Why Universal instead of Disney?
Universal is geared towards older kids. So if you took the kids to Disney a few years ago, and they think they are all grown up (like if they would rather get their picture taken with Spider Man than with Mickey Mouse), you should consider Universal. If you have little kids, there are a lot of rides at Universal that will be a bit much for a 7 or 8 year old (some 3-D rides are pretty intense). Some rides have height restrictions that younger kids are unlikely to meet. Speaking of rides, don’t miss Spiderman at Islands of Adventure, or Back to the Future in the other park. Terminator is also very cool… You might want to check out their website for some guidance on the suitability of rides but Islands of Adventure seems to have more of the rides that younger kids can enjoy.
Also, Universal is not as expensive as Disney and most people who have visited both tell em Universal is the better value. You can often find specials on tickets for Universal Studios in Orlando – Disney just does not seem to have ticket deals.
How many parks? How fast?
Can you see both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks in one day? If your little one is too small for the big rides, you can definitely do both parks in a day. The express pass that lets you pay a little extra to skip the general line is very good for saving time but if they run your card through their scanner, you can only go on the ride once. Having said that it’s possible to see both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in a day, why rush? You’ll end up needing a vacation to recover from your vacation.
Universal Studios is up first. This park is mostly for the older kids. Start with Transformers. Then in order I suggest: Revenge of the Mummy, Men In Black Alien Attack, The Simpsons Ride, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. This can take all day without a Universal Express Pass.
Hopefully, you took my advice and got the pass so that you can see a show or two later in the day. The Universal Horror Make-up Show is cool. So is the mid-afternoon Superstar Character Parade. In the evening, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular is worth seeing.
Dinner is at Universal City Walk. You have several choices. I chose the Hard Rock Cafe when I was there because the food is good and the rock star items on the walls are always fun.
Islands of Adventure today. Those with older kids head left. toward central lagoon. Start with Spider-Man, then move on to Hulk (this can be an intense ride – it is not for everyone). Next up are two water rides- Dudley Do-Right and then Popeye. They will soak you.
Families with younger kids head right instead of left. Find Seuss Landing to enjoy the Dr. Seuss-inspired attractions there – Go for a ride on the High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride then visit One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and The Cat in the Hat rides.
People of most ages should enjoy some Harry Potter action. The Hogwarts walk-through involves the Gryffindor common room and other memorable places. The very sweet non-alcoholic butterbeer is sort of a must-try even though most people don’t seem to crave butterbeer when they get back home.
Dinner is at Manny’s Steak House. Excellent steak, reasonable prices. The portions are huge so don’t order too much unless you want leftovers for breakfast the next day. I hope you have a fridge. The atmosphere is pretty neat with American signs and memorabilia on the walls. If you’re saving room for desert, save a lot of room.
Day 3 – Celebration Golf
You need a break from the kids although I can’t tell you what to do with them. Celebration is a Disney related community of homes with a stunning 18-hole golf course and fantastic clubhouse with a nice pool and other amenities. The course is great and tourists love seeing alligators lounging near the water traps.
You can eat at Celebration but I never found anything exciting there. The one place (not in Celebration but not too far) I always saw tourists having a great time is Joe’s Crab Shack. It is incredibly noisy but the crab pots are yummy and it is definitely an experience.
Day 4 – Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center may be a little over an hour away depending on where you’re staying. Space buffs will love the large NASA assembly building. Visiting Kennedy really gives you an idea of scale – space ships, buildings, transporters, etc. are all big. The history of the place is inspiring and they even have a few rides. It’s no Universal, but Kennedy is very cool. You learn something, appreciate the magnitude of effort required to leave the earth, and get to brag to your friends that you did something cultured. You’re better than other tourists.
Day 5 – Discovery Cove
I hope you know how to swim so you can fully enjoy one of the highlights or your Orlando holiday. Discovery Cove is pricey but in this case, you get what you pay for. Meet dolphins (and swim with one), float down a tropical river, see otters and sharks, snorkel in a coral reef with lots of different fish and manta rays. This is an experience you will remember.