Growing up, my parents referred to me as their “holiday girl.” I loved celebrating holidays, and reveled in everything from the decor to the music to the traditions. I’m still like that, however over the years my feelings began to shift for one holiday in particular: New Year’s Eve.
As an adult, New Year’s Eve always seems overrated. No matter what you do you always feel like it’s not enough. A night that you’d normally look back on as fun, somehow feels mediocre when it’s on New Year’s Eve. And on top of that, whatever you’d normally pay for a night out triples, and you’re left spending more and battling the crowds while wishing you’d just stayed home.
This year, we decided the surefire way to make sure New Year’s Eve was fun was to spend it at Universal Orlando Resort, and in particular at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. After all, if Harry Potter can’t make New Year’s Eve fun, then nothing can!
There are several tricks to making your experience at Universal the best it can be, so I’ll go into all of my tips here. Then I’ll tackle The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in this separate post, because there’s just so much to do there!
First, if you want to really make the most of your park experience, you should stay at one of Universal’s hotels. We stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, a retro-themed, family-oriented hotel. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about it, but the reason I recommend staying at a Universal hotel is because hotel guests are given Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, meaning you can enter the park one hour before everyone else. And because our primary purpose in going to Universal was to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, this was worth it to us.
Another thing that’s worth paying for is the Universal Express Unlimited pass. The cost varies depending on the demand, but will be at least $99.99 per person. On New Year’s Eve the cost was close to $170. This is in addition to your park passes, so the total isn’t cheap, however the express pass allows you to skip to the front of the line at nearly all of the rides. Throughout the entire day we didn’t end up waiting more than ten minutes to go on a ride. So even though it’s a pricey addition, it made the experience that much more enjoyable and we figured if we were going to go to the park we may as well do it right.
Here’s where I’d caution you in choosing a Universal hotel. It’s my understanding that all Universal hotels offer Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But a few, including the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hark Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort, also throw in free Universal Express Unlimited passes. So when looking at hotel rates, if you’re planning on purchasing the Universal Express Unlimited passes for your family, you should factor that into the cost. It may actually end up being cheaper to stay at a more expensive hotel if you no longer have to purchase the Universal Express Unlimited passes, and they’re thrown in for free.
Greg and I, as well as his sister Katherine, her husband Dave, and their two daughters, E and W, arrived at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort the day before. We spent the afternoon swimming in the pool and playing in the lazy river.
Then the next morning we were up before the sun, boarding the first 7am shuttle bus to Universal. That’s another perk of staying at a Universal hotel: free shuttles to the parks!
The shuttle buses drop you off at the entrance to Universal CityWalk. You’ll walk through it to get to the park entrances.
We decided to begin at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. I’ll get into this more in my next post, but The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually split between two parks, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Hogwarts and Hogsmeade can be found at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios Florida. You can take the Hogwarts Express train to go directly between them (the Harry Potter locations are towards the back of their respective parks), or you can exit at the front of the park and walk about five minutes to the entrance of the other park.
So it’s important to note that if you want to visit all of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’ll need to purchase tickets to both Universal’s Islands of Adventure as well as Universal Studios Florida.
While we were waiting to be let into Universal’s Islands of Adventure, a man came out and asked if there were any children who wanted to open the park. I immediately channeled my future stage mom by volunteering Greg’s niece, E, to fill that role. The man led the six of us into the park before anyone else, gave E a script and a microphone, and as the sun rose she announced that Universal’s Islands of Adventure was now open.
“Let the adventure begin!”
Since E was now the most powerful kid at the park, Universal gave us a complimentary family photograph, which was a nice gesture. It was a little strange though, because they had us walk over so we would be standing under the Islands of Adventure sign for the photograph. Then when the photograph arrived it looked like this:
We could have been anywhere!
As the Early Park Admission guests entered the park, we were directed through the park towards Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. You can read all about our experience at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter here!
After we’d gotten our fill at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (and long after the sun had come up!) we spent some time exploring the rest of what Universal’s Islands of Adventure has to offer.
There’s an entire area dedicated to Dr. Seuss rides, and I loved that they added decor from How the Grinch Stole Christmas to reflect the holiday season.
While at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Greg and I liked The Incredible Hulk Coaster (it’s worth waiting to sit in the front row!) as well as Poseidon’s Fury, an interactive show where you move along with the action.
One of the things that made our lives so much easier was not having any bags or backpacks with us. Greg and I kept our tickets, Universal Express Unlimited pass, our room key and a credit card in our lanyards, and he kept our phones in his pockets. I know lanyards aren’t the coolest thing to wear, but you continuously have to show your park tickets and your express passes throughout the day, so it made it easier to hold out your lanyard to be scanned rather than having to dig around in your purse or wallet each time. And many of the rides don’t allow bags, so we avoided having to check our things into lockers each time we wanted to ride.
After exploring Universal’s Islands of Adventure, we moved on to the other park, Universal Studios Florida. This theme park incorporates the magic of the movies into its attractions.
Greg and I turned a corner and ended up right back in New York City!
Because it was about 80° and most people were in shorts, I kept forgetting it was New Year’s Eve! You can imagine how confused I was when we came across this massive Christmas tree and I had been subconsciously thinking it was summer!
Speaking of the holidays, Greg looked like a kid at Christmas when we came across an entire area dedicated to The Simpsons!
Dave was equally excited, so the boys decided the Krusty Burger was the perfect place for lunch.
And W, jumping on The Simpsons bandwagon, indulged in a Homer Simpson-esq donut too!
This is where we discovered E and W’s favorite ride, the Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl.
Since it was a hot day, E also braved a water ride.
And so did Katherine.
In fact there’s an entire water playground where kids can cool off.
And where E learned the hard lesson to never trust her Uncle Greg when he asks to take her picture!
Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure do have a fair number of rides that are actual rides, where you go places (like a roller coaster, for instance). But many of its rides have a large virtual component, where you’re not actually moving very much, you’re just being shaken around as the picture you’re watching makes it seem like you’re traveling further. A few of these rides are neat, but after awhile they all begin to feel the same, and by the end of the day Greg and I were over it.
So while we had planned on staying at the parks until midnight, we actually ended up leaving around 7pm and eating dinner and ringing in the new year poolside at our hotel with drinks in our hands. It was actually pretty great lounging by the pool with our feet up after a long day of walking everywhere!
What did we think of New Year’s Eve at Universal?
To find out more information on Universal Orlando Resort, and to purchase tickets and book your hotel, click here.
And be sure to check out my post dedicated to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, here!
For all of my Florida travel posts, click here.