Let's Talk About Universal Studios in Orlando

I have traveling down to a science with my kiddos . . . but they don't necessarily always love every vacation we take together right now. I have three kiddos who are at varying stages in their young lives right now. My teenage son is in the grouchy stage and everything, especially me, makes him irritable. My middle daughter is a tween and right on the cusp of becoming a teenager . . . she vacillates between young fun and tween/teen fun.

My little one is a young, newly turned tween. . . is nine considered a tween these days? I'm not sure. Anyway, she is nine and still very much a little girl and still very much loves to do all the things that little kids still want to do. But, her two older siblings forget that she is only nine years old and don't want to indulge the little kid that is still very much inside her!

Universal Studios with tweens

SO, what is the best destination place for a family of five with children at varying stages of growth and maturity? Well, we just came back from the most perfect spot for a family vacation that met the needs of all the ages of my children and the parents!

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS & ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE

Universal Islands of Adventure
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Universal Studios Florida

There really was not a better place to visit to bring smiles to my children's faces . . . even the grouchy teenager who absolutely refuses to smile or take part in any family activities . . . all day and all night long!

We all had a fabulous time this year at the #FamilyForward conference at Universal Studios with Loews Royal Pacific Resort as our host hotel. We arrived a day early to get settled into our hotel and to let the kids swim in the warm sun. We live in Chicago and this past summer was not that warm and we really we not able to get in a lot of swimming time. My girls were insistent that we had extra swim days planned!

CHARACTER SIGHTINGS AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

After checking in, we headed straight to the pool. Guess who we ran in to? We ran into Gru and a Minion! They were just hanging out, waiting for some friends! You just never know who you may run into passing in the hotel. It was such a delightful surprise!

gru and the girls.jpg

My kids LOVED the pool. It was the perfect size and loads of fun. We forgot our goggles and they even had extras for us to borrow each time we visited the pool! Plenty of chairs to sit and always a stack of dry towels! They even have cold water sitting in a couple of stations for everyone.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Studios Florida

Loews Royal Pacific Resort

That night we ate dinner at Jake's American Bar on the lower level of Loews Royal Pacific Resort. We were tired from traveling all day and the kiddos were famished from swimming. My husband had the Charcuterie Board for a starter and my son had the Jake’s Hot Wings. The Hot Wings were not actually as hot as they are served in Chicago, but still super delicious. My son and myself ordered the Juan Tripp’s Fish & Chips and my husband ordered the Fresh Garden Greens Chicken Salad (he tries to behave with his diet). However, once his salad came and he saw the fish, he asked me to trade. The Ginger Soy Salad Dressing was so good! I wanted to purchase a bottle of it to bring home! My son literally asked everyday after this dinner to go to Jake's for fish!

Jake's American Bar at Loews Royal Pacific Resort

DAY 2

My husband and oldest daughter went for breakfast tin the morning at the Orchid Court Lounge while my son, younger daughter and myself slept late. They host an all you can eat breakfast every morning. We headed to the pool once everyone was awake and the kids swam the rest of the morning.

swimming pool at Loews Royal Pacific Resort
Bula Bar & Grill at Loews Royal Pacific Resort

There is an awesome little restaurant right at the pool where we ate lunch that day. Bula Bar & Grille had the perfect mix of salads, sandwiches, burgers and drinks to satisfy all my picky eaters. You could sit in the restaurant area or simply order from your lounge chairs like we did. The kids loved nibbling and swimming.

FAMILY FORWARD CONFERENCE

We checked in for the Family Forward conference later in the afternoon and enjoyed the opening kickoff sponsored by Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. All the families were encouraged to dress up like their favorite super heroes for the opening kickoff and we all enjoyed some time connecting with other Family Forward families. We were all introduced to an amazing family whose son was born with Mitochondrial Disease and who amazing the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals have been for their family.

Family Forward conference

My youngest daughter has a friend (and our neighbor) who has also been a patient with our local Children's Miracle Hospital here in Chicago. She has Juvenile Scoliosis and was diagnosed at one year old. Since we have know her, she has been in a body cast up until a few years ago when she was able to switch to an upper body brace. Our friends are so thankful for our local Children's Miracle Hospital as they would never have been able to help their daughter otherwise. I know how much families are benefiting from CMN Hospitals. 

Woody & Wendy at Universal Studio Sound Stage  33
Popeye at Universal Studios Sound Stage 33
Marilyn Monroe at Universal Studios Sound Stage 33

We headed over to Universal Studios Florida Sound Stage 33 after finishing up all our family missions. We all enjoyed connecting with friends and having a delicious dinner. As a group we all walked over to the Hogwarts Express at King's Cross Station to catch the train to Station in Islands of Adventure for a Dessert Reception at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade -- AFTER THE PARK CLOSED!!

Butter Beer
King's Cross at Universal

We had the entire area to ourselves!! My kids were having the best time! We stayed as long as we were allowed an rode EVERYTHING!! Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, not once, not twice, but thrice!! We took the Flight of the Hippogriff and the Dragon Challenge. Well, the little one and I sat out for the Dragon Challenge and enjoyed some refreshing Butter Beer instead!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter #FamilyForward

We visited Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods (magical supplies and wizarding equipment), Dervish and (assorted treasures) and Honeydukes (legendary sweets). We also stepped inside Owl-ely and Owl Post . . . this is a must-see for my daughters every time we visit. They own every single owl from Harry Potter and are slightly obsessed (in a very good way) with all things owl-y!

DAY 3

We headed back to Loews Royal Pacific Resort and slept in the next morning as well. We headed down mid morning for a delicious breakfast sponsored by Loews and got ourselves ready for a busy day with workshops. The first workshop that morning was with DohVinci! My girls are mini artists in the making and this workshop was literally geared towards them! DohVinci had some wonderful new products this year and introduced their new easels and boards. The girls were busy creating masterpieces and my girls loved the new pop-up boards!!

DohVinci's pop-up boards #FamilyForward
DohVinci's pop-up boards #FamilyForward
DohVinci's pop-up boards #FamilyForward

After this family strengthening workshop we had an amazing lunch sponsored by Royal Caribbean. We learned Royal Caribbean's #HarmonyoftheSeas, set to sail in May of 2016, will be the world's largest cruise ship AND there will be a bionic bartender on board. RC also let us know that you can stay connected on their new ship using VOOM, the sea's fasted internet.

DohVinci Workshop #FamilyForward
DohVinci workshop at #FamilyForward
DohVinci Workshop #FamilyForward

Our afternoon family workshop was sponsored by Monsanto. We were able to partake in our favorite activity: SCIENCE! My three little people were extracting strawberry DNA! Amazing stuff there!

#CampSci workshop at #FamilyForward
#CampSci workshop at #FamilyForward
#CampSci activity #FamilyForward
#CampSci activity #FamilyForward
#CampSci activity #FamilyForward

After this FUN workshop, all the Family Forward families were able to have a break. My girls were begging for the pool so we headed right there. While we were swimming it started to rain, which my girls thought was a special treat. Swimming IN the rain is not something we get to experience in Chicago. Then is started to thunder and lightning. Well, my oldest daughter is PETRIFIED of thunder and lightning . . . like, it. literally. immobilizes. her. We scooted back to the room and tried to calm her fretful shelf down. Thankfully, storms are short in Orlando. But due to my daughters anxiety we missed the Family Fun party at Wet'nWild with the rest of the Family Forward families. But I know everyone had a wonderful time there!!

Emeril's Tchoup Chop

Emeril's Tchoup Chop

We decided to celebrate the end of the storm with dinner at Emeril's Tchoup Chop at Loews Royal Pacific Resort. This restaurant is really pretty inside and there is a pond in the center that both my daughter's loved. They deliver shrimp chips to your table to begin with. I simply had the Local Ugly Tomatoes as I was still full from the amazing lunch earlier and my husband ordered the Mahi Mahi. My son ordered the Spicy Red Dragon Sushi for a starter and the Sesame Ahi Tuna for his entree and has been forever asking for sushi! We all enjoyed the waffle ice cream dessert!

waffle ice cream dessert at Emeril's Tchoup Chop

DAY 4

We went to bed early as we had a BIG day the next day at Universal Studios. We started out the morning walking the short walk to Universal CityWalk right along the walking path from Loews Royal Pacific Resort to CityWalk. SUPER convenient and super short! We had another AMAZING breakfast at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and enjoyed a DJ dance party with the Family Forward families before breaking out into our groups to enjoy the day at Universal Orlando.

Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville #FamilyForward

VIP EXPERIENCE AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

We were able to feel like rock stars at Universal Studio and Islands of Adventure as we headed out for the day with our VIP tour guide. We had a special VIP Experience that day! My family was personally escorted by an Universal Orlando expert on a guided tour throughout Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure! We had exclusive backstage access, learned fun insider information, and enjoyed the parks’ most amazing rides and attractions without waiting in line!

Universal Orlando Vip Experience
Universal Orlando Vip Experience
Universal Orlando Vip Experience

I highly recommend this experience!! It is SO worth it. Our VIP tour guide, Mike, was amazing. My daughter actually asked me during our tour . . . "would you be sad if I told you I liked Mike more than you right now?" 'Nope' I replied! And I totally wasn't. I was so ecstatic that she was so happy at that moment! We all were.

VIP Experience #FamilyForward Universal Studios
VIP Experience #FamilyForward Universal Studios
VIP Experience #FamilyForward Universal Studios
VIP Experience #FamilyForward Universal Studios
VIP Experience #FamilyForward Universal Studios
VIP Experience #FamilyForward Universal Studios
VIP Experience #FamilyForward Universal Studios
VIP Experience #FamilyForward Universal Studios
VIP Experience #FamilyForward Universal Studios

Mike was awesome-sauce! He was engaging, funny, insightful and intuitive about our needs. We were able to get on all the rides we wanted during our time with him AND sit in the front row AND breeze through lines AND hear some wonderful tips AND take some shortcuts AND learn the fastest paths to take between rides. I really could go on and on about how amazing the VIP experience is . .  IT WAS THAT AMAZING! All I can really say is, fit this in your budget! AND, ask for Mike! {I'm partial to him because he was ours for the day AND he's a fellow red head!}

THE BLUE MAN GROUP AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

That evening we headed to see a performance by the ever silly The Blue Man Group. They never fail to brings loads of laughter to the audience! My kids LOVE The Blue Man Group! Tickets for Blue Man Group can be purchased individually or packaged with your theme park admission tickets. Seeing a show is the perfect wrap up to a wonderful day at Universal Studios. The Blue man Group Studio is an easy few steps right from The City Walk.

Blue Man Group at Universal Studios Orlando #FamilyForward
The Wok Experience Islands Dining Loews Royal Pacific Resort
The Wok Experience Islands Dining Loews Royal Pacific Resort

After the show we headed back t the hotel for dinner. We wanted to The Wok Experience at Islands Dining Room. My husband, son and daughter all had The Wok Experience (which is a set price of $24 per person and is all you care to eat), and my youngest daughter and I order off the ala carte menu. The chef at The Wok Experience was amazing, I walked up to assist my daughter and he told me he was going to help her through the entire process and I could sit down and enjoy my appetizer. He was awesome! He even came over afterwards to chat with us. We love Asian food and dinner at Islands Dining Room did not disappoint!

DAY 5

As we headed into our last day of the #FamilyForward conference, I asked my kiddos what would be our highlights for the day . . . ie: top spots to visit. Well, naturally, they all reply Harry Potter! I think my kids would prefer to just move into Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward

We hit all the spots that we didn't see with our VIP tour guide, Mike, the day previous. We hit the water rides at Toon Lagoon . . . Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges and Dudley-Do-Right's RipSaw Falls . . . as you can see from the above photo, my daughter was soaked! It was a welcome soaking as it was a hot one in Orlando that day!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter #FamilyForward
Universal Studios with tweens #FamilyForward

We headed to Jurassic Park and my two oldest went on the River Adventure while I took the little one to play in Camp Jurassic. This is a perfect spot for your little ones to run and have some fun.  We all had some cooling off time in the Jurassic Park Discovery Center where my girls really love to watch the baby dinos hatching. 

Universal Studios with Tweens #FamilyForward

We headed to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade and wandered around here and had some more butter beer, the two oldest and the hubbie took the Dragon Challenge while the little one and I went into Honeydukes for some sweet treats.

Universal Studios with tweens #FamilyForward

We headed towards The Lost Continent next so the girls could chat with The Mystic Fountain. I will give you fair warning though. If you are not careful, he will spray you. I think he was a wee bit upset with me because I told him he was mumbling a bit. I was thoroughly soaked!

Universal Studios with Tween #FamilyForward
Universal Studios with Tween #FamilyForward

We headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner as we had reservations at Vivo in City Walk that evening. I love that we were able to easily access the transportation available to and from our hotel. There was also a walking path that was sometimes faster than the water transport (during peak travel times or when the transport is not available due weather).

Universal Studios with tweens #FamilyForward
Universal Studios with tweens #FamilyForward
Universal Studios with Tweens #FamilyForward

Universal's Cinematic Spectacular

After dinner we headed back to the park to enjoy a fabulous dessert party and watch the colorful fountains and fireworks show. This show is performed at park closing every single night and can be seen from any spot around the lagoon. TIP: The Central Park area of Universal Studios is the BEST viewing location to see 100 Years of Movie Memories!

DAY 6

Our last full day at Universal Studios, I asked each child of mine what was the TOP MUST SEE of the day. They all replied. . . yes, again, Harry Potter!  We started out venturing into Islands of Adventure to take The Incredible Hulk Coaster ride ONE LAST TIME before it went down for fabulous updates.

Let's Talk About Universal Studios & #FamilyForward
The Incredible Hulk Coaster #FamilyForward

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley

You must simply take a ride on the Hogwarts Express at the Hogsmeade Station . . . and take the Hogwarts Express ride back at the King's Cross Station and don't forget to look for the 9¾ platform. Yes, Hogwarts Express can carry you from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley . . .  or from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure. Just be sure to have your park pass ready to be scanned.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward

We walked every nook and cranny at The Wizarding World of Harry PotterDiagon Alley.  We wandered about . . . gazed upon the stores, went into Weasleys Wizard Wheezes, watched Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees perform, had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron . . . and had plenty of Butter Beers. We also had ice cream from Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour . . . be sure to try the spicy ice cream! We ventured down to Knockturn Alley whilst my kids were casting spells throughout Diagon Alley after visiting Ollivander's. Lastly, don't forget to visit the bank and exchange your cash for some bucks.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward

We stocked up on all the wizarding supplies from Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods and visited Ollivanders . . . We indulged in some Fizzing Whizzbees and Chocolate Frogs from HoneyDukes. My advise . . . DO NOT pass by one single attraction! They are all A-MAZ-ING!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter #FamilyForward

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (our family favorite), Flight of the Hipposgriff, Dragon Challenge - BOTH sides, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and end your full examination of Diagon Alley at The Knight Bus! Chat with the Knight Bus Conductor and the shrunken head and be left rolling in laughter as you move on to the next MUST SEE.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter #FamilyForward
IMG_20150907_120502309.jpg

We spent FOUR GLORIOUS HOURS in Diagon Alley!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter #FamilyForward
Universal Studios with Tweens #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter #FamilyForward
Universal Studios with Tweens #FamilyForward
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter #FamilyForward

After I could finally get my kids to vacate Diagon Alley and casting spells we headed to see some shows. We were able to see The Blues Brothers, Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue and Universal Orlando's Horror Make-Up Show. My kids have always loved the Horror Make-Up show!  Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue is closing later this year and will be making room for Fast & Furious: Supercharged!

Fast & Furious: Supercharged #FamilyForward

We rode on on Revenge of the Mummy three more times, Transformers, and watched the Universal Superstar Parade. We all rode The Simpsons Ride and enjoyed a couple of donuts Lard Lad Donuts because one does not fill up my hungry kiddos!

Universal Studios with Tweens #FamilyForward
Universal Studios with Tweens #FamilyForward

We ended our evening at City Walk with dinner at CowFish! My son insisted we have dinner at this restaurant so he could have his new found love of sushi again before we left. Dinner was delicious there. My girls had Vegetarian roll boxes, which I adore. We ordered the Edamame and the Parmesan Bacon Truffle Fries for appetizers. My son had the Spicy Tuna Roll and my husband had the 9 Piece Sashimi Mix. Good STUFF!

Universal Studios with Tweens #FamilyForward
Cowfish City Walk Universal Studios Orlando #FamilyForward

We headed back to the hotel to pack up for our flight the next day. Check out was super easy in the morning. Our Universal Studios vacation with two tweens and one teen was a HUGE success. The Family Forward conference was once again SO MUCH FUN! If you are looking for a family vacation that will fill the needs of everyone . . . Universal Studios Orlando is the perfect place!

We all had an amazing time at the #FamilyForward Conference this year (here is a recap of our time at the 2014 retreat) and created some beautiful family memories. We are back in the routines of our busy daily lives here in Chicago and trying to savor all our memories until next year!

Disclosure: My family visited Universal Resort as a part of the Family Forward Conference. Universal Resort is a sponsor of the Family Forward Conference.  We purchased the tickets to the conference and paid all our own travel expenses. Images courtesy of myself, Family Forward and Universal Studios.