When the Family Forward retreat opportunity came up, I wasn’t sure if Universal Studios was something that my boys at ages 5, 7, and 8 would enjoy. I did a little research and decided to go for it. We had an amazing time. You can read about our Harry Potter Experience and more about Family Forward.
If you have kids and are considering going to Universal Studios, I want to give you some tips and suggestions.
My youngest is 44″ tall, middle is 48″, and oldest is 52″. Some of the attractions or shows do not have a height requirement. And the ones that do usually have a child swap area where one parent can wait with the child(ren) who aren’t tall enough to ride and then you can trade places after one of the parents rides. We used this for the roller coasters.
There are stroller parking areas and plenty of shops, restaurants, and more to look at, along with character meet and greets.
For a breakdown on rides according to height requirements, including which don’t have a height restriction, I made this Universal Studios with Kids free printable for you. If you have toddlers/preschoolers who are under 40″, I highlighted in purple the attractions that I think would most appeal to that age group.
Express Passes are a Must
Having an Express Pass allows you to enter a shorter line. It is available on a majority of the attractions. We were at Universal Studios Orlando mid-August which is supposed to be moderate as far as crowds go. However, there were still lines that could be 30-60 minutes for rides. Having young kids, it was nice to be able to enter the Express lines and only have a few minutes to wait. Plus we were able to do more due to the shorter lines(and go on many rides multiple times each).
Express Passes have to be purchased separately from your regular park passes, unless you stay at a deluxe hotel on Universal Studios property(Loews Royal Pacific Resort where my family stayed, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, and the Hard Rock Hotel) where your Express passes are included for each day of your stay(as long as you also have park passes). If you start your day without Express passes and change your mind after seeing the lines, they can be bought throughout the park.
The Express passes are a huge bonus to staying on-site at Universal Studios Orlando. When looking at your vacation budget, take into account that your Express Passes are free for each day of your stay if you are staying on-site. Plus, you can take a water taxi or the walkway to the parks and not have to worry about driving/parking at the parks. It’s easy to head back to your hotel in the middle of the day if someone needs a nap or you need a break for a bit.
In addition, by staying on-site(at any of the hotels, not just the deluxe hotels), you are able to get into the parks an hour before the official opening times. That’s so helpful with the areas that are usually crowded(Wizarding World of Harry Potter). We would stay on-site again when we’d go back.
Prepping for the Parks: Clothing and Your Bag
Clothing: Wear comfortable shoes. My family pretty much lives in flip flops but you will do a ton of walking at Universal Studios and you will definitely want tennis shoes. If you are going in warmer months, wear clothing that will keep you cool. At Islands of Adventure, my family got soaked on the different water attractions. It was helpful to have clothing that wasn’t super uncomfortable when wet(wet denim= YUCK, don’t do it!).
Your Bag: With younger kids, make sure to have all your diapers, wipes, etc. with you. But even if your kids are older, you’ll probably want to have a bag with you. You can bring some snacks into the park, which helps cut down on expenses. Don’t forget your sunscreen and some way to take photos(your camera or at least your phone). I brought our portable charger so Hubs and I could recharge our phones, which we used for pics. We had rain ponchos in our bag as well, since Orlando often has mid-afternoon storms. We used a bag with an outside pocket so we could easily get to our Express Passes, though we saw lots of people wearing theirs on lanyards around their necks for convenience.
Eating in the Parks
I do suggest packing some snacks in your bag, but there are affordable ones throughout the park(example: a churro and a pretzel together for $5). There are snack stands, counter service-type restaurants, and sit down restaurants throughout the parks and on the Citywalk, too. We ate breakfast at our hotel then mostly snacked through the day and went to a sit-down restaurant on the Citywalk at night. A full list of restaurants and their menus are available on the Universal Orlando website: I suggest taking a look at it and having a loose plan as to where you want to eat. Some restaurants take reservations, others don’t. We haven’t made reservations and didn’t experience long waits.
Universal Studios have refillable cups you can purchase as well as family meal plans. We didn’t buy these on this trip, though I’ve heard they are good deals, especially if your kids eat a lot. We ate one of our meals at Three Broomsticks, getting the family platter. It supposedly feeds four, but we still had leftovers for our family of five. And getting Butterbeer in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a must(both are good, but I like the frozen more than the fizzy).
Check the Universal Studios map for places and times where you can get photos of the characters, though you may find them in the parks at different times as well. One of the times we came off Minion Mayhem, we found a minion dancing there that you could get pictures taken with(though that didn’t happen the four other times we rode that ride).
A lot of the rides have their exits through the related souvenir shop, so make sure to set expectations and/or an allowance for souvenirs. My oldest knew he wanted a wand from Ollivander’s, so his was easy. For my younger two, we told them to wait until the last day so they could be sure to get the thing they wanted the most. Allotting about $20-30 per child would allow them to pick out something to remember the trip by. Unless you just want to do Zonko’s Joke Shop or Honeydukes candy and then you can get away with less.
Best Rides for Kids
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey(Islands of Adventure): You have to be 48″ to ride this one and the Express passes do not work on this ride, so it’s helpful to go on this one in that hour before the park is open to the general public. It could be a little scary if your kids are sensitive, but both my 7 and 8 year olds liked it(my 8 year old went on it 4 times). The effects are amazing and it feels like you are flying along with Harry Potter.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts: You must be 42″ to ride. This is coaster-like and in the dark, so it can be a little spooky for younger kids. It’s my favorite ride in the parks.
Flight of the Hippogriff(Islands of Adventure): My five year old was more than tall enough for this coaster and he loved getting to go on his first coaster. There’s also a Woody Woodpecker coaster, but all of my boys preferred the Hippogriff.
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man(Islands of Adventure): Superheros in 3-D? My boys were thrilled.
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls(Islands of Adventure): There was a thrilling final drop that got us all wet. It had all of my boys shrieking in delight and wanting to go on again.
Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem(Universal Studios): This was by far the favorite of my 5 and 7 y/o’s. Thanks to our Express Passes and being in the parks multiple days, we went on this one FIVE times. It’s a 3-D ride and super cute. It’s why “Resist the banana” is now a regular part of my family’s vocabulary.
Transformers: The Ride 3D(Universal Studios): This ride opened this summer and the effects are incredible. We went on this one four different times.
We pretty much went to every show and on every ride that my boys were tall enough for. There really weren’t any that I’d tell you to avoid, but the ones listed above were our highlights(my oldest would add the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit- he was the only one of my three tall enough to ride this roller coaster that starts out with an almost completely vertical climb).
Universal Studios Makes for a Fantastic Family Vacation
We had a fabulous time at Universal Studios Orlando. We definitely want to go back- especially since next year, Diagon Alley(a new part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter) is opening!
If you are thinking about going to Universal Studios with your kids and have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them!
Note: Wonderful sponsors Universal Studios, Mom It Forward, Loews Royal Pacific, Southwest Airlines, Cricut, Duck Tape, and National Geographic Kids made this event possible. However, I paid for my family’s pass to attend and was not required to post about the retreat.