Where else can you say that you made mischief with minions, fought super-villains with Spider-Man, helped defeat Decepticons and ran alongside raptors? Universal Orlando Resort brings your favorite stories to life and gets you up-close and personal with beloved movie characters. It's the perfect vacation destination for tadpoles and tadpoles-at-heart. However, when traveling with tadpoles in tow (especially more than one), it's not always easy to please everyone. Lily's known to get tired around the time that Tad gets hungry. Lily could spend all day in Seuss Landing whereas Tad wants to make sure to hit every thrill ride first. Every family is different, and while I don't have a crystal ball with all the answers, I do have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve that I've learned over the years to keep the whole family hoppy.
Universal Orlando is home to eight ribbeting hotels, two thrilling theme parks, one wild water park and one electric entertainment district. There's fun to be had everywhere you turn. While hitting your long list of must-dos may seem like a daunting task, here are the things you definitely shouldn't miss out on during your vacation.
Top Tips for Visiting Universal Orlando Resort with Kids
Kick It in a Kids' Suite
The Universal Premier hotels have some of the best accommodations on property. Your tadpoles are sure to go crazy when they open the door to their own personal bedroom and find a jurassic jungle or a mob of minions awaiting them. The Jurassic World Kids' Suites at Loews Royal Pacific Resort have beds modeled after the fictional park's gyrospheres and the Despicable Me Kids' Suites at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel have custom-designed missile beds just like Margo, Edith and Agnes do in the movie. Even if your tadpoles normally like staying up late, these rooms are going to make them actually want to go to sleep — which is a good thing because you've got a busy day ahead of you!
Premier resorts also offer hotel guests free Universal Express Unlimited ride access which allows you to skip the regular lines. If you're not staying at a hotel that offers this benefit, I'd still recommend purchasing them for your whole squad anyway (or at the very least, regular Universal Express passes which allow one time access per ride). There's nothing my tadpoles hate more than waiting in long lines, especially in the Florida heat. The Express pass never fails to cut down a ride's wait and free up the amount of time in your day. Additionally, every on-property resort offers hotel guests Early Park Admission which will give you one-hour early access to either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure or half-an-hour early access to Universal's Volcano Bay. Both of these benefits are invaluable features which significantly help to decrease your stress level and maximize your froggy fun!
Fuel Up Like a Rockstar
The best place to have breakfast is at any one of the resorts. If you're staying on property, it's convenient and allows you to hit the rides as soon as you enter the parks. If you're staying off property, parking is slightly easier and you can take advantage of the complimentary transportation directly to the parks! (Be sure to book a reservation, though!) This fam has two favorites. The first is The Kitchen at Universal's Hard Rock Hotel where the breakfast buffet is second to none. The Elvis French Toast made with baguette slices, bananas, peanut butter and caramel sauce is heavenly and fills the tadpoles right up. The second is of course Islands Dining Room at Royal Pacific. We frogs feel right at home there (it's not hard to tell why once you step inside)! The Tahitian French Toast a L'Orange with caramelized bananas and cinnamon butter is another delicious option, but the one thing you can't miss out on is the refreshing P.O.G. (passion/orange/guava) juice. Your tadpoles are sure to be craving this Hawaiian staple long after your vacation's over!
Make a Game Plan
The most difficult thing to do at any theme park is navigating wait times and deciding what to do when — especially when you have tadpoles who get hot and tired easily! My number one tip is to decide which thrill ride (if any) you want to hop to first. Get to the gate at opening and head straight for it — lines fill up quickly. The two longest waits right now in the theme parks tend to be the two newest coasters: Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Jurassic World VelociCoaster (both at Islands of Adventure). Both have Single Rider lines so if you feel your tadpoles are old enough, definitely go that route for a significantly shorter wait time! You'll wait in line as a group but be split up on the actual ride itself.
One thing Hagrid's has over VelociCoaster is that it's part of the Virtual Line system which allows you to reserve a ride time for your frog squad. You can only utilize it once you're on property so plan to get there at least half an hour before the parks open to try your hand at some Virtual Line slots. These passes go incredibly fast but more are added throughout the day at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. However, Virtual Line is only utilized at Hagrid's once the standby line hits capacity so it's never a guarantee the Virtual Line will be used during your visit.
If your tadpoles don't quite measure up yet (or just aren't ready for them), both of these rides (and many more) offer Rider Switch so adults can ride without needing to wait in line a second time. And speaking of ride-readiness: It's always a good idea to check on height requirements ahead of time to avoid disappointment on the big day. We're also big proponents of watching ride videos ahead of time on YouTube with Lily to minimize any potential surprises. Both of these steps can play a big part in creating your game plan for the day.
At Volcano Bay, Krakatau Aqua Coaster tends to see the longest wait times. After grabbing those lounge chairs in that prime spot on Waturi Beach, you might want to hop there first.
Catch Up with Your Favorite Characters
There's no shortage of character sightings in the parks. They often make for some of the most memorable moments of any vacation! However, there are five specific encounters this fam makes sure not to miss out on. Once you've finished racing with the raptor pack on VelociCoaster, meet them in person at Jurassic Park's Raptor Encounter. At any given visit, you'll be able to get face time with Blue herself or the newest addition, Bravo, and either of the two baby raptors, Sierra and Tango. Learn how these ferocious creatures are trained and, if you're brave enough, slowly approach them to snap a quick photo. Also at Islands of Adventure are the heroes and villains of Marvel Super Hero Island. Tad is a huge comic book fan so he never misses a chance to interact with Spider-Man, the Green Goblin and others.
Over at Universal Studios, two of our favorite photo-ops are right across from each other! One of Universal's best meet-and-greets is with Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and the fearsome Megatron. We really enjoy hanging out with Bee who plays some rockin' tunes but also love when Megatron makes an appearance. (Don't worry! His bark is worse than his bite.) Just a hop away from the bots is our favorite royal family: Shrek, Donkey and Fiona. Donkey is just as fast-talking and wise-cracking as you'd expect him to be and is always good for a laugh! Lastly, Lily loves dancing and grooving with her favorite characters from "Despicable Me," SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Dora the Explorer" at the Character Party Zone right in front of Mel's Drive-In.
Build Breaks into Your Day
If you're planning on spending one full day at each park (which I highly recommend in order to see and do everything), it's important to take things slow. The pressure to get on every ride can be intense but there's no way your tadpoles are going to make it through the day if you don't take a few moments to sit down and relax. If you're just looking to sit for a bit, Universal Studios has three shows that you shouldn't miss out on. Get to know some famous furry friends at Animal Actors On Location (a tadpole fave), experience the epic stagecraft of the Bourne Stuntacular or learn the tricks behind Hollywood's most horrific effects at Universal's Horror Make-Up Show (which can be a little intense for the younger crowd, but leans more funny than frightening and is a good pick for tweens and teens).
If you'd rather rest outside of an attraction, there are some really nice spaces to check out at each theme park. At Universal Studios, you're going to want to head to Battery Park for benches and a gorgeous soundtrack courtesy of TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D or the picnic area right next to Animal Actors for tables and chairs and some desperately needed shade. Also, if it's not too scary for your tadpoles, Knockturn Alley in Diagon Alley has some of the best air conditioning in the parks. At Islands of Adventure, hop to the backside of Mythos for a serene sanctuary that you'll most likely have all to yourself (plus an incredible view of the rest of the park across the lagoon)! For more quiet hidden gems, take a look at our recommendations for where to take sensory breaks at Universal Orlando.
While it's entirely possible to get a good break in at the parks, don't be afraid to hop on back to your hotel in the middle of the day if nap time seems to be in order, especially if you're staying on property. Transportation to and from the parks is incredibly convenient and you'll be back inside the gates and on another ride before you even know it. Nothing truly beats a good power nap (that goes for parents too!).
Map Out the Tadpole-Friendly Attractions
If there's one thing I know, it's that no two tadpoles are alike. Lily likes completely different attractions than Tad enjoyed when he was her age. One thing you can't go wrong with is knowing which rides shouldn't scare them one bit — regardless of how big a thrill-seeker they are. Like I mentioned earlier, Lily loves the bright colors and whimsical characters found in Seuss Landing. Caro-Seuss-El, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride! are all very easy-going. The Cat in the Hat is also a froggy favorite, but hang on to your Things because this one spins! If you're not dealing with a fear of heights, hop to Jurassic Park where your tadpoles can soar gently through the air on Pteranodon Flyers. (Parents, you actually can't ride this without a tadpole accompanying you, so take advantage while you still can!)
Both parks feature a tadpole-friendly coaster. Islands of Adventure is home to Flight of the Hippogriff and Universal Studios is home to Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster. Marvel Super Hero Island has some big thrills in the Incredible Hulk Coaster and Doctor Doom's Fearfall, but a slightly less intense option in that area is the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. The only drop is a simulated one but it does feature loud noises, darkness and a fire effect so proceed with caution. The same warnings go for Transformers over in Universal Studios. Universal Studios is actually home to quite a few simulators! Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and the Simpsons Ride are all must-dos. Also in Springfield, you'll love Kang & Kodos' Twirl 'n' Hurl which is very similar to One Fish, Two Fish.
The last three attractions you don't want to skip out on at Universal Studios are Shrek 4-D, MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack and E.T. Adventure. Shrek 4-D is a 3-D film with moving chairs and special effects where you find out what happened after Happily Ever After. MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack also spins a lot but is a great interactive shooting ride for some friendly family competition. On E.T. Adventure, travel to the Green Planet on a slow-moving (flying!) bicycle to help the beloved extra-terrestrial save his home planet.
From body slides to raft rides, and rivers to reefs, nothing in Volcano Bay is too intense if your tadpole is a good swimmer. If not, I recommend staying away from TeAwa the Fearless River, Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides, Ko'okiri Body Plunge and Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides. It's much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your tadpole's safety.
Keep Your Tadpoles Entertained at Mealtime
While it may be tempting to fill up on Butterbeer ice cream at Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour or the Big Pink doughnut at Lard Lad Donuts, sitting down for meals is helpful when it comes to making it through the day. Luckily, CityWalk has a variety of restaurants — some even with delightful table-side entertainment! Meet Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome and her trusty robot companion, Jacques, while you're dining on decadent chocolate dishes at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. Party with stilt walkers and balloon artists at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville as you sing along to the tunes of the tropics and count down to the eruption of a margarita volcano. Challenge your tadpoles to a fun game of foosball or just enjoy any big game (playing on nearly 100 HD screens) at NBC Sports Grill & Brew.
Other items at CityWalk restaurants the tadpoles love ordering are the Tableside S'mores at Bigfire and the uniquely flavorful fusion at the Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, Burgushi. If your tadpole isn't too eager to walk out of the gates, it's always a great idea to let them know the fun isn't stopping just because you've left the park.
Join in on the Festivities
Universal Orlando is known for some epic events. While these times tend to be a bit more crowded, it's worth it for all the additional fun, food, decorations, parades and shows that come to the parks. During select days in spring, Universal Studios is home to Florida's Biggest Party, Mardi Gras! Here you'll find outrageous street performers, live music, mouthwatering food and spectacular floats. Our bead collection at home is bordering on the extreme but the tadpoles love catching them as they fly through the air!
The most wonderful time of the year is even more wonderful at Universal Orlando as the holidays are celebrated at both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, and even the hotels! During Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (and London) get beautifully decorated in garlands and lights and the Frog Choir and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees perform special shows for the holiday season. It's also the prime time for sipping on some delicious Hot Butterbeer (although now, you can get it year-round). Over in Seuss Landing, the Grinch and those holiday-loving Whos take over during Grinchmas at Universal's Islands of Adventure. The big green guy comes out for a who-larious photo opportunity and takes the stage throughout the day in the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, a live retelling of the classic tale with music by Mannheim Steamroller. Like I mentioned earlier, the holiday cheer even extends to the hotels where you'll find traditional feasts and holiday decor, plus exclusive benefits if you're a hotel guest!
Frogtastic Tips for Traveling with Tadpoles
- Hoppy news! Tadpoles under the age of three get in for free! While they may not be able to get on the majority of rides, there are still plenty of places you can have fun with your littlest froggy. Help them unleash their inner explorer at Camp Jurassic, a multi-level prehistoric playground in Islands of Adventure. Enter the strangest zoo around and encounter unusual creatures at If I Ran the Zoo, a fanciful play area in Islands of Adventure. Let them run, jump, climb and bounce around Fievel's Playland, a whimsical playground filled with oversized props in Universal Studios. Teach them the ways of the Waturi at Tot Tiki or Runamukka Reef, perfectly-sized play structures in Volcano Bay.
- Bring a change of clothes! Whether it's at a play area, on a flume ride or just because of the rainy Florida skies, you and your tadpole are bound to get wet at some point in the day. If your tadpole tends to be fussy about being wet (like Lily gets), it doesn't hurt to have those dry clothes on standby. Lockers are available to rent throughout the parks so you don't even need to carry them around all day!
- In addition to clothes, don't froget to bring any medicine you or your tadpole might need, baby food/baby formula if necessary, reusable water bottles so you can fill up at any water fountain around the parks and small snacks such as fruit, raisins, crackers or dry cereal. Rations really come in handy when your tadpole gets hungry while you're waiting in a long line!
- Those webbed feet can get tired pretty easily walking around these big parks! Luckily, there are single and double strollers available to rent at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You can even bring your own from home if you find it more convenient!
- It's easy to become separated. Make sure your tadpole has your contact information on them in case they get lost. Additionally, upon walking through the gates, establish an easy-to-find meeting place, such as Guest Services at the front of each park. Also at the front of each park is the First-Aid location — each features a nursing station so you can feed your littlest tadpole in comfort and privacy if need be.
- Most importantly, remember that this is a vacation for the entire family! Everyone should get the chance to have fun. If your tadpole is too small for a ride or simply opting out of it, take advantage of the "child swap" program where one member of your party can wait with your tadpole while the rest of your party rides. You can then switch places with that person so every frog can enjoy the ride!
Tadpoles are very unpredictable creatures but coming to the parks as prepared as possible is the best thing you can do. Do you have any tips for visiting Universal Orlando Resort with smaller frogs? Share them in the comments below and don't froget to save some green by purchasing your park tickets through Undercover Tourist.