This is part 2 of my Orlando trip last month! Click here for part 1 and my short-versioned itinerary. Beware.. it’s a long post 🙂 How do I even choose where to cut it for a “read more”???
Before I cut it, I’ll tell you the details and pics I go into in this post.
- Getting to Orlando from New York
- Getting to Universal Studios Area from MCO
- Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventures
- Overall experience/tips
- Favorite and least favorite attractions
- Emeril’s Tchoup Chop Restaurant
Woot, have fun reading 😛
Getting to Orlando from New York
TLDR: Do your research. Use flight comparison websites to search but book directly with the airline. Sometimes 2 one ways are cheaper than roundtrip. I love Jet Blue if I didn’t have status at Delta. Beware of LGA traffic.
While I prefer to fly out of Laguardia (LGA) since it’s closer to where I live, LGA has undertaken an 8 year, $8 billion (but much needed) renovation project which has led to extreme traffic getting around. So, if you’re flying out of NY, might want to keep that in mind until that project completes… in 8 years. Getting to my early 6:30am Jet Blue flight out of Terminal B was fine in early August but I hear during the day, especially nights are terrible. Just to point out too – LGA Terminal B does not have TSA Pre-Check and overall is an outdated terminal. Sorry, being a consultant has made me a travel snob.. my BF reminds me of this.. haha. But yas for a brighter future.
I started looking for flights shortly after I booked my cruise and booked it 4.5 months before the trip. I used my go-to flight comparison engines: Expedia.com and SkyScanner.net. I always try multiple websites to compare pricing and of course, search on different days. Rumor has it that Tuesdays are the best time to book flights. I also check if roundtrip or 2 separate one-ways would be cheaper. This time, it turned out for the times I wanted (early Friday morning departure and a mid-day Tuesday return), booking 2 separate one-ways were cheaper. Jet Blue: $187 and Delta: $121 = $308 total. Flying back on a Tuesday made it cheaper too. I would say the busiest airport times are Morning mornings, Thursday & Friday evenings due to all that business travel, so it’d probably be more expensive. While I use those search websites to find fares, I’ll book with the airline directly just incase something messes up and I can deal directly with the airline. The fares are usually the same.
Jet Blue is my favorite airline sans-loyalty program. Somehow, I’ve made it to Jet Blue’s Mosaic and Delta’s Silver Medallion status though I definitely don’t fly as much. Delta has a better loyalty program than Jet Blue but if I wasn’t eligible for free first class/comfort+ upgrades, free checked bag, priority boarding and crossover SPG rewards on Delta, I’d fly Jet Blue much more. Well, also if work wasn’t paying for my travel and I didn’t have status with Delta, I’d most likely choose Jet Blue since they’re more likely to be the cheaper option, they have the largest leg room space in coach, free WiFi, and they still serve awesome noms like Terra Blue Chips. I used to love their satellite TV back then too when they were the only ones doing it, but now a lot of airlines have spruced up their planes with free on-demand entertainment. But still, for shorter flights, it’s nice to know Jet Blue planes will *almost* always have a TV to mindlessly watch (I say almost because our flight’s TV system didn’t work!) I find that other airlines do not have free entertainment on shorter flights. Oh yeah, what stood out to me for Jet Blue’s Mosaic program was one free checked bag, priority boarding, and free booze on flight. That’s coo’ too.
Getting to Universal Studios Area from MCO
TLDR: If you’re doing a cruise as well, to get from MCO / Lake Buena Vista area to Port Canaveral and back, for small groups, a rental car is probably the cheapest. For larger groups, shuttles may be a better option but do your own comparisons. There are shady and unreliable transportation services out there. Ride-shares (Uber, Lyft, etc) are banned from MCO but you can take them back to MCO.
I know this post is focusing on getting to Universal Studios but the only reason we chose to rent a car over any other transportation options was because it was the cheapest for 2 people to get from MCO to Port Canaveral with a 1-day rental. I researched shared shuttle vans/bus, Ubers, black car, taxi, banana boat, you name it, and as many forums had said, for a smaller party, most likely renting a car will be the cheapest. But of course, as I would always recommend, do your own due diligence. It was cheaper for my family of 16 that arrived in Orlando separately the morning of the cruise embarkation to book a private shuttle van ($36 round trip per person (pp)). Our “Economy-Ford Fiesta or similar” rental car from Avis ended up being probably around $77 from $50 base charge + $2 gas + ~$10 tolls? + $15 hotel parking) but it was the cheapest option for 2 people ($38.50pp) going from MCO -> Universal Studios area -> Port Canaveral, which would’ve cost $180 ($90pp) for taxis and $148 ($74pp) for shared-shuttling. Plus, the Cape Canaveral Avis (and I would assume all other rental places around Cape Canaveral) has a free shuttle to/from Port Canaveral.
If you’re not doing the cruise ship part and just doing theme parks, then it’d probably make more sense to just take a taxi or shuttle/bus. Ride-sharing (Uber, Lyft, etc) is apparently illegal at MCO… so you probably can’t get those unless you find some way for them to get to you but you can use ride-sharing to get back to the airport. I’ve done this and it was fine.
Also – check your hotel to see if they have any specials (maybe free shuttles!) running to get to/from airport.
TLDR: If I wasn’t using points and only staying for one night, I wouldn’t stay at the Four Points by Sheraton Orlando International Drive. If I was staying one night and using points, I would… but I’d be gambling the experience. It’s inconsistent. Sheratons suck.
Four Points by Sheraton Orlando International Drive
5905 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819
SPG free night redemption: 3,000 Points
I chose to stay here because (1) YES YOU KNOW IT. I’m a SPG bae and have 3K points to spare… (2) it’s about a 20 minute walk to Universal City Walk then another maybe 10 min walk to the theme parks (3) they do have free shuttles to Universal Studios and Disney World. I’ve stayed here back in 2014 with a few of my girlfriends, but it was like $100/night and we split it. It’s a Sheraton so… very dingy and outdated. In 2014, I stayed in a normal 2-bed room… but it wasn’t very clean. I saw some ants in the bathroom. I know, why did I book it again? I figured it was just one night for sleeping and maybe that one a one-time thing. They have 4-stars on TripAdvisor now so maybe it got better. Also.. only 3K points and walking-distance to the park. This time, I got upgraded to a better room on the highest floor, and felt like the room was a bit nicer and looked cleaner. My only complaint was that the walls are super thin so you can hear people next door and in the hallway. Sheraton beds have always been uncomfortable.
They also had a “resort” fee of $15/day but I heard that’s gone now.
Universal Studios Florida
I bought a 1-day single park ticket for $105 online and picked it up at those will call machines. No wait. The more days you buy, the cheaper per ticket it is. Additionally, adding the “Park to Park” option or $50 more enables you to go to both parks in one day, and to ride the Hogwarts Express between the parks. I tried hard to find discounts but, as expected, to no avail, especially since it was a one-day ticket. The deals I did see involved multiple days to the parks.
I enjoy the overall feel and environment of this park. It seems modern with upgrade efforts and I love how I felt immersed in each section of the park with all of the props and decor. While it has rides for “bigger kids”, it’s still a place for kids and I felt “limited” by its thrills. Maybe I’m spoiled with the greatest coaster park, Six Flags Great Adventure. But being a huge Harry Potter fan, experiencing what it’s like to be transported to a magical place is such a treat. I love how well they nail the environment and experience of the wizarding world with interacting characters, shops, food, and decor. Obviously, any Harry Potter fan needs to experience this at least once in their life. But the rest of the park is still wonderful. Luckily, it wasn’t as crowded as I expected that day but still busy (Friday, August 5) The max time I waited (and allowed myself to wait) for a ride was 30 minutes. That’s not to say that at times, some rides exceeded well over 60 minutes – luckily I wasn’t interested in going on those rides or just caught it when the wait time was lower. People say the best time to go during the summer is at the mid to end of August, as most Florida kids start school mid August. As I’ve been to Universal Studios now twice in the past few years, I don’t expect to return unless I return with my kids waaaaaay down the road.
You can download The Official Universal Orlando Resort™ App to check the wait times for all the rides. I will note that those times were NOT accurate the day I went, but I guess it’s helpful for maps/directions around the park.
Save money and just ask for a cup of ice water at any vendor who has drink dispensers. It’s SO refreshing, obviously hydrating and healthier. AND FREE. FREE. FREE. Me likey free. Especially at overpriced theme parks.
My theme park essentials were: LongChamp Le Pliage backpack ($125), external battery, and umbrella for that crazy Florida weather. I also packed a granola bar just incase.
Obviously my favorite section was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. They sell the same merchandise (and drinks I believe) at both parks.
My favorite rides were Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, and Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show. I rode Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts the first thing upon arrival since I knew that the lines were going to be long for it. 10:30AM, and the wait was only 15 minutes. Score. The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is the only real coaster but still popular. I rode this 3 times that day. The shortest wait was right after the parade. I watched the parade very close to that ride and once it was over, headed straight to the line. Waited like 5 minutes before my face was hit with wind. The Horror Make-Up Show was surprisingly hilarious, interesting, and delightful. I actually only went to it cuz it had A/C and I wanted to sit down but it turned out to be one of my favorite attractions.
Others I’ve ridden that I thought were cute or mildly interesting: Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Shrek 4-D, Fear Factor Live, Men In Black Alien Attack
Rides that made me sick/nauseous (IS THIS A SIGN I’M GETTING OLD?!): The Simpsons Ride (it’s a motion simulator)
Rides I thought were boring/waste of time: Revenge of the Mummy, E.T. Adventure
Also, the parade is very short but cute. Patrick waved at me!!!! 😀
Here’s some other shots from Diagon Alley:
I found that the food from the Three Broomsticks at Islands of Adventure was really good last time (variety and taste wise) but unfortunately, the equivalent quick service HP option, Leaky Cauldron at Universal Studios only had a few options and I didn’t like any of them that day. And I didn’t see hear about any other amaze-balls food affairs in the park, so I opted for a quickie at the Simpsons Fast Food Boulevard. It’s a food court with quick service; get your food, pay, and sit down. BF and I both had the Chicken & Waffle sandwich ($11.99) at Cletus’ Chicken Shack this time. Last time, I had the chicken fingers ($9.99). It’s not bad. The chicken is actually quite decent. The waffle is bit too soft/stale?. Not enough of that maple syrup mayo. Sounds gross but it’s good stuff. Need to ask for more next time. Chicken fingers are your standard frozen shiz. We also had a Flamin’ Moe’s and that was cool and tasty! (It’s glorified cool effect orange soda). Pricey doe at $8.99… woah.
We were thirsty after lunch and grabbed a frozen butter beer back at Diagon Alley. Refreshing and delicious but after half of it, realized it was way too overwhelmingly sweet for our taste buds any longer. I think it was $5 for a regular cup.
Dinner at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop
Emeril’s Tchoup Chop
6300 Hollywood Way, Orlando, FL 32819 (Inside Loews Royal Pacific Resort)
11:30AM–2:30PM, 5:30–10PM Daily.. They take open table reservations!
My BF ate here many years ago when he came with his family and fell in love with their duck. Unfortunately, that wasn’t on the menu anymore but their food is pretty good. But I mean it has to be right? With Emeril’s name on the line? Bam. They feature Asian-Polynesian fusion foods. But please don’t get the sushi. I just don’t trust it. Why would I pay $20 for a sushi roll that you can probably get better for the same price at an actual Japanese restaurant?
Anyway, you can walk to it (it’s a nice walk) or take a free ferry from City Walk. It is pricier (but not terrible); we wanted to treat ourselves on our first night of a much-needed vacation 🙂 You can also get a free appetizer or dessert by showing your Universal Studios theme park ticket! Yay for free! Would I come back? Probably not for the price tag, but it was nice to dine here. The decor is absolutely beautiful.
Universal Studios Islands of Adventure
I didn’t go here on this trip, but have been here twice before. It definitely a smaller park. I think I only needed half a day at this park (given that some rides were closed). I still think it’s worth it checking out Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts Castle. Some of the rides in this park are more “thrillful”/better than the OG Universal Studios.
Favorites: Incredible Hulk Coaster, Dragon Challenge
Cute or Mildy interesting: Flight of the Hippogriff, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
Made me sick: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (This is the Hogwarts Castle ride. Honestly, the castle decor you experience while you queue is better than the ride itself. It made me nauseous from the ride’s constant twists.)
I think I rode some more but I can’t remember if I liked them or not.
Ah as previously mentioned, I really enjoyed the Three Broomsticks. It’s quick service meaning you line up, order, sit down, and wait for your number to be called. I believe I had some chicken meal last time and it was actually very good. My other girlfriends really liked their dishes too.
Hope this helps! As always, let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for the next time I return to Universal Studios 🙂
I’ll leave you for now with my favorite quote from the books.
“Not my daughter you bitch!” – Molly Weasley