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teachermom2834

Universal Orlando?

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We are going in March. Dh, me, 17 yo ds, and 11 yo dd. Big Harry Potter fans but will enjoy the other things too. 

I am generally a very frugal traveler (when we did Disney with four kids we stayed off site and carried snacks and drinks and hardly ate in the parks just for an idea). I don't want to throw away stupid money on a dream vacation but I don't want to be so frugal we miss out. So I am looking at all the options. I'm intrigued by staying on site and getting the early entry to Harry Potter and also thinking of splurging either for the Unlimited Express Pass or staying at a Premier hotel where it is included. Though I have never paid nearly that much for a hotel in my life. I'm more the type to stay cheap off site and then plan the trip using touring plans to avoid wait times.

So what do I need here to have a great time at Universal for 2- 2.5 days?  We can go all day without a rest and we plan on the park to park for sure. Probably will eat quick service or snacks and not worried about sitting down to a nice dinner. Do we need the Unlimited Express? Do we need to stay on site for the early entry? Does staying on site save a bunch of commute time/parking hassles? 

I like to do things cheap but this is probably a one time thing for our family so I do feel inclined to do it right. 

Thanks!

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I'm no expert, but we stayed off site and didn't fine it that onerous. Unlike WDW, everything is right there. You park and walk in through the "downtown" area to the entrance to either park. They're really close to each other and the downtown area is just all around the entrances. So that's a very different vibe from WDW. Honestly, much easier overall to show up, spend the day, go park to park. So... you might want to do the hotel there. Or not. I'm not sure about the extra perks of that, but driving in for the day is easy peasy.

The mid-range sit down dining options are actually better than WDW in my opinion. We had a great meal at Mythos, which was sit down and tons of cool theming, and a really good meal... for a price that was not cheap, but definitely much cheaper than similar options at Disney. There are other pretty good spots... you can look. The food at Harry Potter stuff is all quick service and all okay. Some people rave about it. I just thought it was fine.

We didn't get any of the express pass things, but we were there during a low attendance time. I've heard they can be worth it, but I'm guessing it depends. 

Overall, my kids enjoyed Universal more than WDW last time we went. Entering Diagon Alley was really something special.

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We were there in March 2018. We stayed at the least expensive Universal resort, which had a "buy two days of park tickets; get two free" deal. DS15 and I ended up only spending three days in the park instead of four (the rest went four days), because he was sick one day, and I stayed with him in the room. I still got to see everything that I wanted to and did quite a few rides multiple times.

The early entry was key. We rushed right back to the Harry Potter areas and walked right on to the major rides. Right after the regular opening time, the lines for the Harry Potter rides were huge, because everyone who didn't get early entry hurried back there. While we walked on to the rides, those visitors stood in line for an hour or more.

We did not have the pass that allows people to go in a shorter line, and we didn't need it. There were only a few rides that would build up a longer line over the day. For most, the waits were perhaps 15 to 30 minutes.

I was surprised that the parks were not busier, since it was prime spring break time. But it was also a year when Easter was in April. I think that made a difference, because I think some school districts time the spring break to be around Easter, instead of always putting it in March. If Easter and our spring break had aligned, perhaps it would have been busier. You can check projected crowd calendars online for predictions about next spring.

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When in March are you going?

You can see a crowd calendar here:  https://orlandoinformer.com/universal/crowd-calendar/?month=mar&yr=2020#crowdCalendar  There are other crowd calendars online as well.  

We didn't need the pass to get to the front of the line.  We utilized the single rider pass for the bigger rides.  I think you have to be 7 to use them.  You stand in line together but may not be in the same car on the ride.

I would spring for the two Harry Potter restaurants (Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron) as they are really fun and good food.  Most of the meals are large and we shared.  We also got Butter Beer there (ask for the blended kind or they will default to the plain if you want blended.).   We have also eaten at Thunder Falls Terrace.  Again, meals are large and we got 3 meals for 5 of us and were fine.  One place I have always wanted to eat is Mythos.  If you go, let me know what you think.

One tip.  If you buy the popcorn bucket and drink refillable cup, you can refill both for about $1.30 each, so we did that and shared and ended up with very inexpensive snacks and drinks.  And it is reusable on future visits!  

We also have eaten at City Walk and gone out of the park to go to Hard Rock Cafe, it is right outside, so not really far.

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We spent one day in Universal Orlando, the last week of April 2016. We regret that we did not spend 2 days there. For sure, the Park to Park tickets  so you can ride the Harry Potter train back and forth between the parks.

We stayed in a Timeshare a long way from there. They had free transportation (once a day in each direction) to Universal Orlando and to the different Walt Disney World   parks. Universal Orlando was the only day we took their free shuttle service and left our rental car at the Timeshare, because the schedule allowed us the entire day at Universal Orlando. The schedules to the WDW parks did not allow a full day so we used the rental car the days we went to WDW.

Our memories of Universal Orlando on that trip are better, than our memories of the Walt Disney World parks. Especially EPCOT, because we had good memories of EPCOT, from a previous trip.  We were on Park Hopper tickets, which was a blessing, and if you go to WDW, I recommend paying extra for those.

Enjoy your trip!

ETA: Unexpectedly, we spent a lot of time in Animal Kingdom in WDW, which I read a week or 2 ago is the #2 park in the USA, in attendance, after Magic Kingdom.

Edited by Lanny
add ETA
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8 minutes ago, DawnM said:

When in March are you going?

You can see a crowd calendar here:  https://orlandoinformer.com/universal/crowd-calendar/?month=mar&yr=2020#crowdCalendar  There are other crowd calendars online as well.  

We are going when it is very busy (which I suspected). We are pretty locked into the dates as we will be there for another reason and it is spring break for ds who is in de classes. Of course I know that means it is spring break for a lot of other people too.

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We had purchased the Unofficial Guide to WDW 2016. The company that publishes the Unofficial Guides also has a service where you can plan your trip with scientific (I cannot think of the word at the moment) data to plan your time in the  parks in the most efficient manner possible.  Hopefully they have that for Universal Orlando too. We had access to the Free service for the App, but for $10 you get a lot more and it is so expensive to be in the parks for one day that $10 is almost nothing, compared to the cost of the tickets and other things. With the App, you can go on more attractions than if you were not using it. 

Someone in another thread here on WTM wrote about that service (for WDW) a week or 2 ago. She wrote that it costs $10.  My DD would like to go to WDW to see the new Star Wars stuff, when everything is open and up and running. I told her that would be $10 well spent.  With Data on your phone, you then have access to Real-Time information, because so many other users of the App are reporting the wait times at the attractions they are in line for. Very cool. 

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Leaky Cauldren is decent food, and Mythos is pretty excellent if you want to splurge. 

Hard Rock is just regular food, good but not spectacular, but it is super efficient - were were wondering if they have black magic the food was so fast, lol. 

Definitely do some kind of express pass - you don't want to spend hours and hours in line. You don't save a ton of time staying on site, but some. It's about a 15  minute walk from the parking lot to the actual park stuff - but probably about the same from the hotel. If I were going to splurge I'd either stay on site or I'd pay for the premium parking or valet. After a long day of theme parking that walk back to the car feels a long way - although it's a fairly interesting walk through City Walk, not just a big parking lot. And I guess you won't be carrying a toddler at any point, like I often did, lol. 

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8 hours ago, Farrar said:

 

The mid-range sit down dining options are actually better than WDW in my opinion. We had a great meal at Mythos, which was sit down and tons of cool theming, and a really good meal... for a price that was not cheap, but definitely much cheaper than similar options at Disney.

If you decide to eat at Mythos be sure to make a reservation. They get pretty busy. Another good option is Finnegan's Bar and Grill in Universal Studios. It has Irish Pub (American style) food.

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Just now, Lady Florida. said:

If you decide to eat at Mythos be sure to make a reservation. They get pretty busy. Another good option is Finnegan's Bar and Grill in Universal Studios. It has Irish Pub (American style) food.

And REALLY good whiskey sours. Just sayin...

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For us, our big experiences were prioritized to spend time in HP world. We did most other parts of Universal, but we spent our $$$ there.

We ate at both the Leaky Cauldron and at Three Broomsticks. We got snacks (like pumpkin pasties) at the sweet shop there. We splurged on an interactive wand for our 11 yo. We got park to park passes.

I do recommend getting there early and utilizing the single rider line. We didn't stay on site.  We stayed at a nearby Hampton Inn for free breakfast, and we ordered pizza from the nearby Papa John's or went to Chipotle for supper. For just 4 people, it may be worth it to stay onsite.  We are still traveling as a family of 6, which complicates matters.

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I think the front of the line pass for one day is well worth the extra money. You can possibly even cut the visit down to one day with that pass as it means you spend significantly less time in lines. We stayed on site once and did early entry too. I thought it was worthwhile at the time, but honestly just getting the front of the line pass makes the early entry less valuable.

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