The dates are picked for your Universal Orlando vacation, the lodging is reserved, and the tickets are purchased. As you count down the days to your vacation, your preparations will certainly keep you busy, but don’t forget that your children will also benefit from some simple ways to anticipate the trip and their own preparation.
A simple and undoubtedly popular way to build excitement — and give your children a taste of what to expect at Universal — is to enjoy some family movie time together. The weeks or months leading up to your vacation will be a natural time to introduce (or revisit) some fun family movies with Universal park tie-ins.
Of course, the Harry Potter movies are an obvious choice, but don’t feel the need to spend time on all of them. If the Harry Potter movies are new to your children, as they were to mine, watching the first two or three will be enough for them to feel like they are “in on” the story and be familiar with what they will encounter in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even in just the first two movies they will see Ollivander’s, Hogwarts (complete with talking portraits, greenhouses, and mandrakes), Hagrid’s hut, Chocolate Frogs and Ron’s car. Add the third movie, and they’ll be able to identify that outlaw on the wanted poster! Of course, with Harry Potter, the double whammy of books and films is also possible.
As the movie tie-ins are obvious at Universal, a complete list here should not be necessary. But it may help to remember that in addition to the big themed rides (think Jurassic park and Despicable Me), some kids, both younger and older, may need an introduction to the likes of Dudley Do-Right, Popeye, Bluto, and Olive. Even Woody the Woodpecker may be unfamiliar. Fortunately, Netflix and You Tube make it easy to introduce these characters at home, making the rides more meaningful, and the meet and greet opportunities less like hugging a stranger! Check out the article Watch these movies before you “ride the movies” in the OI Universal Center for more ideas.
And don’t forget the possibilities for enjoying some good family reading time together before your vacation. Your local library can supply you with Harry Potter titles, a wide assortment of Dr. Seuss books, and maybe even comic books featuring the Marvel super heroes.
Beyond the fun of movies and characters, here are some practical suggestions for parents, particularly those with young children, for those days leading up to your Universal vacation.
First, a simple calendar is always useful for helping children count down the days until vacation. With minimal effort on your part, you can spare yourself the constant “how much longer” questions. Your children can cross off the days, but adding themed stickers would be even more fun (look for them with party supplies).
Also, while it’s easy to get caught up in anticipating the fun awaiting you in the parks, don’t forget to go over some basic safety rules with your children, especially if you have very little ones. In the unlikely event you find yourself in a missing child situation, it will help if your little ones know:
- their full name and age
- your full name
- your cell phone number (some parents write this on a piece of masking tape placed inside the neck of the child’s shirt)
- how to identify a Universal team member (you’ll want them to know that, if they are lost, to seek out someone wearing a nametag — not necessarily a uniform — as uniforms will vary throughout the parks).
One trick we like to use to avoid the lost child situation is to dress the children in shirts of the same color, preferably bright colors, (though teens don’t seem to enjoy doing this as much as the little ones do). Of course, matching shirts don’t keep children from getting lost, but at least I know that if someone wanders off, I can quickly scan the crowd for that brightly colored t-shirt. And I know it will be easy for me to give an accurate description to a cast member.
Have a little extra room in your budget? Then you might want to consider getting matching shirts Universal’s online merchandise shop.
For physical comfort, be sure that any new shoe purchases are made with ample breaking-in time prior to your vacation. A blister can quickly ruin a day’s fun. It’s also a good idea to begin taking some long family walks with your children before leaving for Universal, especially if you’re at that “too old for the stroller but still young enough to whine” phase.
If you’re planning on using ponchos for the water rides in Islands of Adventure, considering letting your little ones try one at home, perhaps wearing it in the yard during a light rain. As many parents know, simple things that make perfect sense to adults, when sprung on children unexpectedly, are not always well received. And if you’re not planning on using ponchos, maybe you should rethink that plan. I wish we had!
Amusingly, one thing we forgot to “rehearse” before our late November trip to Universal was the importance of each family member, young and old, keeping up with their own jackets! If you’ll be traveling during the fall or winter, while still pleasant, expect Orlando’s temperatures to fluctuate. You may want a jacket in the morning, only to want to be rid of it by the afternoon. Of course, you can always get a locker for your jackets — see OI’s Complete guide to lockers at Universal for more information — but we found we wanted to keep ours handy, as many of the indoor attractions were quite cool. And while it’s second nature to me to tie my jacket around my waist, this was apparently a new thing for my five-year old, and he had a very difficult time keeping his tied to his body (which made me miss the stroller!).
So with all the planning I put into our family vacation, the one thing I forgot was teaching a five-year old how to keep his jacket tied to his waist. On the plus side, I can now vouch for the efficiency of Universal’s Lost & Found staff. And our little jacket, lost in Jurassic Park, was waiting for us at Guest Services at the end of the day.
Of course, despite plans and preparations, family travel often brings the unexpected. But knowing that you’ve prepared your children for their Universal adventure will help you keep them going comfortably and safely, and help keep the smiles on their faces!
Here are two more links you might be interested in:
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