I flew to Orlando for the Mom 2.0 Summit on Wednesday morning, saw some old friends, collected an Iris Award for our Dads4Kesem walk across England, and reminded Andrew Shue of his 1-episode stint on “The Wonder Years” before meeting my family late Friday night at the Loews Royal Pacific for 5 hours of sleep before hitting Hogsmeade early Saturday morning.
Our hotel included an extra hour in Universal’s Island of Adventure, so we were there at 7:30am and riding Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey just after 8. After a couple more rides there, we rode the Hogwarts Express to the sister park, Universal Studios, at its opening time of 9am and got on the Escape from Gringotts ride by 9:20am. We then spent the rest of the morning in Diagon Alley, and it was amazing.
As you may recall, we visited the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter studio last summer in London, and we loved it. This was even better, because it included interactive rides, wands that “did stuff,” and shops + restaurants from the books and movies! We had meals at the Leaky Cauldron and the Three Broomsticks; we bought candy and fudge at Honeydukes; we peed in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom; we disappeared behind the wall at Platform 9 3/4; we bought wands at Ollivander’s; we talked to the shrunken head aboard the Knight Bus; we got souvenirs at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.
When Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley got too crowded, we explored Jurassic Park, Marvel Superhero Island (where I rode my favorite ride of the parks, “The Hulk” roller coaster), Seuss Landing, Springfield (home of The Simpsons), etc.
It was 2 incredibly fun and full days. We had “express passes” (also through our hotel) that allowed us to get into a special faster lane at each ride, so we never waited more than 15 or 20 minutes, even for the most popular rides.
Other tips to make a visit to Universal nice: download the free app, which will let you know wait times for rides and includes a map of the park, information on where to eat, etc. Also, buy this guide book. That was the most valuable investment we made before or during this trip. And, read this informative article. And lastly, see if you can get a military discount on the park and lodging (or a blogger/PR one), because this stuff is expensive otherwise!
On the 3rd day, we used our early admittance to ride the Forbidden Journey by the Hogwarts Castle again and enjoyed the 2nd track of the Dragon Challenge there; we then rode the Hogwarts Express over to the other park and then back again, so we could see it from both directions (which was totally worth doing!).
We spent our last couple hours before checkout (we got an extra hour, until noon) on Monday enjoying the enormous pool at the hotel and the on-site restaurant by Emeril’s called “Tchoup Chop,” which was, by far, the best meal we had in Orlando. Then, we set off on the long drive north (my family had driven down Friday, so my flight down was one-way) toward Atlanta, stopping to charge in Ocala, Lake City, Tifton, and Macon.
This was our longest family roadtrip in the Model X, and while it added 2+ hours to the 6.5 or so hours Google said it’d take to get home, it made the drive a relaxing one, wherein we didn’t worry about where to stop for drinks or a restroom. Frankly, we probably would have spent the same amount of time stopping for restroom breaks even in a gasoline-powered vehicle, given the 3 small stomachs and bladders in the rows behind us, and the superchargers are always located by malls, restaurants, and/or airports with lots of amenities (except Macon, which is by some museums and a bus station, so stopping there late at night is kinda scary, as nothing nearby is open). We plan to take an even longer electric roadtrip in July to south Florida.
Everyone loved our trip to Universal and wants to go back when the shorter two children are tall enough to ride some of the more intense rides. It made for a great Mother’s Day for my bride and was a wonderful way for 5 huge Harry Potter fans to spend a weekend. Y’all should check it out.