…in which our intrepid couple travels outside the Disney bubble and lives to tell about it.
Step 1 – Transportation from Walt Disney World to Universal and Park Tickets
While planning for a particularly long vacation to Walt Disney World, my husband and I decided to squeeze in a day over at Universal Orlando Resort to try out a one-day / two-park touring plan of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Instantly we were faced with the question, “How do we get there?” We were planning on taking Disney’s Magical Express from the airport and would not have a car while on vacation. Would we dare to use the public transportation and hop a bus? We had seen a harrowing,(although hilarious) YouTube video of a British couple who took this route. It didn’t work out so well for them, and they splurged for a cab ride on the way back. Yes, busing was out of the question. We were on a time limit and didn’t have the three hours it took these poor folks just to get to the park. Well, with rental car and busing out of the question, that left us with a taxi.
We did our homework and priced up the fares using the Mears Transportation website. It didn’t seem too terrible, and this is really what we were leaning towards, until I read in the fine print that even if stuck in traffic, the meter is running. We wanted to be on the roadways during rush hour traffic. This probably was not a good plan either. Well, what to do? Do we just forget about Universal? No! Where there is a will, there is a way. And after more research we discovered that some of the travel agencies that sell tickets also sell transportation packages. Now we’re talking!
After checking into a few of these agencies (reading online forums and reviews by other travelers), we decided to use Dreams Unlimited Travel. We were familiar with the name, it had good online reviews by other users, and the pricing fit our budget. On their website we purchased two adult one-day/two-park tickets with transfers for $300. We really liked the convenience of a shuttle picking us up at our resort and bringing us back at a time we scheduled.
Step 2 – Picking a Touring Plan
Now the actual park time planning could begin. Since we only had one day to cover both parks, we wanted to be methodical about it. We started by printing off maps of each of the two parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Then we determined what the most important attractions to us were. Our main focus was to be covering every square inch of the Wizarding World. Attractions in other areas of the park were second fiddle. Next we logged onto TouringPlans.com to make our personalized Touring Plan.
Once there, we discovered that a One-Day/Two park Plan for Adult Off-Site Guests already existed. It had all of the required attractions and some extras that we could dump if we felt we were behind schedule. So, I printed it out and considered the planning done.
Months later, the vacation finally began. It was rocky from the beginning and only worsened with a serious health scare two days before our Universal adventure. After that the pace slowed. I wondered if we would be able to even get through the Wizarding World, let alone take in any other attraction we had planned. We decided to just use the Touring Plan as a guideline and not stick to it so intensely. I even logged in and created a personalized plan that just contained the rides we considered must dos. We would work from both sets of plans.
Step 3 – Checking Out the Universal Crowd Calendar
Based on the crowd report for the week, we planned our Universal day for Monday. On the Saturday before, I called and scheduled the pickup time for our pre-paid transportation with Mears. All reports said that we should get in line for park entry 30-45 minutes before gate opening. We also had to go to the will-call kiosks to pick up our tickets (there was not print at home or mailing option). Park opening for off-site guests was at 8am. We wanted to arrive at Universal by 7am, so we requested to be picked up at 6:30am. Mears had other ideas in mind. Transportation from our resort, Port Orleans Riverside, did not begin until 7:30am. At this point, I conceded defeat. I realized that no matter what effort we put forth, seeing it all in one day just wasn’t going to happen.
Step 4 – Off to Universal!
As promised, Mears picked us up at 7:30am on our Universal day. We were the only ones on the shuttle. At least we were the only ones, until we stopped at two other resorts to pick up guests. Somehow we managed to still make it to Universal just before 8am. After walking through CityWalk, stopping to use the restrooms, and stopping again to use the will call kiosks, we entered Universal Studios at about 8:20am. Earlier in our Disney vacation, we had experienced some health issues that we knew would slow us down and would keep us off some of the more intense attractions Universal is known for.
Step 5 – Universal Studios Florida and Diagon Alley
Stops one and two on Part 1 of the Wizarding World Touring Plan were Despicable Me and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. Based on the slower pace needed and the desire to stay off of really extreme thrill rides, we opted to skip both of these and headed straight for Transformers: The Ride – 3D. We got side tracked a bit when I spotted Bumblebee interacting with guests and had to meet him. The line was relatively short and well worth it. We then continued around the corner to the entrance of the ride. This early there really was no wait at all, just the time it took to walk through the long queue.
Next we took a short walk to Revenge of the Mummy. The longest part of this attraction was checking our backpack into one of the lockers. Ten minutes later and we were headed for the Diagon Alley Entrance. Be warned that if you are a complete Harry Potter nerd like I am, make time at this point to really take in your first looks at the London exterior of Diagon Alley. The touring plan didn’t mention this, but I HAD to knock on the door of number 12 Grimmauld Place and see Kreacher, and I HAD to stop and talk to the Knight Bus conductor. All in all, these didn’t really set us back any.
After finally entering Diagon Alley, it was like the next hour moved in slow motion. We visited Ollivanders Wands, Borgin & Burkes, Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes, Magical Menagerie, and Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions shops. At this point it was 10:30. We were both starving because we hadn’t had breakfast. The breakfast menu at the Leaky Cauldron didn’t appeal to either of us, so we opted for some Butterbeer ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlor instead. As we ate, we continued to explore Diagon Alley, watching several people create magic with their wands. Once finished we decided to check the wait time for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. It was about an hour and a half. This was longer than we wanted to wait, so we decided to head over to Islands of Adventure and come back later if we had time.
We entered King’s Cross Station at about 11am. The wait time was 40 minutes, but what other option did we have? Riding the Hogwarts Express was a high priority, so we had to wait it out. Enter Part 2 of the Wizarding World Touring Plan.
Step 6 – Islands of Adventure and Hogsmeade Village
We arrived at Hogsmeade Station around noon. Stop one on the touring plan was Dragon Challenge, which we opted to skip because of intensity of the attraction. The plan then called for lunch at the Three Broomsticks. Since we had just had ice cream, we decided to wait for lunch and pressed on. Next up was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, so we made our way through the crowded streets of Hogsmeade to the castle. The wait time was posted at 30 minutes, but it seemed to take forever before we boarded the ride. Forbidden Journey was a little more intense than we should have experienced that day, but it was well worth it.
By 1pm we were exiting Hogsmeade to explore the rest of Islands of Adventure. We moseyed through the Lost Continent, Seuss Landing, and the Port of Entry before stopping in Marvel Super Hero Island. Unfortunately, due to a health scare two days prior, we felt we should skip most of the rides here. This was really disappointing because the Marvel area is my favorite in Islands of Adventure. We did ride The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and stop to see a few X-men, such as Wolverine and Cyclops.
Next it was on through Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park. We had planned on riding Jurassic Park River Adventure, but when the time came, neither one of us felt like getting wet. Instead we chose to park ourselves in some shade and watch the boats as they made their big splash and cruised on by us. This day was really making us feel old because of the pace and not being able to go on the rides we love.
Step 7 – Back to Diagon Alley, the Rest of Universal Studios and Lunch
It was a little after 2pm now, and we decided we better figure out what we were doing about food. Without exiting the parks and going into CityWalk, we felt pretty limited. My husband can really be a picky eater at times. We pored over the maps and narrowed it down to Leaky Cauldron or Classic Monsters Café, both back in Universal Studios. So we hopped back on the Hogwarts Express and headed back to Diagon Alley.
Once there, we went straight back to Gringotts to see if the line had dwindled. It was down to 30 minutes, so we opted to go on it before finding sustenance. The queue was very detailed, and taking it all in made the time move quickly. The ride itself, however, was disastrous. It broke down half way through, and we had to wait about 10 minutes before we got moving again. There were Express Passes waiting for us at the exit for the inconvenience.
On our way out of Diagon Alley we stepped into the Leaky Cauldron. There did not seem to be any place to sit, and the line for food was longer than we anticipated at mid-afternoon. Instead of placing an order, we did a quick tour of the premises and left. On to the Monsters Café!
Finally we found a place to sit and relax that was not crowded at all! The noise level was high thanks to the videos that were playing, but the menu was diverse enough to please both my husband and myself. We left feeling quite full and moving even slower than before (if that was possible). At this time we decided that even though it was only about 3pm, we had covered all the must dos we were going to and we might as well call Mears back and schedule our pickup time. The call had to be made 2 hours in advance, so we were hoping for 5pm. They didn’t have an opening until 6pm. Oh, well! We could ride a few more rides, then.
We decided to use our Express Pass on Despicable Me because we had skipped it in the morning. It was only a 3 minute wait. Next we headed across the street and experienced Shrek 4-D with about a 15 minute wait. Since we had so much time left, we decided to head back to MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack. The wait time was 40 minutes, about 20 minutes longer than either of us felt like waiting at this point in the day. I really think the Florida sun was getting to us. Instead we went back inside Diagon Alley to grab a few beverages from the Hopping Pot: Butterbeer and Lemon Fizz, which we sipped as we made our way back to the front of the park. We decided to exit and explore CityWalk instead of walking aimlessly around the park any longer.
Step 8 – CityWalk and Leaving Universal
Our exploration of CityWalk was humorous to say the least. We looked at one outside kiosk and went into the gift shop of Bubba Gump Shrimp. On this day, explorers we were not. We headed to the shuttle pickup area hoping to get on an earlier bus. Note to self: When Mears says you are on the 6pm shuttle, it means you are NOT getting on an earlier one. We sat in the shade, finished our drinks, and people-watched for an hour and a half.
In summary, were we successful in covering the two parks of Universal in one day and seeing it all using the touring plan? It really is hard to say. Yes, we finished with both parks long before park close, but we didn’t go on nearly as many rides as we had planned to. Rip Ride Rockit, Dragon Challenge, and The Incredible Hulk Coaster all had to be skipped because of the health issue. MEN IN BLACK, Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show, and Flight of the Hippogriff all were skipped because we were moving like snails and had to give up something. Do I think it could be successfully done? Certainly. Will I try it again? You can bet on it.