This 9 day trip to Florida was planned for my wife’s 40th birthday (she’s a big Harry Potter fan) and we were supposed to fly out on 21st February. Unfortunately a few days before we were due to depart, our dog was really ill with gastroenteritis and as the date of the trip approached we couldn’t risk going, so rearranged the trip (at significant cost) for exactly a month later. What we didn’t realise when we rearranged the trip was the rearranged dates coincided with the week before Easter, which happens to be one of the busiest weeks in Orlando. It also clashes with Spring Break for some colleges over there so my initial plan of visiting relatively quiet parks was thrown into chaos with the realisation that Universal in particular was likely to be rammed during the second week of our trip. There were definitely moments where we were cursing our four-legged friend whilst standing in an hour-long queue that would've been 15 minutes a month earlier! The trip includes visits to Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and the two Fun Spot parks as well as some non-goon activities. So let’s get started! We stayed in the Rosen Inn “Closest to Universal” (as it’s described on Expedia) and the view out of our window certainly confirmed that – look closely and you can see two coasters from Universal and we could also see two at Fun Spot. Day 1 – Universal Orlando After arriving the previous day and getting a fairly pathetic night’s sleep, we got our free shuttle bus from the hotel up to Universal and got into the park around 10am, so it was still fairly quiet. The plan for Day 1 was all about Harry Potter, but since it had a fairly short queue (15 mins) and to get one ride under our belts early, we first headed for Revenge of the Mummy. This turned out to be the only time we rode this as the queues never dropped below 30 minutes for the rest of the time we were there, and to be honest I can barely remember anything about it. The visuals and theming were good and I remember the launch up a small hill being fun, but aside from that it’s a bit of a blur. Shame really! From there we headed into Diagon Alley and spent the rest of the morning there. We started with the Ollivander’s show, which I understand usually generates a big queue but was half empty and just about to start when we got there, so that was cool. Anna bought a wand and we spent a bit of time trying to get it to work with the various interactive spots, with varying success. After that we just wandered around taking it all in and visiting the shops and attractions. I’m not a huge fan of Harry Potter but this area is absolutely stunning. The level of detail and immersion they have put into it is just phenomenal, and it’s easy to spend an hour or two without even thinking about going on the ride that’s in this area. That’s exactly what we did, and by the time we got to Escape From Gringotts it had a 90 minute queue, so we decided to leave that for another day. We went for lunch in the Leaky Cauldron, which is a lot bigger than it was in the films but still very well themed. Having perused the menu of ‘English favourites’ I couldn’t resist seeing how they had interpreted Toad in the Hole. I think pictures say more than anything here... Not good, although it actually didn’t taste that bad. I also had some Dragon Scale beer which was more acceptable, though very expensive. After lunch and more time in Diagon Alley we continued the Potter-themed day by heading to Hogsmeade on the Hogwarts Express. Kings Cross station is not exactly authentic but it’s still a great attraction and captures the spirit of a London train station pretty well. The annoyance here is having to get your park-to-park ticket and fingerprint scanned at the entrance, which causes a bit of a crowd, but once we got though we only had a brief wait for the train itself. Again, no expense has been spared on creating an immersive experience, and this is a great way to get from one park to the other. We used the train three times in this direction during our visit to Orlando and it was getting a bit tedious by the third journey. The following week queue times for what is effectively a glorified monorail were close to 60 minutes, which would be incredibly frustrating given it’s the only way to get from one park to the other without a long and tiring walk. It would be good if there was an alternative for people that just want to get between parks quickly, even if it’s just a bus or walkway connecting the back of the two parks. So that brings us to Islands of Adventure and of course Hogsmeade, which was where we headed first. It was rather busy! Once again the theming here is great, although you can tell it was done first as a lot of the shops are just shop fronts rather than ones you can visit. They still look great though and the ones you can go into are fun. There’s also something happening here on the site of the old Dragon Challenge... But anyone following this thread already knows that don’t they? We headed up to Hogwarts, which looks incredible, and with the wait time for Forbidden Journey at around 60 minutes we joined the queue. However, we’d only been in it 5 minutes when the ride was evacuated for some reason, so we decided to leave the world of Harry Potter for a while and headed over the bridge to Jurassic Park. We’re both big fans of the films and dinosaurs in general (who isn’t?) so this area was one we were looking forward to most. It’s obviously a bit dated compared to other parts of the park and is definitely aimed more at kids, but it was still thrilling to go through those gates, hear the iconic John Williams music and see all the vehicles from the movies. We headed straight for the River Adventure which only had a 10 minute queue. Yes, it’s basically just a boat ride with a big splash and some cheesy animatronic dinosaurs, but it was still ace, and Anna didn’t know about the T-Rex so that was a fun surprise for me to see her reaction. Next we wandered down to Superhero Island, passing Skull Island: Reign of Kong and through Toon Lagoon on the way. I was amazed at the theming in these areas, which is better than the rides in some cases. The level of detail and immersion into the worlds they have created is fabulous and that more than the rides themselves is what made IoA my new favourite park. That’s not to say there aren’t great rides, and the two best in my opinion were what we rode next – Spiderman and The Hulk. Spiderman was just fantastic in every way – even the queue line was great and although we had to wait around 40 minutes, that time flew by with so much to see whilst we waited. Once we got on the ride it was amazing, obviously. The blend between screens, animatronics and environmental effects was almost seamless, and it instantly became my new favourite dark ride. (Great queue line and about the only photo I took of Spiderman that day!) Next up was the Hulk, and another 40-odd minute wait. Before that we had to put everything we owned in a locker the size of a shoebox. Pretty much my only criticism of Universal is the locker system – they are so inconsistent from one part of the park to another, with some needing a fingerprint, some needing a ticket barcode, some both, and some needing payment while others are free, and they are all different sizes too! Anyway, on to the Hulk and the first big thrill coaster of our trip. Another fantastic, high-tech queue line greeted us, before a pretty fantastic, high-tech coaster. The launch and initial barrage of inversions is awesome and the on-board audio definitely adds something. After the foggy tunnel it become a pretty standard B&M coaster with the usual elements you’d expect, which don’t live up to the awesome start but are still fun. It’s such an iconic coaster and overall it didn’t disappoint. From there we headed back around the lake, taking in the amazing theming of Seuss Landing, stopping for a Moose Juice and then making our way through what’s left of the Lost Continent and back to Hogwarts and the now re-opened Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I’d heard nothing but good things about this ride, and the queue line certainly didn’t disappoint. The wait time was under an hour so we probably skipped past some of the amazing details on our journey through the corridors of Hogwarts, but as usual, the level of detail and immersion was superb and sets the scene perfectly for the ride itself. Unfortunately we were both disappointed by the ride. It may have been because we were still tired from the flights and time difference, but all the thrashing around made us both feel a bit sick. There’s no doubt the technology is great, and very clever, but it was easy to see the transitions between the big screens and the practical/animatronic sections, which lost some of the immersion. The story is a bit lacking too compared to other rides at Universal, being a mish-mash of scenes from Harry Potter rather than a clear narrative. We both found the ride vehicle uncomfortable and bit odd in that you’re cramped into this space where you can’t really experience the ride together. I know we’re in the minority, and as I said maybe it was just because we were tired, and I did suggest we might give it a re-ride on another day, but Anna didn’t fancy it so if she wasn’t keen then I saw no reason to either. A bit of a shame, but we moved on. With the aforementioned tiredness setting in we decided to head back to Universal Studios aboard the Hogwarts Express. The return journey has a different story on the ‘windows’ of course but it wasn’t as good as the other one and due to long queues on subsequent days we only ended up riding this way once. Back at USF the park had got a lot busier and we looked at all the queue times and decided we couldn’t be bothered to wait more than 15 minutes for anything, which discounted most rides. We ended up just grabbing a ride on the Woody Woodpecker coaster to get the +1, and even that had a longer queue than advertised. Time-wise we were approaching 6pm, which was the departure time for the shuttle bus, so rather than stick around another hour waiting for the next one, we rushed to grab some mediocre Chinese food from CityWalk and then made our way back to the hotel and an early night. It may not seem like we did a great deal that first day but we managed to get on some of our most desired rides and familiarise ourselves with the layout of both parks, so we were all set for the next day and an early start to make the most of the resort while it was quiet.