Now that I am home and reflecting on and writing about my trip, I am torn. I can’t decide if Universal was the best day or Kennedy Space Center. I enjoyed them both tremendously, though they are quite different. I think that they get a tie for first place.
Universal Orlando Resort was so much better and so much more than I thought it was going to be. I can’t believe we almost didn’t visit! The entire resort is made up of several different locations or facilities, including two theme parks, their CityWalk and a few hotels. We visited both parks and the CityWalk. We went there on Monday and ate at Emeril’s for dinner. You do not have to pay to enter CityWalk and I thought it was better than Disney’s Downtown Disney, though they are similar. The plus about DTD is that you do not have to pay to park and it seemed easier to access (just a walking path). But, CityWalk had a much nicer and much more fun atmosphere and energy about it. We went there for dinner twice-once to Emeril’s and once to a sushi place called Cowfish.
I’m the only one in my family who is a Harry Potter fan. I’ve read all the books and seen the movies. My kids are still a bit young though now Brian really has his interest piqued. Universal is another regret in that I wish we had spent more time there–one day is not enough. So I did not get to see Hogsmeade, only Diagon Alley. Diagon Alley is amazing! It is exactly as you picture it as you are reading and from the movies. I can’t believe how well done it is. The attention to detail is just fascinating and you really feel like you are there. It’s almost like you forget that Diagon Alley is a fictional place.
While in Diagon Alley, we purchased a magic wand for Brian at Ollivander’s, which is also amazing. Meredith from Universal Orlando was gracious enough to give us a tour of the park and take us on Escape from Gringott’s. Brian later said it was scary, but the four of us really enjoyed the ride. I can’t say enough good things about the Harry Potter stuff at Universal! I cannot wait to go back and really immerse myself in it.
Special Needs Tips for visiting Universal Orlando
I can’t say enough good things about how they go above and beyond to accommodate special needs there. Pretty much anything you need–just tell them and more likely than not, it can be arranged. There were family restrooms, elevators, wide walkways, special entrances, special foods, you name it.
When you arrive, you go to Customer Relations and ask for a GAP pass or Guest Assistance Pass. This lets them know that someone in your party needs special assistance. I really hope that it doesn’t get abused and then taken away like some other parks. They also have a special child swap area for some of the rides. You wait in line and when it is your turn, one parent can ride the ride and the other parent waits in a special room with the child who cannot ride that particular ride. When it’s over, it is the other parent’s turn and they don’t have to go to the end of the line. While waiting, you watch movies. It’s a fantastic idea. They really go the extra mile to personalize your experience and help you and your family have the best experience possible.
Other venues in Orlando are really struggling with how to accommodate those with special needs. I’ve spoken with many families about this issue, and for the most part, I find that parents do not mind having to show proof of some sort. Sure, not everything is black and white, and you’d have to make exceptions sometimes, but there has to be a way to accommodate our kids without it being abused. I think that the Universal Guest Assistance Pass accomplishes this.
If you do not have someone in your family with a disability, you can purchase an Express Pass which reduces your waiting time. Since we were there in May, it wasn’t too bad overall as far as crowds.
The other highlight of the day was Seuss Landing. Kevin is a huge Dr. Seuss fan and we loved it there. The rides were fun without being too babyish and many ages will enjoy it. We ate at the McGurkus Circus there and the food was decent. While at Universal, we saw Seuss Landing, then over to Diagon Alley. After that we did the Minions Mayhem ride, Transformers, walked in Springfield and that was it. If you are a Simpsons fan, I recommend it. Moe’s is done very well and you can sit right there at the bar and have a beer with Barney. Actually the whole park is done really well and it’s fun to be immersed in the TV shows and movies that we have loved for so long.
My one complaint is the lack of an evening or twilight pass. My husband had to go to his work thing, then he met us for dinner. There were 2 hours left of Universal and all he wanted to do was see the Simpsons stuff and if there was time, Diagon Alley. The woman at the window said it would be full price–they do not offer a twilight ticket. It would be nice if you wanted to enter and walk around after an early dinner at CityWalk.
Overall I was extremely impressed with Universal and really want to go back. If you are traveling with a child with special needs, they really make it easier for you. This year is their 25th Anniversary, I can’t believe it took me 25 years to get there! I know it will be much less than 25 years before we go back.
Here is what was on our itinerary, read all the posts in the series:
- Staying at the Nick Hotel and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dinner-a great decision for accommodations
- Special Needs Travel Review of Legoland, Florida-so much to do in so little time
- Special Needs Travel Review of Universal Orlando Resort-not to be missed!
- Special Needs Travel Review: Sea World Surprises but Disney Disappoints
- Special Needs Travel Review of Kennedy Space Center-another must see!
- Our trip gets off to a rough start, but Southwest comes through!