Traveling with friends can really bring a whole new perspective to vacations. (It can also bring a whole new perspective to friendships!) Luckily for us, a recent “Friend-cation” we took to Universal Orlando Resort with some besties (six of us total!) turned out to be a truly amazing highlight of a trip that had otherwise been chock full Disney, Disney, Disney.
As a group of uber Disney fans, we already come stocked with a full appreciation for immersion and storytelling and luckily for us, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure have made enormous strides in recent years to up the ante on these previously “very Disney” hallmarks of theme park entertainment.
We found a slew of fun options that made our little Disney hearts melt and proved that when it comes to full-scale immersion, Universal knows what’s up. Here’s a few of the notable highlights we encountered on our friendcation to Universal Orlando Resort…
Kong is King!
Magic-Making Team Members
Did We Mention THE FOOD?
After learning that Skull Island: Reign of Kong was finally bringing back a tangible gigantic primate, we knew that a visit to Universal’s Island’s of Adventure would have to be on the docket.
After fearing that the ride would be a longer recap of what’s already available here in Universal Hollywood’s Studio Tour, we very quickly realized that there was more to this adventure. A dark and ominous queue lead us into dark and creepy caverns that featured a totally impressive, and completely terrifying shaman who was presumably warning us and at the same time cursing us as she screamed at us walking by.
I was also not prepared for the incredibly MASSIVE transport vehicles that would be our passage into the attraction; Special kudos to the faux drivers of the vehicle who was actually integrated into the storyline as our narrator. We rode twice and had two different drivers with different backstories. Pretty awesome!
The attraction itself did feature a bit of familiarity with a dino/Kong scene that is pretty similar to the Hollywood counter part but that was just a middle act to this attraction which featured a fun introduction to a cafe with creepy crawlies–both land and air bound and the spectacular finale…
After we are saved from the dinos by Kong, we come face to face with the noble beast who unfortunately did not have banana breath but did boast some of the most lifelike motion we’ve ever seen in an animatronic figure, especially at this size! The subtlety of the performance, and especially the intensity of the eyes were an awesome sight to behold.
There’s a variety of food options around the parks (we were almost lured in by the tantalizing smell of barbecue at the Thunder Falls Terrace, tacos at the Bumblebee Man Food Truck, and intoxicating smell of MEAT at Doc Sugrue’s Desert Kebab House) but we found ourselves spending most of our bucks on all the food in both of the Potter themed worlds.
While Butterbeer (HOT PLEASE) is a must in Hogsmeade, we found ourselves having lunch in Diagon Alley at the Leaky Cauldron. The menu is hearty and has something for just about every type of eater. SIDE OF SCOTCH EGGS FOR THE WIN!
We know Hogsmeade quite well now that we have one here at Universal Hollywood but of course, our jealousies and major case of FOMO drove us to spend a lot of time in Diagon Alley; soaking up every bit of magic that we don’t have available to us here in California.
Yes, we stuffed ourselves at the Leaky Cauldron but we also satisfied our sweet teeth later at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour… Combining Salted Caramel Blondie with Sticky Toffee Pudding Ice Cream turned out to be a winning but extremely rich combination. Earl Grey & Lavender, Toffee Apple, and Chocolate Chili were some of the other crazy combinations we tried. Of course, one of our group members happened to get called up during one of the performances by Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees.
We had an incredible time in the parks and it was thanks in part to a notably cheery and up-beat cast of Team Members that we encountered on our trip. Surely, there’s a type of interaction that’s different from what you find at Disney but in no way any less helpful. Especially in the Potter themed lands, we found super helpful employees who were happy to help us on our merry way at various points throughout the day. We even had to take a picture with one super helpful Team Member that helped truly make some magic for us in Diagon Alley.
So yes, clearly one of our highlights in the park was EATING. But that’s because there’s so many tantalizing options. One star that shone brightly for us was the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. With a fascinating menu combining with sweet and savory options and prices that were surprisingly REASONABLE, we were absolutely blown away by this popular new stop in Orlando’s Universal CityWalk.
The impressive scale and variety on the menu is almost enough to make the Cheesecake Factory blush. We were all torn between several different menu items. Some of the winning menu selections included Roasted Brussel Sprouts, French Toast Patty Melt (YESSS), Tour de France Burger, Chocolate Brownie Bark, and of course some of their famous shakes!
Overall, a friendcation at Universal Orlando Resort is an absolutely solid way to spend some time with your besties. If there was one regret we all had, it was that we only budgeted for A SINGLE DAY for the entire resort. Clearly, there was A LOT to explore that we simply did not have the time to squeeze in.
If you’re going to Orlando with a bunch of friends, you would absolutely be remiss in not planning at least a full day to explore Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal CityWalk.