islands of adventure

HVL Travels | The Wizarding World of Harry Potter | Universal Studios | Orlando, Florida

Alright friends, this post is long overdue...and also long.  My mom and I took our mother-daughter trip to Orlando last June.  I have asked many times about going - part joking because I knew she probably wouldn't care to go, but mostly serious because I love Harry Potter.  So I was surprised and pumped when she brought it up that that should be our destination and it was awesome!

Going to a theme park as an adult without children seemed like a silly idea at first, but once we got there, I realized we were definitely not the only ones - especially the millennials - and once we got back, I started seeing my facebook feed show up with tons of other people and their photos to the Orlando theme parks.  Alas, here is my post about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and our tips and insights from our trip.  Most of the photos here were shot on iphone because sometimes that's the best camera option in your pocket.

First up, Cabana Bay.  We stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort.  It's one of the few resorts within walking distance to the park and we loved staying there for multiple reasons.  First, we got a package deal that included our accommodations and park tickets which just made everything easier.  We did the 3 day pass, which was great because we didn't feel rushed or that we had to stay at the park all day long to get our money's worth.  There are multiple ways to get to the park.  We got a lot of use out of the walking trail, but when we were too tired from the hot sun, we could take the shuttle or even rickshaw (yep).  You valet your car and since it's so close to attractions there's no need to really use your vehicle unless you want to venture out, which also means you don't have to pay for expensive parking at the parks.  

The resort itself is full of retro flair, which I am a huge fan of! If you wanted to just have a hotel day, there would be plenty to keep you busy with a lazy river, movies by the pool, a bowling alley, food court etc.  For the lazy river, you can purchase floats from the resort, but we just brought our own from home.

Because we got the package deal, it came with early entry into Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure.  On the second day we figured out our rhythm.  After you get into the park, you make your first pit stop at the Starbucks that's in the "Port of Entry" section of the park.  Then you follow everyone back to Hogsmeade and get in line for something.  Then, you can sip while you wait - because you will still have to wait even if you got in early - just not as long. 

For those of you that know me, you know I'm a pretty frugal traveller.  As you also know, almost everything inside a theme park is way over priced.  What we did, was packed snacks and *empty* water bottles to bring into the park.  Once you're inside, you can fill them up at the water fountain.  *They check bags at the entrance to City Walk - no liquids.

A few other vacation food tips - share meals.  You're probably not going to have a place on you to store your left overs (and are you really going to eat them later?) and they always give you so much food in restaurants, but sharing is cheaper and more efficient and may possibly leave you with room for a treat later. ;)

As far as Universal Studios specific meals - if you're going to eat lunch inside the park, we would suggest the little french style cafe near the entrance of Universal Studios.  There was room inside to actually sit at a table, it wasn't too ridiculous in price, and was one of the few non greasy/ heavy food options.

Another suggestion if you just want to take a break and sit inside, is to go to the Three Broomsticks.  You have to order something if you go so we got fruit cups and Butterbeer! The butterbeer was yummy, but super sweet and I drank maybe half of it - probably should have shared that too.

I bought a KAVU backpack and it worked great.  It was big enough to hold everything (phone, keys, tickets, money, snacks, etc) but small enough to fit in the lockers.  

Most rides won't let you carry your belonging with you so you have to leave them in the free lockers outside each ride, which identify you by your fingerprint (whoa).  You just have to remember which locker you used. 

Now, I thought I was a pretty big fan, but apparently not judging by the other patrons at the park.  I didn't dress up or have a wand, but if I had a child and took them to Universal, I would definitely take them to Ollivander's to buy them an interactive wand.  They're about $50, but going in the shop and watching the "wand choose the wizard" is entertainment in itself.  

We had a park-to-park pass which allowed us to go to and from each park and ride the Hogwarts Express.  I really liked the Hogwarts Express.  It transports you to the other park, but it's also a ride and it's different each way.

As a person whose body can't handle roller coasters anymore, I would say that if you can only do one park, pick Universal.  The rides are more show like and built indoors, which means you get to stand in line in air conditioning.  Although, in the Harry Potter parts of the parks, standing in line can be part of the experience.  For example, at Hogwarts, you go through different parts of the castle before you ever get to the ride. Also at Universal, there are also street shows, which I was a fan of.

A couple other insights we noticed is that the single rider lane moved pretty fast and if you're ok with potentially not sitting next to your friend, it might be worth it.  Also, there were a ton of Europeans in Orlando - mostly British, but I'm pretty sure I heard every European language and more during our trip.  

I really wish the Jimmy Fallon ride was open! Not till this spring.

We didn't feel the pressure to only stay at the park so we did venture out a little and explored some other parts of Orlando.  The Rifle Paper flagship store is located nearby in Winter Park so we ventured over there one day and explored the town.  We also saw a movie over at the City Walk movie theater one night.  

If you've made it this far in the post, I congratulate you.  Keep on exploring whether close to home or far away!