Growing up, I was blessed to go on a family vacation every year. This was one childhood experience I wanted to be able to give my children too.
Six weeks ago Hubby and I embarked on our first family vacation to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Children under the age of 3 are free, so we decided to take advantage of the savings (they were 2 years and 9 months). Not to mention Hubby and I have already experienced the resort twice now prior to kids. The beauty of having already done it without kids is that there wasn’t anything Hubby and I needed to experience, and therefore could focus on the kid-specific attractions.
Being our first family trip though, one especially with toddlers, I had much to plan and anticipate for. I read many blogs for tips and tricks, so now it’s my turn to share what worked and didn’t work for us.
My biggest concern was how the girls would react to flying. In short, they did great. They had more issue with checking our baggage and going through security than anything else. Imagine communicating to a 2 year old as to why her stuffed monkey has to go on the conveyor belt.
Tip #1: Fly Non-Stop
I booked non-stop flights round trip. My thought process was if we had a layover, and the first flight went terrible, the connecting flight would only make things worse. Plus, who enjoys layovers?
Tip #2: Upgrade to Pick Your Own Seats
I didn’t want to risk our family of 4 being separated on the plane, so I purchased the “upgraded” seats to guarantee we’d sit together. This worked out well and was worth the added expense.
Tip #3: Bring Tablets
Our twins each have an Amazon Fire Kid Edition tablet. These were a priority do-not-forget-to-pack item. We also bought toddler-friendly headphones, but they honestly just used their tablets without them with the volume off.
Tip #4: Track Airfare via Google Flights
In case you didn’t know, airfare for 2 year olds is just as expensive as it is for adults. To scope out the best deal, I tracked airfare a year in advance via Google Flights. Ultimately I was able to book through Delta for non-stop round trip at ~$215/person (DTW => MCO). Not too shabby.
Tip #5: There’s No Strategic Flight Time
I booked our departing flight for nap time (12:40 PM to 3:15 PM) thinking they might actually nap; however, they did not. Come dinner time they were quite cranky.
Our return flight was slightly better, but super early (6:45 AM to 9:20 AM). The girls weren’t too happy to wake up at 2:30 AM, but being home while the day was still young was quite nice.
Tip #6: Bring Your Stroller and Check It at the Gate
First off, you’re going to want your stroller at the theme park with toddlers. Second, strollers are free to check on the plane.
We made the mistake on our departing flight though by checking our stroller at baggage vs. checking at the gate. Not only was it a hassle to navigate through the airport without a stroller, but you also don’t get priority boarding with children unless you have a stroller or car seat. 😑 Needless to say we did not make this mistake twice on our return flight home.
Tip #7: Pack Apple Sauce Pouches for Airplane Ear
I’ve heard if your child drinks from a bottle, giving them a bottle helps with airplane ear. But since my twins are well past drinking from bottles, I found apple sauce pouches to do the trick. I originally packed Dum Dum suckers, but when that wasn’t cutting it for Scotlynn, apple sauce pouches to the rescue!
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Tip #8: Your Child Should at Least Be 36″ Tall
When Hubby and I first came here for our honeymoon, I remember saying we’d have to come back when we had kids so they could enjoy Dr. Seuss Land, a.k.a. Seuss Landing. If your child is at least 36″ or taller, they can enjoy all 4 rides in this area of the park.
The girls’ favorite Seuss Landing ride was perhaps One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, a ride that fits two to a fish, and you circle around while you control the fish going up and down. There is a chance you can get wet on this ride (though not soaked).
The girls’ second favorite had to be Caro-Seuss-el, a standard carousel, followed by High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, a kiddie-friendly roller coaster.
Tip #9: Avoid The Cat in the Hat Ride
I would not recommend The Cat in the Hat ride. It’s roller coaster-ish; however, it was so loud and over-stimulating, and I forgot which twin I had in my car, but she kept screaming, “I don’t like it! I don’t like it!” Every time I thought it was nearly over, it just kept going. That ride was a one and never-to-be-done-again ride for us.
There’s also a kids play area in Seuss Landing, If I Ran the Zoo, but we never made a point to visit this.
The ride the girls enjoyed the most was actually back in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, and that was the Flight of the Hippogriff. You have to be 36″ for this roller coaster, but it was way more thrilling than High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride.
Tip #10: Express Passes are a Must
Unlimited Express Passes were included with our hotel package (Loews Royal Pacific Resort). These allowed us to skip the lines on almost every ride. Hubby and I never had these our past two trips, but going with children this time around, they were a necessity.
The Flight of the Hippogriff and Hogwarts Express were probably where we found them most useful in terms of kid lines. I can’t speak for more adult rides.
Actually, the first time we got in line for the Hogwarts Express, we accidentally got in the non-Express Pass line. Thankfully we told an attendant who allowed us to get in the correct line.
Universal Studios Florida
Just like Islands of Adventure has Seuss Landing, Universal Studios Florida has Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone. Here there’s Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster, a slightly more adventurous ride than the Dr. Seuss trolley train ride. There’s also Barney, Curious George, Fievel, and ET attractions.
Tip #11: Pack a Change of Clothes and Flip Flops
I think their favorite attraction here though was Curious George Goes to Town. There’s a water play area, a non-water play area, and a foam ball play area. Definitely bring a change of clothes and/or swimsuit as well as a pair of flip flops or water shoes. We got “yelled at” because the girls were playing barefoot in the water.
You might recall we started potty training on Memorial Day weekend, so six months ago. Foolish me thought if I started then that they’d be fully trained come this vacation four months later. Silly me. Kids of course go at their own pace. They did great on this trip but not accident-free. I kept them in pull-ups for convenience and frequently encouraged visits to the restrooms.
Tip #12: Bring a Portable Potty Seat
One recommendation I would make if you are potty training and vacationing is to purchase a portable potty seat. My mother-in-law bought this for us, and it was very useful in our hotel room.
At the end of the day…
This trip was an unforgettable first family vacation, but also sooooo exhausting as a parent. Someone told me it’s not a vacation as a parent; it’s more of a change of scenery. And boy ain’t that the truth!
Hubby and I said it’d be another couple of years before we did this big of a family trip again, when the girls are older and “easier”. Call me crazy, but writing this blog post though 6 weeks post-trip has me yearning for another. 🙈
Have you visited Universal Studios with toddlers? Did you utilize any of these tips? Do you have any additional tips of your own? Share them in the comments below!