Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Isn’t it an absolute stroke of genius to have Hogwarts and Diagon Alley come to life in Orlando? Sure, the weather is nothing like the UK drizzle. Visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a must for every Harry Potter fan. I read all seven books and am silently (and not so silently) hoping that our children will be into them as much as I am. They are still too young to have seen all movies – most of them are not suited for kids under 12 – but walking around Diagon Alley tuned into their imagination all the same. We had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, did some wand exercises at the magnificent Olivander’s wand shop and had fun at the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. After having almost died from fear in the Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster, I almost backed out of the Harry Potter and Escape from Gringott’s Ride. I’m glad I didn’t, though.
Magnificently done, the Gringott’s bank has a marble lobby with life-like goblins. The ride itself is a combination of a quite scary roller coaster and a movie in which Harry, Ron and Hermione take on Bellatrix and Voldemort. The thing I loved the best at the Harry Potter part of the park is that adult Harry Potter fans walk around in actual robes. Don’t be ashamed of letting the world see you are a Potter geek. There’s a valuable lesson in there.
How to secure the best tickets
Ticket prices are sky high for the popular theme parks in Orlando. I found the best deal at Undercover Tourist. We bought a 1-day Base Ticket (1 park). Make sure you book in advance, since you buy the actual tickets. They cannot be sent by e-mail for some reason are sent to a physical address. We had them sent to our friends’ address in Orlando. But you can also have them forwarded to your hotel address. It can save you a lot of money to compare ticket prices on several websites, depending on the package you need (1 or 2 parks, 1 or 2 days, number of family members, extras such as express passes, etc.).
If you checked the crowd calendar and it will be busy on the day of your visit, you might want to consider Express Passes. There was no need for Express Passes when we visited mid-May. But in high season visiting with young kids, it might be worth the extra cost. Convenience has its price, after all. These passes allow you to skip the line. Please note that express passes are only valid for either the Universal Studios park or the Islands of Adventure park. If you are staying in one of Universal Studios de-luxe hotels, you get a complimentary express pass at reception.
A big plus of staying on site at one of Universal Studio’s hotels is early access to the parks, before other visitors are allowed in. The hotels are more expensive, but there are plenty of guest benefits. all are on walking distance of both parks and the Universal City Walk entertainment area. There is a free shuttle bus service to the parks. And on top of that the early access. Something I failed to notice when planning our trip, is that only the Islands of Adventure park opens an hour early. So if you want to head out to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter early, make sure you have a park-to-park ticket and start your day at Islands of Adventure.