Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando

The first thing you need to know about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando is that it’s spread over two different parks – Universal Studios Florida as well as Universal’s Islands of Adventure. This means that you need to purchase Park-to-Park tickets not Single Park admission.

Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida

We suggest starting your Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience by heading straight to Diagon Alley. This means entering through the Universal Studios Park and following the path to the secret London entrance. There are a few things we recommend to do before entering into Diagon Alley.

  • Visit the Knight Bus – spend a little bit of time chatting with the friendly Knight Bus conductor and his interactive shrunken head sidekick. Be sure to go inside the bus to look at the attention to detail that has been made.
  • Knock on the door of number 12 Grimmauld Place, you just might see Kreacher lurking.
  • Go inside the telephone box and dial 62442 (MAGIC) to be connected directly to the Ministry of Magic.

Once you enter the magical Diagon Alley be prepared to be spellbound by the whole area. You could easily wander around for hours just looking through all the famous shops and establishments.

Highlights of Diagon Alley not to be missed

  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride is simply amazing! This 3-D multi dimension indoor ride takes you on an unforgettable adventure where you will come face to face with Voldemort himself. Note that you cannot use express passes on this ride, but the wait time goes quick and it is all part of the ride experience as you make your way through Gringotts Bank and its vaults. There is a single rider queue if you prefer to get through quicker and are not too fussed about being separated from your party on the ride.
  • Gringotts Money Exchange – not far from the ride is an actual money exchange where you can swap your ordinary muggle money for Gringotts currency that you can use throughout both Universal theme parks. Make sure you have a chat to the interactive goblin teller.
  • Ollivanders Wand Shop – buy an interactive wand that you can use all around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade (both of which have interactive shop windows, fountains and statues) to cast your very own spells. You might even be one of the lucky chosen customers that get to have the very special experience of having a wand choose them. There is also an Ollivanders in Hogsmeade (be warned the queues at both can get quite long though!).
  • Shopping –  So many fun shops to wander through including Quality Quiddich Supplies, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Madam Malkin’s Robes, Borgin and Burkes, Wiseacre’s Wizardry Equipment and Magical Menagerie.
  • Have a traditional British pub meal at the Leaky Cauldron, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Riding the Hogwarts Express between parks

The best way ever to swap between theme parks is hopping aboard the Hogwarts Express. Once you are finished at Diagon Alley head over to Kings Cross Station. You will need to show your park-to-park ticket before you can enter, then make your way to find the famous 9 3/4 platform.

Once you board the Hogwarts Express you will be shown to a compartment which holds 6-8 people and the magical doors will be closed. The interactive experience will then begin, as the animated windows take you through the streets of London and along the English countryside as you arrive at Hogsmeade Station. Along the way you will be joined by a few familiar characters but just watch out for those nasty Dementors!

Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure

As you make your way through Hogsmeade towards Hogwarts Castle you will notice a few more familiar features of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The highlight of Hogsmeade are;

  • Butterbeer – available either warm, cold or frozen and not to be missed. Our favourite was the frozen butterbeer and as it is non-alcoholic, even the kids will love it!
  • Dine at the Three Broomsticks restaurant or Hog’s Head pub for traditional English fare.
  • Honeydukes – a must see for everyone, stop by to pick-up a few favourite candies such as Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizzbees, Bertie Bott Beans or Cauldron Cakes.
  • If you missed the one at Diagon Alley, there is another Ollivanders Wand Shop to purchase your very own magical wand.
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in Hogwarts is definitely a ride not to be missed. This multi sensory action ride takes you on a journey soaring around the skies with Harry Potter, evading dragons and other magical creatures. You cannot use fast passes with this ride but the wait in the queue is part of the whole experience as you wander through the interior of Hogwarts. You will pass through Dumbledores Office, the Gryffindor Common Room, the Room of Requirement and you might even find the famous sorting hat.
  • Dragon Challenge is a set of two high-speed rollercoasters, a blue dragon and red dragon. Take the challenge and ride both coasters then pick your favourite.
  • Flight of the Hippogriff is a very family friendly coaster that the younger ones will love as they pass around by Hagrid’s Hut.

Conclusion

You don’t have to be a diehard Harry Potter fan to really enjoy the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando. While we had only read a couple of the books and watched some of the movies, we still loved our magical adventure there.

We suggest you plan to arrive as early as possible to avoid the big crowds that gather in the afternoon. If you are looking for accomodation options we would recommend staying at one of the On-Site Hotels as you get a one hour park early admission (only one park is open early each day). Each guest also receives unlimited fast-pass ride access for the length of stay at the hotel.

We chose to stay at the Hard Rock Hotel – read our review here.

For more information on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando go to: www.universalorlando.com

Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando, Florida, USA

Hard Rock Hotel Orlando Review

Review of the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando, Florida, USA

If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Orlando when visiting Universal Studios, then look no further than the Hard Rock Hotel. This hotel is the perfect choice for families who want to spend a few days exploring Universal Studios Orlando.

Theme Park Benefits

Booking a room at Hard Rock entitles each member of your party to express passes for Universal Studios for the length of your stay at the hotel. These passes are must haves and when you consider they are valued at up to $89 per person per day, the price of the room is almost recovered back just with these! We arrived at the Hard Rock around 10.00am and while our room wasn’t ready that early, we were still able to get our fast passes from the lobby kiosks and head off to Universal Studios straight away.

Each person will also be allocated their own room key as you need these for early admission into either Universal Studios or Universal’s Islands of Adventure. One of the two parks will be open one hour before general admission theme park opening and you just need to show your room key once in the park to be allowed through the barriers. This extra early morning hour allows you to experience the popular rides with no queues at all!

It only takes 5-10 minutes to walk from the Hard Rock Hotel to the Universal Studio parks but if you prefer, there are frequent water taxi shuttles that drop you off just opposite the park entrances. We actually liked to walk to the parks as it’s a nice picturesque path along the river.

Rock Royalty Room

We decided to splurge and book a room on the Rock Royalty level which is the Hard Rock’s version of a Club Level. All the Rock Royalty rooms are on the seventh floor and have access to the Rock Royalty Lounge. Our room was a good size for two adults and two kids, with a nice view of the pool area and Universal Studios.

A few features we loved about our room;

  • Pillows with room rules – BE NICE & QUIET PLEASE (rules not exactly followed by our kids!).
  • Mirror which shows the heights of various rock stars.
  • Big soft fluffy bath mat in the bathroom.
  • Drumstick art on the bathroom wall.
  • Turn-down service always left a little treat for the kids.

You can watch our room tour video here.

Rock Royalty Lounge

The Rock Royalty Lounge is open from 7.00am to 10.00pm every day and features include;

  • Continental breakfast from 7 AM to 10 AM.
  • All day complimentary coffee, tea and soft drinks.
  • Bottled water available to take with you to the parks.
  • Hors d’oeuvres, beer, and wine from 5 PM to 7 PM.
  • Evening Desserts from 8.30 PM to 9.30 PM.
  • Computer access with printer.

This lounge has to cater for 90 rooms and 5 suites on the Rock Royalty level and in our opinion is just way too small and cannot handle the crowd. At breakfast time most people arrive at the same time before heading off to the early park opening hour so there are usually no seats available. We found ourselves just grabbing a pastry or donut and eating on our walk over to the parks.

For the evening snacks and drinks it is best to arrive a little bit before 5 PM to try to grab a table to sit at, otherwise you will be grabbing a drink and bite to eat and taking it back to your room. There was good selection of beer and wines available and the food varied each night. The kids loved stopping by the lounge for the evening dessert, which was usually ice cream with a cookie or cake or churros.

Hard Rock Pool Area

The pool is a great place to unwind and relax after a full day of walking around Universal Studios. This is not a really deep pool so it’s great for the kids. Unfortunately the water slide was closed for maintenance while we were there but it looks like one the kids would enjoy. There are plenty of sun lounges around the pool and they also have  cabanas available for rental. Each night while we were staying at Hard Rock, there was a dive-in movie by the pool. So while the kids enjoyed pool time, we could also sit back in the beach club bar, watch a movie and enjoy a cocktail. During the day there is also some live music to you keep you entertained poolside.

See our video of the pool area here.

Dining at Hard Rock

There are all different sorts of dining options at Hard Rock including;

  • The Kitchen – A very family friendly eatery which comes complete with a Kid’s Crib where they can hang out and watch cartoons or movies. The Kitchen also has character dining available on selected days.
  • Palm Restaurant – Classic American Steakhouse.
  • Beach Club – Enjoy a light snack with a cocktail by the pool.
  • Emack & Bolio’s Marketplace – grab a coffee or snack for those on the go (was undergoing renovations when we visited).
  •  Velvet Bar – An adults area to enjoys cocktails, appetizers and cigars.

Other Amenities

Other features of the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando are;

  • Camp Lil’ Rock – For those that want to enjoy a nice night out without the kids, drop the kids off for some arts, crafts, video games, movies & other activities. Cost is $15 per hour per child and they can have a meal for $15. Open on Sun to Thurs from 5 PM to 11.30 PM and on Fri & Sat from 5 PM to 12 AM.
  • Sound of your Stay – Make your choice from Hard Rock’s Fender Guitar room service menu or become an instant DJ an transform the lobby into a nightclub.
  • Rock Shop –  Pick-up some of Hard Rock’s famous memorabilia.
  • Fitness Center – Open from 5 AM to 10PM.

Summary

Would we come back and stay at the Hard Rock Hotel when visiting Universal Studios again – absolutely! While we probably wouldn’t pay the extra money for the Rock Royalty level privileges, we certainly loved our stay here and would happily return on our next visit.

For more information go to: www.hardrockhotels.com

Aquatica Water Park Orlando, Florida, USA

Aquatica Orlando Water Park

Review of Aquatica Water Park in Orlando, Florida, USA

Aquatica Water Park is operated by SeaWorld and is definitely worth visiting when exploring the city of Orlando. There were plenty of rides that the whole family could enjoy and our two boys aged 9 & 11 absolutely loved it here.

Cabana Rental

We arrived right at opening time which for the day we visited was 10.00am. First stop for us was to guest services to see if we could still rent a cabana (these can also be done online prior to visiting the park). Luckily it was a good time of year to visit as it was off-peak season and a weekday so the park was pretty quiet. We had a choice of a cabana at either Cutback Cove or Roa’s Rapids. We chose one at Cutback Cove at the bargain rate of $49 (you can pay over $200.00 for these in peak season).

The Cutback Cove are was nice and shaded and very private with a host always around checking to make sure those that entered the area had the appropriate wristband on. Rental of a cabana includes;

  • Rental towels
  • All day locker rental
  • Refrigerator with 12 bottles of complimentary water
  • 20% discount at gift shops

For the off-peak price of $49 we would highly recommend renting one of the cabanas, probably wouldn’t pay the high peak season prices though. It was definitely good value for us when you take into consideration that locker rental is either $10 or $15 and towel rental is $5 each.

Dolphin Plunge Waterslide

Before you get too excited about the much hyped Dolphin Plunge waterslide, be aware that you can’t really see the black & white Commerson Dolphins while you are going down the slide as you are travelling too fast to find them. There is a big viewing window where you can watch them play around in their pod though. You can watch our Dolphin Plunge YouTube video here.

Cutback Cove Wave Pool

This popular area has two wave pools side by side (only Cutback Cove was open when we visited – Big Surf Shores was closed).

 

Roa’s Rapid Rivers

This is no lazy river, you travel at good speed around Roa’s Rapids and it’s even more fun when you put on a swim vest and just get pulled through the rapids.

Walkabout Waters

A perfect area for active kids, this Walkabout Waters adventure playground will keep them busy for hours. You can watch our YouTube video of Walkabout Waters & Roa’s Rapids here.

Kata’s Kookaburra Cove

Kata’s Kookaburra Cove is a great area for the younger kids who can’t ride the bigger slides.

Loggerhead Lane

Grab a tube and head around this lazy river and through the tropical fish grotto. Loggerhead Lane also connects to the Tassie Twister Waterslides.

Ihu’s Breakaway Falls

Test out your bravery with these not to be missed free fall drop slides. You can choose which one of Ihu’s Breakaway Falls you dare to ride (purple one is not a drop down one if you can’t face the free fall drop) and the green one is the easiest to ride.

Other Rides at Aquatica

  • Hooroo Run – good waterslide but ride early as it gets a queue later in the day.
  • Walhalla Wave – great family waterslide but ride early as it gets a queue later in the day.
  • Taumata Racer – closed for maintenance when we visited.
  • Omaka Rocka – this one is a bit bumpy, probably our least favourite ride.
  • Whanau Way – four waterslides that go different speeds, the boys enjoyed this one.

Dining at Aquatica

Aquatica has a strict outside food & beverage policy so it may be necessary to purchase food inside the park. While there are plenty of snack food outlets there is also the option of Banana Beach dining which is all-day unlimited food and sodas.

Conclusion

We rode every waterslide together as a family then we were comfortable enough with the park size and amount of lifeguards to let the kids roam free and do as they wanted. The adults then retreated back to the cabana for a little bit of afternoon relaxation time – a perfect day out for all of us! We would definitely return to Aquatica on our next trip to Orlando.

You can watch our YouTube Video of SeaWorld’s Aquatica Water Park in Orlando – featuring Kata’s Kookaburra Cove, Ihu’s Breakaway Falls and Cutback Cove Wave Pool.

We had 14 days unlimited access to Aquatica Water Park and SeaWorld Orlando as part of our Discovery Cove package.

For more information on Aquatica Water Park in Orlando, go to www.aquaticabyseaworld.com

When visiting Aquatica we stayed at the Hilton Orlando which as you can see below is not far from the water park and you get great views of the resort from Ihu’s Breakaway Falls.

Aquatica Water Park Orlando, Florida

View of Hilton Orlando from Ihu’s Breakaway Falls

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