Universal Studios Here We Come!

We had a slightly late night at DHS the night before but this was our first day at Universal Orlando and the whole family’s first time going to Diagon Alley!  So we were up and made it thru the getting up and getting ready routine.  I can tell you that despite the hiccups we had with our 3 bedroom lockout at Cypress Pointe. It was WONDERFUL to have 3 separate bathrooms when it came to getting ready and ending our days.

We were out the door and in our Lyft by 8:15am and had been dropped off at the roof of the parking structure right at 8:30am.  Looking at the timestamp of our first photo, it took us 7 minutes to get thru security and on the moving walkway.

We made it!

Our first stop was the obligatory pics on the surfboard.  We first did this shot way back in 2002 on our very first trip to Orlando with my mom and pop and had me, my mom, and PumpkinGirl on it (Jinx was still a toddler back then).  The first version of the wave was a bit more dynamic!

Then on our next family trip in 2012 we took some of Jinx and PumpkinGirl – time sure flies!

With that taken care of we moved on towards the entrance.

Even with having to go to will-call to get our e-tickets printed out and get our photo package lanyards done, we were still walking down the main drag by 9am sharp.

As the title suggested we made a beeline for King’s Cross Station and caught a couple of street shots as we fast-walked.

We breezed past the Night Bus and headed in thru the entrance that we had seen in countless YouTube videos! 

Such a grand reveal!

We weren’t messing around with shops and worked our way directly to the entrance to Gringotts and had our bags stowed in lockers and were entering the bank by 9:11am with a posted 20 minute wait.  Love those chandeliers!

We had the lobby to ourselves so we took a quick minute to take in the lifelike tellers and the “big guy”.

Then on down the hallways.

Love those living newspapers.

Such great names.

I would like to see these guys go into battle!

It is a bummer that we didn’t get a pre-show, but having no line made up for it.

Elevators open also breaks the illusion a bit, but again, we had it all to ourselves.

Whispers behind doors.

And then we were lined up ready to get on the ride.

While we were there Jinx saw a guy who could have been his brother, we all commented on it.  Then we boarded with an attendant waving us on – 19 minutes thru the queue and onto the ride, but some of that was us stopping to take pictures and look at everything.

Great ride, lots going on and lots of interactive 3D action.  And I had heard people complain that it was too short – I thought it was a decent length ride.  But then again, I didn’t wait 2hrs to ride it!  And when we got off we decided to go right back in.  This time we zoomed thru and were back outside in under 12 minutes!  And as a bonus the guy Jinx saw earlier was outside the queue.  His name was Kyle and we gave Jinx a little prodding and he got up the nerve to say “hi” to him and get a picture with him ?

At this point the kiddos wanted to get interactive wands so we split off.  Since we hurried thru the entrance when we first came in we headed back that way and took a shot of it and got one of Roxy coming in.

And I had to get a shot of a wizard in training coming in.

And then I heard the grumbling of the Ukrainian Ironbelly on top of Gringotts.

Afterwards Roxy and I split up as she was on the hunt for the elusive Hot Butterbeer.  I came back around the corner and ran back into Jinx and PumpkinGirl who were working their wand magic.  I got a picture of them on Hagrid’s motorcycle.

I looked around a bit and then the Ironbelly started rumbling again.

I then met back up with Roxy, as she had found the elusive beverage and was in line.  I took a couple of shots at the metalsmith shop.  Quite the gargantuan armor!

I also love the irony of the Phoenix Fire Fighters logo.

Back in line with her and then I did the “hover” for a table.  She got her hot butterbeer and I got a Dragon Scale along with a pumpkin pastie and two other treats.

While we were enjoying our food and drinks we’ll tune into magical wand wonderment!  They made it rain.

Got the clocks turning.

The classic Wingardium Leviosa.

Some magic parchment.

The scales do their thing.

We had been seated adjacent to this fountain and kept waiting for someone to get hit, but nobody did despite some close calls.  The kiddos also managed to stay dry.

Rebuild that armor!

All of that spellcasting made them hungry, so it was time to hit the candy shop.  PumpkinGirl found lots of things that caught her eye!

And then on to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes – brace yourself for all the jokey, gadgety goodness!

And finally out the door.

They then walked around taking in some of the high points that Diagon Alley had to offer.

Some places we wish we could just walk in and check out.

But there were still plenty of shops that you could.

We finished up in there and caught the Ironbelly once more!

We then decided to take a trip into the wonderous gloom of Knockturn Alley!

Not an easy place to take pictures in, but I did my best.

So many great skulls.

The shrunken head choir was a real kick!

And we finally got to peruse Borgin and Burkes! Watch out for the baddies!

Even more great skulls.

Watch out for the Hand of Glory!

The Vanishing Cabinet was pretty awesome.

I couldn’t pull off a Deatheater Mask unless they have one that works well with a beard.

Look at the cranium on this guy!

And this is just a big’un!

As we were coming out of the shop we ran into Jinx, who was working with a wizard to make those shrunken heads croon!

A couple of videos of their singing prowess:

Roxy hit the restroom and I grabbed one more beer at the Fountain of Fair Fortune.

And then went across the way to the Magical Menagerie and snapped a couple of quick pics.

By now it was 11:15am and we decided we better get moving if we are going to enjoy some more fun.  We met up with the kiddos near the entrance and started to head out.

Nice when you can get a shot at the entrance with no other traffic, aye PumpkinGirl?

We move on to the Night Bus – I have a YouTube video of this one that opens up with some comparisons between me and ole St. Nick and then moves on to a great interaction with Jinx and PumpkinGirl:

Then some pictures with him and Alex the Night Bus Driver.

Then we made out way into Kings Cross Station.

The queue was completely empty up to that point and we kept on moving, finally stalling out right next to the Christmas Tree.

Roxy and I took the opportunity for a good hug (with a leggings showcase).

Then of course back into phones ;D

The line started moving again so we continued on our way thru Kings Cross.  Soon enough we were at a certain magical opening between platforms. 

Jinx went thru first.

Then PumpkinGirl.

And then me.

Another of PumpkinGirl at the entrance.

And then we were thru to, free of the muggle world and onto a world of wonder, owls and all!

The station was empty at the moment, but still very grand.

As Roxy took some pictures of me the Hogwarts Express came chugging in.

So great to see that grand engine up close.

The line kept moving us forward thru the station.

A quick stop for Jinx and PumpkinGirl with the platform in the background.

And then working our way between the platform signs – brace yourselves for lots of 9 ¾ shots!

And a Station Attendant was nice enough to take my phone and snap a shot of the whole fam.  In normal times such a small gesture, but one made so much bigger given the current COVID environment.

There was of course a anti-bacterial pump nearby so all parties could keep those germs at bay. Soon enough it is boarding time for our first journey on the Hogwarts Express!  It was cool to have a car to ourselves.

Before we knew it the Express was in motion.

In a mere 8 minutes we were disembarking from the train.

We took some time to get some shots by the engine.

Off it goes again to ferry more muggles and wizards alike!

We headed down thru the exit and on into Hogsmeade, and surprise surprise – there is the Hogwarts Express again!

PumpkinGirl with Hogsmeade bustling in the background.

Jinx and I with Hogsmeade and the Express.

PumpkinGirl got a couple of good selfies with the Express and its Conductor.

The village looks pretty crowded as you look up the street, but people did a decent job of staying in little pods.

Were we trying for a ride?  Were we checking out the shops?  Were we foraging for food or drink?  Nope!  We were focused on getting to a restroom.  So we all had a pit stop and listened to Moaning Myrtle talk away.  Afterwards I got a couple of good shots of Roxy and PumpkinGirl outside.

From there we were leaving the Wizarding World with plans to return on another one of our Universal days.  But we had to get the obligatory shots of Hogwarts Castle on our way out.

It was sad to tear thru Hogsmeade so fast, but we knew we’d be back on another Universal day.  We were actually hungry as it was 12:30pm by this time.  But we also wanted to just stick to simple burger fare so what better than the Burger Digs.  So we headed that way and got our mobile order going – bacon cheeseburgers all around!

While we waited I got a quick shot of PumpkinGirl in front of the Jurassic Jeep and T-Rex.

It was 20 minutes to get our seat, and it was a good one right on the rail with this character.

Us selfie types had to get a pic with him.

Honestly the burgers were pretty blah but they filled us up.  Afterwards Jinx shopped for an over-the-shoulder satchel in the gift shop, where I took a shot of this menacing girl.

We then continued down towards Kong, another ride we would be enjoying for the first time.  It was one we were planning to hit it before starting our main afternoon endeavor, which I will go into shortly.  On our way down I stopped to snap a shot of the new coaster entrance still closed and under construction.

Then Kong was in sight.

The sun was in the background of the entrance, causing either the sky to be overblown or the Kong head completely in shadow.  So for this one I broke out my PhotoShop skills and layered in to create this slightly mystical shot.

On into the queue!

You can never have enough skulls!


The Priestess room was quite a sight.

And she is quite the looker.

He’s not having much fun.

One last bit of theming.

All aboard!

It was a pretty cool ride overall  with good vehicle effects and 3D surround.  And it was great to see the Kong head in all its glory at the end.  As usual the only issue was our masks causing the 3D glasses to fog up.  After the ride it was time for the family to hit a restroom and do a costume change.  Up to that point we had been in Harry Potter-styled gear.  Now it was time to put on something a bit lighter and water-compatible.

That’s right, we were going to hit the big 3 water rides on the Islands – Jurassic Park, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, and Bluto’s Bilge Rats!  The kiddos and I had done this back in the day in 2012 with water-logged results and no clothes to change into.  We would not repeat this mistake.  So off we went on our first stop – Jurassic Park!

One of the few rides you can go on with no mask – smile big everyone!

Front row all the way!

We only rode it once as the wait time was over 30 minutes and we knew we could get more bang for our buck on Toon Lagoon. And with the first stop in the “let’s get soaked!” challenge completed, we left the Jurassic area. 

As I mentioned earlier, the kids and I had done this bit back in 2012 with this being the result.

We had a great time but had no towels or change of clothes.  Those big walk-in dryers don’t really do much other than warm up your wet clothes while they are running.  We wrung out what we could in the bathroom but it was a cold and clammy end to the day.

So we came prepared as we strolled into Toon Lagoon.  The first thing we saw was the splash zone of Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls.

You could see that there weren’t many brave souls out there as this video shows an empty log going down.

We worked our way around and shoved our belongings into lockers and headed around to the entrance.

We rode it twice in a row and it was a blast – still my favorite log ride, even over Splash Mountain.  It just has a slightly stronger feeling of danger to it and a steeper drop than Splash, which amps up the thrill level!  Also, Roxy hadn’t gone on it last time so was totally caught by surprise when someone on the bridge above started squirting us at the end of the ride 😀

That was enough for Roxy and I, but PumpkinGirl and Jinx had to give it one more go!

From there it was on to Bluto’s Bilge Rats Barges.  That one has no ride photos and our phones were of course packed away in the lockers.  But we got our own barge and got to ride it 3 times in a row without getting out!!!

And here’s the result – a bunch of drowned rats for sure, but happy ones!

We retrieved our bags from the lockers and I took a quick snap of Aesop and son.

Along with a change of clothes each of us had a microfiber beach towel that fit into a 6” x 6” pouch that Roxy found online – score!.  Drying off in a bathroom stall was a bit of an undertaking, but the towels worked amazingly well and it felt so good to get back into our dry clothes and shoes!!!

When we came out evening was coming on – edging on 5:30pm.  Ripsaw Falls and the Toon Lagoon shops we coming alight.  Crowd levels were very low so it made for some great shots.

We then had to fulfill a new tradition from that 2012 trip, hitting Spider Man after the water rides!  One big reason is that part in the ride where you get blasted with heat, always feels good in the evening when it is getting cooler.  It was posted at a 40 minute wait, probably the longest of the day.  But the queue spacing still created opportunities where it looked empty.

Where are all the reporters?

J. Jonah Jameson always thinks highly of himself

And is always giving Peter Parker grief.

And despite the 40 minute posted wait time we were on the ride in under 30.  The ride was always ahead of its time and is still one we love.  Although we were a bit bummed that the flame/heat effect was turned off for some reason so we didn’t get our toasty warm feeling from it.

With the ride completed we saw the time was just after 6pm with a park closing time of 7pm.  So after discussion we decided to walk around to Seuss Landing to knock out the rides there to check them off our rides list and not worry about them on our other Universal days.

Seuss Landing is still one of the coolest Christmas-themed lands in Orlando in my eyes.

One more quick bathroom break and we were on the Cat in the Hat, which had a whopping 10 minute wait, which basically meant walk-on.

We skipped One Fish, Two Fish just as we had Dumbo at MK, just not our thing as a family.  Same with the Caro-Seuss-el.  So that left the High in the Sky Seuss Trolly Train Ride.

Unfortunately it was coming up on 7pm so everyone else in the Landing had the same idea, making this a solid 30 minute wait on a queue that seems to be all uphill with nowhere to sit.

Still, you can’t argue the view it gives you once you are on it.

Away we go!

On our way out I attempted to get a shot of the old man of the Lost Continent.

Things were winding down, but the shops were of course still open.  We purchased several goodies here as did PumpkinGirl.

More awesome Seussian Christmas decorations.

The Caro-Seuss-el was shut down so I was able to get a cool shot of the ride characters.

We worked out way out, crossing under the arch and on thru CityWalk.

We caught our Lyft at 7:45pm and made out way back with a quick pit stop to pick up pizza for dinner.  We ate, got cleaned up and ready for bed.  Tomorrow was going to a big day which thankfully started with sleeping in!  That’s right, we were hitting EPCOT which didn’t open until 11am.

It was to be our “Dapper Day/Jinx’s 21st Birthday Drink around World Showcase.  There would be fun, good food and drinks, surprises, and a big oops on my part.  Tune in next time to see how it all panned out!