Skip to main content

Our Universal Recap Rundown!

 When we planned our trip to Disney we knew we had to spend a couple days at Universal Studios so Levi could experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We knew Ezra would love it too, of course, but Levi is the Harry Potter fan in the family and has always wanted to go, so we made it a priority. So, instead of doing all four parks at Disney, we did two parks in Disney and two at Universal: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. 

After lots of research, we ultimately decided the best option was to switch resorts mid-week. We stayed on Disney property for half of the week when we were doing their parks and the rest of the week at a Universal resort. We had originally planned a beach day at the end of the week, but since we decided to switch resorts, we threw our beach day in the middle of the week on the day that we switched. It was the best decision and I'll elaborate more on that on our beach day recap - but let's skip over that for now and keep up with the theme of the parks! 


Everything we read about Universal said to invest in the Express Pass. The Express Pass lets you skip all the lines and essentially just walk right on. There are only two rides that don't accept the Express Pass and that is the Velocicoaster and Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure, otherwise you pass all the lines. We had planned to stay on Disney property the entire time and then Uber over to Universal, but when we checked into the prices of the Express Pass (for the dates we were going, they were more than the price of our admission tickets!!!!), we found out that if you stay at a deluxe resort on their property, you each get Express Passes! So, to make the most of our time and money, it made the most sense to switch resorts and stay on their property and get the perk of skipping all the lines. It seriously made our Universal experience so, so enjoyable! The lines were 180 minutes long on some rides, and with our Express Passes we never waited longer than ten. We were riding 3-4 rides per hour. 

We stayed at The Hard Rock Resort and it was excellent. Our room was super spacious, beds were amazing, and it was just overall a fantastic stay. The quality of the hotel paired with the Express Passes made for a truly perfect time at Universal. We couldn't have asked for anything more!


If you plan to do both parks in one week, I highly suggest switching resorts. There are on-property perks that you get with each park. Transportation is a major perk and so much easier when staying on site. At Hard Rock we were just a 5 minute walk to the entrance of the parks or a charming little boat ride. We did both, and the boat ride was obviously the favorite! 

Our first day we did Universal Studios. We got to enter the park an hour early since we were staying on property and we dead-headed it back to Diagon Alley as soon as we arrived to beat the crowds. The Harry Potter worlds are pretty narrow, so I recommend hitting it first so you aren't shoulder to shoulder with the crowd.

It was truly magical rounding the corner and stepping foot into Diagon Alley. Levi was on the moon! The attention to detail that went into it was truly incredible, and it felt like we were there. 


We rode Escape from Gringott's first and let me just tell you, we were floored. Everything about it was incredible and so, SO fun! All of the Harry Potter rides were excellent. There was not one that we didn't enjoy! Our favorites were Escape from Gringott's, Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure (pictured below), and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. You walk through Hogwarts to get on Forbidden Journey and it is AMAZING. 


I snapped these photos were right when Hagrid's stopped and they're some of my favorite photos of the trip. You can just see how much fun we had!


If you buy a wand there are several interactive spots where you can "do magic" with your wand. That was one of the boys favorite parts. It was so fun!

If you want to do both Harry Potter Worlds, Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, you will want to get the park hopper tickets. If you want to ride the Hogwarts Express - a train ride that transports you from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade (Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure) and vice versa, you have to have a park hopper ticket. Otherwise, you can't ride the Hogwarts Express. And how can you go to Harry Potter World and not ride the Hogwarts Express?! 


Hogsmeade was just as magical as Diagon Alley. I absolutely loved the snow covered roof tops and wonder of it all.


You have to get a frozen butterbeer and some treats from HoneyDukes while you're there. We had lunch at the Three Broomsticks and it was super fun! The wait for was forever long, so get there before the lunch rush!


We love, love, loved all the Harry Potter stuff there was to see and do. In my opinion, that alone is worth going to Universal Studios. It's a must-see. 

The rest of Universal was fun, too. On the second day there we focused all our time in Islands of Adventure and we had so much fun. We got to ride the Velocicoaster which just opened up 2 weeks before we got there. It was hands down the most incredible coaster I've ever been on. It was also so smooth and didn't jerk you around that it made for a comfortable thrill. Hulk, however, did not. I was jostled around like a rag doll on that one.


The whole Jurassic Park area of the park was really cool. That and Hogsmeade were the best parts of Islands of Adventure for us!

I personally loved all the different cities we walked through in the original Universal Studios. Each place was so realistic to so many places that we've been. 



We ate dinner on our last evening in the parks at Mythos in Islands of Adventure, which is touted the best restaurant inside a theme park for several years in a row. The atmosphere was fun, and our waitress was great, but the food was just subpar for us. We had also read that their bread is the best thing they have and when we asked for a basket she said they aren't serving it due to Covid. Whatever that means... 


I do, however, highly recommend Toothsome's Chocolate Emporium at Universal City Walk which is just right outside of both parks. Our food was delicious and the dessert was something to behold! The atmosphere is awesome, too. 


Must Ride at Universal Studios:

*Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
*Revenge of the Mummy
*Jimmy Fallon
Hogwarts Express
*Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
Despicable Me (kids loved this one, I wasn't the biggest fan. It's a 3D ride.)
The Bourne Stuntacular (this is a show, and one of the best things we did there.)

Must Ride at Islands of Adventure:

*Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure
*Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Flight of the Hippogriff (not a thrill ride, but a fun little coaster.)
*Jurassic River Adventure
Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls

If you have an Express Pass it would be no problem at all riding all of these in two days, but without the Express Pass, you probably couldn't get them all in. I starred the ones I would choose if I could only ride four per park. 

There are a lot and I mean a LOT of 3D rides at Universal Studios. We prefer coasters/rides instead of 3D so those are the ones we will always choose. The 3D ones start to make you sick after a while and there are just so many of them. Kids usually love them, but parents can only ride so many before it gets old.

There is also a super cute Dr. Suess land that the littles would love, but we just walked through it on our way to get this donut. Priorities! 


Overall, we had such a great time at Universal and honestly the Express Pass was a huge part of that. After having already spent 2 days at Disney waiting in lots of lines, we were beyond thrilled to walk right on in Universal. Had we done our trip flip-flopped, we probably would have been disgruntled at all the Disney lines - but we didn't know better yet! 

I still have a lot to say about distinct differences we noticed, and that blog post is coming next. But for now, I have to say we had THE BEST TIME at both parks largely because we were together. And together is our favorite place to be!


I am a modern day homemaker with a passion for family, cooking, celebrating, decorating, travel, and memory making! The Lord has blessed me with the desires of my heart in my husband and our two sons. We recently built our dream home and cultivating a loving and happy haven for my family is where I find so much joy.