YES! There is more to do in Orlando than ‘just’ Walt Disney World. Although one can spend a week and never leave Disney property and have a totally great vacation, there are other things to see and do. There are other theme parks, water parks, and shopping complexes in and around Walt Disney World. Many people coming in for the first time don’t understand the set up of Walt Disney World itself. It truly is huge. Like a city onto itself. Or at least a suburb! Harry Potter, and Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure, is not a Disney park. That’s a great set back to many who think they can visit ‘everything’ on their Disney ticket. There are three other ‘main’ theme parks located in Orlando.
PARKING AT UNIVERSAL/ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE: Upon arrival, guests have the option of paying a little more to park up close or to continue on and park in a multi-level garage. I’ve always parked in the garage. It is a walk but it is helped out with an ‘airport’ feel within. There are moving sidewalks and a great feel of excitement.
ARRIVAL AT UNIVERSAL/ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE: Exiting the garage, the guest is immediately submersed in the feel of a party. The excitement is palpable. For those going to Universal Studios first (they do allow park hopping), stay to the right. For those going to Islands of Adventure, stay to the left. Follow to the turnstiles and enter the park.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS: This park was scheduled to open before ‘MGM/Hollywood Studios’. However, Disney got whiff of it and opened their own movie themed park a couple of months before Universal had the opportunity to do so. I was there on opening day at MGM…and it was a huge event! But it was rushed. There were not many things to do. The park has grown considerably since then. But if you go to MGM/Hollywood Studios – should you also go to Universal? YES! They are two completely different parks, telling two different stories! When Universal first opened it was one park – had some interesting rides – and a Hard Rock Cafe. Then, they expanded and built ‘City Walk’ and ‘Islands of Adventure’. This is what makes Universal such a great visit: you can walk between parks! It is what I like best about Disneyland and Disney’s California – which is separated by a shopping complex. Same thing here at Universal. The shopping and restaurants are excellent. There is a wide variety from Emeril’s to the still present Hard Rock. But what is there to see and do at Universal? A ton!
ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE: YES! This is where The Wizarding World of Harry Potter resides! I have had people come up to me and tell me they are going to ‘Harry Potter’s park’ without understanding that Harry Potter is just one ‘world’ within, Islands of Adventure – IOA. This park is great fun. Entrance is through an area with shops, which is great if you forgot to pick something up along the way since you can get it as you leave, and food. There is a lake in front which the park revolves around. If you go towards the right – you enter the world of Dr. Seuss. And oh what a wonderful world! The rides are fun and imaginative. If you go during Christmas, the people who work the shops all all dressed as Whos from Whoville. They walk around all day, stringing lights and wishing you well. It is GREAT! You can even eat breakfast with the Grinch, who is a very Grinchy Grinch…complaining and mean and totally fun! The lines in this area are never too busy. We do not visit here as often as Disney but even at Christmas and in the busiest of summer months, no ride is too long of a wait. From there, guests enter a zone of shops and restaurants before approaching Harry Potter. But when you get there, you’ll know! The train to Hogwarts is at the station, along with a conductor just ready to take pictures with. Rides here have been revisited (i.e., the roller coaster previously known Dueling Dragons is now Harry Potter themed). In the back – stands Hogwarts. In Hogwarts, is the Forbidden Journey ride. THAT is what all the fuss is over! We don’t stand in line. We fast pass at Disney – or just know when to come back to ride a ride if the line is too long. Here? We waited in what was advertised at 60 minutes. It was hot – but they have fans that push out a mist – and there are drinks offered for sale as well! If you have a bag and don’t have a child with you that is NOT riding the ride, you’ll have to drop everything off in the lockers. If you are planning on the ‘child swap’, where someone rides the ride and then comes back and trades places with the other member of the party so they can ride, you have to wait in line with everyone else. They have a room where Harry Potter movies are shown continuously while your party rides the ride. We ended up riding it twice (some of us at least!) within the 60 minutes. They adventure begins in line. There are props here and there themed with Harry. Upon entering Hogwarts – you understand the holdup. Everyone is taking pictures! There is so much to see!! Photos that move – staircases to nowhere. Such fun! And, Harry, Hermione, and Ron waiting to tell you all about the Forbidden Forest! The ride itself is something I couldn’t do more than once. It is a flight simulator ride mixed with a real moving ride. There are scary dark parts, and spiders, and spitting water and fire. It’s GREAT! Definitely worth the wait. This section of the park also has Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom. Very cool! And everyone working stays in character. They sign with feather pens. There’s tons of Harry stuff to be purchased, including butterbeer (cream soda with butter scotch) and pumpkin juice. Leaving Harry (which is hard to do because I could spend all day there), you enter the Jurassic Park area. The ride here is phenomenal. From the Lost Continent, you enter the ‘boy’ part of the park. Music is blaring – there’s tons of thrill rides – and lots of Marvel characters.
SEAWORLD: Shamu! Need I say more? This is a lovely park. The extreme details to make it beautiful are amazing. Plus, there is so much to see and do. They have the thrill rides if you want but more importantly they have the sea life! Did you always want to pet a dolphin? Here you get your chance. And if you get some of the food for them, it makes it very easy for a few wonderful pats of the solid jelly feel of a dolphin. There’s also a stingray petting area. And tons of animal shows to see. Food here is pretty good with the barbeque ribs near the Shamu show being quite tasty!