Universal and Orlando Area

As we continue through the steps of planning a Walt Disney World vacation you want to have an overarching idea of what you want to do before deciding on a place to stay. I want to tell you a little bit about Universal and the rest of the Orlando/ Central Florida area. This is just a brief overview I will have more in depth information about each destination in further blogs. 

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A frequent request my fellow agents and I receive is for Disney World tickets that include Universal. Universal Orlando Resort is actually Walt Disney World’s main competitor and you are unable to get a ticket that covers both. In fact WDW makes the cost of addint additional days so appealing so you will not go to Universal. With the advent of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep people on Disney property.

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Photo Credit: Orlando Informer

Universal Orlando is currently made up of two theme parks, five hotels and a shopping district. Almost everything is within walking distance.  The Wizarding World area is in BOTH of Universal’s Theme Parks. The First the Villiage of Hogsmeade is in Islands of Adventure and features Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge. The other area – Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios. The Hogwarts express connects the two but you MUST have the Universal version of a park hopper ticket. Diagon Alley is considered the ultimate in theme park immersion so in addition to Escape from Gringotts you will want to spend some time exploring this area.

 

 

Now for the rest of the park 😉  Universal Orlando’s flag ship theme park is Universal Studios. This park can best be described as having a lot of indoor rides that show an extensive pre-show, require 3D glasses and – at some point – spit water on you. 9 out of it’s 12 rides have height requirements. They do have a multitude of shows to experience as well.  

Islands of Adventure. The park’s overall theme is that of a journey of exploration, where guests depart from a main port to visit themed islands, all emphasizing adventure. Again there are a lot of 3D simulator rides, 3 water rides where you WILL get soaked. And there is a more child friendly area here themed to Dr. Seuss.

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Photo Credit: Orlando Informer 

Connecting the two parks to the resorts is Citywalk. a nighttime entertainment complex with bars, franchise restaurants and some shopping. Universal currently has 5 themed hotels operated by Loew’s: Hard Rock Hotel, Portofino Bay, Royal Pacific, Sapphire Falls  and Cabana Bay. Again, there is more information to follow but one thing to note is that if you stay at one of the Premiere Level hotels (Hard Rock, Portofino Bar or Royal Pacific you receive a complimentary Universal Express Pass which is essentially an all day FP. These can also be purchased for an additional cost for all other guests. 

Coming this summer is a new Water Theme Park called Volcano Bay. Make sure you follow my Facebook page or other social media accounts for more information as it is released.

 

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Photo Credit: Behind the Thrills

 

Another nearby theme park is SeaWorld. If you are looking to get of Disney property and have young kids THIS is the place for you. SeaWorld Orlando is made up of SeaWorld a theme and marine zoological park, Discovery Cove where you can actually interact with marine animals, and Aquatica a water park.  SeaWorld Orlando has been separated into different areas, called “seas” that feature different mini themes. They are focusing more and more on rides but the animal shows are still the gem in this park. 

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Photo Credit: Expedia 

Legoland is also great for families with younger kids though it is about an hour away in Winter Haven, FL. That is not to say it is not for older kids – I haven’t been to the one in Florida but I was about 14 when I first went to the Legoland in Carlsbad, CA and am still a huge fan! Legoland Florida is even bigger than the one in CA – second in size only to the Legoland in the UK. It was built on the site of original Florida destination Cypress Gardens – Legoland retained the botanic gardens and even re-themed the existing water park. They also have more than 45 rides, shows and attractions as well as restaurants, shops and two lego themed hotels. The park has 11 sections each with a play area for kids to run around and let off steam. Perennial favorites are the Dragon Coaster, Safari Trek, and the Ford Driving School  A “real-life” driving experience for children ages 6 through 13, where children receive their official Legoland driver’s license with their face on it and watch a video on how to drive. My favorite is always Mini-Land. It always amazed me how incredibly detailed and accurate the mini cities built out of legos are. Legoland Florida features New York City, Washington DC, Las Vegas, and of course Florida.

There are so many other nearby attractions.

I-Drive is considered Orlandos Tourist Corridor. It is a 12 mile strip running from Volcano Bay (Universal’s new water park) essentially down to SeaWorld – it houses over 100 hotels & resorts, over 200 restaurants, 7 dinner shows, shopping, nightlife, and even attractions. It has 7 mini golf courses, dark ride adventure, helicopter tours, escape rooms, water parks, bowling alleys, Madame Tussads, Ripley’s Believe it or not, Titanic Artifact Exhibiti, Whirlydome, FunSpot, Skydiving Tunnel, TWO  Chocolate musuems AND the Orlando Eye. Then there is even more to do in Downtown Orlando and other nearby by areas. There is also the rest of the state to think about!!

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Photo Credit: Attractions Magazine

Orlando is in the center of the state. Walt actually chose the location of Disney World because it was in the middle of the two Interstates the one running N to S and the other E to W. So the florida beaches you’ve heard about are at LEAST  an hour away in either direction. The easiest to get to from Disney World is Cocoa Beach. It is a surfing town that seems straight out of a teen beach movie. Daytona is an hour in the opposite direction but has over 20 miles of beaches with 11 that you can drive right on to. There are also nearby attractions if you have people in your travel party who can not stay still – parasailing, snorkeling, banana boat rides, boat rentals and a boardwalk with thrill rides restaurants and shops. Of course the famous racetrack and historic St. Augustine are very nearby.

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Photo Credit: Kennedy Space Center

One place I haven’t personally made it to yet but desperately want to build it into an upcoming trip is the Kennedy Space Center near Cocoa Beach/ Cape Canaveral about an hours drive from WDW. It features exhibits and displays, historic spacecraft and memorabilia, shows, two IMAX theaters, a range of bus tours of the spaceport, and the Shuttle Launch Experience, a simulated ride into space. You can even have lunch with an astronaut. Opening Hours are limited and shows, tours etc do fill up so make sure you plan your day and buy necessary tickets in advance.

There is an organic brewery with daily tours. A video game bar. A soccer club.  An AMERICAN ART MUSEUM which houses the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world.

A RENOWNED BOTANICAL GARDEN which houses more than 1,000 rose bushes  and the largest collection of camellias in North America.

Plus an incredible amount of golfing, pampering and SHOPPING to what Disney already offers!!! There is  the upscale Mall of Milennia with its roster of luxury brands (including Burberry, Gucci, Jimmy Choo) and The Florida Mall (home to Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and 250 other stores and restaurants). Plus two outlet centers one on I-Drive and one on Vineland Avenue. 

I love Pointe Orlando which is an outdoor shopping center near the Convention Center on I-Drive. They have pretty basic shopping but some fantastic nightlife with a comedy club, blues club, ice bar and tons of live music. We love Taverna Opa where in addition to traditional Greek cuisine they also have live Greek Music and encourage you to dance on the tables!!

If you would like to add any of these attractions to your Walt Disney World vacation contact me christina@aywvacations.com.

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