EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog was originally published in May of 2021 and then underwent extensive updates and editing in August of 2023 to remain current and relevant.
Visiting Universal Orlando Resort with a big family means big meals, big rides and of course big fun! With four kids ages 8 to 13, we had a variety of interests to accommodate on our recent trip. Add in differences due to gender, height, and thrill-seeking comfort level and I worried the kids wouldn’t find anything to agree on. It turns out I worried for nothing. My family of six had an exciting adventure we’ll always remember.
If you’re thinking about visiting Universal Orlando with three, four, five or more kids, DO IT. Here is a four-day itinerary especially for big families like ours!
Day 1: Check-in at Hotel and Universal Islands of Adventure
Mobile hotel check-in is one of the best things to come out of recent years. (Grocery store drive-up service is a close second.) We checked into Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn & Suites the night before check-in and didn’t have to spend valuable park time to check in in person that morning when we arrived.
We showed up, picked up our keys, got the theme park tickets waiting for us at the Vacation Planning Center, stored our luggage with Luggage Services, made a quick detour to grab Starbucks in the lobby (because…coffee), and we were on the bus to Universal Islands of Adventure. (We would get a text message about an hour later to tell us our two-bedroom suite was ready.)
Once we got off the shuttle bus, we made our way through Universal CityWalk to Islands of Adventure. My brood beelined straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. It is an area everyone in our family appreciates even if they don’t know the difference between a squib and a Muggle.
While my eyes lit up upon seeing the frozen Butterbeer cart, the kids were (marginally) more excited to check out the Flight of the Hippogriff and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Taking a photo with Hogwarts castle in the background was a necessity, too.
We let each child choose one “have to go on” ride each day. This means we were often crisscrossing the park and definitely getting our steps in. With a little planning and patience, we can usually keep everyone happy.
One of our unexpectedly favorite attractions this day was Raptor Encounter in Jurassic Park. Yes, it was cool to see Blue, one of the park’s favorite Velociraptors. However, the “Raptor wrangler” stole the show. She was so funny I snorted. I also jumped every single time the Raptor lunged at a guest. Thankfully, there were no sudden movements in our group and we survived our photo-taking expedition!
The more adventurous parts of my family adored The Incredible Hulk Coaster in Marvel Super Hero Island, Jurassic World VelociCoaster in Jurassic Park, and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure in Hogsmeade.
When we got hungry, we decided to try Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. It is a tavern-like sit-down restaurant that lets you get out of the sun, catch your breath, and have some delicious, hearty food. So yummy! Plus, Harry Potter fans will love the attention to detail. With a big family, The Great Feast is a TON of food and could be a money saver. Not everyone in my family eats the same items, though, so we each ordered individual meals and everything was super tasty.
Remember CityWalk is only steps away If you are still hungry. With unique restaurants as well as familiar ones, you are sure to find something that works for you.
Our Top Attractions Not to Miss at Universal Islands of Adventure:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hogwarts Express
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster
- Raptor Encounter
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- The Cat in the Hat
Day 2: Universal Studios Florida
After a good night’s sleep for everyone, we were ready for a full day at the theme parks. We started each day at Pier 8 Market at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites. I have found a solid, filling breakfast can eliminate hours of “hangriness” while we are walking through the theme park. With so many choices in their market-style cafe, everyone got what they wanted. Go for the family chicken-and-waffle bucket for a unique meal. It’s quick, too, which is important because there’s no time to waste.
We jumped on the shuttle bus waiting outside the resort’s front door and were at the park within 10 minutes. With the help of the super useful Universal Orlando Resort App, we were able to get the Virtual Line experience for Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon as soon as we arrived. The app has wait times, an interactive map, menus, ride restrictions, and park hours. You can use the app to place mobile food and drink orders, too! Our Universal Express Passes helped us breeze through the lines at Fast & Furious – Supercharged and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem while we waited for our time to be in an Empire state of mind.
After a busy morning hopping from ride to ride, we had a seat in Mel’s Drive-In and enjoyed the AC and the food I don’t always let myself eat. Burgers, fries, and shakes…oh my! Plus, we were able to refill our Coca-Cola Freestyle Souvenir Cups here.
Tip: Thanks to the Early Park Admission we had through staying at a Universal hotel, we were able to start each day as early as we wanted (which, given varying ages in the group, varied in times each day).
Like many larger families, we have to split up occasionally to make everybody happy. The thrill-seeking kids experienced Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, while the others were happy to spend time immersed in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. I have never heard, “Mom, LOOK!” so many times!
The roller-coaster-riders in my crew then opted for multiple rides on Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (partly for the soundtrack), while my younger ones were delighted to stay in Diagon Alley to see a wand choose a wizard at Ollivanders wand shop and listen to Celestina Warbeck & the Banshees perform. The interactive wizarding wand provided hours of fun, with each child getting to try the spells. I found it was important to meet the kids where they were and let them have their own kind of fun whenever possible.
After everyone was all theme-parked out, we hit CityWalk for a lovely pizza dinner at Red Oven Pizza Bakery. It was such a delight to sit outside and people-watch while eating some of the most delish pizza I have ever eaten. The Spinaci was so good the kids didn’t mind eating spinach!
Our Top Attractions Not to Miss at Universal Studios Florida:
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- E.T. Adventure
- MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack
- The Simpsons Ride
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Fast & Furious – Supercharged
Day 3: Universal Volcano Bay and CityWalk
After obsessively refreshing the weather apps on our phones, we headed to Volcano Bay on an overcast, slightly cool day. I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to enjoy all the water attractions, however, luck was on our side. The clouds parted, the sun came out and we were able to have a fabulous day at Volcano Bay.
One of the best decisions we made was to snag one of the luxury cabanas overlooking Waturi Beach. With comfortable seating, a dedicated server, and a small refrigerator full of water, it was the perfect home base for us. I enjoyed the cabana’s complimentary fruit plate with my husband while the kids went off to explore. They came back at intervals throughout the day, usually when they were hungry.
The kids spent the day ping-ponging between the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, the lazy-river-like Kopiko Wai Winding River, and splashing in the waves at Waturi Beach. My 12-year-old even tried the Ko’okiri Body Plunge which has an electrifying 70-degree drop through a trapdoor. I did not join him on this hair-raising adventure.
For lunch, we ordered food brought to our cabana. Nothing easier than that! We enjoyed the varied selections at our disposal and ordered pizza, chicken tenders, conch fritters, and a quinoa edamame burger.
We left Volcano Bay at closing time and headed to the hotel for a quick shower and change. We then set out to the dinner I was most excited about: The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen at CityWalk. I had been salivating over this menu and looking longingly at this wacky and whimsically-built restaurant every time we walked past. It did not disappoint. The Wild Mushroom Chicken Risotto was rich and creamy and the desserts were downright dreamy. Bring your appetite and your elastic pants. And Birthday Cake sundae, I’m coming for you next time!
Tip: Make a reservation for The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen as soon as you can. We were able to snag a last-minute table the day before. If you can’t get a table, you can order some of the delicious desserts from the take-away Foundry area of the restaurant.
Since we were practically rolling out the door from dinner, we rolled right over to Hollywood Drive-In Golf. The kids loved playing mini-golf at night with LED lighting and fun, bright colors. There was a celebratory-like atmosphere, perfect for an entertaining night out. Enjoying one of the two 18-hole courses (or both!) is a great way to extend your night with the kids.
Our Top Attractions at Volcano Bay
- Relaxing at Waturi Beach wave pool
- Krakatau Aqua Coaster
- TeAwa The Fearless River and Kopiko Wai Winding River
- Maku of Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides and Puihi of Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides
- Ohno or Ohyah Drop Slides
- Ko’okiri Body Plunge
Our Top Options at CityWalk
- Red Oven Pizza Bakery
- The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen
- VIVO Italian Kitchen
- The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar
- Voodoo Doughnut
- Hard Rock Cafe Orlando
- Universal Cinemark
- Hollywood Drive-In Golf
- Universal’s Great Movie Escape
Day 4: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
Today is the day to do all the things we wanted to do at the theme parks but had not done yet. This included seeing some of the exciting shows Universal is known for. The live-action stunt show, The Bourne Stuntacular, was definitely worth the time. To say it was action-packed would be an understatement. It’s an incredible show. (There is a parental advisory for the show because there are some mildly scary scenes and the sound effects might make you jump.)
We also spent time experiencing Mardi Gras in Universal Studios, one of the theme park’s seasonal events that occurs in the spring. The food options like New Orleans crawfish boil or Puerto Rican empanadas were right up our alley. It was cool to see a Second Line band stroll through Battery Park or snatch beads thrown by performers on stationary floats throughout the park. The diversity of carnaval was represented in the food, music, and performances.
Also, we spent more time walking through The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (with the interactive wand, of course) and took the Hogwarts Express train to travel over to Hogsmeade. My kids have little experience with trains so the realistic components intrigued them.
We ended the day in Marvel Super Hero Island in Islands of Adventure. The kids rode The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk Coaster again and again. Just walking through the streets of this area makes you feel like you stepped into a Marvel comic book. My three boys were especially enthralled.
The long, hot day in the theme parks tired out our whole family so we retreated to the hotel for dinner at Pier 8 Market. I appreciated that we had a kitchenette in the suite to reheat food or save leftovers for later. I’m also grateful some suites sleep up to 6 at Universal Orlando Resort. Finding connecting rooms is difficult and expensive. We stayed in a 2-bedroom suite with a Queen-Sized bed in a room with a door, and two more queen-sized beds just outside of it. It was honestly delightful to be able to spread out and relax.
Conclusion: Big families can do it all at Universal Orlando.
No matter what size of family you have, Universal Orlando can work for you. We spent four days having fun, relaxing, and making memories that will last a lifetime. With a general plan and some patience on everyone’s part, a wonderful vacation can be had by all!