Our family has always gone to Orlando during the “off season.” The combination of easily available accommodations, comfortable weather, and smaller crowds at the parks makes it a no-brainer for us. The week after Thanksgiving is consistently reported as one of the slowest weeks of the year for the parks. So this year, our family Christmas present came early, and we headed to Orlando after the busy Thanksgiving weekend.
As we had hoped, this turned out to be a great week for enjoying Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. The reputation for being a slow week indeed turned out to be true. And the added benefit of the “third day free” ticket currently offered by Universal (learn more) meant we could spend three days there, enjoying the parks at our leisure.
If you’ve ever wondered exactly how slow a “slow week” is at Universal, here’s a glimpse of our low-crowd vacation. Note that the week after Thanksgiving meant we missed both the crowds of people enjoying the parks on the long Thanksgiving weekend, and the crowds for the Christmas festivities, which hadn’t yet begun at Universal.
Arriving at the parks, we did not get there an hour in advance of opening, as is suggested, particularly for the busier seasons, but we did get to Islands of Adventure about 30 minutes early on our first day at the parks. Lines were forming on only one side of the entrance, and even those were quite short. I had tried to make reservations at Guest Services for our lunch at Mythos and was told they weren’t taking reservations, that we’d be able to walk right in. That put to ease any concerns I might have had about the crowd levels.
When we were admitted to the park, about 10 minutes before the official opening time, we had time to stop and consult a park map, head straight to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and, following the expert advice at OrlandoInformer.com, first get in the line for Olivanders. The wait was short, and we were in the shop as soon as the group in front of us was out. After having seen some pictures of huge crowds at the Wizarding World, we were delighted to find that we had ample time and space to pose for pictures in front of the Hogwarts Express, look in the shop windows, and then simply walked onto Forbidden Journey with perhaps a five minute wait. Later in the day we were able to walk into the Hogs Head Pub, walk up to the bar and be served immediately, and enjoy our Butterbeer in the quiet of a nearly empty pub.
The rest of the day saw similarly short lines, all of them no longer than about five minutes. Oddly, the longest line we had to wait in was for the High in the Sky Trolley in Seuss Landing. My only guess is that everyone else also thought that after lunch was a good time to take the kids on the slow trolley ride.
Toon Lagoon became a bit more busy in the afternoon that first day, which is understandable, as the midday to afternoon hours are known for being the busiest. That day just also happened to be the warmest forecasted that week, so it made sense that many of us were trying to get all of those water rides done on the warmest day possible. We did laugh that perhaps our second longest wait was for the People Dryer!
The rest of the afternoon saw the crowd level remain low, which meant repeat rides on some favorites, namely Forbidden Journey and Dragon Challenge. Even shopping in Port of Entry on the way out of the park, typically a busy time and place for souvenir shopping, was enjoyable. And though we left with the closing of the park, we drove right out of the parking garage with no lines at all.
Our subsequent two days, spent hopping between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, were similarly easy, crowd-free days. On both days we could hear the opening announcements as we approached the entrances, and truly just walked through the turnstiles after the waiting “crowd” had already gone in. Our Wednesday visit to Universal Studios Florida saw us walking into the park, walking right into Minion Mayhem, Shrek 4-D, and essentially everything else we did (like riding MIB Alien Attack about a half dozen times in a row). Check out the “crowd” at Rip Ride Rockit, the Blues Brothers show, and Universal’s Superstar Parade:
Okay, yes, that’s my own little crowd. But you can see that we had no trouble finding a comfortable spot for ourselves on the sidewalk.
Our third day at the parks saw the same low crowd levels, easy waits, and for us, the opportunity to ride favorites over and over again. Marvel Super Hero Island did get a bit busy, though, with the appearance of the super heroes and the subsequent lines for autographs and pictures.
All in all, the week after Thanksgiving proved to be an excellent week for our Universal vacation. Crowds were light, lines were short, and the weather was pleasant. If your only experience with the Orlando theme parks is the crowds and long lines of the busier seasons, consider the off-season. It provides the freedom to arrive at the parks later in the morning, eat lunch at your leisure (instead of before or after the crowds), ride your favorite rides over and over again, shop without constantly bumping into people, or any combination of your favorite perks. However you look at, experiencing the parks with a low crowd means more enjoyment for everyone.
For estimated crowd levels at Universal Orlando, be sure to check out OI’s crowd calendar. Oh, by the way, a follow up question to “When is the best week to visit Universal?” is often “When is the best day of the week to visit Universal?” OI has a page all about that too.
Reminder: The 2013 holiday festivities at Universal Orlando run December 7 through January 4 — learn more.
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