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Family Experience Of The Month: Universal Orlando Resort, Florida

A series of three theme parks, Universal Orlando Resort is a dream destination for children.

For a super-fun family holiday – that adults will no doubt love as much as kids – a trip to Universal Orlando Resort offers thrilling rides, famous movie sets, a fun water park, themed five-star hotels, and much more.

What is Universal Orlando Resort?

Universal Orlando Resort is home to some of the biggest and most popular theme parks in the world. First opening in 1990, it is now comprised of three individual parks, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay Water Park – each packed with rides, rollercoasters, shows, plus TV and movie sets including the Simpsons, Jurassic Park, Spiderman, King Kong and Harry Potter. The large resort also encompasses hotels, restaurants and a shopping complex, and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the USA with thousands flocking through its gates every day.

Arriving here feels like stepping into a movie (or multiple movies). The sets blend together seamlessly, with walkways guiding you from one to another. As you enter each themed area or ‘island’ you’ll spot its very distinctive character; for example, Springfield USA (home to the Simpsons) is bright and playful with a fairground feel, while the Jurassic Park area is housed in a prehistoric world with rocks and large model dinosaurs on every corner – the famous movie theme tune playing throughout. Music plays a large part in the overall experience; no matter which area you’re in, well-known soundtracks help to create the atmosphere. You’ll also find restaurants and food stalls scattered throughout all of the parks and, while all are themed, the food is generally classic American fare with burgers and fries always available. 

Who is it for?

Adults and children alike: you’ll hear gasps of delight from both. This is a place for the young, but also the young at heart. Each park is packed with rides and shows for all age groups, and each area has something to offer everyone.

Little ones will love trying out the smaller merry-go-rounds and trains with their parents: The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride which weaves its way around a section of the park is likely to be a favourite, as is the slowly-spinning flying saucer ride, Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl in Springfield USA. Another big hit is the ‘meet and greet’ opportunities where children will come face-to-face with their favourite cartoon characters. Dance along with Dora The Explorer as her colourful, musical float passes through the park, wave to the cast of Kung Fu Panda or shake hands with the Marvel superheroes. Characters can be spotted across the parks all day long, so keep your eyes peeled. To see even more, be there for the Superstar Parade which passes through twice daily – ask stewards in the park about timings on the day. 


The Incredible Hulk Coaster

The Incredible Hulk Coaster

Thrill-seeking older kids and teens will love the truly huge variety of roller coasters and simulator rides. Speed through the jungle chasing dinosaurs on the Jurassic World VelociCoaster, loop-the-loop on the enormous Hulk ride or try out Revenge of the Mummy, an indoor roller coaster with stomach-churning twists and turns. All the rides have height restrictions, and staff are on hand to guide you on this, plus tell you more about what’s in store and suitability for each age group.

The Highlights

It’s almost impossible to list the highlights; there are so many things to experience and everyone will have their own favourite. There is one area, however, that nearly all visitors make a beeline for: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Spread across two parks, travel between them on the Hogwarts Express train; you’ll sit in replica carriages that look exactly as they do in the films and offer special-effect windows with views of the journey from King’s Cross to Hogwarts. On one side, Islands of Adventures, explore Hogsmeade village and try some (non-alcoholic) Butter Beer at The Three Broomsticks restaurant. Enter the spectacular Hogwarts castle, and make your way through the corridors and staircases – with paintings on the walls that come to life – to join the famous pupils on the thrilling Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey where you’ll whizz through the castle on a state-of-the-art simulator carriage ride. Other rides include Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure (the most recent and sought-after ride in the parks – and with queues to match) and the Flight of the Hippogriff, a mini roller coaster which is great for younger children.

On the Universal Studios side, stroll down Diagon Alley and visit Gringotts Bank for another exciting simulator ride that will take you deep into the vaults with goblins. Stop at Ollivanders wand shop to pick up your own interactive wand (choose from styles that belonged to everyone from Dumbledore to Voldemort); it can be used to ‘cast spells’ around Diagon Alley. Every tiny detail of the sets – from the buildings and interiors to the shops and the costumes on very life-like models – closely resemble those from the film, and it’s easy to forget that you are not actually in the movie. Children and adults alike will be mesmerised.

Epic Universe, a fourth theme park, is set to open in 2025. The 750-acre expansion will double the size of Universal Orlando Resort and include fantastical new worlds including How to Train Your Dragon — Isle of Berk and Super Nintendo World.

Need to know

Volcano Bay Water Park is a few miles down the road from Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, which are right next to each other in a resort that includes Universal CityWalk, plus dining, shopping and entertainment districts. From hot dog stalls to burgers and delicious Mexican food at Antojitos, you’ll find plenty of (very) family-friendly dining spots to choose from – or pop into The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium for an ice cream sundae. 


The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium

The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium

Everything here is accessible for parents; buggy-friendly and accommodating of young visitors, the parks have plenty of highchairs in restaurants, changing facilities, pram rentals and nursing areas. A clever ‘child swap’ system allows both parents and older siblings to enjoy the bigger rides without queuing twice: each ride and attraction has a family room where one member of your party can wait with little ones while the rest of your group rides. Once they’re finished, switch places so whoever rode can stay with the kids and those who sat out can have a turn. 


Loews Sapphire Falls Resort

Loews Sapphire Falls Resort

There are a number of options when visiting Universal Orlando: buy tickets to one park, two, or all three; go for the day or choose a multi-day ticket and book into one of the resort hotelsLowes Sapphire Falls Resort, Loews Portofino Bay and Hard Rock Hotel are just a short walk or water taxi ride from the two main parks. Our top tip? Buy fast passes which help you skip the queue at almost all rides. 

Where is it? 

Universal Studios is in the heart of Orlando, Florida, just a 20-minute drive from Orlando airport. 

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