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Coasters and Wizards (Orlando)

Author: A. Soraghan
Date of Trip: January 2011

My 12-year old son’s end-of-quarter break was coming up and we wanted to escape the winter weather. Two years ago, we took a trip to Orlando during the same break and hit all of the Disney parks found them to be pleasantly uncrowded. This time, we decided to try out the Universal Resort parks in Orlando. Three weeks ahead, I was able to book a U.S. Airways round trip flight from DC, an economy car, and three nights at the clean and friendly Hyatt Place hotel (near the parks, free parking and breakfast, 15 percent-off coupon for park restaurants and stores included) all for just over $300 per person. We bought discounted two-day park-to-park tickets for about $120.

Roller coasters at both parks were the main draw for my son, but we both were curious about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at slands of Adventure. Neither disappointed. At Universal Studios, my son enjoyed the “Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket” coaster and almost got me to go on it with him. Waits were never more than 10 to 15 minutes, so he managed to ride it four times. I was happy to enjoy an iced latte on the park bench under the palm trees while he rode the coasters – he also liked the indoor “Revenge of the Mummy” one. While waiting, I enjoyed a charming little museum devoted to Lucille Ball – Emmy awards, personal notes, her costumes and videos were exhibited. We both laughed at the Shrek 4D show – our first and last stops at the park. Better watch out when Donkey sneezes!

Over at Islands of Adventure, we were anxious to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but there were plenty of other attractions to keep us entertained along the way. My son was daring enough to try the Hulk coaster, although once was enough. A favorite was the Jurassic Park Water Adventure (went on it three times – no lines). After a good soaking, we were chilly so we head over to Harry Potter land’s Three Broomsticks for some hot soup and the famous butter beer (it reminded me of a cream soda). The Hogsmead tavern warmed us up, just like in the movies. We didn’t wait long in Hogwarts castle, but you want to take your time and view the authentic-looking props. I’ll let someone who kept their eyes open the whole time tell you about the simulation ride.

We had time the first night to meet some local friends for dinner. Since we had a rental car, we ventured to International Drive and found very decent mini golf on International Drive (Congo River with real alligators). Signs to and from the airport are much better than in DC, and returning the rental car to Hertz was easy – right by the departures. We had a great four-day trip in between snowstorms, with help from Expedia and the friendly staff at Hyatt. For an upgrade next time, we might try the Loews Portofino Bay Resort within Universal – we took a boat ride there and it felt like we were in Italy!

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