spreadsheets and suitcases

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Theme Park Planning- Universal Islands of Adventure

on August 19, 2014

You may have glommed onto the fact that I LOVE Disney, and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in one of my favorite places on Earth.  I’ve had the pleasure of introducing my daughter and husband to Disney World, and next time we go it’ll be my son’s first trip, wee!

For reasons I’ll go into in future Disney trip planning posts, we always stay on-site at the Resort hotels.  I like to arrive in Orlando, get on a Disney Magical Express bus, arrive at my Disney resort hotel, experience the magic, and only leave Disney property to go back to the airport.  I stay in the “Disney Bubble,” you see.

Those are indeed, matching shirts.

Those are indeed matching shirts.  It’s all part of being a Disney dork.


But…..there’s a little phenomenon that you may have heard of.  It’s a series of books about a boy wizard

My sister and I are both avid readers, and I started reading the Harry Potter series at her suggestion.  I absolutely loved the books and was very excited when I heard that Universal Resort Orlando was building the magical village of Hogsmeade, as part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  It opened in summer 2010, and I have been plotting to go ever since.  I have, however, limited us to a 1-day visit, so as not to lose valuable Disney Time.  And, I’ve scheduled this as Theme Park Day 1 of our vacation, so we don’t really get into the Disney Bubble until after this day is over.  

So, ride along with me (on a Firebolt, perhaps?) as I plan our visit to Universal Islands of Adventure (IoA) next year.

islands of adventure logo

What, I’m planning a 1-day visit 11 months in advance?  Yes, YES I AM.  I haven’t been to Universal since 2001, and much has changed.  So, it’s time to read up.  I’ll be learning as I post, so I would love to hear any tips or tricks you have come across as well.

First, a quick description of the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.  There are 3 separate Parks: Wet ‘n Wild Waterpark, Universal Studios Florida, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

1. Wet ‘n Wild Waterpark looks like a fun day for people who like spending the entire day in a waterpark.  I am not that type of person, so we didn’t consider visiting this park.  I’m sure it’s great, though- we had fun at the Boardwalk area of Hershey Park, because that water park is incorporated into the rest of the park as opposed to on its own.

2. The headliner rides at Universal Studios Florida include Transformers: The Ride 3D, Revenge of the Mummy, MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack, The Simpsons Ride, E.T. Adventure, and many quality shows.  None of the characters these rides are based on are my cup of tea, so it was easy to rule out this park when I first started to think about taking some time outside the Disney bubble to go to Universal.  Life threw a serious curveball at my plans with the very recent opening of another section of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter– this time they’ve built Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.  The Escape from Gringotts ride looks AMAZING, as does the ride on the Hogwarts Express.  Unfortunately, if we want to see both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, we would need Park-to-Park Admission tickets, which cost significantly more than the 1-day 1-Park tickets I was planning to get.  We’d be paying the premium on the park tickets simply to see Diagon Alley, since as I mentioned, the other rides in this park don’t appeal to us.  Plus, I don’t want to try to visit both parks in the 1 day I’ve allotted.  So after a lot of thought, we’re sticking with just Islands of Adventure for Hogsmeade on this trip, and plan to see Diagon Alley on a future trip.

3. That brings us to the glory that is a theme park that contains both Hogwarts Castle AND Jurassic Park.  At Hogsmeade, we’ll ride the Forbidden Journey, take the Dragon Challenge, soar on Flight of the Hippogriff, and have a wand choose us at Ollivander’s.  And we can’t forget the butterbeer!

Also available as Frozen Butterbeer!  Does not contain alcohol :)

Also available as Frozen Butterbeer! Does not contain actual  alcohol 🙂

You guys, Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time.  So, the River Adventure ride is a must-do.  And since my son is too small to ride, he can visit the Camp Jurassic play area, and ride the Pteranodon Flyers with dad or big sis as I ride the River Adventure as many times as humanly possible.

A vacation almost 4 years in the making!

A vacation almost 5 years in the making!

Other fun areas of the park include Seuss Landing and Marvel Super Hero Island, home of the incredible Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride.  I’m pretty excited for my husband to ride Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, since he is a connoisseur of log flume rides, thank you very much.  And I’m sure it will be very refreshing to get completely soaked on Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.

OK, here’s my park strategy to hopefully avoid lines and maximize park time:

  • We need to know the park hours, and looking at August 2014, IoA is consistently opening at 9am daily throughout the summer.  It’s important to know that Universal Resort hotel guests get a 1-hour head start into the parks ahead of the general public, which means they’ll be in at 8am, with many guests heading immediately to the Hogsmeade section of the park.  In order to have a chance of riding Harry Potter rides in the morning, we need to be at the entrance gate by no later than 8:30.  They occasionally let general public guests in 10-15 minutes before “official” opening, so we’ll want to be ready to go at the gate!
  • We’re traveling to IoA from our Disney Resort on a Mears Shuttle, since we’re not renting a car while in Florida and I don’t think the 1-hour head start is worth the huge premium for a Universal Resort Hotel for just 1 day, though guests do get Front-of-the-Line access with the Universal Express-Unlimited benefit as described in the link above.  Note: You can also purchase this benefit as a non-resort park guest, but since we’re not looking to ride The Hulk or other thrill rides I don’t think we need it.  They say to leave 30-60 minutes for the shuttle ride, since the van picks up guests at up to 3 Disney resorts before heading out to IoA.  This means we’re look at leaving at around 7:30am for the 9am park opening.  The Mears shuttle picks up at all Disney Resorts, and they charge $19 round-trip for transportation to/from Universal for adults, with kids costing a little less.  You can’t book this trip online, you have to call 407-423-5566.
  • When we get to the park, we’ll go right to Wizarding World, then do a crazy zig-zag around to the different lands and rides, in order to do the wet rides during the hottest part of the day, and carefully mix in kid activities and rest breaks.  My hope is that many of the day guests will leave during the afternoon downpour that is typical of a summer in Florida.  We’ll see if that bears out, and if so, spend more time exploring the Hogsmeade area with fewer crowds in the evening before leaving.
  • After we’re done in the park, we’ll go over to CityWalk, the dining/entertainment complex between the 2 Parks, and have dinner at Moe’s, which is my favorite Mexican food chain.  Locals: the only one on Oahu is at Pearlridge.
  • Then we’ll get back on the Mears Shuttle, head back to our Disney Resort….and immerse ourselves in the bubble once again, ahhhhhh 🙂
I'm printing this sucker out for my binder!

I’m printing this sucker out for my binder!


My spreadsheet section for Universal includes Budget categories for park tix, transportation, food, souvenirs, and misc (depending on how hot or tired we are, we might need to rent a stroller for my son).  For souvenirs, we’ll for sure buy one of the official photos they take of you on a ride or at the entrance, a photo frame for said photo, a wand from Ollivander’s for my daughter, the obligatory T-shirt for my husband, and something fun for the little guy.  And, most importantly, my magnet!

Ooooh, I can’t wait!

One response to “Theme Park Planning- Universal Islands of Adventure

  1. […] Theme Park Planning- Universal Islands of Adventure Aug […]


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