Universal theme parks are known for their big thrills and action-packed IPs that skew a bit older than your typical Magic Kingdom stroller set. Most of the marquee attractions in both parks have height requirements which could make visiting with a toddler intimidating. We wanted to see if we could make a day out of what we could ride with a toddler and we were surprised in our pre-planning to find that there was actually plenty!
Join us now as we take a look at touring Universal Orlando Resort with an adventurous tyke! In full disclosure, Universal graciously hosted us during our visit, and we received complimentary tickets with Universal Express service.
Our Family Setup
We live in Los Angeles, just a short drive away from Universal Studios Hollywood, and it’s one of our two year old’s favorite places to go. We’re annual pass members there and probably go a few times a month to take advantage of the Dumbo-esque spinner in the Minion-infested Super Silly Fun Land, and the excellent new Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash! dark ride. She also loves the classic Studio Tram Tour (event though some parts are quite explosive) and the Kung Fu Panda Adventure immersive movie experience in the DreamWorks Theatre. Plus, she loves to hug Hello Kitty, Princess Poppy, King Julien, and her best buddy, Frankenstein.
The Lay of the Lands
When we were planning a week in Orlando after a Caribbean cruise, we knew we wanted to try taking her to Universal Orlando. For the California-centric, Universal Orlando is a very different (and much bigger) complex than its older Hollywood sister. There are two theme parks (Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure), plus a themed water park (Volcano Bay), CityWalk, and multiple resort hotels. On top of that, a third theme park, Universal’s Epic Universe, is on the way in 2025.
Universal Studios Florida is no longer a working studio, but eagle-eyed geriatric millennials will recognize some buildings that once housed the slime-soaked Nickelodeon Studios of yore and other nods to its glittering movie-making former glory. With no tram tour, there are several standalone attractions that make up backlot-esque lands, plus one half of the resort’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure is more unique and features Seuss Landing, more Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Cartoon Lagoon, and Marvel Super Hero Island.
The Toddler Game Plan
Gemma is two years old, adventurous, 38″ tall, and was very excited to check out Universal Orlando. My wife and I have visited multiple times and had been on just about everything there so we didn’t feel a ton of pressure to hit everything during our visit. So here’s a look at everything we were able to accomplish together as a family. Here’s how we worked our way through the Resort’s offerings.
At Universal Studios Florida
We started our first day in Universal Studios Florida, where our main objective was a real classic that we desperately miss in Hollywood: E.T. Adventure. Riders must be at least 34″ tall – check! – and the ride resides in a rather nondescript land called KidZone. Overall, KidZone is badly in need of some updating and rumors often swirl of revamp plans, but so far the original 90s design has survived.
E.T. Adventure is just as charming and delightful as ever, and Gemma loved it. She sat in the front row, right behind E.T. in the basket, and was thrilled to be riding her own bike. If you’ve never been on it, it’s Universal’s answer to Peter Pan’s Flight. We’re so glad it’s still enchanting guests at Universal Orlando and we rode it multiple times to get our fill! Check out MouseInfo’s spotlight on this classic slice of theme park history in our article below.
Other options for tykes in KidZone include Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster (your standard outdoor kiddie coaster, 36″ and up), a Curious George play area with splashes and a unique foam ball factory, the ever-charming Animal Actors on Location! show, and a new DreamWorks Destination where tons of characters dance with the kiddos at scheduled showtimes. In nearby Springfield, there’s also a spinner themed to Kang and Kodos, resident aliens from The Simpsons.
One thing we really were looking forward for selfish nostalgic reasons was Fievel’s Playland, but unfortunately it was closed for refurbishment during our visit. It looked like a lot of fun and hopefully we’ll catch it next time. Thought about standing in front of it and softly singing “Somewhere Out There” but that would probably just weird everyone out.
The rest of the park is hit-and-miss with little kid material. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley is stunning, but the only ride your little one can enjoy is the Hogwarts Express, which is a park-hopping attraction that takes you to Universal’s Islands of Adventure to visit Hogwarts.
Every other ride in Universal Studios Florida has a height requirement of at least 40″, and even the main entertainment is a bit too thrilling for the toddler set (although we hear The Bourne Stuntacular is truly amazing).
At Universal’s Islands of Adventure
We boarded the Hogwarts Express for a relaxing trip to Universal’s Islands of Adventure, where we spent the rest of the day and the next. First up was Flight of the Hippogriff, an outdoor coaster in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade that is also available in Hollywood. However, due to two different manufacturers being used for the attraction on either coast, they have different height requirements. In Florida, riders only need be 36″, while in Hollywood, Gemma doesn’t yet make the 39″ cut.
Seuss Landing really shines for the littles, and we spent a good chunk of time enjoying The Cat in the Hat, a spinning dark ride, as well as The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Ride (both rides are 36″ and above), which offers a slightly more thrilling take on the PeopleMover. Under 36 inchers can enjoy the spectacular Caro-Seuss-El, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish spinner, and the If I Ran the Zoo playground.
There’s also a fun outdoor show featuring multiple Seuss characters called Oh! The Stories You’ll Hear, which you can enjoy while munching on real green eggs and ham.
Jurassic Park was a highlight and we had big plans for Pteranodon Flyers, a gliding coaster that you can only ride if accompanied by a rider 36″ – 56″. During previous visits, Childless Millennials like us weren’t able to partake but now, with our spawn in tow, we were ready to fly. Sadly, the ride had an unscheduled maintenance closure that kicked off the day before we arrived. It has since reopened, so we’ll just have to make sure we get back to Jurassic Park before Gemma hits four foot eight!
Camp Jurassic was a blast for Gemma, with rope bridges, slides, splashes, water guns, forts, and all kinds of things to poke and play with. The Jurassic Park Discovery Center was also a big hit, with interactive displays, dino models, and even a “live” nursery. We witnessed the “hatching” of a baby velociraptor, and Gemma was asked to name it. Naturally she named it after herself, and we were presented with an official birth certificate!
Gemma loves King Kong, so she wanted to brave Skull Island: Reign of Kong, which builds on the King Kong 360 movie from the Hollywood tram tour with new 3D scenes and a massive Kong animatronic at the end. We regretted taking her on it (the height requirement is 36″) because it’s very loud and full of lots of scary imagery, but she was thrilled. She clapped and laughed and wondered why we looked so concerned, and seeing the REAL Kong at the end was awe-inspiring. She talked about it for days, so I guess we ARE good parents after all.
There’s no height requirement for Storm Force Accelatron, a souped-up tea cup ride in Marvel Super Hero Island, and it was on our list but we ran out of time and didn’t make it there. We did take advantage of child swap to enjoy Velocicoaster and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, and I’ll be covering those experiences in a separate article coming soon.
We capped our second day with an amazing meal at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen in CityWalk, just outside Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Gemma loved her kid’s pasta (the marinara was surprisingly fresh and flavorful), and we all just about died trying to finish their famous super shakes. Shauna had their excellent filet and I tried their unique cocoa-crusted pork tenderloin, which was incredible. We cannot wait for Toothsome to make its Universal Hollywood debut in 2023!
Universal’s reputation for thrills doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do for little thrill-seekers, and Gemma loved our time there. There’s definitely enough to do to justify the visit, but the number of options dramatically increases once your child is at 36″. We’re looking forward to seeing what new family experiences pop up in Epic Universe in 2025 which you can learn more about below!