My family of four just had what I would consider a dream vacation and the most perfect little getaway for us. As you may have noticed from my posts through the years, my husband really isn’t “into” theme parks. His preferred vacation involves golf, golf, and more golf, and views of mountains if possible. No problem; I always take one or both kids to theme parks by myself, and all is good. We do other things as a family of four. But, he was up for going to Universal Orlando Resort last week, and it was truly the trip of my dreams.
If you’re able to get ahead of the Holiday Rush
We went the second week of December, which usually is fantastic weather in central Florida. We are in shorts all week! (Now, this same week last year we did have a day where we had to buy sweatshirts, but this year it was absolutely perfect.) Also, I was willing to take the kids out of school for three days. I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but anytime that you can get ahead of a holiday rush, your crowd situation will be much better. We saw the crowds mounting on our last day. We just went for three nights because that’s what worked best for school, work, and club volleyball scheduling, but maybe one more night would’ve been nice for a little bit more relaxation and pool time.
Where to Stay
I send lots of clients to Universal Orlando, and I go quite a bit myself, so I really have quite the formula of how I like to do it. For this trip, we stayed at Hard Rock Hotel Orlando, which is what I really recommend to all my clients. It is right there on property; you can easily walk (or take a water taxi) to both parks and CityWalk and you get free unlimited Express Line access by staying here (3 Universal hotels offer this). There’s truly no other way to do it. One of my husband’s last theme park experiences was at Disney World, so having a much smaller property footprint to navigate was certainly some thing he really liked.
We started off our trip with a private transfer to our hotel, which makes everything easier getting out of Orlando international airport. For our first night we ate at the hotel, which was really fun and super convenient so that was easy on everyone. Then we took a stroll around Universal’s CityWalk to orient him and [already] souvenir shop. Sometimes it’s better to souvenir shop at the beginning of the trip before you get busy and run out of time. We had 3-day park tickets so I knew that we would have two full days and then a little bit more on our last day before flying out late afternoon.
For our first park day, we did a non-private VIP tour. Now this is the way to go! Not only did I know my husband would love park touring this way, but I knew the kids would like it as I have one really big thrill seeker. She got to do everything with ease! Our family of four was in a group of 12, and they were all so delightful. Get this: we are from Dallas, another family was from Austin, another couple was from San Antonio, and the other family was not from Texas but their last name was Houston! And this wasn’t planned at all! Our tour guide Dave was absolutely wonderful. He has been in this role for 11 years, and I would recommend him to everyone. Such an amazing day. In the seven hours with him, we did 15 attractions, all—straight to the front of the line. If someone didn’t want to ride, no problem. He would stay back with them and even hold our bags! I have to say, it really isn’t a huge price point either. Universal offers non-private and private VIP Tours. I’ve been lucky enough to get to do both, and both were fantastic experiences.
On our second park day, we slept in and then hit up any rides that we hadn’t done on the VIP tour that we wanted to repeat. We did a little divide and conquer here, because not all of us want to do all the things. Meaning: my 10 year old crazy thrill seeker did things we didn’t want to do it and that was OK! With the express line, it makes everything quick! That night, we did Universal‘s Holiday VIP Tour. The kids and I had done this tour last year and its first year, but this year was even bigger and better! We had a private area for the Christmas parade, we had good seating to see the Who-liday Spectacular starring the Grinch, we got to meet the Grinch (and that was a fantastic and hysterical interaction), we met Santa, we got to run around a section of Universal Studios basically completely empty, and had a private viewing (with about 400 others – but that’s not many when you compare to normal park guests!) of The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle, and more! Again, so worth it if you go in December. I always like anything that gives me a unique or behind the scenes experience.
On our last day, we went back in the park for a few hours before we had to catch our transfer back to the airport. While we did everything we wanted to do and more, it probably would’ve been nice if we had a little bit of relaxation by the pool. We didn’t build that in because we were really wanting to do more in the parks, but an extra night would’ve given us that.
If you’ve worked with me before for booking a trip to Universal, you know that I have some real serious opinions about how best to do it. Everything I said above is part of that! They just have some things that make the vacation so easy and efficient, so I like to build that into everyone’s itinerary and plans if possible. I would love to help you with this!
I will remember this trip forever
All in all, this was really a trip that I had dreamed about; it all came together so perfectly. For our family, it was the right amount of time with the right amount of special experiences and staying at the best hotel (in my opinion). I will treasure the memories and remember this one forever!