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universal studios orlando

Is Universal Studios Orlando Worth The Steep Admission

In the last six months we’ve been to four major theme parks, and to be honest, we haven’t had a worthy experience until this month!

Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida was our most recent theme park visit, and by far our best.  I’ve decided to tell you about our Universal experience first, so that you don’t think we’re total haters when you see our thoughts on the others in upcoming articles (Disney World vs. Disney Land and Not Scary, Knotts Berry Farm).

Neither of us had ever been to Universal Orlando before so we really didn’t know what to expect.  Sure we’ve seen the seemingly epic TV commercials with the tag line, ‘Vacation Like You Mean It’, but we already knew from our other theme park experiences what the commercials weren’t depicting: it’s going to be crowded, we’ll waste countess hours waiting in a lot of very long lines and we’ll leave the park wondering if it was worth the steep price of admission!  Needless to say, we didn’t go into Universal naïve, nor with high hopes of being wowed.

It all starts with a ticket

Picking up our tickets at will call and getting into the park were both pretty painless and quick.  We had one day park-to-park tickets plus an express pass which together costs $200+ per person, depending on the day you select.  Universal has an online calendar with pricing that varies, literally, day-to-day.  If you plan on riding rides, you will want the express pass…no scratch that…you will NEED the express pass!  It is a price increase but it provides a much better park experience and easily cut our wait times in half (and maybe even by 3/4).

We arrived just minutes after the gates opened and quickly made our way to the first map station to began plotting out our plan of attack.

universal studios orlando

I am not going to sugar coat it, after looking at the map I had two main objectives and anything outside of that was gravy:

  1. Both Harry Potter worlds would be thoroughly investigated, critiqued and compared (which will take most of the day).
  2. See if Dr. Seuss had been properly represented and if so, take design notes for my future home (yes, someday I want to have a home that looks like it was designed by Dr. Seuss, Tim Burton and Antoni Gaudi).

Seuss Landing

Even though it’s a land mostly for kids, it felt exactly as it should.  The shops were just shops and the food was just food but the whimsical buildings were pulled right from the pages of the iconic books!  I would have loved a giant, crazy Seuss themed roller coaster but it didn’t exist, we did have one ride picked out on our “if time allows” list.

The Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter

Without forcing every guest to wear a costume, this is about as close to Hogwarts as you’re likely to get.  Every detail from the food, drinks, shops and everything in between was all about making you feel transported to another world.  It doesn’t take much to see what all the fuss is about.

If you don’t like crowds, this isn’t the place for you!  People line up for everything here and rightfully so.  They’ve made everything from choosing a wand to shopping for chocolate frogs an immersed Harry Potter experience.  Half the fun is strolling through all the shops as each one is decked out with “appropriateness”.

We didn’t buy into the consumerism but I do see the appeal, especially when it comes the interactive wands.  We loved watching the little kids proudly step up to each spell locator, thoughtfully wave about their wand and smile ear to ear with each accomplishment.

Taking the Hogwarts Express train from he The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade (located at Islands of Adventure) to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (located at Universal Studios Florida) was another lovely surprise that was extremely well executed and highly entertaining.  Universal could have made it a simple, boring transfer from Islands of Adventure to Universal Studios Florida but instead we were surrounded by a theater of Harry Potter magic, and within what seemed like a blink of the eye and the train arrived at the station and we were immediately transported to another world.

Both worlds were equally impressive, down to every detail…but the dark, cool and misty feel of Knockturn Alley was especially fitting and probably our favorite area.

I love a good thrill ride and while I can’t say that most of the rides at Universal got my adrenaline going they were all fun and extremely interactive experiences.  The newer the ride, the better the effects…so Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was an experience worth the wait (express passes don’t work here) and the talking pictures are just too cool for school!  Jason however, will not be joining a Quidditch team anytime soon, poor guy just doesn’t have the stomach for it.

One Major Flaw

The bigger rides do not allow you to take anything with you!  Everything has to be left behind in a fingerprint safe locker.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if there was a little organization and it wasn’t such a free-for-all.  The lockers in the Harry Potter area can get crazy intense and it took us 20 min just to squeeze our way in, just to find there were “technology” issues with the finger print readers.  This must be done before you can get in line.  So it can be a frustrating, time consuming way to start the line waiting experience.

The Big Takeaway

One day isn’t enough to explore everything and one day tickets are just too expensive.  Multi day tickets offer much better values.  We only got to half of the rides and attractions on our list.  Luckily with our express passes we were able to see and experience a lot of the parks.

Overall we found that each area was a fun experience in its own way.  Chances are if you loved the film or cartoon, you will very much like being surrounded by the world dedicated to it within Universal.  Jason was always a big Simpsons fan so he had fun poking around Springfield while I liked the colorful world of the comic book hero’s (especially the heart stopping Hulk coaster that Jason did NOT ride).  But of course, the most impressive by far is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

City Walk

The day we visited the park closed at 8pm, which seemed early to us, but City Walk is outside the park boundary and turned out to be the perfect place to wind down, instead of jumping into the exit traffic.  Surprisingly, they had some interesting restaurants, specifically one called CowFish that Jason knew from its original location in North Carolina.  Their claim to fame is the Burgushi (think: meat collides with fresh fish) but their housemade veggie burger and killer sushi rolls are perfect for pescatarians like us.

We couldn’t believe it, of all of the cities this place would choose to open another location, it would be here.  So, we settled in for some well-deserved cocktails, excellent sushi rolls and the craziest bento box combo I have ever seen.  A few recommendations: save your appetite and food budget to use here because the food quality and pricing is better than inside the park; if you eat meat the “Prime Time” Filet and Lobster Roll (take that surf n turf) looked crazy good; dessert might be best enjoyed elsewhere as our order didn’t wow us; and finally ask for the Wisconsin transplant Dean as your server, he was way cool.

 

Overall, it’s hard to justify the price of admission but if it’s within your budget it is an experience.  We had a fun day and we finally walked away with a good theme park adventure…or better yet an experience we would actually recommend to others.

 

Where We Parked It

There are a lot of parks to choose from in the area with pricing all over the map.  So, we went the easy route.  We still had a couple of kamping vouchers left and the Kissimmee/Orlando KOA was a good middle point between the major theme parks in the area.  It made for a very easy decision for us, and the 23hr pool (the 24th is closed for maintenance) was a nice bonus.

Kamping Orlando

 

Are you a big theme/adventure park person?  Have a tip, story, or a favorite park we should consider?  Tell us all about it in the comment box below!

 

Disclaimer – A big thanks to Universal Studios Orlando for the media passes and CowFish for hosting an awesome dinner.  As usual our thoughts and opinions are our own and not swayed or purchased.  We just tell it like it is.

 

Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (30)

  • Diane Morelli Bintz

    I visited the park with my husband and son when we were in Florida for spring vacation. We were very dissatisfied with the price of the tickets. We paid full price for park tickets and the park was only open until 6:30. I was expecting to stay till 10:00. Shouldn’t the park adjust the ticket prices if they are not going to stay open for the whole day?. We felt price gouged.
    I did the math…. It cost the three of us $70.00 each to walk in the doors and $10.00 each to ride the rides we had time for. We also ate at the park $34.00, and we got up sold to park closer $32.00. Still got in the park later then we were told. Plus we were burdened by solicitors trying to up sale us on everything. So for a family of three it cost ….$573.00 to come to your park for 7hours. Thank god we didn’t have our other two children with us. This is not affordable for families to do. This cost more then the plane tickets to get to Florida for all three of us!

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  • Lindsey

    My husband I are Harry Potter fans and are from Orlando, so we have been to both parks many times. Have you ever been to London? In my opinion, the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour is the only thing that compares to the experience Universal provides. If/when you make it to the UK I couldn’t recommend it more.

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  • Darwin

    Hey there! Just wondering, I’m trying to plan out my 2 days between Universal studios and Islands of adventures. Did you just do spend the morning at Universal studios, then to Diagon alley, catch the train to Hogsmede, and spend the last few hours at Islands of adventure? I guess with a second day I can do that order in reverse and catch the rides I wasn’t able to the day before.

    Your trip was different in a sense that you only focused on Harry Potter World and Dr. Seuss. Although I do want to explore Harry Potter in detail I still want to check the rest of the park. How much time did you spend in Diagon Alley and Hogsmede? I mainly would want to ride the rides (which I believe are only a few right), get a wand, and try butterbeer.
    thanks!

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    • It’s impossible to say, our only regret is we didn’t spend more time in the Harry Potter areas first thing in the morning. We could have spent an entire day exploring and roaming about the two HP lands.
      Good luck and HAVE FUN!

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  • Thais

    Hey great post! I have a question. Would you recommend 2 days park passes with no express instead of 1 day park passes with express pass?
    Curious!
    thanks

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  • Andy

    Nice article! We live in Florida and have annual passes, so we visit universal pretty often. The major flaw you mentioned is a relatively recent change – the park wasn’t designed to force people to lock up their stuff prior to riding, but a series of incidents where stuff fell out of people’s hands/pockets and injured others caused them to change the policy. They didn’t originally build enough lockers and didn’t design the rides with this in mind, so it really is a pain. Hopefully they’ll reconfigure at some point. For the same reason, the dragon challenge ride changed – both coasters use to go at the same time and there are several points in the rides where both coasters are right next to each other in loops or turns – it was pretty cool, but again, a couple of injuries later and now the rides are run out of sequence.

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  • Rod

    Nice review guys, a 2 day pass is definitely on our planned 5 month north american trip. And enjoy the boat adventure when it begins, Hope you get down to Australia to check it out.

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  • Tracy a.k.a. "C" Our RV

    Hubby and I are going on a cruise this Christmas for 7 days. We have decided to extend our vacation one more day to visit Universal Studios Orlando. We are so excited! Especially me! I’m such a Harry Potter nerd. Expecto Patronum! Thanks for your insightful commentary on the park. Since we’ve never been, the tip about the Express pass not working on the Forbidden Journey is going to save us the cost of purchasing the express pass. You guys are great. Enjoy the adventure!

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  • Judy

    We wanted to visit the park the week after Daigon Alley opened last summer and after MUCH research & bargain hunting (I’m ALSO allergic to over-paying for theme park tix!) I decided to go with a seasonal ticket which cost a little over $300 per person ( we live in NY but RV around Florida often). Compared to the price of a two day, two park ticket (necessary to see both Harry Potter attractions) ended up being the most cost efficient alternative for us, especially since half of the price of each pass can be financed with no interest for 12 months, and their are considerable discounts to premium pass holders including free parking.
    Also, if you RV, I HIGHLY recommend the Clermont Thousand Trails for proximity to the parks as well as excellent amenities.
    To save on refreshments, try toting empty water bottles which can be filled with ice cold H2O for free at the many soda stations throughout the park and flavored (if you prefer) with small drink mix packets you pick up at any store outside the park(s).
    I always pack snacks like nuts & crackers-some lines are so long you wonder if you should’ve packed a change of clothes too!
    Thanks, Nicki & Jason for making RV’ing cool to generations who might not otherwise have thought so!

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  • Wow Jason & Nikki, I loved this experience from your email notification through your Universal Studios tour. My mind got lost in your adventure and I forgot all my worldly cares throughout the tour. Thank you for this vicarious vacation and sharing your adventure. I love your new website by the way and especially seeing where you currently are located in your adventure travels. Please continue to share your adventures with us house ridden folks. You are very much appreciated.

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  • Mike Johnson

    Great article but to be honest, we swore off ALL theme parks years ago. I firmly believe these companies while providing beautiful grounds and well trained people to make you feel special, are killing people who simply want to provide a memorable vacation for their kids… they are killed by the debt they incur just to get them to the park and then pay for it! Call me a hater if you wish, but we took in the national parks, private resorts and beaches, a few overseas countries with the kids and now with our grand kids and I don’t think they’ve missed the mouse, Harry Potter or Mrs. Knott’s chicken. Love to follow you guys!

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  • Andrea

    I am insane for all things Harry Potter but I have never made it to Universal because the price just puts me off, especially when you consider I’m part of a family of four. This is the reason, as much as my kids love Disney (they’ve been to DisneyWorld and Disney Paris twice), we just can’t bring ourselves to go again. It’s $1,300 just for park passes for a four day visit. We’d rather spend that relaxing on tropical beach!

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    • carl

      While it not the cheapest thing to do, going to a theme park is not all that expensive.

      depending on where you get tickets at the above site you can get Adult 4 day Park to Park tickets, buy 2 get 2 days , for $199 each.. child tickets same type are $189 each, so for a family of 4, 2 adults and 2 kids the cost is $850 with far less than $1300 dollars you stated.

      Ticket Quantity Price Total
      CHILD 3-9 4 Day Park to Park Tickets Buy 2 Get 2 Days Free

      $189.00 $378.00
      ADULT 10 4 Day Park to Park Tickets Buy 2 Get 2 Days Free – E-TICKET

      $199.00 $398.00
      Sub Total $776.00
      Taxes & fees $72.44
      Sub Total Before Shipping $848.44

      Just saying.. Plus one day passes are NOT a good deal.. plan to go at least 4 days to see and ride everything you want in both parks.

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  • Steph

    Great information! We have a friend who is a Harry Potter fanatic! We aren’t really but it is always great to experience things through an excited persons eyes 🙂 Maybe a future trip. We took our niece & nephews to Walt Disney World in Florida a few years ago and had the best time ever! Well worth it. Stayed a week and I have to say that Tinker Bells grand entrance was a real highlight, made the kids happy and made us feel a lot younger:) Great to see you both being kids & having FUN!

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  • Lin Sanchez

    I see you thank Universal Studios for media passes? Did that allow you in places the general public wouldn’t get to? You said you paid $200 a pop to get in so I’m curious what the media passes allowed you to do that your regular passes didn’t. Also, do you know when is the “best” time (ie. least crowded) to go? We went to Disney World Orlando (LOVED the Animal Kingdom) in October a few years back & had a pretty great experience.

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  • Redds

    Ok right from the get-go I saw the problem with this article, Jason had the map. LOl Great job guys

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  • Mark

    We loved the details, but the crowds were way too much. We had the same experience with the lockers – WAY too many people.

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  • Janet

    I just visited the Harry Porter World for the first time last month. It opened about four years ago, about a month before I moved away from FL, so I have been waiting to go 4-EVER! The explanation of your experience was just like mine. If you loved the books or movies, you will love the park. The details they put into everything was so cool! IF u can ignore the crowds. Make sure you look up above the crowds and take a look at the details in everything. And one thing u didn’t mention that I think is worth it for someone thinking of going: to experience it all, you have to buy a joint ticket for universal studios AND islands of adventure. If you don’t, u miss half the Harry potter experience, and you don’t get to ride the train, which was too cool to miss. If u were only sorta meh about Harry potter, you could be good with just one of the parks. The interactive wands were awesome to watch, but don’t waste money on it, u can just watch the kids do it. Also, I didn’t find the speed pass to be worth it, but I spent most of my time in the Harry Potter sections. And there weren’t many rides there, and the stand in line stuff mostly didn’t take the pass. However, I did ride the Hulk….. And it was AWESOME!!!! Glad you guys had fun, thanks for sharing your experience!

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  • Beverly Fry

    Try Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO. Go during a festival. If you go in early September they have a wonderful Fall Crafts Festival and it’s still warm enough for rides including Outlaw Run which is a blow your mind wooden coaster that goes upside down. Crafts meaning pottery, coppersmiths, coopers, quilters, glass blowers and many amazing artists. There’s even a cave on park!!! Camp at Table Rock Lake state park. Cheap and fabulous!

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    • Steph Dozier

      We loved Silver Dollar City! We went last summer BUT it took us 2.5 hours to get from Branson to the park. There’s only one two lane road leading to the park and we wished we had mapped out another route even if it meant driving around the city to get here.(Normally 20-30 min.) That part was a bummer but once there we had a blast! Amazing leather crafters, quilt and pottery makers and don’t get me going on the glass blowers and local art. Even in the heat of summer (July) the temperatures were quite nice and the park has lots of big shady trees. (Just map that route to the park ahead of time or ask locals for the best way to get there).

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  • Saw you guys on HGTV and have been fans ever since. Watching Harry Potter now and noticed your blog post was in my inbox… Love your travels, the way you write in such a way that we feel like we are right there with you, and how great you two are together. Thanks for always taking us on a vacation!

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  • Stephanie Dozier

    Your post could not have come at a better time! I’ve been struggling to justify whether going to Universal Studios is worth the $$$$. We have to do the big D because our girls would go on strike if we didn’t. I’ve been to US in California and it was great and it sounds like it’s something we check off the bucket list. I’m a big fan of Harry Potter so Im excited to check out the park. Did you find any other good eats around Orlando? Are there any other activities in the area you’d suggest?

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