Is Universal Studios for kids? Here is what we learned on our first visit.
We came to Universal Studios in Orlando Florida with one goal in mind. I agreed to take each of my kids on a special mini vacation alone with me. My son wanted more than just about anything to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
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Our trip planning process was a little more rushed than usual. We were supposed to go a month later, but because of Covid, we bumped the trip dates up so we really only had a couple of days to prepare (which in my world of “all the details taken care of” trip planning, felt like going in virtually blind!)
Here are all of the things that I wished that I knew before our first visit to Universal Studios with kids!
Universal Studios Orlando Tips for Visiting with Kids
Download the Universal Studios app
This is pretty basic, but it is a great place to start when familiarizing yourself with the park and how to navigate it. If you download it in the weeks before you trip, you can watch the ride times on the days that you will be visiting to get a sense for how busy the lines are at various times of the day to help you plan your adventure.
Start your visit at Islands of Adventure
We did this backwards…we started at Universal proper, and we wished that we had done it the other way.
Islands of Adventure is more “small kiddo” friendly. There are more rides here for them (start in Seuss Landing if you don’t know which way to go) and it is a more engaging environment for kids. Then, the next day (or later in the day if you have park to park passes) go to Universal Studios itself.
Get the Park to Park Passes
There are many reasons for this. One of the most important is being able to ride the Hogwarts Express. This also allows you to start in Islands of Adventure where there are more kid friendly rides, spend most of the day there, then pop over to the other park for a few rides in the evening and the Cinematic Celebration.
You could also do the most popular rides in one park early in the day, and go over to do the popular rides in the other park at the end of the day (with a break during the “busiest” time for walking around either Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade Village in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the middle).
Don’t underestimate the walking
These parks were A TON of walking. You have to walk across the HUGE Universal City Walk complex just to get to the gates of the parks, which are HUGE themselves.
Even if your kiddo is “officially” out of a stroller, I would consider bringing a folding one for when they CRASH like my seven year old did at the end of our first day (suddenly, his feet hurt so much he could barely move…) There was a stroller parking/stowage area near just about every ride…
Bring a change of clothes if you are going to do any of the water rides
There are dryers outside, but they do cost $5 and probably won’t fix your soaked shoes. There are (as of right now) three water rides at Universal. Jurassic=Wet, Ripsaw Falls=Wetter and Blutos Barges=SOAKED.
Otherwise, plan to save the water rides for the end of the day. No fun walking around wet.
Don’t try to get by cheap without a locker
The lockers were not expensive, and it is a much better option than trying to get by and carry all of your stuff. The larger family sized ones were $15 and the smaller ones were $10 (you can come in and out as many times as you need with your ticket).
It Will Rain
Pack some disposable ponchos. It will likely rain. This was something that we wished that we had.
If visiting on a busy day, consider coming later in the day and staying until close
The second day of our visit was on a Saturday. We were SUPER TIRED from all of the walking the day before, so we didn’t get moving too early. By the time that we got to park, it was 1pm and my app told me that the ride lines were really long. We played a game of mini golf at Universal City Walk on our way in, and got into the park late in the afternoon.
As the afternoon went on, the ride lines diminished. We stayed until close at 10pm, and into the evening, we were thrilled to see the throngs of people streaming out of the parks, leaving them for us to enjoy in peace. We had such a lovely time walking around Diagon Alley late in the evening when the streets were lit up so beautifully. Consider this as your plan if you are visiting on a weekend (or stay at an onsite resort, come in the morning, head back to the resort for some swimming and come back when the crowds thin!)
Stay in One of the Official Universal Resorts
We did not do this on our first trip, and it was a mistake for a few reasons. First, I discover that just because a hotel has a shuttle to Universal does not mean that it goes at times that are convenient or that it is free.
Once we got here, I also realized that had we been staying at an official Universal Resort, we would have saved a TON of time, and we would have been able to take a break in the middle of the day to swim and regroup to head back into the park later into the evening when it was less busy. This would have really made our trip better.
Universal has some GREAT budget friendly resorts (Dockside Inn and Suites and Surfside Inn and Suites) that have many of the same benefits of their more expensive counterparts (early entry into the parks and a free and convenient shuttle are two of the best ones!)
Many rides are loud. If your kiddo is sensitive like mine is, consider bringing a pair of wrap around ear plugs.
In the same theme, even some of the “kid friendly” rides had flashing, intense lights and quick, unpredictable movements that were too much for my sensitive seven year old. Prepare them ahead of time for what to expect.
How to Get a Spot in the Virtual Line
The virtual line thing to me was foreign to me. When we saw a virtual line for a ride that we wanted to go on, I checked back a few times during the day, but never saw tickets appear. Here is what I have learned since then.
Keep checking. Lots. To get virtual line tickets for popular rides, you really need to refresh that screen a lot. Starting early in the morning (even before you leave for the parks) helps, too!
This is because blocks of tickets are released throughout the day. You just need to get lucky and check at the right time to snag some. Now I know that I just need to be a little more persistent next time.
Visiting Universal Studios with Toddlers
Universal might not have a ton of rides to offer the littlest set, but that shouldn’t stop you from planning a visit if you have older kids or you just want to come. There are lots of ways to make a visit to Universal Studios with toddlers enjoyable.
First of all, Universal has some AWESOME playgrounds for the little ones. You could easily switch off with the little one to do rides with older kids (or just as a vacation for yourself). Universal also offers child swap on a lot of rides (check the app or website for details on each ride).
The Best Universal Studios Rides for Kids
Our primary goal of our first visit was to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which was amazing on its own. I want to be honest and tell you, though, that I was surprised because I thought that there would be more rides outside of that for my seven year year old than there was. I don’t want to discourage you, but I want you to know what to expect if you want to get the most out of your visit.
There was another thing that we discovered that tripped us up. My son has gone on ALL of the standard type roller coasters at our amusement park at home. He has gone on some pretty big ones there…ones that make my head spin! The thing about Universal is that many of the most popular rides there are motion simulators. The intense lights and sounds and motions were too much for my roller coaster loving child. Motion simulator rides just weren’t his thing!
I spent a chunk of our first day kind of bummed out because of all of the things that he couldn’t do. We also started in the wrong park…had we started our visit at Island of Adventure instead of Universal Studios itself, our experience would have been much different.
We did end up having a great time at Universal Studios once we found the right rides. Here were our favorites:
The Flight of the Hippogriff
This is a middle sized roller coaster located in Hogsmeade Village in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This was a PERFECT ride for my seven year old son, and it was fun for me, too. It had lots of twists and turns and no huge drops.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
This turned out to be my son’s favorite kids rides at Universal Studios. It is a variation on the standard “airplane” type ride that you find in most parks…the one where you go around in a circle and can go up and down. This one features a super catchy song and water squirters that get you wet (you were warned!) my son had a lot of fun intentionally trying to get us wet. If you don’t want to get wet, sit on the inside.
The Hogwarts Express
I didn’t know what to expect with this ride. I thought that it was just going to be a scenic train ride between Universal proper and Islands of Adventure. It was sooo much more!
You go through a replica train station to board an amazing recreation of the train that the kids in the movie ride to Hogwarts. As you go, you see a themed story outside your window, and you can see and hear characters walk by the frosted windows of the train cabin. Oh, and you have to ride it both ways, because the story is different both ways.
You need to have the “Park to Park” pass to ride this, and I can guarantee you that you will be disappointed if you don’t. It is worth it.
Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster
We didn’t get to ride this on this trip (boooo…) but this looks to be in the same vein as the Hippogriff coaster that we also loved. A great beginner roller coaster without any huge drops and lots of twists. This is definitely on the top of our list for next time.
The Pterandon Flyers
This ride was SUPER cool! And, you can only do it if you are a kid (or you are with one). This is a glider type ride where you “swoop” around on a track high above the park. My son loved this one…we only got to do it once, but it is high on the list for our next visit!
Other, Non Ride Things to Do at Universal Studios
Mini Golf at Universal City Walk
We got to the park at peak busy time on Saturday afternoon. I checked my app on the way in, and the ride times were HORRENDOUS. We decided to make a detour for a round of golf at Universal City Walk. The course is right at the end of the moving walkways as you enter City Walk.
There are actually two courses, an alien themed one and a monsters themed one. We played the monster themed one this time and are planning on hitting the aliens on our next visit!
The Cinematic Celebration
In our rushed trip planning, I had no idea that we needed to do this, so we only got to see it in passing late one night on our way out of the park. This is a movie themed light and water show done around the central lake at Universal. Right now, due to Covid restrictions, they only let a limited number of people into the area with the best views, so plan ahead if you want to get in on this amazing show at the end of the day (and a great “rest break” for tired legs!)
The Many, Awesome Playgrounds
There are some really great playground spaces sprinkled throughout the park. We didn’t get to check these out on this trip (they were closed…stupid virus) but we are hopeful to try them on one of our next visits and I will update this!
First Time Harry Potter World Tips
The Big “Highlight” Rides are Intense Motion Simulators
So you know what to expect, both of the focal point rides in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter are motion simulator rides. The “Escape from Gringott’s Ride” in Diagon Alley as well as the “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” ride in Hogsmeade Village may not be suitable for your kids, even if they meet the height requirement.
My son is tall. He is well over 48” at seven, so he is tall enough for almost all rides now. After some feedback from a friend after an initial bad experience with the Transformers ride, I concluded that these rides would also be too scary for him. Maybe we will revisit this in a year or so, but this was what was true for us right now.
Where to Start Your Day
Start your “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” experience with a visit to Ollivander’s wand shop. Go there early in the day, before the lines get long. They will walk your little witch or wizard through the magical experience of choosing their wand (or maybe the other way around, because it is really the wand who chooses the wizard!)
Make sure to get one of the interactive ones, because these have special functionality that will allow it to be used to participate in the interactive spell experiences found on the map that you will get around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade Village. Trust me, this is one of the best harry Potter world tips that I can give you…this is one of the coolest parts of a visit to Universal studios for kids! This was one of my son’s favorite parts of our trip!
Mind the Dragon
The dragon that you will see as you enter Diagon Alley atop Gringott’s bank (at the end of the street) roars and sends out a huge ball of flame periodically. If you have little ones or kiddos who are particularly sensitive, you might want to warn them. My son got used to it, but it scared him the first few times.
Come Back at Night!
If you can, take a break in the middle of the day or come later so you can enjoy walking around Diagon Alley and/or Hogsmeade Village at night! Before closing (especially on days when the park is open until 10pm) both of these spots emptied out. All of the shop windows were lit up and it was truly magical walking around when there were less people.
Height Requirements for Universal Studios for Kids
I was going to list out all of the height requirements for Universal Studios. I was going to list out all of the Islands of adventure height requirements. I was going to list out all of the Universal Orlando height requirements.
I decided that it would be more useful just to provide you the link to the webpage for the height requirements for Universal Studios so that you could get it straight from the horses mouth.