My travel blog to Orlando was interrupted this weekend by flight problems that resulting in our getting back on a United flight after 1 am. We spent a full day at the new Harry Potter areas of Universal as well as the other Universal parks. The final day was spent at Epcot and Hollywood Studies back at Disney. We went to five parks in all between the Disney and Universal properties and had a ball. Despite the long delay at the Orlando airport (which had a security line that is a TSA disgrace and resulted in many missing their flights), the trip was awesome.
Universal Studios is the perfect company to recreate Hogwarts and the various locations from Diagon Alley to Gringotts to Hogsmead. We ate at the Leaking Cauldron and did the fantastic ride in Gringotts. Madie selected a wand which works at various stations (most were a bit unresponsive but the added cost for a “magical” want is $8 but the total is a steep $50). You take the Hogswarts Express between the two parks (Hogwarts is in one park and Diagon alley is in another park). It is a very cool ride with screens creating the feel of traveling with Harry Potter and friends. The compartment even gets cold when Dementors show up. Madie and I rode the Flight of the Hippogriff three times. It is a short but really fast ride. The more challenging rollercoaster in Hogwarts was down for repairs and the other big ride was a bit too ambitious for us. There was great live entertainment and characters on the streets. I particularly liked the dragon in Diagon Alley (on top of Gringotts) that would shoot fire every 15 minutes and the brick wall at King’s Cross Station that you run through like the book. (I would pass on exchanging money for “Gringotts money.” The paper dollars look like monopoly money and did not work well in parts of the park. It was a surprising low-grade product for Disney).
The rest of Universal was great fun. We bought a fast pass, but we could have probably gotten by without it. It did save us about an hour or 90 minutes by my calculation. There are a lot of adventures for kids of all ages. My only complaint is that, like Disney, they over sell tickets. Moreover, Universal puts even more emphasis on stores and merchandise over the “experience” of a place like the Hogwarts section.
Our final day in Epcot and Universal was a lot of fun but shorter because we had to get to the airport. (United did not tell us that the flight was three hours delayed until 40 minutes before we arrived at the airport). Epcot had some great outdoor entertainers and good food. We loved France the most. We took the boat ride to Hollywood Studies which was a mob scene with no fast passes available until late that night. We were able to do the Toy Story ride which is a fun 3D ride.
One of the highlights of the trip was staying at the Waldorf Astoria resort in Orlando. The hotel is a bit pricey and I was being hosted by the Federal Bar Association in Orlando as part of my speech. However, you can often get some good deals if you book late, particularly in the middle of the week. It is a wonderful hotel with a staff that was truly incredible. The staff looks after every possible need of the guests and they are uniformly friendly and engaging. The pools are beautiful and the workout room is top flight. I strongly recommend the hotel. There is a great bar on the first floor. The rare area for improvement is that the hotel maintains a self-parking system that seemed to continually fail for guests in trying to use their keycards. It happened repeatedly to me and I saw other guests having the same frustration. In a top notch hotel, the antiquated system was a surprise. However, that was a small inconvenience in an otherwise fantastic stay with great food and wonderful views (including of the fireworks in the various parks in the evening). This is a great hotel to serve as a base for the parks, which are only ten minutes away. Indeed, we gave serious thought of spending the last day at the resort relaxing, but opted to hit the last parks on the final day.
I have been to all of the Disney and Universal properties with four kids over the years. I remain impressed by the entertainment and, despite the price gouging and over sold parks, there is still endless fun to be found in the parks.
Here are a few pictures: