Universal Orlando: Experience theme parks like a movie star

Universal Orlando: Experience theme parks like a movie star

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Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure offer VIP tours of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Transformers, Minons and, coming soon, King Kong.

Universal Studios Florida - Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews
Universal Studios Florida - Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

ORLANDO, May 29, 2016 – With the official start of summer comes the summer vacation question. Where will the family go? If you ask mom, heading to a theme park in the heat of summer is probably not high on her vacation bucket list.

But you can transform the family into pop culture theme park fans, and mom will feel like she is truly getting a vacation, with the Universal Orlando VIP Tour Experience.

Like jumping on the Hogwarts Express, Universal’s VIP Experience is all about the journey you’ll experience when the park rolls out a virtual red carpet from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to Marvel Island, with stops at all the thrills in between.

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For little more than the cost of the second day admission price per person on the tour, a guide will take your group around the park making sure you don’t miss a highlight or spend precious time waiting in line. This is a group tour and may include persons other than your family in your party.

In addition to the regular VIP Experience group tours, you can also opt for the private VIP Experience which, depending on the number in your group, can be exclusively priced. But it’s worth every nickel. Call the park (1-866-346-9350 ) to determine which tour packages or tour / hotel packages will work best for you. Please note, the cost of the tours does not include park admission.

The magic of these tours is that you can take in both parks in one day with plenty of time to spare. If the kids want to head back to the park for day two, Mom has seen it all and she and dad can spend the day relaxing by any of the Universal Studio resort hotels’ fabulous pools.

Making things even easier, staying at the park resorts means you’re just a simple walk or boat ride from any of the five resorts to Universal Studios Florida®, Universal’s Islands of Adventure® and Universal CityWalk®.

Each resort hotel property offers a variety of benefits, so it’s worth your time to check the web site and call the property to find out what’s on the resort / park menu before shopping off park property. For example, preferred resorts hotel stays include early park admission and free Universal Express℠ – Unlimited ride access to both theme parks all day, a benefit worth up to $89.00  per person, per day.

If you’re not staying at the park resorts, your experience begins with complimentary close-to-entrance valet parking ($50 value) or, if you choose to stay at the resort property hotels, early admission to the park.

Your guide will spend time with you while you enjoy a continental breakfast (approx. $15) to find out just what’s the top item on your list of things to do. Then, taking advantage of your guide’s expertise, you’ll begin a tour of Universal Studios you’ll never forget.

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The Universal guides will walk your group to the front of the line while sharing behind-the-scenes information and experience. Even better, you’ll get reserved seating at shows and enjoy lunch at one of more than fifty dining venues. The cheerful and unflappable VIP guides will also make sure you don’t miss any of the park’s many attractions or nuances.

Our journey began in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which has grown into an immersive, multi-dimensional experience that will leave the whole family breathless.

Not only was this where our day began. It’s also where it ended, for at night things change on Diagon Alley.

Hogwarts Castle, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Orlando - Image: Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando Image: Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

Your first stop in the Wizarding World should be the bigger-than-life Hogwarts Castle that’s home to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a thrilling, fast-paced ride that immerses you into the the film.

After a leisurely walk through the castle chatting up ghosts in the paintings and being greeted by Professor Dumbledore, visitors are strapped into a hanging “bewitched car” that takes riders, with feet dangling, on  a rapid journey of epic proportions to lend a hand to Harry, Hermione and Ron.

Encounters with Dementors, dragons, spiders and an animatronic Whomping Willow are highlights on this ride, along with getting dumped into the middle of a high-speed Quidditch match.

Two things to remember before embarking on this journey: don’t ride over and over unless you enjoy finding a quiet cool place to hang out while others have fun. And two, avoid whipped creme laden drinks or even Butter Beer before riding. The park employees will thank you.

Before heading to KingsMeade, stroll along the streets where Universal Studios has faithfully reimagined the shops and street atmosphere familiar to fans of both the books and the movies. Cobblestone walkways,  ornate building designs and street performers are all there for your entertainment.

The Knight Bus with conductor and talking head - Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews.com
The Knight Bus with conductor and talking head – Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews.com

The Knight Bus is an enchanted purple triple-decker Regent Three class bus designed to transport witches and wizards. You hail it just like a hitchhiker. But instead of the old reliable thumb, a wizard has to hold his wand hand out to hail the Knight Bus.

Here in Florida, the Universal Knight Bus stops by Universal Orland for photo ops and talking head conversations.

Of particular interest on the busses route is Number 12 Grimmauld Place (a pun on “grim old place”), a Georgian terraced house that belonged to the Black family, an ancient and pure-blooded line of wizards. Sirius Black is Harry’s godfather.

Number 12 Grimmauld Place, ancestoral home to the Black family. Image Jacquie Kubin - @CommDigiNews.com
Number 12 Grimmauld Place, ancestral home to the Black family. Image Jacquie Kubin – @CommDigiNews.com

Details from the movie are painstakingly accurate throughout adding to the excitement, even for the most blasé of dads. Your journey will take you to stunningly real re-creations of Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley, complete with favorites like Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Magical Menagerie, Quality Quidditch Supplies, and Borgin and Burkes establishments.

The enchanted entrance to Diagon Alley - Image: Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews
The enchanted entrance to Diagon Alley – Image: Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

Children can explore the streets and shops, cast spells by reciting special words and waving their wands at roughly three-dozen hot spots to get a surprise like illuminating lanterns, magically pushing a plunger down a toilet, levitating a quill, starting a fountain and repairing a broken suit of armor. Everything happens with the wave of that magical stick.

A mischief market indicating that in this spot, magic is afoot for wanded wizards - Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews
A mischief market indicating that in this spot, magic is afoot for wanded wizards – Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

One of the cooler finds is a stop by the Ollivander’s Wand Shop. The shop owner picks out a few lucky wizards in training and finds a wand for them among a near limitless group of shelves to try out. Or rather, the wand picks them.

The young wizards perform a few tricks with the wands and the show concludes.

Those budding wizards do not get to keep the wands but must purchase one of two versions if they want to up their wizarding game. Choices are either a static wand ($39.95) or a truly interactive wand ($47.95) that works within the Potter grounds and exhibits at the park.

While tottering about Diagon Alley, make sure to stop by Gringotts for the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. Resting atop the iconic goblin bank is a life-size dragon with a penchant for breathing fire.

The journey to the ride is as enchanting as any.

Designers have gone over the top to recreate Gringotts all the way down to the life-sized goblins that peer over their spectacles, making odd comments all the while as the add their accounts.

Under the guise of setting up an account at Gringotts, you walk through the beautiful marbled teller area and receive a welcome from head teller Bogrod.



The ride includes a mine car in which you and roughly a dozen other passengers will join in a fight for your lives against Bellatrix Lestrange and Lord Voldemort. This dark ride mixes 3-D and practical effects with a motion-based steel roller coaster, and it features plenty of Potter guest stars besides those legendary villains.

The best of the magical action happens in Knockturn Alley when you employ the Dystal Phaelanges spell.

With wand in hand, junior wizards will discover an X-ray of a troll skeleton that mimics their movements, so feel free to dance away and watch the bones follow your every move.

In the dark of Diagon Alley - Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews
In the dark of Diagon Alley – Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

After all that wizarding and wandering, Potter-smitten families can relax for a bit by visiting some local wizard hangouts for some grub or a drink.

Any good restaurant has their wall of past famous patrons - Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews
Any good restaurant has its wall of past famous patrons – Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews
Lunch at the Leaky Cauldron | Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews
Lunch at the Leaky Cauldron | Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

Our dining choice for the day was The Leaky Cauldron, that famous pub and grub where Harry first met Lord Voldemort’s disciple.

True to the theme park’s motif, you stand in line to order before finding a space in a massive dining hall that mirrors the movie version down to the smallest detail, including a sign that will plop a drop of ice cold water should you stand beneath it.

A true bit of magic is that the servers at the Leaky Cauldron can find one family among so many.

The menu features generous portions of Fisherman’s Pie; Beef, Lamb and Guinness Stew; Bangers and Mash; and Toad in a Hole (sausage baked into a Yorkshire pudding and served with onion gravy), as well as less adventurous fare such as that old English faithful menu pick, fish and chips.

And don’t forget to order a mug of hot or cold butter beer.

The Leaky Cauldron sign leaks; the cavernous dining hall - Image Jacquie Kubin for @CommDigiNews
The Leaky Cauldron sign leaks; the cavernous dining hall – Image Jacquie Kubin for @CommDigiNews

From The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, take the Hogwarts Express from London’s King’s Cross to Hogsmede or, for the muggles among us, from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure. (second park admission is required)

Hogwarts Express, leaving Kings Cross to Hogsmede daily - Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews
Hogwarts Express, leaving King’s Cross to Hogsmede daily – Image Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

Next Page: Riding the train to Hogsmede and everything else Universal Orlando

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