Universal Orlando: Summer's Hottest Vacation Spot


Summer is coming up fast, and you know what that means. No school. More time off from work. Longer vacations—the kind that stretch on forever, the ones you wish would never end. So why not make this year’s summer trip the biggest and best ever? And if you’re heading to Florida, only one place guarantees a vacation that’s bigger than life—Universal Orlando.

Central Florida has plenty of theme parks, but when it comes to the wow factor, no other park even comes close. Universal Orlando has amazing rides in every size, shape, and variety, but it’s the overall atmosphere that really blows visitors away. And since part of the Smart Trips credo is getting the most bang for your buck, we joyfully rate Universal Orlando higher than any other park in the area. This isn’t a place where you dash from one long line to the next, focused solely on the next thrill ride. Part of the thrill at Universal Orlando comes from simply being here, immersed in a world where special effects are part of the everyday landscape. Instead of isolating the fun into a series of five-minute rides, the fun here surrounds you on a non-stop basis as guests are plunked down into their favorite movies and television shows. And yes, the rides are amazing, but they’re just the icing on a delicious cake.

In the park’s new Springfield area, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of a Simpsons episode. It’s a carnival-like setting where every game, ride, restaurant, and gift shop pays homage to Bart, Homer, and all the other characters. Ever wondered how the food tastes at Krusty Burger? Now’s your chance to find out. Brave enough to try a Flaming Moe at Moe’s Tavern? Belly up to the bar and place your order. Even Homer’s beloved Duff beer is on sale, brewed especially for the park.

Ready to add some magic to your vacation? It’s as near as Universal Orlando’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter area. Here you’re free to wander Hogsmeade’s maze of twisting streets and crooked buildings, all crouched beneath the towering form of Hogwarts castle. It’s tempting to simply walk around with your mouth agape in awe, but don’t forget to fill that mouth with a treat from Honeyduke’s sweetshop or a mug of butterbeer from the Hog’s Head pub. Shopping becomes an attraction unto itself at Ollivander’s and the other gift stores, where fledgling wizards can outfit themselves with wands, robes, and other crucial equipment.

And speaking of attractions, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has one of the best you’ll find at any theme park in the world; Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a multi-media rocket ship of a ride that flings guests headfirst into the boy wizard’s enchanted world. Dodge dragons and Dementors, crash a Quidditch match, and soar through Hogwarts with Harry, Ron, and Hermione at your side—then try your best to calm your racing heart when you finally exit the ride on shaky legs. Trust me, folks, this isn’t just an attraction; it’s an experience. And believe it or not, Universal Orlando will raise the bar this summer when it debuts Daigon Alley, an expansion that adds even more Potter-themed rides, restaurants, and shops. Watch this space for more details.

Don’t expect the magic to wear off when you leave Hogwarts to explore the rest of the park, because the other areas are just as mesmerizing. In fact, my 9-year-old daughter was so fascinated by the talking fountains, giant statues, and life-sized dinosaurs sprinkled throughout the park that we had to keep reminding her that more rides awaited us. We enjoyed Universal Orlando so much that our sole disappointment of the day came when it was time to leave—but since we’ve already agreed to return after Daigon Alley opens, that’s a disappointment we can live with for now.

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Bump into all your favorite Simpsons characters in the Springfield area  

Another magical day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

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