Is there grownup fun to be had in Orlando, Florida? (Or San Diego...?)
March 3, 2014 9:22 PM   Subscribe

We are thinking of visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for a much-needed vacation and planning to stay there for a week (since we're flying across the country to get there), but upon cursory research, it seems that the Wizarding World is very small and will take probably half a day.

Before we decide to commit to this trip, I would love to hear any other suggestions for things to do in the general area. I know that the Wizarding World is inside the Islands of Adventure, so I'm thinking we'll have to buy a ticket for that. I have not been to Disneyworld since I was a child, and even at that age the Magic Kingdom did not leave an indelible impression on me.

I am also a scaredy cat when it comes to rollercoasters, although I'm happy to let my boyfriend go on those alone, as long as I can find something else to do.

I do think I would enjoy the Kennedy Space Center, so we will probably rent a car and that can take up one day. But there are 5 days left.

So basically, I am interested in recommendations for which theme parks have a good balance of non-rollercoaster-y fun and also other attractions in the Orlando area. Our interests are pretty broad. I'm interested in museums and culture, and my boyfriend is interested in food and outdoorsy stuff like wildlife, hiking, and beaches. I read on another thread something about swimming with manatees, which sounds awesome to both of us.

The other possibility we are exploring is San Diego, but we are even more clueless about options there. I'm not really the type to lie on a beach for a week, as I prefer more "focused fun."

If anyone has suggestions for a third option, by all means!

Thank you for reading this floopy question.
posted by madonna of the unloved to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not a Florida expert, but San Diego is lovely. Plenty of nice hiking, really pleasant weather, both the zoo and the Wild Animal Park are excellent, and there are some nice museums in Balboa Park too. It can be a "lie on the beach for a week" sort of place, but by no means does it have to be.
posted by town of cats at 9:33 PM on March 3, 2014

Come to San Diego. You could:

Visit the San Diego Zoo and all the museums in Balboa Park.
Go to the Birch Aquarium.
Drive to Los Angeles for a day trip.
Take advantage of your proximity to Disneyland once, just because.
Hike in Torrey Pines, Poway, and La Jolla.
Do a food crawl up and down Pacific Coast Hwy (pick your favorite cuisine and just go go go)
Catch the nightlife in the Gaslamp portion of Downtown San Diego.

Feel free to memail me if you want more specific suggestions. :)
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:46 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I went on a family trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (and the rest of Universal Studios Orlando) last year. At a very leisurely pace (but at a time of year with basically non-existent lines) the entirety of both "Islands of Adventure" and the other (generic?) Universal Studios park took us 4 days to do basically everything. I'd call it a little more than half a day for the Harry Potter stuff alone, but if you're skipping the two roller coasters and the one other fast-moving, potentially scary ride, you'll cut it down to less than half a day. Basically you're left with: tour the wand shop, drink butterbeer, watch the parade, drink in the ambiance, drink butterbeer, visit the candy store and the joke shop. And drink butterbeer.

You are correct that you'd need to buy a ticket for Islands of Adventure; the Potter stuff is just one part of that park. (And tickets are quite expensive!) About half the rides in the park overall are probably no good for someone who doesn't like roller coasters/scary moving rides, but at least the park was good about making it clear which ones were fast-moving before you got on. There are some very nice restaurants in the park as well, but overall I feel like it'd be an expensive outing for someone who doesn't like roller coasters (personally I love 'em).

It's been many, many years since I was there, but I also fondly remember Gatorland as a slightly cheesy, slightly redneck-y, but nevertheless entertaining spot in Orlando.

OTOH, if you go to San Diego, and can afford it, rent a catamaran.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:17 PM on March 3, 2014

In case you do go to San Diego and decide to go to Disneyland: I hate what most people call roller coasters. I don't like drops, don't go upside down, etc. Fast is ok. I have a great time at Disneyland... lots of "rides" few "coasters", and even then nothing too crazy. My husband thought Disneyland was going to be dumb, but he had a great time too. Knott's Berry Farm and Six Flags are both roller coasters and weren't much fun for me. Haven't been to Universal Studios (they may have a HP thing of some sort ?). I also haven't been to California-land, next to and run by Disney.

I haven't been to Florida, but would love to go to the Wizarding world too... Will follow this with interest.

If you want to know which rides I avoid at Disneyland, me mail me!
posted by jrobin276 at 10:42 PM on March 3, 2014

Hmm. I'll also say that the rides at Disneyland are focused on moving you through a very elaborate environment that tells a story of sorts, whereas I feel like roller coasters are usually out in the open air... no stage, no story, they just exist for the adrenaline rush.

I went to the Space Center in Houston when I was 13, and remember it as being Awesome. If the Kennedy is at all similar, I'd go!
posted by jrobin276 at 10:52 PM on March 3, 2014

Yeah, you'd have to buy tickets for Universal Islands of Adventure to get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The rest of the park is pretty roller-coaster-heavy, although there are other types of rides too, and shows and stuff.

Epcot is not about roller coasters at all, and is kind of an interestingly unique theme park - supposed to be kind of a permanent world's fair. Unfortunately, since it's Disney and not Universal, you can't really leverage multi-park deals between that and Islands of Adventure, the way you could if both parks were owned by one company. So that can get expensive, plus you may get fatigued on theme parks in general (though if you spread them out across your trip with other stuff in between that would probably help avert that). In general most Disney parks don't run to lots of roller coasters, though, so any of them would probably be fine, if any of their themes really grabbed you.

Kennedy Space Center is pretty great in my opinion and could nicely take up a day.

mstokes650 has kind of an interesting idea with Gatorland there. If you like kitschy older things like that, there are a ton of ridiculous souvenir shops and slightly decrepit mini golf courses and such around - it's not quite all slickly Disneyfied yet, especially if you get out toward Cocoa Beach and the other beach towns kind of out by KSC.

Unfortunately I don't know much about the area museums - the Orlando tourism websites and brochures will assure you that they exist, but I didn't go to any so I know nothing about their quality. Likewise I don't know much about area hiking, not having done that.

Actually, thinking about outdoorsy things, one of the times I was down in Florida with a group of friends, we actually only spent a couple days in Orlando and then drove way down south to visit the Everglades and the Florida Keys. Doing that takes you past/through Miami, which opens up some more cultural sorts of opportunities. It does mean a fair amount of road tripping though.

Honestly, Orlando really felt to me like it was strongly geared toward families taking their kids to theme parks, and a week there seems like a long time to me if you're not really invested in that kind of experience. San Diego would be a more balanced option all around - and these birds of a feather has an excellent start of suggestions there - or yeah, maybe look at shifting to another part of Florida for part of that week.
posted by sigmagalator at 10:57 PM on March 3, 2014

Okay. I think we've officially changed the destination to San Diego.

Thank you for the SD suggestions. My boyfriend found the Go San Diego Card, which seems pretty awesome with 46 attractions. Now we just have to whittle down what we want to see.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 12:08 AM on March 4, 2014

One more thing to keep in mind - the Wizarding World is coming to Universal's Park in LA in 2016, so you won't always have to choose Florida to see it. You could do both San Diego and Harry Potter.
posted by visual mechanic at 12:15 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I see you already changed your mind, but just to be clear - in order to fully explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you need to buy tickets to both Universal and Islands of Adventure (two-park pass). They just linked the original Islands of Adventure Hogsmeade section with a Hogwarts Express train that takes you to the Diagon Alley portion of the park that is located in Universal, thus requiring you to purchase a two-park ticket in order to visit both HP sections. It's almost like they purposefully designed it this way to get as much money from you as possible...
posted by gatorae at 7:20 AM on March 4, 2014

Actually, they haven't opened Hogwarts Express yet-it *might* be open in May, but they just closed the area of Hogsmeade that will house the station in order to finish construction on the IoA side. It's not strictly true that you have to buy the 2 park ticket to see the Hogsmeade section of the Wizarding World, but if you want to see the Diagon Alley section, that takes a 2 park hopper ticket. Diagon Alley is supposed to open sometime in June.

Also, just up the road from Orlando is St. Augustine, which is gorgeous and beachy but has a ton of history and is a fun place to walk around and explore for 2-3 days. (Just in case you change your mind).
posted by hollygoheavy at 8:30 AM on March 4, 2014

The Go San Diego card is generally only a good value if you really go-go-go. Last I looked, it seemed you needed to do 2 or 3 attractions per day if you wanted to do better than breaking even.
posted by hootenatty at 11:17 AM on March 4, 2014

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