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Our Orlando holiday, part one: the Hard Rock Hotel and Universal Orlando

Part one of our family adventure to Florida

It’s been a week or so since we came back from Florida and I still have the holiday blues.

I’ve already shared some of my favourite photos from our holiday, but it’s taken me a little longer to gather my thoughts and sift through all the photographs and video footage that depict the details of our holiday.

I’m now finally ready to share some more details of exactly what we got up to.

As I mentioned in my last Florida post, the first part of our holiday was spent at Universal Orlando Resort. We stayed on-site at the Hard Rock Hotel, a 4-star music-themed hotel. Our room was a standard one with two double beds and a nice-sized bathroom. As well as the usual amenities, our room also had its own fridge, which we could fill with our own drinks and snacks. Overall, it was clean, pleasant and comfortable.

The hotel’s outdoor facilities were a particular highlight. It has a large swimming pool with its own underwater sound system – cool, huh?! – and waterslide. It also boasts a sandy beach area with recliners, two hot tubs – one for families and one for adults only – as well as an outdoor bar.

Universal Orlando Resort, favourite Florida holiday photos

If you’re not familiar with Universal Orlando Resort, here’s a quick explainer. It’s made up of two theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, and the interlinking Citywalk area full of shops, restaurants and a cinema. The Hard Rock Hotel is one of the on-site hotels and is a five-minute walk (or 10-minute water taxi ride) away from these facilities.

Universal Studios has lots of 4D rides like Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, Transformers, Shrek 4D and Harry Potter: Escape from Gringotts. It also has the vintage E.T Adventure and the still-popular Men in Black shoot-em-up experience. For Harry Potter fans, it houses the London part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You can even catch the Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross to Hogsmeade, which is a themed section in the Islands of Adventure park.

Meanwhile, the Islands of Adventure is where all the superheroes hang out. You can also venture into Jurassic Park and take a ride through King Kong’s Skull Island. There’s lots of other things there as well, including a section for smaller kids which is inspired by Dr Seuss.

Here’s a video of our time at Universal Orlando Resort.

I’ve also written about our days in a little more detail. We seemed to fit so much in yet it never felt hectic, mainly due to the close proximity of our hotel to the rest of the resort and the unlimited Express ride passes.

How we spent our days

Day one: Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure and an impromptu filming opportunity.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure park was our destination on day one.

We got up early and collected our Express passes from the Hard Rock Hotel lobby. This is a hotel perk which allows guests to skip as many ride queues as they want throughout their stay.

We decided to make the short walk to the theme park, stopping for the odd photo or two along the way.

Universal Orlando Resort, Orlando, Florida, family travel

We couldn’t wait to get started. It may surprise you to know that our very first ride was The Cat in The Hat. My children loved it the last time we came and couldn’t wait to do it again. It’s actually a fun ride and my husband and I enjoyed it too.

We also managed to get a photo with the Grinch and Sam.I.Am, although the Grinch was in his typically grumpy mood.

Universal Orlando Resort, Islands of Adventure, Dr Seuss, the Grinch

One of our biggest ride ‘must-dos’ is Spiderman and it did not disappoint. Despite being nearly 20 years old – yes, really! – it’s a truly amazing 4D ride and one of our all-time favourites. We also did the Kong: Skull Island ride for the very first time. The effects are amazing and I’m not ashamed to admit I found it rather scary at the beginning. William and Olivia were not big fans at all. My husband loved it.

We also came across something exciting – the Impractical Jokers were filming inside the theme park! They’d been filming there all week and were doing a live punishment that afternoon. As fans of the show, we didn’t need to be asked twice! I’ve been sworn to secrecy until the episode airs , but it does have something to do with this.

Universal Orlando Resort, Islands of Adventure

After all that excitement, we finished off our day with tasty food and calorific milkshakes from the CityWalk’s newest eatery, The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen.

Universal Orlando Resort, favourite Florida holiday photos

Day two: Universal Studios

We spent our second day exploring Universal Studios. We’d made our first day quite relaxed, but day two was all about squeezing in as much as we possibly could.

It didn’t take us long to understand how fantastic unlimited Express passes are. We went round and round on rides like Minion Mayhem, Transformers and Men in Black: Alien Attack again and again.

Universal Orlando Resort, Men in Black Alien Attack

The Men in Black ride was a particular treat because not only was it the first time William could ride it (he’d been too small on our last holiday), but it was also the first time Olivia could ride it on her own. You can imagine how much she loved that idea!

We also saw a huge amount of characters around the park, including Woody the Woodpecker and Homer and Bart Simpson.

Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios, Woody Woodpecker

The Simpsons, Universal Studios, Universal Orlando Resort

It’s not just meet-and-greets where you get to meet characters though. There are also street parades during the day. We caught the Despicable Me one and William was picked out of the crowd to dance with the minions during the actual parade. How cool is that?!

Gru, Universal Orlando Resort, favourite Florida holiday photos

We decided to head back to our hotel mid-afternoon because we were starting to feel the heat. Yes, even in February it’s warm! It took us all of 5 minutes to walk back and we chilled out with a long swim in the pool before getting some food at the outdoor bar.

Universal Orlando Resort, Hard Rock Hotel

Day three: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure

We mixed things up a bit on day three and spread ourselves across both theme parks instead of concentrating on just one. We started the morning at Universal Studios before catching the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade and the rest of the Islands of Adventure.

While in Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, Olivia bought her very own magic wand from Ollivander’s wand shop. Since our last visit, she has become a Harry Potter fan and had saved her money so that she could buy a replica of Hermione Grainger’s wand.

Universal Orlando Studios, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, favourite Florida holiday photos

From Ollivander’s we walked to Gringotts Bank to see the dragon on its roof breathing fire. Olivia and I then rode the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride for the very first time. It’s a virtual reality, indoor rollercoaster themed to look like you’re travelling through the vaults of the bank. The queue is very atmospheric and Olivia was a little nervous to start with, but ended up loving the experience.

The Hogwarts Express took us over to the Islands of Adventure where we spent the rest of the day. The Jurassic Park River Adventure was a massive hit with William, who normally hates any kind of ride with any kind of drop.

While we dried off, we enjoyed some Dippin’ Dots ice cream. This is flash frozen into tiny balls and comes in lots of great flavours. You get a full cup of these ‘dots’ rather than a scoop of ice cream, which allows you to enjoy the taste without the mess.

Dippin' Dots, ice cream, Universal Orlando Resort, Islands of Adventure

It was during this day that I had my most embarrassing moment of our holiday. We met Storm and Rogue from the X-men and did our best superhero poses for a photo. Unfortunately, my jumpsuit decided to pop right open!

Universal Orlando Resort, favourite Florida holiday photos

Day four: CityWalk, getting soaked and a Mardi Gras parade

We started our day taking it easy in the KidZone at Universal Studios.

Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios, family travel

Olivia and William played in Fievel’s Playground while my husband and I debated how long it would be before the zone got a makeover. For the record, the E.T Adventure is a proper classic and I hope it never gets replaced.

After a few more character meet-and-greets we headed to CityWalk to look around the shops and take in a movie (Rogue One).

Despicable Me, Universal Studios, Universal Orlando Resort

After our movie, we meandered over to the Islands of Adventure for some more ride time. We did Spiderman a few more times and got soaking wet on Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges (a river rapids ride). At least the sun was out so that we could dry off relatively quickly.

We stayed out right into the evening to make the most of the park hours.

Day five: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

It was a sad day as we checked out of the Hard Rock Hotel. We simply weren’t ready to say goodbye to the resort. Thankfully, the hotel kindly agreed to look after our cases until later that day. This meant we could still make the most of the time we had left, especially considering our Express passes were still valid.

We had set this day aside for Olivia to practise her spell-casting with the wand she had recently bought. This is a very cool feature if you have an interactive wand.

Within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which spans both Universal Orlando theme parks, there are a number of locations where you can cast spells. Look out for the bronze medallions embedded into the ground; they show the magical wand gesture and words you need to say.

Olivia enjoyed finding these locations and it was fantastic to see what happened when the spells were cast successfully.

Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando Resort, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Some time to relax was also important for some of us.

Harry Potter, Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We stayed until early afternoon, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the sights and sounds. Then we picked up our cases from the Hard Rock Hotel and left for the next phase of our adventure.

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