The airport was about 1.5 hour away from our house so we decided to sleep over at my sister's place the night before so we can all leave directly from her place in the morning to save about 40 minutes of driving time.
We brought sleeping bags to her place, had dinner and watched 1 Star Wars movie before crashing early because we had to wake up at 3:30 AM so we can leave by 4 AM. Here's a picture of our kids at 4 AM.
We got to the airport around 5 AM and we breezed through the security line as the airport was practically empty and we took off on time.
Although our flight arrival time was 9 AM in Orlando, we knew that we wouldn't get a full day at any theme park by the time we get our checked baggage and rental car so our biggest dilemma was deciding on which park to go to on the day of arrival.
Once we decided to do 3 days at Disney and 3 days at Universal, it was easy decision to go to the Universal on the day of the arrival since we still had 2 full days at the Universal.
We purchased the 3-day ticket for Universal Studio with 2 express pass to be used on the full days. Compared to the Disney, the Universal seems like they want to nickle and dime to the max as possible because
1) You have to pay additional $125 per person per day for the express pass if you want to get on the express line
2) The express pass can be only used on a specific park on the specific date. In other words, you have to decide on the park and the date at the time of purchasing the express ticket and cannot change the park or the date after purchasing it.
While Disney does have fast pass lines for all the rides, Disney does not sell express pass! Instead, Disney allows the customers to make reservations for any rides for available time slots. I can't tell you enough how impressive and amazing their reservation system is (more on that later).
We also purchased the Park-to-Park option (also known as the "hopper") for additional $50, which allows you to go to both parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure) on the same day. Each park has enough rides and activities for a full day but the only reason we got the Park-to-Park option is because you must have this "hopper" option in order to get on the Hogwarts Express train, which takes you between the Hogsmeade Station and King's Cross Station in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Hogwarts Express ride is not that big of a deal but it was a must for us as Aaron is a huge fan of Harry Potter.
So for 2-Park 3-Day with Park-to-Park option with 1 day of express at Universal Studio and 1 day of express at Islands of Adventure ticket, it cost about $550 per person
As for Disney, we purchased 3-Day Admission to 1 Park Per Day (non-hopper option) for $305 per person. In contrast to Universal, Disney allows you to use their admission ticket on any day on any park!
Kids were so excited when we landed in Orlando airport on time around 9 AM but they were soon annoyed because it literally took an hour for our baggage to come out... luckily we had their Gomoboo who kept them busy
We finally got our checked baggage and rental car (Dodge Caravan), and arrived at Universal Studios around 11 AM. Weather was just perfect for Aaron and Jordan to be wearing shorts.
We first got on the Woody Woodpecker roller coaster, which is pretty good ride for children.
We then went to ride the Men in Black, which is pretty fun ride-and-shoot.
We then went to the Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which was pretty impressive.
I felt like I was in the Harry Potter movie set... and there were so many people walking around with full wizard costumes. Aaron and Jordan already had the Harry Potter magic wands from previous Christmas presents and my sister brought her's for Kara so that they can all have fun doing the spells at different spots in Diagon Alley
We then ate lunch at the Leaky Cauldron inside Diagon Alley
We tried the famous "butter beer" but it was okay... it tasted like drinking a melted butterscotch candies.. (I actually liked the hot butter beer better)
After the lunch, we went to ride the Hogwarts Express at King's Cross station. As mentioned earlier, we did not have the express pass for this day so we waited about 45 minutes to board the train
The train was well made and it looked just like the one in the movie even the cabin caboose seats.. and the window and the door were computer screens that displayed the scenes from the movie to make it look like you were riding the Hogwarts Express during the movie, which was pretty cool.
When we arrived at Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure park, we were once again amazed at how they built the town to look just like the movie set.
While kids were having fun doing more spells with Gomo and Gomoboo, Katie and I had a break to ourselves drinking cold beers
The Hogwarts Castle was even more impressive and grand... How did they build this?
After doing the spells and looking around at the Hogsmeade, we went to ride what I remember as my favorite ride when Katie and I came here 15 years ago, which was the Spiderman ride. Katie didn't ride the Spiderman 15 years ago so I had to ride by myself twice back then but she finally got to ride it this time around and she loved it. Aaron and Jordan understood why this was my favorite ride after they experienced it as well. Luckily for us, there was a small glitch during the ride so they let us ride it again without waiting in line again!
After the Spiderman ride, we wanted to ride something that Kara can relate to so we got on the Cat in the Hat ride, which was a cute ride...
When we finished riding, there was "Merry Merry Grinchmas" show starting so we went to see it as it was very fitting to watch this show on the Christmas day
It was around 7 PM when the show was over but everyone was just all beat and hungry as we all have been up since 3:30 AM. So I looked up a near by Korean restaurant and we had Korean food for dinner at the restaurant before checking into the villa that we had reserved.
We stayed at Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa, which was pretty good for the price. We got 2 bedrooms with 2 baths so Kara slept with Gomo and Gomoboo on king size bed in bedroom 1 and the rest of us slept in bedroom 2 that had 2 full size beds. One thing that I liked about the place is the fact that it had a huge lounging living room and a full kitchen with pretty decent size dining table with 6 chairs.
It also had a dishwasher and washer/dryer in the unit, which was a big plus.
There was pretty awesome looking swimming pool as well but we just didn't have any spare time to swim during our stay.
The best part about this place is the fact that it literally was about 5 minutes drive away from the Disney parks!
Although we were not planning to cook during our stay, Gomoboo volunteered to make breakfast for us every morning!
That was the end of Day 1... not too shabby, huh?