If you’ve been watching my social media channels you’ll know the boys and I spent October half term enjoying the thrills and spills of the Universal theme parks in Orlando, Florida. Which, in a nutshell, was total amazeballs. My aim for this holiday wasn’t an opportunity to showcase some bragging rights though, I know how lucky we were but I also didn’t want to say ‘wow, look at how amazing our life is’ quite the opposite. My motivation was to show you all that a Universal Orlando Resort Holiday can be enjoyed by all, be that a preschooler, a teenager or a single parent.
You see, despite being a warrior mum with nerves of steel. I try to lead my kids at the helm, often fuelled with a dose of guts and determination so they can experience anything they would’ve if their parents were together. Yet every now and then, the reality of not having a co-pilot in parenting takes stock. Especially when we have to tackle a ‘first. If I’m honest, I nearly bottled it, I wasn’t entirely sure I could pull out the big guns to go through with taking my guys on a long haul holiday on my own.
The 2 teenagers were the easy ones, my biggest concern though, was making sure my 3-year-old preschooler got as much out of the holiday as he could. Could I do that on my own and make sure my teens had an amazing time? Spreading yourself equally among 3 kids is hard enough, my mum is amazing and helps make that possible but I would have zero help on holiday.
Starting with the flight, I packed my little man’s Trunki (which you can take on a hold luggage) with some essentials – books, change of clothes, small Connect 4 game, colouring pads, crayons, and iPad. Along with a backpack of small snacks and toys. Turns out we didn’t really need much if these as he was so engrossed by the novelty of the TV and films on our Virgin Atlantic flight along with the contents of his complimentary bag with goodies, so only a few of my prepared bits and bobs got an airing. I will say that pulling him through baggage collection on a Trunki really helped my panic at losing him too!
We stayed at Royal Pacific Resort Hotel which was part of the Universal Orlando Resort group and only a short complimentary water taxi or walk from the theme parks and Universal City Walk. I’m planning a separate post on the hotel so I won’t elaborate too much on the accommodation but one thing I will say is, staying on site is absolutely the way to go when planning a Florida theme park holiday, especially when you have a hotel with so much to do.
Theme park days can be exhausting for any age, there’s so much going on mentally and physically that having some time out in the hotel is a must if you’re going to make the most of your break. I’d say this was even more important when having a youngster with you. It meant we could pop back and chill by the pool or in our room whenever we (or he) needed. It also meant we could do things ad hoc and weren’t pinned down too much by a schedule.
Saying that, a schedule does help when holidaying here with young children, and while you typically think of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure as being perfect for older kids and teenagers (which it is, my 13 and 17-year-old went on every ride and needed time at the pool for chilling as much as their little brother did) there are areas of the parks which are perfect for younger children. The time difference meant we were up early so getting to the parks first, coming back to the hotel in the afternoon and then back out to City Walk early evening seemed the perfect plan for us all.
We started our holiday in the newest part – Volcano Bay. A water park where everything is thought of, right down to reducing queuing time in a cossie with the TapTap – a watch-style device which saves your space in the queue. This meant my boy and I didn’t waste a minute. We chilled on the beach, wandered around the park, played in the waves and spent most of our time in the fantastic kiddies play area with its smaller slides and varying watery activities. Life jackets are available for the lazy river ride which he was able to go on too.
All the Universal restaurants we went to cater for kids with gumption! Be it the guitar-shaped plates in The Hard Rock Cafe to the CowFish sushi burger bar with their hand sized mini burgers & mock sushi rice crispy pudding, complete with fish-shaped sweetie topping. Then there’s my favourite; the new Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savoury Feast Kitchen which gives a whole new meaning to a milkshake, and pudding sizes…Wow! (Worth noting that food here exceeded all my expectations.)
In Islands of Adventure, The Dr Suess area is the perfect area for any child and after watching his brothers scream their way around the roller coasters. Tthe play areas here, with train style rides, carousels, story style rides as well as wet (great when they need to cool off) and dry play areas were where he got to experience Universal at his own pace. There’s free WiFi throughout Universal so while the little one and I were busy, the older 2 could sit and catch up with friends back home. Should probably add that they were able to go on the rides but opted not to!
I also found that this part of the park, along with the Woody Woodpecker area were some of the quietest areas so there were no long wait times, although I would recommend upgrading your pass to an Express to avoid any queue times, it does make a huge difference.
Over to Universal Studios, we all loved the Animal actors show, mainly for the chance to sit down for 30 minutes. It was just long enough to keep my youngest’s attention before he wanted to go off for more fun. AND we got to see THE Marley from Marley and Me. Never thought I’d be star struck by a dog.
We all went on the Despicable Me ride, younger riders are confined to the stationary seats at the front, but still get to experience the 3D adventure, I did hold him very close explaining that the tense bits were funny and not scary, he was then captivated by the characters he’d just watched on the ride, dancing in the parade. (I’ll leave talking about the Awesome Harry Potter themed areas to another post, my preschooler has never seen the films, he still gawped at the fire-breathing dragon and snow-topped houses mind.)
The highlight of the whole holiday, however, had to be meeting Spiderman. It was on par to seeing your child visiting Santa, only my boy embraced the experience with both hands and not an ounce of nerves. In his world, Spiderman is THE ONLY man who saves the day, it is firmly set in his mind that he’s real. End Of. I can’t quite explain what was going through his mind as he watched all the Marvel superheroes who grace his clothing, books and toy box right walk through the park, right there in real life form (Although he wasn’t impressed to see his mum posing with Doctor Doom and the Green Goblin.)
Which I guess, is what Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure do so well. You all get to experience a little of what you see in the movies, the books and all the paraphernalia which goes along with it, with no expense spared. It is quite breathtaking and stirs so many emotions. It’s also a holiday where you can ensure every age group is catered for.
And for that single mum, holidaying on her own with a 3, 13 and 17-year-old. It was one of the easiest, most stress-free holidays I have ever been on.
<insert relief face>
This post is in collaboration with Mumsnet Bloggers Network and Universal.