Why you must visit Universal Orlando with young children

When families go to Orlando it’s typically Walt Disney World that gets all the attention, but after our last visit to Universal Orlando I would add that in many ways it offers so much more than Disney even with younger children


We are massive Disney fans and have visited the parks in Orlando and Paris several times and a trip to California is also planned but our time at Universal Orlando has really captured the girl’s imagination.

Universal Orlando consists of two theme parks Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios plus a brand new water park called Volcano Bay (read our review here).

We had lots of questions asking if Universal Orlando is more suited to older children and teenagers but after our visit I would have to disagree, there is so much for younger children to enjoy at both of the theme parks at Universal Orlando.

My children Chloe and Holly (ages 9 and 6) helped me compile a guide of the best Universal Orlando rides and attractions for primary school children when visiting Universal.

Before we start: Universal Express Passes are essential


Before we explore which rides are best for children I would highly recommend getting a Universal Express Pass.  We had the 2 park Universal Express pass which allowed us to skip the regular queue and enter the express queue.

This benefit was worth every penny especially with young children as typically we only had a few minutes to wait rather than the typical 30-60 minutes for some of the main attractions.

Because of this benefit we were able to ride some of our favourites multiple times, something you would not be able to do without an Express pass, and enjoy more of the park instead of waiting in long queues.

The Universal Express Pass have to be purchased in addition to your tickets to Universal Orlando unless you are staying on-site at the Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort or the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel where Express passes are included for each day of your stay.

Islands of Adventure Rides

Marvel Superhero Island

Although the girls were too young to ride the The Incredible Hulk Coaster we just loved watching it go upside down and zoom over our heads.

However the child friendly rides starts as soon as you enter Marvel Super Hero Island, opposite the Incredible Hulk Coaster is the Storm Force Accelatron. It is hidden away a little so lots of people walk straight past it but it’s really good for children.

Storm Force Accelatron

Height requirement: Under 48 inches you must ride with an adult
Disney Equivalent : Mad Tea Party – Magic Kingdom
Universal Express: Yes


This is similar to the Mad Tea Cup ride at Disney and was a big hit with the girls who loved this spinning ride. Its suitable for all children because you determine how fast you spin your vehicle.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

Height requirement: 40 inches Between 40 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Universal Express: Yes

We were a little reluctant to take our 6 year old on this but we glad we did as she had a blast.  On this 4-D ride you help Spiderman through the city which is really interactive and so fun to be on.

Toon Lagoon

As you enter this land it was like stepping into the pages of the cartoon the theming was so well done.

Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges

Height requirement: 42 inches Between 42 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Disney Equivalent : Kali River Rapids – Animal Kingdom
Universal Express: Yes


We had been on Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom a few days earlier and expected to get wet but nothing can prepare you for just how soaked you get on Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. No one escapes a soaking which is part of the attraction of this ride.

This could be a little scary for younger children but our 6 and 9 year old loved it – just remember to bring your poncho!

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls

Height requirement: 42 inches Between 42 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Disney Equivalent : Splash Mountain – Magic Kingdom
Universal Express: Yes

Although this has a height requirement of 42 inches it’s a little too extreme for younger children but it’s just as fun to watch as it is to ride this flume ride. Its more intense than Splash Mountain with a big drop at the end.   My 9 year old and my husband were going to ride this but unfortunately it was out of service during our visit.

Me Ship, The Olive

This Popeye themed play park had lots of places to run around and slides to enjoy for children.

Seuss Landing


Seuss Landing is great for children and was the girls favourite areas of Islands of Adventure based on the Dr Suess book and stories. It has been designed for younger visitors and was bright and colourful with lots of child friendly rides.

At Christmas this area gets transformed into the Grinchmas Who-liday spectacular, an event that the girls have already added onto our bucket list for a return visit.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Height requirement: N/A
Disney Equivalent : The Magic Carpets of Aladdin – Magic Kingdom
Universal Express: Yes

This is such a fun ride for all the family and one of our favourites at Universal.  An adult and child can sit comfortably in each colourful fish themed vehicle which you control with a joystick.

As you move up and down as the ride rotates you have to try and dodge the water that squirts out from the fish in time to the music positioned around the edge of the attraction.

Caro-Seuss-el

Height requirement: Under 48 inches
Disney Equivalent : Prince Charming Regal Carrousel – Magic Kingdom
Universal Express: Yes

Similar to the carousel at Magic Kingdom but instead of regal horses you ride on some strange looking creatures from the imagination of Dr Seuss.

This is a great ride for all ages and the fun background music as the carousel spins just adds to its uniqueness.

Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride

Height requirement: 36 inches Between 36 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Universal Express: Yes

Set 20ft in the air, this trolley train ride leads you through several book-based scenes and provides excellent birds eye views of Seuss Landing and across to Jurassic Park and the Hulk across the lake.

It is worth riding this both sides of the track as each route will give you a different experience.    One of our favourite parts was going through the Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-Pendous restaurant and waving to the diners.

The Cat In The Hat

Height requirement: 36 inches Between 36 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Disney Equivalent : Winnie the Pooh – Magic Kingdom
Universal Express: Yes


This indoor ride is so much fun and brilliant for children.  As you travel through the story you will follow the mischievous Thing One, Thing Two and the Cat in the Hat.

Having watched the movie and read the books several times the girls were so taken by how it was brought to life at Universal we rode the ride at least 5 times, something you would never be able to do at Disney.

Jurassic Park

Camp Jurassic

We stumbled up this giant prehistoric themed play zone which was one the best parks we have been to.  There were lots of slides to zoom down, tunnels to explore and nets to climb.

The theming of the area is brilliant it really feels as though you are in a jungle, there are even dinosaur footprints on the floor.

Pteranodon Flyers

Height requirement: 36 inches
Universal Express: No

You sit in a two seater swing under the wings of a Pteranodon before flying over the Jurassic Park area with some fabulous birds-eye views of the park.

Jurassic Park River Adventure

Height requirement: 42 inches Between 42 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Universal Express: Yes

For our 6 year old this ride was too scary as you encounter scary dinosaurs including meeting a scary T-Rex before falling down a big water drop of the end.  However if your child is a thrill seeker as long as they are 42 inches tall they will be able to ride.

Jurassic Park Discovery Centre


We visited the Jurassic Park Discovery Centre with my 6 year old when my husband and 9 year old were riding the Jurassic Park River Adventure and this hands on interactive educational attraction was fascinating.

Some of the cool activities included discovering dinosaur fossils and creating your own dinosaur (with your DNA + photo).

Skull Island: Reign of Kong 

Height requirement: 36 inches Between 36 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Universal Express: Yes

You sit on a safari style vehicle and head into the jungle to find Kong in this 3-D adventure.

Along your journey you encounter huge water snakes, spiders, monsters and dinosaurs so younger children could be frightened, but the girls thought it was brilliant.  I would recommend using our own judgement on this ride based on what you think your children would like.

The Lost Continent

The Mystic Fountain

We stumbled upon this interactive fountain on our way to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It looks just like a normal fountain so many people pass it by, but it’s one of the hidden gems of the Islands of Adventure Park.

When awakened this interactive fountain tells jokes, music and even asked us questions when we approached it.  This was one of the funniest parts of our day at Islands of Adventure and brilliant fun.

However don’t get too close, ask too many questions or drop in a coin as you might get a squirt of water over you!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade

Hogwarts castle dominates the skyline peering down on the village of Hogsmeade.  Pictures and words can’t describe just how magical a feeling you have when you first step into this wonderful world created by Universal.

Flight of the Hippogriff

Height requirement: 36 inches – Between 36 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Disney Equivalent – The Barnstormer at Magic Kingdom
Universal Express: Yes


This is the perfect introduction to rollercoaster thrills for younger children, with plenty of gentle spirals, turns and drops.  As you pretend to ride on Buckbeaks beak you get great views of the Hogsmeade Village and the Hogwarts Castle as you climb toward the top of the roller coaster.

Hogwarts Express

Height requirement: N/A
Universal Express: Yes


This is worth the entry price into Universal Orlando alone as you take a journey on the Hogwarts Express steam train departing from Hogsmeade station. Make sure you that you ride the Hogwarts Express both ways as the experience is different depending on which way you travel.  Remember you need the park to park ticket.

 

Universal Studios

Production Central

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Height requirement: 40 inches – Between 40 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Universal Express: Yes

We love the Minions, and with the recent release of Despicable Me 3 it was the perfect time to try this ride.  The theming of the ride is amazing as you enter Gru’s house before going into the secret lab.

This fun 3-D ride was one of the girls favourites and they thought it was hilarious as you are shrunk to the size of a minion. (although if you do get motion sickness it might not be for you)

Shrek 4-D

Height requirement: N/A
Universal Express: Yes


If your children have watched any of the Shrek movies then they will love this 4-D show/ride combination.  Once in the theatre, it really felt we were in the middle of the movie with moving chairs and immersive 4-D effects that included getting soaked with water.

World Expo

Springfield, USA the home of The Simpsons area was a favourite of ours, it was so well themed it was like being in the cartoon.  There are rides for all the family to enjoy, characters to meet and some tasty Simpsons themed food and drink to enjoy.

Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl

Height requirement: 48 inches to ride without an adult
Universal Express: Yes
Disney Equivalent : Dumbo- Magic Kingdom

This is a very similar ride to Dumbo and the flying carpets at Walt Disney World but without the excessive wait times.  You pilot your own flying saucer that circle around the Simpsons aliens Kang & Kodos.

It’s great fun for children especially when you fly to the highest point and you can hear the aliens talking.

The Simpsons Ride

Height requirement: 40 inches – Between 40 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Universal Express: Yes


We are big fans of the Simpsons and couldn’t wait to join them as they visit their favourite theme park Krustyland in this giant 3-D simulator with 80ft screen.  The girls loved this ride although some parts can be scary for younger children, and if you suffer from motion sickness I would definitely give this one a miss.

MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack

Height requirement: 42 inches – Between 42 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Universal Express: Yes
Disney Equivalent : Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – Magic Kingdom

The Men in Black ride is a great one for the family to do together, it’s similar to Disney’s Buzz Lightyear ride. Its a very fun ride for all the family to do together and bring out your competitive sides as you have to shoot aliens to see who gets the highest score.

Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone


This area has been designed specifically for younger children with a great range of rides, shows and activities to enjoy.

Curious George Goes to Town

This area was a big hit with the girls and offered a great way to cool down from the heat.  The water play area was amazing with water guns to shoot, giant soaker dump buckets, and spraying fountains.  The only way we could coax the girls to leave was to show them the Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster.

Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster

Height requirement: 36 inches. Between 36 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Universal Express: Yes


Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster is a great child friendly rollercoaster.  It offers the perfect amount of thrills for younger children and was one of my 6 year old daughter’s favourite rides.

E.T. Adventure

Height requirement: 34 inches. Between 34 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Universal Express: Yes

You start the ride by giving your name before climbing aboard your flying bicycle as you fly over the city, past the moon before taking ET back to his friends on his home planet. One of our favourite parts is at the end of the ride when ET calls out your name.

Fievel’s Playground

A playground designed from a mouse’s perspective that children will find so much fun with tubes, slides, a giant spider web, and a water slide.

A Day in the Park with Barney


When my husband and 9 year old went off to watch The Secret Life of Pets parade my 6 year old and I escaped the Florida heat in this air conditioned show.  What was great with this show was that every bench seat has a great view of the stage.

It was really interactive for the children as you sing along to the Barney songs when Barney and his friends are on stage.After the show ends you can meet with Barney and have a photograph before you exit into a lovely little indoor play area.

Animal Actors

This is a brilliant family friendly show where some of the most celebrated animal actors from tv shows and movies perform of their talents on stage.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley:


It’s worth visiting Universal Orlando just to see this remarkable part of the theme park and just take in the surroundings.  If you thought that Hogsmeade was impressive the Diagon Alley area of Universal Studios takes it to a new level.

Even if you are not Harry Potter fans it will be difficult not to be impressed with this magical world complete with fire breathing dragon, cobbled streets, amazing shops and delicious food and drink to try.

Ollivander’s Wand Shop

The attention to detail in the store is amazing and was one of the highlights of our visit to Universal.  You can either choose your own wand from the huge selection available or you can have a special experience with the wand maker, where the wand chooses you – just like in the Harry Potter movie

Interactive Wand Experiences


The wands that you purchase in Ollivander’s or at Hogsmead are no ordinary wands, they are magical. Using our maps and wands we cast special spells at shop windows, fountains and statues throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmead (there are gold plates throughout the park with the spell name and wand motion for casting it ) – the effects that occur are amazing.

Although the interactive wands cost  $50 we had so much fun and it made the Wizarding World of Harry Potter even more magical especially when trying the “wingardium leviosa” spell to float a feather.

Hogwarts Express

Height requirement: N/A
Universal Express: Yes

Departing from platform 9 ¾ this family friendly train ride takes you through London and the Scottish countryside and you meet many Harry Potter characters on the way.

Once the ride is over you arrive at Hogsmeade station at the other Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the other theme park Islands of Adventure making this one of the most fun ways of park hopping.

Escape from Gringotts

Height requirement: 42 inches Between 42 and 48 inches must ride with an adult
Universal Express: Yes


Escape From Gringotts is the centerpiece attraction at Diagon Alley. The experience starts pre-ride as you enter Gringotts bank beneath an actual fire breathing dragon before seeing the goblins hard at work in the banks palatial marble lobby.

The ride itself is a family friendly 4-D multi-dimensional coaster where you meet both Harry Potter and Voldemort himself.  Its one of the best rides you will experience and something your family will talk about months after your visit.

 

Character Meet and Greets & Parades

What we loved about Universal was the opportunities for the girls to have lots of character interaction from their favourite movies.  Unlike Disney where the lines can be very long, at Universal Orlando it was a lot more enjoyable and stress free.  We met lots of characters from movies including Despicable Me, Shrek and the  Secret Life of Pets.

Where to eat at Universal Orlando

We loved the themed dining options at Universal Orlando, there was so much choice and we thought it was much better than Disney.  From a British style meal at the Leaky Caludron from the Harry Potter movies to Mythos Restaurant – winner of the best theme park restaurant in the world, you really are spoilt for choice. It was a shame that we were only visiting for 2 days as it would have been great to try them all..

Some of our family favourites were

Lard Lad Donuts


When we were walking through Springfield, we couldn’t resist trying one of the famous pink iced sprinkled donut which you see on the Simpsons TV series. There were two sizes available, one of which was the size of a small car tyre and even the small donut we had would have been classed as a xl-donut in the UK.

Butterbeer


We tried the UK version of Butterbeer at the Harry Potter Studios in London and I have to admit we were not fans. However the version in Universal Orlando is much nicer and although not the greatest we wouldn’t choose it again it was something that you have to try once when in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Honeydukes


When in Hogsmead you have to visit Honeydukes – the legendary wizarding sweets shop famous for its chocolate and many, wonderful and wild sweets, and the store at Universal is just like the film. The experience is brilliant and the chocolate frogs were delicious – you also get a trading card like in the movie.

Mel’s Drive-In


One of the girls favourite films at the moment is Grease (I know its based on so when they caught a glimpse of the American Graffiti-inspired 50s drive-in Mel’s Drive-In there was only one place they wanted to eat lunch.

With vintage cars parked outside it was like stepping back in time in this fab retro restaurant with a giant jukebox playing golden oldies The food is not going to win any awards like most fast food options but this dining experience was something really memorable for the girls.

Antojitos


We had heard good reports about this Mexican restaurant in the CityWalk area of Universal before our visit The Telegraph newspaper ranked it within their top 10 restaurants in Orlando and we can see why. The atmosphere was amazing with a live Mexican mariachi band, the menu was really family friendly and more importantly the food was delicious.

The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen


This brand new restaurant dominates the skyline of Universal with its two giant chimneys rising into the skyline, it was like a factory from the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory story. Inside the restaurant the theming from the décor to the attire of the staff is breathtaking and the food was amazing.

Even if you are not dining here it’s worth calling in just to experience the range of tempting treats for sale in their gift shop with every style and type of chocolate you could think of.

Overall

There is so much for families with younger children to see, do and experience at Universal Orlando, so much in fact our two children said they enjoyed Universal Orlando better than Walt Disney World.

So what are you waiting for, Universal Orlando is not just for teenagers and adults, your kids will love it.

 

 

2 Comments
  1. Just makes me want to go even more. Florida is too on our list of places to visit, 1 because of Disney and 2 because I need – sorry want to visit Harry Potter. Being a fan I can only imagine the magic but after reading your post there seems like so much more that I would want to do there! Firstly my little boy would love super hero island, namely Spider-Man and who would not love the idea of being shrunk to a minion – genius!! I guess this has only made me want to save even harder than before.

  2. WOW what a comprehensive list. Thank you. We are going early next year and I am SO excited. I’m going to start planning once Jamie starts school. This post will be so useful. I went when I was 13 so only remember what it was like as a teenager. It sounds like it’s changed an awful lot since I went though.

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