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Cynthia Kinnunen and her family drove from Toronto to Orlando

I know, I know, everyone always talks “Disney” when they head down to Orlando with kids. And don’t get me wrong: Disney is a wonderful magical adventure, particularly for the littlest in the family. But on this last excursion to Orlando (and don’t think we go all the time – this is only our second trip there) we chose to test out Universal Studios.

Stay with me for a moment: as a kid, I ended up in Universal Studios (California) and have very fond memories of it. At age eight, I got to hug cast members from Battlestar Galactica, get freaked out by Jaws and feel incredibly tiny next to props from The Incredible Shrinking Woman. I remember those moments more than the visit to Disney on that same trip. I had some high expectations of this visit to Universal. I wanted my kids to feel wowed by the experience just as I was.

It didn’t disappoint. Of course, having VIP treatment didn’t hurt either (Line up? What’s that?). There’s some wizardy thing going on there that I’ll get to in a moment but first let me mention that Seuss Landing is just a wonderful little place. Here’s where colourful Dr. Seuss stories come to life and the kids thought it was brilliant. It’s the perfect part of the park for even the littlest travelers.

And on the other side – the Universal Studios section – we felt as though we were walking through movie sets (in some cases we were!), enjoyed some 4D Shrek action and even rode the classic ET ride. I was a happy camper that I got to do at least one big rollercoaster, Rip Ride Rockit, a fantastic coaster that lets you choose the soundtrack to your ride just before you depart. Of course, I rode it rockin’ out to Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic.” Whoever decided you should personalize your thrill ride experience with your own song choice playing is brilliant. It was awesome.

But back to that other part of the park. What’s his name…Harry?

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the main attraction at Universal this year and it’s well worth the visit. You feel as though you really are walking into Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Pick up some Bertie Botts’ Every Flavour Beans (earwax is apparently the worst flavour) or chocolate frogs at Honeydukes, or dine at the Three Broomsticks where you can raise a glass of butterbeer to celebrate not having thrown up on Dragon Challenge.

The main ride in this “world”, however, is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. If you don’t want to ride it – because it can (and does! Ahem.) cause motion sickness – you can simply explore the story-filled corridors of Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Lots of familiar characters in here to watch, including one of my favourites, The Fat Lady (I love Dawn French). My only disappointment was not seeing my crush, Snape. OK, so it’s not Snape that I love but rather Alan Rickman who plays him but still, I was hoping for a little dark arts experience…OK, I should probably stop there.

All in all, Universal was a brilliant experience, with each member of our family enjoying nearly every part of the park that we visited. If you have enjoyed film, television and literature in your lifetime, you will find something here that makes you smile. If not, we have a spell for that.

Disclosure: Cynthia’s family roadtrip to Disney World was paid for and arranged by Chevrolet Canada and @VisitOrlando.

Cynthia Kinnunen is a mom of three wonderfully quirky little people who love music, old and new-school adventures and acting as silly as possible at all times. She’s also a freelance writer who blogs for fun at Crumbs in the Minivan and Maple Mixtape.

Photo via Cynthia Kinnunen

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