Orlando and Universal

No childs life is complete without the pilgramage to the land of Wizards and Harry Potter, and the world of action heroes and movies.

Universal was our primary destination during our stay at Orlando.  From our base at the Homewood Suites near Orlando Airport, we drove to Universal (having done a trial run the day before), navigating the multi story car parks, which are fortunately marked distinctly, so that you can find your car on return.  Otherwise, shades of Seinfeld, carrying fish threaten, where one walks aimlessly through car parks for days.  A travellator took us to security checks at the entrance, and then we were in!

We purchased a 3 day pass, and this was probably the bare minimum you would want to do, if you want to gain the most out of your visit to Universal.  Being Florida, sudden storms and rains would sweep in and then leave, sometimes temporarily putting out of action some of the attractions.  As it was, it was only on the afternoon of the third day that we got a chance to join the only very long queue for Kong (which had had the misfortune of being closed for intermittant repairs the whole time).

And noting, there are deals to search for, with various ticket bundles available, depending on what you want to do.  But there wont be cheap tickets.  But, value for buck, it is worth it, you wont run out of things to do, and you will undoubtedly leave, not having covered everything.

Back to Harry Potter, we followed the lead of our teenager, who organized us to follow through the world in the logical order of events, entering Diagon Alley and finding Ollivanders wand shop. I certainly concurred Sirius was a good choice!

As you walked through, you could activate magical events with the said wand!  And a lovely owl waiting at the train station, joined us on our trip, to come home with us to Australia.  Hogwarts Express was definitely unlike any other train ride you will have experienced,   (aghh...Dementors.....)

You can also dine in the Leaky Cauldron for proper english fare such as Fish and Chips, and Butter Beer, which we didnt buy (big mistake, was trying to save the dollars, but it was part of the experience and first on my list for when we return.)    Where Universal excels is the experience during the lines.  Generally the queues were short, but one didnt mind waiting as there was so much happening around you in the lead up to getting on attractions, such as the Escape from Gringotts where you pass through the bank lobby and ride an elevator.  

Of course there is even more to Universal than Harry Potter, Jurassic Park and Revenge of the Mummy being my personal favourites, but you can also do the high octane rides, however I chose to sit these out and enjoy a slice of pizza.

There is a massive range of dining options, many themed restaurants as well as places you can get a quick bite to eat, and compared to options available in Australia, choices were good quality and reasonably priced, with welcome extras at times such as a salad bar.  When the heat got to much, we would retreat for the cool air and a seat and a meal.  The cakes, I just photographed!

While enjoying a mammoth cookie in a Patissiere a surprise performance by the Blues Brothers delighted.

And we got to observe some polite but firm crowd control. (thanks Scooby!)

It was by the third day that we had worked out the value of getting here on doors open.  (wish we had done that every day!)  That first hour between 9 and 10 enabled us to head straight on to the rides, and for instance we got to do 4 rounds of the Jurassic Park attraction with barely anyone along side us.  And I no longer feared getting drenched in some of the rides, the water keeping me cool for the next hour in the Florida heat.

I needed some convincing to get on the Dudley DoRights Ripsaw Falls, with its massive plunge and people stationed to fire yet more water over you (as if you are not drenched from head to tow already), but wow!  

There is a huge range of options for accommodation in Florida, if you are staying a while, you can book a condo through Homeaway or similar, which will be cost effective and often have pool and  resort facilities.  We stayed by the Airport at Homewood Suites, in a 2 bedroom and living area arrangement, breakfasts and weekday dinners thrown in.  With GPS, it was a quick drive into Universal.  And a tip, there are lots of tolls in Florida, lots!!! So dont get lost, or you will be paying through the nose at every on and off ramp.  And learn from our mistake, stay in the far right lane so you can access the booth with your quarters, otherwise you end up going through, and as we didnt have a tag we missed the opportunity for payment.  Save your coin and be prepared.  (having said that, check with your rental car agency as to car toll payment)

And in our 13 year olds opinion, highlights of Universal were "no waits for rides'' (we visited in September), the Revenge of the Mummy ride, and the Hollywood Rockit ride, where you get to choose a song, and hang on for dear life at 17 stories of height above Universal.  Totally awesome.


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