When my husband first came up with the idea of taking us to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, he planned for a month or two before he ever brought the idea to me. He had a budget already laid out, dates to consider, hotels scoped out, all with the intent of showing me that we really could manage this trip. We felt it was the last trip before our oldest would begin to be away from home more with work, a social life, and soon college (wail).
Once he had me on board, he handed over all the detail planning to me. He knows I like that kind of thing. We also both know that I tend to get a little obsessive about planning because I want to make sure we don’t miss a thing.
I spent the next two months sneak-planning when the boys were asleep or not home trying to get the trip planned before we announced it to them as a surprise. (You can read more about that here.)
So I’m sharing my planning sites with you. I’m sure there are some other great sites out there, but these are the ones that I whittled my planning down to out of the thousands available, and they are the ones that helped me the most.
Universal Studios Vacation Planning Sites — Orlando:
As a note: This are Universal Studios Orlando-centric since that’s where our trip was planned.
- Universal Studios Orlando – just general information about ticketing and hotel planning. We ended up staying at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort and buying a 3 day pass through my husband’s office which offered a bit of a discount. A few weeks before the trip, we were offered a 4th day ticket (we were already flying out that evening) for $20/person, so we grabbed it, just in case.
- Youtube – I spent a ridiculous amount of time on Youtube. My favorite channel ended up being The Tim Tracker. He has a playlist specifically dedicated to Universal Orlando (and has since added some Universal Hollywood videos as well), and I watched it tons. It wasn’t about planning as much as it was getting familiar with the way a park worked. We hadn’t been to a major park in 20 years, so it was good for me to know where to go, and some tips when I was there. It helped me really get a feel for the park and what to expect so that I could plan a better visit for the family. There are a ton of folks doing videos there (Jones Family Travels is one) about how to pack, what to ride and more. Get lost in the sidebar to the next tip!
- You can check out our channel where we loaded up the few videos we took.
- Orlando Informer – this is a great forum and website with people who will answer ANY question you have about going to Universal.
- TSA — We hadn’t flown in years, so the TSA regulations are completely different than they were immediately following 9/11. So be sure to check the guidelines for packing and airport check-in with the TSA and what the guidelines are for your carrier for carry-on and bag size.
- My Thempark POV – my little guy spent quite a bit of time on this channel before and after. It allowed him to see rides beforehand to take a bit of the scare factor away. He likes roller coaster rides, he just needs to be prepared for them.
- Undercover Tourist – while I didn’t use this site to book our trip, it has a couple of handy quick guides to get you started.
Personal Blogs – I’m not going to list a ton of blogs because there are too many to name. Many are 1-2 posts dedicated to a particular trip to Universal or travel, and I gleaned what I could and didn’t keep track.
Universal Studios Vacation Planning Sites — Hollywood:
Note: We have not been to US-Hollywood and haven’t used these sites, specifically, but they are here for you to help plan.
- California Informer — like the Orlando Informer site above, California Informer is chalk full of information on Universal Studios Hollywood.
- Inside Universal — another Hollywood-centric planning site / blog to get information specific on the West Coast theme park.
Tips on Planning
- Don’t overdue it. It can become so overwhelming. Don’t try to get it done in an hour, give yourself time, but once you have a basic plan, don’t second guess yourself!
- Create a checklist. Make sure you’ve got a checklist of the important factors – tickets, accommodations, transportation, food and dates, and allow some fun and excitement to happen. Even if you are a down to the last detail kind of planner, don’t plan yourself out of the fun.
- Plan for the unexpected. Don’t give yourself such an exacting plan that a glitch in a plane flight, a ride not opening or a ride being late to pick you up throws your whole vacation into a tailspin. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport, to plan for inclement weather, or someone getting at tummy ache.
- Plan to do more, but be okay if it doesn’t happen.
- Take more money than you think you’ll need. We went on a very strict budget on our trip, and ate one meal out a day, ate in our room the other two meals or snacks, and were very frugal with our drink choices, little in the way of souvenirs and kept it tight. But we did take more money – just in case. An emergency, a cool merchandise item we just couldn’t live without that wasn’t available anywhere else, or a surprise night out to dinner with friends who wanted to see us that we hadn’t planned for. Having that security is totally worth it.
Have you been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios? What were YOUR favorite planning sites? Any tips on planning? I’d love to hear what made your trip special!