Pop Culture Blog: Discovering Universal Orlando

Orlando without Disney? It seems unthinkable, or at least… it did. Pop culture writer Niki V explains how, despite loving Disney, she managed to still give her kids a great experience by checking out the alternatives.

By Niki V

This summer we discovered that you can indeed take your kids to Orlando, Florida, not go to Disney World, and, despite what well-meaning friends and relatives might tell you, still have a fabulous time.

My husband and I always assumed that we’d take our kids on the big “Disney trip”, at some point, but the financial realities of being a single-income family with three kids meant it didn’t happen, year after year.

Then, as luck would have it, my newly retired in-laws bought a place in Florida and, suddenly, the kids’ dream trip became a reality. With a place to stay, and my teacher husband off for the summer, we decided to make the trek to land of surf, sun and amusement parks this past August.

With the decision made, I figured we’d better have a plan and started to research our options. Wow, what a painful process. There are about 100 million different ways you can do Disney – staying on or off resort, park-hopper passes, dining plans, never expire tickets and so on. Not to mention other attractions including a myriad of water parks, Sea World, and, of course, Universal Studios.

It quickly became clear that we had neither the time nor the money to do it all. Essentially, what it came down to, for us, was — do we do Disney or Universal?

I’m not going to lie. We agonized over the decision. Okay, actually, I did. After all, how could I take my kids to Florida and not take them to Disney World (that wonderful place of my childhood memories)? Plus, more than one person I knew said: “You can’t take your kids to Florida and not go to Disney! You just can’t!”

But, in the end, that’s exactly what we did.

All three of our kids are huge Harry Potter fans, especially our six and eight year old sons. And, when we asked them where they’d rather go, all three said The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, without hesitation.

So, we ended up buying 14-day unlimited passes to Universal Studios and Wet & Wild and spent five fantastic and fun-filled days in Orlando. Oh, and the passes cost us much less than my original plan to do two days at Disney and two at Universal. Combined with getting a great deal on a four-star hotel using priceline.com, the trip, while a strain on our budget, didn’t break the bank.

As for Universal Studios and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Amazing! If you ever get the chance to go, do it. You won’t be disappointed.

I’m not sure who had more fun – me or the kids!

It really felt like we’d stepped into Harry’s world. Hogwarts castle and the town of Hogsmeade have to be seen to be believed.

We drank butterbeer, saw Hagrid’s hut, watched a wand choose its wizard in Ollivander’s wand shop, and ate chocolate frogs and every flavoured beans. And, we managed to ride the amazing Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, which has you soar above the grounds of Hogwarts with Harry and Ron, six times.

We also came home with wands, Harry Potter t-shirts, a broomstick and three very happy kids.

Oh, and the rest of Universal was wonderful, too. Highlights for us included Suess Landing, the Jurassic Park River Adventure, the Simpsons Ride and E.T. Adventure. There was definitely more than enough to keep us entertained for the four days we spent at Universal’s two parks.

I’m sure some day we’ll go back and do Disney. But, for now, we are still relishing the magical memories of our time spent in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Niki VAbout the author

Niki V is a busy mom of 3 kids who loves reading, writing, laughing and technology. Aside from being Mums ‘n Chums’ new Pop Culture blogger, Niki also has her own blog, called So Apparent, which can be found at www.soapparent.blogspot.com

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I founded Mums 'n Chums in 2009 after realizing that the area I live in was drastically underserviced as compared to surrounding areas for support and activities for growing families. Mums 'n Chums grew popular very quickly and I have been dedicated to nurturing that growth through frequent networking, social media engagement and in person meetups. By the end of its first year, Mums 'n Chums had close to 500 members and was receiving regular inquiries from fans outside of its service area, asking when we would be expanding to serve them as well. After much careful research and polling, I expanded the site in May of 2011 to cover the entire North end of the GTA (from Cambridge to Markham), areas I believe are still receiving far less attention than they deserve from other sites and family services. We also changed the focus from small scale local mom and tot meetups to more of an informative purpose, closing down our forum and adding several talented contributors to the blog. We do still offer several large scale family events per year, such as our popular Birthday Bash events and our Holiday Bash in December. Our contests have also become a member favourite, and we strive to offer amazing prizes from trusted brands like Babies R Us, La Roche Posay, Johnson's Baby and many more. In March of 2016, after months of work spent migrating all of the site's content to a new platform, Mums 'n Chums re-launched with its fresh, new look. The changes and expansion have proven a great success and we're still getting inquiries from several other cities within the Greater Toronto Area, whom we have decided to serve as well. I have built this site and its' reputation carefully and look forward to continuing its growth!