Are you planning to visit Universal Orlando through Make-A-Wish?
My family had the opportunity to visit Universal Orlando Resort as part of my son's Make-A-Wish trip to Walt Disney World in June 2013. My son had Burkitt's Lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. We took his Make-A-Wish trip after the end of his treatment, so it was a celebration for our family. Today, he is a healthy and happy seven-year-old.
Our trip included two-day park-to-park admission at Universal Orlando Resort. We were just as excited to visit Universal Orlando as we were to visit Disney World.
Especially for Make-A-Wish Families
You will receive a special Guest Assistance Pass for Universal Orlando through Give Kids the World Village. Be sure to take it with you to the park, along with your child's Give Kids the World button and your letter with instructions to print your tickets at the kiosk.
Your Guest Assistance Pass includes:
- Free parking in a preferred section of the parking lot
- Front of line privileges on all rides
- Free wheelchair or stroller rental
- One free printed photo of your family
We felt that Universal Orlando was even better at helping Make-a-Wish families feel special than Walt Disney World. That's saying something because Disney does a great job of making every visitor's experience magical.
Universal Orlando Resort has two theme parks: Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure. There is one huge parking garage for both parks and the entrances are within walking distance from one another, so park hopping is easier at Universal than at Disney World. However, both parks are large enough that we spent one full day in each.
Related: Tips for Visiting Give Kids the World Village
Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Florida is the original Universal Orlando theme park, and it was the last park we visited on our Make-A-Wish trip. Universal Studios was less crowded than Disney World and Islands of Adventure, and it was nice to have a more relaxed experience on our last day in the parks.
At Universal Studios, there are different “lands,” but they don't feel as defined as those at Islands of Adventure or Disney World. Most of the big rides are based on a movie or TV show. Our favorites included:
- Transformers: The Ride 3-D
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Men in Black Alien Attack
- The Simpsons Ride
Universal Studios also has an entertaining selection of shows. Disaster is a fun combination of show and ride that shouldn't be missed. Shrek 4-D and Terminator 2: 3-D were also fun. Twister was an interesting display of movie magic that the older members of my family enjoyed, but that my six-year-old thought was too realistic and scary.
Diagon Alley opened in Universal Studios in Summer 2014. We visited this new section of the park on a later trip, and it's a must for Harry Potter fans!
Related: What to Expect at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Universal's Islands of Adventure
The highlight of Islands of Adventure is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, though we found a lot to love about the rest of the park too. Like Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Islands of Adventure has a different theme for every section: Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss, Marvel comics, Jurassic Park and others.
Even with our Guest Assistance Pass, the crowds in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter were overwhelming. However, it's a dream come true for Harry Potter fans. I felt like we had stepped into the books. We started at the Forbidden Journey ride, and were escorted to the front of the line. By not waiting in the hour-long line, we missed the back story for the ride, but that was OK with us.
We also saw the wand choose the wizard at Ollivander's and bought wands for our children afterward in the shop. Dress your child in his or her Make-A-Wish shirt if you want to improve the chances of getting picked for the wand demonstration.
Skip the lines for butter beer and pumpkin juice at the carts. Go in the back door of The Three Broomsticks instead and order from the bar. Our family tried butter beer, iced butter beer and pumpkin juice and we all liked the iced butter beer best. If you're ready for lunch, traditional English fare is available there as well.
The rest of Islands of Adventure was not nearly as crowded as Harry Potter, and with our Guest Assistance Pass, we found our way through our priority attractions easily. Seuss Landing was delightful and may be a favorite part of the park for families with younger children.
Other favorite rides included The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Jurassic Park River Adventure. My six-year-old loved both those rides. However, he hated The Revenge of the Mummy indoor coaster at Universal Studios because it was too dark and scary. We skipped the big coasters at both parks because they looked too intense for him.
Dress for water rides at Islands of Adventure. There is hardly an attraction there that will not at least mist you. You'll be soaked on rides like Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges and if you visit on a hot day, that will be exactly what you want. For children, there are three play areas with water features in the park.
Thank you to Universal Orlando Resort, Give Kids the World Village and Make-A-Wish Utah for giving us something to look forward to during a difficult time, and for helping us create special family memories!
Thank you so very much for your wonderful posts for Make-a-Wish families! My 7 year old son has been granted a wish for May 2014, and your posts are very helpfully with our trip planning! We are very excited to be going to GKTW, WDW, and Universal. Did you by chance visit Legoland or Seaworld? or do your recommend any blogs for tips?
Thank you for your kind comment! We did visit SeaWorld. We only spent a few hours there because we wanted to spend more time at Give Kids the World Village that day. Our favorite thing at SeaWorld that we probably would not have done without our Make-A-Wish pass was feeding the dolphins. There is no published feeding time, and even when I called SeaWorld that morning, they could not give me a definite time to be there. We arrived around mid-day and were let right in for the dolphin feeding. We also saw a couple of shows and walked through the shark exhibit. I’ll write a full post about visiting SeaWorld through Make-A-Wish soon.
We did not visit Legoland on our Make-A-Wish trip. However, we have visited Legoland California recently and I have written a post about that. Obviously, some of the tips may not apply to a Make-A-Wish trip, but hopefully they can give you an idea of what to expect at Legoland. Here is a link to my general tips for Legoland. http://tipsforfamilytrips.com/california/legoland-tips/
What resort do you stay
Most Make-A-Wish families stay at Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee. Here is more information about Give Kids the World: http://tipsforfamilytrips.com/florida/give-kids-the-world/
Great site! We’ll be going late June through Make A Wish and the info you have kindly provided will be invaluable. Thanks so much!
Thank you so much, Tom. We had a lot of questions before our trip and are glad that we can now share our experience with other Make-A-Wish families. I hope you have a wonderful experience!
WOW! Great tips! We just got the call from our wish-granters last night so we have our dates for the WDW/GKTW trip. 🙂 So happy to have found your blogs, this really helps us prepare!
Thank you, Wendy. Happy planning! You’re going to have a wonderful experience.
my kids have recently been approved for a wish by Make a Wish, and we are hoping to go to WDW. I was wondering about the process of meeting with the Wish Granters, deciding if we want to do a character meal etc….do they help plan those things or do you do that on your own? Thanks
Every Make-A-Wish chapter may operate a little differently, but you’ll probably have the opportunity to have an official wish-making ceremony and then you’ll be assigned a pair of volunteer wish grantors who will work with your family to arrange the trip and make it magical. They may be able to give you great advice about the trip because this is a popular wish. However, we got our best information from other Make-A-Wish families who have been there and the Give Kids the World website. Find those helpful links in my post about Give Kids the World.
You will receive a check to cover meals and other expenses. If you would like to do a character meal, you will probably need to make those reservations on your own. I understand that character meals can fill fast, so make your reservations as soon as you know the dates of the trip. Happy planning!
My daughter has been granted a wish as well and we leave end of October. We are all sooo excited. My daughter is 7 and is a quadapligic and my son is 3 years old and has downs syndrome. Are there rides in disney or at GKTW that she can just ride in her wheelchair? Thanks for posting for week.
Practically everything at GKTW is wheelchair friendly, including the pool, playground and carousel. I recall that It’s a Small World in WDW is wheelchair accessible and I’d bet that there are others.
My son’s wish of going was granted and we are going the last week of Aug. one question I have is, and my son’s once he saw the Blue man group is there, is if the show is included in the park passes r would we have to purchase those tickets separately?
I do not think that the Blue Man Group is included in the Universal Orlando wish passes. From the Universal Orlando Resort website: “Tickets for Blue Man Group can be purchased individually or packaged with your theme park admission.” The Blue Man Group venue is outside the park gates in CityWalk – the shopping, dining and entertainment zone in between the parking lots and theme park entrances.
I recommend that you call Give Kids the World to see if they have access to free or discounted tickets. If not, you will need to purchase tickets on your own. It looks like a fun show!
Just wanted to add that I loved this blog, we’re still on our wish trip and the three day hopper pass was still too short for disney!
I’m so glad that we’ve been helpful and I hope you’re having a great trip! I agree that three days is not enough to see everything at Disney World. Four or five would have been just right, but we would have hated to miss Universal, SeaWorld and all the fun things to do at Give Kids the World too. Too many parks and too little time is a nice problem to have.
Im so happy i came accross your blog it is extremely helpful. my family is going on our daughters wish trip this friday. Oct. 31, 2014. my question is what do we do the first day we are there. we will be arriving at 4:30 pm then on the last day we should probably head out to the airport at 1pm. What do you do on those two traveling days?
You can do anything you would like. Give Kids the World does orientation each morning and evening for new guests, and you will receive your park passes at that time. I recommend spending that first evening at GKTW, relaxing and enjoying the resort.
We spent our last day at Universal, but we had more time. If you have passes and energy left, you could still spend some a couple of hours in a theme park before heading to the airport, or just load the car and then spend a leisurely day at GKTW until it’s time to leave. Leave your options open and see how you feel at the end of the week. Whatever you decide, I’m sure it will be great!
Hi Allison! So happy to have found your posts! I’m wondering if you could give me some info on how you extended your trip…how did that work as far as airfare? Did you then have to pay for your own return airfare? Three days in Disney seems so short…
I’m glad to help! We worked with our Make-A-Wish chapter to fly home on a later date when we first scheduled our trip. It didn’t cost them anything extra to fly us home a few days later, so we paid nothing for airfare. We did pay for our own hotel, rental car, fuel, food and entertainment after we left Give Kids the World. Each chapter may have different policies about this, and things may have changed since our trip, but arranging the extension was pretty easy for us. Just talk to your Make-A-Wish team early in the planning so it’s easy for them to accommodate you.
Three days in Walt Disney World is less time than you need to really see every park, but there were so many great things at Universal, SeaWorld and Give Kids the World to do as well. We wouldn’t have wanted to miss any of it for an extra day at WDW (not that it’s an option), and we were ready to take a break from theme parks by the end of our Make-A-Wish week. Keep in mind that the front-of-line privileges will help you to do a lot more with in the time you have.
My daughter wished to go to WDW and waiting to hear from wish coordinator to plan the trip. shes really eager and specific about having dinner with Elsa. The wish granters wrote that down. Is that something they can make happen? She also wished to meet all princesses and take pics with them. when a wish is specific like that id assume they try to fullfill. How do they determin your spending money amount? a family of 3 i spoke to said they got $500 but i have a family of 5 going. We are trying to save money as well but low income.
Wish grantors often will do their best to arrange special experiences for the wish family when they can. This should not be new territory for the organizations involved, so your wish grantor will probably be able to tell you soon what they are able to arrange. If these experiences are not arranged for you by your wish grantor, make reservations for an Elsa princess dinner as soon as possible. Your spending money should cover it. There are princess meet and greet opportunities throughout the park and your Give Kids the World badge should help you get to the front of those lines.
The spending money for a family is calculated per person. There is an amount recommended by Give Kids the World, but it may vary from Wish chapter to Wish chapter. You will receive a check before you leave home.
Hi, my daughter was granted a wish trip to meet Woody and Buzz, she asked to stay at the all star movie resort instead of at GKTW as she wants to stay in the Andy’s Room Section. Any idea how the meals are provided when you stay at the WDW resort – do they pay for a meal plan? Also, when you stay off GKTW, how do you get to Sea World and Universal?
I’m not sure how they set it up when you don’t stay at Give Kids the World. I believe that you are welcome to visit GKTW and enjoy their amenities at any time. If other wish families have experience with off-site accommodations, please share!
Families at GKTW have their own rental car to get to and from the parks, and anywhere else they’d like to go unless they cannot drive themselves for any reason. I assume you’ll also have a rental car to reach the other parks during your stay.
Me again! Are the tickets provided by GKTW set for a specific day or are you free to choose where you go on each day?
You can use the tickets any day you would like, and multi-day tickets do not need to be used on consecutive days. You can also get tickets for LEGOLAND, Gatorland and many other local attractions if you would prefer to visit them instead.
My grandson has been approved for Make a Wish trip to Disney World including his mom, sisters and possibly me(grandma) to help with kids. My question is at the village, do they have meals for specific needs as gluten free or non processed? I wouldn’t want to eat my meals separate from the family after all this trip is for my grandson. Also, in the parks, do they have organic snacks/foods available? Thankyou
I’m guessing that GKTW accommodates special dietary needs, though I don’t recall whether menus and food items were labeled that way. Everything is served cafeteria style or a la carte, so it’s easy to pick and choose. Perkins restaurants and Boston Market are the providers. Disney Parks do sell some fresh, unprocessed items, but I do not know if they are organic. Your GKTW suite will have a full kitchen and Walmart is just down the street. The theme parks will allow you to bring in your own food in a small pack.
My grandson has been approved for a Make-A-Wish trip in March …. only 3 of us …. me, my daughter and grandson, as she is divorced …. can I take my other grandson? Clueless … just happened to get the approval last week when he was in the hospital… thanks …. if you could respond to [email protected] would greatly appreciate it
I recommend that you contact Make-A-Wish about bringing additional family members with you. I know that Give Kids the World and the parks are pretty good about accommodating and giving front-of-line privileges to extended family, but you will probably have to pay for additional expenses yourself.
Hi my neice is waiting to go on her trip to Disney world we don’t want to fly so will they let you get a rental car or do you have to fly
I’m not sure. I recommend that your family ask her Make-A-Wish team about this. I’m guessing that they have had this come up before and will accommodate this request if they can.
My son is awaiting to hear back about his make a wish trip as well. He has holes in his eardrums and constant fluid build up behind them. we too rather not fly. I’m hoping they can work with us on car rental to make his wish to meet mickey mouse come true.
Do talk to your Make-a-Wish contacts about your situation. I’m sure that they will do their best to accommodate your son’s medical needs.
Hi I’m going to gtktw, disney and some other parks this is my first time getting to go with make a wish I’m going towards end of october. What do i need to pack? How’s the weather? Does everyone staying with a made a wish family get gifts or just the kids? The kitchen in your room is it stock or do we stock it and can u cook in your room?
Hi Cortney! We visited Orlando last October and it was warm. I suggest summer clothing, with a jacket or hoodie in case you need an extra layer. You may want to pack some inexpensive, disposable rain ponchos, just in case. Don’t overpack, because you’ll have a washer/dryer. I recall that the gifts were mostly toys for the kids, though our whole family loved GKTW and felt like it was a special trip. You’ll have a full kitchen, but ours was empty. GKTW has a dining room where all meals are included, so you never have to cook unless you want to. Walmart is located a mile away, so you can pick up anything extra you want there. We stored snacks for the parks in our kitchen.
i just came across your vlog on pintrest. Thank you for the valuable information. My son is also a survivor of burkitts we get to go a iyear to the day of his diagnosis . makes the trip even more special.
Indeed it does. I hope that your son is in good health now and hope you have a wonderful trip!