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Navigating Universal & Islands of Adventure ~ Theme Park Guide

Updated: Mar 17

~~ What to expect and planning accordingly ~~

Universal creates a Universe, complete with every detail imaginable. Wizarding World of Harry Potter has become the signature world among Jurassic, Marvel Super Hero Island, Seussville, and others. The Harry Potter franchise touched so many lives, and that is evident by the number of cloaked muggles walking around with their wands and magic spells. For those who have read the books, or enjoyed the movies, you can live the experience yourself. Sound track, relics, and the recreation of our favorite locations are enchanting. Is it fun to get caught up in the moment and let yourself play like a child? Of course! And that's what we're here for.

My Favorite things: Dragons, fire & butterbeer

January 2022. Once a year Universal offers a buy one get one deal through Wendy’s or other local partners. The soda cups had the redeemable offer for a BOGO - 2 park 1 day pass. Meaning for $180.00 you'll get 2 days worth of both parks.

Because we live in the neighboring county and have busy lives, this is the best offer for me to take advantage of.

But as always, I had specific wishes to make my day complete and fortunately, it was a total win!

There are also Florida Resident deals like but 3 days get 2 Free, and of course the yearly passes, figure out the best ticket type. This can be a challenge. Discuss more below...

1st. Purchase the ticket type that is right for you.

This can be confusing as there are many options, including yearly passes. Consider the Holidays times to AVOID at all costs. Weekends should be avoided if at all possible also. The crowds limit access and everything you want to do will take longer.

2nd Download the App.

Make your planning easier, accessing maps, wait times and menus. You can attach your ticket for additional ease.

3rd Decide what you want most out of your day.

Several factors beyond your control will impact this including: weather, crowds, and ride function. So have a top 3 – 5 things you want to do and then prioritize your wish list.

I recommend VelociCoaster, Hagrid's Motorbikes, and Gringotts as high quality rides, The Hulk and Rip Ride Rockit are thrill coasters, but not for everyone. Some of the 3D rides can also be hard on the motion senses. What ever you decide to ride, don't miss out on butterbeer.

4th – Making your daily itinerary, I suggest starting your day with the smoother rides and ending with the rougher rides. For anyone who has ever had their brain rattled by Rip Ride Rockit you will understand what I mean. Don’t begin with rides that might make you sick or leave you with a head ache. Start with easy/fun and end with crazy. Now that’s different for everyone, and depending on motion sickness and tolerance of roller coasters it is your individual choice. Remember, you might now get to everything but it's still good to prioritize all you wish to accomplish in one day.

~~ Just outside Velociraptor ~~

~~ The perfect day~~

We started our day at Islands of Adventure because my top 2 choices were there: Hagrid’s and VelociCoaster. I'd read the reviews. I waited, I was ready to experience the newest rides in the park!! 2 planners together at the theme park made this day a success. Communication with those in your party is key to having fun!

We woke up early and drove over from neighboring Brevard County.

Those staying on Universal property can take advantage of early park entry, where certain rides are available beginning at 8 am, 1 hour earlier than admission. One of the early options is Hagrid’s, so that line is already at least an hour long when you walk in at 9 (it was 2 hours when we arrived - this is average). The VelociCoaster wait was 25 minutes, so we took advantage of that! By the time we were off, the Hagrid’s line was down to 90 minutes, with no express pass usage. We locked our belongings in the little free locker provided and committed to standing in line.

** Navigate and be willing to work those wait times against your priorities for the day.

Roller Coaster tracks, ooooh exciting!

VelociCoaster Review: Speed Smooth Speed.

A great ride that will propel you forward and whip you upside down and all around. With out the head rattle that sometimes accompanies those fast-moving roller coasters. My hair was literally sticking straight up in the air, or down toward the ground when I spiraled around - Fun Fun Fun!

Hagrid’s Review: Once the Dueling Dragon’s Ride, this ride was revamped to create a space for our favorite Game Keeper and Care of Magical Creature’s Teacher. The line itself is satisfying. Circle the hut, complete with pumpkins. If you didn’t lock your camera/ phone in a locker there are lots of good photo ops along the way. Once on the ride, you can drive the motorcycle or sit in the side cart. They nailed the Hagrid experience, as far as creating a tribute, this ride is not your typical coaster. It will catch you off guard, which was my favorite thing about it.

Lunch: We planned on lunch at the 3 Broomsticks following the first two heavy hitter showstopper coasters. In this establishment you wait online to order, wait on line to get food, and wait briefly again to be seated. But the food and atmosphere are great. I was happy they offered butter beer and saved myself a pit stop by getting some with lunch, Butterbeer was high on my list. Universal is smart to only sell inside the park, although I’ve many times said I wished they would have a vendor in City Walk…

Inside of the 3 Broomsticks

I wanted to ride Skull Island: Reign of Kong before catching the Hogwarts Express over to the Universal Side. We took pictures at the Castle, but opted not to ride the Forbidden Journey ride which is inside of the castle. I love Harry Potter, but this is one of those rides that makes me soooo dizzy. While the memorabilia is the real attraction in the castle, and will take you right back to the movies in a touch your soul way, the right itself is hard on the eyes. I will say the parts of the ride that are in the forest or castle are awesome, the 3D/ 4D parts are just not up to par.

Flight of the hippogriff is less intense, and a fun ride but we'd both already done this so decided to focus on certain things. **On day two it was harder to pass up - a quick ride but twisty turvy fun and scenic, it should be experienced. The Pumpkin Patch and Hagrid's hut are pretty awesome.

Bouncing over to Jurassic Park we got right on Kong and went through the jungle, enjoying that expedition. Rider's load into a jeep type vehicle and ride through the dangerous land filled with huge fighting creatures.

Skull Island waiting room, uncrowded

Back into the Wizarding World to ride the train over to Universal. Wait time was short, and we were able to jump in and head over.

Sharing a car with other Harry Potter enthusiast’s is always fun. Every time I ride, I make new friends. 🌞

Once we were loose in London, we took in the sights: Grimmauld place, The Night Bus, Ministry Payphone, ahhhh we've arrived. The cut through little side hall into Diagon Alley is easy to miss, adding to it’s allure.

Stepping off the train into London....

Diagon Alley:

It automatically seems a little darker in the alley. Watching the kids with their wands make magic happen all through this street creates excitement. The Leaky Cauldron waits for patrons to step inside and become a part of the story. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes has all kinds of souvenirs. Knockturn Alley is a creep around the corner into the dark side of the wizarding world. Browse through all your favorite titles from the movies, and even enjoy some butterbeer. But the biggest feature here is the fire breathing dragon sitting on top of Gringott’s, who lets fire lose every 15 minutes. He grumbles right before he explodes with fire, so try to catch this!

Gringott's Bank, where the wizards keep their fortunes.

Gringott’s is possibly my favorite ride in all of Universal. True to theme, goblins line the walls too busy counting to look up at the line of people coming through,

This ride is fun, mixing Harry Potter adventure with the rushing along of 4K, 3D roller coaster. This one is well done, a great combination of characters and danger.

From Gringotts we decided to check out the newer addition, Fast & Furious Supercharged, which quickly moves people. All those fancy cars set the tone, with movie memorabilia to melt your heart along the line. Fast & Furious always has a great soundtrack, and the line is no different, music while you’re waiting will have you dancing! There's a single rider line which bypasses some of the cool things to see along the way, so if this is your thing, you'll want to just wait in line. The ride preview which sets the tone for the fun features the word "family" tons of times, and that has become the running theme of F&F. Once we loaded onto the tram ready to go, we heard Mia's voice come over the loudspeaker saying there is a delay in the race. They loaded us back off. We stood in the line a little longer. We danced to reggaeton while we waited. After about 10 minutes we were reloading.

The Fast & Furious tram holds many people and has action on both sides of the ride. I felt like I was part of the movie, invited to participate in a new adventure. You guessed it, a freeway chase. Still, the ride itself was underwhelming. I got off disappointed for the first time all day. Compared to Hagrid's and Velocicoaster this is a hard down shift! (My son who came on another trip LOVED this and it was his highlight - for him seeing Paul Walker's Supera made his whole day.)

We turned the corner to Transformer's, The Ride. Whip around the city streets trying to gain control of the All Spark and save the planet. These 3D rides can sometimes make me nauseous, I didn’t find this as dizzying at Spiderman, but more entertaining than Fast & Furious. Bumblebee is a fun kinda guy, of course the kids will love this one.

Next stop: An oldie but goodie, ET. Grab your passport and hop onto your bike, you are going for a ride through the California foothills, this scenic little world is heartwarming. It feels creatively artistic reminding me of It's a Small World at Disney. This one is still on my favorite list. I sat up front and had ET in my bike basket feeling like I was biking my way through the Southern California foothills and flying in front of the full moon.

Here come the Men in Black, the Galaxy Defenders...

From here we wandered on to Men In Black. I like this ride, and the line to get to it, shooting the aliens is fun! A small little wager about who will be the better shot and while I lost, I greatly enjoyed myself. Spinning and shooting is one thing, hitting that red button first will get you the points you need to win!

We thought about riding the train back over to IOA but the line was pretty long, so we grabbed some butterbeer in Diagon Alley and made another plan.

*Cheers, a day well done

At this point we opted for the Rip Ride Rockit. Set your music and get ready to zoom up and over the mountain humps. Whew! This is a fast one, and in contrast from the VelociCoaster which we rode first thing, this ride was NOT smooth, Brain raddled, we got off and wandered to a place where we could sit for a minute, and plan our dinner.

Bob Marley's City Walk

Spun around and hungry, we chose to exit and hit City Walk, Bob Marley’s to eat. Such a fun place to dance at night with the live reggae music playing we learned their menu has been reduced from the covid adjustments. Not seeing what we were looking for, we made plan B popping over to the Chocolate Factory as option #2. Gladly, after a 40-minute wait we were seated upstairs. Our waiter was incredible. The food was delicious. Drinks were well made! Tasty and delicious!

The Chocolate Factory for dinner

Full and happy we made the drive back to Brevard County.

As day one ends, the park was closing, we left, completely pleased with all we accomplished on our first of 2 days in the Park!

Day 1: Order of activities -

~ Entered at 9 am (opening)

~ VelociCoaster

~ Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure

~ The 3 Broomsticks for lunch

~ Skull Island Reign of Kong

~ Hogwart's Express to Universal

~ Escape From Gringott's

~ Fast & Furious Supercharged

~ Transformer's The Ride 3D

~ ET Adventure

~ Men In Black Alien Attack

~ Rip Ride Rockit

~ Dinner at The Chocolate Emporium

It was a busy day, but successful. On an average day Universal holds about 20,000 people.

On this particular day mid January there were only 7,000. This greatly impacted our ability to move around but I will also say we took advantage of some single rider lines and we were willing to walk/ back track. We were two adults running around like kids ready to hit the next ride! So much fun!!

The Second Visit was also a weekday, February 2022, and here is all we were able to do in one day:

~Entered at 10 am

~Hagrid's Motor Bike Adventure

~Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey


~Hogwarts Express over to Universal

~Escape From Gringott's

~ Lunch at Richter's Burgers


~The Bourne Stuntacular ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ - See this. AWESOME SHOW.

~Wandered around Diagon Alley

~Olivander's Experience in Diagon Alley

~Hogwarts Express back to Hogsmede

~Flight of the Hippogriff

~ The Night Lights at Hogwarts Castle

** On this day there was a bit more down time as we really wanted to see the Castle Nighttime light show, and missed the first one at 6:35, but stayed for the 6:55 show. Really by 4:00 I completed all the things on my wish list and had a great lunch at Richter's, then sat by the San Francisco Bay enjoying the weather and moment. When I saw the "Beat Builder's show starting (I could hear the music) I knew it was time to clean up lunch and keep moving. Taking in the sights and wandering around just forgetting the map is fun too. Sometimes it's nice to just take in the atmosphere and be present ❤

Hogwarts & Me 💜


Recently added is - The Bourne Stuntacular

This show lasts about 30 minutes from pre-show to finale and is truly amazing. I was in the audience trying to figure out HOW did they do that?? Well choreographed and played out!

Beat Builders:

A musical construction worker setting where the guys are making music with the pipes and other materials on the job. Good music, fun moves! I would not have gone out of my way to catch this but definitely worth the 20 minutes!

Olivander's Wand Experience:

This is offered in both Universal and Island's of Adventure. The wand picks this wizard in this wonderful display of how it really works. In each group, one participant is randomly chosen, usually a child :-) This does bring the movie to life.

Nighttime Lights at Hogwart's Castle:

Ohhh this is a don't miss. However, it gets crowded. They block off the right part of the street for those viewing, and the traffic here is a bit much. BUT - TOTALLY WORTH staying till dusk for. It's about 5 minutes of pure magic.

For the real Harry Potter fans....

The Easter egg/ secrets inside of the park:

* Many of the props on display through out the rides and displays are replicas, however some are originals from the films. The barometer in Wiseacre's is the one seen in Half-Blood Prince. The second floor of Borgin and Burkes contains several original pieces as well. Enjoy the memorabilia!

*You can send a letter by owl from the Owl Post in Hogsmede or Diagon Alley. Your letter will have the associated post mark, and you may hear a howler if you send it from Hogsmede!

*Dial MAGIC (62442) from the red pay phone in King's Cross.