23 May 2011

Universal Orlando winners!

One of the best "perks" of participating in #UORfamily, a press event for parenting bloggers at Universal Orlando, was getting to host a ticket giveaway. I've got two lucky winners right here, but FIRST...

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

...let me tell you a bit about the trip.

My only real experience with theme parks is Disney. In fact, my family and I just spent our Spring Break in Disneyland (in Southern California), so I was very interested to see what an amusement park experience minus the Disney mythos would feel like. As excited as I was to participate in this event, I was a little skeptical. The few times I've been to non-Disney theme parks, I left feeling ripped off and slightly sullied.

To be fair, they weren't ORLANDO theme parks, nor were they the size or scope of Disneyland. But, because of them, I assumed that Disney was the exception to my general dislike of amusement parks.

Well, I was wrong. 

Marvel Superhero Island at Islands of Adventure.

Universal Orlando Resort is made up of two theme parks: Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure, plus CityWalk, a dining, entertainment and nightlife venue sitting just outside the parks. (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is part of Islands of Adventure). The resort includes three hotels: the Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel, and the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (where we stayed).

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando

The parks are designed to highlight pop culture characters from film, television and literature. Universal's not looking to create an atmosphere filled with the childlike wonder of magic and imagination, but entertainment, pure and simple. You won't see many sparkles here, but you will see Scooby and the Mystery Machine, burly Egyptian tomb guards, and Spiderman *swoon*.

You'll also go on some pretty great rides. This park is ideal for older kids who like a thrill. The roller coasters are serious...

The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure

...but I think Universal really shines with its motion simulator rides. The rides themselves are fantastic, but the setup as you walk through the line is just as well-done. I won't say much so as to avoid spoilers, but in "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," you walk through Hogwarts Castle on your way to the ride.

Hogwarts Castle in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (part of Islands of Adventure)

My favorite, The Simpsons Ride in Universal Studios Orlando, takes you "into" a twisted amusement park created by Krusty the Clown. The humor is as fast-paced and inventive as the ride.

The Sinpsons Ride in Universal Studios Orlando

One of the most popular rides, based on Spiderman's swing through the city fighting super-villans, is set for a complete HD makeover in 2012. Also coming in 2012: a new motion simulator ride based on the movie Despicable Me...in which the entire audience will be turned into minions.

All of this is not to say that imagination isn't part in Universal's appeal. The Islands of Adventure park, which includes The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Seuss Landing, Marvel Superhero Island and more, is based on bringing literature to life. Walking through Hogsmeade (and seeing Honeydukes sweet shop, Zonko's joke shop and Ollivander's wand shop) and visiting the whimsical, off-kilter world of Dr. Seuss...it was delightful.

While Universal (in my opinion) caters to adults and families with older kids, there's plenty for the little ones to marvel at and enjoy.

My family and a Blue Man

The #UORfamily event included tours of both parks, visits to all three hotels, and an evening on CityWalk. This turned out to be my family's favorite part of the trip, as we got to attend a performace by the Blue Man Group. Again, no spoilers, but if you have a chance to see the Blue Men perform -- anywhere -- GO. It is like nothing you've ever seen before. I could write a whole post just about this performance.

It was a wonderful trip, and I'm thrilled my family and I could participate. Many thanks to Universal Orlando for making it possible, and for providing the goodies for the giveaway.

The giveaway! We've got winners, each of whom get a four-pack of admission tickets to Universal Orlando! And they are:

Marena Lewis and Amy Weagley!

Congratulations! You both have emails from me sitting in your inboxes. Please reply and we will discuss further details. Wow.

Thanks to ALL of you who entered and shared your best "amusement park with little kids" tips. I will be compiling them into a post that will go up soon. SO much wisdom and practicality we can all use.

Disclosure: While I was not paid to host this giveaway or write this post, Universal covered travel and entertainment expenses for me and my family. The giveaway and recap post is a voluntary part of my participation in #UORfamily.

Your comments

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Great recap post!
I'm still smiling from all the memories we got to share and from meeting you and your beautiful family.
We definitely need more poolside getting-to-know you chats!

I just can't get over the statement that you felt ripped off at non-Disney parks instead of at Disney, which I consider the mother of all rip-offs. They've never even had an 800-number, they're so intent to wring every last dollar from you.

You know, it's a totally personal thing. My family just gets into the whole "happiest place on Earth" vibe, so it feels ok to us. It's not logical, in fact, it's rather brainwash-y, but there it is.

I'm so glad you had a great time! Although I'm still kicking myself that I wasn't there with you. Rats.

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