Trip to universal with 11yo niece!
January 2, 2012 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Trip to Universal Studios in Orlando with an 11yo! Suggestions on where to stay and podcasts, books, etc to listen to in the car on the way down?

We're taking my niece to Universal Studios in February (President's day weekend) as a reward for bringing up her grades. This is the only weekend we can do it, as she's out of school. We're driving down from Atlanta on Friday, and back on Monday.

Any suggestions on where to stay? Does staying in an in park hotel really make the experience better? (on a better rating of $150/night more?) I know we'd get to skip to the front of the lines, as well as get into the Harry Potter an hour early, but that's an awful lot to spend a night!

What about buying tickets? We're going to be doing the 2 park, 2 day option, I think - we do have a Costco membership, and could get tickets there, but they only have the 3day pass, afaik.

Also, since we're driving - normally we listen to podcasts in the car while we travel, but the podcasts we listen to are not appropriate for my niece - any suggestions on podcasts or audio books? She loves harry potter and fantasy books.

Any other suggestions welcome! We hope to go back later, and take her to Disney/Sea World on another trip.
posted by needlegrrl to Travel & Transportation around Orlando, FL (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Harry Potter is *incredibly* crowded. Even staying in a park hotel (which I highly recommend, even though it is really costly), you will find yourself waiting in lines for attractions like Ollivander's Wands. I went with my sis and her kids and they waited for an hour and a half on a weekend during their (not the locals') Spring Break, WITH the hour early deal. We opted to do other rides while they waited; we later learned that my nephew was the one "chosen" by a wand during the show, and so they were very glad they went (I was tickled pink that he turned down the wand that had "chosen" him for "The one Voldemort has, please" instead!).

I recommend a Universal hotel because they will give you that front-of-the-line pass the minute you check in, so you can take advantage of the option on both your park days if you play your cards right. Get to the hotel EARLY on the day you plan to check in, get your room keys and have them hold onto your luggage, and go to the park from the hotel (also saves money on parking), using the boats if you can or the walkway if you miss one of them (it's a pretty long walk, but scenic). They will text you when your rooms are actually ready for you, so you can spend as long as you want in the park that day, spend the night, and get your extra early hour at Harry Potter the next day.

First day:
in Islands of Adventure: the Hulk, Spiderman, Dragon Challenge (not as good since they don't run both coasters at once now, but still great) and Jurassic Park are definite Must Dos. In the Studios, the Mummy and the Hollywood coaster are the best rides, watch Terminator 2 3D or whatever it's called and the Blues Brothers, and eat dinner in Lombard's (the seafood restaurant near where Jaws used to be).

During your extra early hour: I recommend doing the official Harry Potter ride first (honestly, I found it anti-climactic), and then probably go to Ollivander's if you think you will want to purchase a wand. You will still have to wait in line for the Ollivander's thing and the Harry Potter ride, though the lines will only be hotel people, so buy butter beer to drink while you are waiting.
posted by misha at 12:10 PM on January 2, 2012

Definitely stay in a park hotel. We stayed in the Hard Rock hotel. In a park hotel you get the universal equivalent of "Fast Pass" (not sure about the name). This is slightly different than Disney - you basically get to walk right to the front of the line for the attractions. In many cases we had absolutely no wait.

This does not work for the main Harry Potter ride, but as suggested above, if you go directly to the harry potter area during your "extra hour" you can minimize the wait a lot...
posted by NoDef at 12:19 PM on January 2, 2012

Echoing everyone else, you really need to stay on site. I've stayed in all of them and our favorite is Portofino Bay. You can usually get it for the same rate as Royal Pacific, but the theming, pools and overall ambiance are so much better. It's the furthest from the parks, but the boats that you catch just add to the experience.

Royal Pacific is the closest to Islands of Adventure, it's just a quick walk from the back of the hotel to Citywalk and over the bridge to the ticket kiosks. Hard Rock is a great hotel, but it's usually pretty expensive.

Be sure to check and see who is in concert while you're there. Kelly Clarkson will be there the 18th, but you might be a bit too early for Mardi Gras.

Memail me if you have questions or want some other ideas about Universal. We have annual passes and are there monthly (and stay on site each time). Have a great time!
posted by hollygoheavy at 7:29 PM on January 2, 2012

I've been to Universal lots of times (used to live in Orlando); in more recent years with my son in tow. Nthing staying on site! We did this for the first time this last trip, and it was THE BEST. We loved Harry Potter ... but wouldn't have loved it as much if we'd had to wait in those huge huge lines. It's worth paying the extra money. Pack a ton of bottled waters and some food to take to the hotel with you to offset the costs if you must (avoid the in-room minifridge of financial death).

We stayed in the Hard Rock. We opted for the breakfast buffet. I was thrilled that Hard Rock had a gluten-free menu for me... several of the other park restaurants did as well, but you may have to ask for the gluten-free menu. While costly, the buffet fueled my picky-eater teenaged son for a big portion of the day. Additionally, where else can you listen to Black Sabbath over your waffles?
posted by theplotchickens at 7:52 PM on January 2, 2012

On podcasts: my 13-year-old son and I are addicted to "Stuff You Should Know." You'll need to check the topics carefully, but most 11-year-olds can handle them. Maybe not the Jack the Ripper one, but the Lego one was pretty cool.

Audio books: see if you can get Dianne Wynne Jones' Chrestomancy series. Alternately, my son listened to the BBC's Lord of the Rings audio all the way down the east coast.
posted by theplotchickens at 7:56 PM on January 2, 2012

Check out Disunplugged podcast-I love the group that does it, they are funny and definitely tell it like it is. They have a lot of Universal shows in their archives, which would be extra fun (and useful) to listen to on your drive.
posted by purenitrous at 8:02 PM on January 2, 2012

Went i went, I stayed at the Hard Rock and we got to the park when it opened and ran for Harry Potter. And then ran through the "fast pass" line up. I think the longest I ever waited for that ride was like, 15 minutes? There's so much cool stuff to look at that you hardly notice waiting.

I am not even a big Harry Potter fan but I loved that ride! We did the early-AM Harry Potter multiple days in a row.
posted by Amanda B at 8:18 PM on January 2, 2012

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