We recently started a new family tradition: when a child turns 10, he or she gets to decide and help plan our big annual family vacation. Not only does this make our family vacations a bit more equitable — it’s not just me hauling our family of five off to remote islands in Honduras (surprise!) — but the child gets the experience of dreaming and researching. As a mom who loves travel, I think it is a worthwhile hobby for my own kids to dream of travel and then to act on it. What will they choose? A cruise? The beach? An amusement park?
Our son Carter decided for his 10th birthday vacation we would go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. We flew off for this grand family adventure last October when the weather at home was starting to turn and Florida was just cool enough to be enjoyable. Carter spent hours doing research with me on the costs and considerations for our trip; he was somewhat shocked to see the prices which I think really helped enhance his gratitude.
On the advice of a family friend, we upgraded our hotel to the Loews Royal Pacific Resort because the booking included both early admission to the park as well as Universal Express Passes. Our hotel also offered free water taxis to the entrance of the park which added to the whole adventure. The early admission made a huge difference since Harry Potter World gets very crowded (and hot and muggy) as the day goes on. If we had purchased the Universal Express Passes separately, we would have paid $1,000 for the privilege of rarely standing in line. The passes were a huge bonus — we never stood in line for any ride longer than 20 minutes total and sometimes not standing in line meant we rode a roller coaster eight times in a row! What an indulgence. Our hotel was a beautiful place to unwind at the end of the day. We usually swam as the sun set and ordered dinner poolside.
While Carter is the real Harry Potter fan, all of our kids marveled at the realism in this part of the park. The two separate areas that host all things Harry Potter are so realistic and well-done that it is truly mind-boggling. Carter had an interactive wand and went around the park making magic happen. All of the staff in the park are in costume and in character: when our daughter bought a chocolate frog in one of the shops, the employee pointed me towards the credit card machine and said, “Use your muggle plastic in this machine to pay.” Brilliant!
We rode the Hogwarts Express between the two parks to move from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade at least once a day. Diagon Alley is the secret wizarding world section of London where young Hogwarts students go to buy materials for school. Hogsmeade is the special wizard village outside of the school Hogwarts. Essentially these are two separate theme parks and you need a two-park pass to gain access from one to the other.
While we traveled to Universal Studios specifically to enjoy all things Harry Potter, we had a great time riding almost every single other ride in the two Universal theme parks — Universal’s Island of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. We especially loved Jurassic Park River Adventure which we rode over and over again, completely decked out in rain gear so we would avoid getting drenched. At the last minute, I decided to give in to Carter’s begging and go on Doctor Doom’s Fearfall. I lived to tell about it but can still close my eyes and remember the sensation of true terror on that ride. I’m not sure what was better for Carter to experience: the ride itself or his mom’s real fear of dying in Orlando, Florida.
I am not in the habit of using a travel agent to book most of our travel, but I used one for this family trip. She gave us great advice that made our trip more spectacular and more affordable, and we paid the same amount to use her services that we would have paid if we booked everything directly.
If you have a Harry Potter fan in your family, I highly recommend heading to Universal Studios to experience Harry Potter World.